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    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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John Stott On Theology

Quoting John Stott:

Theology is a serious quest for the true knowledge of God, undertaken in response to His self-revelation, illumined by Christian tradition, manifesting a rational inner coherence, issuing in ethical conduct, resonating with the contemporary world and concerned for the greater glory of God.

Reforming The Family: A Serious Thought On Love In The Biblical Family

You are probably not going to appreciate my publishing this post on Valentine’s Day. The excerpt below was written by Brian Abshire who is the Teaching Elder at Highlands Reformed Church. He did not write this for Valentine’s Day, but I think today is a good day to read his article. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about “Love”. We often have a vague sense of what love means on a day like today: On this day we demonstrate our love through cards, candy (chocolate of course), and small gifts. Our Valentine’s Day circle usually includes family, close friends, and/or girlfriend or boyfriend. I want us to focus here on “family”. As Christians, if we are called to “love one another” with the love of Christ, something has gone terribly wrong with the condition of the “love” expressed in today’s Christian family. On this Valentine’s Day, let’s take a serious look at some of the things that make the “love of Christ” difficult to express in our own families and vow to make any changes that need to be made. Brian Abshire writes:

The modern American Christian family now too often looks something like this. Mom and Dad come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds with no sense of their cultural history. They may also come from completely different parts of the country. Consequently, they often have divergent goals, interests, expectations etc., except for a common commitment to self fulfillment. . . .

Because of large college debts, Mom goes back to work after the honeymoon, trying to recapture some of the massive investment her education required. After several years of increased consumer debt, Mom and Dad decide to have a family. But they cannot afford to have very many children. As soon as possible, Mom needs to go back to work to keep their affluent, debt ridden lifestyle going. As the children grow up, they are immediately sent into the public school system; Christian schooling is too expensive and home schooling too difficult. Time with the family is severely limited due to Dad’s career; Mom’s work and the myriad recreational activities the children are enrolled in. Quality time is defined as everyone watching the same program on TV.

Church offers no respite. The children are carefully separated from the family as soon as possible and given mindless entertainment in various youth activities. Children develop their core values from school, television, friends and the other kids at church (hence what bad habits they don’t learn on their own, their peers will soon teach them). Since the culture emphasizes personal gratification, a significant number of children will become involved in premarital sex, drug abuse, indolence, etc., much of which they will carefully hide from their parents. Many of these children will drop out of Christianity before 25. Mom and Dad will be delighted if their children stay off drugs, go to college and get a good paying job. They will be ecstatic if their kids marry a nominal Christian, show up for church (but probably not theirs) a dozen times a year and do not formally renounce the faith.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad are frustrated with each other and adultery or deviant sexuality is a real possibility. Dad abdicates the running of the family to Mom (he’s too busy playing with his remote control). Mom wants a strong husband, but has no model of godly submission. Secularized culture has given her unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a woman (she’s to be a career minded girl, who is a super mom to the kids and a sex goddess to her husband, all while finding her sense of identity by discovering her real self). She’s frustrated, often bitter and slanders her husband at women’s Bible studies. . . .

The individual Christian is often frustrated, alienated and tries to finds satisfaction in either work or hobbies. Children are increasingly seen as an “experience” rather than as a duty to fill the earth and subdue it. Life is fractured and divided. Where one works has nothing to do with where one lives or goes to church. The church itself is simply another social club, with the membership changing annually. There is therefore a dearth of significant and meaningful relationships. Women are frustrated at their men who live increasingly irresponsibly outside of their jobs. Women run both the home and church. Divorced from any significant, lasting human relationships, American Christians end up just like their unregenerate neighbors, living a self absorbed, self indulgent lifestyle, moderated only by the thinnest veneer of Biblical morality.

And the root problem is the loss of the Biblical family. A sub-biblical family means that individual Christians do not grow in the fundamental character qualities to make effective leaders. The Church weakens, producing even less effective Christians, who in turn are more and more influenced by the world, rather than influencing it.

Read the entire article here. . . .

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 ESV)

Brian Abshire has served as a Biblical counselor, lecturer in theology, youth, singles, young married and senior pastor. He is currently the Teaching Elder at Highlands Reformed Church, (Hanover Presbytery, Reformed Presbyterian Church).

The Power Of Grace And The Necessity Of It

Samuel Davies had a keen appreciation of grace and understood its importance. In the excerpt below, he discusses its application:

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7, Hanover County, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1752)

Have you not found that the very same things have very different effects upon you at different times? Those truths, which at one time leave you dull and sleepy, at other times quicken all your powers to the most vigorous exercise. Sinners, do you not return from the house of God in very different frames, though the service there has been substantially the same? At one time you sweat and agonize under a sense of guilt and make many resolutions to change your course of life; and at another time there is a stupid calm within, and you matter not all the concerns of eternity. Some indeed have lain so long under the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, that they are hardened, like clay, and hardly susceptive of any deep impressions at any time, after they murdered their conscience, and silenced all its first remonstrances. These may go on serene and placid, till the flames of hell give them sensation; and this is most likely to be their doom; though it is not impossible but that this gospel, this stale, neglected gospel, which now makes no impression on their stony hearts, may yet be endowed with almighty power to break them into the tenderest contrition: and I pray God this may be the happy event. . . .

How essential and important the doctrine of divine influence is to the church of God. The very life, and the whole success of the gospel depend upon it. And since this necessity supposes the utter depravity and spiritual impotence of human nature in its fallen state, that doctrine also must be frequently and plainly inculcated.

Alas! The great defect of the system of theology too fashionable in our days, and one great cause of the languishing state of religion in our age, and of the prevalence of vice and impiety! Since it has been the mode to compliment mankind as able to do something very considerable in religion, religion has died away. Since it has been the fashion to press a reformation of men’s lives, without inculcating the absolute necessity of divine grace to renew their nature, there is hardly such a thing as a thorough reformation to be seen; but mankind are evidently growing worse and worse. . . .

We are apt to think, if we had but such a minister among us, how much good would be done! It is true, that faithful and accomplished ministers are singular blessings to the places where they labor, because it is by their instrumentality that the Lord is wont to work: but still let us remember that even a Paul or an Apollos is nothing, unless the Lord gives the increase. One text of scripture, one sentence will do more execution, when enforced by divine energy, than all the labors of the ablest ministers upon earth without it. For this divine energy therefore let us look; for this let us cry; cursed be the man that trusteth in man, etc. When we depend upon the instruments, we provoke the Spirit of God to leave us. . . .

That we should ascribe all the success of the gospel to God alone, and not sacrilegiously divide the honor of it between him and the instruments of it, or between him and ourselves, the ministers of Christ are ready to answer you, in the language of Peter, if we be examined of the good deed done to impotent sinners, by what means they are made whole; be it known unto you, that by the name of Jesus do they stand whole before you, Acts 4:9-10. Why do ye look so earnestly upon us, as if by our own power or holiness we had done this! (Acts 3:12). It is a very shocking compliment to them to be accounted the authors of your faith. God’s ministers love to be humble, to lie in their proper sphere, and would have God to have all the glory, as the great efficient; and when we ascribe the work of God to the instrument, we provoke him to withdraw his influence, that we may be convinced of the mistake. Let us also take care that we do not assume the honor of the work to ourselves.

Hence also we may learn, whither we should look for grace to render the gospel successful among us. Let us look up to God. Saints, apply to him for his influences to quicken your graces, and animate you in your Christian course. Sinners, cry to him for his grace to renew your nature and sanctify you. Not all the men, nor all the means upon earth, can be of any service to you without him. Carefully attend upon the gospel, and all its institutions; but still be sensible, that these alone will not do; more is necessary; even the supernatural agency of divine grace. . . .

We observe that whatever excellent outward means and privileges a church enjoys, it is in a most miserable condition, if the Lord has withdrawn his influences from it: and whether this be not too much our own condition, I leave you to judge. Some of you, I doubt not, are even now, when others are withering around you, flourishing in the courts of the Lord, and feel the dews of heaven upon you: such I heartily congratulate. But in general, it is evident that a contagious lukewarmness and carnal security have spread themselves among us . . . and is it not time for you to cry mightily to God that he would pour out his Spirit upon you! (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”)

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