“I would rather be a preacher in a pulpit than a prince on a throne”

Christopher Love

Paranoia was the lethal, guiding principle of the seventeeth-century English government. Having beheaded King Charles for treason, Parliament was deeply embroiled in a tug-of-war struggle with Scotland and Ireland for British power. In the absence of a king’s authority, Parliament fingered anyone critical of its rule as traitorous. Suspicion of conspiracy effectively muzzled Puritan preachers (the “Non-Conformists”) from identifying the obvious and public sins of Parliament’s nervous rule. Still, there were courageous exceptions. Among this hallowed list is Christopher Love. This unfamiliar Puritan gave his life for the cause of Christ and gospel fidelity. The martyred blood of Love still calls preachers to sacrificial faithfulness.

Love’s Reputation

Ministerial preparation for Englishmen in the seventeenth century almost ensured matriculating at either Cambridge or Oxford. Love chose Oxford and entered New Inn Hall in 1635. Logic, rhetoric, philosophy, history, and theology comprised his curriculum as a preacher in training.

Alongside these subjects a more subtle course was taught outside the classroom. As penetrating as the summer humidity and winter chill, there was something else in the air at Oxford. Motivated by gospel-rich theology, groups of students were becoming discontent with the relationship between the government and the pulpit. Parliament was bullying English preachers into using their sermons as political commercials. But a new breed of preachers was climbing into English pulpits; the Puritans’ day was dawning.

At Oxford, Love learned to think clearly. He was a “Precisionist” and applied tedious and meticulous scrutiny to Scripture as it related to the issues of his day and to the issues of his day as they related to Scripture. Love was a stellar student. However, he was expelled from his masters program for non-conformity before graduating.

Love had a reputation at Oxford that demonstrated the authenticity of his faith. He was known as one who never missed a chapel service or opportunity to hear a visiting preacher. His later reputation as a great preacher in the pulpit is anchored to his love for hearing the Word of God in the pew.

After his expulsion from Oxford, he was invited to preach at Newcastle by the mayor and aldermen. During an afternoon sermon he identified some doctrinal errors in the Book of Common Prayer relating to the superstitious hangovers from Catholicism. He was immediately arrested and incarcerated with thieves and murderers. Instead of silencing Love this only provided him the opportunity to preach to the inmates and witness many conversions of those on death row. But there were greater persecutions ahead.

Love’s “Plot”

Love was a political activist in the pulpit. This is exactly what the government wanted preachers to be. However, his activism was not the brand Parliament had in mind.

Parliament had convicted King Charles of treason for good reason. He was plotting a peace with Scotland that included political and religious compromise. Parliament opposed him for political reasons; the Puritans opposed him for biblical reasons. Married to a Catholic, Charles tried to undo, or at least minimize, the English Reformation.

Charles was tried, convicted, and executed by Parliament for high treason against the nation. In an unprecedented act of independence, Parliament dissolved the right of kingly succession and established the Commonwealth of England. This gave authority over the nation to Parliament.

Tension climaxed in 1651 when Scotland crowned Charles’ son, Charles II, in an attempt to reestablish the monarchy by force. Charles II promised to establish the Presbyterian Church in England when he returned to London. Fearing their loss of power to Charles II and the Puritans, the members of Parliament threatened with death anyone supporting the Scots’ coronation of King Charles’s son.

Acting on the promise of Charles II, some of the Puritan-Presbyterians conspired with the Scots to take back the throne for the monarchy. (This promise would prove empty a few years later.) Christopher Love was accused of being involved in the conspiracy through correspondence with Scotland. Ironically, Love despised the papist theology of the beheaded King Charles, but held true to his conviction that God alone puts kings on the throne and God alone would bring them down. Love did have correspondence with leaders in Scotland, but denied any part in the conspiracy.

Love on Trial

Parliament was negotiating with Scotland for a peace saturated with political and theological compromise. During the negotiations, Love preached an impassioned sermon stating that he would rather have a just war than a wicked peace. In that sermon his convictions stepped on the toes of everyone possible in the debate. His driving point was that promotion and protection of the gospel truths of the Reformation should be the criteria for governmental rule.

Love was arrested and charged with high treason by the High Court of Justice on June 20, 1651. A five-day trial followed. Witnesses who were called to testify fabricated a complicated and contradictory tale of Love’s supposed conspiracy. Haunted by guilt, several of them confessed to lying after Love’s death. On the sixth day the court came back with the verdict of guilty and sentenced him “to suffer the pains of death by having his head severed from his body.” He was locked up in the London Tower until his scheduled execution.

Love Letters

While Christopher Love awaited execution, he exchanged letters with his Puritan friends and his wife. Many of these letters have been preserved in Don Kistler’s excellent biography of Love—A Spectacle unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love (Soli Deo Gloria, 1994). Impending death reveals the true nature of a man’s soul. And Love’s faith is something to behold through these letters.

The most moving of the letters was written by Christopher’s wife, Mary. On the eve of his scheduled execution, she wrote him a final letter of love and encouragement. She actually wrote two such letters because the execution was postponed six weeks due to a last-minute appeal. This first letter became one of the most inspiring anchors for faithfulness for the Puritans as it was circulated in later years. (The entirety of the letter is provided at the end of this article.)

In it Mary pours out her love for her husband mingled with mortality-proven theology. She comforts him with thoughts of the glories he was about to enjoy and begs him not to have any concerns for her or their children; she was eight months pregnant with their third child. She wrote, “I dare not speak to thee, nor have a thought within my own heart of my unspeakable loss, but wholly keep my eye fixed on thy inexpressible and inconceivable gain.”

One of the most remarkable parts of her letter is the almost incidental reference to the executioner’s unjust blow as “thy Father’s stroke.” The letter reads:

And when thou layest down thy precious head to receive thy Father’s stroke, remember what thou saidest to me: Though thy head was severed from thy body, yet in a moment thy soul should be united to thy Head, the Lord Jesus, in heaven. And though it may seem something bitter, that by the hands of men we are parted a little sooner than otherwise we might have been, yet let us consider that it is the decree and will of our Father, and it will not be long ere we shall enjoy one another in heaven again.

Christopher and Mary’s love was humanly tender and theologically sound. Every spiritual leader should read this letter with his wife.

Love on Display

A little before two o’clock in afternoon Love was escorted from his chamber to the scaffold on Tower Hill. Both supporters and jeerers showed up to witness his death. Before kneeling to put his head on the block, he asked if he could address the crowd. What followed was an epic sermon from a faithful man with his hand on Heaven’s doorknob.

With settled calmness, Love said, “This scaffold is the best pulpit that I ever preached in. In my church pulpit, God, through His grace, made me an instrument to bring others to heaven, but in this pulpit He will bring me to heaven.” He went on extolling the glories of Heaven while asserting again his innocence of the charges of treason.

Love announced, “I am accused of being an apostate, of being a turncoat, of being this, of being that, of being anything but what I am. In general, I will tell you, I bless my God, a high court, a long sword, a bloody scaffold have not made me in the least to alter my principles or to wrong my conscience.” He asserted, “It is true, my faithfulness has procured me ill will from men, but it has purchased me peace with God.”

And looking at the crowd he thundered, “I would rather be a preacher in a pulpit than a prince upon a throne. I would rather be an instrument to bring souls to heaven than have all the nations bring in tribute to me.”

When Love was walking up the scaffold steps, there were many noisy mockers. It was reported that upon hearing Love’s scaffold sermon and final prayer, one of the loudest mockers bewailed his sins and was converted on the spot.

Just before three o’clock, Christopher Love laid his head on the block and closed his eyes for the last time. With the flash of the axe his faith became sight.

Few of us will be called to exercise such martyred faithfulness. But all who preach can share the wondrous passion of this dying preacher in his last sermon.

“I would rather be a preacher in a pulpit than a prince upon a throne.”

*Here the complete copy of Mary Love’s letter to Christopher the night before his scheduled execution.

July 14, 1651

Before I write a word further, I beseech thee think not that it is thy wife but a friend now that writes to thee. I hope thou hast freely given up thy wife and children to God, who hath said in Jeremiah 49:11, “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive, and let thy widow trust in me.” Thy Maker will be my husband, and a Father to thy children. O that the Lord would keep thee from having one troubled thought for thy relations. I desire to freely give thee up into thy Father’s hands, and not only look upon it as a crown of glory for thee to die for Christ, but as an honor to me that I should have a husband to leave for Christ.

I dare not speak to thee, nor have a thought within my own heart of my unspeakable loss, but wholly keep my eye fixed on thy inexpressible and inconceivable gain. Thou leavest but a sinful, mortal wife to be everlastingly married to the Lord of glory. Thou leavest but children, brothers, and sisters to go to the Lord Jesus, thy eldest Brother. Thou leavest friends on earth to go to the enjoyment of saints and angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect in glory. Thou dost but leave earth for heaven and changest a prison for a palace. And if natural affections should begin to arise, I hope that spirit of grace that is within thee will quell them, knowing that all things here below are but dung and dross in comparison of those things that are above. I know thou keepest thine eye fixed on the hope of glory which makes thy feet trample on the loss of earth.

My dear, I know God hath not only prepared glory for thee, and thee for it, but I am persuaded that he will sweeten the way for thee to come to the enjoyment of it. When thou art putting on thy clothes that morning, O think, “I am now putting on my wedding garments to go to be everlastingly married to my Redeemer.”

When the messenger of death comes to thee, let him not seem dreadful to thee, but look on him as a messenger that brings thee tidings of eternal life. When thou goest up the scaffold, think (as thou saidest to me) that it is but thy fiery chariot to take thee up to thy Father’s house.

And when thou layest down thy precious head to receive thy Father’s stroke, remember what thou saidest to me: Though thy head was severed from thy body, yet in a moment thy soul should be united to thy Head, the Lord Jesus, in heaven. And though it may seem something bitter, that by the hands of men we are parted a little sooner than otherwise we might have been, yet let us consider that it is the decree and will of our Father, and it will not be long ere we shall enjoy one another in heaven again.

Let us comfort one another with these sayings. Be comforted my dear heart.  It is but a little stroke and thou shalt be there where the weary shall be at rest and where the wicked shall cease from troubling. Remember that thou mayest eat thy dinner with bitter herbs, yet thou shalt have a sweet supper with Christ that night. My dear, by what I write unto thee, I do not hereby undertake to teach thee; for these comforts I have received from the Lord by thee. I will write no more, nor trouble thee any further, but commit thee into the arms of God with whom ere long thee and I shall be.

Farewell, my dear. I shall never see thy face more till we both behold the face of the Lord Jesus at that great day.

Mary Love

Cited in Don Kistler, A Spectacle unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994), 1-3. Because of several appeals to spare his life, four of which were Mary’s, Love was not actually executed until August 22, 1651. Mary wrote a similar letter on the eve of his actual execution.

For further study of Christopher Love:

Brooks, Benjamin. Lives of the Puritans, Vol. III. Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1996.

Kisler, Don. A Spectacle unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love. Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994.

Think about it. Endless translations and editions of the Bible, conferences, blogs, mp3 downloads, live streams, video sermons, books, Christian music, CD’s, podcasts, radio shows, social media, and the weekly classes and sermons we take in…

Never has there been a generation with more access to biblical truth.

But is the church any better for it? Are believer’s more holy, more content, more committed to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) because of these accesses?

Here is the challenge that my own heart faces daily. With so much truth available, it is easier to appreciate the truth than apply the truth. It’s too easy to think that if we have appreciated, or just plain liked, a quote, a book, a sermon, a blog post, etc., that we have accomplished the intended effect of that truth. Appreciation and application are two very different things.

Don’t misunderstand. We should have a deep and abiding appreciation and attraction to biblical truth. Saying something like, “I loved that book,” or “I really enjoyed that sermon,” those are good things. Would we really want to say the opposite?

However, what a difference there is in being able to point to measurable and evident changes made in our thinking or behavior because of something we have learned. Appreciation of the truth should lead to application of the truth. Otherwise it is like putting a great Christian classic on the bookshelf for eye candy rather than actually reading it. I once heard a sad anecdote that the definition of a Christian classic is a book that everyone has, but no one has read. This illustrates the point.

So what steps can we take to move from appreciators to appliers? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Write it down. Get a notebook or journal and put into writing your responses to the biblical truth you are accumulating. Write out prayers pleading for the Spirit to apply the truth to your life. When taking notes from a sermon, don’t just write the outline, but note the things that you discern the Holy Spirit doing in your heart in response to the sermon.
  2. Talk about it. This is another way of saying become accountable. Foster relationships in which you can discuss not only the truth you are learning, but also the appropriate responses you should have to those truths.
  3. Review. Because truth is flying at us at light speed, take the time to read through that notebook or journal often to refresh your applications.
  4. Pray. Yeah, you knew that was coming. But I would encourage you to speak to God about the things you are learning. Go over your notes with Him in your prayer time and request specific grace for specific application of His truth.
  5. Slow down. I have found that I get more out of a book read slowly or a blog read repeatedly than trying to keep up with everything that comes out at an almost hourly rate.

Don’t let your mind become a museum for truth.

Every believer knows the value of Bible reading. The most popular approach is to read through the Scriptures in a year. It seems reasonable that our eyes should read every verse in God’s Word annually. But if that is valuable, what about reading the whole Bible in a month?

In December my wife, Kim, and I were discussing our Bible reading plans for 2012. I had (and have) ambitions to read it through twice this year. I must admit that I felt pretty good about that plan. But imagine my response when Kim said, “I think I want to try to read the Bible through in January.”

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical, but encouraged her to go for it.

Well, she did it.

As we talked about the things she learned, I thought those lessons to be too valuable to keep to myself. So I asked her to write her thoughts out so I could post them. She was reluctant to do so for fear of drawing attention to herself. However, at my urging, she did put together her response to reading the Bible in a month. Here it is…

It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it (Dt. 30:12-14).

I’m not really sure what made me want to read the entire Bible in the month of January. I think some of it may have been guilt because it had been a while since I read all of God’s Word. I was also convicted that I am not as familiar with this precious book as I need and want to be. Whatever the reasons, I am so glad I did. It both confirmed my ignorance and whetted my appetite to dive deeper into its riches.

The following are some observations that the Lord showed me as I read:

1.     The unchanging character of God is always in the foreground (His holiness, compassion, faithfulness and grace) and shines against the backdrop of man’s continual failures. His focus on the heart stood out this time as well, especially in the Old Testament amidst all the detailed instructions on conduct.

2.     God’s message, plan, and sovereign orchestration of all events to accomplish this plan are consistent on every page. I am convinced that anyone who says the Bible is inconsistent has not spent much time in it.

3.     My reading included about 8 chapters in each of 5 sections daily (Law, History, Poetry, Prophecy and New Testament). I love seeing the Bible’s commentary on itself as well as themes and events being enhanced in different passages. For example, in Acts Peter is called to evangelize Gentiles and in Psalm 67 we see, “Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You… God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.” In the same day I would read of the faithlessness of the kings and people of Israel, of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the Psalms, and from the prophets who were speaking truth into their lives. On another day I read about David’s desire for God to have a dwelling place in Psalm 132 and Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple in 2 Chronicles 9.

4.     It wasn’t that hard! Yes it took discipline and a good amount of time each day (1 ½ – 2 hrs), but it was very doable. From this point on, reading through God’s Word 3 or 4 times a year does not seem a bit daunting.

5.     I found myself growing in familiarity – the sense in which I am well acquainted with portions of Scripture because I just read them a few days ago. Several times they came to mind readily when dealing with issues in my own heart or in giving counsel to others. Some of these passages were close friends at one time and I’ve missed them. Others were mere acquaintances, but are pulling at me to get to know them better.

6.     After being so immersed in the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan and His repeated warnings and patience with mankind, the final chapters in Revelation carried new meaning. I was overcome with worship for my Sovereign King and Lamb as well as deep sorrow for those who are perishing.

God has lovingly and graciously made it possible for me to know Him through the sacrifice of His Son and the revelation of Himself in His Word. It is not in heaven or across the sea, but it is right beside me on my nightstand. And I pray that it would be ever nearer in my heart and in my mouth.

I’m a music lover, not a music critic. So when I want to review an album it is because I like it and want others to as well. Such is the case with We Proclaim by Ekklesia Music. It is a production of the music that Joshua Spacht has written and arranged for Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida.

This album is a journey. It starts and ends in specific places and is a tour de force of gospel contemplation. Profound theology put into interesting phrasing sung by gifted voices backed by some of the most creative orchestration and arrangements I’ve ever heard… that is the best way I can describe it. The album moves from a defined beginning to a reflective end. I like listening to it from start to finish. You don’t want to “shuffle” the order. If you love the gospel and good music, this record will live in your CD player and be repeated in your iTunes.

Here is what I enjoy about the individual tracks.

1.     In the Beginning

The word “epic” has been overused in recent years, but it is the right word for this track. Wow, just wow! If you want to put John 1:1-5 to music it needs to be big. And this song (actually anthem) is huge. Dramatic strings flow seamlessly with aggressive percussion to create what feels like a soundtrack to the Creation event. The vocals have such a full range of dynamics that the choir’s voices sound like they are floating on a cinematic soundtrack. The drums at 3:33, chased by the strings are awesome. And the closing seconds are the way a piece like this is supposed to end.

2.     A Mighty Fortress

I’m not always a fan of changing the melody of a familiar song. But this one works. The original music is like a march, but this arrangement is more of a celebration. Josh Spacht’s voice is among my favorites. And it really cooks on this track. The new melody makes you think freshly about the words. Got to love the hammer dulcimer too. I think Martin Luther would like this rendition.

3.     Called by Your Name

By the time you get to this song, you wonder if you are listening to the same album. But that is what makes the project so enjoyable. It defies genre assignment. These lyrics are drenched with gospel truth beautifully sung by Kristie and Jerry Wragg (father-in law and daughter-in-law). This song has really tight transitions. Excellent bass and drum rhythm flow. Lots of movement in this tune between full orchestration, breaks with vocals and loops, and parentheses with an acoustic guitar floor. I have heard Jerry sing for years. He is as good as I’ve heard him on this song.

4.     Behold the Lamb

I don’t know where to start on this one. This song is the Everest of the album to me. I have loved this song since the first time I heard it on an old PDI album. Mark Altrogge wrote a classic for my soul in this song. And Josh has taken a simple, sweet ballad and turned it into a symphony worthy of Carnegie Hall. First thing you notice is that it is not in a normal time signature. Josh took a 4/4 song and put it into 7/8 time with minimal change to the melody. Genius! The piano works as a trellis around which a masterpiece grows. Everything about this song works: movie-score strings, intense choir pushes, a crunching phat electric guitar, accenting chimes, Josh’s vocal and Mark’s lyrics make your imagination stare at the cross. My iTunes account tells me that this song is in my top 5. Enough said.

5.     Sweet Sacrifice

Putting this song after Behold the Lamb is perfect. If ever a song were sung perfectly, Meghan Baird does so here. Every time I hear this track, I find that the simplicity of it launches me into the complexity of the hypostatic union (that Jesus is both God and man). And the melody is a soothing application of gospel truth to my heart. Great bass and piano work. Turn the lights down, get a cup of tea, close your eyes and let Meghan take you to the cross. The line, “Darkest hour in all of time as the angels watch you die” gives me chills every time. Beautiful song, deep lyrics, compelling melody.

6.     Of the Father, To the World

It is no secret to anyone that knows me that John Martin is one of my favorite singers. So having his voice weave this complex melody into a simple sound is really cool. This song grows from an acorn to an oak in five and a half minutes. It is a giant crescendo, both lyrically and musically, with a great key change. The chorus/refrain is catchy and will have you humming it for days. I love the break with just John and the choir. Rich theology couched in an invitation to worship.

7.     We Proclaim

Again, excellent strings! And the string and brass combination in the intro lets you know something big is coming. Jessica Fleming (daughter of Jerry Wragg) nails this difficult vocal. There are so many interesting things happening in the background it will take you a lot of trips through it to appreciate them all. The background choral vocals really make this track move. And yes, it has a bit of a Broadway musical ending.

8.     Titus 2:11-13

Scripture put to music, is there a better combination? Two great voices, Josh and Meghan, combine to make this so irresistibly beautiful. I heard this song as a chorus in Josh’s church years ago and instantly wanted the music. He wrote the music to nicely match the meaning of the text of Titus 2:11-13. Dramatic orchestral swells and soft breaks serve to put this text of Scripture securely in your memory. I love this song. It serves kind of like the credits at the end of the movie telling you what to do with what you just heard. This would be a great chorus for your church to sing. [Josh, please put more Scripture to music!]

[This is a letter I wrote to my son on his 16th birthday. I am posting it with his permission]

Luke,

I love you son.

Today you are turning 16. It seems like yesterday you were taking your first steps and not long after that stretching out your legs to ride your big wheel. Now you’ll be driving a car. Turning 16 means you are taking another step toward manhood. It means that in the eyes of the world you are ready for a new set of responsibilities. And I am so thankful I get to have a front row seat to watch your growth.

There are so many things that impress me about you. The truth is that you are way more mature and far godlier than I was at your age. We both know you can be a knucklehead. We both know that you can drive your brothers, your mother, and me crazy. But one of the things that I love most about you is how sensitive and soft you are about your sin. Your quickness in confessing sin and keeping short accounts is something that will serve you the rest of your life.

David told Solomon, “Be strong, become a man” (1 Kings 2:2). Paul told his brothers at Corinth, “Act like men” (1 Cor 16:13). Becoming a strong and responsible man is what God desires and expects from you. Being a man involves two things: masculinity and maturity. Masculinity means you know how to act like a man instead of a woman. Maturity means you know how to act like a man instead of a boy. Now is the time, now is your time to be a man.

What I want to help you do is the combination of David’s and Paul’s counsel: Become a man and act like one. I’m here to help and look forward to you helping me as I grow as well.

On your 16th birthday, I want to encourage you in 16 ways. I could say a lot more than is on this list. But I could not say less. Here you go…

  1. Keep reading your Bible. Remember that it is a supernatural book revealing the living God and will bear supernatural fruit in your life.
  2. Make sure you pray. This great God has given you access to Him anytime and about anything.
  3. Look for ways to remember the gospel every day. Daily sin should bring daily reminders to enjoy the grace of the cross.
  4. Keep loving your Mom. She is the most important woman in your life. And if you look for a wife with her character, you will be exceedingly blessed.
  5. Recognize your influence. You have many eyes on you. Your brothers, your friends, and your acquaintances look to you in ways you can’t imagine and won’t always recognize.
  6. Be a leader. Find ways in every situation to influence the thinking of others to glorify God.
  7. Treat girls like ladies. The way you are learning to treat girls now is setting patterns for life. Open their doors, give them your seat, offer them your jacket, and never let a girl walk to her car alone in the dark.
  8. Read good books. The world belongs to those who read. Find out what the people your respect are reading and consume those books.
  9. Relax. You don’t have to be “right” about everything. (And, oh yeah, you aren’t.)
  10. Be honest. Sometimes telling the truth is painful. But lying has long lasting, destructive consequences.
  11. Laugh. Life has funny moments, but never as funny as you. Learn to laugh at yourself.
  12. Stay off the couch. Between the TV and video games there is a temptation to waste time you can never regain.
  13. Don’t let technology rule you. Don’t become one of those people who are discouraging to talk to because they can’t go long without looking at their smart phones. Stay in the moment when talking to someone in person.
  14. Be humble. Let others praise you. Few things are more ugly than self-congratulations.
  15. Have fun. This world is full of God-given ways to enjoy yourself. Just do so within the parameters of God’s Word.
  16. Keep talking to your Dad. I treasure the way you confide in me and want my counsel. I’m already needing yours.

Again, you are so far ahead of where I was at your age. The world needs men, men of God. Be that man.

Love, Dad

When I wrote my post about Tim Tebow last week, I had no idea it would generate the feedback it did. In one sense I’m thankful. It is good when believers can talk about convictions with each other. But I’m also a bit perplexed. It is interesting that the post on Tim was hit so many more times than a post the next day on parenting. That in and of itself is revealing.

I received some comments that were critical of the Tebow piece that included helpful corrections for me. For that I’m grateful. But after a few comments I received through emails, Facebook comments, and Twitter tweets, I want to make a few clarifications and answer a few questions.

First, the title (“If I Were Tim Tebow’s Pastor”) was simply a rhetorical device. The intention was to merely communicate something like, “If I had Tim’s ear.” Yes, the post ended with the comment that I would love to be Tim’s pastor. But that was simply an indication of my affection for him and his testimony. I am not Tebow’s pastor and do not have any criticisms of him (I don’t know who his pastor is). If I had it to do again, I would have framed the post in the perspective of a Christian brother to another Christian brother. If I have offended Tim’s pastor in any way, let me publicly seek his forgiveness.

Second, several people had questions about the nature of a public critique of Tebow without a private confrontation of him. I understand the concern. But I also want to be fair about this. Last year I wrote a book entitled Uneclipsing the Son. Among the positive feedback I also received some negative and critical evaluations. All of these criticisms were on blogs and very public. In fact, I don’t remember ever getting a negative critique of the book through private correspondence. But I’m okay with that. I think if you are public about something that public criticism and debate are appropriate. Furthermore, I do not think that Tim is in sin, so my comments were not intended to be a confrontation.

Third, I am thankful for Tim Tebow’s boldness and witness for our Savior. I hope I was clear enough about this but let me say again that he is a great role model to whom I point my three sons. But just like I wish he would shorten his release when he passes, I wish he would clarify his gospel comments when he speaks. Both of those wishes are for him to be better. I know he has accurate and clear thinking on the gospel. I’ve heard this in extended interviews. I’m not a Denver Broncos fan but when Tim talks about Christ, I am a major Tebow fan. Is there anything wrong with wanting him to improve that witness?

Last, concern was expressed that I am being nit-picky about the theology expressed by Tim’s dropping to a knee to pray after a score. I have every confidence that Tim’s intentions are God-honoring and sincere. I just think it unintentionally communicates that God is in the business of assisting Christians to win football games. Does He? Well, yes and no. Owen Strachan’s answers this question very well in an excellent post in The Atlantic. It’s a great read. And make no mistake; Tim’s comments after the loss to New England were outstanding in his efforts to honor God. Nathan Busenitz’s second post on Tebow does a great job highlighting this.

Thank you to so many who responded to the Tebow post. My thinking as been sharpened by those interactions.

The implications and influence of our attitudes towards others cannot be overstated. Our tone is usually louder than our message. And tone is more quickly interpreted than words. I’m finding out the hard way that this is the linchpin of parenting.

Having teenage sons in our home creates an interesting environment. Messes happen, chores are neglected, arguments develop, things are lost, procrastination reigns. No, it’s not all negative, but it can get frustrating. But my frustration is not so much that my boys will be boys, but with my response and shepherding of them. Here is the all too easy pattern into which I can fall.

Something happens with one (or more) of my sons that needs correction; they sin. This sin comes to my attention and I feel the reflex of anger in my heart. Then comes a list of questions racing each other in my mind towards my tongue. “What were you thinking?” “What do you think you’re doing?” “Are you kidding me?” “How dare you?” “You were only thinking about yourself, weren’t you?” The list could go on…

Yes, my sons need constant correction. But so does their Dad. But how should that correction be framed? How important is the attitude behind the correction?

If you are a parent who longs to see your children walk with God or a someone who wants to influence your friends and family, there is a helpful pattern for us to follow in Romans 2:4. Paul writes:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

The second chapter of Romans begins with a confrontation regarding being more ready to judge others, including God, before oneself. In verse 4 Paul asks if judgmental spirit has cloaked our understanding of and experience with the gospel. God has demonstrated kindness, tolerance, and patience toward us. And here in the second part of the verse we meet a remarkable principle.

It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Notice that it is God’s attitude, His disposition, which motivates us to change. God motivates us with kindness.

Think of the implications of imitating this attribute of God as we parent our children and try to influence others. Another way to say it is, “You can’t bad-attitude someone into a good attitude.”

When is that last time someone confronted you in anger and your immediate response was something like, “Oh thank you, I am so motivated now to do better and try harder.” Correction packaged in a bad attitude is not motivating, stimulating, or helpful.

If it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, we would do well to encourage repentance in others the same way. But that will only happen when our thinking is flooded with thoughts of God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience toward us in the gospel.

If you are looking for a verse to memorize that will have immediate application in your relationships, my suggestion is Romans 2:4. Once again…

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

If I Were Tim Tebow’s Pastor

Much has been said about Tim Tebow. And you can count on a lot more. My favorite so far is the post by Nathan Busenitz. But I want to add a few pastoral thoughts to the conversation.

I don’t know where Tim goes to church. So obviously I don’t know who his pastor is nor do I have particular encouragements or criticisms about the nature of how his soul is being shepherded. However, I am a pastor (and a father) who has been asked over and over what I think about Tim Tebow.

I like Tim Tebow. And that is no small thing since he led victories against my beloved Tennessee Volunteers as the Florida Gators quarterback.

I like his positive image. I like his humility. I like his football ability. I like his toughness. I like his 4th quarter comebacks. And I love that is he is unashamed of his Savior, Jesus Christ.

But if I were his pastor, I would offer him some counsel that might seem a bit contrarian.

First, I would discourage Tim from “Tebowing” (dropping to a knee in obvious prayer) after a positive play unless he was doing the same after he had been sacked or intercepted. I don’t have any problem with him praying after good plays, but the theology communicated by doing so publically at that time is just misguided. What should be concluded if Tim throws a touchdown pass against a Christian cornerback or safety? Is God not helping them? And should they Tebow (now a verb) in their success over Tebow? What about the Christian defensive back who intercepts him or the believing defensive end who drops him with a crushing tackle? Couldn’t they be justified to drop to a knee and pray with thanksgiving? Would it be right for a Christian defensive player to be caught on camera Tebowing after causing Tebow to fail?

We are commanded to give thanks for all things (Eph 5:20; Col 3:17). But giving demonstrable thanks to God for first downs and touchdowns has the unintended consequence of a prosperity theology where God’s blessing is success.

Second, I would encourage Tim to change his rhetoric. Instead of repeating the mantra that “I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (which usually goes unexplained), I would love to hear something like “I’m thankful that God has given me the ability to play football, but I’m more grateful He has saved me from His judgment through the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The difference is subtle, but important. I’m glad Tim names the name of Jesus. When he does so, however, talking about why he is thankful would be clarifying. Jesus is to be praised for securing souls, not scoring touchdowns.

Third, I would ask Tim to consider the implications of his theology. In a recent discussion with one of my sons about Tebowmania, he asked me a great question. “Dad, do you think God is a Broncos fan now that Tebow is their quarterback?” Again, to which team does God provide assistance when both have faithful Christian players? I know Tim wants to be faithful witness for Christ. And his boldness is admirable and convicting. But how much better would that testimony for the Lord be if he added biblical clarity and accuracy to his testimony.

Let me say again, I really like Tim Tebow. He is the kind of role model I want my sons to live like. Because of that I pray he becomes the kind of theologian I want them to think like.

And for the record, I would love to be Tim Tebow’s pastor…

In Jonathan Edwards’ little booklet called Advice to Young Converts, he gives this simple advice for hearing sermons.

When you hear sermons, hear them for yourself… Let the chief end of your mind be to consider what ways you can apply the things that you are hearing in the sermon. You should ask, What improvement should I make, based on these things, for my own soul’s good.

How different our Sunday conversations and considerations would be this year if we put this to good use.

There is much more to be taken from Edwards’ Advice to Young Converts. This is good read for the beginning of the year. Here is the complete text of the booklet…

 

Advice to Young Converts by Jonathan Edwards

Dear Child,

As you desired me to send you in writing some directions on how to conduct yourself in your Christian course, I will now answer your request. The sweet remembrance of the great things I have lately seen at Suffield, and the dear affections for those persons I have conversed with there, give good evidences of a saving work of God upon their hearts and also incline me to do anything that lies in my power to contribute to the spiritual joy and prosperity of God’s people there. And what I write to you, I would also say to other young women there who are your friends and companions and the children of God. Therefore, I desire you would communicate it to them as you have opportunity.

One – I would advise you to keep up as great a strife and earnestness in religion in all aspects of it, as you would do if you knew yourself to be in a state of nature and you were seeking conversion. We advise persons under convictions to be extremely earnest for the kingdom of heaven, but when they have attained conversion they ought not to be the less watchful, laborious, and earnest in the whole work of religion, but the more; for they are under infinitely greater obligations. For lack of this, many persons in a few months after their conversion have begun to lose the sweet and lively sense of spiritual things, and to grow cold and flat and dark. They have pierced themselves through with many sorrows, whereas if they had done as the Apostle did in Philippians 3:12-14, their path would have been as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.

Not that I have already all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12-14)

Two – Don’t slack off seeking, striving, and praying for the very same things that we exhort unconverted persons to strive for, and a degree of which you have had in conversion. Thus pray that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive your sight, that you may know your -self and be brought to God’s feet, and that you may see the glory of God and Christ, may be raised from the dead, and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart. Those that have most of these things still need to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness and pride and death remaining that they still need to have that work of God upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them. This will be a further bringing out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, and a kind of new conversion and resurrection from the dead. There are very few requests that are not only proper for a natural person, but that in some sense are also proper for the godly.

Three – When you hear sermons, hear them for yourself, even though what is spoken in them may be more especially directed to the unconverted or to those that in other respects are in different circumstances from yourself. Let the chief intent of your mind be to consider what ways you can apply the things that you are hearing in the sermon. You should ask, What improvement should I make, based on these things, for my own soul’s good?

Four - Though God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet don’t forget them yourself. Often remember what a wretched bond slave you were in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular acts of sin before conversion, as the blessed Apostle Paul is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting, and injuriousness, to the renewed humbling of his heart and acknowledging that he was the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called an apostle, and the least of saints, and the chief of sinners. And be often in confessing your old sins to God. Also, let this following passage be often in your mind:

Then, when I make atonement for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the sovereign LORD. (Ezek. 16:63).

Five - Remember that you have more cause, on some accounts a thousand times more, to lament and humble yourself for sins that have been since conversion than those that were before conversion, because of the infinitely greater obligations that are upon you to live to God. Look upon the faithfulness of Christ in unchangeably continuing his loving favor, and the unspeakable and saving fruits of his everlasting love. De, spite all your great unworthiness since your conversion, his grace remains as great or as wonderful as it was in converting you.

Six - Be always greatly humbled by your remaining sin, and never think that you lie low enough for it, but yet don’t be at all discouraged or disheartened by it. Although we are exceeding sinful, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, the preciousness of whose blood, the merit of whose righteousness, and the greatness of whose love and faithfulness infinitely overtop the highest mountains of our sins.

Seven – When you engage in the duty of prayer, come to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or attend any other duty of divine worship, come to Christ as Mary Magdalene did. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:37-38)

Just like her, come and cast yourself down at his feet and kiss them, and pour forth upon him the sweet perfumed ointment of divine love, out of a pure and broken heart, as she poured her precious ointment out of her pure, alabaster, broken box.

Eight – Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. It was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan’s whole building. It is the most difficult to root out, and it is the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lust, and it often creeps in, insensibly, into the midst of religion and sometimes under the disguise of humility.

Nine - That you may pass a good judgment on your spiritual condition, always consider your best conversations and best experiences to be the ones that produce the following two effects: First, those conversations and experiences that make you least, lowest, and most like a little child; and, second, those that do most engage and fix your heart in a full and firm disposition to deny yourself for God and to spend and be spent for him.

Ten – If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul under darkness and dull frames of mind, it is proper to look over past experiences. Don’t, however, consume too much of your time and strength in poring and puzzling thoughts about old experiences, that in dull frames appear dim and are very much out of sight, at least as to that which is the cream and life and sweetness of them. Rather, apply yourself with all your might to an earnest pursuit after renewed experiences, new light, and new, lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face, and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than examining old experiences by the best mark that can be given for a whole year.

Eleven – When the exercise of grace is at a low ebb, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails, don’t desire to have fear cast out any other way than by the reviving and prevailing of love, for it is not agreeable to the method of God’s wise dispensations that it should be cast out any other way. When love is asleep, the saints need fear to restrain them from sin, and therefore it is so ordered that at such times fear comes upon them, and that more or less as love sinks. But when love is in lively exercise, persons don’t need fear. The prevailing of love in the heart naturally tends to cast out fear as darkness in a room vanishes away as you let more and more of the perfect beams of the sun into it:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:18)

Twelve – You should be often exhorting and counseling and warning others, especially at such a day as this: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:25)

And I would advise you especially to be much in exhorting children and young women who are your equals; and when you exhort others that are men, I would advise that you take opportunities for it chiefly when you are alone with them or when only young persons are present.

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in
quietness and full submission. (1 Tim. 2:9-11)

Thirteen – When you counsel and warn others, do it earnestly, affectionately, and thoroughly. And when you are speaking to your equals, let your warnings be intermixed with expressions of your sense of your own unworthiness and of the sovereign grace that makes you differ. And, if you can with a good conscience, say how you in yourself are more unworthy than they.

Fourteen – If you would set up religious meetings of young women by yourselves, to be attended once in a while, besides the other meetings that you attend, I should think it would be very proper and profitable.

Fifteen – Under special difficulties, or when in great need of or great longings after any particular mercies for your self or others, set apart a day of secret fasting and prayer alone. Let the day be spent not only in petitions for the mercies you desired, but in searching your heart, and looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God, not as practiced in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God. Include the sins of your past life from your childhood up until now, both before and after conversion, with particular circumstances and aggravations. Also be very particular and as thorough as possible, spreading all the abominations of your heart before him.

Sixteen - Don’t let the adversaries of religion have any grounds to say that these converts don’t carry themselves any better than others.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:46-48)

How holy should the children of God be! And the redeemed and the ones beloved of the Son of God should behave themselves in a manner worthy of Christ. Therefore walk as a child of the light and of the day, and adorn the doctrine of God your Savior. Particularly be much in those things that may especially be called Christian virtues, that make you like the Lamb of God. Be meek and lowly of heart and full of a pure, heavenly, and humble love to all. Abound in deeds of love to others and of self-denial for others, and let there be in you a disposition to account others better than yourself.

Seventeen – Don’t talk of things of religion and matters of experience with an air of lightness and laughter, which is too much the custom in many places.

Eighteen - In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side. From these wounds came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hides your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness.

Nineteen – Pray much for the church of God and especially that he would carry on his glorious work that he has now begun. Be much in prayer for the ministers of Christ.

Particularly I would beg a special interest in your prayers and the prayers of your Christian companions, both when you are alone and when you are together, for your affectionate friend, that rejoices over you and desires to be your servant.

In Jesus Christ,

Jonathan Edwards

My Bible Reading Plan for 2012

After posting Justin Taylor’s helpful suggestions for Bible reading plans, I have been asked by multiple people what plan I am going to use in 2012. First, let me say that I have used multiple plans in the past. Some were helpful and fit the way I think/read better than others. And there were a few plans that were just too complicated for me to maintain. I have seen other people succeed at both the most ambitious plans and the simplest ones. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach.

The most success I have enjoyed has been the straightforward approach of reading three chapters a day from Genesis to Revelation. That gets you through the Scriptures in about a year. Call me simple, but this has been my favorite method.

This year I am going to use a modified version of Don Whitney’s suggestion. My plan is to read six chapters a day, two chapters each from three places in the Bible. Here is what it looks like…

The three starting places are Genesis, Job, and Matthew. So the first day will be Genesis 1-2, Job 1-2, and Matthew 1-2. Day two will be Genesis 3-4, Job 3-4, and Matthew 3-4. The scheme is to keep reading consecutively from those three points and finish the sections (Gen—Esther, Job—Malachi, Matt—Rev) about the same time.

For me, this keeps things simple and also includes variety. It has a pace of finishing the Bible in less than a year, but also includes the flexibility to shorten and extend the daily readings depending on time and length of chapters (ever compared Ps 117 and 119?).

I have learned a lot about myself in previous years of Bible reading. For example, I know there are days that I miss. I hope I didn’t just lose all credibility. When this happens it is important that I get back into the Word the next day and not worry about making up for lost time, but meeting with God in His revelation. With the six-chapter approach there should not be much of a problem reading the Bible through in a year if the missed days are only exceptions.

I’ve also learned that it is a rare day that I cannot read more than what is planned. Who says you have to stop where the plan says stop? I like to think of it as an appointment with God for a certain amount of time and filling that time with reading and prayer.

One more thing I have found is that sometimes you come to a verse or passage in the reading that is so profound and has such intense application for your life that you just need to stop there and not concern yourself with reading any further.

There is actually a dangerous part of having a Bible reading plan. This is the pitfall of becoming a slave to it rather than seeking it as a time for personal worship. It is better to read one verse worshipfully than multiple chapters dutifully.

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