My Evil Thoughts (Newton)

 For me, one difficult part of the Christian life is the troubling sinful thoughts that burden my mind daily.  Sometimes I know why a sinful thought arose in my mind; other times I have no clue why and no idea where a thought came from.  Satan is for sure to blame for at least some of our evil thoughts!  Speaking of horrifying thoughts, wouldn’t it be a terrible nightmare if other people knew all of our sinful thoughts?  If thoughts were crimes, I’d have been tried, found guilty, and executed long ago!

John Newton wrote a letter to a certain Miss W who had talked to him about her anxiety over sinful thoughts.  Newton’s pastoral note is outstanding; this comforted me today.

As to evil thoughts, they as unavoidably arise from an evil nature, as steam from a boiling tea-kettle. Every cause will have its effect, and a sinful nature will have sinful effects. You can no more keep such thoughts out of your mind than you can stop the course of the clouds. But, if the Lord had not taught you, you would not have been sensible of them, nor concerned about them. This is a token for good. By nature your thoughts would have been only evil, and that continually. But you find something within you that makes you dislike these thoughts; makes you ashamed of them, makes you strive and pray against them. These evil thoughts convince you, that, though you do not willfully speak or do evil, yet upon the account of your evil thoughts alone, you are a sinner, and stand in need of such great forgiveness; that if there were not a precious, compassionate, and mighty Savior, you could have no hope.

Now, this something that reveals and resists your evil thoughts—what can it be? It cannot be human nature; for we naturally have vain imaginations. It is the grace of God! The Lord has made you sensible of your disease, that you might love and prize the great Physician. The knowledge of his love shall make you hate these thoughts; and faith in his blood shall deliver you from the guilt of them; yet you will be pestered with them more or less while you live in this world, for sin is wrought into our bodies, and our souls must be freed from our bodies—before we shall be fully freed from the evils under which we mourn!

Later in the letter Newton talked about how Satan temps God’s people.  He then wrote:

Be thankful, my dear, that he treats you as his enemy; for miserable is the state of those to whom he behaves as a friend. And always remember that he is a chained enemy! He may terrify, but he cannot devour those who have fled for refuge to Jesus. And the Lord shall over-rule all for good. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil!” Ephesians 6:10-11.

Sinful thoughts are difficult to deal with; I hate them!  But, as Newton noted from Scripture, there is forgiveness now and in the future there is victory in Christ!

The above quote is found in volume 6 of Newton’s Works (p. 254-5).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

One of the Marks: Christian Discipline

 One of the three marks of a true Christian church is discipline.  That is, a true Christian church will follow Christ’s command in Matthew 18 and discipline an unrepentant sinner (see also 1 Cor. 5:1-5).  Now, not every church disciplines unrepentant sinners.  Some churches are ignorant of Christ’s command, others are afraid to discipline because it might mean people leave.  Still others think God will sort it all out so the church shouldn’t worry about it.  However, no matter how difficult it is, no matter if it means people leave, the call of Christ is clear: unrepentant sinners must be reubked and disciplined (Mt. 18:17).  D. M. Lloyd-Jones was emphatic on this point:

The third mark of the Church, and the one I am most anxious to emphasize, because it is so sadly neglected, is the exercise of discipline. Now if we had asked at the beginning: ‘What are the three essential marks of the Church?’, I wonder how many would have mentioned the exercise of discipline? There is no doubt at all but that this doctrine is grievously neglected. Indeed, if I were asked to explain why it is that things are as they are in the Church; if I were asked to explain why statistics show the dwindling numbers, the lack of power and the lack of influence upon men and women; if I were asked to explain why it is that so many churches seem to be incapable of sustaining the cause without resorting to whist drives and dances and things like that; if I were asked to explain why it is that the Church is in such a parlous condition, I should have to say that the ultimate cause is the failure to exercise discipline.  David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Church and the Last Things (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 14.

But why do (or should!) churches discipline unrepentant sinners?  The Bible gives several reasons.  Here are some reasons found in 1 Corinthians 5 (I’ve summarized them from Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism):

  1. So that the obstinate sinner may be put to shame and convicted to the point of repentance (1 Cor. 5:5).
  2. So that other Christians do not stumble because of the person’s sin (1 Cor. 5:6).
  3. To teach other Christians that sin will be disciplined (1 Cor. 5:6).
  4. So that the church may not be disgraced on account of public scandals (1 Cor. 5:7).

Also, one of the major reasons why churches should discipline unrepentant sinners is for the glory of Christ.  We don’t want his name dragged in the mud because some in his church are allowed to live in a way that profanes his holy name.

On a positive note, a church disciplines unrepentant sinners out of love for the sinner and for Christ!  We want the sinner to repent, his people to be edified, and we want Jesus’ name to be hallowed.  Indeed, Christian discipline is a mark of a true church.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI


The Bags Around Our Necks (Binning)

 I’ve been studying and preaching through 1 Corinthians 13 (sometimes known as Paul’s hymn of love) and one resource I’ve been using is Hugh Binning’s Christian Love.  It’s not too long, but it is sometimes difficult to read because of the older language.  However, it is worth the effort!  Here’s a section I ran across today as I was looking at the phrase love “always trusts” (NIV):

It is certainly [excessive] love and indulgence to ourselves that makes us aggravate other men’s faults to such a height.  Self-love looks on other men’s failings through a magnifying glass, but she puts her own faults behind her back.

Binning is alluding to one of Aesop’s Fables that explain how all men are born with two bags around their necks: One is full of the faults of others and it hangs on our necks in front of us, under our noses.  The other bag hangs behind us, and it is full of our own faults.  This means, of course, that we always see the faults of others, but it is hard to see our own faults.  This is similar to the “log in the eye” teaching of Jesus in Luke 6.  Here’s more:

[Excessive self-love] can suffer much in herself but nothing in others; and certainly much self-forbearance and indulgence can spare little for others.  But charity is just contrary, she is most rigid on her own behalf, will not pardon herself easily…, and has no indignation but against herself.  Thus she can spare much candor and forbearance for others, and has little or no indignation left behind to consume on others.

Does that make sense?  In other words, if you don’t love someone you will be quick to look for, find, and point out other people’s flaws and sins while minimizing your own.  If I don’t love my neighbor, I will not put up with my neighbor’s faults and sins, but I will easily put up with my own.

However, love is not that way.  If you love someone, you’ll be patient and kind towards them, despite their flaws and sins, and you’ll be more upset with your own sins than theirs.

Indeed, love is patient, love is kind.  …It does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:4-5 NIV).

The above quotes are from Hugh Binning, Christian Love, p. 26-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Wrath, God’s Love, and the Cross (Carson)

Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God God’s love and his wrath are on display throughout the Bible.  I realize “the wrath of God” sounds harsh in many people’s ears, but it clearly is a teaching of the Bible.  It’s a teaching that has to do with the perfect justice of God.  Here’s how Don Carson well explained the love and wrath of God:

“The reality is that the Old Testament displays the grace and love of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in new covenant writings.  Similarly, the Old Testament displays the righteous wrath of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the new covenant writings.  In other words, both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New.  These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – in the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s love?  Look at the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s wrath?  Look at the cross.

Hymn writers have sometimes captured this best,  In Wales Christians sing a nineteenth-century hymn by William Rees:

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, p 70-71.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

What Are First Fruits?

I’m still making my way through this helpful book: Images of the Church in the New Testament by Paul Minear.  One image he talks about is the image of the first fruits.  This is a rich theme in the Bible that applies to various concepts in the Old and New Testaments (see Gen 49:3, Ex 23:16, Lev 2:12, Jer 2:3, Rom 8:23, 1 Cor 15:20, etc).

Here’s how Minear nicely summarizes the different nuances of the meaning of first fruits:

It recalls a pattern of Jewish thought in which the first produce, whether of grain, flocks, bread, or children, was specially given by God and therefore must be given back to him as a token of total indebtedness.  This conception had played a central role in national festivals and in temple liturgy.  In Christian imagination the picture fused together several basic conviction:

1) God’s lordship over all and his gift of all.
2) The Passover requirement of the sacrifice of the first-born.
3) Man’s dedication to God of all his ‘produce.’
4) The appearance and presentation of the first fruit as a pledge of the coming harvest.
5) The power of the first to represent all others in the series.
6) The power of the first to sanctify and to cleanse the whole series.

These assumptions permeate the following appearances of the idiom in the New Testament: Christ is the first fruits of the dead (1 Cor 15:20-23); the Spirit, which is at work within the Christian community, is the pledge and guarantee, the ‘down payment’ of the coming redemption, which is designed to reach the whole creation (Rom 8:23; cf. also ch 11:16); the first converts in a providence embody the promise and power of salvation for the whole province (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15); the Christian community as a whole is begotten in order to serve as the first fruits of all God’s people (James 1:18; cf also Rev 14:4).

Minear then notes how “first fruits” is a biblical way to think about Christ’s church: “It locates the historical present of the church as lying between what God has done and what he will surely do.  It suggests that God is now active in social history.  It identifies Jesus Christ as the agent through whom God’s hand is at work” (Minear then cites Eph 2.10, Rev 3:14, Col 1:16).

So the imagery of “first fruit” is found in the OT and ultimately fulfilled in Christ, the Spirit’s work, the church, and God’s mission to the world!

Paul Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament, p 112-113.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Morbus Sabbaticus (Sunday Sickness)

Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations From time to time I read and utilize sermon illustration books.  Some of the time the illustrations aren’t good or helpful.  Sometimes they are helpful.  Other times they just make me think.  Here’s one that stuck out this morning in my studies:

“Morbus Sabbaticus,” better known as “Sunday sickness,” is a disease peculiar to some church members. The symptoms vary, but these are generally observed:

1. It never lasts more than twenty-four hours.
2. It never interferes with the appetite.
3. It never affects the eyes. The Sunday newspapers can be read with no pain. Television seems to help the eyes.
4. No physician is ever called.
5. After a few “attacks,” at weekly intervals, it may become chronic … even terminal.

No symptoms are usually felt on Saturday. The patient sleeps well and wakes feeling well. He eats a hearty Sunday breakfast, then the attack comes until services are over for the morning. The patient feels better and eats a solid dinner.  After dinner, he takes a nap, then watches one or two football games on TV. He may take a walk before supper, and stop and chat with neighbors. If there are church services scheduled for Sunday evening, he will have another short attack. Invariably, he wakes up Monday morning and rushes off to work feeling refreshed. The symptoms may not recur until the following Sunday, unless another service is scheduled at the church during the week.

This illustration is based on a true story – or true stories!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Three Excellent (Lesser-Known?) Logos Resources

 I’ve been using Logos Bible software for around two years now, and I keep finding various jewels in my collection.  Although I could list a few more, here are three that I recently began using quite a bit.  These are three resources I’ve come to value and appreciate for my studies in Scripture.  I hadn’t heard of these resources before I got Logos, but now I find myself recommending them to others since I like them so much.

An Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 10–16, 2nd ed.  First, Ronald Trail’s Exegetical Summary series is quite helpful.  It’s not an in-depth detailed syntactical and grammatical resource.  Instead, it is a phrase-by-phrase resource to help in translation and interpretation.  For example, I was studying 1 Corinthians 13:7 – a passage that has various translations.  The Exegetical Summary gives a helpful list on how various other resources translate the phrases in 1 Cor. 13:7.  Here is the summary for “love bears all things” (focusing mostly on “bears”):

LEXICON—a. pres. act. indic. of στέγω (LN 25.176) (BAGD 1. or 2. p. 766): ‘to bear’ [BAGD (2.); KJV, NET, NRSV], ‘to bear up under’ [ISV], ‘to suffer’ [Lns], ‘to put up with’ [LN; TNT], ‘to make allowances’ [NJB], ‘to be tolerant’ [ICC], ‘to be supportive’ [CEV], ‘to support’ [HNTC], ‘to protect’ [NIV], ‘to keep confidence’ [AB], ‘to cover’ [BAGD (1.), Herm, NTC], ‘to pass over in silence, to keep confidential’ [BAGD (1.)], ‘to endure’ [BAGD (2.), LN], ‘to stand’ [BAGD (2.)]. The phrase πάντα στέγει ‘bears all things’ is translated ‘there is no limit to (love’s) forbearance’ [NAB], ‘there is nothing (love) cannot face’ [REB], ‘never gives up’ [NLT, TEV], ‘never tires of support’ [NIGTC]. See this word also at 9:12.

After this Trail asks “What sense of στέγω ‘bears/covers’ meant here?  Then he answers the question by giving four different ways translators and commentators have interpreted it.  This is very helpful when I’m trying to decide the meaning or interpretation of a word.  In case you’re interested, I’m thinking that “bears” here means “covers” as in love covers a multitude of sins or “covers” as in covering in a protective way (see the NIV).

Dictionary of Bible Themes I also like this resource that I believe Zondervan put out some years ago: Dictionary of Bible Themes by Martin Manser.  This is something like an index of all the major Bible themes like love, anger, forgiveness, purity, fellowship, suffering, Christ’s patience, God’s glory, and so forth.  You can preview this online so I won’t explain it in detail.  But I have used it quite a bit when studying themes in the Bible.  For example, here’s section 8607 on God’s promises concerning prayer (note – in Logos the Bible references are linked so you can click on them):
God promises to hear and respond to the prayers of his people, when they pray in the name of his Son and according to his will.
God expects his people to make requests of him in prayer
Mt 7:7-11 pp Lk 11:9-13 See also Mt 21:22
God promises to answer prayer in the name of Jesus Christ
Jn 14:13-14; 15:7 See also Jn 15:16; 16:23-24
God promises to respond to the prayers of his people in times of need
Ps 91:14-16 See also Ps 50:14-15
God promises to hear the prayers of the oppressed
Ps 10:17 See also Ex 22:22-23,26-27; Ps 102:19-20; Isa 41:17
God promises to hear the prayers of the truly penitent
2Ch 7:14 See also Eze 36:37; Zec 10:6; 13:8-9
God promises to hear the prayers of his obedient people
1Jn 3:22
The need in prayer to have confidence in God’s promises
Mk 11:24; 1Jn 5:14 See also Mt 18:19

Lexham Theological Wordbook Finally, I like Logos’ own Lexham Theological Wordbook.  This lists resource doesn’t list the Hebrew and Greek words by lemma (that is, by the alphabetized Hebrew or Greek word), but rather by domain (that is, by concepts like glory, hope, and idolatry for just a few examples).  So if you want to learn a bit what the Bible says about joy, you click on joy and it gives you 1) a concept summary/definition, 2) theological overview, 3) lexical information, and 4) a related words/concepts list that is linked to other themes in the book.  I could spend a bunch more time explaining it, but if you go to Logos’ website (here), you’ll see a better explanation of it.

Again, there are other great resources in Logos that I use daily.  But these are three that some may have overlooked – like I did for a while!  But now that I’ve found them and used them, I’m for sure glad I have them.  Feel free to email me or comment below if you have other Logos resources like these that are worth pointing out.  Or, let me know if you have questions.  Finally, Logos kindly gave our blog readers a code for a Logos package discount, which you can use here.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI