Archive for January, 2009

Self-Discipline

When you think of self-discipline, what type of person comes to mind?

I think of a career marine officer. The type that gets up before dawn, even if there is no particular need to, and goes for a run. His bed is made, his pantry is organized, his diet is fixed. His whole life is regimented.

Perhaps you think of someone else. Perhaps an Olympic athlete or a self-help guru.

Don’t we know that self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The very first thing that ought come to our minds should be, “Christian.” Christians ought be models of self-control and discipline. What is more powerful and effective at building self-control, the world or heaven? Yet athletes and soldiers, by exceeding above us, demonstrate the opposite of what is the truth. What is more powerful for building self-control, the law or the gospel(Rom. 6:14, 2Cor. 3:3)? Yet, who in our religious movements are more self controlled, the sects that focus primarily on the gospel or the sects that focus primarily on the law? Look at the Mennonites and the Quakers and be amazed at the power of the law for life transformation. Then look at yourself and feel ashamed that the gospel, infinitely more efficacious than the law, doesn’t have the same affect on your life (Rom. 1:16).

We, who claim to have God over world and gospel over law, all too often have neither God nor gospel. The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power (1Cor. 4:20). If American Christianity has God and His gospel, where is the power? We might as well take the world’s power or law’s power, for apparently they are more effective. And that is what many people are doing. Because of us, God is mocked (Rom. 2:24). Why? Because we are in bondage. Like the Israelites of old (Isa. 52:4-5), the whole world, though us, can see that God is not powerful enough to free His people from their self-inflicted bondage.

Yet there is another way!

Read history. Do you know who it records as some of the most disciplined people who ever lived? Men like Jonathon Edwards, David Brainerd, and David Livingstone. These men could match any Olympic athlete in self-control. Beyond that, they could do it while being mocked, loosing children, being tortured, and even while being put to death. And yet, they were filled with joy for God and love for those that persecuted them. What athlete or soldier has trained themselves so well as this?

Is this not what we should expect? After all the Scriptures say that the world trains and competes for what is perishing but we for what is imperishable (1Cor. 9:25). Therefore, we should run the better. Let us then remember the men who ran well, and set them before us as an example (Php. 3:17, 2Th. 3:9, Heb. 6:11-12, Heb. 12:1), remembering that Him who empowered them to do so abides in us as well.

Rise up Christian. Look to the glory and do not quit the race until it is finished (1Cor. 9:27, Heb. 4:11, Luke 13:24). “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way … For to this end we toil and strive” (1Tim. 4:8-10). Do not be content with reading your Bible every day, staying the course in marriage, or getting to work on time. Yes, do those things, but know that the gospel is more powerful than that. Therefore, excel! Excel far beyond what you ever imagined you could. Live a life that says, “In me, ‘all will see how great, how great is our God.'”

God has ordained that the world would see His greatness and glory through His Church (Psa. 50:2) and through His saints (1Cor. 11:7, 2Cor. 8:23, 2Cor. 3:18). We are to be a city on a hill, a beacon of light to the world (Matt 5:14). And we are to do this, not by our own strength, but by His (Col. 1:29, John 15:5, John 5:19, Phil. 4:13, Prov 3:5).

An Ulster Revival Story

Though the origin of a movement of God cannot be fixed by man, many attribute the beginnings of Ireland’s 1859 Ulster Revival to a humble prayer group of four Christians. These men dedicated themselves to pray for their own edification and the salvation of others around them. Once the revival was underway, over 10,000 converts were made in the first few weeks, and by the end of the year 100,000 converts were brought into churches.

One minister said of this time:

From contact with this ‘wonderful work of God,’ and being honoured to take some little part in carrying it on, my spirit has been literally overwhelmed with a sense of my own deep unworthiness, and yet that God should ‘count me worthy, putting me into the ministry’ at such a precious time of abounding mercy to perishing men; and I have felt that all earthly honours pale into insignificance when compared with the highest God could confer on man, being a ‘fellow-worker with God, and with His Christ.’ It were worth living ten thousand ages in obscurity and reproach to be permitted to creep forth at the expiration of that time, and engage in the glorious work of the last six months of 1859. (Source)

What follows is one particular Ulster Revival story told by William Gibson, in his work The Year of Grace (paragraphing added).
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Three Dollars Worth of God

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul
    or disturb my sleep,
        but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
            or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God
    to make me love a black man
        or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy,
    not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb,
    not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

—Wilbur Reese

John Paton's Spiritual Upbringing

If you have never heard of John Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides, I think you will really enjoy Piper’s presentation of him, it takes about an hour, and is well worth the time.

Piper on John Paton (64 minutes):

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Almost all of Piper’s materials are freely available here.

38 minutes into this talk, Piper claims the following about the origin of Paton’s spiritual character:

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His courage came from his father … And his father—I tell you after the first eighty pages of this, if you had taken it from me and ripped it to shreds and said; “See, you’ve wasted your $25.00,” I would have said; “I didn’t waste a nickel.” Five pages in this book are worth $25.00 to me. I have four sons and one daughter and I wept over these pages, and I wept last night as I read them again because I want to be a daddy like this daddy was. To produce a John Patton—he did not come out of know where—he came from a daddy and a mommy.

I also found those early pages to be exceptionally inspirational to me as a father and so I am going to post the first twenty pages of Paton’s autobiography after the jump. But first, here are some excerpts to whet your appetite:
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The Conversion of David Brainerd

What follows is an account of the conversion of David Brainerd in his own words, as taken from the Life and Diary of David Brainerd which is published in Vol. 2 of The works of Jonathan Edwards.

“I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme; but do not remember any thing of conviction of sin, worthy of remark, till I was, I believe, about seven or eight years of age. Then I became concerned for my soul, and terrified at the thoughts of death, and was driven to the performance of duties: but it appeared a melancholy business, that destroyed my eagerness for play. And though, alas! this religious concern was but short-lived, I sometimes attended secret prayer; and thus lived at “ease in Zion, without God in the world,” and without much concern, as I remember, till I was above thirteen years of age. But some time in the winter 1732, I was roused out of carnal security, by I scarce know what means at first; but was much excited by the prevailing of a mortal sickness in Haddam. I was frequent, constant, and somewhat fervent in duties; and took delight in reading, especially Mr. Janeway’s Token for Children. I felt sometimes much melted in duties, and took great delight in the performance of them; and I sometimes hoped that I was converted, or at least in a good and hopeful way for heaven and happiness, not knowing what conversion was. The Spirit of God at this time proceeded far with me; I was remarkably dead to the world, and my thoughts were almost wholly employed about my soul’s concerns; and I may indeed say, “Almost I was persuaded to be a Christian” I was also exceedingly distressed and melancholy at the death of my mother, in March, 1732. But afterwards my religious concern began to decline, and by degrees I fell back into a considerable degree of security, though I still attended secret prayer.
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