Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Amazing Thoughts from the Writer of Amazing Grace

I am greatly enjoying reading a biography of John Newton, the English pastor who is most famous for writing the hymn 'Amazing Grace'. The book by Jonathan Aitken is entitled John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.
Like many biographies, Aitken traces Newton's life from his earliest childhood days, detailing the influences of his youth and his spiritual struggles. Newton worked in the slave trade, becoming the captain of his own ship. He fell in love and spent years apart from his bride to be while he earned money to support her. Newton struggled with the temptations of the slave trade, but in the midst of that was drawn to God and experienced God's saving grace.

Eventually John Newton felt the call to the ministry. He had friends in many religious groups, being friends with prominent Church of England pastors as well as revivalists like John Wesley and George Whitefield. Newton quickly became known in religious circles as a man who was a religious enthusiast – in other words, he took his faith seriously. Unfortunately religious enthusiasm was frowned upon by the formal, socially accepted Church of England he sought to join as a minister. Only after many years and many refusals and disappointments was he granted a pastoral position in the township of Olney.

Newton's mindset as he approached his first church is what struck me. We can all learn from it. This is what he wrote to his wife on the eve of his move to Olney:
“I now almost stagger at the prospect before me. I am to stand in a very public point of view, to take charge of a large parish, to answer the incessant demands of stated and occasional services, to preach what I ought and to be what I preach.”  John Newton:  From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, p. 179.
I am challenged by his last two phrases. First, to preach what I ought – to be faithful in preaching the truth of the Word of God. And that challenge exists for all of us, whether we are in full time ministry or not, because we are all involved in communicating truth, preaching as it were, to family and friends around us. Is our communication in line with the Word of God?

And then, even more challenging, his last phrase – to be what I preach. To live a life consistent with the truth that I am communicating to others. A life that is not hypocritical – saying one thing and living another – but a life that lines up with the truths of God's Word.

Lord, help me be faithful in your service, preaching what I ought, and being what I preach. Amen.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Importance of Diet and Exercise

All of us face the struggle to live a healthy, balanced life. The temptations to eat too much or be less active are always there. We have to keep an eye on our diet. We can be as active as we want, but if we eat too much junk, our lives will not be healthy and balanced. On the other hand, we can have a great diet, but if spend our days lying around in front of the TV, we cannot be healthy and balanced either. A life that is healthy and balanced physically depends on both diet and exercise.

What happens if we import these ideas into our spiritual lives? Our diet would consist of encounters with God and His Word that strengthen and nourish us. The exercise we participate in would be the times when we put our faith into action – serving the Lord by serving others. Are both diet and exercise as important spiritually as they are physically?

Consider what would happen if we were all about diet, all about nourishment alone. We would know our Bibles. We would be able to argue ourselves out of every theological box. We would be able to quote chapter and verse as well as anyone. But does head knowledge alone lead to spiritual maturity? Or does it just make us a prideful, spiritual snob?

At the same time, consider what would happen if we were only about spiritual exercise, putting our faith in practice. We would be busy. No grass would grow under our feet. But where does the spiritual strength to achieve all the good works and sacrificial service come from without a diet of God and His Word? Spiritual exercise alone can only lead to exhaustion, frustration and burnout.

The key, as in so many things in life, is balance. Are we getting the proper nutrition? Do we sit under the teaching of the Word of God regularly? Are we engaged in personal Bible study and prayer? At the same time, we are active in our exercise? Do we serve God by serving others? Are we giving of ourselves, putting our faith in action and reflecting the love of Christ to people around us?

The balanced Christian life needs both diet and exercise. In Colossians 1, the apostle Paul tells the Colossian Christians what he prays for them. He wants them to live a life worthy of the Lord. And what are the key components of such a life? Diet and exercise!

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work (here is the exercise!), growing in the knowledge of God (here is the diet!).... (Col. 1:10, NIV, comments in parenthesis are mine)

That is my prayer for all of you – that we would be as diligent (or in some cases, more diligent) pursuing spiritual balance through both diet and exercise as we are chasing the same balance in our physical bodies.