Oh Amazing, Effectual Grace

I was 15 years old and a fairly new Christian in Chester, England. My father had just started a Church that was meeting in our home, and though growing, did not have any young people my age.

I loved the Sunday services taking place in the home, and yet, I had to admit, also craved fellowship with Christians my own age. I was seemingly the lone Christian in my class at High School and though I often shared the gospel with people, I sometimes felt the barrage as my school friends raised their objections. I felt the need to hang out with young people who shared my new faith in Christ. I managed to find a group of like minded people about 14 miles away in a little village called Little Neston.

After gaining permission from my parents, once a week I got on my bicycle and cycled to Little Neston to attend the group. Led by a wonderful Christian High School teacher named Mark Thomas, the group was hungry for God. As I recall, the group did not engage in the normal outside activities youth groups do. We just pursued God, wanting to know Him and His word more deeply.

Mark would prepare and lead us in Bible studies and would play his guitar as we worshipped the Lord, while others took turns on the only organ in the room, or percussion instruments that were always near at hand. The group was made up of young people from a number of churches in the area, but we all just dropped our denominational tags at the door, so to speak. All who came just wanted God. Once a month, our gatherings became all night prayer meetings (usually on a Friday night because there was no school the next day).

In one such gathering, a second adult couple came. The husband was an itinerant Methodist minister and the wife was an accomplished pianist (if I remember correctly).

Something unusual took place that night. In one of the times of silence as we were waiting on the Lord, the wife singled me out and said, “John, I am not going to say this is a word from God or anything, but as I was praying, a picture came to my mind about you…” I was a little taken aback. I had not met the lady before and did not know what to make of it. Apparantly, this was a one off for this lady too – she was not known to share anything of this kind.

She went on, “John, in my mind I saw a picture of a honeycomb – and over it was the word “Grace.”” She said, “I believe God is going to make you a preacher, known for grace. There will be intense opposition from people at times. Some will cover their ears not wishing to hear the gracious words that flow from your lips; while others will find in your words, some of the most grace filled words in God’s vineyard. God is going to use you mightily as one of His chosen vessels.”

Mark turned to me and said, “John, that is a very powerful picture. My advice to you is to just leave it with the Lord, and if it is something from Him, He will bring it to pass. Don’t worry about it. If it does not mean much to you now, perhaps it will one day.” Looking back, I think Mark gave me some very sound advice.

This meeting took place in the early 1980’s and to be honest, I completely forgot about it… that is, until one day recently. I was looking at the blog comments here and noticed words of thanks and appreciation and also comments filled with hostility and anger; people excited to read an article I’d written or hear a sermon I had preached, as well as people who had the exact opposite reaction. Then I looked at the top of the blog and noticed the words, “Effectual Grace.”

Then it hit me! The little picture this lady had 30 years before was being fulfilled right before my eyes. I felt peace flood my soul. I also felt that God was encouraging me that I was right in the purposes of God, right on track, being a voice for Him in sharing from the honeycomb, the honey being the message of the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I prayed, “Thank You God for lavishing me with such grace that You would choose me to be Your child, and to speak to others of Your great triumphant and effectual grace. How I love You Lord! Oh Amazing, Effectual Grace!”

What’s my theology?

“No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian has a theology. The issue, then, is not, do we want to have a theology? That’s a given. The real issue is, do we have a sound theology? Do we embrace true or false doctrine?” – R.C. Sproul

Have you ever had a “wow” moment? I am referring to a moment when your jaw drops in utter astonishment?

Well I had such a moment recently when I read an article by a man named Dr. Sam Storms as he described his theology. I was astonished because on just about every issue, I was in full agreement with him. Coming to understand what I now believe the Bible to be teaching has been a long and sometimes painful experience, for it is hard to allow firmly held traditions to be held up to the light of scripture, and then be prepared to forsake anything that cannot be substantiated by the Scripture.

I asked the man I consider to be my pastor, Bruce Brock, of Faith Community Church in Tucson, Arizona to read it. He did so and immediately called me on the phone. In hearing his reaction, it was clear that he was equally as amazed as I had been. He told me that he could have written just about everything, word for word, the way Dr. Storms had done.

Agreeing with Dr. Storms on these things does not mean that he, Pastor Bruce and I are correct of course, but it is certainly encouraging to find a Christian scholar who is so like minded on these important issues.

Inspired by the article I had read, I thought I would write something along that line myself. I already have a statement of faith written on the web site here, but I am aware that it does not address certain issues and I would like to address them here.

As I thought further, I said to myself… “self.. if you do not need to alter what has been written by Dr. Storms, except in perhaps a few very minor details, why fumble around trying to say the exact same thing using different words? Why not just use his words, and give him the necessary credit? …as long as you do so, you are not really plagiarising his material – you are just simply saying ‘yeah, and I believe that too.'” I want to avoid plagiarism at all costs.. but hopefully, letting people know where I got the material, will help me avoid this accusation.

Here then is my theology (or what I believe the Bible to teach) for anyone interested in knowing… (oh, and thanks Dr. Storms!!)

On numerous occasions I’ve had people ask me about my theological convictions, most likely because I appear to be an odd mix of views that cannot be found in any one confession of faith or reduced to a single label, system, or denomination. So, I’ve decided to yield to the pressure of these repeated inquiries and briefly explain what I believe, with only a brief comment on why and a few references to material I have written that will provide support. My aim has always been to be biblical. But, of course, everyone would say that about his or her beliefs. So here goes. Continue reading

My Journey Into Grace (2)

As I shared on the blog yesterday, I have not always been reformed in my thinking as a Christian. In coming to embrace the doctrines of grace, certain things impressed me. I was very much impressed that most of the great theologians of the church taught these doctrines of God’s Sovereignty. While they certainly had their differences on some things, when it came to the doctrine of Divine election, they all seemed to be in complete agreement.

None of these men individually, or even all of them collectively, could be in any way classed as infallible, yet because they all saw these issues in the same way, I remember thinking that this fact alone should cause me to pause and reflect a little.

I realized that it would be the height of pride on my part to dismiss everything they have to say without giving them a fair hearing. God had used these men greatly as his champions in church history; entire nations were affected by their ministries, both in their day and on into our own, and humility would teach me to at least become somewhat familiar with their words and works, and not just read what others might say about them with all the bias that usually goes with that.

However, it was not the greats of church history that carried the most weight with me. It was not their writings and commentaries, as good as they were. What convinced me was seeing the doctrines clearly taught in Scripture. Understanding what Paul taught in Romans 8 and 9 as well as Ephesians 1 and 2 (after dispensing with much of my human traditions in the process) had a huge effect on me. Yet what brought me all of the way over into seeing it, and much more than that, embracing it, and delighting in it, was seeing the doctrines taught through the words of the Lord Jesus Himself. Continue reading

My Journey Into Grace

I was born and raised in Chester in England. My father was a Baptist Evangelist and yet I never really grew up in Church. My Dad used to travel extensively to preach, and that meant that my mother and I seldom went with him to Church. That was until my Dad became the pastor of a local Church.

I remember being extremely bored with Church as a child and was far more interested in soccer (called football over in England). I wanted to be a pro-soccer player. My favorite part of the Church service was the benediction – I was so glad when it all was over!

I remember seeing my Dad reading and studying his old black leather King James Bible (I was probably around age 9 at the time) and thought to myself, “that looks so boring to me – spending hours with a book that’s hard to read, in language I cannot understand – you’ll never catch me doing that.”

One Sunday night, when I was 14, my father did ask me to go with him to hear an Evangelist preach. His sermon was on the second coming of Christ. I remember him looking at the crowd, but yet it seemed that his gaze was focused on me, as he said “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” My first thought was “how does the preacher know of my sin? How does he know I am a sinner?” Like a bolt from the blue I realized my lost condition and that I would be embarrassed with shame if I had to stand before God in that condition.

An appeal was made for salvation and I responded by raising my hand, walking the aisle, signing the card provided… but more than anything I just knew of my need for Christ to be my Savior to hide me from the fierce judgment of God. When I later returned to my seat (after around 15 minutes in a counseling area) my father still had tears streaming down his face. I think it was the first and only time I saw my father cry. Some time later he told me that my parents had been praying earnestly for my salvation for many years.

I then started attending the church on a regular basis, but as I look back, one of the biggest changes in my life was evident in my love for Bible study. I would spend all my allowance money on Bible teaching tapes… I just couldn’t get enough. I would spend 3 – 4 hours every night learning the Scriptures and hearing Bible teaching. That same passionate desire for the Word of God is still present in my life today.

My first 20 years as a Christian were spent as an Arminian. I would never have used such a term to describe myself, but looking back I can see that I held to the doctrines taught by Arminianism. For the most part, I was never really exposed to the doctrines of Grace that I now consider so precious. Oh, certainly, I met many a Reformed man in my time; in fact, many of them were my instructors and professors at the Bible College I attended in England, but no one ever sat down with me to try to explain the Reformed faith. Continue reading

2 months old today

My son David, daughter Kelly and I, in a photo taken this afternoon.

This blog is two months old today. Thanks for all the positive feedback. I am looking forward to another year walking with the Savior.

Wishing all of you a very happy, prosperous and Jesus filled 2011!

A Christmas letter to my 14 year old son

Here’s a letter I wrote to my son this Christmas:

Christmas 2010

Dear Son,

This is a letter that attempts to explain some of your Christmas presents this year. I will try not to make it too long. I will be writing separately to each of your siblings, but this letter is especially for you.

I love you very much and I am extremely proud to be your Dad. I still vividly remember the day of your birth. You will only comprehend what I felt, should God in His grace give you children of your own. I pray that you will experience this same joy. When I saw you for the first time, it was the proudest moment of my life. I have since had the joy of seeing 3 other children born into this world and with each one, the same overwhelming emotion filled my heart.

One of the things about life is that with great privilege comes great responsibility, and because it is an amazing privilege to be a father, with it comes the responsibility of being a good one. The Bible tells parents, especially fathers, to bring their children up in the ways of God. There is a passage in Ephesians 6 and it says, “1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Continue reading

Why blog?

Today I received an email asking me about why I blog. I have removed the name of the person and also have edited the content slightly for the sake of brevity, “effectual grace”? Many folks are busy reading James White, or Albert Mohler, Steve Camp, Carson, Sproul, Dever, and 30 other blogs of professors/pastors/authors. Monergism even has 1000s of mp3s and articles available, as does sermonaudio.com, free RTS on itunes, etc. You post 8 paragraphs, but in a week in gets buried in an archive that most likely is not examined by people swamped in other blogs, mp3s, and materials; One guy I know has read Calvin’s Institutes 20 times through; Thus not likely to have the free time to check out your blog.

I don’t write any of that to attack you, I appreciate your material, and do visit your site about once a week; However, I’m just saying, those are the type of thoughts that paralyze me from uploading anything. I guess God can see a blog akin to a widow’s mite that never got much traffic, but was posted in love and obedience…

Thanks again for your time. Keep up the great work. I am grateful for your ministry.

I responded in this way: Continue reading