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5.22.2018

Conversion Story of Saint Augustine

Greetings All!

     Last week we considered the conversion story of Charles H. Spurgeon.  This week I'll be sharing the conversion story of Saint Augustine. In the weeks to come I will share some others, because I find the stories of God's unique and saving work in the lives of many different people extremely fascinating!
     For those who are unaware, Augustine lived from 354-430 A.D. in North Africa.  He was born in Numidia (or what is today the country of Algeria) to Berber parents, a group of people indigenous to northern Africa. His father was well-to-do, and his mother Monica was a devout Christian woman.  From a young age it was obvious that Augustine was extremely gifted and intelligent, and so he was sent away to school at 11 years old. There he studied Latin literature and philosophy, as well as pagan beliefs and practices. By 15 years old he admits he preferred hedonism to studying, and by 16 he started to enjoy stealing and began satisfying his sexual cravings.
     At the age of 17 he went away to school in Carthage (present day Tunisia) to study rhetoric. It was here that he would break his mother's heart in two ways:  First, he would fully embrace a hedonistic lifestyle and embark on an affair with a girl that would last 15 years (followed by another affair with another young woman). Lust was the sin that consumed him, and led him at one point to pray his now famous prayer, "Grant me chastity and continence; but not yet."   The second was his rejection of Christianity and his "conversion" to Manichaeanism, a highly elaborate form of Gnosticism which taught that "light" (goodness) was gradually being removed from this world of matter and returning to the world of light (the immaterial spirit world) from which it came, making the world progressively more dark and evil as a result.
     Augustine developed great rhetorical skills and became very knowledgeable of the philosophies behind many faiths. In fact, word of his comprehensive knowledge of many subjects and philosophies, combined with his superior rhetorical skills, led him to be asked (at the age of 30) to be the instructor of rhetoric to the imperial court in Milan, winning him, "the most visible academic position in the Latin world at that time."   After arriving at Milan, Augustine heard of a great Christian preacher named Ambrose. He went to listen to him to see if he was (as some suggested) one of the greatest speakers and rhetoricians in the world.  More interested in his speaking skills than the topic of his messages Augustine went and listened, quickly discovering that Ambrose was indeed one of the best speakers he had ever heard.  He would later confess that Ambrose was one of the primary human instruments God used to break down one of the two major intellectual roadblocks he had in regard to Christianity.
     The following is an account, taken from his classic work, "The Confessions," speaks of the actual moment when he considers himself to have been converted. Enjoy.

     "I fled into the garden with my friend Alypius following step by step, for I had no secret in which he did not share...  We sat down as far as possible from the house. I was greatly disturbed in spirit, and angry at myself with a turbulent indignation, because I had not entered God's will and covenant, while all my bones cried out for me to enter...  Now, when deep reflection had drawn up out of the secret depths of my soul all my misery, and had heaped it up before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm [within me], accompanied by a mighty rain of tears. So that I might give way fully to my tears and lamentations, I stole away from Alypius, for it seemed to me that solitude was more appropriate for the business of weeping. I went far enough away that I could feel that his presence was no restraint upon me....
     [Under great conviction and sorrow for my sins] I flung myself down under a fig tree and gave free course to my tears... And, not indeed in these words, but in this way, I cried to [God]: "And Thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord?  Will you be angry with me forever?  O remember not against us our former iniquities."  For I felt I was still enthralled by them...  I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart when suddenly I heard the voice of a young boy or girl -- I know not which -- coming from the neighboring house. It was chanting over and over again in song: "Tolle Lege. Tolle Lege" ("Pick it up, read it. Pick it up, read it").  Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to wonder whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard anything like it.  So, stopping the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not help but think this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should see.  I had heard about how Anthony had accidentally come into church when the Gospel was being read and received the admonition as if what had been read was addressed specifically to him: "Go sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come follow me." By such an oracle he was converted...
     So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book (Romans) when I had left there.  I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the first paragraph my eyes fell upon: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality or wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" [Romans 13:13].  I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all gloom and doubt vanished away.  Closing the book, and putting my finger or something else to mark the spot, I began -- now with a tranquil countenance -- to tell it all to Alypius. He then disclosed to me what had been going on in himself, of which I knew nothing. He asked to see what I had read. I showed him and he read on even further than I had read. I had no known what came next, but it was this: "Him that is weak in the faith, receive." This he applied to himself and told me so. By these words he was strengthened and joined me in full commitment [to Christ] without any restless hesitation.
     Then we went in to my mother and told her what had happened, to her great joy.  We explained to her how it had occurred and she leaped for joy triumphant; and she blessed You who are "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think." For she saw that You had granted her far more than she had ever asked for in all her pitiful and sad-hearted lamentations."

     Years earlier (when Augustine was in his late teens) Monica had a dream. In it she was standing on "a rule of wood" (a plank or platform she took to be the "rule of faith"). In the dream, she met a young man to whom she despaired of her son's "living death" [in sin] and expressed her desire that he should come to know God. The young man told her to have no fear and to look around to see who was with her on the rule... and there stood her son Augustine!  She considered the dream prophetic in nature and told Augustine. He threw it back in her face and told that far from the dream meaning that he would become a Christian, it meant that she would join him and embrace Manichaeanism!
     After asking Ambrose and others to do something numerous time to intervene on Augustine's behalf, Ambrose told her: "Leave him alone and just pray,"  and added, "Go, I beg you. The son of so many tears cannot perish."   What a wonderful account of how the God of grace rescues and redeems His chosen ones through the conviction of sin, the preaching of the Gospel, the simple reading of the Word, and the love of a mother who would not give up praying for her wayward son.

In His Service, Pastor Jeff


5.15.2018

Look to Jesus

Greetings All,

     I hope you like stories!  Because that's what this week's "thought" is -- the conversion story of Charles H. Spurgeon.  As a Spurgeon fan I was familiar with it, but I went online to find it again since I wanted to share it in a class I am presently teaching on Sunday mornings called, "Controversial Topics."  Due to Spurgeon's prominence as England’s (some would say the world's) most famous, most gifted, most quoted, and most popular preacher, his life has been the topic of much study.  In fact, his conversion story, along with those of St. Augustine and Martin Luther, are said to be the three most famous in all Church history.  And since it's been an inspiration to so many, I thought I would share it with you!

















     Spurgeon's conversion to Christ took place on January 6, 1850, in Colchester, England. He was 15 years old, and for a couple of years leading up to this occasion he had come to be under great conviction for his sin as a result of reading,‘God’s 10 words’(the Ten Commandments).  Knowing he was not right with God, and being unable to find any relief for the guilt of his sin, he had become miserable, depressed, and despondent, convinced he would be in hell (and even having dreams about it) if he was unable to find the way of salvation.  It is an amazing story.  Enjoy.


Look to Jesus

     Of the message he heard on that cold January day he writes:  “The good news that I was, as a sinner, to look away from myself and to Christ instead... came as fresh to me as any news I had ever heard in my life.  Had I never read my Bible? Yes, and I read it earnestly. Had I never been taught by Christian people? Yes, I had, by mother, and father [who was a minister], and others. Had I not heard the gospel? Yes, I think I had. And yet, somehow, it was like a new revelation to me that I was to ''believe and live.''  I confess that I was tutored in piety, put into my cradle by prayerful hands, and lulled to sleep by songs concerning Jesus; having heard the gospel continually, with line upon line and precept upon precept, here much and there much. Yet, when the Word of the Lord came to me with power, it was as new as if I had lived among the unvisited tribes of Central Africa, and had never heard the tidings of the cleansing fountain filed with blood, drawn from the Savior's veins..."

     The following is his own personal account of the events of that day:

     "I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning while I was going to a certain place of worship. Unable to go any further, I turned down a side street and came to a little Primitive Methodist Church.  In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved...
     The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers be instructed, but this man was extremely uneducated. He was obliged to stick to his text for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was—"LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL YE ENDS OF THE EARTH" (Isaiah 45:22).  He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.
     The preacher began this way: "This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it’s just ‘Look.’ A man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.  But the text says, ‘Look unto ME.’ Ay!" he said in broad Essex, "many of ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some o’ ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’  You have no business with that just now.  Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me!’ "  Then the good man followed up his text in this way: "Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!"
     When he had managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his rope. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say that with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.  Fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did, but I was not accustomed to have remarks on my personal appearance made from the pulpit. However, it was a good blow, struck right home.  He continued, "And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text.  But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved." Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!"
     I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought.  I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away! There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun...  I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped. I could have danced! There was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of that hour. Many days of Christian experience have passed since then, but there has never been one which has had the full exhilaration, or the sparkling delight, which that first day had.  I thought I could have sprung from the seat in which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren, "I am forgiven! I am forgiven! A monument of grace! A sinner saved by the blood!"
     My spirit saw its chains broken to pieces, I felt that I was an emancipated soul, an heir of heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Jesus Christ, plucked out of the miry clay and out of the horrible pit, with my feet set upon a rock and my future established...  Between half-past ten o’clock, when I entered that chapel, and half-past twelve o’clock, when I was back again at home, what a change had taken place in me! Simply by looking to Jesus I had been delivered from despair, and I was brought into such a joyous state of mind, it was immediately noticed by my family.
     Spurgeon described his walk home from church like this: I was perfectly at rest in Christ, satisfied with him, and my heart was glad… I thought I could dance all the way home. I could understand what John Bunyan meant when he declared he wanted to tell the crows on the ploughed land all about his conversion. He was too full to hold; he felt he must tell somebody.”
     Later that day he says: ‘I remember standing before the fire, leaning on the mantelshelf, after I got home, and my mother had spoken to me.  I heard her say outside the door, “There is a change come over Charles.”  She had not had half-a-dozen words with me; but she saw that I was not what I had been.  I had been dull, melancholic, sorrowful, depressed; and when I had looked to Christ, the appearance of my face changed. I had a smile, a cheerful, happy, contented look at once, and she could see it.” 

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     That night Spurgeon waited for the other children to go to bed before he told his father what had happened, and by the middle of February (six weeks later) he was going door to door, once a week, with Gospel tracts to 33 different homes!  By 19 years old he was the lead pastor at the New Park Street Church in London, where he was preaching to crowds in the thousands. He ministered to a grand total of 10 million people during his lifetime, and by the end of end of the 19th century, more than 100 million sermons of Spurgeon’s sermons had been sold in 23 languages, an unmatched figure before and since. Today, this number has surpassed 300 million copies. He is history’s most widely read preacher, with over 3,800 messages and about 135 of his books still in print.

In the Service of the Gospel,  Pastor Jeff

5.08.2018

For Each Day A Prayer

Greetings All,

     This week's "thought" will surely qualify as the shortest one I've ever sent out! 
     It's a prayer by Blaise Pascal, the famous and brilliant French physicist and defender of the Christian faith. He is more well-known for his book, "Pensees" (meaning, "Thoughts") where with great wisdom, insight, reflection and logic he addresses and answers objections to the Christian faith. It has helped many a skeptic on their journey to faith in Jesus. This thought, however, is simply one little prayer he prayed.  A prayer packed with so much faith and profound spiritual insight (even though very short) that I thought it deserved to stand on its own.



     It is found in a book I received in the mail yesterday from Honduras, as a gift from my good friend Edith Peters. (Thank you Edith!)  The title is, "For Each Day A Prayer."  The author (the collector and arranger of the prayers found in it) is Elisabeth Hamill Davis.  It was published in 1905.
     She does not say where she found this prayer, but I offer it to you for your consideration -- requesting only that you might read it, and then honestly and earnestly ask yourself if you could sincerely pray it as your own, stating the truth he states, and requesting those things he asks for.  Enjoy.
     "The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away, blessed be the name of the LORD."
Job 1:21

"O Lord, let me not from this day forward desire health or life, 
       except to spend them for You, with You, and in You.

  You alone know what is good for me; 
       do, therefore, whatever seems best to You.
Give to me, or take from me. 
Conform my will to Yours.
Grant that with humble and perfect submission, 
and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders 
of Your eternal Providence; and may equally adore 
all that comes from You; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen."
In His Service, Pastor Jeff 






5.01.2018

The Grace of Salvation

Greetings All,

     Though I've been sending these "thoughts" out for years I realized today that I've never sent one out from Max Lucado (yes, a one-sentence quote once, but no extended thought).  So, I thought I would remedy that!  Max is a best-selling Christian author. Most of you will recognize his name. It's hard to say how many books he's written or sold -- in the millions for sure (at least on the books sold side)!  His skill?  Making hard to understand truth understandable to most anyone.  He has an uncanny way of simplifying the complex and putting the cookies on the lower shelf. This particular thought has to do with The Grace of Salvation (or how one is saved), and comes from his book, "A Gentle Thunder."  Enjoy.





















     "What is it, then, that God wants us to do?  What is the work he seeks? Just believe.  Believe the One he sent.  'The work God wants you to do is this: Believe the One he sent" (John 6:29 NCV). Someone is reading this and shaking his or her head and asking: 'Are you saying it is possible to go to heaven with no good works?  The answer is no. Good works are a requirement. Someone else is reading and asking, 'Are you saying it is possible to go to heaven without good character?'  My answer again is no. Good character is also required.  In order to enter heaven one must have good works and good character.
     But, alas, there is a problem. You have neither. Oh, you've done some nice things in your life. But you do not have enough good works to go to heaven regardless of your sacrifice. No matter how noble your gifts, they are not enough to get you into heaven.  Nor do you have enough character to go to heaven. 
     Please don't be offended (Then, again, be offended if necessary.) You're probably a very decent person. But decency is not enough. Those who see God are not the decent, they are the holy. 'Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord' (Hebrews 12:14 NCV).  You may be decent. You may pay taxes and kiss your kids and sleep with a clear conscience. But apart from Christ you aren't holy. So how can you go to heaven?

     Only believe.
     Accept the work already done, the work of Jesus on the cross.
     Only believe.
     Accept the goodness of Jesus Christ.
     Abandon your own works and accept his.
     Abandon your own decency and accept his.
     Stand before God in his name, not yours.
     "Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved, but anyone who does not believe will be punished" (Mark 16:16 NCV).   It's that simple? Yes, it's that simple. It's that easy? There was nothing easy at all about it. The cross was heavy, the blood was real, and the price was extravagant. It would have bankrupted you or me, so Jesus paid it for us. Call it simple. Call it a gift. But don't call it easy.  Call it what it is.  Call it grace." 

     It's an affirmation of the Gospel truth that salvation is by grace alone, though faith alone, in Christ alone.  The Heidelberg Catechism (written in 1563) put it this way.

Question & Answer #60:

Question How are you righteous before God?

Answer: "Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
Even though my conscience accuses me 
of having grievously sinned 
against all God’s commandments;
of never having kept any of them,
and of still being inclined toward all evil,
nevertheless,
without any merit of my own, 
and out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, 
righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
as if I had never sinned 
nor ever been a sinner, 
and as if I had been as perfectly obedient 
as Christ was obedient, for me.
All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart."
     The Law of God in the Old Testament demands two things of us: Perfect and flawless obedience, as well as punishment for all disobedience.  And the grace proclaimed in the Gospel is this: what God demanded of us, Christ supplied for us, in both his life of perfect obedience and his death for sin.  And these two together (and only these two together) become the righteousness that God credits to the believing sinner that they might be saved.  "Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die, I stake my whole eternity" (Horatius Bonar).
     What could bring more comfort, peace, assurance, joy and gratitude to any believer's heart than to know that Christ is our perfection, and Christ is our pardon, and therefore our eternal acceptance with God rests upon Him and not us (I Corinthians 1:30-31).  This is grace in its most extravagant form. And in understanding it, how could our hearts not overflow with joy, be filled with gratitude, or burn with a desire to live for such a kind and merciful God?

In The Bonds of Christian Affection, Pastor Jeff