A Dear John Letter to Preachers from Dr. Jack Miller

While working in the archives of the late Dr. Jack Miller this week, I stumbled across this 1980 letter that I’m convinced  every preacher, seminary student, teacher, and church leader should read.

Presumably it is to one of the “John’s” on staff at New Life Church, though, at this point, I’m unsure which. For reference in my files, I’ve affectionately named the file: “Dear John Letter to Preachers.”

This morning, while praying for a fellow preacher who is really struggling with, among other things, his call to ministry, I sent this to him for encouragement.

Thinking some other preachers may need encouragement, or you may want to know how to pray for your preacher, I decided to share it more broadly.

1980, July 15-23, Letter to John on Preaching

Love in Christ, Mike

A “Little Jack Horner” Approach to God’s Promises


[T]here are various ways to claim the promises of God.

There is the Jack Horner approach. What is the Jack Horner approach to claiming God’s promises?

“Little Jack Horner sat in the corner.” What was he doing? “Eating Christmas pie.”  And what happened? “He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said what a good boy am I.”

There are all kind of ways that people attempt to study the Bible like that.

You thumb thru the Bible, find your favorite quotes and promises, and then pull them out of their context, and say “what a good boy am I” while trying to use these promises in a self-centered way to try to jack yourself up.

We don’t want to use God’s promises like Jack Horner did where we search to find those juicy biblical plums that talk about peace and joy, and try to use them to support our self centered lives.

So don’t just look for those promises that give you a sense of comfort and joy so you can feel better about your life and circumstances.

Instead, the biblical way of claiming God’s promises is to take a particular promise that exalts Jesus and gives glory to God.

For example, take a promise of God like the one in Romans 15:13. That is a great one.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

That is a great and glorious promise abounding in hope so that God receives all the glory as we build our lives on His promises through faith in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

And the context of this great promise is that of missions.

The joy, peace and hope are promises that are going somewhere; it is a great missionary promise about this God of hope who abounds in hope. It is a promise that is to be shared with others who need both hope and the God of abounding hope.

If you get up in the morning and you memorize this promise, it will help you get to know the kind of a God you are meeting with, what quality of hope He intends you to have, and why He wants you to have that hope.

You can you ask for the Spirit’s help so you can claim this promise, and He will give you peace in believing that Jesus is alive; that He is at work and has a purpose for you.

Rather than sitting in the corner keeping God’s promises to yourself like Little Jack Horner, this is the Bible’s way of claiming God’s promises for His glory.

The little Jack Horner approach is an approach in which you are trying to get God to conform to your problems and to give you comfort rather than conforming your life and problems to God.

The Bible’s way of claiming the promises of God is for you to have a vision of God: who He is, what He is, where He is going, and what He is doing in you and in the world.

And so then, in the morning, the [basic] structure of your prayer is that you spend enough time for you to get into fellowship with God.

While you are in this fellowship with God in prayer, the Spirit will help you see more clearly how to claim God’s promises in the way the Bible intends for them to operate in your life.

Isn’t that exciting for Christians? Doesn’t that give you great confidence in God and His promises?

We tend to be so self-centered, we can even turn claiming His promises into ways of getting Him to serve us.

The great difficulty with the little Jack Horner approach to claiming the promises of God is that your comforter is far too small.

There is really no program or vision for claiming the promises that warrants you waking up in the morning yearning for fellowship with God.

When we use a Jack Horner approach to claiming God’s promises, what is typical is that our program for God’s help centers on our survival: How can I survive one more day? How can I survive one more morning? How can I survive one more set of bills at the first month?

And this is where the devil wants to keep you.

But God, through His promises, wants to give you a bigger purpose and greater vision for His glory, His holiness, His love, His grace, His mission, His joy, His peace, and His hope.

So what you do then, in the morning each day as part of your prayer, is that you ask the Holy Spirit to show you where those things are in your life that are taking you out of fellowship with God and His purposes?

It is also a good idea to ask for the Spirit’s help to make a list of those things you think you are going to be afraid as you partner with God today.

And as you make this list of things you can’t handle (e.g., if God calls you to share your faith to someone, or to love a person at work you really dislike, to turn from some sin, to repent to your wife, ask forgiveness of your children, etc.), then you pray and ask God to help you with each one of these specific fears ahead of time.

And the whole point is that you begin to see that prayer is fellowship with God as you claim His promises, and prayer actually begins to be structured into your daily life.

Before long, you will wonder how you ever managed life without this prayerful fellowship with God claiming His promises.

Paraphrase of Jack Miller by Mike Graham

Introducing “The Jack Miller Project” Facebook Page

Dr. C. John (Jack) MillerFriends,

Introducing The Jack Miller Project Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/thejackmillerproject).

Some of you may know that I have been doing research on the late Dr. Jack Miller, adoption and prayer as I’ve worked toward a PhD in Applied Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In my very last seminar before comps, when mentioning to my cohort that the late Dr. Jack Miller was probably the most well known leader in the reformed renewal that few knew anything about (especially my Baptist friends), Dr. Danny Akin, my supervising professor, suggested I remedy that with a biography of the late Dr. Miller while so many are still with us.

Consequently, my dissertation project has become much more focused.

Plenty of published and unpublished material, audio recordings, and people to interview easily exist for this project.

However, since I regularly run into so many who were influenced by the late Dr. Miller — directly or indirectly (especially through Sonship) — with no place to tell of their experience, I decided to start this page.

Just this past week, I connected dots with a friend with whom I’d worked with in India when he described how Gospel Transformation (www.serge.org) had influenced the start of RUFI at Georgia Tech. Yet he knew little about Dr. Miller, and those at World Harvest Mission (Serge) didn’t know about Georgia Tech.

If this were only a singular case, that could be dismissed. But, in my research, I keep hearing stories and receiving things like old newsletters from Gary North, or articles from RC Sproul Jr.

Yesterday I came into my office and someone had placed a book on my desk open to a chapter in which Dr. John Frame describes Dr. Miller’s lasting influence on him and many at New Life Escondido and elsewhere.

When I was in class a few semesters ago and reading Dr. Dennis Johnson’s book on preaching, there Jack’s impact was described again, after which I discovered in an audio of Jack that Dr. Johnson helped to write the New Life pamphlet when he was at Westminster and New Life Glenside.

And when I was in Jack Miller’s archives housed at the PCA Historical Center, in the files was a letter from Dr. Paul Kooistra, then president of Covenant Seminary, referring to Jack as the one who taught him about grace, and requesting his help in reorganizing the seminary.

Of course I already knew a little about Jack’s influence on Tim Keller, Scotty Smith, Steve Brown, Ed Welch, Dave Powlison, etc., etc., etc.

Then it occurred to me that there are probably many many people who have these stories that I want, that I need to hear about, stories about how “Jack” personally impacted them.

So in this age of social media, I decided to informally add to the body of my research by starting The Jack Miller Project Facebook Page.

Would you help me? Would you take some time to reflect and write your story, and in some form get it to me?

Be sure and tell me how you met him, when, where and in what context.

I want to find out everything I can about the late Dr. Jack Miller so that it can be gathered and archived accurately and in one place.

You can post on this timeline (though I am moderating posts) short or long, you can send me a message through Facebook or my email, you can upload photos, audios or even videos.

Since this is for my PhD research, if you do post, you would also be giving me implicit permission to use this material for publication unless you state otherwise.

Also, my contact information is publicly displayed, so if you’d like more information about this research project, or you’d like to mail photos, please feel free to contact me directly.

If I need to contact you for more information, I’ll initiate that through Facebook.

This Facebook project may not go anywhere, and that is okay, since I already have plenty of research on hand. Or it may go viral, sort of like that ByFaith Online discussion group on Sonship did in the late 90’s in smaller PCA circles.

But, since most of you use Facebook accounts, and your friends use Facebook, this could actually be an awesome venue to share and gather these stories and experiences, and we can praise God together for how he used Jack in our lives.

So would you consider sharing with me your most memorable stories about Jack, and ask your friends to do so as well?

My guess is that, based on the number of people impacted by Dr. Miller, this page could soon have many stories from all over the world.

If I discover social media not to be an effective bulletin board for this project, I’ll remove the page.

Thanks for your help!

Love in Christ, Mike Graham

The True Charismatic Movement

Historically, the various pneumatic movements have put forward the view that emotional intensity practically equals the presence of the Holy Spirit. But this can turn into a disastrous mistake. …

The heart of the problem appears to be that Christians often think of the filling of the Spirit largely in quantitative terms, as though the believer were a quart jar one-third full. In this view the coming of the Spirit consists in the filling of the jar to the brim, usually through an experience of great emotional power.

In all this longing there is commonly a hunger for a life which is delivered at one stroke from all sin and temptation. This longing is not to be despised. But it will not be fully realized until the believer is fully glorified at the time of his death or at the return of the Lord. Furthermore, the serious danger is that those who seek the Spirit in this way will shift their reliance from the daily working of the Spirit to a previous landmark experience of great emotional intensity.

What happens is that people with this experience in their background can become secretly proud that they are “spiritual” Christians of a special class. They no longer look to Christ in love (2 Cor. 3:18). Instead, they mount a pedestal and quench the Holy Spirit, denying the reality of the sin which yet remains in them and which must be put to death by active reliance on Christ (Rev. 3:14–22, Col. 3:15).

At present there are some teachings that push their adherents in this direction. They emphasize intense religious experience, and they tend to stress sin as human actions without taking sufficiently into account sin as a state of the heart. These ingredients of perfectionism are dangerous.

The hazard here should be obvious. People who believe this know they have the Holy Spirit. And they are right. But they no longer can freely admit that they must confess their pride and unbelief on a daily basis. They also may begin to think themselves qualified to serve as priests for others.

Moreover, those they “help” will often admire them—for a time. For just as they are soft on their own sins, so they will be soft on the sins of others. Or if they are severe with people’s sins, they will only deal with surface matters; for those who do not have the courage to look into the depths of their own hearts cannot see clearly into the heart of another.

What we must see is that God never promised to transform us into super-Christians who would never again sin and never again need to repent. He never promised anybody strength apart from continued dependence upon Himself (Jer. 10:23, John 15:5).

Therefore, I want to set down two closely related criteria for the Spirit-filled life:

The first is sincere love to the Lord Jesus Christ as the gift of the Father’s love,

and the second is a genuine repentance which causes us to be broken down before God.

First, according to Scripture, the presence of love in the Christian life is a sure evidence of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. To understand this as a promise to you personally, turn to your Bible and read John 14:15–24 (a related passage is John 16:27).

From verse 16 we learn that the Holy Spirit will be given to the disciples because Christ will pray to the Father. Hence, Jesus promises them, “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18).

But there is something that the disciples must do and be if they are to receive the full presence of the Father. This concerns their response to Jesus. The Lord says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

Catch the loving fire of Jesus’ words. Loving obedience to Jesus by His disciples attracts the love of both the Father and the Son.

Loving obedience results in the Father and the Son coming into the believer’s life in a fuller way. The language is strong. The Father and the Son will move in whenever a believer looks in love to Jesus. …

But if you wish the continued fellowship of this love, adore Jesus Christ and love Him with all your heart. Show your love by obeying Him, and you will find your life abounding in spiritual power. …

We must therefore see that the Spirit of truth present at Pentecost is, first of all, a Spirit of love leading people into disciplined obedience to Christ.

He is a missionary Spirit who draws us into the fellowship of the saints by causing redeemed sinners to love Christ and one another. As those in Christ grow in love to one another, this love becomes highly visible (John 13:34–35, 17:22–23). It magnetizes men and women to the church of God.

Here then is the true charismatic movement. It is centered on the excellent way of love (1 Cor. 12:31–13:13). Outward signs and wonders prove little as to the reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence (Matt. 7:21–23).

In particular, “speaking in tongues” is a phenomenon to be found in non-Christian religions, and therefore can hardly be a convincing proof of the Spirit’s presence.

Consequently, forget every quantitative concept of the Holy Spirit’s presence. For to have the Holy Spirit in you is to have more of Christ in you, to be more like Christ and to bear the fruit of the Spirit which comes through faith in Christ and His merits (Gal. 5:22–23).

The second (and intimately related) criterion of the Spirit’s presence is repentance.

The church at Jerusalem [in Acts 11:18] identifies the Gentile reception of the Spirit through faith in Christ with repentance.

Here, as elsewhere in Acts, the word “repentance” (metanoia) is used in a very broad sense, virtually as a synonym for conversion. The emphasis falls on the radical character of the change from death to life, from the proud delusions of the pagans to a humble dependence upon the living God for salvation. Hence, this passage makes absolutely clear that the New Testament church saw the fullness of the Spirit to be the same as a state of repentance for sin.

But what is true of the first turning (conversion) of the sinner to the Lord must continue throughout the Christian life. There must be a daily conversion of the heart to God (Col. 2:6). And the more you deepen your repentance, the more room you have in your heart for the rivers of living water. The more you know that you are stained to the bone with selfish impulses, the more you see how you hold out against the will of the Lord, then the more you will go to Christ as a thirsty sinner who finds deeper cleansing, more life and greater joy through the Spirit.

We have said that love and repentance are positive proof of the fullness of the Spirit’s presence. But what is the vital-connection between the two?

The answer is found by looking into the heart of any child of God who is walking in loving obedience. It’s exciting. Here you meet ardent love to Jesus because the believer has been “broken” down through repentance. Repentance prepares the way so that the Lord of glory can enter into the spirit and be adored as the new center of heavenly life. Before, such people were consumed by self-love, but once the Spirit convicted them of sin and turned them to the cross, self-love was crowded out by love to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jack Miller, taken from Chapter 4: Repentance and the Spirit-Filled Life, in Repentance (Kindle Edition), Christian Literature Crusade (emphasis added).

Do You Have The Fruit Of The Spirit?

“Roger and I sat in my car, both of us moved as we reflected on what God was doing in the life of this new Christian.

Roger then asked me a question. “Can you be a Christian without the fruit of the Spirit?”

I asked him to explain what he meant.

He said, “In your lectures you keep talking about streams of living water flowing through the believer, and it seems that this has to do with the fruit of the Spirit. Well, if that’s right, I’m wondering about myself. I don’t really see evidence of ‘love, joy, and peace’ in my life. What do you think? Is it possible that I may not be a Chris-tian?”

I said cautiously, “Well, if a person really does not have any of the fruit of the Spirit in his life, that person would not be a Christian.” We talked more about the nature of the “fruit of the Spirit.”

Roger finally concluded, “I don’t see ‘streams of living water’ coming from me.”

The next morning Roger found me and continued his questioning while we waited in line for coffee.

He remarked that if he compared himself to Moses and Jonah in the Bible, he knew he resembled Jonah.

He said, “Moses was willing to die for the people, but Jonah ran away. I just don’t love people. Even my witnessing has not been witnessing, but beating people over the head with the Bible.”

We sat down in the lounge with our coffee, and suddenly Roger said, “I feel like someone is picking at a thick crust. I am the thick crust, and it’s God who’s doing the picking. I’m going to . . . pray.”

Now our seminary is not an austere place, but like most schools, the faculty and students often have a conventional reserve. I know I have mine.

I was completely unprepared for what happened next.

Roger fell to his knees and, in the presence of all of us coffee drinkers, he began to pray. Tears were running down his face.

After a time he stood up and said, “I think I just got converted.” The tears were still flowing.

Streams of living water? I was speechless.

In my whole life I never had a conversation even remotely resembling this one.”

C. John (Jack) Miller, A Faith Worth Sharing: A Lifetime Of Conversations About Christ, Location 918, Kindle Edition.

Faith, Presumption, and the Sovereign Grace of God

In her book From Fear To Freedom, Rose Marie Miller insightfully unfolds how our gracious Father uses personal crises and major life transitions to reveal to us an otherwise unseen distinction between faith and presumption.

The distinction between faith and presumption by itself is helpful.

However, this distinction takes on greater significance as she personally describes her own journey through those disordered crises moments and life transitions, and how God graciously enabled her to see what she was blind to on her own.

As she unfolds her story, her recognition of this mix of faith and presumption personally helps me think and pray about my own faith.

Often my faith unravels during difficult events, or major life changes when I feel completely out of control or helpless.

My auto-response is usually to blame God, play the victim, presumptively resolve to re-apply myself do or be better, and demand God and others fix my problems — all at the same time.

Consequently, I found bringing these separate references together in one place helpful for me to better think through what Rose Marie is saying.

“Presumptive self-confidence may look like faith, but it has a very different spiritual root (Jer. 17:5-10).

Faith and presumption look alike because both qualities are characterized by confidence, but faith begins in the recognition and acceptance of our total human weakness. It relies solely on God and his gracious willingness to empower us.

Presumption, on the other hand, is a reliance on human moral abilities and religious accomplishments, on visible securities. It ultimately relies on human will power to serve God and people.

In my case, I was unknowingly relying on [family], or past successes, or my own abilities. And I came to see that a mix of presumption and faith produces a personal instability that surfaces in crises and major life transitions …

In our presumption we suppress a great deal of the painful truth about ourselves. We can see sins in others and have the same sins in ourselves without recognizing it.

Suppressing pain and doubt serves only to trap you in a vicious circle of spiritual blindness. You can begin to break this circle by opening up to God and sharing your deepest doubts—often in the presence of another whom you can trust and who is willing to accept you as you struggle …

Faith and presumption (reliance on self and outward morality) look so much alike that only crises can expose presumption for what it is.

Presumption constantly tries to shift our reliance on Christ’s righteousness to our own efforts.

Therefore, crises become God’s means of forcing us to turn away from circumstances, feelings, and our own strength—and to turn toward God.

Growth in Christ is not rooted in moralistic will power.

It is only possible as we are transplanted by faith, through the power of the Spirit, into the soil of grace …

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, please show me the difference between real faith and a demanding presumptive faith—so I can put my trust in Christ alone. I am so easily blinded by wanting to look good to myself and to others. May the gospel of the Cross and the resurrection of Christ be a continuing power in my life. Amen.”

From Fear To Freedom, Rose Marie Miller, Kindle Locations 329, 536, 1141.

Prayer As The Experience Of Adoption

images-6Prayer is the only chapter topic to remain the same through all the various editions of Calvin’s Institutes from its catechetical form in 1536 to its final form in 1559.

By the final edition, it is the longest chapter in the Institutes . . .

Calvin’s strong pastoral and theological interest in the topic of prayer is in contrast to the sparse attention his thought on the topic has received among scholars and Christians.

Why is prayer, especially corporate prayer, so important?

When a person sees how in himself he is “destitute and devoid of all good things”, he “must go outside himself” to see after his or her need. In the midst of this situation a wondrous exchange takes place when one receives the revelation of Christ by faith:

“The Lord willingly and freely reveals himself in his Christ. For in Christ, he offers all happiness in the place of misery, all wealth in the place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him. This, indeed, is that secret hidden philosophy which cannot be wrested from syllogisms. But they whose eyes God has opened surely learn it by heart, that in his light they may see light.”

Prayer is the place where people “learn it by heart,” namely, the dynamic that they must look outside of themselves for happiness, wealth and communion. This takes place “in Christ,” revealing the Father.

“After we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide so that we may all draw from it as from an overflowing spring, it remains for us to seek in Him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him.”

In explaining how we draw upon this “overflowing spring,” Calvin speaks of the Spirit and the adoption enabled through the Spirit.

“The Spirit of adoption, who seals the witness of the gospel in our hearts, raises up our spirits to dare show forth to God their desires, to stir up unspeakably groaning, and confidently cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”

While union with Christ makes the riches of the Father available to believers, the Spirit enables believers to pray. Moreover, the Spirit enables believers to experience God as Abba Father. Through calling upon the Father by the Spirit, believers receive “an extraordinary peace and repose to our consciences.”

When one experiences God as Father, one recognizes that God deals with us with generosity and kindness, “gently summoning us to unburden our cares into his bosom.”

In experiencing this adoption through the Spirit by praying in Christ, one needs to have “true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving,” for all good gifts come from the Father. Indeed, one of the purposes of prayer is that “we embrace with greater delight those things which we acknowledge to have been obtained in prayers.”

Since all the goodness and riches of this life are in fact from the Father, prayer is a spiritual exercise to help believers live out the reality that all good things are gratuitous gifts received from God.

A synthesis of a quotations from p. 141-144 by Todd Billings, Calvin, Participation and the Gift: The Activity of Believes in Union with Christ.


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