“Listening is Another Way of Saying, ‘I Love You.'”

LoveListens

The crown of the whole thing was your obvious growth in your ability to listen. I know that could sound like a put-down compliment. But it is not at all.

My belief is that comparatively few leaders in the church today are really sharp listeners. I know I have an ongoing struggle with listening, especially when issues are being considered that are very important to me. I get afraid that the wrong ideas will prevail. At such times I have an overpowering urge to talk rather than to ask questions and listen for answers from others. It seems supremely important that everyone be immediately brought to perfect clarity by my powers of illumination and persuasion.

Sometimes what makes this confusing for me is that the Lord has given me a measure of insight as a leader. I do have almost thirty years of experience in planting and growing churches. But my mistake is that I want to persuade now without first gathering in all the knowledge I need and do not see the importance of taking time to hear others, to learn from them, and to reveal my love with a sympathetic response to what they are thinking.

Really patient, attentive listening is another way of saying “I love you and respect you.”

Not listening or half-listening is contrariwise, my saying, “I have a much higher view of my opinions than I have of yours.”

Expressed in that bold way, my not listening is exposed as egocentricity, perhaps even hardline pride. 

Once Dave Powlison gently admonished me, “Jack, you are a born persuader as a leader. It’s a good gift, but persuasion should follow listening and asking questions. Give balance to your leadership by delaying your persuading until you have had time to ask questions and to listen closely to the answers.”

I could agree with that in principle and did not have so much trouble applying it to meetings where issues were not major.

But when the concerns being considered seem foundational to me, it is hard for me to listen closely, or to refrain from breaking into someone’s speaking. I feel a compelling need to get the problems and lines of thought into clear focus now. It’s almost as though I try to act as the head of the church.

I know that may sound pretty silly. Who, after all, is so stupid as to think he can replace Christ as Lord over the church and its mission?

Still the history of the church has very few pages that are not blotted by the megalomania of church leaders.

It is simply that we are prone to fall in love with our own authority as official leaders and unconsciously distance ourselves from Christ as the real Head of the church.

We begin to try to control the church or the members of the team and end up in personality conflicts with brothers and sisters who either dislike our control or want to impose their own control upon us.

When this happens, we are inwardly swept by anxieties. The irony of it all is that the more we try to control the work in our own name, the more the work and its problems control us. We begin by trying to own the work of God and end up with the ministry owning us. Perfecting the work becomes our bondage, and the bondage manifests itself by our losing the capacity to patiently listen to others and to be corrected by them.

Indeed, when we get into this perfectionistic frame, we can fall into some very nasty bondages in our leadership. We hate criticism, we get preoccupied with trivia and are willing to fight major battles over minor issues. We feel threatened when anyone disagrees with us or introduces an idea that is unfamiliar.

I once knew of a church situation where a pastor and his associate gradually developed such a rotten relationship that more than once they beat on each other with their fists!

So I want you to join me in having confidence in our human depravity as leaders.

Do not be surprised to find your corruption expressing itself in perfectionistic self-will in your own leadership style. Expect to encounter in yourself defensiveness, dominance, and poor listening practices.

But I also urge you to have a much greater confidence in Christ’s capacity to release you from such bondages.

He is the crucified Head of the church, the only One who knows how to perfect it! Just to know that fact, to rest upon it, and to build upon it, is to be released from the bondages which duty imposes upon our spirits.

You find His liberating grace through honest confession of sin and fresh release by surrendering the government of the church to its Head.

Excerpt taken from Letter by Jack Miller to Alan written Feb., 1986. You can find the letter on page 136 of “Heart of a Servant Leader” by Jack Miller.


Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of Discipleship

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Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller[T]he theological leadership of the conservative church has done a poor job in establishing the necessary link between justification by faith and discipleship.

For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).

Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.

Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you…

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Justification by Faith in the 20th Century: Nine Affirmations

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As I process research and writing for “Cheer Up! A Biographical Study of the Life and Ministry of C. John “Jack” Miller,” important documents (and audios) by Jack remain unpublished; documents that, in my estimation, are keenly insightful, prophetic, and could greatly bless and aid the church of Jesus Christ today.

Today, I’ve spent almost all day typing a 40 page essay by Jack Miller entitled “Justification by Faith in the 20th Century.”

This essay was written by Jack in December of 1978 at a turbulent time in our culture, in the church, and particularly at Westminster Theological Seminary, which was then immersed in a theological quagmire over justification by faith that had already lasted three years, continued until 1982, and arguably is alive and well (or not so well depending on your perspective) in the church today.

I’m not going to unload all 40 pages on you in this blogpost. With what I’ve gathered thus far in research and writing, I’m fairly convinced a study on Jack Miller and his treatment of “Justification by Faith in Union with Christ” is a research project/book that is waiting to happen.

For those of you who may be uninterested in an older theological debate, or presume you are a Christian because you walked the aisle of a church, were baptized, had a feeling, said some religious words of commitment, or have tried sincerely to be a good person and keep the commandments — this debate regarding justification by faith alone, which is as old as the Garden of Eden, is something, whether you realize it or not, you desperately need to hear about.

Trust me! For your well-being, joy and happiness now and eternally, you need to wrap your arms around, or better yet, by faith have Jesus Christ wrap His loving embrace around you with this glorious legal reality of justification by faith alone with respect to remission of sins and acceptance with God, and you will find it is bursting with relational relevancy.

And for those Christians who have left their justification by faith somewhere back there in the past, moved on to other salvation  benefits, and are grinding out this Christian life on your own with only a vague recollection of “Continuance in Justification,” and/or you have no idea what this heavenly declaration means to your life today, we do need to get together so we can talk about some of what Jack has been teaching me on this subject.

However, in this blogpost, I wanted to accomplish two things.

First, I want to wet your appetite by giving you just a taste of only some of what I’m finding from Jack Miller.

All that I’m finding couldn’t possibly make it into a biographical study without it being a 1000 pages. Nonetheless, it is essential that I at least draw attention to it in some introductory way.

This will help me and others gauge the future interest with respect to what further Jack Miller research and writing should follow next.

Second, because I’ve regularly heard what I know to be unfounded criticisms that Jack was “Lutheran-leaning” or more like “German Pietists,” basing this misguided assertion on the way he “over-emphasized justification” without awareness of the ongoing justification controversy at WTS, I thought it would be helpful for you and others to set before you what Jack himself has to say.

You won’t see much in this particular paper about sanctification (though other papers do address that topic) since the focus at the time was directed to justification. However, Jack will conclude this essay by talking about James 2 and Justification, as well as Justification and the Last Judgment.

You will notice, under “Affirmation 5, I’ve cut-and-pasted parts of what I’ve spent today typing from this unpublished working document Jack left for us to benefit from. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed curating it from research.

Nine Affirmations by Jack Miller concerning Justification by Faith

Affirmation 1: I wish to affirm that it is my conviction that justification by faith has as a foundational presupposition a consciousness of the majesty of God and the absolute demands of His justice. (Page 3)

Affirmation 2: I wish to affirm that the cure of our disease lies in a personal encounter with God’s law and the conviction of sin which arises from that encounter (Romans 7:9-11). (Page 4)

Affirmation 3: I affirm my conviction that the Scriptures clearly teach that before the new birth and saving faith all men are in a state of condemnation. (Page 8)

Affirmation 4: I wish to affirm the fundamental distinction between a legal promise and a gospel promise. The contrast is developed with fine clarity in Calvin’s treatment of justification in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. XVIII. (Page 9)

Affirmation 5: This gospel promise 0f Justification is received by faith alone.

Content of Affirmation 5: 

In the Reformed tradition, this “alone” has been called “the exceptive particle.” This faith alone is synonymous with the expression “without works” or “apart from works.” It means that we are not trusting in a legal promise for our salvation [see Affirmation 4]. Such faith abandons the works of the law in order to trust in Christ alone for acceptance with God.

When we meet the expression “without works of the law” (Ro. 3:28) we should understand that Paul is further protecting the Christ alone (3:20-22). Here the language “without the works of the law” is attached to faith in order that faith will not be construed in some way as a new work blurring the ground of our justification, which can only be Christ.

So what is being said here in Romans 3:28 is that faith alone, or faith without works, is simply the equivalent of Christ alone. Faith in its receiving character is not attempting to fulfill [the legal promise of] Leviticus 18:4-5; instead it is abandoning all claim to self-justification and laying hold of that which lies outside of the man, even Christ and His merits.

For this reason I believe that it is a serious mistake to say that works may have a part in declarative justification. This may be done with all sincerity on the plausible basis that works may have a place in justification provided that they are not understood as meritorious or as the ground of our pardon and acceptance with God.

Editorial Note: Jack has inserted a handwritten page entitled “Insert on p. 13” and directed where it is to be inserted in the essay.

In summary, I wish to say that I can admire the pietist zeal to check the presumption of easy-believism by stressing the necessity for sincere faith in salvation. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century godly pietists did this by placing weight on the right kind of faith. So far so good. But the danger is that this right kind of faith (sincere faith) will mean at least that you as a sinner are expected to work to prepare before you come to Christ (see Norman Petit, The Heart Prepared).

But when you do that, I fear you may have moved in the wrong direction of justification by faith plus works. James Denny put the issue in these challenging words:

“The German pietists, in opposition to a dead orthodoxy, in which faith had come to mean no more than a formal recognition of sound doctrine, spoke with emphasis of penitent faith, living faith, true faith, obedient faith, and so on. It is somewhat against qualifications like these that they are foreign to the New Testament. What they come down to in practice is this: Before the mercy of God in Christ in propitiation can be available for you, O sinful man, you must have a sufficient depth of penitence, a sufficiently earnest desire for reconciliation and holiness, a sufficient moral sincerity; otherwise grace would only minister to sin. But such qualifications do infringe upon the graciousness of the gospel . . .” (The Death of Christ, pp. 290-91).

End Editorial Note.

For this reason the Westminster standards do not speak of faith in its justifying function as “obedient faith” or “working faith.” To be sure, faith which justifies is going to be faith which works and obeys. But in the justification of the ungodly that is not its function.

Rather, its unique office in declarative justification is to abandon all human righteousness and to receive and rest on Christ alone as justifier.

Calvin says it like this: “when you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle.”

I see little reason to dispute over a term like “instrument” if a better one can be found. I personally prefer the word “means” or some more popular language like “the eye that looks to Christ” or “the empty hand that receives the gift of Christ.”

Yet whatever terminology is used, the main point must be upheld — which is that faith is the sole means by which we enter into union with Christ, the union which gives us our free justification as sinners. 

On the divine side, our regeneration brings us into union with Christ. But the human part in establishing this union is faith alone. 

There is nothing else. It is the sole doorway by which I enter into the house of salvation and receive Christ and all His glorious benefits, including justification. 

Therefore we may not say that faith and non-meritorious works both function as the means or instrument of justification. If we were to maintain this view, we would take away from the unique role that faith performs in our justification. That function is to receive Christ, something works can never do, no matter how you describe them.

Given these conclusions, all of us in the Reformed tradition ought to agree that teaching such a concept of faith and works (as instruments of justification) would constitute an offense against biblical doctrine.

As well, faith must always be seen as prior to justification in the order of the application or redemption. Temporally, faith and justification take place at the same time, but since faith functions as the unique means for bringing us into the state of justification it follows that faith has a priority. It is the priority of means.

There have been times when I have doubted the importance of this distinction. But I have seen that such a priority is inherent in the very idea of the open empty hand which takes hold of Christ, and faith is the way one lays hold of Him.

Therefore, I am persuaded that this is a matter of importance just because it protects the humble character of justifying faith. Our salvations begins not with our effort, but in our taking a free gift.

This is confirmed by Scripture. In Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 the prepositions translated “through” in relationship to faith imply that faith comes first as a means of our justification.

We conclude then that God from all eternity decreed to justify His elect, and Christ died for their sins on the cross and rose again for their justification, but it is still true that they are not justified until they first have believed in Jesus Christ and His righteousness imputed to them.

There is no such thing as an eternal justification nor is there any such thing as an “active justification” which precedes this declarative once-for-all justification. Justification does not come to sinners until they have entered into applied union with Christ through faith in Him.

I say this strongly by way of loving challenge. If I am wrong on this point, then I would like to see the Scriptures which shows that there is an “eternal” or an “active” justification prior to justification by faith described in Romans 3 and 4.

Affirmation 6: I wish to affirm the vital power of saving faith. So far, I have been focusing on its unique role in God’s act of justifying the ungodly. In such a discussion, I refuse to give any place to talk of love, works or obedience. It does not belong here. In this context the work of faith is that of a hungry mouth. (Page 15)

Affirmation 7: I affirm that it is my belief that Galatians and related passages in the New Testament draw a sharp distinction between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant. But I am of the opinion that in our time we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of “Reformed orthodoxy” which reads biblical history primarily in terms of “covenant continuity.” (Page 19)

Affirmation 8: I affirm my conviction that declarative justification as set forth in Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 is a definitive act of God’s grace on behalf of the ungodly. (Page 24)

Affirmation 9: I affirm that declarative justification properly understood does not cancel out discipleship but makes it a reality. (Page 29)

Taken from “Justification by Faith in the Twentieth Century” (unpublished), The CJM Manuscript Collection, The PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO. (40 pages), December, 1978.


Creative Discipline in a Disorderly World

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Sometimes we just need a list! Here is helpful pragmatic list for us overwhelmed parents and confused kids — regardless of age — from the late Dr. Jack Miller.

The goal of discipline is to build character so he (the child) can have internal controls. This world is disorderly and has a lot of pain in it. If you decide you are going to avoid suffering and pain for yourself and for your children then you are going to have trouble. Life has conflict and struggle, and the goal . . .  is to help you with your children to live in this world with courage and authority.

TWO PRINCIPLES IN THE NURTURING OF CHILDREN

  1. Be a friend to your children; work on the love connection. Watch your words — especially words that imply rejection. We are are any at their behavior we tend to blow up or put on the deep freeze.
  2. Set and a few rules and stick by them:

a. everyone eat together

b. everyone works

c.  everyone shows courtesy

d.  don’t threaten

BEING A FRIEND

  1. Example from Proverbs 1, 2, 3, 4. The desire of the parent is to have the child’s hart. Work on being a friend to your child.
  2. Give him quality time where he knows you have his undivided attention. Learn to listen.
  3. Learn to ask questions on the basis of the listening. Give him space to expressing himself without judging him.
  4. Accept them as they are, build the foundation of the law and gospel for them.
  5. Interpret yourself to your children. Explain to them how you think. Be understandable.
  6. Work with the child’s sense of right and wrong.

DISCIPLINE STEPS

  1. Instruct the child, so the child knows the guidelines and boundaries. Too many rules are confusing, but must have boundaries.
  2. Admonish the child when he has disobeyed.
  3. Express astonishment at this attitude or misbehavior. You are here taking seriously his sin, and your astonishment works on his conscience.
  4. Physical discipline — spanking, in the corner, depriving of something he likes.
  5. Final and most serious phase is banishment from his presence. This will not be very effective if you haven’t build a friendship.
  6. Should always be carried out in the framework of forgiveness. Discipline is not over until stiffness is gone in the child.
  7. Be careful you don’t project from your body language that you have not forgiven.

Parents today have a lot of fears about discipline, because they don’t know what the heart of it is. There is so much written and so much knowledge that it can be overwhelming.

It isn’t complication. You love your child and you ask him to love you in return.

Our tendency is to discipline them when they annoy us. As early as you can work on establishing this bond of friendship. The child should pick up at an early age that what delights you is to have them please you. Interpret to them that you are trying to please God.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR CHILDREN DO NOT RESPOND

  1. Keep your own spirit free from bitterness.
  2. Keep seeing reconciliation with the child.
  3. Keep on with discipline.
  4. Check the child for hunger, illness and tiredness.
  5. Watch out for bitterness in the child.
  6. Pursue honesty — let the child know what you think of their behavior.

BELIEVE THE GOSPEL

  1. God is for you and your children.
  2. He is building the house.
  3. The promise is for you and for your children. The promise is that He will be a God to
  4. you and to your seed after you.
  5. Lead them always to Christ, as you yourself go to Christ.
  6. It works by prayer. You are not alone.

GOSPEL ORIENTED HOME

  1. Faith in God’s promises to feed and clothe my family
  2. Faith in God’s promise to save my children as the gospel is presented to them.
  3. Free to accept the child the way he is and faith to believe the Spirit will bring the changes needed.
  4. Remember that discipline through important and necessary does not take away sins, but is God’s way of dealing with the conscience
  5. Free to give praise, appreciation and approval
  6. Free to ask for forgiveness and free to give it
  7. Willing to accept failure
  8. Trusting in the Holy Spirit to work on root problems
  9. Knowing that grace enables me to teach my children
  10. Suffering and discipline are God’s means of grace for shaping the child’s conscience and character

A FEW ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS (added by one of Jack’s daughters)

  1. Friendship means: I am on your side, I am for you. I’m going to explain and interpret myself, my actions, and what I know of God and obedience to you.
  2. Friendship does not mean that I do things your way, but we do things God’s way. God’s way is to teach the children His Word, and especially to honor their parents.
  3. My children are my sheep, and I am to feed them, nurture them. This means I must get the Word of God digestible for them to understand.
  4. Nurturing is a two-way trace . . . Friendship and authority.
  5. If you do not consistently discipline then you won’t feel like working on the friendship.Children need your support and they also need to be held accountable.
  6. If you haven’t been nurturing and disciplining your children, . . . then you can apologize to them, asking for forgiveness, and explaining that you are now going to be different.

LIVING UNDER LAW

  1. My actions or things I do will make people like me
  2. This brings a preoccupation with self
  3. Fosters an independent spirit
  4. Will always be critical and judgmental
  5. Expectations high of performance — of self and others
  6. Fears and anxieties control the life
  7. Needs strength in ourselves to complete the task
  8. Doesn’t know how to love
  9. Doesn’t know how to forgive
  10. Doesn’t know how to bring others to Christ because he doesn’t know how to bring himself to Christ.
  11. Has lost confidence in Christ’s ability to bridge the gap between God’s demands and man’s sinfulness.
  12. Sees his worth by what he is doing

LIVING UNDER GRACE

  1. Believers there is no goodness in him to perform a single act of obedience without the power of the Spirit.
  2. Believes his sins are forgiven and can then forgive others.
  3. Accepts his position as a son without condemnation.
  4. Knows the power of the flesh if given into will bring internal connect and conflict with others.
  5. Believes he now has the Spirit’s power to love his neighbor.
  6. Understands there is a warfare with the flesh, the world and the devil, but they are not greater than Christ.
  7. Believes his life is under God’s sovereign control and that His will is good, acceptable and perfect.
  8. Is learning to go to his Heavenly Father in prayer to settle his problems and to have his needs met.

Taken from Jack Miller, “Creative Discipline in a Disorderly World” (unpublished), August 1985, p. 1-3, and 14.


The Way Up is The Way Down

UpDownThe way up means the end of denial.

However painful it may be especially at the beginning, you are definitely on the way up when you open your eyes to the rough-edged realities of the human predicament.

You live in a world where people die, including those who are precious to you and where your own life span is brief. You often find yourself unable to love those who deeply disappoint you and that you have an amazing ability to disappoint others. Moreover, often we discover that others have no power to change for the better and neither do we.

Limitations! There are so many. But to recognize our frailties is the very beginning of the healing of our minds and often of our bodies.

In other words, our very confusion about life, if used wisely, can help us lose the conceit and self-importance that keep us from loving others with freedom. The way up brings tears of sincere regret. These healing tears are important for our discovery of love.

Yet the way up also brings out the hearty laugh. A laugh of freedom. At some point we must learn to transcend our frailties by laughing at our foolishness. Our pretensions are so vast. Think of our crazy presumptions. We expect to keep a grip on a treasured romance or a life-mastering ambition as in forever. But so many of our dreams fade away into nothingness. And sometimes our dreams are just downright crazy. . . .

So we fall off our pedestals. Down here below, we lose our presumptions, learn to listen, take time to think, and in the darkness we acquire a new honesty about ourselves. We don’t take ourselves so seriously, our opinions become less sacred to us. A new awareness rises to the surface of our thoughts. Instead of a need for control we admit that we have a deep need to receive help from outside ourselves. In my case I eventually said, “I have nothing, and I need everything.”

Jack Miller, Book on Love (unpublished).


“What is the Gospel” — Podcast from 8/7/11

“What is the Gospel?” Postcast


A Shrewd Manager (Greed) – Luke 16:1-14 – MP3

A Shrewd Manager (Greed) — Luke 16:1-14 — 2011-07-10

The Gospel IS THE POWER OF GOD for Worship, Missions and Renewal

Who is your master, money or God? How would you know? If you were about to lose everything that gave you comfort, significance and security, what would you do to maintain your lifestyle?


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