Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve with David

Took some counsel for the new year from the godly David Brainerd. While I was pondering some personal plans and goals for 2009 he being dead spoke to this David.

When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires for Him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable...Oh, for holiness!

Oh for more of God in my soul! Oh this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God...

Oh, that I may feel this continual hunger, and not be retarded, but rather animated by every "cluster from Canaan", to reach forward in the narrow way, for the full enjoyment and possession of the heavenly inheritance.

Oh that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey.

If you are looking for a new year's resolution here are two:

never loiter

read Brainerd's diary

Tested By Fire, John Piper

Having read Piper's "The Roots of Endurance" I simply had to read "Tested By Fire" that I found on my eldest sons bookshelf. This book contains three more of Piper's excellent biographical sketches. In this volume Bunyan, Cowper and Brainerd get the Piper treatment. You always know if you have read a good biographical sketch when the writer makes you Amazon every biography that there has ever been written on the character. Such is the way with this marvellous book. One of the things that I love about these Piper biographies, apart from the helpful and practical way that they are written, is the way that they are set out - nice clear print, short digestable sections and cleverly crafted conclusions.
I am off now to Amazon the third volume in the series.

President Ahmadinejad's "alternative" Christmas Message

While the Queen was doing her usual Christmas party piece on the BBC, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was doing his on Channel 4. Having looked at both transcripts there are obvious differences but also some measure of marked similarity. Both obviously make mention of Jesus Christ coming in to the world and both urge us to look to him as an example. Both have points to make that you can say - yes that is true, but both have deadly error.

The Iranian president makes much as the Queen does of these difficult days that we are living in. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's answer - The solution to these crises is to follow the Prophets - they were sent by the Almighty for the good of humanity.

Which is not that all that different from what the Queen was saying, We can surely be grateful that, two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, so many of us are able to draw inspiration from his life and message, and to find in him a source of strength and courage.

Please do not misunderstand the point of this post. I am not saying that these are two people that are equally admirable and who I would equally like to have round for dinner. The point is that so many miss the whole reason that Jesus Christ came into the world. He took the form of a man not to be an example, though He was that, and not to be a teacher, although He was the best of all. He came to die. Sent to die the most horrible death of all. Willing to endure hell in the place of others like you and me.

Of ourselves we simply can't follow the ultimate prophet. We are so sinful, so bent on doing wrong. Left to our own devices the only one that we want to follow is ourselves. It is for that rebelliousness we deserve eternal death, hell. What we need is a radical change to happen inside us, a change that only the Lord Himself can bring about so that we willingly turn from our sinful ways, trust in Christ's work on the cross to deal with the guilt of our sin and follow Christ.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes a repeating statement in his speech, If Christ were on earth today. The president repeats this line seeming to seek to score up international political points and in doing so reveals his complete misunderstanding of the reason that Jesus came to earth. Never once did Jesus Christ make politcal side swipes, never once did He portray Himself as some political freedom fighter. His freedom fighting was much deeper, striking at the root of all sin.

The president is right in saying that Christ is going to return but He will have no earthly accomplices as Ahmadinejad claims. The Bible says that He will come in all His glory. Every eye will see Him. All will be overwhelmed at His awesome majesty. Every mouth will be silenced. Many will call upon the mountains to fall on them and cover them. He will be on earth one day and all that will matter is what you have done with this Christ. Cooing at Him in a manger simply won't do. Giving Him a passing nod as some useful moral idealist wont do. Holding Him up as a useful political role model won't cut any ice. Only one thing will matter when He appears - that you know Him as your Saviour, Lord, Master and Friend. And that is exactly what God offers in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. That is an offer too good to refuse.

...when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Roots of Endurance, John Piper

A very kind friend prompted by the providence of God bought me this Piper book for Christmas. Basically it is three of Piper's famous biographical sketches in print, namely Newton, Simeon and Wilberforce. My friend didn't know it at the time but the opening of his present was the last thing that I did before heading to bed with the flu for the next three days. The first two days were completely horizontal with only radio 4 for stimulation. As day three dawned my brain could for little spells do a little reading - and what a read. It was just what the Great Physician ordered for a flu weary and tired pastor.
Piper is a master at these biograhical sketches. With expertise he opens up their lives weaving the dominant themes into relevant practical application.
The lives of these giants of the faith could so easily be soul destroying for lesser mortals, mere five eighth men like me. But Piper's way of writing and the work of the Holy Spirit has helped revive this sickly minister.
I am keeping the final chapter on Wilberforce as tomorrow's treat.
So if your pastor has got the flu or out of action in any way buy him this fantastic book. It will warm his heart, revive his soul, and perhaps inject a renewed focus for the glory of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
ps thanks for the book Dave


All around the nation they are singing Hallelujah which means "praise the Lord." In kitchens, at the bus stop, in the night clubs the word rings out, Hallelujah. Yes it this year's Christmas number one sung by X factor winner Alexandra Burke. In fact Jeff Buckley's version is in number two spot also. If you want to hear the orginal 1984 Leonard Cohen version you can find it on the web. In fact it is his own song. I suppose it is not surprising that someone with a name like Cohen knows some Hebrew and some details of King David and Samson who appear in the song. Apparantly he wrote some 80 verses before settling on the ones he published.

No one in their right mind would say that they know what Cohen is getting at in the song, it seems such a mixture, confusion and searching. Cohen writes, again showing some Biblical knowledge, "you said I took the name in vain, I didn't even know the name." In these lines Cohen is spot on - he has taken the name in vain and millions with him.

Praise the Lord. What a statement. It is what we were designed for - to bring the Lord of heaven and earth praise. Sadly we have all messed up, we don't praise him, we don't acknowledge Him, we have rebelled. For this rebellion God said there would be death, separation from Him, the only one who can make us whole to be what we were meant to be. The message of the Bible is that God sent His unique Son to die, as a substitute for many. That is exactly what happened, Jesus died on a cross, separated from His Father for a little while. On Him the holy wrath of God burnt itself out. And the wonderful good news is that as we turn from our sin and trust in Christ finished work, the Lord is praised and we can truly say Hallelujah.

Sorry if the article is a little incoherent. Been in bed with the Brisbane flu for the past three days and write this with laptop propped up on knees in bed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Assisted Suicide - is there another way?

The whole of the civilised world knows what happens at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich. Whether it is Prof. Craig Ewart or Daniel James - it is so tragic to learn of their death's. Their lives suddenly and decisively by their own choice brought to an abrupt end. It is hard to read the newspaper details without tears in one's eyes. Whether it is a bright agile minded professor or a once strong and fit rugby player for them both the thought of life draining away was too much. Is there an alternative to such sorrow? Is there really a way to die with dignity? Is there a way when life is draining away through a rampant disease or the effects of a serious accident to really be who were were designed to be?
The answer of the Bible is a sure and certain yes. Almost stated matter of fact like in John 21v19 the Lord Jesus makes the life and death transforming statement, This He said to show what kind of death he was to glorify God. These are the words of Jesus Christ concerning the apostle Peter. Jesus had just predicted that Peter's final days in this world would be ones of great suffering, no longer in control of things himself - when you are old you will stretch out your hands and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (John 21v18)
The tradition is that Peter was killed by crucifixion. But whatever way it was, Jesus said that in his dying that would be the way that Peter would bring glory to God. Death for Peter was simply another opporunity for him to be a God glorifier. So how did he glorifiy God? By trusting in God to see him through the darkest hour. By relying on God for grace to cope with the pain and the anguish. By committing himself into God's hands when he himself had no control. In dying Peter was being who he was designed to be - a God glorifier.
The process of our dying can be the time of our greatest work for God. Trusting Him for our last months, weeks, days and breath. Trusting that He knows better than we do. So assisted suicide is not the answer. It is to defy God. It is to break His commandment.
Trusting in Christ to deal with our sins is the answer and relying on Him right to God's appointed time for us to leave this earth.
What a wonderful thing to be a Christian. So that even when our body is weak and powerless we can be doing what we were designed to do - glorify God.
That is the way to die with real dignity - being who were were designed to be.
Things are never what they seem to be. A man or woman lying in a hospital bed, life supported with tubes and wires. Every basic detail seen to by others. No strength to do anything for self. But inwardly looking to God and relying on Him. That is the way to die.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How to be an Ineffective Church Member VI Have No Vision

Church members striving for ineffectiveness have one favourite text, where there is no vision the people perish. That’s the stuff – perish – sounds a nice slow easing off into insipidity like that old apple left in the fruit basket – that is the sort of thing we are after.
So how do we go about this lack of vision stuff then? Well if truth be told, and we don’t want too much of that do we, those of us who have been endowed with melancholic pessimistic thought patterns are off to a flying start here. There is a whole soup of phrases out there simmering away in cauldron of the R.P. church that we need to keep stirring and dredging up to the surface of or own lives and indeed the lives of others: But we’ve always done it this way… it will do me my day…. we can’t have new works when we don’t have enough ministers as it is….bring all the missionaries home to fill the local pulpits….I’ve sat in this pew for 40 years….people are saying……some people don’t like…..where would we get the resources from……you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. A good regular dose of these will inoculate against the vision virus that some are catching in the RPC.
It is important that you work at establishing a good foundation for lack of vision. It all begins when you read your Bible. Never look for that mighty strong right arm of God delivering and providing for every need of His people. Remember distant disinterested deity is your god.
Vital in stemming any change in your own visionless thought patterns for church life and indeed changing the visionless thought patterns of others is being really negative. “Let’s be realistic, it will never work” is a good response to any new venture that the elders are trying to introduce to enhance congregational life. And don’t stay away from the new whatever, you simply must be there with your “Lurgan spade face” and your constant, “Woe, Woe, Woe” comments.
People who have vision for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom should be avoided at all costs. Their godly expectations and enthusiasm has been known to rub off. You’ve been warned. Stay clear. Avoid especially any of their gatherings. They tend to congregate to nurture their big ideas at CY conferences, Mission Training Days, Go Rallies and the like. You’ll recognise them immediately they open their mouths. Their wacky ideas seem to have been nurtured through some Rebuilding the Broken Walls propaganda. They talk insistently about revitalisation programmes, church planting and shedding baggage. They seem to imagine that there is a future for the RPC. Of course we would agree that the RPC has a future. It is just that we like to see it as a quaint historical society offering trips back in time. Certainly not the God centred, gospel driven, people focussed organism that the visionaries pray and plan for. Our calling, fellow “doom and gloomers” is to don our black suits and show the world that the crowned rights of King Jesus is a distant echo of the past and has little relevance for our world today. Ours is a noble calling. This denomination that has survived through centuries proclaiming the Kingship of Jesus Christ must be allowed to slip off into the oblivion of the annals of church history in a gracious dignified manner.
Bible Bits to Avoid: Isaiah 54, Psalm 22

A Quest for More Paul David Tripp, New Growth Press

As far as I can see this is the latest book published in connection with the CCEF (Christian Counselling Education Foundation) stable. The purpose of the book is to help the reader see that so often we are living for something smaller than what we were designed to live for, namely the Kingdom of God. The book comprises some 18 chapters looking at the theme from different angles. It is written in Tripp's usual Biblically based style and dotted with real life examples from his own walk with God and his own ministry. If you are interested in being unshackled from your little kingdoms and really wanting to live then this book will be on immense help. For those involved in counselling it is a must. Each chapter is started with a one line abstract that shines a bright light into the chapter that follows. Towards the close of the book there are four very helpful chapters on real struggles: forgiveness, loneliness, sacrifice, anger and hope. In each of these the writer exposes the underlying problems in our hearts annd brings gospel light to bear on them. A definite addition for any minister's library - pastoral theology section.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Train Tracks

The thundering train had already shunted out of the station. The timetable was set in stone. At the appointed time it would arrive. Everyone knew so well it was coming but for some strange reason the children seemed to have wiped the inevitable from their minds. The tracks were so inviting. There was the thrill of the rebellion, playing where they knew they shouldn't. It was just one or two at first. They imagined themselves so brave as they sat between the glistening rails. Not for a moment did the danger enter their heads. The sun was shining, the birds singing in the trees, all seemed well with the world. As the weeks passed the evening gatherings on the tracks didn't seem as brave any more as more and more slowly joined them. They even spoke openly now about who was going down. The distant memory of being told that it was dangerous was fading fast.
What made it worse was some adults were simply watching. There wasn't a hint of nervousness amongst them, afterall the young ones were just expressing themselves. Any hint of uneasiness about the railway track game had faded from their minds too. Even the old men who tutted, we wouldn't have dreamed of that in our day, no longer stopped to wave their walking sticks.
A few new arrivals in the village were alarmed at the antics of the youngsters. But they didn't want to make a fuss, after all - what right had they, they weren't their children. And any way the least said the better if the locals were going to accept them.
Then it happened. They weren't even looking so engrossed were they in their deadly game. They were laughing, having a good time. The jokes were flying. They didn't even hear it amidst the boisterous banter. It was instant death.
The driver never even saw them as he came full speed round the bend. He was running according to the timetable.
If only they had listened to the oldies. If only they had paid attention to the signs. If only the voice of the few hadn't faded. If only they had stopped listening to each other.
What sorrow. No more laughter. Just tears.
But miraculously some had been saved. John and Samantha who were usually down on the tracks didn't go that last time. On their way there they had been stopped by the village loner, an old man that most thought odd. He had pleaded with them to come to their senses and turn from their foolish ways. Something strange had happened as they listened. Was it the tears in his eyes as he spoke or the tenderness in his pleading?
As they wept for their friends they shook their heads overwhelmed with thankfulness that they for some reason unknown to themselves had listened to the lone voice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You Need the Church

We live in a day and age where sadly many see commitment to the local church as something that is not for them. Many are so engrossed in work or family or leisure that the thought of being with the people of God is right down the scale of their thinking. Of course for some there are legitimate reasons why their involvement in the life of the church is not what they would desire it to be - problems of ill health, works of mercy and necessity.

In Hebrews 12v28 the writer speaks of offering to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe. It is interesting what the writer then launches in to in unpacking acceptable worship - life in the church - loving the brothers, showing hospitality obeying the leaders. Sadly the imposed chapter break tends to hide the connection a little.

You will not grow in the faith as Christ intends you to do unless you are deeply involved in the life of your local church. God has designed the church to be the arena of our growth in grace. You cannot live the Christian life as Christ intends you to live without active involvement in the local church. So what does active involvement look like? It means being with the church when it meets for worship, for prayer, for outreach. It means using your gifts and talents for the benefit of others in the fellowship. To stay away without due cause is to sin against God, harm yourself and weaken others.

When the people of God stay away from the life and witness of the church they rob themselves and others of opportunity for growth in grace. In the togetherness of the church we see more and more our own sin, our short-comings, our impatience and are thus thrown more on Christ. In the gatherings of the church we learn how to be more sensitive to the needs of others and therefore more like Christ. It is among the people of God that we learn to behold more and more of the glory of Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis describes this so wonderfully in his book "The Four Loves." In an essay entitled Friendship he writes, "In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity." CS Lewis is stating that it takes a community to know the individual. We will only get to know more of Jesus in the church where the people of God are seeking to resemble, serve and love the Lord Jesus Christ.
So come in, belong, commit yourself wholeheartedly, be there. You will find that amongst His people and under His Word He will change you. Won't that be worth it?

The Prodigal God Timothy Keller

Although a tenner might seem a bit much for a 139 pages book this is a tenner well spent. This nicely packaged hard back small book is the latest to come from New York pastor Tim Keller. The book is a heart touching mind stirring comment on the well known parable that we often call the parable of the Prodigal Son. The book is made up of seven short chapters all with something to catch the eye of the person not yet a Christian and also the believer wanting to understand the Words of Christ more clearly. The book is a little gem that reflects new insights on to the well known parable and making the subtle conclusion that most have missed the point. Keller's basic premise is that there wasn't simply one lost son but two. It is a heart probbing read. The book contains all Keller's usual hereos, namely CS Lewis, Luther, Edwards, and Bonhoeffer.

If you are really wanting to see your own heart and love the older brothers around you this book is a must. This book helped me to see why perhaps in over 14 years of preaching there have been so few conversions through my preaching. My preaching has all been focussed on the younger sons while the vast majority unbelievers I have preached to are more likely the older son type.

I you really love your family and friends all your head scratching as far as seasonal presents is over. Buy them this and give the family gathering conversation some more substance. Discussing this will be of much more value than talking abot the latest wii game.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How to be an Ineffective Church Member V Major on the Minors

Major on the Minors
Communication from the dark side states that we do not need much counsel on this line of pursuit of ineffectiveness, it seems to come so naturally to us. There are several strands of thought that you simply must never pursue lest your slip sliding away into the vague mists of ineffectiveness come to an abrupt end: namely the glory of God in all you do, growing in Christian maturity, reaching the lost with the gospel and developing church life so that the world is aware what grace can do in people’s lives.
It is much more beneficial to give your time, thought and energies to dwelling on the minors of life. On a personal level when you read your Bible major on the minors: who the author of Hebrews is, was behemoth a dinosaur, did Adam and Eve have a belly button! On no account start any in depth Bible study with a good reading note or devotional commentary. Do not make any effort to get to grips with the central doctrines of who God is, who man is, what propitiation, justification and sanctification are, or grapple with the work of the Holy Spirit, or what the Bible says about heaven and hell. Stick to the focussing on the minors: should we use shortbread or pan loaf for communion; did the disciples drink alcoholic wine at the Lord’s supper or just grape juice; how far west did Paul actually journey. With regard to your minister major on his minors: he doesn’t wear a collar, he has a rather strange way of pronouncing certain words and of course that strange eye catching twitch. Don’t think about his faithfulness and compassion as he preaches the Word or his attentiveness to your great aunt Sally when she was dying in the nursing home.
In CY you want to ensure that your whole programme is based round minors and not majors. Each year have a good smattering of topics like: should we call it Sabbath or Sunday; should minister’s wear clerical collars or not; should Christians tithe their gross or net salary; should jeans be allowed in church; should God only be addressed by Thee and Thou. After a few years of such debates your young people will be ready for majoring on the minors in the wider congregational level. At a congregational level it is vital that whenever you get the opportunity drop in the Bible version debate. This discussion is excellent for clogging up the wheels of progress and even usually adds in a few grains of gravely disharmony. You want also to give a good deal of your time to considering the wording of the New Psalter. Spend hours pouring over each of the carefully translated psalms comparing them with the words you know from your past. Try and engage as many others as you can on these matters.
Whenever opportunity arises for discussion on the way forward for your congregation, again the minors are best for ineffectiveness. Stick to things like: should the psalm tunes be up on the board for visitors; what colour of paint will send out the best message to passers by. Avoid like the plague any discussion regarding how to enhance the spiritual life of the members, what could be done to foster family worship or how to help the elders in their Christ given task of oversight.
Try and help those in leadership to see that they should be focussing much of their thinking and energy on whether we should or shouldn’t use communion tokens, what dress style is appropriate for worship. If you hear of any straying unto topics like addressing the life threatening seeping away of our young people, helping ministers be better preacher and pastors; in service training for elders, plans for revitalising weak congregations and stimulating growth or even days of prayer, beware for all your efforts at ineffectiveness will come to naught.

Bible Bit to avoid: II Peter 1:3-11

Book Comment - Worldliness - Resisting the Seduction of tha Fallen World Crossway

CJ Mahaney is the editor of this 191 page hard backed book. There are six chapters all of which are an easy read. CJ Mahaney himself writes the first one which challenges the reader if we are taking the scissors to our Bibles and cutting out the bits that we don't like. The following fives chapters each have different writers and cover subjects like: media, music, stuff, clothes and the final chapter on How to love the world. It is not meant to be an epic on the subject and despite the critical reviews that this little book has had I think that there is much here that is beneficial. One of the things that I like to do while I am reading a book is to see who the writers have been reading. The footnotes contain many of the big guns: Calvin, Owen, Kuyper, Murray. There is much that is practical and helpful, thought provoking and challenging. It would be a good book to work through with a youth group or your teenage children. There are discussion questions to get you going at the back. If you can cope with the odd Americanism like "pants" you will find benefit in reading this book. Teenage girls should find the chapter on God, My Heart and Clothes helpful in making sure that they have a God honouring wardrobe. Middle agers like myself will find the chapter on God, My Heart and Stuff humbling. The chapter on how to love the world provides a basic world view. I like his heading in this chapter - Enjoy the world, Engage the World and Evangelize the world.

Since the book cost me only the postage - a freebe - I can honestly say it was worth it. I will be giving it to my teenagers to read.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Boyzone Better Video Not Good

The latest Boyzone video that accompanies their newly released single “Better” is far from good. The romantic words and touching melody are accompanied by a video that features two young men staring into one another’s eyes, holding hands, caressing one another’s faces and at one point one man nuzzling his nose against the other man’s cheek.
The video was the united decision of the group in support of band member Stephen Gately who “came out” in 1999.
The message of the Boyzone video is yet another subtle effort of the homosexual propaganda machine. This video, that will be watched by millions, is sending out a deadly message to young people. It is stating that homosexuality is simply another norm. The video very cleverly interweaves softly lighted, black and white images of heterosexual couples with a homosexual couple. The message is plain and the often repeated drum beating of the homosexual lobby that says that homosexuality is a normal lifestyle.
The message from the God, who has made us, is very different. Despite the rising opinions of the masses, the unrelenting efforts of the media and sadly the compromised teaching of some churches the Bible is clear about homosexuality. It is a grievous sin against God, clearly condemned in the Bible. God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that were contrary to nature; and men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. Romans 1v26&27
In spite of the message of some leading Anglican bishops the Bible is clear – homosexual desires and acts are rebellion against God, they are a perversion of God’s good and perfect plan as outlined in the opening pages of the Bible, Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh Genesis 2v24 . God’s perfect plan was not Adam and Steve, but Adam and Eve in a lifelong covenant of marriage where they could enjoy the good gift of sex. Homosexual desires and behaviour are a clear violation of God’s law. They are inherently unnatural. It is not a genetic disorder, not a biological defect – but sin. A sin that is gripping the lives of an increasing number in our society, a sin that is destroying many lives and like all sin has eternal consequences.
No doubt some will see this article of another gay bashing rant. Please understand it is far from that. It is the desire of this minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ that men and women would be released from the bondage of their sin, find forgiveness and new life in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The Good News is that it is possible for a homosexual to repent of their sin, just as it is possible for a fornicating heterosexual to repent of their sin. When the apostle Paul was directed by God to write to the church at Corinth he wrote, Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. I Corinthians 6v9-11
In other words in the church at Corinth there were people converted from all sorts of sinful backgrounds. In the love of God they had been wonderfully changed, ransomed, healed restored, forgiven. That is what the gospel offers to Stephen Gately and any others trapped in the heinous sin of homosexuality. As a church we are willing and glad to help any seeking the healing that is found only in the gospel.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Book Review No Place for Truth, David F Wells

This is the first in a series of books writter by David F. Wells which sets out the landscape of American Evangelicalism. This is a thorough and incitful analysis of the collapse of theology in the church. Os Guinness refers to Wells' book as a cat scan and unless properly responded to may just as well be a postmorten. The book itself comprises of some 300 pages of an intense and detailed critique of modern day evangelicalism in the US. Wells has that marvellous grasp of the times in which we live and by and large communicates this in a way that the average reader should be able to grasp. Anyone interested in understanding the spiritual climate of our day must read this book. Although Wells concentrates on the American situation there is much that is applicable this side of the big shugh (Ulsterism for Atlantic!) The book is worth reading for the last few paragraphs alone where Wells sets out his conclusion that it is not revival that we need but thorough reformation. A variety of subjects are dealt with in the book in order to help the reader grasp the modern mindset - views of self, theology, modernity, to name but a few. The chapter on gospel ministry should be read by every student for the ministry.

This is not bed time reading. It will require an active mind - but the effort is well worth it.

Now for the next in the series "God in the Wasteland."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Review - Communion With God - John Owen

Perhaps you find from time to time a certain flatness creeping over your soul, a dryness, a paralysing lethargy. Of course there may be a host of reasons for this - physical, mental and spiritual. But whatever the reason and whatever the course of recovery this little Banner paperback should be part of that reviving concoction. Owen believed that close fellowship with God lies at the centre of the Christian life. This abridged version by R.J.K. Law will be a tonic for your soul. It is thoroughly rooted in the Word and extrememely practical, teasing out in typical Owen style what fellowship with the different persons of the Godhead entails and how that fellowship is deepened. There are life stimulating potions on every page, Biblically rooted statements to prayerfully ponder. There are twenty four short chapters. Take one chapter on your knees before God each day and you will find the joy of your salvation growing to heights that you had never dreamed of.

My copy of this masterpiece cost me just £1.50. (Obviously a long time ago). I doubt if you will find one as cheap. But whatever the cost - get one and read, reread and reread.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What is there for the Children?

Time and time again I get asked, "At your church what is there for the children?" Obviously it is always a joy to hear concern voiced for the needs of a rising generation. It goes without saying that every effort of parents to bring their children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord is highly commendable. I now realise that when this question is voiced that I need to ask a question, "what do you mean?" If parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts mean, Is there a host of youth activities filling every moment on the calendar? Then the answer is no. If they mean is their a special service for the young people? Then once more the answer is no? If they mean is the focus of the church on the youth? Then again the answer is no.
So what is there for the young people? Well we have discovered what the young folk really really need. We have found something that is having a tremendous impact on the young people? We are directing our energies into something that shapes from the cradle to the grave. We are focussed on something that is impacting not only on this generation but on a generation yet on born. We have found something that is making little ones life time servants of King Jesus. We have found something that is making teenagers enthusiastic about using their lives for the cause of the gospel. We have found something that parents are teaching their children from the earliest age to pay close attention to. We have found something that God is delighting to bless in ways that we had never imagined. We have found something that parents are really believing God is using in the lives of their children. It is not a cresh. It is not a band banging out a mindless drone. It is not a youth worker expert at reaching the young.
So what is it? It is the preaching of the Word of God. Each Lord's Day morning and evening the Bible is opened up, explained and applied to the lives of young and old. Of course we are not surprised that God is using this to transform lives - for that is what He has ordained to be the means of converting sinners and building up the church. We not surprised that God is using this in the lives of young and old because each week we pray that God would use the preaching of the Word to glorify His own name.
So if you would like to have something that will really really bless your children bring them with you to hear the everlasting Word of God and watch for the change in your life and theirs.
What is there for the children? The one thing that really matters - the Word of God dripped in to their lives.
Ps We do also have a Sabbath School and a monthly youth meeting. And yes you've guessed it - the primary focus of those meetings - is teaching our children all about the Lord Jesus Christ from His Word.

How to Be an Ineffective Church Member - Avoid Unity at all costs

Avoid Unity At All Costs
To make sure that your descent into ineffective church membership is not a lonely affair you will need to establish an inner sanctum to your ICYS (Ineffective Covenanting Youth Society). These select groupings in the church have through the years come under several guises: The Hole Pickers or The M&Gs (Mumblers & Grumblers). One of these clubs will aid greatly in the demise of your whole congregation. The main point of these select groupings is to stir up disunity in the church.
To really hamstring the effectiveness of the witness of the church it is important to bear in mind that avoiding unity at all costs has several levels that you must become proficient in.
Let me deal firstly with the local church. This will be your training ground for a wider scale assault on unity. When someone apologises for something that they said or did tell them that it doesn’t matter. Then file it away in the deepest recesses of your hard drive, but make sure you have a desk top icon on the surface of your mind so that every time you see them or hear their name those words that they said in haste and asked forgiveness for come flashing across the screen of your mind. Grudge bearing will soon have the pulses of ineffectiveness spreading through the church faster than the Covenanter Grapevine can report Rev. Jolly has been called to First Ballygobackwards. Oh and by the way use that Grapevine to good effect. Stash your juicy comments about others in the guise of prayer points, “isn’t it too bad about…..”
You must try and devise ways of remembering people that zoom in on their bad points the way the camera does in a zit cream advertisement. Learn to see the speck in your brother’s eye even when there is a whopping great plank in your own. Alongside of this, categorising people is a useful tool. Tar all members of the one family with the same brush and make sure that someone’s faux pas doesn’t disappear with the passing of time. “He’s not reliable….do you remember the time…” are excellent thoughts to keep afloat in your mind.
Disunity will be greatly advanced when you dig your heels in on every decision of church life that clashes with your personal preference. Say loudly and widely, “Nobody ever gets a say round here,” when what you really mean is, “I don’t get my way round here.” You must grumble about every decision that the elders make and quietly leave little incendiary devices in the minds of others to detonate in the next church gathering. Never ever, ever say, “Well I am happy to follow the lead of the elders in this matter.”
Remember the simplest things can be agar plates for stimulating the bacteria of disunity: what colour to paint the church hall, the change in the time of church activities, changing the name of the church to something less off putting, who sits where.
When you have got local scale disunity well sussed and the “fellow ship” is listing, then you are ready for your first mission on a grander scale. Only go to other RP churches where you are happy with every jot and tittle of church life. Do a survey and cross out congregations from your holiday visits as you see fit. Bible versions, Psalter used and dress codes are ideal categories for your list of “to visit or not to visit.” When you have got your “hit list” completed be sure to share your ideas with others. As this mentality spreads little pockets of “Real R.P.s,” “Out on our Own R.P.s” and “Anything Goes R.P.s” will develop. By this stage the downfall is imminent and ineffectiveness has won the day.
With the local church and denomination in the bag your ineffectiveness campaign is ready for one final frontier, the Wider Christian Church. You have got to realise here that only Psalm singers are bound for the “Pearly Gates.” Anyone that might have a different opinion from you about worship, church government or baptism is to be viewed as second class and to be pitied. The last thing you want is for some non-Christian to think that you Christians love each other. Follow that approach and the next thing you will have on your hands is some new convert, and they are the hardest of all to get on the ineffectiveness bandwagon.
One final hint about unity, but you’ll have to be really clever for this. There’s a unity that you must make every effort to see developed in your church and life, namely that unity that abandons the Bible and accepts every opinion and idea as of equal validity. Embrace everyone as a Christian who says they are Christian, no matter what they think about justification by faith alone. Lambaste far and wide every Christian minister who refuses to share a platform with all religious leaders. “Narrow-minded bigot” is a good inflammatory name to use for such ministers. And if some of the ordinary members of your congregation have had a hard time for not going to some interfaith service make sure you add your tuppence worth of, “in this day and age we need to be much more broad minded.”
Remember avoid Biblical unity at all cost.
Bible Bit to Avoid Ephesians 4:1-6

Monday, September 01, 2008

How to Be an Ineffective Church Member III

Only Take
“Take Away Church” is all the rage these days, in fact there is one on every street corner. It is the new way of doing church in this “get what you can and can what you get” age. Adopting this selfish, self-centred mindset will provide you with the ideal slippery snake for scooting down to ineffective church membership.
You must think of church life as a local takeaway laid on entirely to satisfy your every need. Don’t for one moment imagine that your local church is for the glory of God and the sphere where you are to utilise your Christ given gifts in the service of others. Try and see your local church with its busy programmes as a hot food outlet, which you can visit when you feel a little spiritually peckish and scan the menu for that essential ingredient that you enjoy and avoid everything else.
In “Take Away Church” you will notice that there are some people busy behind the counter. Don’t for one minute feel pangs of guilt when you see their sweat beaded brows, and at all costs don’t offer to lend a hand. After all they have nothing else to do and you are so busy. You simply couldn’t fit in any more to your busy schedule: Monday evening it’s badminton club, Tuesdays you have your weekly dose of soaps, Wednesday (MW night) you have those extra swimming lessons, Thursday you help with the Youth Work in 1st Whatever, Friday is your evening for walking the dog, Saturday you play golf in the morning and do the shopping in the afternoon, Sunday is your only morning for a lie in, a good snooze in the afternoon and visit the relatives in the evening. You couldn’t possibly fit in any time to help out at the Take Away.
Don’t take in too much by way of showing up when the church family meets for worship. You might stumble on to a series of body life sermons where the minister will be laying it on thick about the need for everyone to do their bit. Once a fortnight should be enough to keep spiritual starvation at bay. Not in your wildest dreams should you consider becoming a twicer (am & pm worshipper). This would be ineffectiveness suicide.
In this era of “Take Away Church” you need to develop skills in sermon tasting. Make sure that you do the rounds of all the Harvest Services, BB Enrolment Services, Children’s Day Services, Christmas Carol Services, My Gran’s Got a New Coat Services just to see what’s on the menu in the other Takeaways.
Don’t for one moment imagine that anyone in your Takeaway will miss you, after all you are not even a regular customer now that your family has four months out each year at your new holiday home.
Of course there will be times when you will need just a little more than the odd sound bite of Biblical matter. For those dark days remember that you are entitled to the undivided attention of the minister, elders and the church members, after all you are a paying member. Anyway, that is what the minister gets paid for and Mrs Jones has nothing better to do than call to see your family with a casserole each week. DO NOT feel guilty and avoid any desires to pledge yourself to helping others.
When you make your twice-monthly trip to church, remember, in and out as quick as you can. Arrive late and don’t linger at the close of the service or you will begin to see that there are others with needs and that you might have the where withal to help them. It is best to join in the stampede for the door and see if can you make it first off the grid from the car park three weeks in a row.
Remember church exists for YOU!
Bible Bits to keep clear of: Hebrews 10:19-25, I Corinthians 12:7

The Courage to be Protestant David F. Wells £14.99

David Wells is a master at clearly and concisely diagnosing the spiritual state of the Western World. This latest book to come from the writer started off as a summary of his other books but evolved into a master class of the evangelical landscape. Wells highlights in this book how the church of the Western world is anything but protestant, that she has well and truly lost her way, come adrift and is about to crash on the rocks. Wells is fearless and yet gracious in his critique of much that likes to consider itself evangelical. This 250 page book is not for a sleepy read but one to be thoughtfully poured over. In chapters on Truth, God, Self, Christ and the Church Wells helps the reader understand the postmodern mind and why people think as they do in these areas. This book is a must for preachers and pastors who want to make sure they do not lead their churches unto the jagged rocks of this post modern world. It is a must for preachers who are keen to ensure that their preaching is truly protestant. For those who have time and opportunity to meet up with others to reflect on the contents there is much here of contemplation.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How to be an Ineffective Church Member II

Only Pray Occasionally
Paramount in your quest for ineffectiveness in church life is that you have infrequent communication with God. Infrequent prayer will develop an icy breeze that will blast through your character and cool down any heart warming for a closer walk with God and a love for others that might be heating up within.
Don’t be misled into thinking that the simplest route is to abandon prayer completely. Such a drastic step has the possibility of sparking feelings of guilt, which will hinder your slip sliding away approach to church commitment. Remember that a slow death of spiritual vigour is the easiest to handle, so you do need the odd gasp of the vital breath of prayer to make the whole process a lot less painful.
On a personal level there are some basic components that assist in developing an irregular prayer life. A meaningless repetitive grace at mealtimes can help make the whole sphere of prayer a mere recitation. It is also advisable for those infrequent excursions to your knees to gather up as many little clich├ęs as you can. These will ensure that your infrequent prayers don’t get too personal, for that again tends to stir up the spiritual juices. Try hard to limit your praying to cover the big decisions of life – what your opinion should be on global warming, the expansion of the European Union and the pros and cons of world trade embargoes. Such an approach will help you work into your life a sense of the utter futility of prayer.
Do not at any cost start talking to God about who He is, your sin, what you have to thank Him for or communicate with Him about the details of your everyday life. Keep prayers really vague, “God bless all missionaries everywhere all the time.” These generalities will mean that you will never be aware of God answering prayers and the desire will decrease. Remember also to only pray when you feel like praying. Never force yourself to your knees.
No matter how many times the minister asks for prayer for himself and the church missionaries you must resist any tendency to do this on a regular basis. Once a year would be a reasonable approach for such prayers as a good conscience salving measure. When the church has a bookstall, divert your eyes from books on prayer and any study guides for exploring Bible prayers. If the minister announces a forth coming series on prayer you must initiate Getaway Plan A, that long planned visit to your mother’s second cousin twice removed in Outer Mongolia. Sitting under preaching on prayer will scupper any progress you are making.
With regards to prayer at a corporate level there are ten golden rules for utter ineffectiveness in church membership:
Only appear at the Sabbath morning prayer meeting when you have a doctor’s certificate to say that such an early start will not seriously damage your health. You need your lie in.
Make several guest appearances where you talk about the importance of the prayer meeting to as many as possible. Such holy chit chat will give the impression that you are there all the time.
A few well-timed appearances at the prayer meeting just before the annual session oversight visit to your home, will keep at bay any pleas for commitment to corporal prayer..
When the elder who leads the prayer meeting asks for prayer points keep your head down and your lip firmly buttoned, unless of course you have some juicy gossip to share.
During your infrequent appearances try to tune out the passionate prayers of others in case such godliness rubs off. Think rather about your busy schedule for the incoming week.
Thinking about going more often than you do is quite sufficient. After all it is the thought that counts.
If your congregation issues a prayer diary each year leave it in your pew or at least stuck at the back of your Bible.
When mission activities are coming up in congregational life avoid those extra prayer times that will be announced. Your life is too busy.
Tune out the pleas of the minister for a deeper commitment to prayer in the congregation and don’t believe him when he says that without prayer there will be no blessing.
Don’t allow guilty thought patterns to develop. You do go to the prayer meeting. It is just that the times that they arrange don’t fit in with your hectic lifestyle.
Remember a regular prayer slot in the Christian life is like breathing in invigorating fresh mountain air. Start praying regularly and you will soon find that your “Royale family style couch potato” lethargy will begin to disappear and the next thing you know you’ll be one of those active members that encourages everyone in the congregation.
You’ve been warned – Keep off the knees.
Bible Bits to keep clear of: Philippians 4:6&7; Nehemiah 9, Luke 11:1-13

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism Mark Dever

This is a cracker book on personal evangelism. It is a short book punching well above its weight. Dever sets our the usual point of the why and how to of personal evangelism. It is fresh and full of helpful one liners thatt stir up the juices to be sharing the glorious good news of Jesus - crucified and risen. This is a must read for anyone with a concern to bring the gospel to the lost and perishing. I like the way that Dever doesn't give you the gloss and glitz of how to but again and again brings the reader to the cross. It is both personal and practical but not in a sickening manner. This is an afternoon read. It would be beneficial to study with a friend. Buy six and give them out. Below is what's in it.

Introduction: An Amazing Story
1 Why Don’t We Evangelize?
2 What is the Gospel?
3 Who Should Evangelize?
4 How Should We Evangelize?
5 What Isn’t Evangelism?
6 What Should We Do After We Evangelize?
7 Why Should We Evangelize?
Conclusion: Closing the Sale
Recommended Reading
Appendix: A Word to Pastors

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Message in a Bottle

Booming business in Beijing these days are "spirit bottles." The Times on Friday 30th May reported that the shelves of Beijing's are fast being cleared of the empty bottles. One store claimed to be selling more than 100 per day. The sellers openly state that there is nothing but air in the bottles. The idea is that the empty bottles can be used to represent anything you want. The biggest sellers in this troubled nation are "Courage and change" and "sense of security." In a nation that is mourning a massive loss of life this is their answer to trouble - buy an empty bottle and put all your troubles in it. And yet it is no great surprise that the people of China are seeking solace in empty bottles for that is what their Godless philosophy leads naturally to. Since they have banned God it is no surprise that the people have no hope but in an empty bottle.
How sad that men and women could be conned into placing their hopes in an empty bottle. How could anyone believe that there is hope in such foolishness. But that is exactly what the Bible says. In psalm 4 David tells it as it is - how long will you love delusions and seek false gods.
The only message of their empty bottles is the emptiness of their lives. But that need not be so. God in His rich mercy has given us a clear message from heaven. He has given us a Bible and that Bible is presently selling so quickly in China that the publishers simply cannot keep pace. So let's pray that the Message in the Bible will wipe out this silly Message in a Bottle and that millions will come to know Christ Jesus the one who give real life.

The Cross He Bore

One of my most prized books is a signed copy of this little 82 page book published by Banner of Truth back in 1996. It is comprised of 13 very carefully crafted chapters focussing on events around the sufferings of the Redeemer. In this book the late FS Leahy pieced together in his usual precise yet heart warming manner key events at the crucifixion. This is a book to warm your heart and fire up love for Christ. The author writes from the heart and to the heart as he deals with the silence of Christ, the refusal of Satan's cup, the crown of thorns etc. Leahy has gleaned from Schilder, Krumacher and Finlayson in putting together this masterpiece. This is one of the books I return to again and again. Just a chapter a day keeps the darkness away. Just a few miniutes primes the pump for a more beneficial time of personal devotions.

I can never read it without thinking of a elderly saint who when she received this book gave herself to reading it with pen and note book in hand. The gems that she discovered she simply didn't want to forget.

It is probably long since out of print. It will be worth your while tracking it down so that you to can discover its gems.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How to be a Completely Ineffective Church Member Part 1

How to further the metamorphism to being a real sloth in the church.
The articles that appear in this series are a manifesto for utter ineffectiveness in your local congregation. For maximum impact of this ineffectiveness policy, these articles are best read with a lukewarm cup of coffee and some seriously heavy eyelids.
Of course should you yearn to serve King Jesus and be an effective church member to the glory of God, then you will need to have your brain well and truly in gear and by God’s grace seek to do the complete opposite of what you read.
Should you feel your toes jumped on by size ten hobnails, the best way for continued ineffectiveness is to complain to the writer. Don’t at any cost ask yourself could this be me, or get down on your knees and repent.

Listen Only
It is vital in your quest to be an ineffective church member that you specialise in gathering a host of Bible trivia, numbers of verses in the Bible (31,202) and the like. All these little juicy ditties that you glean you must store away in the deepest recesses of your mind so that you can keep the minister and elder busy with quick fire questions during the annual pastoral visit. This approach will make sure that they don’t get round to that awkward question, “How is God’s Word shaping your life these days?”
A collection of Bibles with unthumbed pages will be of great assistance in your journey towards utter ineffectiveness. The Bible you keep in your pew must have extremely small print so as to distract you during the reading.
Personal Bible reading is where you master the art of listening only. Only read your Bible at times of the day when your eyelids need propped open with matchsticks. This dosy interaction with the Scripture will help establish an impenetrable force shield for every encounter with the Word. By all means read the Bible every day. Big chunks are best and scan reading an essential. It is fundamental that you avoid asking any life-changing questions like, “What does this mean for me?”
Be on your guard at family worship for the Word can get a little prickly here and insist on taking root, especially when dad has pointed out how it applies to your family. At this stage it is paramount that you channel all thought power into how many Rice Crispies are left in the box.
Sabbath day will be your biggest test to see if you are going to graduate in the “listen only” course. If during the Scripture reading or sermon you feel any pangs in your heart, it is imperative that you quickly calm things down in your mind with a review of the spiritual things that you do, church Sabbath School, CY etc. and how you are definitely better than all the other young people. When the minister gets to the application bit and you begin to feel a certain sense of “he’s speaking to me” now is the time to start counting the cracks in the plaster or doing imaginary dot to dot with the bits of fluff on Mrs Brown’s big black bushy hat.
Pivotal in your downward spiral into the abyss of ineffectiveness is to give the minister marks out of ten for his sermon each week. Over lunch ask everyone how they thought the minister got on. Floating this question week by week will soon have a whole family on the path to increasing ineffectiveness. Avoid at all costs allowing anyone at the table to be super saintly and ask, “How did the Word challenge you today?”
Rather than taking notes on the sermon the way others seem to be doing, it is best that you engage in creative mind capturing doodling. This will give the impression that you are concentrating while at the same time stemming the flow of truth to the heart. Never go back over your notes no matter what your housebound gran asks you when she does her usual Sabbath evening inquisition about the sermon.
Remember only listen. You simply mustn’t let it in. You must wriggle and squiggle like mad to keep that life changing Word at bay. As soon as you start on the slippery slope of putting the Word into practice the ICMC (Ineffective Church Member Society) will have you thrown out if they can muster up the enthusiasm.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is it Nothing to You? Book Reminder

From time to time I hear the question asked, How does a man stay fresh in the ministry? The question is so very relevant for often in the daily plod of ministry it is so very easy to become professional, tired and weary. When the clouds gather for me I go again to the cross. I make the reading and studying of the gospels my focus. I also like to read something devotional that will help stir up great thoughts of the Saviour. To this end I have found the trilogy of the late F.S. Leahy so helpful. I have just finished reading again "Is it nothing to You?" It was published by Banner back in 2004 and is a little gold mine of heart warming devotions on the "unchanging significance of the cross." I guess one of the reasons that I enjoy these books so much is that I had the privilege of having the author as my Theology prof at seminary. I can hear him say the words and having known him I know that they are not words that simply sit as ink on paper, but words that flowed out of a ministry that was constantly filled with the life invigorating freshness of the gospel. This is a short book - about ten chapters. Take one chapter a day before breakfast and before reading and praying and by the grace of God you will find your heart strangely warmed within you.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"I Hope he's proud of me"

Less than 24 hours after the tragic death of legendary road racer Robert Dunlop his young son Michael stood on the winners podium of the world famous North West 200 having won the 250cc event in style. The young man wept openly as the victor's wreath was hung round his head. Later in an interview it was obvious that the winning of the race was hollow for a young man who was mourning the loss of his father. As the BBC interview drew to a close the shy young man quietly said, "I hope he is proud of me."

Michael's sorrowing statement echoes out the heart of humanity. That longing to be accepted, that deep desire to be thought well of, that someone might be proud of us.

Of course the reality is that of our selves before the heavenly Father there is nothing in us for Him to be proud. Our sin has separated us from Him. Naturally we are far from God, without hope in the world. But the good news is there was a son of whom a father was deeply proud, there was a son whose father delighted in him and the victory he had won. That son was and is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has received the victor's crown. He has defeated sin, Satan and death. The Father said of Him, "This is My beloved Son. With Him I am well pleased." And the good news is - that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, God will accept, oh indeed delight in because of the finished work of His dear Son. There is a way for ultimate acceptance and peace. To be reconciled to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Book Review "The Reason for God" T. Keller

I have for the past year or so been a TK fan. His preaching is so on the button when it comes to Biblical accuracy and communicating in the 21st century. He is often my running companion as I listen to one of his sermon's on mp3. Having listened to his unique and winsome style of communicating the gospel in a way that touches down in the mind of post modern man it was with great excitement that I purchased his new book, "The Reason for God" subtitled Belief in an Age of Skeptism. It is published by Dutton in hardback. I presume a paperback version will eventually appear. I recommend you buy a hardback copy for your self as this is one to read every year if you are serious about proclaiming the Good News either in preaching or personal witness. The paperback versions will mean that you can spend some of your hard earned cash in buying a bundle for giving away to unconverted neighbours and friends. Keller answers the questions that people are asking in the most disarming manner. This book of just over 290 pages divides into two parts. Seven chapters under the theme of "The Leap of Doubt" where he deals respectfully with all the questions that are set before you every day E.g. Is there only one true religion? Why all the suffering? How could a loving God send people to hell? Can you really trust the Bible? The second half of the book consisting of seven chapters is under the theme "The Reasons for Faith." In this section Keller deals with the knowledge of God, the problem of sin, religion and the gospel etc.

One of the things that you will find reading or indeed listening to Keller is that he always has interesting and surprising ways of presenting truth.

This would be a great book for you young guys to read through together and discuss how you will put it into action. For any preachers who read review this - you simply have to read and reread this that something of Keller's technique of disarming the defeater ideas of the world might rub off on you. If you are looking for the book to take on holiday with you - this is the one. Perhaps you should pack a few extra paperbacks if they come out soon so that you can give them away to any who ask "what's that your reading?"

Since I am pretty wick at book reviews why not listen to the man himself at

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lost in the Middle Paul David Tripp

When you are 45 there are some books that are a must read - and this comes fairly close to the top of the list. The book has the subtitle, "Midlife and the Grace of God." It is published by Shepherd Press and costs £8.95. As with any book that comes from CCEF counsellors this book is thoroughly rooted in the Scriptures, wonderfully written and dotted throughout with timely illustrations from the lives of real people. Don't be mistaken into thinking that this books is just for blokes that can no longer run sub five minute miles, are greying somewhat at the temples and have that bulge appearing over their belt. This book has timeless truths for people of all agge groups. David Tripp in his usual masterly manner peals back the facade of modern man and shows why people in midlife often feel that they are lost in the middle. The book rises to an energising climax as the author reminds the reader that it is often in mid life that God in His grace opens our eyes to see who we really are and how He can uses the disappointments, unfulfilled dreams and tragic failures to make us people not lost in the middle but wonderfully found and enwrapped in the crescendo of redemption that God is ringing out in our lives.

My advice is; read it for yourself and then find a friend that you can discuss it chapter by chapter with and then pray in the truths that the Lord brings to bear on your heart.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why Evening Worship

This article is written with the purpose of encouraging the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to make use of the privilege and blessing of evening worship.
It is written acknowledging that there are Biblical reasons why it is not always possible to return for worship on the evening of the Lord’s day.
Though we may not have any direct Biblical command, “You shall return to evening worship,” we have much by way of implication from the Scripture.
Below are seven reasons why the people of God should return for evening worship

1. Because of the Glory of God
God’s glory is the all important matter in life. Paul exhorted the church at Corinth to, do all to the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31) The work of the devil is to rob God of His glory - that is his primary purpose. When we are absent without due cause from worship God is being robbed of His glory because God’s glory is displayed in His people. Added to this, if we are not growing as Christians as we should and could, God is being robbed of glory. We cannot be growing as we ought if we are not taking in the Word of God preached.
2. Because of the Presence of Christ
The psalmist writes I love the house where you live, O Lord. The place where Your glory dwells. (Psalm 26:8) God does not live in any building made by the hands of men. He does reside by His Spirit amongst His people. Where Christ’s people are, He is in the midst of them. When we gather for public worship we enjoy the presence of Christ with His people in a way that we cannot enjoy when we are on our own. One way to express our love for Christ is to delight in being where He is in this special way. No right thinking believer would want to snub their Lord and Saviour by absenting themselves without due cause from public worship.
3. Because of the Nature of the Lord’s Day
The Lord’s day is for rest. That rest is not the rest of inactivity but the rest of worship and service. We are commanded to keep the whole day in a holy manner - i.e. set aside for the Lord. We are not to use the Sabbath just as a time to rest our bodies physically. Our primary rest is found in the Lord Jesus Christ, learning of Him and His Word. Through the prophet Isaiah God told His people about the blessing of putting God first. If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord… (Isaiah 58:13& 13a)
Another purpose of the Sabbath is to point us to Christ’s return and the rest that is yet to come. That rest of heaven will be unbroken and worshipping God publicly throughout the Sabbath day as we have opportunity is good practice for the life that is ahead.
The argument that worshipping twice will leave me too tired for my work simply does not stand - we are not to do as we please. When we put Him first He has promised to add to our lives all that we need.
4. Because of our Responsibility to each other
When someone becomes a Christian they are united to the Lord Jesus Christ. That union with Christ means that we are united to other believers. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. (I John 1:3&4) That union with other believers is to be particularly evidenced in our local church. The many one another exhortations call us to love one another and encourage one another. One of the ways that we can do that is by being present at the services for public worship. The writer to the Hebrews makes the direct link between encouraging one another and being present when the church meets. And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. (Hebrews 10:24&25) The presence of other believers at public worship is a support to one another as we remind ourselves what is important in our lives. Likewise our absence sends a serious message to other believers, particularly young ones - that we can get along fine without the preaching of God’s Word and the company of the saints.
5. Because of our Witness to the World
The message of the Scripture is that our lives are to display to men and women the glorious light of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) When we are present at worship we are making an important statement to visitors - the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life. When we are absent visitors note and conclude - there mustn’t be much of importance that is happening here. Our presence at worship says to the world that the proclamation of the Word of God is vital.
There is a secondary dimension to this, in that, as we come under the Word Christ deals with us and uses His Word to make us more like Him and the more like Him we are the more useful we will be in reaching the lost.
6. Because we are Under the Authority of Elders
One of the curses of our day and age is the spirit of individualism that says I will do what suits me and I am accountable to no one but myself. Biblical Christianity is to liberate us from this selfish and self centred mindset. When God in His loving kindness saves us He sets us in a church family. In that church family Christ has delegated His authority to the elders who are called to lead and organise the life of the church.
Elders in every local church will at the end of their lives give account as to how they have led, fed and nurtured the people of God. Our responsibility is to honour those whom God has placed in authority over us. If they have decided before God that public worship is beneficial twice on the Lord’s day then it is our duty to seek to honour them in that. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them se that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
7. Because of our Need
God has designed that the people of God will be built up in their faith through the preaching of the Word of God. We are commanded to let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you. (Colossians 3:16) We are told to be as new born babies that crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.
(I Peter 2:2)
Remember that when these commands were given people had no personal Bible to take home for daily devotions. It was the Word publicly preached that was food for their souls.
Imagine a mother who each day provides two good meals for her family. Would she not be concerned that some of the children were skipping meals? Would the evidence of skipping meals not soon appear in their lives?
Christ desires that we will be set apart for His service in our homes, work places and communities. He has prescribed the means for our sanctification. Sanctify them by the truth, Your word is truth. (John 17:17)

1. Prepare for the Sabbath day by ensuring that you are in bed early on a Saturday evening. Children will need particular help with this.
2. Plan your visiting of family and friends for a Saturday evening and not a Sabbath evening.
3. If you are having friends or family for hospitality ensure that you are organised before hand and have worked out your timing to enable a return for evening worship.
4. Some with children can say that the children are too small to be present in the evening. This may be so for some. But if we are happy to have them out late at the cinema, or on a visit to friends late in the evening can evening worship be too late? It is a matter of priorities.
5. For some who are elderly and find the travelling on a winter’s night too demanding - you should consider speaking with the minister asking if a lift can be arranged. We would be delighted to arrange this.

If men wish the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection to die out, let them neglect to keep holy the first day of the week, if they desire that event to be everywhere known and remembered let them consecrate that day to the worship of the risen Saviour.
Charles Hodge

Friday, March 21, 2008

God Save the Queen

Yesterday in the city of Armagh Queen Elizabeth II took part in a service known as the Maundy service. The word Maundy comes from the latin word for command and is linked to the command of the Lord Jesus Christ to love one another. Sadly the service in Armagh Church of Ireland cathedral couldn't have been further from a statement of love. To truly love others truth is to the fore and sadly truth was missing yesterday in Armagh.

While many hailed the joy of having all the main churches wonderfully united with a hint of Islam and Buddhism thrown in for good measure this was nothing more than an emblem of the great tragedy of our day. This was simply another cunning chapter in the devil's hand book on how to hoodwink people into thinking that you can have your truth and I can have mine.

Roman Catholisim, modern day Judaism, Islam and Buddhism all teach that men and women are saved by good works. Protestantism teaches that sinners are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

The Maundy service in Armagh was no act of love but the most despicable act of hatred that said to men and women, you know all is well, truth can be of your kind or mine. The publicity that this service received ought to send the evangelical population of the Province to our knees to cry out that God would save the Queen, and that in wrath He would remember mercy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Parable of the olly bolly dob dob flower

Just in case there are an Night Garden bloggers out there aged between 0 and 3 this post is for you.
In an attempt to distract my two year old when her mum was heading out for the the evening I thought why not treat her to an episode of her favourite Night Garden on BBC iplayer. So we logged on and sat back to watch the show. The story line of the episode was quite easy to follow, the Pinkyponk had landed in the Night Garden and Upsy Daisy, Iggle Piggle, the Tombliboos and the Pontipines clambered aboard. The Pinkyponk eased up off the ground to it's usual flatulant like noises. Soon it was weaving its way through the branches, over some and under others. How excited all the little passengers were as they headed off on the mystery tour.

Repeatedlly someone asked, Do you know where the Pinkponk is going? No one on board seemed to have the foggiest notion. Where was this wonderful machine carrying its occupants off too? Higher and higher it rose through the trees until it was out above the tree canopy. Then with great excitement in the air the Pinkyponk let out a few of its usual noises and came to a standstill in mid air. The big moment had arrived, the secret at the end of the journey, the reason for all the huffing and puffing - the olly bolly dob dob flower was opening up!

Now I don't know about you but if I had been Upsy Daisy, Iggle Piggle, the Tombilboos or the Pontipines I would have been rather peeved that that was it - an olly bolly dod dob flower.

My two year old didn't seem to notice that I was watching more attentively than usual and had pen in hand jotting down some thoughts.

All I could think of was - how like the lives of so many people - full of excitement, a lot of noise and commotion, and at the end nothing at all to show for the journey. How like so many just wasting away their lives journeying aimlessly with nothing at the end but disappointment. And that is what life is like without Jesus Christ - a journey on the Pinkyponk achieving nothing.

To journey with the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is an entirely different situation. With Him there is real purpose, glorifying God and enjoying Him for ever, journeying onwards and upwards in our heavenly calling to the city that has no foundation. No disappointment there - but life everlasting.

Just as my two year old was hoping for another episode someone from the Night Garden said, Go to sleep Tombilboos and I thought - that is what the devil is saying to men and women the world over - go to sleep everything is all right, when everything is all wrong.

So take a long look at your life on your Pinkyponk - are you on a meaningless journey with nothing but Olly bolly dob dob flowers at the end or by grace have you come to the only one who can deal with sin and give real purpose. He is ready and willing to have you come aboard.

Why Join the Local Church

Every Christian should be a church member, however, not all seem to be persuaded of this. Some with hurts from the past feel that the step of membership is hard to take again. Others are on the search for the perfect church and are reluctant put down their roots. Still others seem to have a pride in their supposed flexibility saying, “we belong to a global church.” Some may even out of a wrong sense of responsibility say, “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.” The purpose of this short article is to show clearly the Biblical principle that every Christian should belong to a visible body of believers.
It goes without saying that not any church will do. The Reformers of the 16th century rightly spoke of the three marks of the church: true preaching of the Word of God, faithful administering of the sacraments and the exercising of Biblical Church discipline. A church that has these three marks evident in its life is the sort of church a Christian should belong to and be visibly committed to.
It is also true that every saved sinner belongs to the wider Church of God. Revelation 7:9 speaks of a great multitude which no one can number. Our membership of this world wide, century bridging company is to be expressed in our membership of the local church. By local this does not necessarily mean the church nearest to where you live. Sometimes this is simply not possible.
We believe also that the children of believers are already members of the church. That is how it was in the OT & NT. For them we look forward to seeing God’s grace apparent in their lives and them professing faith in Christ when they come to the years of discernment. At that stage they will enter in to all of the responsibilities and privileges of being a member of the church.
So why should every follower of Jesus Christ belong formally to a local gathering of believers?

1. Because God Says So
As with many aspects of the Christian life there is no direct command, “You shall belong to the local church.” However membership of a congregation is clearly implied and is what God expects. For example: in Acts 20:28 the elders of Ephesus were told to take care of the flock. How could they take care of the flock unless there was a flock to which the sheep belonged and the shepherds knew which sheep belonged to them. Or take the situation in Jerusalem, Those who accepted the message were baptised and added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41) That addition was not just that there were more of them, but that they were officially incorporated into the developing congregations of Jerusalem. That official belonging is emphasised later in Acts when Luke records, after the incident with Annanias and Saphira, that none of the rest dared join them. The word that is translated join means, “to glue or cement together, to unite, to join firmly.” Use of the word elsewhere shows that this was no casual superficial thing but the cohesive bonded relationship of church membership.
Think also of the implication for membership that there is with regards to leaders in the church. In I Timothy 3:5 speaking of the qualifications for the eldership Paul writes, If a man does not know how to rule his own house how will he take care of the church of God. The implication is clear that there will be a clearly defined church for him to care for. The NT believers officially belonged to a church.
When we take on membership we are obeying the Lord Jesus Christ and that is a sign of our salvation.
2. Because We Need the Care of the Church
The Lord does not call us to live our lives on our own. He expects us to belong to a congregation of God’s people where we will be cared for and can be involved in making and caring for new disciples. The NT is full of instruction on how the flock of God is to be cared for. Matthew 18:15-17 tells us how the church should respond when someone in the church starts to live like an unbeliever - tell it to the church...treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This has practical implication for our lives. God has designed church discipline to be a blessing in our lives - His means for calling us back when we wander. Someone not in membership of a local congregation does not have this privilege and that is a very dangerous position to be in.
3. Because We Have Responsibilities for Others
In Hebrews 10:24&25 we are commanded to consider one another. Not joining the church sends out a wrong and unbiblical message to other believers and also to the world. Not joining is modelling a sinful pattern to others. This is a serious thing to do. Not joining sends the message - this church and her teaching is not worthwhile being committed to; the work of God doesn’t deserve all of our lives.
Of course the opposite is also true. When we join a Biblical church we are making a massive statement to the unbelieving world and rightly considering others.
We should also remember that every Christian has been entrusted with gifts to be used in the context of a local church. These gifts are given for the common good (I Corinthians 12:7). Yes it is true that someone can use their gifts outside of the church but many of the ministry opportunities are available for church members only. A famous American preacher once said, Not joining the church is saying I don’t want to serve the only institution that Christ ever built.
4. Because we Have a Lost World to Reach
We should join a local church for the sake of reaching the lost. When we work together we can better spread the Gospel at home and overseas. A local church which is Biblical is a lighthouse to the world. When we take on membership we back up the missionary endeavours of the church. Together in the church we can reach our towns and community and combine our efforts to further the gospel across the world.
5. Because we want to Bring Glory to God
How we live our lives can bring glory to God. Peter writing to the early NT believers wrote, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. (I Peter 2:12) That is not only true for us as individuals but also in our lives together. Our lives together are to show that we belong to Christ and to bring Him glory. When you join the church you are being adopted into the family of God’s people and in that family the relationships lived out and the service given one for the other will bring glory to God. Bringing glory to God is the reason above all that Christians should belong to a church.
Obviously anyone can come along to the services and benefit from the preaching and the warmth of the fellowship. But there are many more privileges in belonging to the church. You will receive the official care and oversight of the minister and elders; you will have the opportunity to come to the Lord’s Table without being welcomed as a visitor. You will have the privilege of your children being able to receive the sign of baptism. You will have the privilege of being able to stand alongside a group of believers knowing that this is your church where you will be cared for, prayed for and your gifts utilised to God’s glory.
So do not merely attend a church - join. Join because God says so, because you need to, because others will be blessed and most of all because God will be glorified.

Friday, March 14, 2008

All that glistens isn't Gold

BBC world news revealed this week that Ethiopa are in the process of testing all the gold in their vaults to determine if they are really as wealthy as they have been imagining. In a recent transaction with South Africa it was uncovered that some of Ethiopia's gold was no more that gold plated steel.

What a marvellous illustration of many in the world today imagining that they are rich when the reality is that they are terribly poor, that all the time when they imagined that they had wealth they had nothing. So many imagine that their good works are some sort of bullion that they can barter with God with. But time will tell that all that they have is as worthless as plated steel.

The wonderful good news of the gospel is that we can become truly rich. Paul speaks of the Lord Jesus as the one who was rich and yet for our sakes became poor, that we through is poverty might become rich.

Here is how the deal works. When God made man he was really rich, he knew God and was in fellowship with God. Adam and Even decided that real wealth was in doing their own thing. In an instant they were bankrupt before God. God in His love and mercy had a wonderful plan. His Eternal Son came to earth, leaving behind the wealth of heaven. He took upon himself our form, yet without sin, lived in this sinful world as the only perfect man, keeping God's law perfectly. His life was one of utter poverty - rejected by all but a few of the lowest of society. Things hit rock bottom for Him when He was nailed to a cross. In those hours hanging between heaven and earth He was forsaken of His Father as He bore the ultimate price for the sin of many. When He had finished paying the price for the salvation of many He was raise from the dead and declared with power to be the Son of God. His resurrection was God's stamp - PAID IN FULL. Now in heaven as the God Man He rules the nations making men and women really rich as they receive Him in repentance and faith.

To be really rich the currency of heaven - declare your total poverty before God, that you are a sinner deserving of His holy wrath, and cry out to Him to save you on the basis of Christ's finished work. In an instant you will have wealth that will never perish, spoil or fade - forgiveness of sin, a new standing with God, a place in the family of God and the sure and certain hope of heaven.

It is time to stop imagining that you have wealth in and of yourself and receive the riches of Christ. Remember only hands that are empty can receive the gift.