Monday, February 25, 2008

Even a Little Light

Preaching through Ruth over these past weeks. Purchased a very insightful little book by Carolyn Custis James (I will review it in total when I am finished it) which has stirred up some thoughts on witnessing. I have been thinking of Ruth's wonderful conversion. What was it that the Lord used to bring this woman to faith in the God of the Covenant? She had no Guest Service to be invited to, no Bible to read, no tract to crumple and stuff in her pocket, no on line message to tap into. So what was the tool in the hands of the God of salvation? Quite simple really - a Christian family that came to town - a man and wife and two sons. They were far from the perfect family. No doubt their pastor, if they had had one, would have been really dispondent about their sojourning in Moab. But Ruth saw in them something that she had never witnessed in Moab before. She saw a distinct difference when she entered that family of believing Israelites. When she heard their history, watched them interact with one another and their new neighbours and most of all observed them in the face of death she knew that there was something that they had and that she needed.
Yes they were far from perfect. But when you are living in deep darkness as was Ruth's situation even a little light can be a great light and a powerful tool in the hand of the Lord who delights in the rescuing of sinners and who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
This thought is not to make us sloppy Christians, but to cause us to take heart in our stumbling along and indeed in our failures. Perhaps there is a Ruth observing you and your family just now. Oh that soon you would here them say - Your God will be my God.

"Nothing is Predestined in Politics"???

BBC correspondent Jim Fitzpatrick commenting recently on the ogoing saga of the Paisley dynasty made an interesting passing comment that most will simply nod in agreement to. "Yet - apologies here to Calvinists for I don't mean this in the theological sense - nothing is predestined in politics."
Obviously Mr Fitzpatrick has spoken with a few Calvinists in his day but he has not been listening correctly or they have been rather feeble Calvinists. Of course we understand the sentiment behind the comment, namely that things are so unpredicable in the political arena. But what every man, woman and child and indeed every politician needs to know, including the Paisley dynasty is that they only hold power so long as they serve the purposes of the sovereign Lord, King Jesus.
Who knows what purposes the Lord has in the sham of Stormont, but one thing is for sure, everything is predestined in politics. A simple reading of the latter part of Daniel proves that beyond all doubt - that the Lord sets in place whoever He wills and when they have served His purposes they pass from the scene. In fact one of the primary emphasies of Daniel is that every system that sets itself up in opposition to the ways of the King of kings will in due course w crumble and come tumbling down. Mr. Fitzpattrick like all of us needs to know that everything is predestined in politics, we can rest in peace knowing that He has purposes even in shambolic situation of Stormont. So often the work of God is a mingling of judgement and mercy. And in our political situation perhaps the judgement is - this is just the sort of governing mess that we deserve - while in mercy and grace we have a measure of peace when the gospel can flow freely.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Are you Keeping the Sabbath - are you Reaching out?

Struck recently by a wonderful little phrase of Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology III:330) "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."
He has got it in one. Look at the mess of our nation and the state of the churches - is Sabbath breaking not at the heart of the issue? The gospel languishes in so many parts of these islands. So many Christians are emaciated and weak with neither energy or desire to share the good news - and all because of a broken Sabbath. When Christians hold this day sacred to the Lord, for His work and worship then this pagan world can't help but notice.
Why do you not play your sports? Why do you not do your shopping? Why do you not do your studying? Why do you not do your usualy work? Why do you not do your visiting and partying? Why do you go to worship at your church morning and evening? The answer is so simple - THE LORD JESUS CHRIST HAS BEEN TO THIS EARTH, HE HAS DIED FOR SINNERS, GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK AND I HAVE NO DESIRE FOR ANYTHING ELSE BUT TO CELEBRATE HIS GREAT AND GLORIOUS NAME AND WORK.
So don't be sucked in by the cunning schemes of the devil to have a day doing your own thing, lying in your pit, recovering from a busy week, it is to be the wonderful rest of change and a day totally for Him. Try it and you will see that a day given to Him. A day given to His worship, publicly and privately, a day given to prayer and study of the Word. Not only will you be well sabbathed but the change in you may well mean that others will be pointed more to the one who gives ultimate rest.

Monday, February 18, 2008

When I Saw Him

Preached yesterday on Revelation 1v9-20, or should I say, tried to preach on Revelation 1v9-20. What an amazing portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ. The general thrust of the "impressionists portrait" John writes down is a majestic, mighty, glorious, Lord who is coming to judge. One who sees all that there is to see in His church, one who has the power to act, one whose actions as Judge will one day be seen by all. What strikes me most in the passage is John's response, When I saw Him I fell down as though dead. No happy clappy dancing in the isles, no swinging hands and swaying bodies, no dour faced praise, no expressionless singing, no stampeed for the carpark, no hypnotic induced collapsing, no pally wally Jesus is my best buddy - but a man overcome by the presence of Him who is Lord of all.
And that is what the church needs more than anything - to see Him. That is what would shake us from our lethargy, that is what would stir our praise and fill our lives with joyful service. No minister would ever again have to encourage attendance at the means of grace, no programmes would have to designed to pretend that something is happening in the church. And how will we see Him? Not in a vision or dream but on the pages of our Bibles and when preachers learn to preach Christ from all the Scripture. Lord make me a Christ focussed preacher should be the daily prayer of every gospel minister. Lord make my minister a man who speaks Christ in every syllable the prayer of every church member. Mighty God send down your Spirit that He might grant us the eye to see what has been forever recorded in the pages of our Bibles, pictures of Him that will traumatise us to praise and live for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes

I have been working through this book with some of the men from the church over the past year. Most helpful and thoroughly rooted in the Word. One or two of the chapters need a bit of a tweak here and there but aside from that this is a very useful tool to stir up men to flex a bit of spiritual muscle.
One of the dangers of a book like this is that it all becomes a bit of "do, do, do" and it is easy to forget that the gospel is "done, done, done." Hughes tries to balance this in the very last chapter. I think it needs emphasised constantly that all that we do is because of the gospel, and in thanksgiving for the gospel because the gospel of grace has changed our lives. If the reader bears these things in mind this is a useful read for a man on his own or to work through with a few others. Like all "how to books," you can come to the end of it having entirely forgotten what was at the start.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Called to the Ministry

I have been thinking a lot of recent times about what constitutes a call to the ministry. I have heard many speak on the subject over the years and read bits and pieces. There seems to be a great deal of emphasis on a subjective inner call, feeling, compulsion, and an awaiting for "the call." I have to be honest, at present I find this hard to square with the message of the Bible. Any Scriptural references quoted are for the prophets and all know that they had a unique roll and place in redemptive history.
From Ephesians 4 it appears that the pastor teacher is equipped to equip the people of God. Surely that equipping of God is therefore a huge part of a call to the ministry. The Lord Jesus Christ equips certain men so that they will be able to equip the people of God through the Word. My understanding is that a call to the ministry of the gospel constitutes three main areas: equipping for the job, calling of the church and inward desire. Where these are present surely a man can say that he has been called to the ministry. So what are the gifts for gospel ministry? Many launch straight for - preaching and teaching. Obviously they are central but on their own they are not sufficient. Does a man have wisdom. Has he been equipped to handle the complexities of the life of the church. Too often men have begun in the ministry only to come unstuck in a short period of time or cause great havoc simply because they lacked wisdom. This is where the roll of the church is so vital. The elders of a church ought to be able to discern not only can a man preach - but is he wise. Does he know what the Word says and know how that Word is to be worked out in life.
Another thing on ministry. There seems to a growing influence to wait until a man is older, has experience of life. Granted there may be situations where this is wise, it was so in my own case. But the other side of the matter is - a young man gifted for ministry and growing in grace as he trusts in the Lords strength can have a whole lifetime of ministry if he enters college as soon after university as possible. Of course such advice has huge implications for young men, men in their late teens - be redeeming the time now, grow now, read now, learn to pray now so that you will be ready to go into the ministry at the first possible opportunity.
Just some rambling thoughts. I trust that they might do a little stirring.

Thought of Anything for Your Grave Stone?

Yesterday morning I went to hear Pastor Geoff Thomas giving a guest lecture at the Reformed Theological College. Many of the things that he said about pastoral ministry were most helpful and stimulating. He gave seven points on how to preach and pastor in the 21st century:

1. Humbly thank God that you have been called to the ministry.

2. Love your people.

3. Seeking the Annointing of the Holy Spirit.

4. Don't rest without success in your ministry.

5. Live a holy life.

6. Be a man of prayer.

7. Preach the gospel.

All the points were excellently illustrated from his own experience of the ministry and with accounts from history. But it was the little asides that caught me mind.

At the close of the address he recounted what he would like placed on his grave stone, "God created me, sin ruined me, grace restored me." Just nine words to keep on preaching the glorious gospel of Christ when the preacher has passed from this earth.

If the Lord tarries after we leave this earthly scene some will visit our graves, some may even shed a tear at the parting, some will come to cut the grass, some will come researching a family tree, some just looking for solitude. Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone was pointed to Christ from the place on this earth where our mortal remains were resting in the earth, still joined to Christ and awaiting His coming.

So why not do some thinking so that though you being dead yet still speaketh.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Salvation of Souls - Jonathan Edwards

This absolutely fantastic little hardback book published by Crossway Books is a series of nine previously unpublished sermons on the call of ministry and the gospel. Each sermon is given a careful and informative introduction setting the scene of where, why and when the sermon was preached. For young men considering the gospel ministry there is a lot of helpful material here. It should be compulsory reading for any man in training for the ministry. For men in ministry there is a lot here to sharpen the focus of your life, particularly the very last sermon entitled, "The work of the ministry is saving sinners." This is also a helpful book for ministers to get ideas from when asked to preach at an ordination and or installation.

As I read again some Edwards I am reminded of one great regret that I have in my mid forties, namely that I didn't read Edwards in my formative years. If you have good eyesight buy the two Banner volumes. If you have excess money buy one of the Yale edition books of sermons. Even if you only buy one a year. They will knock you back about £50-60 a volume. If you can read on line all Edwards material will soon be on line. Personally I think that buying one or two volumes of the Yale version each year would be the best idea. If you haven't read any Edwards before start with Marsden's marvellous biography.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Suicide - When Hope Seems Gone

A recent BBC report gave the tragic information that 900 young men take their lives in the UK every year. For young men between 18-30 it is the second most common way to die. The National Director for mental health noted that we have an "epidemic of young male suicide." Many have presented their opinions concerning these sad statistics. Some say that men are conditioned from childhood not to share their feelings and never come looking for help. While there may be some truth in that it is hardly the underlying reason. Prof Appleby, the National Director for mental health is surely getting closer when he comments "they have lost their ties to society, work, family and friends." But again is this the root reason?

In many of the tragic cases where people take their own lives the cry is one of despair, all hope seems gone. Now why would people think that way? Could it be that the ongoing attempts of society to do away with God has left this haunting vacuum of despair. If there is no God, there is no truth, there is no right and wrong, no purpose, no future. That is where the godless educational system of our day has taken our society.

But for the person over come with feelings of all hope being gone they need to know that there is one who brings hope. His name is the Lord Jesus Christ. When He walked this earth often He mingled with the no hopers of this world, the despised and the lonely, the forgotten and the failing. He made a wonderful offer to such people, Come to Me and I will give you rest. With the Lord Jesus Christ men and women are made into new creations, made part of a wonderful new society, given a new family of the church. All who trust in Him to deal with their sin He promises to give hope and a future to. All who come to Him and follow Him He promises never to leave nor forsake. So if you read this and you are feeling that all hope is gone, be assured that it is not - for Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.

The Hand of God - F.S. Leahy, Banner of Truth

For three years between 1991 and 1994 I had the priviledge of having the late F.S. Leahy as my Systematics prof at the Reformed Theological College, Belfast. This, the last book to come from his pen before his sudden home calling is filled with the thoroughness study and devotion for Christ that I remember his lectures to have been. As the title suggests this book traces the workings of the Sovereign God in the world and in the life of His people.

Every chapter is written in the prof's characteristic clear, concise and compassionate style. When I read the chapter on guidance it was just like the day I went to speak with him looking for advice on how to discern the will of God on an important choice that lay before me. "David, do you believe that God guides?" "Yes, Professor." "Then pray that He will guide you, use the mind that the Lord has given you, make your decision and know for sure that He has guided you." I did what he said and found great blessing.

Every chapter is woven together by a man who knew the Word so thoroughly. Each of the clear stacato sentences has been carefully crafted and compassionately set before the reader. Each chapter has a little nugget, a dazzling gem to stir the thoughts, a perceptive comment mined from decades of servant leadership amongst the people of God. As each nugget appeared I could see the Prof in my memory. That critical moment in the lecture. For thirty minutes he wouldn't have wavered from the text printed on the hand out. Then came the pause. The hand slowly raising to that inside pocket of his neat jacket where his shining Parker pen always resided. It was then carefully laid under the line of the text to mark his place and then came the jewel we had been waiting for. If only I had noted them down.

This marvellous book has many of those pen moments that kept his students on the edge of their seats.

This little Banner book of some 207 pages is gold dust from beginning to end. Read it, and take to heart for the blessing of your soul

The Message of Hebrews Raymond Brown BST

A 272 page easy read commentary of Hebrews. The book divides into 27 chapters which are short enough to cover in a time of personal devotion. For the preacher looking for a way to divide up the text Brown is quire good. He teases out well some of the Greek with clear application to the life of the reader. Not that strong on giving the overall thrust of the book and tying the various sections together. Not too many nuggets to note but as far as giving a general handle on the book it does a reasonable job. Useful for a youth leader or home group leader preparing studies. For any wanting to preach on Hebrews you better go for the big boys. I plan to give you a review of some of these in due course.