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."