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.

Contending for the Faith Robert L. Reymond

This 400 plus page book published by Mentor is a collection of twenty five theological papers. The subects covered in the book range from creation to hell. Some of the chapters are quite heavy and eg Brunner's dialectal encounter. I have to confess that the one on Brunner and two others (Bultman and Barth) were beyond my mind. The other 22 chapters are all an excellent read. Reymond's clear Biblical approach mixed with a warmth and graciousness make the comments of the author good food for the soul. Reymond is never afraid to point out error as in his debunking of Stott's view on hell. But it is always done in the most gracious manner. That alone makes me want to read more. It is hard to pick out a best chapter. I think if I am pushed the best is saved to the end when he writes on the topic "What's wrong with Islam." I thoroughly recommend this volume to all blog readers. not only will you find clear Scriptural teaching but it will also furnish you with a style of writing that is warm and winsome yet straight to the point.
1. The Justification of Theology with Special Application to Contemporary Christology
2. The Historical Integrity of Genesis 1-11
3. “In The Space of Six Days”
4. The Theological Significance of The Biblical Doctrine of Creation.
5. The Angels of God
6. The Contributions of Ugaritic Study to Old Testament Study
7. Salvation Principles Governing The Genesis Patriarchs and The Exodus Redemption
8. An Amicus Brief for Unconditional Election
9. My Vision of the Department of Systematic Theology in a Reformed Seminary
10. Revisiting How We Should Support The Doctrine of The Trinity
11. The Trinitarianism of the Westminster Confession of Faith: Nicene or Reformed?
12. Why Must Jesus Be God and Man?
13. The Sanders/Dunn “Fork in the Road” in the Current Controversy Over the Pauline Doctrine of Justification by Faith.
14. Lord’s Day Observance: Mankind’s Proper Response to the Fourth Commandment.
15. Children in the Covenant
16. Brunner’s Dialectical Encounter
17. Barth’s Doctrine of Election and Reconciliation
18. Bultmann’s Demythologized Kerygma
19. Dr. John H. Gerstner on Thomas Aquinas as a Protestant
20. Dr. Robert H. Schuller’s Self-Esteem: The New Reformation
21. Dr. John Stott on Hel
22. Review of Walter C. Kaiser’s Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching
23. The “Very Pernicious and Detestable” Doctrine of Inclusivism
24. Why The Roman Catholic Church Is a Threat Only to Roman Catholics and a Non-Threat to Everyone Else
25. What’s Wrong With Islam?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Render to Caesar...Render to God

Spoke the other evening on Mark's account of how the Lord Jesus responded to the hypocritical questioning of the Herodians and Pharisees. What an off the map response - even His enemies were bowled over by His wonderful wisdom. Not for the Lord the Newsnight politicans side stepping answering. He gives them an answer that shows them the real and greatest need.

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." 16And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar’s." 17Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." And they marveled at him.

Now what was this all about? There seem to be a few opinions doing the rounds. I like how Tim Keller ties it in with a revolt by Judas the Galilean in AD6, the year that this Poll tax was introduced. Judas the Galilean had called on all Jews not to pay, he was speaking about the kingdom of God and had on one occasion cleared the temple. Obviously the Romans were a bit annoyed with him and took him out of circulation. Revolutionaries were not that popular to say the least. And now comes this Jesus person, He too has been speaking about the kingdom of God, He too has just cleared the temple and now they come and ask - so what do you think about the poll tax? What they are basically asking is - are you a revolutionary too?

In light of that the Lord's answer is so amazing. If He answers yes they will take Him out of circulation too. If He says no the many Galilean supporters that He has will become rather non plussed by His teaching.

So when the Lord answers as He does with neither a yes or no, yet really answering the question, what He is saying is - Yes I am a revolutionary but not the sort of revolutionary that you are thinking about. His revolution is of an entirely different order.

Look at how He answers. Bring me a coin (he doesn't have one of His own!) Whose image (icon) is this? And when they answer Caeasar they have answered their own question. Of course they should pay the tax - the coin for paying it has his image on it - so give him what he deserves (render). Indeed since they already have a denarius and are using it they are already showing that they are under Roman rule. So give him what he deserves, but not what he really wants. That is why the Lord speaks about the inscription. Every coin in Roman usage had an insription about Caesar being God and being a high priest. So they could give him His tax but not what he wanted - worship and total allegiance.
But the Lord was saying something much more - render to God the things that are God's. Just as the image of Caesar is on his coin and you are to give him what he deserves, so by implication every human being who is stamped with the image of God is to give to God what He deserves - every part of our lives.

There is only one revolution that is worth signing up for. That is the one that the Lord Jesus Christ has - one of knowing and serving the Lord of the nations. And how could we ever in our sin be His servants? That is the gospel - He who was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we through His poverty could become rich. His death on the cross sorts out the horror of our rebellion, He bore the punishment for the sins of many, so that sinners like you and me would not have to pay the penalty for our rebellion. He alone is the true high priest, the Pontifex Maximus, great bridge builder. This great King calls you to fall before Him and trust Him alone for salvation and to become a servant in the revolution that is really changing the world.

That is just a quick summary. I will preach the passage soon. For all young RPs if you didn't get the full version you would have if you had gone along to the CY conference!

No Turning Back - J. Philip Arthur

Yet another devotional commentary on Hebrews. This one is published by Grace publications and is about 240 pages in length. There are 30 short chapters full of material useful for a time of personal daily devotion. Not much here for sermon preparation. That is no criticism of a very well written book that will benefit all who read. Phil Arthur is a good communicator both in spoken and written word. He manages to do what many writers of devotional commentaries fail to do, that is, tie the whole book together. Using this in your daily devotions will give you a good handle on Hebrews and provide you with clear and revelevant application that is very challenging. Comparing it to the other four short devotional studies I have read on Hebrews recently, this one comes in a close second place after the Welwyn commentary. All in all a good buy and useful book to have on any family bookshelf. Costs about £9.00.

The Gospel of Ruth Carolyn Custis James

On my second preaching tour of Ruth I thought I would get a few new commentaries to spark my thinking. Bought David Jackman in the Preacher's Commentary series, Lawson Younger in the NIV Application Commentary series and Ian Duigid in the Reformed Expository Commentary series. All quite useful and have helped in putting together an entirely new series of sermons. But one surpasses them all, namely, "The Gospel According to Ruth" by Carolyn Custis James. Tremper Longman III's note on the cover assured me I had bought at least reasonably wisely. He writes, "a compelling and rivitting read." And that is exactly what it is. The author relies heavily on Hubbard's useful and detailed commentary but then writes in the most spell bounding manner. I honestly couldn't put it down. It is just over 200 pages in length, so it is not a doorstoper in size but in application and in giving new insights it is unsurpassable. I wish I had come across this before I preached on Ruth the last time - but since it has only appeared this year from Zondervan and I last preached on Ruth over five years ago I am excused. Having said that, in light of things I have gleaned from this book I think I will have to apologise to Naomi when I meet here. She was not the backslidder I previously labelled her as. I see her now through new eyes as a woman of faith, a female Job with much to teach us even in her shakier moments. Every man intending to preach through Ruth needs to read this. If you have a wife give it to her when you have finished. Carolyn Custis James is an expert in getting to the heart of the gospel from this fascinating OT narrative. All you young fellas who read this blog should get this and read it thoroughly. If you are not married and praying that the Lord will give you a spouse then you need to know how to recognise a stunner like Ruth.

I'm off now to order on line Carolyn Custis James two other books "The women we thought we knew" and "When Life and Beliefs Collide." I will turn the pages carefully and then be able to give them to my Ruth life wife as a gift. Don't tell her!