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.