Thursday, 30 September 2010

Predestination: Getting the Right Angle of Approach

One of the dubious pleasures about being a student away from home is that I get to use low cost airlines several times a quarter. On the whole it's a convenient and safe way to travel, you can sit back and relax while someone else is concerned with setting you back on dry land.

Indeed the landing is the most nerve wracking part of any flight, the pilot must get the angle of approach just right or risk loosing some regular custom! If he comes in with the nose too low we will crash head first into the tarmac, too high and the back end could hit the ground and rupture the fuel tanks. The correct angel of approach is crucial...

Coming at the complex issue of predestination also requires the right angle of approach. Focus too much/ or wrongly on ourselves and we risk smashing into the theological tarmac. Fortunately James Ussher, while not a frequent flyer, still has some helpful points of orientation.

Article 13. Predestination to life, is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, he hath constantly decreed in his secret counsel to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ unto everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor.

The angle which causes a lot people to crash is the one which approaches the issue saying, "How can a loving God send people to Hell", with the underlying presupposition that decent, upstanding, middle class folks don't deserve Hell.

Unfortunately this drastically misses the point, it is not that people 'miss out' on life because God is irritable and capricious but that we are, in fact, ALL objects of wrath, dead in our transgressions and sins. (Eph 2:1)
It is NOT that some deserve life and some death but that we are all under curse and damnation and God in his goodness chooses to save some in Christ.

Taken from this angle, predestination emphasises both our helplessness because of sin and God's goodness and love to bring dead people to new life in Christ. This makes the doctrine of election a love doctrine, a way of understanding God's fatherly pursuit of his children as Eph 1: 4-5 tells us; "in LOVE, he predestined us for adoption as sons".

This raises another angular question: Why does God choose to save some?
To answer this our angle of approach is should not focus on ourselves but on God and his purposes in salvation. Ephesians 1 repeatedly stresses that God's work in redeeming some is "to the praise of his glorious grace". This is the motivation of God... His Glory.
God is glorified both in his loving election of some and his just judgement of others. Those whom he calls to himself have done nothing/ will do nothing to merit their adoption. This is a source of remarkable assurance because our salvation is based, not on ourselves, but on God's choosing of us "before the foundations of the world" or as Ussher puts it Article 15. [election] is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons.

Therefore when it comes to predestination and election lets get our angle of approach right, working to more fully grasp our standing before this Holy God who, even though we are engaged in treason against his divine majesty, loves us from eternity and makes us his sons.

Video: You Never Outgrow Your Need for the Gospel

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

"Thy righteousness is in heaven"

John Bunyan's conversion has been described as "...a lengthy and agonizing process." He spent time pouring over Scripure without finding any assurance. When he finally thought that he had believed the gospel, he faced a time of overwhelming darkness which lasted two years. He feared that he was utterly damned and that his sin was unpardonable, and speaks of "...the terrors of those days...". However, one day he came to a turning point, and light blazed into his darkess. Here is how he described the moment:
One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [i.e. lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today, and forever." Heb. 13:8. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [about the unforgivable sin] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Pleading for Justice

One of the most helpful pieces of advice on reading the Bible that I have been given is this: 'Always look for the suprises'. That is, always be on the look out for things that you wouldn't expect the author to say or ways you didn't expect him to say it.

One such suprise comes in a very familiar couple of verses. 1 John 1:8-9 says this: "If we say we have no sin, we decieve ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Did you notice the suprise? If we were writing these verses it is very likely that we would not have said that God is "...faithful and just to forgive us our sins". It's more likely that we would have said something like: 'He is gracious and merciful to forgive us our sins' (which we know from the rest of Scripture is gloriously true). So why then does John say that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins? How does His faithfulness and justice relate to His forgiveness of sins? What difference does it make to our understanding of forgiveness? I want to suggest that it makes a huge difference.
Let's look at both of these ideas individually:

1) God is faithful to forgive us our sins
Why is it that God is faithful to forgive us our sins? He is faithful because He has promised to forgive. He has promised His people "...I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:34), and has fulfilled this in Christ (see Hebrews 10:1-18 - especially v 17). He has promised that all those who look to Christ in repentance and faith have their sin forgiven.
This means that we can have great assurance therefore of forgiveness, because of who has promised. God does not lie, nor does He change His mind, therefore what He has promised is sure and certain. He has promised forgiveness of sin to all those who trust in Christ. Therefore, as His people, we have confidence that "If we confess our sins, he is faithful... to forgive us our sins".

2) God is just to forgive us our sins
This is probably the more suprising of the two suprises. In what sense is God just to forgive us our sins? The rest of the context of 1 John helps us to understand this. The answer is found in the work of Jesus. In 2:1-2 we read "...if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins...". God had given Jesus to us to be the propitiation for our sins, He is the one who has turned aside God's wrath from us by willingly taking it upon Himself in our place. He is the righteous one who took our unrighteousness upon Himself, taking its consequences on the cross. It is through faith in Him that we are counted as righteous.

This means that Jesus can be our advocate. He stands before the Father in our defence, pleading that He would deal justly with us and forgive us. He can do this because justice has already been done at the cross. Our sin has already been punished at the cross, and God will not punish the same sins twice.

When we do sin, we have the confidence to come before God and plead that He would act justly towards us and forgive us our sin. We have the confidence to do this because of the cross. As His people, the punishment for our sin has been poured out on Jesus in our place , therefore we shall never have to bear it. The hymnwriter Augustus Toplady puts it like this:
If thou hast my discharge procured,
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine;
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety's hand,
And then again at mine.
God will not punish the same sins twice. If the punishement has already been taken by Christ on the cross, we have complete assurance that we shall never have to bear it.

Surely this brings us great assuance. We can humbly and confidently confess our sin before God and ask for His forgiveness, knowing that He will forgive. John is quite clear that this truth is not an encouragement to sin (1 John 2:1), but it is an encouragement when we do sin. Which we will do (1 John 1:8) until that day when "...we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2).

When we understand these truths we can go away joyfully singing the final verse of Toplady's hymn:
Turn then, my soul, unto thy rest!
The merits of thy great High Priest
Have bought thy liberty;
Trust in His efficacious blood,
Nor fear thy banishment from God,
Since Jesus died for thee.

Tuesday Teaching: Colossians (Part 4)

We continue to work our way through the book of Colossians with Philip Jensen in our Tuesday Teaching posts. Here is the fourth post in the series - 'The Christian Walk'.

Phillip Jensen - Colossians #4 from Audio Advice on Vimeo.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Video: Don't Waste Your Life

What will it mean for us not to waste our lives? What it mean to make our life to count? What will it mean for our lives to make a difference? Watch this short video from John Piper and be challenged not to waste your life.


Friday saw the launch of what could be one of the most significant Christian websites of recent days.

Not Ashamed is a campaign run by Christian Concern and "is an opportunity for Christians across the UK to stand together and to express our confidence that Jesus Christ is good news not just for individuals or for the church but for our nation as a whole. He is the only true hope for our society."

Above Every Name stands shoulder to shoulder with this campaign and would encourage everyone to prayerfully consider signing the Not Ashamed Declaration

Saturday, 25 September 2010

What is the Unwasted Life?

Hymn: Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Written by Philip P. Bliss

Friday, 24 September 2010

Trinity 2: The Holy Spirit

It is no secret that in our evangelical constituency we tend to be more comfortable talking about Jesus than we are the Holy Spirit. Some even baulk or squirm when conversations to do with the Spirit go beyond the inspiration of Scripture... but should they?

There is no doubt that a lot of very important ground needs to be defended concerning the person and work of Christ (e.g. his substitutionary atonement) but Article 10 of the 104 Irish Articles encourages us to maintain a well rounded Trinitarian theology:

Article 10. The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

The Holy Spirit is no less majestic, no less glorious that the Father or the Son. He is the one who opens blind eyes to see the glory of Christ, who unites us to Christ by faith to make us partakers of his risen life. He equips and enables our Christian service and binds us together in love for one another as the Church.

Surely these are not things to squirm at but cause us to rejoice and motivate us to more fervent prayer that the Spirit would work in our lives for the glory of Jesus and the good of others.

A lot more can and should be said here but, suffice it to say, it is worth considering when you last asked the Holy Spirit for help? Help to see Jesus more clearly, help to minister to a friend in need, asking him to heal, to convict or to bring new life...

And if that wasn't provocative enough check out this short video interview with John Piper.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

"I could have wept my very being out of my eyes."

How do you feel over those who are "...seperated from Christ...having no hope and without God in the world." (Ephesians 2:12)? Charles Spurgeon felt deeply for them. He was a man who was consumed with a desire to see God glorified in the salvation of sinners. He recognised the reality of men and women facing an eternity under God's wrath in hell, and therefore had a great concern for the unbeliever. Here is how he describes it:
I remember, when I have preached at different times in the country, and sometimes here, that my whole soul has agonized over men, every nerve of my body has been strained and I could have wept my very being out of my eyes and carried my whole frame away in a flood of tears, if I could but win souls.
Do we have such a heart as Spurgeon's, that we weep over those who are in active rebellion against Christ, and thus face his just and terrible anger? Do our eyes fill with tears as we think about those who daily trample God's glory into the dirt? May God give us such a heart as He gave Spurgeon.

Quote: The best of men

J.C. Ryle gives a helpful reminder of something we need to bear in mind as we think about those people to whom we look up to. It is something that is well worth remembering to keep us from turning those whom we respect into idols:
The best of men are men at best.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

"The World's Forgotten Mission Field"

Do you read church history? Perhaps the very thought of spending your time in books, reading about things that happened long ago, is enough to make the eyelids droop. However, that shouldn't be the case. After all, if we are Christians, then church history is our history. It is important that we grasp our spiritual family history, because it is only as we look back that we understand more clearly who we are. Also, reading of Christian brothers and sisters of the past can be both a great encouragement and challenge to us in the present. There are innumerable lessons to be learnt from the history books.

A good church history book is one that calls us to action in the present. In this regard Crawford Gribben's book, The Irish Puritans, is an excellent little volume. Gribben gives an great introduction to the history of Christ's church in Ireland, as he turns his attention to perhaps the most turbulent period of Irish church history, James Ussher's fight for a reformation in Ireland. However, he doesn't leave us in the seventeenth century, he closes the book with an urgent challenge to us today. The troubled history of the Irish church has valuable lessons that we need to listen to today. His challenge well worth heeding, not only for Irish christians, but for many others also. Listen to what he says:
In the view of the European Missionary Fellowship, there are more people in Europe who have never heard the gospel than there are in Africa. Europe is the world's forgotten mission-field. But of all Europe, surely nowhere has been neglected to the same extent as Ireland...Today, as never before Ireland needs the gospel. It needs Christians who will stand, only as Christians, for the gospel, and only the gospel. It needs Christians who will come to bring the gospel, and only the gospel, who will be prepared to abandon the importation of their home cultures if they find that those cultures present any kind of barrier at all to the spread of the Word. It needs Christians who will be prepared to die on a daily basis in order to bring life to Ireland.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Video: Always Get to The Gospel

Recently Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and Mark Dever sat down around the table to discuss evangelism and the proclamation of the Gospel from the pulpit. What they talked about is a great help and spur to us, especially to those of us involved in full time Christian ministry or training for it.

Tuesday Teaching: Colossians (Part 3)

We come to the third sermon in our series of Phillip Jensen's sermons from the book of Colossians - 'The Captivating Nonsense of Religion'.

Phillip Jensen - Colossians #3 from Audio Advice on Vimeo.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Quotable Quotes: Calvin on the Holy Spirit

Here Calvin is helping us to grasp the vital importance of the Spirit's role in uniting us to Christ, he says;

"Until our minds become intent upon the Spirit, Christ lies idle because we coldly contemplate him as outside ourselves - indeed, far from us."

Institutes Book III, Ch 1

"If he promise life he slayeth it first"

It has often been said that the shape of the Christian life is suffering now and glory later. Perhaps we could put it more precisely as: it is only through suffering that we enter glory. William Tyndale understood this. He understood the truth of Acts 14:22, that "...through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."

Tyndale was the man who gave his life to give us the Bible in English. In 1526, for the first time in history, the Bible was translated from the original Greek into English. He then went on to translate much of the Old Testament into English from the Hebrew, as well as revising his translation of the New Testament. Almost all modern English translations of the Bible are hugely dependent upon Tyndale's translation. We are indebted to Tyndale for the English translations that we use today.

However, none of this came without cost for Tyndale. The Roman Catholic church was viciously opposed to Tyndale both for his reformed doctrine and his translation of the Bible, from where his doctrine came. According to official Catholic doctrine the translation of Scripture into the ordinary language of the people was forbidden. In 1524 he had to flee to continental Europe from his homeland in England and spent the rest of his life in exile until he was burned at the stake in 1536. During those years of exile he speaks about  ". . . my pains . . . my poverty . . . my exile out of mine natural country, and bitter absence from my friends . . . my hunger, my thirst, my cold, the great danger wherewith I am everywhere encompassed, and finally . . . innumerable other hard and sharp fightings which I endure." Translating the Bible cost Tyndale everything.

Tyndale recognised that this was the shape of the Christian life - suffering now, glory later. Or, to be more precise he knew that we only enter glory through suffering. Why don't I let him speak for himself. Here is what he has to say in his book The Obedience of a Christian Man. The language may be old but the truths are timeless:
If God promise riches, the way thereto is poverty. Whom he loveth he chasteneth, whom he exalteth, he casteth down, whom he saveth he damneth first, he bringeth no man to heaven except he send him to hell first. If he promise life he slayeth it first, when he buildeth, he casteth all down first. He is no patcher, he cannot build on another man’s foundation. He will not work until all be past remedy and brought unto such a case, that men may see how that his hand, his power, his mercy, his goodness and truth hath wrought all together. He will let no man be partaker with him of his praise and glory.
A couple of pages later he says:
Let us therefore look diligently whereunto we are called, that we deceive not ourselves. We are called, not to dispute as the pope’s disciples do, but to die with Christ that we may live with him, and to suffer with him that we may reign with him.
Therefore, " not be suprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." (1Peter 4:12-13).

Extract from William Tyndale, The Obedience of A Christian Man, edited with an introduction by David Daniell (London: Penguin Books, 2000).

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Video: Biblical Prayer

Apologies to those who had problems with this morning's video. The following is another video from Don Carson speaking about what biblical prayer is and why we should pray if God knows everything.

Video: Transforming the Hearts of a Generation of Givers

Recently Mark Driscoll interviewed Randy Alcorn on a whole range of subjects. One of the issues they discussed was the need for sacrificial giving for the sake of the advance of the gospel, and how this ought to be modelled for a new generation of believers. It's a very thought provoking and challenging watch. Driscoll calls us to do all things, including giving, for God's glory, others' good and our joy. Here is a snippet from the interview. (Since this post was published it appears that some have had difficulty playing the video. If you are not able to view it on this page then you can watch the video by clicking here.)

Friday, 17 September 2010

Trinity 1: The Uncreated Creator

Human language is never wholly adequate to communicate personal life. We often find ourselves stammering and fumbling for words trying to convey how we feel. We fight to express the depths and contours of our love the those closest to us, or to articulate the sorrow which shreds trough us during difficult seasons. We often find ourselves 'lost for words...'

However the words which we cling on too, no matter how inadequate, are never useless. Even when we recognise the limitations of words it does not stop us using them to good effect.

So to when talking about the Trinity. Of course this is one of many parts of Christian belief which terminates in mystery and can never be fully expressed by human language. Nonetheless, not being able to say EVERYTHING true does not mean we cannot say ANYTHING true!

In our series in the 104 Irish Articles James Ussher now moves us from the doctrine of the Scriptures to the doctrine of the Trinity, and in doing so uses language to greatly expand our understanding of the Godhead.

8. There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three persons of one and the same substance, power, and eternity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

We could easily spend a whole series unpicking and expounding each of the statements here, but for now it's worth drawing a couple of reflections.

The opening statement orientates us to the 'one-ness' of God and to his 'true-ness', not in the sense of being the correct option (although that's correct) but as being truth in himself and the originator of all that is true.

He is the "everlasting... maker and preserver of all things". In other words he is THE UNCREATED CREATOR. The one who stands distinct from his creation yet intimately involved in sustaining it. This vital distinction urges us once again not to worship the creation but the creator; in the same way that we do not fall in love with the love poem but with the lover!

 Finally Ussher finds the words to express both God's unity and his diversity; three persons of one and the same substance...the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In doing so he attempts to describe for us a community of unceasing love, joy and self giving which, while causing our words to fail provokes the christian heart to sing because we have glimpsed (albeit falteringly) the love relationship which defines and transcends all others. I guess in the light of this great truth we cannot help but be left in slack jawed wonder at the Father who loves the Son and the Son who loves the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Video: On Preaching

The Gospel Coalition has produced some helpful videos of discussions between various pastors as they think through different subjects. The following is one such discussion on preaching with Mike Bullmore, Bryan Chapell, and David Helm.

Quote: The Blazing Fire

The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us.
John Stott.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Why is God just to punish Jesus for our sins?

Following yesterday's post 'The Heart of the Gospel', here is a short video from Phillip Jensen answering the question "Why is God just to punish Jesus for our sins?"

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Heart of the Gospel

At the very heart of the gospel is the question, "How can God be right and say that I am right when I am wrong?" That is, how can a just God declare sinful men and women to be in a right standing before Him?

This is a serious question. God is one "who justifies the ungodly" (Romans 4:5). Those who simply trust in Jesus are counted as righteous. No human judge in a respectable court of law would be allowed to get away with that. Just imagine if, in the face of clear evidence, a judge was to turn around to a murderer or a rapist and say, "I'm going to let it go this time." There would be uproar. Big questions would be asked over the integrity of the judge, and the judicial system. Yet we do not seem to be overly concerned about God's integrity when He declares that sinful men and women are in the right before Him because they trust in Jesus alone. Is God unjust?

This brings us to the very heart of the gospel. We must go to the cross of Christ. It is only here that we can answer the question, "Is God right to say that I am right when I am wrong?" If we are to answer this question we must recognise that the cross is not only the means of justifying sinful men and women. At the cross God is also justifying Himself. That is, God is showing His righteousness. At the cross God shows that He is both just and the justifier of sinful men and women who believe in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26). He is declaring that He can act rightly and declare me to be right when I am wrong. At the one and the same time He preserves His justice and justifies the ungodly.

Don Carson in his recent book 'Scandalous' explains this very helpfully. Commenting on Romans 3:21-26 he says this:
The cross is not only the demonstration of God's love; it is the demonstration of God's justice...All of God's justice is worked out in Christ, who takes our curse and penalty in his own body on the tree. That is why Christians speak of satisfying the wrath of God. This expression does not mean that God is up in heaven smirking, "This really satisfies me." It means that the demands of his holiness are met in the sacrifice of his own Son. His justice is satisfied in Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice [a sacrifice that turns aside God's wrath] so that all may see that sin deserves the punishment that he himself has imposed, and the punishment has been meted out. This vindicates God so that he himself is seen to be just, as well as the one who justifies the ungodly (cf. Rom. 4:5). Justification is first and foremost about the vindication of God. God simultaneously preserves his justice while justifying the ungodly. That is the heart of the gospel.

Tuesday Teaching: Colossians (Part 2)

We continue with the second sermon by Phillip Jensen from the book of Colossians, 'Christ Jesus the Lord'.

Phillip Jensen - Colossians #2 from Audio Advice on Vimeo.

Monday, 13 September 2010

John G. Paton and the Gospel in Ireland

Sometime between 1884 and 1885 John G. Paton, Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), visited Northern Ireland as part of an eighteen month visit to the UK and Ireland to raise support for the pioneering missionary work in the New Hebrides. In his autobiography he reflects on his short stay in Ireland. What he has to say is a great insight to the situation in Ireland at the time, but also has much to say to those of us involved in, or preparing for, the work of the gospel in Ireland today. Here is the last paragraph of his reflections on his time in Ireland:

No man, however dissevered from the party politics of the day, can see and live amongst the Irish of the North, without having forced on his soul the conviction that the Protestant faith and life, with its grit and backbone and self-dependance, has made them what they are. Romanism, on the other hand, with its blind faith and its peculiar type of life, has been at least one, if not the main, degrading influence amongst the Irish of the South and West, who are naturally a warm-hearted and generous and gifted people. And let Christian Churches, and our Statesmen who love Christ, remember - that no mere outward changes of Government or Order, however good and defensible in themselves, can ever heal the miseries of the people, without a change of Religion. Ireland needs the pure and true Gospel, proclaimed, taught, and recieved, in the South as it now is in the North; and no other gift, that Britain ever can bestow, will make up for the lack of Christ's Evangel. Jesus holds the key to all problems, in this as in every land.

This extract is taken from Paton's autobiorgaphy: 'John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu)', which is published by Banner of Truth.

Just Shut Up!

It's easy to fall in love with the sound of your own voice. Often it seems like you are the only person who makes any sense so you end up talking constantly, offering opinions and perspectives (and no, the irony of saying these things on a blog is not lost on me).

But what happens when this constant chatter infects our Bible study? What happens when we trip over something tricky and have no idea where to go with it? Do we talk, debate, reason it out or even explaining it away?

Again James Ussher provides some insight:

5. Although there be some hard things in the Scripture (especially such as have proper relation to the times in which they were first uttered, and prophesies of things which were afterwards to be fulfilled), yet all things necessary to be known unto everlasting salvation are clearly delivered therein: and nothing of that kind is spoken under dark mysteries in one place, which is not in other places spoken more familiarly and plainly to the capacity of learned and unlearned.

Ussher doesn't shy away from the difficulties in the Bible, instead he meets them head on and helps us to see that what is muddy in one place is often clearer in another.
Therefore, where the temptation may be to debate a difficulty or an apparent inconsistency Ussher says... keep reading. Remembering the attitude of humility he describes in the earlier articles, coming to the Scriptures and gracious asking for God's help in untangling the messy bits so that we might see Him more clearly.

John Piper in the second Tuesday Teaching on The Pleasures of God encourages us all to just shut up for a moment when we come to hard texts, and humble ourselves, recognising or finitude and our need for God's help.

Sometimes what is needed is not more talk but some serious quiet reflection on God as he reveals himself in the Bible, silently rejoicing in the complexities because it allows us more time to sit under the sound of his voice.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hymn: "I Am Debtor", by Robert Murray McCheyne

When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When I hear the wicked call,
On the rocks and hills to fall,
When I see them start and shrink
On the fiery deluge brink,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When the praise of Heav’n I hear,
Loud as thunders to the ear,
Loud as many waters’ noise,
Sweet as harp’s melodious voice,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

Even on earth, as through a glass
Darkly, let Thy glory pass,
Make forgiveness feel so sweet,
Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet,
Even on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.

Chosen not for good in me,
Wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in the Savior’s side,
By the Spirit sanctified,
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
By my love, how much I owe.

Oft I walk beneath the cloud,
Dark, as midnight’s gloomy shroud;
But, when fear is at the height,
Jesus comes, and all is light;
Blessed Jesus! bid me show
Doubting saints how much I owe.

When in flowery paths I tread,
Oft by sin I’m captive led;
Oft I fall—but still arise—
The Spirit comes—the tempter flies;
Blessed Spirit! bid me show
Weary sinners all I owe.

Oft the nights of sorrow reign—
Weeping, sickness, sighing, pain;
But a night Thine anger burns—
Morning comes and joy returns;
God of comforts! bid me show
To Thy poor, how much I owe.

Friday, 10 September 2010

More Fundamentalists Please!

The chances are, if it has not happened already, that you will be labelled a 'fundamentalist' for living a consistent Christian life or for holding to a particular Bible truth. How do you respond to that? What do you say?

Our first reaction might be to recoil in horror that such a word would be used about us. Being described as a 'fundamentalist' seems to put us in the same category as those who use violence and bloodshed to further their religon, and we want to be very careful to distinguish ourselves from them (and rightly should we want to make such a distinction). However, I want to suggest that when someone calls us a fundamentalist for being a Christian, we can respond by saying, "Thank you very much."

Think about it. What is a fundamentalist? A fundamentalist is someone who holds to the fundamentals. That is, someone who keeps the main things the main things. Surely as Christians we want to be those who hold fast to the fundamentals, to the things which are of primary importance? Surely we want to be those who stand firmly on the gospel and godliness which accords with the gospel?

Indeed, the Bible urges us to "...continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel..." (Colossians 1:23). Paul urges Timothy to "...continue in what you have learned..." (2 Timothy 3:14). We vare called to be those who stand immovably on the truth of the gospel. Not only that, but we are also called to "...contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3). We are to fight for the gospel when it is under attack.

Christian leaders are to be those who "...hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it." (Titus 1:9). That is, they are to hold firm to the gospel as revealed in Scripture so that they can faithfully teach it and correct those who teach another gospel.

So, if a fundamentalist is someone who holds firmly to the gospel, the truth which leads to godly living (Titus 1:1), then I am not ashamed to be a called fundamentalist. Why? Because I am not ashamed of the fundamentals. I am not ashamed of the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17). If a fundamentalist is someone who refuses to move from the gospel, but who faithfully proclaims it and lives it, then give me more fundamentalists please!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Video: Who Will Go?

Following our posts focussing on world missions yesterday, here are two more videos from John Piper to challenge us with the task set before us as Christ's people. Piper says elsewhere that there are three types of Christians: go-ers, senders and disobedient. The two questions we need to ask ourselves are: "Which am I?" and "What am I doing about it?"

Quote: Good Preaching

Good preaching both
comforts the disturbed,
and disturbs the comfortable.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Video: See the Big Picture

In light of Mark's challenging post earlier today, reminding us of the huge need of the thousands of people groups that have no access the Word of God in their own language here is a short and thought provoking video of John Piper calling us to have a world-wide vision for the work of the gospel.

A Humble Joy

One of the key battle grounds of the protestant reformation was the fight to have the scriptures translated into the language of the people, so that men and women everywhere could read the Bible for themselves.

This was an astonishing paradigm shift; no longer would the priest mediate God’s word to the people, instead they themselves were granted access to the “word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). It is this radical sentiment that Ussher captures for us in Article 4.

The Scriptures ought to be translated out of the original tongues into all languages for the common use of all men: neither is any person to be discouraged from reading the Bible in such a language as he doth understand, but seriously exhorted to read the same with great humility and reverence, as a special means to bring him to the true knowledge of God and of his own duty. (Article 4)

Not only are the Scriptures to be translated but the people are to be “seriously exhorted” to read them!
This may seem like an obvious point but when understood in the light of the 6000+ people groups around the world who have no access to the Bible in their own language it becomes all the more poignant.
It means that having the Bible in our own language should arouse in us a humble joy that God has given us such a gracious gift that we might be brought to “the true knowledge of God”.

In light of this we should also be roused to pray for those who have never heard the name of Jesus. Praying that God would open a way to these people and stir in the hearts of men and women a desire to serve them and see them won for Christ.

For more information and to widen the lens of your prayer life please visit the following sites:
The Joshua Project
The Barnabas Fund
Wycliffe Bible Translators

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

God's Goodness in Afflicting Us

"The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21)

These are the words of a man who has just lost everything. Job has just had his entire livelihood and, more painfully, all of his children wiped out in a single day, and what is his first response? He falls down and worships God (v 20). This is remarkable. Job recognises the utter sovereignty of God. He is ultimately the one who has ordained Job's horiffic sufferings, and Job praises God for it.

Now this brings us to the question 'why?'. Why does a good and loving God ordain suffering and afflictions for His people? Why does God take from His people? Why does He ordain that we face such crushing losses - such as the losing of a wife or a child through death, or the losing of a job, or the loss of health?

When we grapple with these questions, especially in the midst of the fires of suffering, we need to recognise that God's purposes for His people in suffering are good purposes. We need to be able to say with the Psalmist, "I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me." (Psalm 119:75 - emphasis mine).

What, then, might be God's good purposes in taking from us, in making us face loss? There are many purposes that God may have in doing such things. The Puritan writer Jeremiah Burroughs spells out one of these in his book "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment". Here is what he says:
God is contented, he is in eternal contentment in himself; now if you have that God as your portion, why should you not be contented with him alone? Since God is contented in himself alone, if you have him you may be contented with him alone, and it may be, that is the reason why your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all in all to you. It may be that while you had these things they shared with God in your affection, a great part of the stream of your affection ran that way; God would have the full stream run to him now.
Why does God take from us? Why does He allow us to face such crushing losses? It is because He wants us to have contentment. He doesn't want us to have our hearts fixed on things that will not bring contentment, but on the one thing that will give true contentment: God Himself. He doesn't want us to seek satisfaction in "broken cisterns" (Jeremiah 2:13), but to know the fullness of satsfaction that only comes from Christ "the fountain of living waters", the one who gives living water that eternally satisfies our thirst (Jeremiah 2:13, John 4:10).

This means that we can say with Job, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21). It means that we can rejoice as the tears roll down our cheeks. Whilst God may be taking something precious from us, the experiece of which is painful, He is doing it in faithfulness. He is doing it so that we might know even deeper the unequalled joy of being satisfied in Christ alone.

Tuesday Teaching: Colossians (Part 1)

We come to the beginning of a new series of talks in our Tuesday Teaching posts. Over the next 6 weeks I'm going to be posting a series of sermons on Colossians from Phillip Jensen, Dean of Sydney Cathedral. If you want to know why we post media of Bible teaching each Tuesday check out our introduction to these posts from the first ever Tuesday Teaching post here.

Phillip Jensen - Colossians #1 from Audio Advice on Vimeo.

Monday, 6 September 2010

A Firm Foundation?

Article 1. The ground of our Religion, and rule of faith and all saving truth is the word of God contained in the Holy Scripture.

This is the first in a series brief reflections on the James Ussher’s ‘Irish Articles of Religion’.
One of the first things that strike you about the articles is that they begin not with God but with the Scriptures. Where modern doctrinal statements prefer to begin with God as trinity, Ussher brings us first to the Bible… but why? Won’t that lead to accusations of ‘Bibliolatry’ (the idolatrous worship of the Bible)?

This is of course not the case because while the starting point may (at first) jar a little, after some reflection you start to appreciate that beginning with the Scriptures clears the path and sets your course through the rest of the Articles.
Instead of walking cautiously though dark water, Ussher pulls the mossy boulders out of the way and gives us a sure footing on what he calls ‘The ground of our Religion’ .

This glorious assertion reminds us that before we can come to weighty doctrine like the Trinity or Justification we must come humbly to where God has revealed himself in such a way that we might be made “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15)

The Scriptures are the sure and true foundation on which our faith rests precisely because God himself is sure and true and the divine author of the 66 books of our Bible. As John Piper puts it, “[The Scriptures are] a rock to stand on when the terrain of ideas feels like quicksand”.

Or in the words of the great hymn but John Keith:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals!

On the 16th of April 1858 John G. Paton set sail from Scotland as a missionary to the New Hebrides (known today as Vanuatu), a group of islands in the south seas. In November he arrived on the Island of Tanna.

At the time these islands were filled with Cannibals, and Paton was well aware of the cost. Nineteen years previously both John Williams and James Harris were clubbed to death, cooked and eaten on the Island of Erromanga only minutes after arriving on the shore. Sixteen years previously a team of missonaries from London had been driven off Tanna.

Anyone who has read Paton's autobiography will know one of the things that stands out as he writes is his boldness. He was not afraid of risking his life for the sake of other people hearing the gospel. He was prepared to give up his life to bring life to the Cannibals of the South Sea islands.

However, the foundation for such boldness was not in himself. It came from the gospel. He knew the utter security he had in Christ. He knew that Jesus was utterly sovereign and able to preserve him in the midst of any danger or bring him safely to glory, as He saw fit. This gave Paton this remarkable courage to risk everything and to suffer terribly for the sake of seeing Jesus' name honoured and cannibal knees bowing to Him.

A great example of this gospel-founded courage comes shortly before he leaves for the New Hebrides. He has just announced that he is going to leave a thriving urban ministy in Glasgow to go and minister to the South Sea cannibals. Many try to deter him from going. He is given many well-paid offers if he will stay. Paton tells about how one man in particular tried to persuade him to stay, he says:

Amongst many who sought to deter me, was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, "The Cannibals! you will be eaten by Cannibals!"
At last I replied, "Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer."
The old gentleman, raising his hands in a depreciating attitude, left the room exclaiming, "After that I have nothing more to say!"
Where are such men today? Where are those who - because they believe the gospel so deeply, who know and trust the Lord Jesus so intimately and who are zealous for God's glory among the nations - sacrifice all for the sake of seeing Christ glorified by proclaiming Him to a people who don't yet know Him. Where are those who are concerned less about their comfort and more about Christ being honoured? Where are those who care, not for their reputation, but for Christ's?

It is only when we hold fast to the glorious truths of the gospel, as they are revealed in Scripture, and let them transform us more and more that we will grow in increasing zeal for the glory of Christ and boldness for the sake of the gospel.

This extract is taken from Paton's autobiorgaphy: 'John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu)', which is published by Banner of Truth.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

"A pipe in my teeth and a pencil in my hand."

Over the coming weeks I (Mark) will be working my way devotionally through James Ussher's 104 Irish articles of religion. I'm not entirely sure what to expect or what contribution I can make on here regarding them.
My hope is that as I am challenged again by the fundamental truths of the articles that the Lord would grant me new insight and new, deeper affections for him.
Before we begin, lets ask some preliminary questions.

Who was James Ussher?
James Ussher was Archbishop of Armagh (Northern Ireland) between 1625-1656. He was a godly man, pastor, systematician and scholar who, apart from anything else, calculated the date of creation to, the early hours of the morning, 26th Oct 4004 BC... and frankly, anyone who can be that accurate deserves a read.

What are the 104 Irish Articles?
They are a collection of doctrinal statements about God, Scripture and the Church designed to define orthodox Christian belief.

Why am I reading them devotionally?
C.S. Lewis answers better than I ever could:
"For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion then the devotional books... I believe that many who find 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find their heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a though bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand"

Friday, 3 September 2010

Video: A Radical Call to Sacrifice

The Bible calls us to radical sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. The Following is a short video, edited together from a John Piper sermon, exhorting us to just that - to glorify God by radical sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. Well worth taking the time to watch and to heed the challenge Piper puts before us.

John Piper Interview

This interview is about 18 months old but is worth bringing to light again. Watched this for the first time with a christian couple who really found it beneficial to hear a man like John Piper talk openly about his struggles in ministry and marriage. It is a truly insightful interview particularly if you are in ministry and/or married.

Top tip: The video is about 50 minutes long so why not watch it with your wife (if you have one!)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Dishonouring God with Puny Prayers

Do you realise that puny prayers dishonour God? When we ask only small things of our Heavenly Father our prayers do not glorify Him as they ought.

Reading through Psalm 119 with an exellent commentary by Charles Bridges, I came across these words in his comment on verse 17: "We may, indeed, be too bold in our manner of approach to God; but we cannot be too bold in our expectations from him. Standing as we do upon such high and sure ground, it is equally dishonourable to him, and impoverishing to ourselves, to ask only a little of him."
Why is it that we dishonour God by asking only a little of Him? Why are puny prayers an offence to God? It seems to me that there are four main reasons why this is the case:

1) It implies that He is not willing to give
That is, it dishonours God's abundant generosity. In the gospel we see revealed the "riches of his grace...which he lavished upon us" in Christ (Ephesians 1:7-8). Indeed, He has saved a people for Himself precisely in order to " the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:7). His people, those who've been saved by grace alone through Christ alone, are to bring glory to Him by publically displaying to the universe His abundant generosity. However, when we hold back from pleading with Him to "Deal bountifully"with us (Psalm 119:17), we can imply that we think He's a bit stingy and unwilling to give. Sometimes we can even think that if we ask too much of Him it might annoy Him, therefore we gingerly put little requests before Him and hold back on praying for big blessings. But big prayers don't anger God. No. He's delighted with them, because they show that His people recognise His abundant generosity. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).

2) It implies that He is not able to give
That is, it dishonours His all powerful sovereignty. When God promised Abraham and Sarah a child in their old age, Sarah laughed because it seemed a ridiculous idea that an old barren woman should give birth to a child. However, God replied: "Is anything too hard for the LORD?", Answer: 'No!' (Genesis 18:14). Nothing is too hard for Him. He is the One who has created and sustains all of creation. He is the One who "..does according to him will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:5). He is the one who alone governs the whole of history, ordaining even evil for good (Genesis 50:20), and in the fullness of time shall unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). Therefore, our prayers are most glorifying to Him when they recognise that we pray to one "...who is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20).

3) It implies that we do not need much from Him
That is, it dishonours His all sufficiency. The whole of reality, everything that exists was made and is upheld by Jesus (John 1:3; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). This means that absolutely everything is completely dependent upon Him, if He was to stop holding everything together for even a split-second nothing would exist. The only reason that my heart is still beating and my lungs still breathing is that He is sustaining me. Jesus told His disciples, "apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5). We would do well to shape our prayers by this. When our prayers are puny they can give off an air of self-sufficiency or anything-other-than God-sufficiency, this is a huge offence to God. Rather, we should come before Him recognising our complete dependence upon Him. We don't need much from Him, we need everything from Him.

4) It implies that we can get what we need from elsewhere
That is, it dishonours His uniquness. This point follows on from the last. All things are from God (Romans 11:36; Colossians Colossians 1:16). If He alone is the source of all things, then it follows that we have nowhere else to look, we have nothing else that we can trust. If we are looking to other things for what we need, and putting our trust in other things, this is idolatory - putting something (or someone) else in the place og God. Instead we must recognise that: "I am God and there is no other...I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other" (Isaiah 45:22; 42:8), and let our prayers reflect this.

Therefore, let us glorify God with big prayers, both in our private and public prayer lives. Now, please don't misunderstand me - by big prayers I don't mean pleading with Him for a mercedes, a mansion and a million. No, by big prayers I mean biblical big prayers; prayers shaped by Scripture. God has promised us big things in Scripture, therefore let us'claim' these promises in Scripture. Let us pray big prayers with a concern for God's glory among the nations - longing to see more and more knees bow to Jesus. May our prayers ever display the riches of the grace of the one who shall supply our every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Quote: One Thief

J. C. Ryle, addressing those who say that they'll put off thinking about repenting and trusting in Jesus until the deathbed, says these words:
Luke's Gospel reminds us that one dying thief next to Jesus on the cross was saved. This one was saved that men might not despair, but only one - that none might presume.
Taken from 'Sickness' by J. C. Ryle, published by Matthias Media.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Cups or Mirrors?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be a cup?
Cups pass each day in their own little cupboard community quietly anticipating one thing… fulfilment! Day after day they long to be brought out of their dark world to be filled with whatever is on offer, coffee or tea or even the occasional hot chocolate.
But life as a cup has one fatal flaw… being filled never lasts, and without it the cups become nothing, a hollow shell with only stains to remind them of what they once were.

Christian counsellor Ed Welch observes that a lot of modern counselling treats people as empty cups waiting to be filled. Needs and longings become substances to be acquired; more self confidence, more love, more acceptance. Hell therefore becomes the feeling of emptiness when these things inevitably run dry. We feel worthless, frustrated, unappreciated, angry or bitter.
Worse still is what this view of our humanity does to God. In this scenario God is reduced to the role of a butler or vending machine who exists to give us our hearts desire and fill us up again and again.

What then is the alternative to life as a cup?
The Bible’s answer is to show was that we are not cups needing to be filled, but mirrors designed to reflect the glory of the God who created us and who is the source of unceasing goodness and joy.

Tragically, as a result of sin, we have smashed our mirrors and used the broken shards to reflect ourselves and the rest of creation. This, Paul tells us in Romans 1, is the problem with the human race; not that we are cups filled with negative emotions but that we are mirrors who have chosen to reflect everything but God.
The solution therefore is not to be filled but to be put back together and orientated towards God in order that we might image him to the world. This sanctification is the process by which God’s Holy Spirit works in us to make us more like Jesus Christ, the one who “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

As Welch so helpfully puts it, “Instead of a love cup…the image is more accurately that of Moses literally reflecting the glory of God… The centre of gravity in the universe is God and his holiness”

For more on this see, Ed Welch "Who are we?":