Friday, 30 December 2011

Reading the Bible in 2012

January 1st is a coming, and it is about this time of year that people start making plans to read through the Bible in a year. There are many fantastic resources out there to help us do this. In this post I want to point you to some of these great resources, and encourage you, if you've not thought about it or ever tried it, to consider making 2012 a year in which you commit to reading throught the whole Bible.

Personally, I'm greatly indebted to Robert Murray M'Cheyne for his Bible reading plan, which takes you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice in a year. You can view the plan with M'Cheyne's instructions here or get hold of a PDF copy of the plan here. I posted an edited and easier to read version of M'Cheynes introduction on the blessings and dangers of reading the Bible in a year this time last year. You can read it here. Don Carson has written two volumes of daily comments and reflections on each days reading from M'Cheyne's plan you can buy them in here and here, or view it online for free here.

However, there are lots more great plans out there if you find that M'Cheyne's doesn't work for you. Both Justin Taylor over at the Gospel Coalition and Jean Williams at the Briefing have written posts with links to a wealth of great resources for reading the Bible in a year. There are many differing plans that will suit different people and their differing situations. If is well worth looking through their suggestions as you make plans for your 2012 Bible reading. You can view them by clicking the links below:
I pray that these resources will be of great help, and serve you in digging deep into the riches of God's word in 2012.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Have a Christ-Centred Christmas

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32-33)

I'm going to be taking a break from the blog over Christmas. So, no posts until late next week. Let me take this opportunity to wish all our readers a Christ-centred Christmas. Have a great time rejoicing in our magnificent Saviour.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tuesday Teaching| The Child to be Born Will be Called Holy

In view of the fact that today is the last Tuesday before Christmas, we're taking a break from our series in Hosea to listen to something focussed on what we celebrate at Christmas, the coming into the world as a man of the king who shall reign forever. This week our Tuesday Teaching video is a sermon in Luke 1:26-38 from John Piper.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Which Gospel Will Shape Your Christmas?

You know it's December when the TV shedules are once again brimming with Christmas movies. Recently I watched the film Elf. The climax of the movie sees some of the main characters 'spreading Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear' outside Central Park in New York. The song they choose let rip with their vocal chords on is Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It is at this point that the uplifting music begins to swell and the audience is left with that warm joyful Christmas feeling.

Yet, as I think about it, I can't help but be reminded that the message of Santa Claus is Coming to Town does not leave us with Christmas cheer. In fact if we take the message of the song seriously we are only left with despair.

Now before I'm berated for being a scrooge, let me explain. The gospel according to Santa Claus is not good news. The message of Santa Claus is essentially this: if you are good you shall be rewarded, if you are not you won't, you will be punished. Therefore, what you need to do is to work hard at being good to recieve your reward, it is all up to you.The gifts that he gives need to be earned. The problem is that we are incapable of being "good for goodness sake!", which means that all we're left with is the prospect of punishment. This is not a message that spreads Christmas cheer.

However, there is a huge contrast with the gospel of Jesus. The biblical gospel gives great hope to those who know that they can never be good enough. The God of the Bible is one who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). That is, He declares sinful men and women, who have fallen short of His glory and deserve His punishment, to be in right standing before Him. In the words of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, He declares those who are naughty to be nice. He no longer counts their sins against them (Romans 4:7-8), and thus they can look forward to a future, not of punishment, but of enjoying the glorious blessing of being in His prescence for all eternity in a completely renewed world. This is good news!

The question is: Which gospel will shape our Christmas this year? The two are very different, and will produce very different people.

Now, this post may sound quite familiar. That's probably because it's a summary of one I posted this time last year entitled The Santichrist. You can read the fuller version by clicking here.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

Christopher Hitchens, the well-known and outspoken atheist, died on Thursday night at the aged 62,  having battled for 18 months with esophageal cancer. In his final months he publicly said that he would not have a 'death-bed conversion' and if anyone should hear such a report they ought not to believe it. Hitchens suspected that rumors would circulate of a deathbed conversion, and even feared that he might actually call out to God. Therefore, he said that if anyone heard of such a thing, it would not be the real Christopher Hitchens. As far as we know, Hitchens died without turning to Christ.

A couple of Christians have written thoughtful obituaries of Hitchens. You can read them by clicking the links below:
Particularly striking is this paragraph from Wilson's obituary:

Christopher knew that faithful Christians believe that it is appointed to man once to die, and after that the Judgment. He knew that we believe what Jesus taught about the reality of damnation. He also knew that we believe—for I told him—that in this life, the door of repentance is always open. A wise Puritan once noted what we learn from the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross—one, that no one might despair, but only one, that no one might presume. We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down (Matt. 20:6).

Thursday, 15 December 2011

His Infinite Condescension

As the bustle of Christmas rings ever more loudly, can I suggest that we make sure that we battle to keep some important truths before our minds.

We ought never to cease to marvel at the infinite grace and humility and grace of the Lord Jesus in becoming man for our salvation. Though He was rich, He became poor for our sake so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing (Philippians 2:6-7). He humbled Himself, being born as a man, and willingly going to the most shameful and undeserved death on the cross, as He took upon Himself the anger of God that we deserved for our sin. God became man for our salvation. We ought never to stop marvelling in this.

Jonathan Edwards had this to say about the birth of Christ:

His infinite condescension marvelously appeared in the manner of his birth. He was brought forth in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. The inn was taken up by others, that were looked upon as persons of greater account.

The Blessed Virgin, being poor and despised, was turned or shut out. Though she was in such necessitous circumstances, yet those that counted themselves her betters would not give place to her; and therefore, in the time of her travail, she was forced to betake herself to a stable; and when the child was born, it was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. There Christ lay a little infant, and there he eminently appeared as a lamb.

But yet this feeble infant, born thus in a stable, and laid in a manger, was born to conquer and triumph over Satan, that roaring lion. He came to subdue the mighty powers of darkness, and make a show of them openly, and so to restore peace on earth, and to manifest God's good-will towards men, and to bring glory to God in the highest, according as the end of his birth was declared by the joyful songs of the glorious hosts of angels appearing to the shepherds at the same time that the infant lay in the manger; whereby his divine dignity was manifested.

Monday, 12 December 2011


Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5):

Stick to that word "never." It is worth its weight in gold. Cling to it as a drowning man clings to a rope. Grasp it firmly, as a soldier attacked on all sides grasps his sword. God has said, and will stand to it, "I will never leave you!"

"Never!" Though your heart often faints, and you are sick of self, and your many failures and infirmities; even then the promise will not fail.

"Never!" Though the devil whispers, 'I shall have you at last! In little while, your faith will fail, and you will be mine!' Even then, God will keep his Word.

"Never!" Though waves of trouble go over your head, and all hope seems taken away. Even then the Word of God will stand.

"Never!" When the cold chill of death is creeping over you, and friends can do no more, and you are starting on that journey from which there is no return. Even then—Christ will not forsake you.

"Never!" When the Day of Judgment comes, and the books are opened, and the dead are rising from their graves, and eternity is beginning. Even then the promise will bear all your weight. Christ will not leave his hold on your soul.
- J. C. Ryle

Friday, 9 December 2011

"I was going to kill you"

Never forget the power of the gospel to transform people. The following storyabout Archibald Brown, a former minister of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, is a reminder of this power (thanks to Adrian Reynolds at The Proclaimer for this):

A local man was indignant that his wife had been converted. He didn't really understand what it meant, but he was almost certain it was not good and he determined to make an end of Pastor Brown. So one Sunday, he loaded his revolver and found a seat at the front of the side gallery (see picture). He waited until the sermon for his moment to shoot Brown dead. But just before he preached, Archibald Brown read from Isaiah 52-53, his text for the day. As he often did, he commented briefly on the text as he read it. He wasn't shot, and in fact he was visited in the vestry after the service by a repentant man who handed him his loaded gun. "I was going to kill you" he said. But now the gospel had taken hold of him.

Monday, 5 December 2011

'There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold...'

Charles Simeon was the minister of Holy Trinity church, Cambridge for 54 years, and continued a faithful ministry there in the face of much opposition. What was it that kept him going and kept him godly and faithful? He said that there were two things that he always sought to cultivate: a recognition of his "own vileness" and an enjoyment of "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". He sought to grow both downward in humility before God, and upward in the enjoyment of Christ and His finished work. Here is what Simeon said:

With this sweet hope of ultimate acceptance with God, I have always enjoyed much cheerfulness before men; but I have at the same time laboured incessantly to cultivate the deepest humiliation before God. I have never thought that the circumstance of God's having forgiven me was any reason why I should forgive myself; on the contrary, I have always judged it better to loathe myself the more, in proportion as I was assured that God was pacified towards me (Ezekiel 16:63). . . . There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold; the one is my own vileness; and the other is, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: and I have always thought that they should be viewed together; just as Aaron confessed all the sins of all Israel whilst he put them on the head of the scapegoat. The disease did not keep him from applying to the remedy, nor did the remedy keep him from feeling the disease. By this I seek to be, not only humbled and thankful, but humbled in thankfulness, before my God and Saviour continually.

Friday, 2 December 2011

How Should Singleness Be Different For Christians?

"I say secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Corinthians 7:35). This is what Paul wants unmarried men and women to be doing with their gift of singleness. He wants them to be undividedly devoted to the Lord. This is what a genuine Christian singleness looks like, it is a life undividedly devoted to loving and serving our Lord Jesus.

Yet there is a world of difference between this, and the growing emphasis on singleness in our culture. Singleness for a Christian is to be radically different to the breed of singleness that is rife in our culture. A few years back, John Piper was asked a couple of questions on how singleness ought to be different for Christians and what questions the single Christian needs to be asking themselves. Here is what he said:

How should singleness be different for Christians?

I don't think that a lot of the singleness that we see happening today is designed to increase devotedness to the Lord. That's what Paul said it should be. He said that the problem with marriage in crisis situations that he found himself in was that it would distract a person from full devotion to the Lord.

Well, when I look around at the kind of secular singleness we see today, that's the last thing on many singles' minds. "I'm keeping myself free from the entanglements of marriage in order that there might be a more radical focus on and devotion to Jesus Christ"—that kind of thinking is not what is dictating the change of statistics in our culture.

No, it's probably almost the reverse. Many people are afraid of commitments and relationships, and many people are eager to stretch their wings and do their own thing. And then maybe later, when they've traveled the world and done lots of things that satisfied them, then maybe they will lock in to somebody...maybe.

So there's a lot of the independence and a lot of desire to satisfy their own immediate desires, which has nothing to do with what Paul was talking about, namely, increased devotion to the Lord.

How would you challenge a Christian who has these selfish desires?
I would say that singleness is a gift for as long as you have it. Some people God means to have it for a lifetime, and some people God means to have it for a season. But while you have it, consult the Scriptures to see how you can maximize the freedoms of singleness for the glory of Christ, because there are advantages to being married, and there are advantages to singleness when it comes to serving Jesus.

And I would just encourage Christian single people to ask, "For this chapter in my life, while I am single, what is it about my singleness that could make me especially fruitful for Christ?" And then I would encourage them to give themselves to that.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Do we wish to grow in grace?"

J. C. Ryle:
I confidently assert that the principal means by which most believers have become great in the Church of Jesus Christ is the habit of "diligent private prayer."

Look through the lives of the brightest and best of God's servants, whether in the Bible or not. See what is written of Moses, and David, and Daniel, and Paul. Note what is recorded about Luther and the Reformers. Observe what is related of the private devotions of Whitfield, and M'Cheyne. Tell me of one of all the godly fellowship of saints and martyrs, who has not had this mark most prominently--he was a "man of prayer." Oh, depend on it, prayer is power!

Prayer obtains fresh and continued outpourings of the Spirit. He alone begins the work of grace in a man's heart: He alone can carry it forward and make it prosper. But the Holy Spirit loves to be petitioned. And those who ask most, will always have most of His influence.

Prayer is the surest remedy against the devil and besetting sins. That sin will never stand firm which is heartily prayed against: the devil will never maintain influence over us when we ask the Lord to help us. But, then, we must spread out all our case before our Heavenly Physician, if He is to give us daily relief: we must ask Christ to send them back to the pit.

Do we wish to grow in grace and be very holy Christians? Then let us never forget the value of prayer.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Hosea 7 - 'Failing to Return to the Lord.'

We continue our series in the book of Hosea with Philip Jensen. This week we're in chapter 7.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Check Your Glasses!

Some helpful thoughts from Kevin De Young, on how grace shapes the way we view the world:
Some of us–whether we have experienced real unfairness or not–look at all of life through this lens of fairness. We are always assessing what we really deserve. We are always aware of other people’s successes or failures. We are always cognizant of whether we get recognized or ignored. We see the whole world and experience all of life through this lens of fairness—always sizing up, always calculating, always feeling like we are owed something by our friends, by our family, and by God.

But there’s another way to look at the world, another way to experience life, and that’s through the lens of grace. With these glasses on you’ll reckon that most days are a whole lot better than you deserve. And on the really hard days, you’ll fight to believe that God is working even this for good. With the glasses of grace, you’ll smile when other people succeed. Instead of experiencing life as a series of disappointments and occasions where you were not given the treatment you deserve, you’ll experience life as a gift. You’ll see grace all around you. You’ll celebrate the grace you see in someone else or given to someone else. It’s a profoundly different way of viewing the world.

When you look at life with nothing but fairness goggles, you will constantly feel like you’ve been put in last place when you deserved to be first. But when life is seen through the glasses of grace, you’ll learn the joy of feeling like you’ve been put first even when you know you are last.
You can read the whole article here.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

To Old Age and Grey Hairs

I'm still a couple of years short of the 30 mark. Yet, that hasn't stopped the grey hairs making their appearance. In fact, in the past year they've been making their way in flocks! Despite the occasional teasing I get, I'm thankful for my growing number of white streaks. I'm thankful because they serve as a reminder to me, and point me to some very important truths.

My grey hair is a reminder of the simple fact that, as year gives way to year, I am getting older. Old age is an inevitable part of my future (unless I die or Jesus returns first). The same is true for all of us. All of us face the prospect of old age. All of us face a future of reduced mobility, increasing weakness, diminishing strength, and numerous ailments.

If we're honest with ourselves, the very thought of this frightens us. It makes the future uncertain. It makes us concerned about how, we'll care for ourselves. Or who'll care for us if we can't. Alongside this, many of the effects of old age, such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons, are a distressing prospect for anyone.

I'm thankful for my grey hairs, because they remind me of some important 'grey hair truths'. Tuths that give us great reason for confidence, and not fear, in the face of the uncertain future that grey hair brings. Here are three key things I've been reminded of:

1) A Promise
In Isaiah 46:4 God promises His people: "even to your old age I am he, and to grey hairs I will carry you."

Now we must be careful to read this verse in its context. In chapter 46 Isaiah is comparing the handmade gods of Babylon to the true and living God. In verses 1-2 we see that these gods need to be carried. Bel and Nebo, the handmade idols of Babylon, are loaded upon animals because they cannot move themselves. They are too heavy, and the beasts that carry them become exhausted, stagger and fall.

In contrast God does not need to be carried. No. He does the carrying. In verse 3 He reminds His people that He is the One who has carried them "from before your birth". He will not grow tired, like the beasts that are loaded down with man-made idols do. He will continue to carry them, even to old age and grey hairs, even until the end of their days. He continues unswervingly committed to His people. Just as He has been faithful in the past, so will He be into the future. Unlike the idols of Babylon, the true and living God is a God who can be depended on. He is a God who carries His people.

When we fear the uncertainties of old age, we must remember the character of our God. He is the God who carries His people. As He has done in the past, so will He do in the future. He is the God who continues to sustain and keep His people from start to finish. He is the God who, having begun a good work in His people, will carry it on to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

2) A Plea
In Psalm 71:18 we find words that are strikingly similar to those in Isaiah 46. The Psalmist cries out ot God: "even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me".

This plea comes in the midst of much opposition and hardship. The Psalmist has taken refuge in God (verse 1). He does this because He recognises that He is utterly dependent upon Him, even from "before my birth" (verse 6). God is the One who has kept and taught him from his youth (verse 17). Now, as he looks to an uncertain future, in the midst of much hardship, he prays that God would continue to keep him, just as He always has done.

Behind the Psamist's prayer is a recognition of the truth that Isaiah knew. He recognises that he is utterly dependent upon God, from the womb to the grave. More than that, He recognises that God is able and willing to keep His people. He looks back to how God has dealt with Him in the past (verse 6, 17). This gives him confidence to pray to God for the future, pleading with Him not to forsake him into old age (verse 9, 18).

God has not changed. Therefore, we can have the same confidence to make the Psalmist's prayer our prayer. When we see the grey hairs, and worry about what we will do when the days come when our strength is spent (verse 9), we ought to fall to our knees before the God upon the God who brought us forth from our mother's womb (verse 6), and pray that He will keep us in our old age (if He sees fit to give us those years).

3) A Purpose
In his prayer the Psalmist has a key purpose for praying "to old age and grey not forske me". Notice how he continues in verse 18: "...until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come." The purpose of his prayer is proclamation. He longs to see the majestic saving power of God proclaimed to another generation. The reason he prays for God to sustain him in old age, is so that he can be a faithful witness to generations to come, so that they also might praise Him.

Ought that not to be our desire also for our old age? Why should we pray that God would keep us to old age? Is it not so that we can proclaim the gloroius gospel of His grace in Christ Jesus to the next generation? May we not become selfish as we think about our old age. Rather, may we long that our old age, whether mobile or bed bound, may be a testimony in lips and lives to the glory of Christ. Ought we not long that God would use our old age to see another generation be filled with joyful praise to Christ.

So, to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake us.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Keeping Going in Ministry

This is worth a watch. Vaughan Roberts introduced a recent Proclamation Trust autumn ministers conference with a look at Luke 6 and challenges for all those in ministry about keeping going. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Hosea 6 - 'Returning to the Lord'

After a break last week, we return to our Tuesday Teaching series in the book of Hosea, with Philip Jensen. This week we're in Hosea 6 - Returning to the Lord. Enjoy.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Yesterday's Sermon

About now most of us will be settling back into the routine of another Monday morning, and adjusting to another week's work after the weekend. No doubt Sunday already seems like a long time ago. In light of this it is worth asking ourselves: 'What am I doing with yesterday's sermon?'

J. C. Ryle makes us ask ourselves some helpful questions:
There are thousands who listen regularly to the preaching of the Gospel, and admire it while they listen. They do not dispute the truth of what they hear. They even feel a kind of intellectual pleasure in hearing a good and powerful sermon. But their religion never goes beyond this point. Their sermon-hearing does not prevent them living a life of thoughtlessness, worldliness, and sin.

Let us often examine ourselves on this important point. Let us see what practical effect is produced on our hearts and lives by the preaching which we profess to like. Does it lead us to true repentance towards God, and lively faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ? Does it excite us to weekly efforts to cease from sin, and to resist the devil? These are the fruits which sermons ought to produce, if they are really doing us good. Without such fruit, a mere barren admiration is utterly worthless. It is no proof of grace. It will save no soul.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Speech and Salvation

Over at the Briefing Lionel Windsor has written a very helpful 8-part series entitled Speech and Salvation, which gives us some very helpful thoughts on the Christian and personal evangelism. Windsor focusses on the importance of human speech in Scripture, especially in light of the gospel. He says:
We need to understand the relationship between human speech and the gospel itself. According to the Bible, there is something deeply and profoundly important about human speech, especially when we come to think about the gospel. In fact, the Bible often talks about human speech and salvation in the same breath.
This is a particularly helpful article for those who find evangelism difficult, and do not feel like natural 'evangelists'. It makes us take a step back and see evangelism in a much bigger context.

You can read the whole series by clicking on the links below:
If reading the whole 8 articles together feels like a daunting prospect, why not take one a week and use it as a way of thinking through how you're using your speech and how it can be shaped by the gospel.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Hosea 5 - 'Unable to Find the Lord?'

It's another Tuesday morning, and we continue to work through the book of Hosea with Philip Jensen in this current Tuesday Teaching series. This week we're in Hosea 5.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Joy of Being a Miserable Sinner

Some helpful words from B. B. Warfield on why a sense of our sinfulness helps us in the fight for joy in the Christian life:
[T]here is nothing in us or done by us at any stage of our earthly development because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe,” it is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place or that takes a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners.” “Miserable sinners” saved by grace, to be sure. But “miserable sinners” still deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath.

There is emphasized in this attitude the believer’s continued sinfulness in fact and in act and his continued sense of his sinfulness. And this carries with it recognition of the necessity of unbroken penitence throughout life. The Christian is conceived fundamentally, in other words, as a penitent sinner.

We are sinners, and we know ourselves to be sinners lost and helpless in ourselves; but we are saved sinners, and it is our salvation which gives the tone to our life—a tone of joy which swells in exact proportion to the sense we have of our ill-desert. For it is he to whom much is forgiven who loves much and, who loving, rejoices much.

Friday, 4 November 2011

What's Missing?

Very often the best way to see clearly our own situation is to step outside our context. One of the ways we can best see clearly our own times is to listen to those from a different time. This is why reading church history, and books older than 50 years, is so helpful. They help us to step outside our own time and culture that we might look at it all the more clearly.

In his day J. C. Ryle noticed a number of things that were 'missing' from the church of his day. What he says seems to me to be equally as applicable to us as Christians today. What are we missing?
When I look around, I see many things missing among us, which Jesus loves.

I miss the meekness and gentleness of our Master—many of us are harsh, rough-tempered, and overly critical of others, and we flatter ourselves that we are faithful.

I miss real boldness in confessing Christ before men—we often think much more of the time to be silent, than the time to speak.

I miss real humility—not many of us like to take the lowest place, and esteem everyone better than ourselves, and our own strength perfect weakness.

I miss real charity—few of us have that unselfish spirit, which seeks not its own—there are few who are not more taken up with their own feelings and their own happiness than that of others.

I miss real thankfulness of spirit—we complain, and murmur, and fret, and brood over the things we have not, and forget the things we have. We are seldom content.

I miss decided separation from the world—the line of distinction is often rubbed out. Many of us, like the chameleon, are always taking the color of our company we become so like the ungodly, that it strains a man’s eyes to see the difference.

Reader, these things ought not so to be. If we want more hope, let us be zealous regarding good works.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

One of God's Purposes in Suffering

Why do we find suffering so difficult? Whether it is the agony of chronic illness, the constant buffetting of disappointment after disappointment, or the longing ache of childnessness, or whatever your suffering may be, why is it that we struggle so much with it? One of the reasons that we find our suffering so difficult is that we cannot see the point of it.

Therefore, one of the best medicines that we ought to be constantly drinking in the midst of our pain is to remind ourselves of God's purposes in suffering. Tim Challies has written a very helpful article focussing on one of God's purposes in suffering. In it he says these words:
Have you ever considered that through your suffering God is strengthening your church? [Ligon Duncan] says, “Our suffering aids the maturity of the whole body of believers. It is extraordinary that our suffering is designed not only to work godliness in us as individuals, causing us to prize Christ more, but also to work maturity within the whole church.” And this is exactly what Paul points to in the opening verses of Colossians. “Suffering is God’s instrument to bring about the maturity of the whole church. God ordains for our suffering, as a participation in the suffering of Christ’s body, to bring about in the church the purposes of Christ’s affliction. In other words, sometimes God appoints his children to suffer so that the whole body will become mature.” We all know that as members of the church we are to rejoice together and to mourn together, but do we understand that these occasions of mourning are given for our maturity? If we truly are a body, each part depende
nt on the other, then it cannot be any other way. One person’s suffering is every person’s suffering; one person’s maturing is every person’s maturing.

Can’t you see how this must be true? Can you think about some of the Christian men and women whose suffering you have witnessed and see how their example has served to strengthen the church? I can think of all kinds of examples. Some of them are people who suffered far away from me, far from my local church, but whose suffering served to strengthen even those Christians whom they had never met face-to-face. Others are people who have been a part of my local church or still are a part of my local congregation, whose suffering has been witnessed by only a few; but those few have been strengthened by their witness. I think of people who suffered through illness or joblessness or the loss of a child; they grew in maturity through the suffering but, remarkably, so did those of us who wept with them.
You can read the whole article by clicking here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Hosea 4 - 'Living Without Knowledge of God'

We continue our series in the book of Hosea with Philip Jensen. This week we're in Hosea 4.

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Annoying Thing About Pride Is...

I'm guessing most of us find it quite annoying when we meet proud people. Why is this the case? Why do we dislike it so much when we come face to face with it in others? C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, has some very perceptive and challenging things to say in answer to this:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.

I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards.

I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice.

And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others.

There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.

And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride. . . .

. . . In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?”

The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride.

It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A Coincidence?

There is no such thing as coincidence. Behind all things there is a God who rules and orchestrates all things down to the smallest detail. All things are in His hands. This means that there is no such thing as an insignificant event.

Think about this. Is there anything significant about a workman turning up on time and doing the job he's supposed to be doing? It might not seem like it, but just listen to this:

In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, he told this story to one who visited him on his death-bed. (Charles Spurgeon)
Insignificant? I think not.

How about a simple matter of getting some cinema times wrong? A bit of a nusciance perhaps, but not particularly significant? A few years ago I was part of a church that was handing out tracts at the local cinema to people coming out of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. However, one man misread the cinema times.  He ended up handing out tracts to people coming out of the cinema, saying "This might help explain what you've just seen". The problem was he was handing them to people coming out of Scooby Doo 2! There may well be those rejoicing around the throne of Jesus in the new creation all because they made the fairly insignificant choice to watch see Scooby Doo 2, and because one man failed to read a few numbers correctly.

There is no such thing as coincidence because God is a God who rules over all things. Because God is providentially working in all things there is no such thing as an insignificant event.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Glorifying God in Death

How do we glorify God in death? J. C. Ryle says this on how the Christian ought to face death in a way that will glorify God:
We may glorify God in death, by being ready for it whenever it comes. The Christian who is found like a sentinel at his post, like a servant with his loins girded and his lamp burning, with a heart packed up and ready to go, the man to whom sudden death, by the common consent of all who knew him, is sudden glory–this, this is a man whose end brings glory to God. We may glorify God in death, by patiently enduring its pains. The Christian whose spirit has complete victory over the flesh, who quietly feels the pins of his earthly tabernacle plucked up with great bodily agonies, and yet never murmurs or complains, but silently enjoys inward peace–this, this again, is a man whose end brings glory to God.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Lord Reigns

What difference does it make to you that the Lord reigns? It ought to make all the difference in the world, and it ought to radically shape the way we view the world around us and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. John Newton has some helpful words to say on this great truth:
And now, how shall I fill up the rest of my paper? It is a shame for a Christian and a minister to say he has no subject at hand, when the inexhaustible theme of redeeming love is ever pressing upon our attention. I will tell you then, though you know it, that the Lord reigns.

He who once bore our sins, and carried our sorrows, is seated upon a throne of glory, and exercises all power in heaven and on earth. Thrones, principalities, and powers, bow before him. Every event in the kingdoms of providence and of grace is under his rule. His providence pervades and manages the whole, and is as minutely attentive to every part, as if there were only that single object in his view. From the tallest archangel to the meanest ant or fly, all depend on him for their being, their preservation, and their powers. He directs the sparrows where to build their nests, and to find their food. He overrules the rise and fall of nations, and bends, with an invincible energy and unerring wisdom, all events; so that, while many intend nothing less, in the issue, their designs all concur and coincide in the accomplishment of his holy will. He restrains with a mighty hand the still more formidable efforts of the powers of darkness; and Satan, with all his hosts, cannot exert their malice a hair’s breadth beyond the limits of his permission.

This is He who is the head and husband of his believing people. How happy are they who it is his good pleasure to bless! How safe are they whom He has engaged to protect! How honoured and privileged are they to whom He is pleased to manifest himself, and whom He enables and warrants to claim him as their friend and their portion! Having redeemed them by his own blood, He sets a high value upon them; He esteems them his treasure, his jewels, and keeps them as the pupil of his eye. They shall not want; they need not fear; his eye is upon them in every situation, his ear is open to their prayers, and his everlasting arms are under them for their sure support. On earth He guides their steps, controls their enemies, and directs all his dispensations for their good; while, in heaven, He is pleading their cause, preparing them a place, and communicating down to them reviving foretastes of the glory that shall be shortly revealed.

Oh how is this mystery hidden from an unbelieving world! Who can believe it, till it is made known by experience, what an intercouse is maintained in this land of shadows between the Lord of glory and sinful worms? How should we praise him that He has visited us! for we were once blind to his beauty, and insensible to his love, and should have remained so to the last, had He not prevented us with his goodness, and been found of us when we sought him not.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Justice and the Death of Muammar Gaddafi

Since the death of Muammar Gaddafi last Thursday there have been varying reactions to the events that led to his death. On the one hand some have rejoiced that justice has been done, and that his reign of terror has come to an end. On the other hand others have questioned the justice of how he came to his end, ought he not to have been tried in court first before being executed?

Mike Ovey, principal of Oak Hill theological college, has written a very helpful piece looking at these reactions to Gaddafi's death and how we, as Christians, ought to be thinking about and responding to these events. You can read the article by clicking here.

Tuesday Teaching| Hosea 3 - 'The Lord Loves'

We come to the third sermon in our series in the book of Hosea with Philip Jensen. This week we're getting our teeth into Hosea chapter 3 - enjoy.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Microscopes or Telescopes?

Are you a microscope or a telescope? There is a big difference between the two. John Piper explains:
David said, "I will magnify God with thanksgiving." [Psalm 69:30] The word "magnify" can be used in two different senses. It can mean: make something appear greater than it is, as with a microscope or a magnifying glass. Or it can mean: make something that may seem small or insignificant appear to be as great as it really is. This is what our great telescopes help us begin to do with the magnificent universe which once upon a time spilled over from the brim of God's glory. So there are two kinds of magnifying: microscope magnifying and telescope magnifying. The one makes a small thing look bigger than it is. The other makes a big thing begin to look as big as it really is.
When David says, "I will magnify God with thanksgiving," he does not mean: "I will make a small God look bigger than he is. He means: "I will make a big God begin to look as big as he really is." We are not called to be microscopes, but telescopes. Christians are not called to be con-men who magnify their product out of all proportion to reality, when they know the competitor's product is far superior. There is nothing and nobody superior to God. And so the calling of those who love God is to make his greatness begin to look as great as it really is. The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God.

Friday, 21 October 2011

How to Know the Will of God

None of us can escape making decisions. We are confronted daily with decisions, from seemingly insignificant choices such as "What cereal should I have for breakfast?", to much bigger and life-shaping decisions such as "Who should I marry?", or "Should I marry or not?" As we seek to make these decisions, how do we know what God's will for our lives is? How do we make the decisions that will please God?

Over at his blog Tim Challies has written a very helpful series of short articles on this tricky, and often misunderstood, subject of guidance and decision making. You can read them by clicking on the links below:

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Pride of Prayerlessness

There are many reasons for our prayerlessness - lack of time, lack of energy, the pressures of caring for a young family, lack of concentration. All of these are significant things that make the battle for prayerfulness a difficult one. However, I want to suggest that the battle goes much deeper.The battle against prayerlessness goes to the heart. At its heart our prayerlessness is not ultimately because we are disorganised or pressed for time. Rather, at the heart of prayerlessness is pride.

There are two major ways that prayerlessness reveals our pride, both of them are inseparably linked:

1) We have too high a view of ourselves
One of the reasons why we find it a struggle to pray is that we have too high a view of ourselves. One major way that this shows itself is our failure to see ourselves as helpless. We do not clearly see ourselves as a creature dependent upon our Creator. That is, we fail to recognise that we're utterly dependent upon God for all things.

This is pride. the reason we do not see ourselves as dependents is because we want to see ourselves as self sufficient. Essentially what this means is that we want to make ourselves God. Think about it. God is the only one who is completely self-sufficient and who depends upon nobody. He is the Creator who "gives to all mankind life and breath and everything." (Acts 17:25) Therefore, he is not "served by human hands, as though he needed anything." (Acts 17:25). He is the source of all life, therefore He is not dependent upon anybody of anything. If He was He would not be God.

When we try to see ourselves as self sufficient we are seeking to put ourselves in the place of God. We want to be those who have no need of anybody else. This is a denial of the fact that we are creatures, and a necessary part of our creatureliness is that we are dependent upon our Creator. When we seek to be independent we seeking that which belongs to God alone, we are seeking to enthrone ourselves in God's place.

It will be quite helpful for us to think awhile on Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar saw himself as self-sufficient, when he said "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power..." (Daniel 4:30). He prides himself on his power, on his ability to provide for himself. As soon as he says these words, God humbles him, making him like one of the animals of the field. He shows him just how dependent he really is upon God. God is the one who has given him this power and his kingdom. He is utterly dependent upon God. If this is true of the most powerful man in the world at the time, how much more is it true of us.

2) We have too low a view of God
A wonky view of ourselves will naturally mean that we have a wonky view of God. Our knowledge of God andour knowledge of ourselves are inseperably liked. If we change one we change the other. If we alter our view of oursleves, this will have profound effects on our view of God.

In light of what we've seen above this means that our prayerlessness stems from too low a view of God. If we don't come to Him as those who are utterly dependent upon Him for all things, what does this say about our view of God? Implicitly say that we do not recognise that He is the Creator upon whom we are dependent. Essentially it means that we try to de-God God. We try to make Him less than God.

Instead of seeing God as the Creator, this thinking tries to lower Him to the level of a Creature. By failing to depend on Him for all things we are implicitly denying that "from him and through him and to him are all things." (Romans 11:36). We are denying that He is all-sufficient, that all we need comes from Him. We are also denying His power, that He is able to give us all we need.

Paul's sermon in Acts 17 is worth taking time to think over. Paul reminds us that God is the Creator God  (verse 24) who is not dependent upon man for anything (v25-26). Psalm 104 also gives us a powerful reminder that all things are dependent upon their Creator. All look to Him "to give them their food in due season." (verse 27). When God humbles Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, it reveals that He alone rules, and that none can restrict Him, "none can stay his hand" (verse 35). He is all sufficient and all powerful. The more we recognise this, the more we will be humbled to regognise our rightful place before Him.

Where do we go from here?
"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6). Where we need to go from here is to humble ourselves before God. We need to recognise afresh who we are and who God is. He is the Creator and we are His creatures.

More than this, we need to recognise ourselves as sinners dependent upon His grace. We need to recognise our sinfulness in exalting ourselves over God, and dishonouring Him by denying His all-sufficiency. We need to bow humbly before Him saying with the tax collector: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13), and look to Him for forgiveness. We can do this with confidence because of the cross of Christ. He is the one who is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). Therefore, "[i]f we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9).

The more we recognise who we and who God is are this the more we shall be humbled before God and forced to kneel before Him. Humility is the soil in which the flower of dependent prayer grows. The more we meditate on the greatness of God, which He has revealed to us in Scripture, the more we shall see ourselves in our proper place and be humbled. The more we are humbled the more naturally we will give ourselves to God-exalting prayer.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

From Every Tribe and People and Nation

What is the purpose of diversity in the church, and why is the church called to call diverse people to repentance and faith in Jesus? Here are some helpful thoughts from John Piper:
The reason God decreed that the gospel would obtain people from every tribe and people and nation is that the aim of the gospel is the glorification of his grace and this ingathering of diverse peoples into one Christ-exalting, unified people who would glorify the power and beauty of his grace more than if he had done things another way. There is a strong confirmation of this in noticing that several texts which command the pursuit of all ethnic groups are explicit that this pursuit is for the glory of Christ.

For example, in Romans 1:5, Paul says that his apostleship was given "to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ's] name among all the nations." In other words, the pursuit of "all nations" (all ethnic groups) is for the glory of Christ. Similarly in Romans 15:9, Paul says that Christ did his own missionary work in coming into the world "in order that the Gentiles [or nations] might glorify God for his mercy." The aim of Christ's pursuit of the Gentiles (the ethnically different ones) is for the glory of God's mercy, which was shown supremely in the death of Christ.

Accordingly, the consummation of the missionary mandate to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) is described in Revelation 5:9 as persons from "every tribe and language and people and nation" worshiping the Lamb and declaring the infinite worth of his glory. So the apostolic vocation (Romans 1:5) and the messianic example of Christ (Romans 15:9) and the consummation of all missions (Revelation 5:9) have one explicit aim: to display the glory of Christ through the ingathering of a hugely diverse and unified redeemed people.