Monday, 31 January 2011

Learning to Live with One Foot Raised

In a letter written to encourage a Christian woman struggling with numerous physical afflictions, John Calvin said these words:
They [i.e. our physical afflictions] should, moreover, serve us for medicines to purge us from worldly affections, and retrench [i.e. 'remove'] what is superfluous in us, since they are to us the messengers of death, we ought to learn to have one foot raised to take our departure when it shall please God.
Calvin is saying here that from our physical afflictions, whether it be disease, injury or the pains of old age, we ought to be learning to live as always ready to leave this present world to be with Jesus. We do not know when this will be, but God does. We ought to be prepared, when He sees fit, to leave all that we have in this world behind and enter into His glorious prescence. Our suffering is one of the ways that God prepares His people for this. They help to remove from us love for the world and its fleeting pleasures (see 1 John 2:15-17) that we might fix our affections on Jesus, in whom we have true and eternal riches.

This is to be our constant mindset as Christians, living as always ready to leave. We ought to be daily preparing for when we depart or Christ returns. This is to be true of us not only in the times of suffering (which makes this mindset easier), but also in the good times (when this mindset is easily forgotten). As Christians we are to be a people whose lives are shaped by always having one foot raised "to take our departure when it shall please God." Sam Storms, commenting on this letter of Calvin's says this: "Do we live every day with one foot lifted ever so deftly off the ground in constant alert and anxious expectation of the moment when we will depart this world and enter the splendor of heaven and the prescence of God himself?"

Friday, 28 January 2011

Groan, But Don't Grumble

Are you a grumbler or a groaner?

We live in a fallen world. It is a world that is under God's curse (Genesis 3:14-19), having been "subjected to futility" by Him (Romans 8:20). This means that life in this world will be frustrating. There will be hardships, difficulties and disappointments. This will not always be the case, a day is coming when the curse shall be lifted (Revelation 21:1-8; 22:1-5) and the whole of creation shall be "set free from its bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21). This has been brought about through the work of Jesus on the cross, taking upon Himself the curse we deserve for our rebellion (Galatians 3: 13-14).

However, until that day we live in a world in which we will daily see evidences that the world has been "subjected to futility", that we live in a fallen world, a world which is under the curse of God. We will constantly find ourselves frustrated and disappointed, facing hardships and hassle. How then ought we to respond?

The Bible shows us two responses that we can make as we face the frustrations of a fallen world. We can either grumble or groan. One is the response of unbelief, not taking God at His word and trusting Him. The other, the response of faith, which embraces God's word, and trusts Him. Let us look at each of these responses in turn:

1) Grumbling - the response of unbelief
When things get tough our natural response is to grumble, to complain. Ultimately, this grumbling is against God. He is completely in control of all things, everything that happens comes from His hand and is ordained by Him. Therefore, when we begin to complain about our circumstances we are ultimately complaining against God, and failing to trust His all-sufficient goodness.

Grumbling was the response of the Israelites in the desert (See Numbers 11-14). After God had brought them out from Egypt and was sustaining them in the wilderness on the way to the promised land they began to grumble. They complained about their hardships in the wilderness. They complained about the food God had miraculously provided in the wilderness, and longed for the food of Egypt (Numbers 11:4-6). When the spies returned from checking out the promised land and gave the report that its inhabitants were strong, the people grumbled again, saying "Why is the LORD bring us into this land to fall by the sword?" (Numbers 14:3).

This grumbling stemmed from their unbelief, they refused to take God at His word and trust His promises. They refused to believe that God was both able and willing to keep His word and sustain them and bring them to the land He had promised them (Numbers 14:11). In judgement on their unbelief God let the whole of that generation die in the wilderness instead of entering the land. The author to the Hebrews recognises this and says, "they were unable to enter [God's rest] because of unbelief."

So, one response to the frustrations of a fallen world is to grumble. This is the response of the unbeliever, one who does not take God at His word, one who refuses to trust in God's promises. This means that they refuse to trust in Jesus, because all of God's promises find their find their fulfillment in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). Every time we grumble it is because we are not trusting the promises of God as we ought. It is because there is some part of the promises, which are ours in Christ, that we are refusing to believe.

2) Groaning - the response of faith
Groaning is very different to grumbling. It is the response of faith. Those who groan are those who are longing for what God has promised to be fully seen and experienced. In the midst of "the sufferings of the present time" (Romans 8:18), groaners are longing for "the glory that is to be revealed" (Romans 8:18) in the new creation.

There is a lot of groaning in Romans 8. The creation is groaning (v 19-22) as it longs for that day when it "will be set free from its bondage to decay", on that day when the curse is finally lifted. Christians are groaning (v23) as they too long for that day, the day when they shall experience fully their adoption as sons. The Spirit, who dwells in the believer (v9-11), also groans (v26-27) as He intercedes for us.

Groaning is the response that recognises the certainty of what God has promised and is longing to see that come to the fullness of its fulfillment. Groaners know that the glory which is to come is a certain future for the Christian, and it longs for that day. It longs for the day when they shall see Jesus face to face and enjoy Him eternally in a perfect world, in the new creation, the creation set free from its bondage to decay.

When groaners face the suffering and frustrations of living in a fallen world they know "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28). Instead of complaining they trust that God has ordained this hardship (whatever it may be) for good, for their good. Therefore, even when they cannot comprehend what possible reason God could allow them to suffer as they do, they trust that God has ordained this for their good. The good that Paul is speaking of here is to be "conformed to the image of his Son" (v29), to the image of Jesus. This conforming shall only be fully seen when they are glorified (v30). It is only in the new creation that this good will be fully experienced.

Groaners, therefore are those who respond in faith. They take God at His word, trusting in His promises which are ours in Christ. Even when they cannot understand what God, in His providence, is doing, they know that He is trustworthy, that His word is sure and they trustingly submit to Him. They know that the future He has promised us in Christ in the new creation is certain. Therefore, they long for it, for that day when the curse is lifted, and they are transformed to glorify and enjoy God as they ought.

So, are you a grumbler or a groaner? Only by grace can we become a groaner. By nature we are all grumblers. It is only through God's transforming work that we are made groaners. It is only as we see Christ set before us as we hear the gospel, and God creates faith in us to grasp hold of Christ with empty hands that we are transformed from a grumbler to a groaner. It is the hearing of the gospel with faith that changes us. It is also the gospel that continues to transform us as Christians to be those who groan more and more, and grumble less and less. The more we hear the precious promises of the gospel, the more our faith in them is fed and nourished so that we groan more and more. We never grow out of our need for the gospel.

So, as Christians let us be those who treasure Christ, as we see Him set before us in the gospel as revealed in Scripture. Let us be those who daily give ourselves to feeding on Him by faith, by feeding on the Bible. The more we do this the more we will be groaners, not grumblers. Let us learn to be those whose daily cry is: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20)

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Quote: Worthy

God did not choose us because we were worthy, but by choosing us He makes us worthy.
Thomas Watson, "All Things For Good"

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Shoddy Tools

One of the things I am constantly struck by as I read biographies of faithful and godly Christians of previous generations is how much they suffered. Almost without exception, the Christian 'heroes' of the past have had some sickness, tragedy or hardship that they have had to wrestle with. Why is this the case? Here is what Charles Spurgeon, who was very well aquainted with suffering, had to say:
'Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.' Instruments shall be used, but their intrinsic weakness shall be clearly manifested; there shall be no division of the glory, no diminishing of the honor due to the Great Worker ... Those who are honoured of their Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil.
Therefore, let us not grumble or complain when God allows us to suffer as we seek to serve Him faithfully. Rather, let us rejoice. One of the reasons He has let us suffer is so that all the glory may rightly go to Him. By showing more clearly our intrinsic weakness as instruments in His hands, He is bringing all the more glory to Him as the 'Great Worker', and keeping us from pride,and falling into a snare of the devil and making a mess of our ministries. How much more praise does a worker get if He produces a masterpiece using broken tools, than if He uses top of the range tools. A work produced using shoddy tools displays all the more the skill of the worker. Therefore, let us rejoice in being weak instruments, so that the glory of God might be displayed all the more brightly in us as we labour in His service.

Quote: The Chief of Our Affections

God, who is the chief of our happiness, must have the chief of our affections.
Thomas Watson, "All Things For Good"

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 4)

We continue to look at the big picture of the Bible with Don Carson as we come to part 4 of his series The God Who is There. This week we see "The God Who Legislates" as Carson works through Exodus 20, 32-34 and Leviticus 16. Enjoy.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Calling Real Men

Here is an extremely challenging and slightly provocative video from Darrin Patrick, author of Church Planter. He is addressing men, and calls them to be real men.

Friday, 21 January 2011

We Will Meet Again in Jesus

In his Autobiography John G. Paton tells of the death of Kowia, a converted cannibal chief on the island of Tanna. Kowia knew he was dying and came to say farewell to Paton, whom he called 'Missi'.
"Farewell, Missi, I am very near death now; we will meet again in Jesus and with Jesus!" . . . Abraham [Paton's faithful helper, another converted cannibal] sustained him, tottering to the place of graves; there he lay down . . . and slept in Jesus; and there the faithful Abraham buried him beside his wife and children. Thus died a man who had been a cannibal chief, but by the grace of God and the love of Jesus changed, transfigured into a character of light and beauty. What think ye of this, ye skeptics as to the reality of conversion? . . . I knew that day, and I know now, that there is one soul at least from Tanna to sing the glories of Jesus in Heaven - and, oh, the rapture when I meet him there!
What a difference the gospel makes. Let us never forget the power of the simple proclaiming of the gospel to transform even the most hard hearts. The gospel can and does transform the most unlikely people and their societies.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

One Thing is Necessary

How much do you value the Bible? The more we recognise how much we need it to sustain our life, the more precious it will be for us. The word of God is more vital for us than the food we eat each day (Matthew 4:4). This is what the reformer Martin Luther had to say on the value of the word of God:
One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ, as He says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live." (John 11:25), and also, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36), and, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4).

Let us therefore hold it for certain and firmly established that the soul can do without everything except the word of God, without which none at all of its wants are provided for. But, having the word, it is rich and wants for nothing, since that is the word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of justification, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of virtue, of grace, of glory, and of every good thing. It is on this account that the prophet in a whole Psalm (Psalm 119), and in many other places, yearns and sighs for the word of God with so many groanings and words.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 3)

We come now to part 3 of Don Carson's series The God Who is There, which traces the Bible's storyline. This week we see "The God Who Writes His Own Agreements".

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Gospel and the Exam Hall

One of the experiences that comes with being at theological college is that of learning to sit exams all over again. The experience of sitting in the exam room is something I've not had since I've left school. Therefore, one of the challenges that this has given me is the opportunity to wrestle with the question: 'How do I sit exams to the glory of God?' What does it look like to sit exams as a Christian, and how ought the gospel shape the way we prepare for and participate in exams?

The following is not a 'How To...' guide for sitting exams. Rather, it is a reminder of some Bible truths that we need to remember as exams approach, either for those of us who are sitting exams, or for those of us seeking to encourage and minister to those preparing to sit exams (such as parents, youth workers, student workers etc.). They are truths that we ought to allow to shape us as we prepare to sit exams as a Christian.

Here are four truths for the Christian to remember in the exam hall:

1) Remember that the only exam that matters has already been passed for us
One of the great dangers the Christian faces in sitting exams is the temptation to seek acceptance from exam grades. We can be tempted to see good exam grades as the grounds for our standing before God and before others. In short we can be tempted to seek justification by exam grades.

However, the gospel reminds us that the only exam that truly matters has already been passed for us in our place. If we are a Christian, then we have full acceptance before God. This is not because of anything in ourselves, or anything that we have done. It is only because if the work of Christ on our behalf. He has lived the perfect life and died the perfect death, taking the punishment for our sin in our place, in obedience to the Father. It is through faith in Him that we are counted as perfectly righteous before God. (Romans 3:28). Everything needed for our acceptance before God has been accomplished in Christ. If we are trusting in Jesus alone we cannot be more accepted by God than we already are.

In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says this: "For our sake [God] made made him [ie. Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus is the only one ever who "knew no sin", that is he never sinned. He perfectly obeyed His Father, even to the point of the most humiliating death, death on a cross taking upon Himself the just anger of God in the place of sinners (Philippians 2:8). Yet, at the cross our sin was counted as His and He took the punishment our sins deserve. This is why Paul says that God "made him to be sin". He was counted as the worst sinner as he bore our sins in our place on the cross. he did this "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God". That is, so that we might be counted as perfect before God. Our guilty record has been counted to Him, and His perfect record has been counted to us if we are "in him", if we are those who are united to Him by faith.

This means that, as we walk into the exam hall, we already have ultimate acceptance if we are a Christian. The ultimate exam has already been passed for us by Jesus. Therefore, it ultimately does not matter how well or how badly we do in the exam. We already have ultimate acceptance, and nothing that happens in the exam room (or in absolutely any other context) can change that.

This helps guard against two dangers for us in sitting exams: pride and despair. It guards against pride because the fact that all, regardless of their background, are justified by God's grace alone through faith in Christ alone puts us all on a level playing field. All are equally sinners and deserving of God's wrath (Romans 3:23), and all are declared to be in the right before God, not by anything we have done, but by coming to Jesus with empty hands and trusting in Him alone. It guards against despair because whatever happens in the exam, even if we fail miserably, we still have ultimate acceptance. That acceptance does not depend on anything in ourselves, in our performance or skills, but on God alone. It depends on the perfect finished work of Jesus.

2) Remember that hard work glorifies God
Because we have been accepted by God through Jesus, this frees us up to work hard for His glory. We do not work in order to be accpted by Him, but precisely because we have been accepted by Him. We have been saved by Jesus in order to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).

This means that wherever we find God has placed us in life we are to work hard for His glory. Paul calls the slaves in Colosse in whatever they do to "work heartily, as for the Lord and not to men." This is true of whatever work we find ourselves in (it obviously rules us out from certain jobs, since there are some occupations which we cannot do to God's glory, since they are inescapably sinful).

This means that when it comes to working for exams we are to be those who "work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." (Colossians 3:23). We are to give ourselves to working dilligently. This is not in order to look good in front of others, to please men. Rather, it is on order to bring glory to God. When we find ourselves tempted to cut corners or to take that easy route out, let us remind ourselves that hard work glorifies God. Therefore we are give ourselves to dilligent work in the position in life that God has placed us, and to do so in a way that brings glory and honour to God and not to ourselves.

3) Remember that taking time to rest glorifies God
As we saw above, hard work glorifies God. However, it is just as important to recognise that we also glorify God by resting. Our hard work can become an ungodly trusting in ourselves if we do not take the time to rest.

We need to recognise the truth that God is God and we are not. He is the one who is in absolute control of absolutely everything, not us. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is sustaining the universe by His word (Hebrews 1:3). The only reason that the universe is still in existence is because He is sustaining it. The only reason that our heart is still beating is because He is sustaining it. Everything in this universe is fully under God's control from the largest to the smallest thing; from the revolving of the planets in the solar system, to the slightest stroke of a pen on the exam paper. Nothing is outside His control.

We need to acknowledge this. One of the ways in which we acknowledge this is by taking time out to rest. When we rest we are saying: "You are God and I am not, you are ultimately in control and I am not." The Psalm 127:1-2 tells us:
Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
We can spend days doing "all-nighters", yet all this will make no difference unless God prospers what we do. He is in control we are not. Excessive hard work can be a sign that we are not trusting God, that we think that what we do relies solely on our strength. When we clock off to make sure we get a full nights sleep, or when we set aside that day off once a week, it is a way of reminding ourselves that He is in control and that we are trusting Him. He can be trusted. Whatever happens in our exams is under His sovereign control, and He is working all things for the good of His people to make them more like Jesus (Romans 8:28).

Therefore, we glorify Him, not by spending time worrying and fretting over our exams and working endlessly through the night. No, we glorify Him by trusting Him. Trusting Him that He has given us the time and resources for what we need. Inded He has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). One of the ways that we show we trust Him is by taking time to rest (and to allow others to rest), showing that we recognise that He is in control not us.

4) Remember that exams are not an excuse to neglect godliness
In light of the abundant mercy that God has shown us in Christ, we are called present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, set apart for His service and pleasing to Him (Romans 12:1). This call to be living sacrifices is something that is to shape every area of our lives, and to do so all the time.

However, we still want to make excuses for neglecting to do this, and our sinful nature loves to take any opportunity to keep us from godliness. So often the exam season can be seen as a legitimate excuse for doing this. Instead of taking time to nourish ourselves by feeding from the Bible, we find ourselves thinking, "It doesn't really matter if I leave that to one side for a couple of weeks, I can survive without it." Instead of recognising that we are utterly dependant upon God for all things by pouring ourselves out before Him in prayer, we plough on in self-confidence thinking "I don't have time for that right now." Instead of giving ourselves to sacraficially serve others, we think that because I'm doing exams others are there to serve me. This is sin.

We must recognise that it is precisely during such pressured times that we need to be working hard at godliness. We need the word of God more than we need our food (Matthew 4:4), and we wouldn't stop eating for two weeks just because we're busy with study. We need to be constantly coming to God's throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), to "recieve mercy and find grace" to persevere in the Christian life, and live in such a way that exalts Jesus. We ought to be daily shaped by the gospel so that we are constantly laying down our lives in the service of others, which brings glory to Jesus as it reflects His unique and ultimate sacrifice at the cross (Philippians 2:1-11). As those who belong to Christ, we are called to have the same mindset as our King (Philippians 2:5), and therefore gladly lay down our lives in the service of others, seeking their good (Philippians 2:3-4; 1 John 3:16).

Therefore, when the pressure of exams starts to build, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to neglect godliness, we ought to be on our guard all the more. It is a time when neglecting godliness becomes much more attractive, and we might even find others encouraging us to do so. Thus, we need to work all the more at loving Jesus and loving others, of making godliness a priority and not letting it get lost among the revision notes.

Keeping these four truths in mind let us be those who use the exam hall as a place to magnify the supreme worth of the Lord Jesus. Whatever we do let us do it "all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Friday, 14 January 2011

Quote: No Sacrifice Can Be Too Great

If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.
C. T. Studd

Thursday, 13 January 2011


Recently I came across this short video. I don't know anything about Asia Link, the group who made the video. However, I found the video to be extremely challenging, thought-provoking and moving. It sets before us the challenge of taking the gospel to the unreached people groups of the world, and presses us to consider what we are doing to see Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations fulfilled (Matthew 28:19).

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Give God the Microphone!

In his book The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash has an appendix entitled "Give God the Microphone!". In this appendix he outlines seven blessings of consecutive expository preaching. That is, preaching that takes a book (or section of a book) of the Bible and works systematically through it in a sermon series.

Christopher argues that the staple diet of feeding a congregation ought to be consecutive expository preaching. This does not mean that topical preaching (where the biblical teaching on a certain topic is taught) does not have a place. However, it ought to be the exception rather than the rule. He says: "I am not saying that we ought never to preach topical sermons; I am proposing that the normal regular week by week diet should usually be working through a book of the Bible, and this is the most nourishing basis for the diet of the sheep (ourselves included)."

He then goes on to set before us seven blessings that flow from consecutive expository preaching. Here are the seven blessings:

1) It safeguards God's agenda against being hijacked by ours
Working systematically through a book of the Bible allows us to let God set the agenda for what is heard from the pulpit week by week. It helps keep us from hijacking the teaching with human agendas, influenced by the desires for relevance, entertainment and immediacy. It gives God the microphone allows His word to set the agenda.

2) It makes it harder for us to abuse the Bible by reading it out of context
It helps us to understand the Bible in its contexts, and therefore not to abuse it by twisting it to mean something other than what God has made it mean.

3) It dilutes the selectivity of the preacher
A topical sermon is very likely to reflect the preachers framework, his partial knowledge of the Bible, his prejudices, the bees in his bonnet, and his hobby horses. Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible helps to dilute this.

4) It keeps the content of the sermon fresh and surprising
As each passage is worked through week by week the particularities of each passage shall be brought to light. Consecutive expository preaching asks "What does this passage contribute to the whole of God's revelation?" which makes for a healthy freshness.

5) It makes for variety in the style of the sermon
If we allow the style and tone of the various Bible books to shape the style and tone of our preaching then this will make for a refreshing variety in the style and tone of our sermons as we work through different books.

6) It models good nourishing Bible reading for the ordinary Christian
Topical preaching models a style of Bible reading for the ordinary Christian in which they are dipping in and out of various books of the Bible but not seeing how all the parts fit together. Consecutive expository preaching models a more nourishing style of Bible reading that is much more nourishing and sustainable, as you take a book of the Bible and read through it day by day.

7) It helps us preach the whole Christ from the whole of Scripture
It helps us to have a growing awareness of who Jesus is as the whole Bible testifies to Him, and to build up a picture shaped by the whole of Scripture, not just a few selected key passages. It helps us to proclaim as much of Christ as we can to our people, as we exopse people to as much of the Bibles rich testimony to Him.

Christopher Ash's appendix is worth reading in full, as is the whole of his book.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 2)

In our Tuesday Teaching slot this week we continue with Don Carson's series The God Who is There, which follows the unfolding storyline of the whole Bible. Here is part 2 which looks at Genesis 3: "The God who does not wipe out rebels".

Friday, 7 January 2011

John Stott introduces Charles Simeon

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was the minister of Holy Trinity Church Cambridge for fifty four years. His ministry has had a huge influence, not only in his generation, but also far beyond his own lifetime through the many young ministers he discipled and through his writings and published sermons. Here is a video of John Stott giving an introduction to Simeons life and ministry, and drawing out lessons from his life.

If you want to do a bit more reading on Charles Simeon, a good place to start is Handley Moule's biography Charles Simeon: Pastor of a Generation (published by Christian Focus).

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Spiritual Cardiograph

What should the Christian life feel like? What ought to be the emotions and affections that we have as a Christian from day to day, and as we face the different circumstances that life brings our way?

This is an important question to think through. The problem is that we don't feel as we ought to feel, we don't desire what we ought to desire, we don't delight in what we ought to delight in, we don't weep over what we ought to weep over. Our affections, desires and feelings are disordered. Sin has affected every part of who we are. This does not mean that we are as sinful as we can be, in His grace God restrains us from this. However, it does mean that there is no part of who we are that is unaffected by sin. Therefore, not only have our actions and our thoughts been tainted by sin, so also have our emotions, desires and affections. All of our person has been impregnated by sin, it has marred the whole of who we are. This is why we find ourselves getting exited by things that are sinful, and being bored with things that are pleasing to God.

What then can we do in order to feel as we ought to feel? How can we re-order our affections and emotions? The way we do this is to allow our desires and feelings to be shaped by Scripture. One of the parts of Scripture that God has provided in particular for this is the Psalms. They both reveal how healthy our emotions and affections are, and help to re-calibrate them so that we feel the way we ought to feel.

Recently I came across these words from a former pastor of mine: "It has been wisely said that the Psalter is a spiritual cardiograph. The more I am at home in the Psalms, the healthier my spiritual condition." That is, the Psalms show us the state of our hearts. They help us to see how healthy our feelings and longings are. The more we read through them the more we see what affections and emotions shaped by the truth of God's word look like. The more we see of this the more clearly we will be able to diagnose how healthy our desires and emotions are.

Another great function of the Psalms is to shape our distorted feelings and desires so that we begin to feel as we ought to feel, delight in what we ought to delight in and weep over what we ought to weep over. Christopher Ash says: "The Psalms give us authorised, authentic response to God and his word." They re-calibrate our emotions so that they are shaped by God's word. This is because the Psalms not only teach us truth about God, they also take that truth and turn it into prayer, they show us how we ought to respond to God's word. One of the things the Psalmists do throughout the book of Psalms is to take the rest of Scripture and turn it into prayer. They show how we ought to respond to the rest of the Bible. In doing so they are re-ordering our ragged desires and emotions so that they are brought more in line with the truth of God's word.

This means that, if we want to feel the way we ought to feel, one of the best ways we can do this is to learn to pray the Psalms. Take them and make them our prayers. One of the ways I have tried to do this is to try and pray through a Psalm a day. Why not try making the Psalms more a part of your prayer life (both private and corporate). Take a Psalm, read it and then turn it into prayer. Let what the Psalmist delights in become what you delight in, let what he mourns over be what he mourns over, let what he longs for be what you long for. The more we do this the more we find that we will become aware of how we ought to feel, and we will find that our affections and emotions become increasingly shaped by the truth of God's word.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Perseverance of a Saint

Two days ago about half past ten in the evening I got a call to tell me that my 85 year old great aunt had died. She had been in a steady decline for a few months and a fall just before Christmas spelt the beginning of the end. From that moment on she would never sit in her armchair and read her Bible again or pick tomatoes from her greenhouse to make soup, or make me pancakes for breakfast.

We all knew she was sick; she refused to tell us just how bad the cancer was but she didn’t want any treatment, she just wanted to “go home”.
You see my great aunt loved Jesus and had done from a very young age; she and my uncle glorified the Lord during 60+ years of marriage, and attended and served the same church their whole life. So when I asked her how she was a couple of months ago her reply was;

“Tired… I’m ready to go home, but I’m ready in his time”.

Like I said ‘his time’ came not more than 48 hrs ago, but as I sit and reflect on those last days with her I cannot help but thank God that he has shown me what it means for a saint to persevere.

It was late on Saturday night when I went over, we didn’t think she would last the night so I grabbed my bible and jumped into the car. On the way over I was wracking my brains and praying for the right thing to say, what to read, what to pray?

The room was dimly lit and peaceful; no beeping machines, no hiss of oxygen, just my grandmother (her sister), my aunt and me. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I spoke to her she opened her eyes and smiled. I took her hand and asked her if there were any Psalms she would like me to read, and slowly she said the words;

“One two one”:

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

My aunt was coming to the end of her life, she knew that soon she would breathe her last breath and so for the last time in her 60+ year walk with Jesus she lifted her eyes to him. She knew that the Lord, who had watched over her whole life, through the breakers of pain and suffering, that he would not let her foot slip now. Even though she lay there in weakness and frailty, the roots of her faith dug deep into the faithfulness of her God and she would not be moved, not even by death.

And now… now as I write my family is grieving and I miss my aunt. Have I wept… yes; but not tears of despair or uncertainty, rather tears of sadness in the face of separation. They are tears tinged with joy, that she now beholds her King face to face. This is the perseverance of a saint; that she finished the race and that God who began a good work in her all those years ago has brought it to completion.

Soli Deo Gloria

Satisfied with God

On the 6th of February 1870 Mary Mueller, the wife of George Mueller, died. This was a huge loss for George, who loved his wife deeply. In the sermon he preached at her funeral he said these words: "With every year our happiness increased more and more. I never saw my beloved wife at any time...without being delighted so to do." When she was diagnosed with the illness that would kill her he speaks of how his "heart was nigh to be broken on account of the depth of my affection". He loved Mary deeply.

What then was it that sustained him through such a devastating loss? He speaks of how he strengthened himself in that time in these words:
The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Now, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received grace, we are partakers of grace, and to all such he will give glory also. I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says.
All of this sprung from taking God at His word, from holding fast to what God has said in Scripture. Because he did this He knew that God is completely sovereign over all things, and whatever He does, He does it for the good of His people. Therefore, He was able to say "I was satisfied with God".

What will prepare us for times of great suffering and pain? If we are those who give ourselves to drinking deeply from the Bible and taking God at His word, we will be able to say with George "I am satisfied with God" in the midst of those storms when they come. The more we saturate ourselves in Scripture the more we will see the character of God, and the more we will recognise His goodness and faithfulness. The more we know Him the more we will trust Him and praise Him in times of trouble, because we know that He will not bring anything upon His children that is not for His glory and our good.

 Extract taken from: George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord's Dealing with George Muller, Written by Himself, Jehovah Magnified. Addresses by George Muller Complete and Unabridged, 2 vols. (Muskegon, Mich.: Dust and Ashes, 2003), 2:745.

Quote: "Strike Me Dumb"

In his excellent little book on Christian ministry called "The Art of Manfishing", Thomas Boston has these challenging words to say about preaching:
Lord, rather strike me dumb, than suffer me to preach unconcerned for the good of souls.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Top Five Posts of 2010

As we enter 2011, here is a reminder of the top five posts from 2010. These are the posts that were viewed by the most people over the past year. You can read any of them simply by clicking on the titles below.

5) Battles Singles Face (Part 3): Perceptions and Expectations of Others

4) The Santichrist

3) Battles Singles Face (Part 1): Introduction

2) Dishonouring God with Puny Prayers

1) Why the Church Should be More Like a Gay Bar

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 1)

Welcome to a new series of Tuesday Teaching posts. In February 2009, Don Carson presented a 14-part seminar entitled “The God Who Is There” at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. This series aimed both to evangelise non-Christians and edify Christians by explaining the Bible’s storyline in a non-reductionistic way. It has also been recently published as a book. Here is the first part of this series: "The God Who Made Everything".

Monday, 3 January 2011


Jonathan Edwards, beginning at age 19, made a list of 70 resolutions, which he sought to review weekly. They are a great challenge to us about how seriously we take our personal godliness, and they put many new years resolutions to shame.

Here they are in full:
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don't hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

(Resolutions 1 through 21 written in one setting in New Haven in 1722)

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God's glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to east away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, "A faithful man who can find?" may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration's never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord's day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan.12 and 13.1723.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peace_able, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13 1723.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 2, and July 13.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; "knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord." June 25 and July 13, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan.14' and July '3' 1723.

64. Resolved, when I find those "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those "breakings of soul for the longing it hath," of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear', of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton's 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26, and Aug.10 1723.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case toGod, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.
69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.