Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Spectacular Sins: Part 4

We come to part 4 of Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. This week we're in Genesis 11:1-9 where we see 'The Pride of Babel and the Praise of Christ.'

Monday, 30 May 2011


Godly living does not come naturally. Our hearts naturally gravitate towards ungodliness rather than godliness. Don Carson says:
People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
This means that as Christians we need to constantly on our guard lest we drift. Paul calls Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16). The author of Hebrews calls his hearers to pay much closer attention to the gospel message that they heard, lest they find that they drift from it (Hebrews 2:1). We need to be constantly watching ourselves and constantly returning to the gospel. If we don't we shall find ourselves drifting further and further from the gospel and from the godliness that comes from applying the gospel to ourselves.We need to constantly be preaching the gospel to ourselves and to examine closely our Christian walk.

This is also why we need one another as Christians. That is why it is so vital that we are stuck in at a local church. We need one another. We need to continue to speak the gospel to each other and to challenge one another to lives that are in line with the gospel. We cannot do this by ourselves. We need other brothers and sisters in Christ who will love us enough to point out when we've gone wrong, both in our beliefs and in our living, and to call us back to embracing the truth of the gospel and to living that is in line with the gospel. We need to surround ourselves with those who will constantly be encouraging us with Bible truths. If we do not have this we will gradually find ourselves drifting further and further out to sea.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Blessings of Affliction

BY nature we are those who love the good things that God gives instead of the God who gives them, loving the gifts over the giver. Our hearts naturally turn to worship and serve created things, instead of worshipping and serving the Creator. This is idolatry.

As Christians we have a loving Heavenly Father who has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), these are blessings that we shall only enjoy in their fullness when Christ returns and brings about the new creation, where we shall be with Him forever enjoying the fullness of joy in His prescence. However, so often we do not long for that day as we should. This is because we are tempted to love the good things that God gives in this present world over the Giver.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good gifts of His creation that God has given us. These are good things that He has made for us to enjoy. The problem comes when we start loving these things instead of Him. When we do this we no longer long for the new creation, where we, as His people, shall enjoy being eternally in His prescence in a fully restored and renewed creation. Instead we settle for much less, by seeking the fullness of our joy in this present world, instead of in Christ.

This is why there is great blessing for the Christian in suffering and affliction. Our suffering and afflictions remind us of the imperfections of this fallen world. They wean us from love for this world that we might have a deeper love for God. They remind us not to get comfortable in this present world but to long for the perfect and renewed world to come, where we shall have the fullness of joy in the prescence of our King.

The puritan minister John Flavel recognised this. He speaks of the blessings of afflictions in this way:
“Is it indeed for the saints’ advantage, to be weaned from love of and delight in ensnaring earthly vanities; to be quickened and urged forward with more haste to heaven; to have clearer discoveries of their own hearts; to be taught to pray more fervently, frequently, spiritually; to look and long for the rest to come, more ardently? If these be for their advantage, experience teaches us that no condition is ordinarily blessed with such fruits as these, like an afflicted condition. Is it well then to repine and droop because your Father consults the advantage of your soul rather than the gratification of your humors? Because he will bring you to heaven by a nearer way than you are willing to go? Is this a due requital of his love, who is pleased so much to concern himself in your welfare? Who does more for you than he will do for thousands in the world upon whom he will not lay a rod or dispense an affliction to them for their good? (Hosea 4:17). But alas! We judge by sense and reckon things good or evil according to our present taste. Take heed that you overlook not the many precious mercies which the people of God enjoy amidst all their trouble. It is a pity that our tears on account of our troubles, should so blind our eyes, that we should not see our mercies. I will not insist upon the mercy of having your life given you “for a prey,” (Jeremiah 39:18); nor upon the many outward comforts which you enjoy, even above what were enjoyed by Christ and his precious servants, of whom the world was not worthy. But what say you to pardon of sin; interest in Christ; the covenant of promise; and an eternity of happiness in the presence of God, after a few days are over?”

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 3b: Partnership for the Sake of the Gospel (2)

Gospel partnership is a partnership that is founded on the gospel, for the sake of the gospel, and shaped by the gospel. In the previous post in this series we began to examine what it means for our partnership to be for the sake of the gospel. We shall continue to explore this in this week's post and next week. last week we saw that partnership for the sake of the gospel means (1) defending the gospel and (2) proclaiming the gospel. In this post we shall look at two more implications of partnership for the sake of the gospel:

3) Training and Deploying Gospel Workers
Obviously, if we want to see the gospel proclaimed throughout our own nation and beyond, both now and in the future, this means that more workers for the harvest field will be needed. These workers are not going to come from nowhere, we will needing to be deliberate about training and deploying them.

There are two key areas that come under this heading:

i) Training the local church. Every member of the church is a partner in the gospel; they are all gospel workers with a unique part to play. We need, therefore, to be thinking about how we can be equipping the members of the churches we serve to serve faithfully as members of the body of Christ. This will mean training them as Sunday School teachers, Youth Group leaders and Bible Study leaders etc.

Again, this is something that we can better do together. Working together, we will be able to serve one another with the specific resources and experience and strengths that we have. This can take many shapes and forms. It could involve setting up a regular training scheme between churches in a local area to use our resources and gifts in different congregations to serve one another, so that as churches as a whole we are not committed just to the building up of our own churches but of those around us also. It will also help foster a mentality of sacrificial service in our churches as they see us committed to building up the ministries of others. On another front it could mean preparing and making available resources to help serve these different ministries in our churches (using, for example, a Sunday school curriculum that we have developed in our church to prepare materials that could serve many other Sunday school teachers in their minist
ries). On a larger level, it would be helpful to think how we could be doing such training on a country-wide level. Perhaps an annual conference for training members of the local church in the various ministries they are involved in their local church.

ii) Training full time gospel workers. As well as training those in our congregations to serve in our congregations, we also want to be training others to be sent out to serve in other parts of the harvest field. If we are to see Ireland and beyond reached with the gospel, both in our lifetime and beyond (if Christ has not come before then), then we will need to be working hard about raising up a new generation of gospel workers.

Whilst we must recognise that through the faithful exercising of the ministry of the word and prayer God, in His grace will be raising up men and women for this work (that is, such people will be one of the natural outcomes of a faithful ministry), we need also to recognise that it is something that we need also to be deliberate about. One way that this can be done is through some form of apprenticeship scheme. Such a scheme will involve looking out for those in our churches who are godly and show the appropriate gifting and ability for gospel work (however embryonic these might be), and giving them opportunities to serve in the work of prayer and the ministry of the word in different forms, and providing training and the opportunity to learn from an older Christian in full-time ministry. This can be done in individual churches. However, it will be much more effective if we work together to raise up and train such apprentices.

There are many strengths that come from partnering together in apprenticeship schemes. We can share resources for training, so that the training that the apprentices receive is not merely dependent upon the pastor they’re under, instead there could be a shared central training for different apprentices in a certain area. Also, if we are working together we can provide opportunities for people to do apprenticeships in different churches other than their own so that they can gain experience of ministry in different contexts and be equipped to serve in different harvest fields in the future. It also means that those in larger churches can support smaller ones by sending apprentices out to do apprenticeships in smaller churches and thus support the work of the gospel there.

Another element to mention under this heading is more formal theological training. One of the things we that needs to be grappled with as we seek to raise up workers, is the question of how and where they shall receive faithful theological training after apprenticeships in order to equip them for a lifetime of gospel ministry. At present in Ireland there is a huge gap in this regard, many are heading abroad to receive this training and a large number of them end up not returning to Ireland. Therefore, we need to think about how we can be preparing the ground for, and taking the first steps towards providing more and more good quality theological training for the workers of the future.

4) Supporting Gospel Workers
The work of the gospel is not something that we can do, or should attempt to do, alone. We need the support and accountability of others. It has been said that ‘lone-rangers are dead-rangers’. The more and more we isolate ourselves the more danger we put ourselves in of making a shipwreck of our ministries, causing great damage to those we serve and bringing the gospel into disrepute. Therefore, it is essential that we are thinking carefully through how, not only can we raise up gospel workers, but also how we can give ongoing support and accountability to one another for the whole of the ministries that God has given us.
There are many ways that such support can happen. Here I want to mention just a few.

First, on a small scale, an accountability group or prayer triplet (or quadruplet etc) can be a great way of doing this. This would be a small group of gospel workers who meet together regularly to open the Bible together, pray for one another and ask each other the hard questions. It will mean being committed to each other in the group and committing to wrestling in prayer for them and their ministries, marriages and family life.

Secondly, on a slightly larger scale, in order to keep us fresh in our preaching and teaching, a local preacher’s workshop would be of great value. This would be where pastors in a local area come together on a regular basis to sharpen one another up by listening to and giving feedback on one another’s sermons. This could also include keeping one another fresh in our thinking by reading good meaty books and discussing them together.

Thirdly, on an even larger scale, another idea would be conferences of various kinds which would serve to continue to encourage and equip gospel workers in their ministries. This could be something like a large annual conference, but also having smaller, more generalised conferences throughout the year. There are many benefits that such conferences bring: they bring many gospel workers together so that they can encourage one another, they provide quality teaching to build up gospel workers and they help to promote a healthy mindset of being lifelong learners, always sitting under the Word, rather than thinking that once we’ve left theological college we’ve arrived and are the finished article.

Fourthly, printed resources can be a great support to gospel workers. There are many great magazines and periodicals available which are aimed at keeping gospel workers fresh. However, what about such a magazine written from and for an Irish context, aiming to keep us going and thinking through how we do gospel ministry in an Irish context?

Previous Posts in this series:

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Spectacular Sins: Part 3

We come now to part three of John Piper's series Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. This week we're looking at Romans 5:12-21, where we see 'The Fatal Disobedience of Adam and the Triumphant Obedience of Christ'.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Our Eyes Will Feast Forever on This

In a sermon on John 1:29, Martin Luther said this about the unsurpassable love of Christ at the cross:
It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open its ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent.

But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital?

And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin. . . . He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.”

No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God.

(Martin Luther, Works, 22:166-67)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 3a: Partnership For The Sake of The Gospel (1)

In the previous post we saw that gospel partnership is a partnership founded on the gospel. A second implication of calling partnership 'gospel partnership' is that it is a partnership for the sake of the gospel. Over the next few posts I want to explore what it means to partner together for the sake of the gospel.

If we simply stayed at defining the boundaries, which is crucial, we would not have gospel partnership. Rather, we would have a gospel agreement, a group of people who agree on the gospel. This is different to gospel partnership. Gospel partnership has a purpose; it is a partnership for the sake of the gospel. That is, it is working together to see the gospel proclaimed and lived out.

But what will this working together for the sake of the gospel look like? There are a number of key areas involved in this, with much overlap between them. We shall look at the first two of these areas in this post, and shall examine the rest in the next couple of posts.

1) Defending the Gospel
Scripture is clear that in these last days, while we wait for Christ’s coming, there shall be false teachers, those who teach a different gospel. If we have clearly defined the gospel as the foundation for gospel partnership (discussed previously), we will be in a better position to discern false teaching and to hold one another accountable so that we are not led astray by it.

Further, we will need to defend against it. It is much easier to do this in the context of a partnership of brothers and sisters who are committed to the gospel, than on our own (especially if there are many who are being blown by this wind of new doctrine). Partnering together to defend the gospel will mean continually reminding one another of the gospel and helping one another to grown into a deeper knowledge of it, as well as helping one another to grapple with the issues that are thrown up by new winds of doctrine and articulating a clear biblical response to it. Not only that, but also helping the churches we serve to stand firm in the gospel and not to be swept away by any new teaching, whether it be through helping each other address it in our preaching and teaching or by producing resources for the average Christian in the churches we are serving.

This means that as we think together through gospel partnership we need to be asking how, practically, we are going to do this. What structures do we need to put in place? What can we be doing to help us continually to be clearly articulating the gospel and growing in our understanding of it? What can we be doing to guard the church in oue country against being swept away by new winds of teaching? What resources would help in doing this?

The best way to defend the gospel is to proclaim it. This moves us on to a second key area: Proclaiming the gospel.

2) Proclaiming the Gospel
Under this heading come a number of things. This is a broad category which encompasses proclaiming the gospel locally, nationally and globally. The faithful, clear and prayerful proclamation of the biblical gospel is the heart of gospel partnership. It is what will shape the rest of gospel partnership.

Partnering together for the sake of the gospel will mean being committed to the prayerful proclamation of the gospel. This takes place on many levels:

i) Locally it will mean that we are committed to the faithful persevering work of prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4), continually teaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) as revealed in the Bible both publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20) in unceasing commitment (Acts 20:31). This is not something that can be sustained in isolation. Therefore we need to be partnering together to support and encourage this, and to hold one another accountable in this.

Further, on a local level it will mean a commitment to reaching our local area with the gospel. Gospel partnership sees that this is not just the concern of one congregation but of us all. We ought to be helping one another to reach our local areas. This can take many forms (e.g. sending a team to help the church in another local area during a mission week). The mindset behind this is not ‘I’ll mind my own business and let you get on with your work in your corner while I busy myself in mine’. Rather, it is taking an active concern, interest in, and commitment to one another’s ministries and seeing ourselves as partners together in one overall ministry. Therefore, doing all we can to see the work of the gospel continue in someone else’s sphere of ministry through actively supporting and encouraging them in their ministry.

ii) Nationally it will mean thinking, working and praying together about how we see the whole of our country (across any borders or boundaries there might be) brought under the sound of the gospel. This will mean that we are doing the above in supporting one another in different local areas across the country. It will involve working together to send out mission teams to different areas of the country. It will involve working together to see churches planted in areas where there are none presently. It will mean going or people to go to these unreached areas.

This will not be easy. It will be costly. It will involve being sacrificial, not holding the best resources or people for ourselves but actively sending them out to proclaim Christ where He has not yet been named (Romans 15:20), as we see Paul doing throughout the New Testament. Further, because in our country it may be a day of small things, and we are few, it will also mean the difficult task of working together across denominational and cultural boundaries. This is why it is so essential that we see ourselves as primarily identified by the gospel. We need to think hard and work hard together about how we do this.

iii) Globally. We do not want to restrict our working together in the proclamation to be restricted to our own land. It would be unhealthy if we are focussed solely on our own country and holding all of our resources and people to ourselves, instead of lifting our eyes to the vast harvest fields of the world in need of workers. An Irish gospel partnership must not have its aim as seeing Ireland reached with the gospel, we want to see this happen globally (This article has been written with an Irish context in mind). It might be helpful to describe our focus as seeking to see the gospel proclaimed throughout Ireland so that it might be proclaimed throughout the world. Or, to use Jesus’ terms, to make disciples of Ireland so that we can make disciples of all nations.

But what will this look like on the ground? For a start it will mean partnering with gospel workers and churches in different parts of the world in the ways that we have already outlined (obviously being adjusted to make allowances for the geographic limitations).

Further, it will mean that as partners together in the work of the gospel in our own country, we are working together to send missionaries out to all peoples. As well as raising up workers to send to various parts of our land, we are committed to raising them up to go even further afield and providing the resources to do so (training and resources will be discussed in a later post). This will involve working with existing missionary organisations, and thinking through how we ought to relate to them. But it does not mean assuming that this is the job of the missionary organisations, and that our churches need not play too much a part. The church is the primary means for the sending out of missionaries, and we must not abdicate our role. We need to be active in preparing and sending workers into the harvest field.

With the busy slog of regular pastoral ministry it will be hard to keep global missions on the agenda in our churches, there will be plenty of other things to distract us. Therefore we need one another, not only in sending, but also to keep one another accountable, and to lift one another’s eyes to the harvest fields again and again.

Previous Posts in this series:

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Spectacular Sins: Part 2

We continue with John Piper's series Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. This week we're in Genesis 3:1-15 with Piper. Enjoy.

Monday, 16 May 2011

When We Battle Sin With Sin

It is not necessarily a godly thing to avoid looking lustfully at a woman. Neither is it necessarily a godly thing to guard our tongue from gossiping.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that lust and gossip are not sinful and abhorrent to God. They are. Neither am I suggesting that we should not be seeking to put to death the sins of lust and gossip. We should. Rather, what I want to show is that we can avoid sin and still be sinning. We are not necessarily being godly when we are avoiding sin.

Let me explain. If we avoid looking lustfully at a woman or guard or tongue from gossiping because we are concerned about our reputation before others, because we want to be known in the eyes of others as godly, then we are simply replacing one sin with another. We are simply replacing the sin of lust or gossip by the sin of people pleasing and pride. We are battling sin with sin. We are letting the love of one particular idol keep us from sacrificing at the altar of another idol. In this case, our love for our reputation before others keeps us from lustful glances or gossip.

If we battle sin in this way, we may convince others and even ourselves that we are being godly. However, the truth is that we are decieving others and we are decieving ourselves. We our letting our love for one particular idol blind us to the reality of our sin. We may think that we're being godly and putting sin to death, when we are in fact letting sin flourish, we are letting a particular idol (e.g. the idol of reputation) shape our actions.

This means that as we seek to battle sin and put it to death in our lives, we need to carfully examine our motives for doing so. If we want to be godly in killing sin then we need to get our motivations right, otherwise we will only end up decieving ourselves that we are honouring God when we are not. If we are not killing sin out of a love for God which shows itself in a love for others (Matthew 22:37-40) then we are simply replacing one sin with another. A love for God which drives out a love for the world (1 John 2:15), must be the engine which drives our battle against sin. If this is not the case, then we decieve ourselves that we are being godly in our battle against sin. If we are not doing it out of a love for God, a zeal for His glory, then we will be doing it out of a love for something which is not God. This is idolatory.

The way that we cultivate a sin-killing love for God is through the gospel, as revealed in the Bible. It is by the gospel that God transforms our hearts to love Him more and more. It is as we see the glory of God in the face of Christ as revealed in the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6), that we are changed to reflect that glory more and more, because the more we see Christ, the more we will be transformed to be like Him (1 John 3:2), the only One who has perfectly loved God. As the gospel changes our hearts to love God more and more, it will simultaneously change us  to hate sin more and more. This means that we will be genuinely putting sin to death and not merely replacing sin with sin.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Hymn: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

By Augustus Toplady

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 2: Partnership Founded on the Gospel

In the last post in this series we saw that there are three major implications to speaking about partnership as 'gospel partnership'. First, it means that it is a partnership that is founded on the gospel. Secondly, it is a partnership that is for the sake of the gospel. Thirdly, the way in which we conduct this partnership must be shaped by the gospel. In this post we are going to examine the first of these implications: Partnership founded on the gospel.

In thinking through partnering together in the work of the gospel, two of the crucial questions we need to ask are ‘who can we work with?’ and ‘who has the authority to decide this?’

We do not have the authority to decide who we are partners with in the gospel. Only God has that authority. If it was up to us to decide, we would gradually whittle it down until we get to the stage where ‘it’s just me and you, and I’m not too sure about you.’ We do not decide who is part of the church and who isn’t, Jesus does.

Now this does not mean that we simply  throw our lot in with anyone who calls themselves by the name of Christian, not all genuinely are. That is why we need to ask ‘who can we work with?’ Neither does it mean that we can partner to the same extent with all who are genuinely believers. There is a place for wisdom and discernment in answering this question. There will be those who are genuinely converted, yet who may hold to unhelpful teaching or practice that would hinder the work of the gospel. Whilst not wanting to say they are not believers, we would want to exercise caution in the way we deal with them, which may mean that we cannot partner with them to the same extent as we could with others.

Because God decides who we can and cannot partner with this means we must look to what He has revealed to define the boundaries in which gospel partnership can take place. This means that we must let the gospel, as revealed in Scripture, define these boundaries. It is not denominations (as important as some of their distinctives may be), nor pragmatics, nor cultural identity that marks out who we can work with, but the gospel. One of the implications of this is that we must see our identity primarily as found in the gospel, rather than as being bound up with denominations, cultural background or anything else which shapes who we are.

This will mean that we need to think and work hard about articulating the biblical gospel and what are the things (both doctrinally and in practice) that have direct implications on the gospel. We need to work together on defining these gospel boundaries and articulating what we must not compromise on at any costs, and what areas we are free to be flexible in. This is the basis for partnership.

We are not the first to have to face up to this issue, the historic creeds and confessions of the church down the ages have been formulated partly to serve this purpose, and the statements of faith of more recent times have been doing the same.

Previous Posts in this series:

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Spectactular Sins: Part 1

We begin a new series of Tuesday Teaching posts this week. Over the next seven weeks we shall be working our way through John Piper's series Spectactular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. This week we begin in Colossians 1:9-20 as we see "All Things Were Created Through Him and For Him."

Monday, 9 May 2011

Oh, For A Closer Walk

Over at the Proclamation Trust Adrian Reynolds has written a very helpful post on maintaining a close walk with Christ. He has written this with preachers in mind, but what he has to say is equally valuable for every Christian to listen to.

1 Timothy 4:16 shows the vital importance of the preacher cultivating a close walk with Christ. If he is not doing so with prayer and the study of the word, then how can he save himself and his hearers.

Reynolds says that ultimately there is only one answer to the struggles we have with maintaining a close walk with Christ. It is this: a deep hunger and thirst for Christ. This is what we need to be crying out to God for. However, there are also many practical things that we can be doing, as we cry out to God for this hunger and thirst, that will help serve us walking closely with God. He mentions 10 practical things that he has found helpful:
1) Read the Bible for your own soul first. Even it eats into prep time don't think that studying to preach is enough to feed your own soul.

2) Read and pray with a pen in your hand - both to capture thoughts and jot down distractions to be dealt with later. I write myself a prayer every day based on what I have read.

3) Use Bible helps judiciously. You're a pastor for goodness sake - don't get caught into the "I can only read the Bible with a commentary" trap

4) Nothing beats an early morning. I learnt this reading chapter 20 of Book 3 of the Institutes [Calvin's Institutes] which is some of the warmest stuff I have ever read on prayer. Google it.

5) Pray for your people deliberately and by name. Better to pray for one or two well than 5 in a bland way. Don't focus on felt needs, pray in what you are reading for your people. Pray that what you are learning they will learn and tell them about it next time you see them.

6) Tear up your prayer diary every few months. I find routine is a life-killer, so I have to tear up my routine and refresh it regularly.

7) Singing to yourself is not a sign of madness. I sit in the morning with an open hymn book and take one a day (which, by the way, opens my eyes to some beautiful and lovely words from the past)

8) Develop prayer as an attitude not a diary slot. We all know it. Practice it. A few minutes here and there. A cry when you reach a really knotty part of Scripture you're struggling to prepare.

9) Don't be afraid to use helps in dry times. I find Valley of Vision a real help when I struggle to pray (I use the leather version, not much more, nicely laid out and it doens't fall apart with use).

10) Cry out with honesty for your lack of thirst. Admit your sin. Repent of it. Use the psalms to align yourself with Christ once again.
You can read the whole of the article here.

The Death of the Mushy Middle

Thursday, 5 May 2011

True Belief

Horatius Bonar had these words to say about the nature of true belief in God and how this affects our view both of God and of ourselves. What he says is both perceptive and challenging. Take your time reading through it, think through what he is saying, and then take time to examine your own heart in light of it.
In all unbelief there are these two things—a good opinion of one’s self and a bad opinion of God. Man’s good opinion of himself makes him think it quite possible to win God’s favor by his own religious performances; and his bad opinion of God makes him unwilling and afraid to put his case wholly into His hands. The object of the Holy Spirit’s work (in convincing of sin) is to alter the sinner’s opinion of himself, and so to reduce his estimate of his own character that he shall think of himself as God does, and so cease to suppose it possible that he can be justified by an excellency of his own. The Spirit then alters his evil opinion of God, so as to make him see that the God with whom he has to do is really the God of all grace.

But the inquirer denies that he has a good opinion of himself and owns himself a sinner. Now a man may SAY this, but really to KNOW it is something more than SAYING. Besides, he may be willing to take the name of sinner to himself, in common with his fellow-men, and yet not at all own himself such a sinner as God says he is—such a sinner as needs the cross, and blood, and righteousness of the Son of God. It takes a great deal to destroy a man’s good opinion of himself; how difficult it is to make a man think of himself as God does! What but the almightiness of the Divine Spirit can accomplish this?

Unbelief, then, is the belief of a lie and the rejection of the truth. Accept, then, the character of God as given in the gospel; the Holy Spirit will not give you peace irrespective of your views of God’s character. It is in connection with THE TRUTH concerning the true God, “the God of all grace,” that the Spirit gives peace. That which He shows us of ourselves is only evil; that which He shows us of God is only good!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 1: Introduction

What is ‘gospel partnership’? It is a phrase that many of us will be very familiar with. We hear it used in sermons, at conferences, in books, articles and other Christian literature. No doubt we will have used it ourselves many times in different contexts. But what is ‘gospel partnership’ and what does it involve? This is what I want to tease out in a series of posts. It is worth doing this because ‘gospel partnership’ may be in danger of becoming simply a trendy ‘buzz-word’ or ‘Christian jargon’ that we use, but have not thought through what it means.

Let us begin by thinking about partnership. The word partnership in the Bible can also be translated as ‘fellowship’(See Philippians 1:5). Fellowship does not mean merely a nice chat over a cup of tea (with some “wee buns”!) after a Christian meeting as it has often come to mean. It’s a lot stronger than that. It is a sharing together in something, and indicates a very close relationship. In Philippians it is closely tied with the sacrificial, costly, energetic, wholehearted, persevering striving together for the sake of a common goal of project (Philippians 1:27-30). It is something that happens together with others. It is something that we have a share in, sharing joys and sorrows in. In Paul’s language it is having “one spirit” and “with one mind striving side by side” (Philippians 1:27). Partnership is not easy, it is hard, costly, demanding work; but it is worthwhile.

When we speak about partnership as ‘gospel partnership’, this has three major implications. First, it means that it is a partnership that is founded on the gospel. Secondly, it is a partnership that is for the sake of the gospel. Thirdly, the way in which we conduct this partnership must be shaped by the gospel. All of these areas are vital for us to be getting to grips with as we think about gospel partnership and the shape it ought to take.

In this series of posts I intend to outline each of these three areas in turn. First up, in our next post we shall look at what it means for our partnesrship to be founded on the gospel.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Tuesday Teaching: Preaching to the De-Churched

London is a city FULL of de-churched people and most cities around the UK are running to catch up. In this sermon, from 2009's Advance Conference, Matt Chandler helps us and challenges us to recapture our first love for the sake of those who have been completely turned off the gospel!

Monday, 2 May 2011

"The Centre Truth in the Whole Bible"

What stands at the centre of the whole of Scripture and why is it so important that we recognise this centre? This question is one that is vital for us to grasp.

In a booklet called 'The Cross' J. C. Ryle spells out clearly that it is the cross of Christ that is the centre of the Bible, and shows us why this is so important for us to recognise.

Working from Galatians 6:14, he shows that "Jesus Christ crucified was the joy and delight, the comfort and the peace, the hope and the confidence, the foundation and the resting-place, the ark and the refuge, the food and the medicine of [the apostle] Paul's soul." It was what he delighted in, what stood at the heart of his preaching, and what permeated all of his letters. Paul was centered on the cross of Christ. Ryle then goes on to press the implications home to us, the reader. He says:
And, reader, you may rest assured that Paul was right. Depend upon it, the cross of Christ,- the death of Christ in the cross to make atonement for sinners, - is the centre truth in the whole Bible. This is the truth we begin with when we open Genesis. The seed of the woman bruising the serpant's head is nothing else but a prophecy of Christ crucified. This is the truth that shines out, though veiled, all through the law of Moses, and the history of the Jews. The daily sacrifice, the passover lamb, the continual shedding of blood in the tabernacle and temple, - all these were emblems of Christ crucified. This is the truth we see honoured in the vision of heaven before we close the book of Revelation. "In the midst of the throne and of the four beasts," we are told, "and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain." (Rev. 5:6) Even in the midst of heavenly glory we get a view of Christ crucified. Take away the cross of Christ, and the Bible is a dark book. It is like the Egyptian hieroglyphics without the key that interprets their meaning, - curious and wonderful, but of no real use.
Reader, mark what I say. You may know a good deal about the Bible. You may know the outlines of the histories it contains, and the dates of the events described, just as a man knows the history of England. You may know the names of the men and women mentioned in it, just as a man knows Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Napoleon. You may know the several precepts of the Bible, and admire them, just as a man admires Plato, Aristotle, or Seneca. But if you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have read your Bible hitherto to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a keystone, a compass without a needle, a clock without spring or weights, a lamp without oil. It will not comfort you. It will not deliver your soul from hell.