Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Short Break

I'm taking a short break from the blog over the next week and a bit. This means that there will no posts from me until late next week or early the following week.

Tuesday Teaching| Spectacular Sins (Part 7)

We come to the final sermon in this Tuesday Teaching series, Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. In this last sermon we are in Luke 22:1-6, where Piper shows us 'Judas Iscariot, the Suicide of Satan and the Salvation of the World.'

Monday, 20 June 2011

One of the Best and Most Powerful Means of Advancing the Gospel

J. C. Ryle had these words to say about the part of every Christian in the work of the gospel globally:
Prayer is one of the best and most powerful means of helping forward the cause of Christ in the world. It is a means within the reach of all who have the Spirit of adoption. Not all believers have money to give to missions. Very few have great intellectual gifts, or extensive influence among men. But all believers can pray for the success of the Gospel, and they ought to pray for it daily. Many and marvelous are the answers to prayer which are recorded for our learning in the Bible. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16.)

Book Review| Little Black Books

Little Black Books is a series of books by Scott Petty (youth minister at Christ Church St Ives in Sydney) written for teenagers. They are designed to "get straight to the point on the topics Christians always have questions about." Little Black Books are unashamedly grounded in Scripture, whilst at the same time written in a clear and engaging style, which makes them a great read and a great resource to get into the hands of young people.

So far in the series there are five books: 'predestination', 'sex', 'the Bible', 'suffering and evil', and 'what's life all about?' All of these are a fantastic blend of faithful Bible teaching, clear and easy to read writing and a great sense of humour.

'Predestination' grapples with the issue of how God's will or decision making interacts with our will or decision making. Petty begins by giving the Bible's picture of the 'super-involved God', showing us the sovereignty of God. He then moves to look at God's sovereign choosing of His people, before addressing what this means for our freedom and how God is fair in choosing some and not others.

'Sex' gives a clear and faithful summary of the Bible's teaching on sex, providing teenagers with a robust theology of sex. Petty rightly emphaises the goodness of God's gift of sex, whilst at the same time clearly showing marriage as the only and right context for sex. Having laid the foundation of a theology of sex, he then goes on to examine dating relationships, before discussing homosexuality and pornography.

Suffering and Evil
Here Petty gives an excellent overview of the book of Job, clearly setting out the picture of God and His utter sovereignty over suffering and evil, whilst at the same time doing so in a way that is pastorally sensitive. Petty shows just how comforting the truths of the Bible are to the sufferer, and challenges his readers to trust the God who is in control of all things, including suffering and evil.

The Bible
The whole Little Black Books series is firmly grounded in the Bible. In this book Petty makes explicit why this foundation is the only one worth standing on. He gives a clear introduction to the doctrine of Scripture as the word of God, showing its authority, trustworthiness and sufficiency.

What's Life All About?
Petty here shows that it is only in relationship that we can understand what the point of life is. He introduces us to the significance of what it means for us as men and women to be created by God made in His image for relationship and to rule. From there he moves to show the significance for Chroistians of who we are as those who have been saved by Jesus and belong to His people, the church.

Overall I highly commend this series of Little Black Books. They are firmly grounded in Scripture, and therefore lay a great foundation for teenagers to think biblically about things. They are clear, engaging and easy to read, therefore young people will not come away from them thinking that the truth of the Bible is uninteresting or not for them. I highly encourage you to get these into the hands of the young people you know.

You can order Little Black Books from the Good Book Company by clicking here (buying them this way also helps support the work of AEN).

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Gratitude Test

How thankful are you? How much time do you spend throughout the day praising God and giving joyful thanks to Him for who He is and what He's done? How we answer this question will reveal a lot about the state of our hearts.

I've been greastly enjoying Joe Thorn's new book, Note to Self. He has these insightful and challenging words to say on what our thankfulness says about us:
Does gratitude characterize your thoughts of God? Thankfulness is a good test of your faith.Its absence demonstrates that your faith is more lip service than experimental knowledge. Your days, whether easy or difficult, should be filled with thanksgiving because while life changes drastically, your God remains the same forever. He is constant - constantly good, loving and faithful.
If I'm honest with myself I'm nowhere near as thankful as I ought to be in light of the fact that we have an eternally good, loving and faithful God. I have a suspicion that I'm not the only one. This question is a deeply uncomfortable one if we ask it seriously of ourselves. Our lack of thankfulness reveals that we have not grasped the glorious truths about our glorious God as much as we think we have. The more we recognise who God is and what He has done in Christ, the more grateful people we will be. The more clearly we grasp the gospel the more we shall be people who bubble over with joyful thanks.

This means that we need to come back again and again to the gospel. One way of doing this is getting into the habit of preaching the gospel to ourselves. Check out last Wednesday's post to think more about this. You can view it by clicking here.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Getting Old to the Glory of God

Recently Don Carson, John Piper and Tim Keller, all in their sixties, sat down together to talk about growing old and how they might pass on the responsibility to the next generation. Well worth a watchto hear the wisdom of three older saints as they grapple with how they might best grow old to the glory of God, and serve the work of the gospel continuing to the next generation.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Listen Up! | preaching to yourself

"The heart never lies". So say the boys from McFly in one of their songs. I discovered this from a free toy in a cereal packet that plays a clip of the song on a constant loop, which two young daughters of a friend take great joy in dancing around the room to! (I've been told that the batteries seem to have a never ending life-span!). The problem with McFly is that they've got the heart wrong.The heart does lie. Jeremiah tells us that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick".

One of the great problems that we have in our Christian lives is that we listen to ourselves more than we speak to ourselves. We listen to our heart rather than preaching Bible truth to it. The problem with this is that we have been corrupted by sin. Our hearts our decietful, they are not a reliable guide. They will decieve us and lead us astray. If we continue to listen to our deceitful heart we will be led into all sorts of trouble. So, we need to preach to our hearts rather than listen to them.

This is something that David recognises in Psalm 103. Listen to what he says in verses 1-2:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
David is preaching to himself. He speaks to himself and calls himself to "bless the LORD", to praise God. There are two big lessons to be learnt here from what David does in this Psalm.

"O My Soul": The Need to Exhort Ourselves
David calls his soul and all that is within him to praise God (verse 1). He is calling all of who he is to delight in God, to make much of Him. He preaches to his own heart and exhorts it to rejoice in God.  What David is calling for is a joyful delight in God that erupts from the heart.

He does this because he knows that this does not come automatically. We do not naturally gravitate towards joyful heartfelt praise of God. Our sinful nature drags us in the opposite direction. It drags us towards the kind of praise that both Isaiah and Jesus condemned ("This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" Mark 7:6; Isaiah 29:13). This is the kind of praise we end up with if we listen to ourselves rather than preaching to ourselves: moving lips with a dead heart. Spending all our time listening to ourselves does not produce the kind of praise that David calls himself to. It will not lead to a deep delight in God bubbling from the heart and out of our lips.
This is why we need to preach to ourselves. Genuine praise does not come automatically for us, we need to speak to oursleves and say "Bless the LORD, O my soul". We too easily become comfortable with merely moving lips and an unmoved heart (after all it doesn't really require much effort). But the Christian life is not about being comfortable. It's about glorifying God, and He is not glorified by flapping lips and a dead heart. He is glorified in a heart that delights in Him above all things, with the streams of this delight pouring out into lips and lives. Therefore, we need to daily speak to our hearts and call them to this kind of God-glorifying, Christ-exalting praise.
"Forget Not": The Need to Remind Ourselves
What will fuel the fire of the kind of praise that we have just been talking about? Look at what David says to himself in verse 2. He says to his soul, "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits". He exhorts himself to remember all God's benefits. David will spend the rest of the Psalm spelling out exactly what these benefits are. God forgives sin and heals (verse 3; compare with Isaiah 53:4-5 where healing is an image of sin being dealt with), He redeems and crowns him with steadfast love and mercy (verse 4), he satisfies him with good (verse 5). All of this is talking about God's saving work. Essentially, David is preaching the gospel to himself.

He does this because he knows that he is prone to forget. We naturally gravitate towards forgetfulness. This is what happened to Israel in the wilderness (Psalm 106:6-7, 13). They forgot His works. This led them to grumble against Him and put Him to the test (Psalm 106:14-15), and God punished them for this. It led them to exchanging His glory for the image of an ox, when they worshipped a lump of meatal instead of Him (Psalm 106:19-20). Forgetfulness is dangerous.

This is why we need to remind ourselves of the gospel. We need to constantly remind ourselves as Christians of all the benefits we have in Christ. Indeed, if we are a Christian, then there is not a benefit that God has witheld from us. Just look at what Paul tells the Ephesians. He says "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3). God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing if we're in Christ. The more we recognise this, the more we recognise the magnificent character of our God. The more we grasp the fact that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, the more we see "the immesurable riches of his grace" (Ephesians 2:7).

We have an inexhaustible treasury of benefits to remind ourselves of, all of them are ours through the Lord Jesus. However, we are prone (just like the Israelites in the desert) to forget these things. Therefore, we need to be daily reminding ourselves of the gospel. If we do not do this we will struggle to ignite the flame of the kind of praise that David calls for in verse 1. We will find it increasingly hard to praise God with all that is within ourselves if we are not increasingly reminding ourselves of all His benefits. Daily preaching the glorious truths of the gospel to own hearts will nourish a heart that bubbles out in joyful delight in Christ.

Why not start a routine of preaching to yourself by taking Psalm 103 and Ephesians 1:3-14, working though it, thinking over what they show us of our great God, reminding yourself of all His benefits and then taking these truths and preach them to yourself. Take what you've seen in those passages (and in the rest of Scripture) and bring them with you throughout your day, constantly bringing them to mind, and in light of them saying to yourslef: "Bless the LORD,O my soul."

In a later post, God willing, I will spend more time thinking practically how we might go about cultivating the habit of preaching to ourselves. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Spectacular Sins: Part 6

We come to the penultimate sermon in this series by John Piper, Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. This week we're in 1 Samuel 12:1-25 where we see 'The Sinful Origin of the Son of David.'

Monday, 13 June 2011

A Dead Carcass or A Silent Trumpet

One of the greatest temptations we face as Christians both individually and corporately is to assume the gospel. This is a temptation to think that once we have 'understood' the gospel of Christ and Him crucified, we can now move on to other 'more mature' things.

Whilst, it is true that we are to move from milk to solid food as we mature as Christians (Hebrews 5:11-14), this does not mean that we move on from the gospel to other things. As we grow in Christ we are to hunger more and more for solid meaty food, we are to long more and more to understand deeper the truths of the Bible. However, in all of this we never outgrow the gospel of Christ and Him crucified. Instead, we are to desire to know it more deeply and more clearly. The more we mature and grow as Christians the more we should recognise our need for the gospel and the more tightly we ought to cling to Christ.

Christ and Him crucified ought, therefore, to have the central position in our life and in our teaching. If we move on from this we put ourselves in a very dangerous position. Recently I came across this warning from J. C. Ryle to churches tempted to assume the gospel and move Christ crucified from the central position He ought to have:
Whenever a Church keeps back Christ crucified, or puts anything whatsoever in that foremost place which Christ crucified should always have, from that moment a Church ceases to be useful. Without Christ crucified in her pulpits, a Church is little better than a dead carcass, a well without water, a barren fig-tree, a sleeping watchman, a silent trumpet, a dumb witness, an ambassador without terms of peace, a messenger without tidings, a lighthouse without fire, a stumbling-block to weak believers, a comfort to unbelievers, a hot-bed for formalism, a joy to the devil, and an offence to God.

Friday, 10 June 2011

True and Better

Sustaining Marriages

Don Carson, Tim Keller and John Piper, three men with a combined 116 years experience of marriage, discuss what they've learnt about sustaining their marriages from God's Word, the teaching of others and their own experience.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

This Was Not a Travesty

Is it a waste for an extremely bright student in a reputable University with fantastic career prospects to throw this all away? Henry Martyn was such a student studying at Cambridge University with many opportinuities open to him for a distinguished career. Yet, in 1802 he decided to give all of this up to become a missionary to India. This decision did not come without huge cost to him. He gave up the possibility a bright and distinguished career, a safe and comfortable life, and he knew that it was more than likely that he would never returm to his homeland again. For many people this might seem like a complete waste. However, read what his biographer, John Sargent, wrote about this decision to become a missionary and think again:
...he could [not] adopt this resolution [to be a missionary] without the severest conflict in his mind, for he was endued with tht truest sensibility of heart, and was susceptible of the warmest and tenderest attachments. No one could exceed him in love for his country, or in affection for his friends; and few could surpass him in an exquisite relish for the various and refined enjoyments of a social and literary life. How then could it fail of being a moment of extreme anguish when he came to the deliberate resolution of leaving forever all that he held dear upon earth? But he was fully satisfied that the glory of that Saviour who loved him, and gave Himself for him, would be promoted by his going forth to preach to the heathen; - he considered their pitiable perilous condition; he thought on the value of their immortal souls; he remembered the last solemn injunction of his Lord, "Go and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" - an injunction never revoked and commensurate with that most encouraging promise, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the [age]." Actuated by these motives, he offered himself in the capacity of a Missionary to the Society for Missions to Africa and the East; and from that time stood prepared, with a child-like simplicity of spirit, and an unshaken constancy of soul, to go to any part of the world, whither it might be expedient to send him.
It is not a waste to give up our little earthly all to go and promote the glory of the Lord Jesus in a foreign land. Henry Martyn did not waste his life. If he had decided to stay in his comfortable life with a distuinguished career, this would have been the real travesty. He did not waste his life, or his academic ability by forsaking all that he held dear in this life to go and proclaim the gospel to a people who had not heard of Christ. His God given abilities were best used in making Christ's name known in a foreign land, rather than making his own name know in a familiar land.

Where are the men and women like Henry Martyn today? Where are those who are willing to forsake everything to see Christ glorified in His gospel being proclaimed? May God bless His church with more men and women with such a sacraficial mindset as this.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 4: Partnership Shaped by the Gospel

We have seen that for partnership to be 'gospel partnership' means three things. We have looked at how gospel partnership is, firstly, founded on the gospel and is, secondly, for the sake of the gospel, now we turn to our third aspect: partnership shaped by the gospel. Under this heading I want to address the fact that the way we relate to one another in gospel partnership must be shaped by the gospel.

This is a vital area, but one which is easily overlooked. Without it all of what has been discussed in the previous section will not happen. If we are not relating to one another as brothers and sisters for whom Christ has died, but instead letting something else (such as background or denomination etc) define how we relate to one another then gospel partnership will fall to pieces.

Under this heading I want to focus in on one specific area. It is a theme that runs through Paul’s letter to the Philippians: sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others. In chapter 2 of his letter he calls the Philippians to “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (v. 3-4). This is the mindset he wants them to have (v. 5), which they have as those who are in Christ. The way they ought to relate to one another is by seeking the good of others before their own. The foundation Paul gives for such an attitude is spelt out in v. 6-11. Jesus is the ultimate example of such an attitude. He is the ultimate example of sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. He set aside His rights to all the glory and riches of heaven, and humbled himself in giving himself up to the most shameful and cursed of deaths, death on a cross. He did not do this for His good, but for the good of His people. Therefore, if the way we relate to one another is to be gospel shaped, we must be giving up ourselves in sacrificial service of one another, not seeking after “our rights” but gladly giving them up in the service of the gospel. Instead of seeking to please ourselves we ought to be seeking the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ, because Christ did not seek to please Himself (Romans 15:2-3). Gospel partnership is not about me and how I can use the resources of others to serve me or to build my own empire. Rather, it means changing our mindset to think about how I can use the resources that God has given me to serve others for the glory of God.

May God give us grace to be those who humbly give up all of who we are, what we have and all we do for the sake of the gospel, to help us to be gospel shaped in the way that we relate to one another as we think through and grapple with what gospel partnership involves. It has been my prayer in writing this series that it might please God to use it for His glory’s sake, that we might be spurred on to strive together side by side to see Him glorified in the gospel being proclaimed throughout Ireland, knees bowing to the Lord Jesus, the church being built up and workers being sent out in to the harvest field to proclaim Christ both in Ireland and across the world. To Him alone be the glory in Christ Jesus.

Previous Posts in this series:

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Tuesday Teaching| Spectacular Sins: Part 5

This week we're in Genesis 37:1-36 as we look at 'The Sale of Joseph and the Son of God.'

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Highest Form of Selfishness...

J. C. Ryle had these words to say about the Christian and evangelism:
Let us not only think of ourselves. Let us also think of others. There are millions in the world who have no spiritual light at all. They are without God, without Christ, and without hope. (Eph. 2:12) Can we do nothing for them? There are thousands around us who are unconverted and dead in sins, seeing nothing and knowing nothing right. Can we do nothing for them? These are questions to which every true Christian ought to find an answer. We should strive, in every way, to spread our religion. The highest form of selfishness is that of the person who is content to go to heaven alone. The truest charity is to endeavor to share with others every spark of religious light we possess ourselves, and so to hold up our own candle that it may give light to every one around us. Happy is that soul, which, as soon as it receives light from heaven, begins to think of others as well as itself! No candle which God lights was ever meant to burn alone.
May it never be said of us that we are selfish. May we instead be those who selflessly sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others hearing the magnificent truths of the gospel and coming to bow the knee to Jesus.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Disability and God's Sovereign Goodness

John Knight's son, Paul, was born severely disabled. In this interview John gives a moving testimony of God's grace in their son's disability. He describes the depth of pain and anguish he and his wife went through when coming to terms with their son's condition and testifies to God's sovereign goodness in Paul's disability. This interview is a huge encouragement us to trust Jesus in the darkest of times.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

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

In the two previous posts in this series on gospel partnership we have been examining 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. Two weeks ago we saw that partnership for the sake of the gospel means (1) defending the gospel and (2) proclaiming the gospel. Last week we saw that it means (3) training and deploying gospel workers and (4) supporting gospel workers. In this post we shall look at two final implications of partnership for the sake of the gospel:

5) Resourcing Gospel Work
The work of the gospel is costly. Not only in terms of the suffering and hardship that is the lot of the gospel worker, but also in terms of finances and other resources. I’m sure all of us are aware that gospel work cannot function without such resources. If there is no building, where shall people meet? If there is no money, how shall those set aside for the ministry of the word and prayer pay for food, shelter and clothing? How shall the expenses of the different ministries in churches be covered?

This means that one of the areas that gospel partnership must be addressing is that of where the finances and resources needed for the continuing and furthering of the work of the gospel are going to come from. It is very often the case that one of the areas that we are most reluctant to speak about is that of money. However, if the gospel affects every area of life and addresses every area of life then this means that we need to think and talk about how our wallets can be shaped by the gospel (whilst heeding Jesus’ warning about blowing trumpets when we give money). One of the great examples in the New Testament of such gospel shaped wallets is the Macedonian church (2 Corinthians 8) who “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity…” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Even though they were extremely poor they begged to be able to serve their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem by giving financially (v. 3). All of this was God’s work in them (v. 1) Oh, that God might give such hearts to our churches. Generosity begets generosity, therefore the gospel of God’s generosity in Christ ought to lead to generosity in us and our churches.

As with all the other areas, there is so much more that could and needs to be said under this heading. But there is not the space to do it here. So I want to mention two brief areas to think about in this regard:

First, our local churches should not be focussed in on themselves financially. Rather, we want to foster an attitude of sacrifice. This means that, instead of using our resources in a way that is just serving our own congregation and merely seeking to build up our own churches, we want to see the finances that God has given our church being used to serve the work of the gospel elsewhere. A healthy, gospel shaped church will not be seeking to hoard all its resources to itself and only being concerned with building up and serving itself, instead it will be looking outward and sacrificing themselves for the sake of the work of the gospel elsewhere and giving to ministries that they will never directly benefit from. When a church is like this, we will find that, instead of struggling, people in the church will grow and mature because of such a gospel shaped mentality. The sacrificial service that is seen in giving to support work and workers elsewhere, shall rub off and lead to sacrificial service within the church which leads to the church growing and maturing. This could be worked out in practice by supporting an apprentice, women’s worker, youth worker or assistant minister at a church that cannot afford to support one. It could mean using the building that God has given your congregation for training events etc. One church I know of is committed to giving away over half of its income to support gospel work elsewhere, and they intend to increase that percentage when they are able. This is a great example of a gospel hearted mentality when it comes to the financial resources that God has given them.

Secondly, there is also space for thinking about something more formal being set up to fund the costs involved in training and supporting gospel workers. Theological training costs money, a lot of money needs to be raised in order to fund someone's time at theological college. Many of those who have been through such training will know the great uncertainty of not knowing where the funds for training are going to come from, or being sent by a church that are not able to support us financially. One of the ways to address this could be by setting up a gospel trust to support gospel workers. This would be a trust fund where churches and individuals are setting aside money that is to be used in support of people training at theological college and going into areas of ministry where there is not the financial support needed. Such a trust would be stewarded by a group of godly and discerning men and women, both those in full time gospel work and those serving the Lord in a secular job, who would make decisions about how the resources might be best used for the glory of God in the advancement of the gospel.

6) Praying for Gospel Work
It has been noted by many that the revivals of the eighteenth century came off the back of years of persevering prayer by faithful believers. The work of the gospel is not ultimately our work, it is God’s, it is not dependant ultimately on us, nor can it be done by our own strength or strategy. Therefore, if we want to see Ireland and the nations reached with the gospel and men and women bowing the knee in trusting submission to the Lord Jesus we must be committed to prayer. This is a vital, and often overlooked, part of gospel partnership.

Being partners in prayer, as with the above areas, is something that should be happening on many different levels. It will mean wrestling in prayer for one another and the work of the gospel in private prayer. It will mean that our churches ought not to be focussed solely on praying for needs within the congregation (as hugely important as this is); rather, we want to help our churches to lift their eyes to the work of the gospel further afield. We need churches that are committed to praying for other churches, mission organisations, and missionaries as well as the needs in their midst and local area. This could be done by a church committing to pray for a certain number of churches in their prayer meeting and setting aside time within the church’s regular prayer meeting for this purpose. It will mean that as pastors that we are committed to praying for, and with, each other. It could mean organising times to join together with other churches in a certain area to pray for the work of the gospel.

These are just a few suggestions to get us thinking. Whatever shape it takes, we must be committed to the joyful discipline of wrestling in prayer for the work of the gospel in Ireland and further afield. Prayer is so often the first thing to let slip in the business of gospel ministry and of gospel partnership, so we must do all we can to guard the persevering of the people of God in prayer for the work of the gospel. Seeking to go ahead in the work of the gospel without praying is arrogance, because it is says that we are sufficient for this work by ourselves, that our strength and strategy are sufficient.

When we look at all of what we have covered under the heading of 'partnership for the sake of the gospel' over the last three posts, it becomes quite clear that any one church or ministry is going to struggle to carry out all of these areas. They may only have the resources or gifts to carry out work in one or two of these areas. This is why partnership is crucial. We need one another. We all have strengths in different areas and will able to provide resources for and serve in different areas. We will be serving in different churches and ministry contexts which will have different strengths and resources, and thus be able provide help in the areas in which they are rich.

Next week we shall,God willing, look at the third major implication of gospel partnership: partnership shaped by the gospel.

Previous Posts in this series: