Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Do we wish to grow in grace?"

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

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

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

Friday, 25 November 2011

Check Your Glasses!

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 November 2011

To Old Age and Grey Hairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Keeping Going in Ministry

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

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

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

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

Monday, 21 November 2011

Yesterday's Sermon

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

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

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

Friday, 18 November 2011

Speech and Salvation

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

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

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

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

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

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Joy of Being a Miserable Sinner

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

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

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

Friday, 4 November 2011

What's Missing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

One of God's Purposes in Suffering

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

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

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

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

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

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