Thursday, 29 September 2011
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Last night several hundred people gathered at City Evangelical Church, Leeds, to hear Dr Helen Roseveare, at a meeting of The Association of Evangelists. Roger Carswell was his inimitable bouncy self as he introduced his colleagues, and brought Helen to us. The evening was hot! The building was sweltering with many standing, downstairs and up, on a hot night, and the message Helen gave was hotter still. We had over a dozen from Hope Church, young and old, and the agreement was that it was a great evening.
Before I give a digest of what Helen said, two quibbles with the event:
You can have too many evangelists! We came to hear Helen, but we didn’t get to her message until over an hour into the meeting. Each evangelist spoke, a couple shared in more detail, and the overall impression was that this meeting was as much to showcase the work of the Association as to offer Helen a platform. I don’t have a big problem with that per se, but wonder, if in reviewing, the leaders would agree that less material in a shorter timescale would be have been better.
Yes, it was a woman preaching. However you try to cut it, spin it, angle it, Helen was preaching. You could say, ‘no, she was exhorting us, not preaching.’ But if the Scriptures are opened and we’re exhorted to obey them, I call that preaching. That’s what we got.
In actual fact, my beef wasn’t really with Helen preaching, last night. She was only preaching, of course, because she represents the countless thousands of single female missionaries who are giving their lives to build God’s church because the men aren’t doing it. I’ve pastored a number of these phenomenal women whose ministries of caring, prayer, serving, and yes preaching to and training men has made an astonishing impact on parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. Their wisdom and godliness have more often pastored me. They’ve been there and given so much of themselves, like Helen, because they’ve offered themselves to the Lord, to do His will. Where are the men, who should be filling the World with the message of Christ? The overall impression which came forcefully through Helen’s ministry last night, to men and to women, is that it's we who are the poorer if we evade the radical call of discipleship. I head Helen very gladly!
These notes are the substance of what we heard last night.
Helen turned our attention to the verb used three times in the New Testament, ‘philotimeomai.’ ‘esteem as an honour’ is a pretty good translation of it, as it’s used in the NT.
Recognising the three uses, Helen called to us to fullhearted discipleship:
a. we struggle to please Him.
The NIV translates the verb in 2 Cor. 5.9 as ‘make it my ambition.’
Helen stressed the honour we have in doing anything for the Lord. Anything we can do is an honour and a privilege. Suffering will certainly be involved as we put Him first. The goal will be consuming, and it is a daily battle not to put ourselves first. Remember John 14. 23 – it is our obedience to Jesus which shows whether our faith is authentic or not. That desire to please Him is the all-important. Telling the Gospel is far harder often than practical service.
Are we consumed with a desire to be holy? Are we scared to be thought of as ‘holier than thou?’ Who cares?! We need to be holy as Jesus is.
We should feel sick inside that people are going to a Christless eternity. Will we ever force ourselves to say a word for Christ to someone we don’t know. Helen told a moving story about a woman in Tescos who was at her wits’ end with two small children at the till. Helen told her of Christ’s love. She broke down, and later on, in the car, Helen has a wonderful opportunity to show her Christian love, and share the Gospel.
b. we study to portray Him
1 Thess. 4.11 – ‘make it your ambition to live a quiet life……so that you might win outsiders…’
When we think of missionaries we often think of crossing continents and cultures; God calls us to go next door.
Helen talked of when a company was making a film of her life. The actress playing Helen came to live with her for three months, observing all of her actions and mannerisms, really getting under her skin. So we must commit to getting to know Christ intimately.
Do we remember that it is a huge honour to be a portrait of Jesus? How concerned we must be to guard against anything in our behaviour which does not conform to His likeness. We need to check our attitudes – we mustn’t get irritated, be judgmental, critical. Portraying Jesus must dominate our thought-life.
[And how she loathes committees! ‘I had a committee for running our hospital in Africa – God and me’!]
Helen tells of how she was once in the field when she had to go to a field director’s house. When she arrived she overheard a conversation: a female missionary was asked by the director if she would move from the north of the region to the south to be with Helen so that she would not be alone. Helen heard her say, ‘no, I couldn’t bear that.’ Helen went away crushed. Through that experience, and the skillful counsel of an African Pastor, she discovered just how selfish she had become: she was extremely driven, and focused on her programme, and therefore intolerant of anyone who didn’t fit in and show the same level of commitment which she had. Our battle is against the ‘I’; compare Paul, and insistence, ‘not I, but the grace of God that was with me’ (1 Corinthians 15.10).
Helen illustrated her point with an illustration of a gold mine she visited in Africa. She learned that the man who checked the quality of the molten gold was lowered over the boiling lake to inspect the gold. When all of the impurities had been burned off, the inspector would be able to see his face in the surface. Just so with Christ: He will work tirelessly with the impurities of our sins and selfishness, in order that His likeness might be seen in us.
c. we strive to preach Him. Romans 15.20
Paul’s ambition was to live his life in every aspect so that others saw Jesus, and heard His truth. So all of our lives must radiate Jesus. In every instance? How about in our willingness to stick to the speed limit, for example? Everything matters. In this sort of obedience may others come to see what He is like, and who He is.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Yesterday morning I had an urgent date with the 1680s in Huddersfield University Library. I often go there, to plan and prepare sermons, and to pursue other study. I’ve enjoyed Level 5 (a floor, not a computer game) almost on my own this summer. Then - wham! - there are students at every turn.
Which is brilliant. If Huddersfield hadn’t managed to reinvent itself as a University town (and one with results which merited a place recently in the top 50 UK Universities, no less), then the town would be pretty much dead and buried as an economic force. Now the place enjoys the revenue of over 20 000 students spending their loans in these rainy hills. That is a lot of souls.
We’ve been working hard at Hope Church to be ready to serve the students with the Gospel. Taking on a great idea from our friends at Brighouse Evangelical Church, we approached Taylors of Harrogate, the Yorkshire Tea people. Amazingly, they gave us five thousand teabags completely free of charge. We bought some chocolate bars, wrote a Christian leaflet, stuck them together on Sunday, and we’ve been serving them up to bemused but very grateful students this week.
The kindness of strangers? We’re so glad that
Monday, 19 September 2011
So wrote Thomas Boston. Think about his words, for a moment. This is not a man tormented by a pathological self-hatred, or torn by a crisis of self-worth. He doesn’t need to ‘lighten up’. Instead, here is a Christian man who is struggling with the fact of ongoing sin in the deepest recesses of his being. He wants to love Christ, but he feels the battle of his old, dark lusts and longings. He has seen a vision of the beauty of God in Jesus Christ, but he still feeds himself with the seedy, selfish images of his own gratification.
Sounds familiar? It’s the battle within all who are in Christ, and seeking to honour Christ. If we are Christians, we’re in this fight. We’re led by the Spirit, but we’re led by Him into battle, a battle with the sinful nature within us, as much as with a hostile world around us. We struggle and fight with sin. That is the very sign that we are alive with Christ, and are led by the Spirit.
This struggle should sound familiar, because it’s also the cry of the Psalms. Again and again, the Psalmist cries out in his troubles, longing to live more fully for the Lord. Out of the many passages which shed light on the fight for godliness, we focused last night on Psalm 86.11-13:
(11) Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth;
(11) Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your Name.
(12) I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify Your Name forever.
(13) For great is Your love towards me; You have delivered me from the depths of the grave.
The lessons for us in our struggle against sin? The four we touched on last night are these:
1. We are resolved to remember God’s love and mercy to us (v. 13).
We have been rescued from the depths of the grave. Jesus endured God’s wrath, God’s hell, in our place. He was separated from God that we might be reconciled to God. Do we remember this? The signs of actually, truly remembering the cross are a heart which is genuinely thankful, amazed, satisfied in God’s rescuing love in Christ. Remember this love, and our hearts are opened to embrace the struggle.
2. We are resolved to follow our Saviour and Lord (v.11).
Disciples long to learn from God’s truth, then they are resolved to live out the truth they learn. At Hope Church we long to do both. Unashamedly, we are a learning church. We are big on the Bible. But we submit to the Word so that we may submit our lives to the Lord and to joyful obedience in Him. The Spirit Who teaches is the Spirit Who empowers us. Only His grace can take shepherd our divided hearts towards a singe aim for His glory. We long to run in the path of His commands, for He has set our hearts free (Psalm 119.32).
3. We are resolved to fear God (v.11).
‘Fear’ is coming to God in reverence. We don’t dare to treat God as if He is less than sovereign, holy, and awesome. ‘Fear Him’ is the charge of Moses, the Prophets, Jesus, Paul and Peter. The fear of the Lord is the beginning and the life of wisdom.
4. We are resolved to praise the Living God (v.12).
Lips of praise, and lives of praise. Dostoevsky defined humanity as ‘that ungrateful biped’. How would you define a Christian? Maybe ‘that praising biped’ would be a start! Our lives are to be filled with thank-filled amazement at the God of Heaven, delight in the majesty of all that He is, wonder at His covenant love in Christ, and eagerness to live out our Gospel duties and privileges.
Remember, follow, fear and praise. That’s the way of freedom. It is the way of struggle, too. Heart-growth almost always involved heartache. Grace causes holy upheavals! But God’s ways are always, always good. Grace leads us into struggles, but grace leads us through them, and - when He ordains - out of them. ‘Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 15.57)
Thursday, 15 September 2011
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
“68 min: As the drizzle turns to heavier rain, it's another scrum. And while Newcastle Falcons' prop Murray has looked great at the set-pieces, it's important to note that Scotland will have to be without the tighthead a week on Sunday against the Pumas, due to his religious commitments.”
So read the commentary on the Telegraph website this morning as Scotland and Georgia battered each other in the rain at Invercargill, New Zealand, in the Rugby World Cup. I love rugby, but I wasn’t following the game, even though I gather that my grandfather did pull on a Scotland shirt during his career at Leicester Tigers. Maybe the World Cup doesn’t interest you hugely – but the Scotland front row, Euan Murray, certainly should.
What this piece of commentary reminds us is that Euan is a Christian who believes in the Fourth Commandment. He doesn’t see it just as a law relevant for God’s Old Testament people; he doesn’t see it as a ‘principle’ that Christians should seek rest in the midst of the busyness of work; nor does he believe that, because in Jesus we have the real rest our hearts need, rest from sin’s burden through forgiveness and the promise of eternal rest in heaven, the Commandment has no relevance for us. No, Euan’s convictions are as hardcore as his scrummaging – he believes that God forbids him to work on a Sunday, and calls him to the rest and worship which is the best re-creation which God wills for us.
I think Euan’s right. The Ten Commandments have a binding authority on the lives of all believers (actually, classic reformed theology has always sought to teach their binding authority on all people everywhere, but we’ll leave that for another time). We live in an age, in the church no less than in secular society, where laws are seen as restrictions, and where eagerness to obey them is seen as a mark of brainlessness or spinelessness – or both. But the Lordship of Jesus Christ over His church is demonstrated by us in our willingness to obey His Law. We need to discover that there is only life in Jesus as we follow Jesus. He didn’t come to apologise for God’s Law, far less to nullify it. He sent His Spirit so that we would discover, in the obedience which is part of Gospel faith, that His ways bring peace and joy.
Will we? Putting Him first as we obey the Fourth Commandment is no exception. More than that, it is a privilege, and a blessing.
Imagine for a moment that you’ve spent twenty years knowing that you have an exceptional gift, and spending those years making hard choices and real sacrifices in order to excel with those gifts. Now comes the moment when you’re on a world platform, facing the biggest opportunity of your life to show what you’re about. Except you don’t. You stand aside, and let the moment go. That’s what Euan will be doing this Sunday. He doesn’t need the eyes of millions on him, he’s content to stand before the eyes of One, and seek to honour Him. Can we, for a day a week, say no to whatever our ambitions are, and show the world that we’re captivated by a Loving Lord, Who wants us to know the joy, peace and fellowship which are His to share as we come to Him?
In God’s Providence, this Sunday at Hope we’re due to look at the Fourth Commandment as the Heidelberg Catechism treats it. It opens up to us the duties and the blessings of the Day. Enjoy it, and let’s look forward to our Sundays, and do all that we can to make sure that they’re the best day of our week. As Richard Baxter says, let’s make them our footsteps to heaven.
Q. What is God's will for you in the fourth commandment?
A. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained,1 and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I diligently attend the assembly of God's people2 to learn what God's Word teaches,3 to participate in the sacraments,4 to pray to God publicly,5 and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.6
Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.7
1 Deut. 6:4-9, 20-25; 1 Cor. 9:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:13-17; Titus 1:5
2 Deut. 12:5-12; Ps. 40:9-10; 68:26; Acts 2:42-47; Heb. 10:23-25
3 Rom. 10:14-17; 1 Cor. 14:31-32; 1 Tim. 4:13
4 1 Cor. 11:23-25
5 Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:1
6 Ps. 50:14; 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8-9
7 Isa. 66:23; Heb. 4:9-11
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Saturday, 10 September 2011
Thursday, 8 September 2011
In a novel take on Philippians 3.13-14, my children have put their five chickens to hard and productive Gospel labour. They are laying golden Gospel eggs. Or, more simply, the kids are selling their eggs from the house and putting the proceeds towards resourcing Kingdom ministry. £1 per half dozen eggs, golly, that’s over a fiver a week!
Just think about it, all the gifts you have put to the service of the Kingdom. You get no earthly reward, but others get infinite blessing. That’s one good use of a chicken’s life. And if God can work that kind of productivity out of a bunch of ex-battery hens, and the kindness of children’s hearts, couldn’t He get a little bit more out of us?
It was on the 9th September 2010 that Sarah and I arrived in town. Sarah and the children left before me to stay with her folks near
Anway, we’re going to have a special family meal tomorrow night. There is so much to celebrate, even while we’re all still adjusting. We’ve been tried, refined, sad, daunted, lonely and much else in the last twelve months. The further on we are, the more we all realise the enormity of our move. As well, though, we’re all beginning to discover how massive God’s grace is to us. Tomorrow night we celebrate His power to keep and to care for us, as He has done so excellently.
Two things have been constant in the course of this year. The first has been our conviction that the Lord has brought us these miles, and transferred our roots, for His good and glorious purposes. He revealed His will that we should move, and our response to His Spirit’s leading has never felt so radical or brave, just the right step to take – which we’ve been so glad to do!
The second constant has been His infinite kindness and provision: what amazing new friends, what a wonderful home, schools, jobs and so much more we’ve been blessed with; best of all, what Gospel growth we’ve seen, in ourselves, in the birthing of Hope Church, and in the Gospel opportunities which are springing up in the town for us. To look back at Sunday worship, midweek gatherings, baptism, an away weekend, a
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
11.-12.30 - session 1 - Biblical leadership - key principles.
12.30-1.15 - lunch (please bring sandwiches)
1.15-2.30 - session 2 - Specific issues - personal reflections.
2.45-4 - session 3, Q and A, including prayer
Monday, 5 September 2011
Although it might look that way, we haven’t been away for a six week holiday, I’ve just been a dilatory blogger (or, non-blogger). We've had, though, an excellent two weeks on Skye, at the north end of the Trotternish Peninsula, at a house belonging to our very kind friends David and Nina Meredith.
We had a fabulous time! There were many, many highlights. Here are a few favourites:
We didn’t feel any pressure to roam over all the island, but we hiked up to the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing, and tramped over various other hills and moors. We took a boat trip to see sea-eagles and seals, and loved watching the local pair of buzzards. Just being out and about in such stunning scenery did us all a power of good, and brought home to us all afresh the majesty of God as reflected in His creation. When we weren’t near the sea we were all swimming in it. One day Maisy climbed with a guide, and Ezra and Sarah kayaked.
We indulged our love for fishing (at least, some of us did), and ate the pollock and mackerel we caught . The fishing was excellent off local rocks, and Samuel took the fish of the holiday, a nearly 5lb pollock, which, to his utter disgust, I made him put back to become a 15 pounder! We came across a couple of lobster pots in the garden, which we put to good use off the rocks in the bay, and had an evening meal feasting on a beautiful beast, and gave another away.
It’s always hard getting unhurried time with five young children, but Sarah and I really benefited from more time in our Bibles. We were both in the Corinthian letters, and both read Doug Kelly’s ‘New Life in the Wasteland’, on 2 Corinthians, and used Paul Barnett’s BST on the same letter.
Other titles we enjoyed included Paul Tripp’s excellent new book on marriage, ‘What did you expect?’ I’ve enjoyed and got so much from Tripp over the years, and this title doesn’t disappoint. We also had time with Thomas Boston’s ‘The Crook in the Lot’, about God’s Providence in suffering. Written by a man who knew so much personal tragedy, including the loss of most of his children in infancy, and the pain of bearing his wife’s physical and mental illnesses, it’s a book of real insight and pathos, dealing with God’s providential care in the toughest of times. We took with us another fistful of titles, and inbetween mammoth card sessions with the children, managed to enjoy a quiet read and a coffee.
The most spiritually precious day, we all agreed, was sharing the Lord’s Supper with the FC at Uig. I was delighted to hear that Kiki MacRae was preaching, as I knew his ministry would not disappoint. The Saturday night’s service and the Lord’s Day ministry was full of Christ, and the Gospel was ministered freshly and winsomely. It was precious to take the elements of the Supper with such warm, Gospel people. After the evening service we heard more about Kiki’s ministry in Fort William, and I was invited to share about the Huddersfield work.
A fishing trip with a family, coffee with a Pastor, Sunday lunch as well as midweek supper with a couple up the road - we met kindness wherever we went. Worship with the local Free Church and Church of Scotland Congregations were a highlight for us all. People made infinite allowances for this poor, noisy English family, and we left with a longing to return soon.