Sunday, 30 December 2007

Deep Impact

This year has been a year of tragedy for Joy and I, our family,within our circle of friends, and at Church, it seems almost everyone we know has been touched with some tragedy or multiple tragedies. Events have happened that have shook us to the foundations, and have made a deep impact upon us. At the start of the year I recall listening to one of the finest New Testament Scholars, D.A Carson speak about the Psalms (A recording from All Souls sometime ago), he said that congregations are divided over the Psalms, the older more experienced people relate to the Psalms, whilst the younger people who have known less pain cannot relate to them. I recall thinking, mmm, I don't understand the Psalms, I haven't felt their pain and anguish. That all changed though as three different events came and knocked us flat. I don't know why God allowed these events, or why God allows deep tragedy on a global scale. Yet I know that God is good even though the world is full of evil and suffering. These events have helped me to fall in love with the Psalms and with wisdom literature, but more importantly they have helped me to relate to other peoples sufferings, which is really important for someone going into ministry. Most of all they helped me realise that I don't bring anything of worth to God, that I am a needy pilgrim and he is God, I have realised afresh my dependence upon him for everything and I have fallen deeper in love with Jesus. So 2007 has been a year of pain but a year of blessing too.
May God Bless you in 2008!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Richard Dawkins and the Christmas Message

We had an email recently from Boarders saying that Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion' now comes with a free Atheist Christmas Card. Curiosity got the better of me,(as it often does), so I peaked inside the paperback edition. The Card simple said, "Come All Ye, Faithless" it seems to me that that is the gospel and the Christian message. Come all ye faithless, to the faithful God, who sent his beloved Son to die in our place. Come and believe and find forgiveness. I realise that isn't the intention of the Atheist Christmas card but is the intention of the God whom they deny,that the whosoever should come to Him and worship Him that includes Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins as well as you and I.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Deep Christmas: John 1: 9-12

It was the first time since the end of September that I got to sit in for the whole service at Church.(what with preaching engagements, Bible class, the youth event and conferences), so it was a real delight to hear our pastor, Jim Turrent preach on my favourite passage, John chapter 1. I have always loved John's gospel, as a young Christian I was told by a senior saint, that all young Christians prefer John until they move on, well I haven't moved on. In his introduction, Jim pointed out how strange it is that for most of the year parents tell their kids not to talk to strangers, except one stranger, with a weird sense of dress. They are placed on his lap and asked what they want for Christmas, they are then told that this stranger will come to their home whilst they are asleep. Jim reminded us that for most people Jesus is also a stranger, yet he is the creator, but when he stepped into humanity, he came to his own people and they received him not. Jim rightly picked up on John's linking Jesus with the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord. Yet Jesus didn't have a halo like on those old paintings, he looked like an ordinary first-century Jewish man, but to anyone with eyes to see he was all the glory of the Father, his words, his acts, his miracles, his death and resurrection all point this out. John chapter 1 is an appropriate Christmas passage for John's purpose is to link the coming of Christ with the death of Christ, Jim brought this out. Finally Jim urged those who still think of Jesus as a stranger to make him a friend this Christmas, for knowing Christ is the greatest gift not just for Christmas but for eternity.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Persecuted Church

It's very weird to think of the persecuted church in a western society, until perhaps two days ago. When a lone gunman shot two dead at a YWAM camp before driving 70 miles to a mega-church in Colorado Springs and caused three more deaths before being shot himself. I think that Brady Boyd the minister was right on the money when he suggested 'but didn't elaborate, that violence follows churches that preach the gospel.'
"Any New Testament church is under attack and duress. It's unique to us as westerners to think that when we come under attack there's something wrong with the church," which isn't true, he said. (Rocky Mountain News).

This event has stirred my compassion for the persecuted church, probably because I have been in their building and know a staff worker,but as Boyd points out these type of events are normal to Christianity and we should expect more. A lady from New Life Church, speaking out of her grief said, "What type of person would do that to a Church? What type of person would shoot, women and children?" People like Saul, before he became Paul! Do not be surprised that people hate you because of me, they hated me before you.

We shouldn't be shocked when these type events occur but we should pray and grieve with those who grieve. We should pray for New Life Church and YWAM in Colorado, we should also pray for the persecuted Church throughout the world, that God would be with them and also with us, trusting in God because we know that God will be glorified in all things!

May God Bless You!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Nicholas of Myra

I remember reading a while ago the story of Nicholas of Myra. Nicholas of Myra was known for his compassion to the needy and for his gentle spirit. Nicholas had the privilege of attending the Council of Nicaea. When he heard the heretic Arius proclaiming that there was a time that Christ was not, Nicholas was so outraged that he slapped Arius around the face. As Christians we shouldn't really endorse that type of behaviour, but nonetheless he was concerned with defending orthodox Christology. So Well done Santa! (for Nicholas became a Saint for his kindness to children and the needy and is now better known as Santa Claus). So Arius was a verynaughty boy because all he received from Santa Claus was a slap in the face!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Mark Driscoll A Questionable Hermeneutic

I really enjoyed Mark Driscoll this weekend, his preaching style is expository and his theology is a robust reformed Theology. However I would question his use of Jeremiah 29:4-6

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

Mark had earlier warned about taking a passage that was descriptive and making it prescriptive, here he failed to heed his own warning. In its context Jeremiah 29 is speaking about judgement to God's nation who had abandoned him and worshipped the God's of the nations therefore God sent them into exile. Driscoll's interpretation was that we are to buy houses in the city, to become stakeholders, to be witnesses. Driscoll emphasised that Paul went from city to city because Paul understood the way to win the culture was starting upstream where all the major players are. If we are going to change culture it will be through seeing captains of industry, lawyers and university professors becoming Christians, that is why we need to work in the city.
Whilst there is plenty of truth there, Jesus sends us to the highways and byways, the gospel is as much for the broken poor widow as for the media savvy city guy. To be fair to Driscoll his church reaches both types and he emphasised the need to reach cities because God loves people and cities have lots of people. Still the passage in Jeremiah is not about cultural evangelism but judgement.

To all my American friends and family may I take this time to wish you a happy Thanksgiving, although its not a holiday here my wife and I will be having friends over for a turkey dinner and a time of thanks giving to our God.
God Bless

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Man as the image bearer of God, Driscoll

Mark Driscoll is a complimentarian, that is he sees men and women as equal but different.Feminism is wrong to claim equality on the grounds of our being the same, we are different. He said that even though he reads for a living he is still stronger than German female athletes. We now live in a culture where fatherhood is discouraged, but God is a father and he calls men to be fathers in his own image. The biblical creation account has God speaking creation into existence, yet God gets down in the dirt to create man, mankind is the pinnacle of God's creation. The designation of woman as a suitable helper is not affirming an inferiority on woman's part, the same word is used of God describing him as a helper. Rather it affirms a lack, it is not good for man to be alone, this is the first thing ever to be declared not good. The man needs a woman who will help sort him out, a helper suggests the man needs help!!
Driscoll said the side was where woman was made from and that is her natural home, at the side of her husband.
On the fall Mark pointed out that Adam was at Eves side and yet he did nothing! We also do nothing, we say nothing when we should, we do not step up when we should, the great sin of man is that he does nothing. When the biblical view of man is someone who takes the lead, takes responsibility and loving protects his family.

I thank God for my wife who is a support to me, that we can laugh together. learn together, love each other and that we work together as a team. I am also thankful that she sorts out my rough edges with her gentle generous spirit.


Monday, 19 November 2007

Mark Driscoll and Reformed Baptists

I had the pleasure of speaking to Mark after he spoke on Saturday. We spoke about being reformed and baptist, yesterday Mark was speaking at Destiny Church, Edinburgh and told how his church had grown over 800 people in one month and is now meeting on 6 different campuses. He told us stories of people who had come to faith through the church that were absolutely astounding. Again it made me think of Stott's Contemporary Christian where Stott identified two major concerns, churches that open their bibles and pretend to be faithful but are not relevant. Secondly, churches that are trying to be relevant but do not open their bible and so are not faithful or relevant. I have spoken in a few reformed baptist churches in the UK to groups as small as a dozen, these churches are not reaching the culture and we need to. I don't agree with all of Mark's methods but he is seeking to be faithful and relevant and he is seeing thousands come to Christ in the most unchurched city in the States. Stott says the notion that the church is not growing in the west, therefore we should not expect church growth is 'fiddlesticks.' Lets seek to be relevant and faithful witnesses to Christ, lets be friends of the tax collectors and sinners, lets be like Jesus.
God Bless

Always Only Preach the Cross-Mark Driscoll

This last weekend I got to hear Mark Driscoll speak several times, the first occasion was at Destiny Church Edinburgh, where Driscoll broke all the rules of preaching, such as do not go overtime, do not have more than 3 points, stick to one text, because he preached for an hour and a half, and preached an 11-point sermon from the whole bible. His starting text was 1 Corinthians chapter 2:2, that Paul came preaching only the cross. He said that the commentators tell you that Paul was using hyperbole here, that of course he did not just preach the cross. He said this is wrong, Paul preached the cross and only the cross, because it is the Christ of the cross who alone that brings us life eternal and reconciliation.
Mark was concerned to show that substitution atonement is the Gospel, he said with passion that he cannot understand how trend setting youthful ‘heretics’ can argue that penal substitution isn’t biblical. He showed that the first instance of substitution began in the garden when our first parents substituted themselves for God. He then went to the cross, where the innocent God suffered at the hands of sinful men and died in our place. Mark pointed out that we killed God, God came to earth to die for our sin that is, our sin is the reason Jesus took up the cross. This is why Propitiation shows God’s love for us. Mark said those theologians that didn’t believe this are stupid, God hates sin and yet he took the price of sin upon himself and died for sinners. Mark argued against the distorted idea we get that God loves the sinner but hates the sin, he pointed out that the Psalms tell us that God hates sinners. "It was Gandhi who said God hates the sin but loves the sinner and he was on a whole different team.”
Mark lead us to consider imputation, that our righteousness is not our own it is Christ’s righteousness. He argued that our Sunday school teachers have Noah all wrong, it is a distorted gospel to say that Noah was good and God drowned all the bad people. The Bible says Noah found favour in God’s sight that is why he was righteous because of Grace, undeserved favour. You can see it was imputed righteousness because in Genesis 9:12 “he gets drunk and naked and if I did that I’d be out of a job.”
He also spoke about Chrestus victor, a favourite theory of atonement amongst Pentecostal Christian’s because Jesus defeats Satan and demons at the cross and that is a good thing!

Later he spoke about Jesus as a spirit filled man, that Pentecostals think the bible starts at Acts chapter 2 but Jesus was filled with the spirit. He then went on, we should all be charismatic, like Jesus who loved the lost and glorified God in his suffering. That is a good type of charismatic, if you wanna be charismatic sitting on thrones with a wife who looks like she lost a battle at a paint ball event, then that is a bad thing.
Mark reminded us that music does not mediate the way to God, nor does the pastor or preaching or even reading the Bible (all of these are good things) yet the only thing that can mediate between us and God is Christ himself, that is why the preacher must always only preach Christ and always only preach the cross!
I'll post some more over the next few days.
God Bless

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Radical Refomission on Ecclesiastes

I'm taking a short break from editing my essay on Proverbs and found a neat quote from Mark Driscoll in Radical Reformission on how to veiw transitions in culture and how to understand Ecclesiastes.

'Even a Cursory reading of Ecclesiastes shows that culture is a stationary bike that each generation climbs on in hopes of getting somewhere only to die and fall off so that the new young stud can take his turn peddling and, like a fool, make pronouncements about his progress.' P.161

I shall be at Menmakers in Edinburgh this weekend and Mark Driscoll is the main speaker.



Saturday, 10 November 2007

John Piper is justified and sanctified

Piper says, 'The sins that you fight when you fight for joy are a forgiven joylessness, when I wage war on my sins that God hates,I know that they are already defeated,covered, forgiven and I can get victory over them.' They are defeated but still we have to mortify them, our flesh is waging war against us. We are declared perfect, yet perfection still awaits us. We are saved, but we are being saved, and one day we shall be saved.

He goes on to say that we should not confuse justification with sanctification, this is the Roman Catholic error, an infused righteousness.

Does Piper hold that we are being sanctified? Yes, but he is arguing that justification is not the same thing. N. T Wright offers reformed people an interesting corrective, when we are justified by Christ it is not a legal fiction. We cannot say I am righteous if the process of being made righteous is not being show to a hurting world. Martin Lloyd Jones said of this in his Sermon on the Mount 'to say you have had an experience that doesn't draw you to delight in the law is nothing more than an experience it is not the New Birth.'
Yet we like the thief on the cross bring nothing to our salvation, it is by the righteousness of Christ that we are declared righteous. Our sanctification is to make us more and more like Jesus, but this will not be completed until the day we stand before God, then we will be just men made perfect. In the mean time shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? May God forbid!

I am looking forward to reading Piper's upcoming book on Wright. when I read Jesus confrontation with the Pharisees in the Gospels concerning their attitude to the law I cannot understand where the new perspective guys are coming from.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Wisdom From Above

Dr Jamie Grant's lectures on Wisdom literature are opening up the rest of the Scriptures. In the reading Estes shows that Job never had access to the information we are given in chapter 1. Jamie also pointed out as an example that Job 19:23-27, 'I know that my redeemer lives and that one day I shall see him in the flesh' is misused in preaching, for Job's statement of hope comes in the midst of great doubt. In the Psalms and in the wisdom literature doubt is often expressed, even exasperation and desperation at God. Yet when evangelicals preach on these texts they tend to make excuses for the attitude expressed as though it was a bad thing. Jamie argued that we need to be true to the thoughts within the text which will enable preachers to relate to the lives of those around them. For on any given Sunday people in the pews will be coming to Church with broken hearts. If we let the Scriptures speak as they do, it will relate to them in their situation. In our lives events come and seek to shatter us, yet we too like Job don't have access to what is occurring in the unseen world, the plan that God has for good and not for bad. Revelation finishes with a lovely picture where the redeemed are standing before God, and there God himself wipes away every tear, and at last there will be no more sickness, no more pain and no more death and we shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Keep on trusting

Sunday, 28 October 2007

BBC The Big Questions

This morning before Church I saw briefly part of the BBC One show The Big Questions.
The big question this morning was abortion, I didn't see the whole debate but the bit I did see was two ladies who had previously had abortions. Both of them had suffered extreme guilt as a result. This guilt was not placed upon them by society or the church but from within, it seems they are working to restore broken lives and are passionately anti abortion. I am not sure if they are now Christians or not, but they both understand the cost not only to themselves but to the babies they had aborted. The one lady spoke of her three children, one whom was alive the other she had killed. I felt their pain and was thankful they are dealing with it by helping others. Imagine my surprise then to hear a Church of England Bishop say, " I am not entirely against the abortion act, it is not murder, for it is only the destruction of potential life." To which the younger of the two women replied, "No it is the destruction of a life with potential." At that point I had to turn off because I could not hold back the tears. The Bishop should be leading the way on the protection of life from conception! Oh that the bishop would hear the hurt of these two ladies and repent. That God would save us from bishops who are deaf to pain, deaf to murder and deaf to God!


Saturday, 27 October 2007

Jonathan Edwards was bad

My fourth year thesis is going to be on Jonathan Edwards on sin. You might have observed that my good friend David Kirk and I completely disagree on the place of sin in the believers life. I was just reading Edwards and found this.

Again, that sin which is remaining in the hearts of the best of men on earth, makes it evident, that man's nature is corrupt, as he comes into the world. A remaining depravity of heart in the greatest of saints, may be argued from the sins of most of those who are set forth in Scripture as the most eminent instances and examples of virtue and piety: and is also manifest from this, that the Scriptures represents all God's children as standing in need of chastisement. (Heb.12: 6.7,8), "For whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom he recieveth... what son is he, whom the father chasteneth not? if ye are without chastisement ... then are ye bastards, and not sons." But this is directly and fully asserted in some places; as in Eccles.7:20: "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not." Which is as much to say, there is no man on earth, that is just, as to have attained to such a degree of righteousness,, as not to commit any sin. Yea, the Apostle speaks of all Christians as often sinning, or committing many sins; even in the primitive age of the Christian church, an age distinguished from all others by eminent attainments in holiness; (James 3:2) " In many things we all offend." And that there is pollution in the hearts of all, as the remainder of moral filth that was there antecedent to all attempts of means for purification.
Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin (New Haven and London: Yale),P. 137-8.
have a Blessed day, in Him

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Martin Luther was bad

We are drawing near to Reformation day or Halloween to all you pagans. As Protestants we owe a lot to the German Monk Martin Luther, who nailed his colours not to the mask but to the castle door in Wittenberg. Luther recognising that he stood condemned by the righteousness of God, hated God because he could never satisfy the laws demands. Until studying Romans he recognised that we could be righteous apart from the law. Luther said of the converted man that 'he is at one and the same time just and sinner.' Martin Luther recognised this of himself, that he was justified by the work of Christ. That Christ's death had atoned for his sin and at the same time he was a sinner. Luther also recognises in his Galatians lectures that a true Christian will show the fruit of the Spirit by doing, 'the works of the law'. Only a renewed man can do this, but a renewed man must also recognise he is still a sinner, although a justified one with the work of the Holy Spirit making him more like Jesus every day.
Martin Luther was bad and so are you.

Mark Driscoll

Dr Mike Bird J. K. told me recently that Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Seattle will be visiting Edinburgh on the 17th of November.I am now booked in to attend and am very excited! Mark is an interesting character he is the same age as me (36) and has been a pastor for a number of years. Mark was part of the emergent movement but found his peers didn't share his passion for doctrine. Mark has written two books thus far, Confessions of a Reformission Rev and Radical Reformission. Confessions is an amusing but wonderful testimony of his journey as a church planter who reached out to college age and older "adultence" (that is people that refuse to grow up). Mark quickly, and it seems painfully learnt that you have to feed people meat if you want them to grow in Christ. Mark has been attacked by emergent types for being a 5 point Calvinist fundy mentalist. He has also been attacked by 5 point Calvinists who agree with his soteriology but not his style or his relationship to culture. John Stott in his book I believe in Preaching and in his book The Contemporary Christian argued that we have to listen to both the Bible and culture if we are going to be faithful and relevant. I wonder what Stott would make of Mark? I am currently enjoying reading Radical Reformission at a couple of pages a time (its an easy read but I have college commitments).
Thinking of which... I better go.
Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Preachers and Theologians

Last week in our Ethics class Professor McGowan told us which Theologians had influenced him the most. This set me thinking to whom do I owe a debt theologically?
I have identified some people who I don't read much at all now but have helped me on the road to reformed theology.
Firstly, Martin Lloyd Jones with his clear and precise theological exegesis in his Ephesians series, I wonder if its a co-incidence that Ephesians is my favourite N.T letter. MLJ helped me understand election.
Secondly, John MacArthur helped me to discern that liberal pastors were just as bad as heretical ones, he made me realise Theology is important after all.
Thirdly Dr R.C Sproul, I love reading R.C Sproul, his books got me interested in Systematic Theology. Robert Reymond's a New Systematic Theology for the Church was easy to read because of reading Sproul.
Fourthly, John Piper helped me to understand and get (a fresh) Passion for God, that reformed theology is not dry as dust but it is wonderful because it points to the all glorious God. Along a similar line Wayne Grudem's introduction to Systematic Theology has been a big help in seeing a warmth to Systematics and I love the way Grudem ties it all up biblically, after all the greatest theologians are the prophets, apostles and our LORD himself.
There are many others who I love now but it is through the writings and preaching of the men above that I have grown to love the Puritans etc.

So who are the big Theological influences in your life?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

John Newton's epitaph

Yesterday a couple of us were discussing in the common room about how we in the church elevate offices and office bearers. We find this attitude when people in the congregation elevate either the minister, elders or deacons, this is one thing, it is even worse when they do it themselves. Contrast this with John Newton a man used of God in revival, and a big influence within the movement to end the slave trade. Yet Newton was always aware of what he was, a great sinner that God had saved by grace. His Epitaph states: "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy." It is important to me to always remember that although I enjoy the privilege of studying God's word here in HTC that I am a sinner saved by grace. As I wasn't brought up in a Christian home I can see the difference that grace is working within that I was a wretch and that it is only God's grace that will lead me home.

May God Bless You

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Is John Piper Bad?

Last week in my reply to my fellow HTC Student (and curry chomping buddy) David Kirk, I recommended that he read, John Murray's book 'Principles of Conduct' in support of John Piper's statement that "he is bad and so are you." Sadly Murray's book argues to the contrary which will teach me not to recommend a book I am only half way through. Murray in the chapter a New Dynamic argues with Paul that the Old Man has been put to death, not being put to death, but actually dead. Sin no longer has dominion over us. Although we do still sin, Augustine said it was now possible for the renewed man not to sin. Which is contrasted with the unregenerate man who always sins. So John Piper might not be bad after all when compared to the old nature and those around us. Yet when we consider ourselves next to God's full holiness, then we see every spot and wrinkle and we see that we are still sinners. 'We are not what we used to be, nor are we what we ought to be, one day we shall be before him and be as he is because we shall see him has he is.' (paraphrase of John Newton).
God Bless
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

John Piper is bad

One of my favourite youtube videos is the 'John Piper is bad' mix I didn't know there was a cover until today!

Word Alive April 7-11, Pwllheli 2008

John Piper

Just a plug for two of my favourite speakers, if you live in the UK and are free April 7th to the 11th then you should attend the New Word Alive in Pwllheli in Wales.

The three main speakers are John Piper from Bethlehem Baptist Church,

Don Carson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Terry Virgo from New Frontiers. I have had the privilege of hearing both John Piper and Don Carson in person and can wholeheartedly affirm that their messages will be life changing! I have not heard Terry Virgo but I am sure he'll be great too!

Terry Virgo

Back to the books

I have had a long summer without HTC, now the new term has begun in earnest so it is back to the books for me. I am taking Wisdom Lit with Dr Jamie Grant, Christian Ethics with our Principal, The Rev Professor Andrew McGowen and Dr Robert Shilaker , Guided Reading, looking at Hermeneutics in Homiletics supervised by Dr Mike F Bird Jedi Knight (as he likes to be called) and finally my dissertation on Edwards' doctrine on sin (or according to David Kirk better philosophy)supervised by Dr Robert Shilaker. I will update you on Dr Grant's class and hopefully come back at a later date with all that I have learnt throughout the semester.

As part of my honours year I am taking a 3rd year module with Dr Jamie Grant on Wisdom literature. We only started last week but I am really looking forward to this module!
Dr Grant led us through several quotes to help us understand what on earth Wisdom literature is in the first place. My Favourite was Derek Kidner 'what is implied is a single system, a universe, and what is invited is the study of it in a spirit of humility. How can we live well when all is not well in God's good but fallen world.' Wisdom was a genre belonging to the whole ANE but Israel took it and made it her own. The idea behind Wisdom literature is not the Torah but observations on life. Therefore Psalm 1 speaking of the righteous says, 'whatever they do prospers.' is not a contradiction with Psalm 73 Asaph's crisis of faith when he sees the wicked prosper (Dr Grant told us that this word in the Hebrew is Shalom, more than prosperity, they are able to sleep in peace). Asaph arrives at an answer for he understands the way of the wicked will ultimately lead to Sheol, although Wisdom literature doesn't always offer an answer, asking the questions it seems is the beginning of wisdom as well as fearing the Lord.

God Bless

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

blessed with daily spiritual blessings

What a privileged person I am, living in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland, attending a great church and now being back at Highland Theological College for my 4th year. There is a joy to being at HTC which comes from the deep sense of belonging to a worshipping community as well as the rigour of academic theology. There is an even greater blessing this time of year because we are just a couple of doors down from Castle Street Church of Scotland which hosts the Northern Convention A Christian preaching convention on our doorstep.
Today I intended to hear Dr Bruce Milne at 11.00 but at our chapel service we were blessed with the preaching of Noel Agnew from Northern Ireland. Noel preached passionately from Ephesians chapter 1, I wish I had taken notes because it was fantastic. He emphasised that Paul had been converted when he experienced his Jesus road block on the way to Damascus. This same Paul is often seen as dour and hard hearted, yet Paul is passionate about God and his glory. 3 times within the text Paul expresses his joy in God's glory, and delights in the grace of God. I left out of my sermon on Ephesians,Paul's failure to use punctuation but Noel spoke about it and used it to great effect to remind us of Paul's excitement about God's transforming power. I am thankful that I got to hear one of my favourite passages preached well, hopefully I will learn to preach such passages with the same gentle power and passion.

Dr Bruce Milne spoke from Hebrews and the sacrificial system which has been done away with since the coming of Christ. He spoke about the need to experience the Shalom of God. Bruce also preached at CBC on Sunday and having heard him twice I have noticed that his fire starts low but then glows as he flows (sorry about the poetry). He spoke about the Shalom of God which we have experienced through Christ and reminded us that we have been forgiven there is no place for guilt in Christ. Our sins have been forgiven we have the Shalom of God. He also reminded me of Edward Malcolm whose preaching first made me realise that Christ is a man forever on the throne of God. Bruce spoke with awe of manhood at the centre of Godhood, that at the resurrection manhood ascended to the throne of God and that a man's heart beats within the triune God.
After this I had the benefit of listening to Dr Jamie Grant speak about wisdom literature, I'll hopefully blog on that in the next couple of days.
Stephen <><

Friday, 7 September 2007

Blessed with every Spiritual Blessing

I was speaking last Sunday on the opening verses of Ephesians 1. As an occasional and developing preacher I felt it was time to move away from just expounding my favourite verses and start work on a series (on my favourite letter). So I have started a series that only I will hear as I shall take it on the road. Anyway here are my thoughts on the opening section:

Paul an Apostle by the will of God, to the saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace to you and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (ESV)

Joel Osteen's book Your Best life now is a best seller, it promises that you can have on earth your best life now. Whilst its easy to reject in your head sometimes its difficult to reject in your heart and when difficult comes we think God is treating us unfairly. We often qute Romans 8:28 and leave out 29 that all things work together for good to comform us to the image of God's son.
Paul knew that this isn't our best life now and he wrote from his prison cell to the little persecuted flock in Ephesus to encourage them.

Three A's Acceptance, Adoration and Adoption.


Paul writes as an apostle to those who are faithful yet Paul was once Saul and knew that through the will of God he had found compassion. Also he knew those who are faithful in Christ, have not always been and have are not always faithful. The key for both of them is Grace and Peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This grace costs us nothing but was bought at a great price, Jesus' suffering and death, it was the will of the Father and the Son for the Son to suffer on our behalf. He was the offended party and yet we have undeserved kindness from God, so we now have peace with God, we are reconciled.


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
. Because we are accepted we now have a relationship with God that allows us to see Him in all his glory. The word blessed is Eulugeo from which we get our word Eulogy, some NIV's have praise. Both ESV Blessed and NIV praise are getting at the meaning of the original, which means to ascribe worth and honour to something worthy. How fitting that Paul should use this word for God, who alone has all worth and all value, it is right to adore him for who he is before we adore him for what he has done for us and what he has given us. The cross is not the means of God's love, the cross does not compel God to love us, the cross is the means by which we can worship God, the cross is the fulfillment of God's love because it was planned before the fall, for the lamb shall have the reward of his sufferings. To ascribe worth to God for his good gifts to us might be idolatry, the first stop on the road to spiritual blessing is to dwell on the loving qualities of who God is.

We are blessed with every Spiritual blessings. MacArthur suggests that these blessings are Spiritual in their source they are from the Holy Spirit. However as Eph 1 1-14 is one sentence in the original and Paul uses 11 different ways of saying in Christ in this opening section these Spiritual blessings are for his Church and should be separated from material blessings. Paul unpacks them for us in the following verses, the first of these is adoption. We before the beginning of time were adopted into God's Family, election has nothing to do with us, God does not look down the tunnel of time before the foundation of the earth and see who is worthy of adoption. It cannot be, because none of us are worthy, none of us would decided for Christ. The idea of Adoption helps bring it out, Roman adoption wasn't of children but of worthy Adults who the wealthy family saw as someone worthy of their patronage, someone who was building a name for themselves, who would also bring honour onto the family. Yet we are are objects of mercy who should have known wrath have been adopted by the Lord of all things. We now have the right and authority to be called children of God. Because God has bought us to himself and decided to before the foundation of the world we can trust him when sad events come into our lives because God is working everything out for His glory and our good and that our best life is yet to come.

That's a synopsis <><

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

reformed and reforming

Russ from Reformed Renegade asked what is my opinion on The modernisation of the reformed Church. He has written several pieces on this very issue at his blog

A reformed Church is always reforming, I like that idea, that is why I argue that the baptist position is the more reformed of all the Protestant Churches, as the reformed position moved further from Rome it saw that Biblical baptism was adult baptism.
However I have noticed a sad trend with the modernisation of the Church, in that the thing to get modernised first is doctrine which either gets dumbed down or thrown out. Thankfully in recent times this seems to be changing and I am thankful that worship music is becoming doctrinally sound as well as modern. I recently bought a copy of Pierced for our Transgressions a modern defense of the doctrine of Penal Substitution, I was pleased but not entirely surprised to find Stuart Townend endorsing the book. Townend's worship music is exactly what contemporary worship should be, it is contemporary in that the music is modern. Yet it is also worship music ,there is no dumbing down In Christ Alone for example. This is just one of many fine examples from Townend. This song especially expresses everything that orthodox confessional Christianity should and in a style that is a pleasure to sing. In one of his articles Russ quotes from Prof Andrew McGowan's Always Reforming (which has a better cover in the States) and this is a good place to start (especially as A TB McGowan is the Principal of HTC and I could do with the brownie points) :-)
'Some have forgotten about Semper Reformanda in their progress towards a rigid confessionalism.' P.13 There is a tendency in some Reformed churches to stick to what is old merely for the sake of tradition so you walk through their doors and go through a time warp coming out in either the C17th, C18th, or C19th. Yet the truths of scripture are timeless and should be freshly applied to each new generation. Many seem to forget for example that when Charles Wesley wrote his hymns they were contemporary, thankfully many of them are also timeless but we can still express ourselves in C21st language. Last semester we had Angus Macrae from Dingwall Free Church speak at the morning chapel service. Angus read Psalm 67 including the superscription which says, To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A song. I was laughing to myself because he is a Free Church minister and they do not allow musical instruments in the Free Church and they only sing Psalms. Angus however was a breath of fresh air, he gave a tremendous sermon on the Psalm and he informed us he is working for change within the Free Church. Not to change doctrine but to bring the Church into the C21st.
Peter Adam was speaking at the Scottish Ministers Association last summer and he said of a church that he attended, where the music was loud. His first thought was, this is blasphemous, but then listening to the words he realised it wasn't he just didn't like it. To be a reforming church in this generation we need to take note of where we start from, the different musical tastes within the fellowship as well as age range. We should express our worship and our worship music in the language of the culture without leaving the world of the Bible behind.

All that said and done, I know in twenty years time when I am in my 50's I am going to struggle with contemporary music!

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

A velvet Jesus ?

A while ago I read A Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. In this book Bell argues for a new Christianity, he desires to repaint orthodoxy. He calls his book velvet Elvis because he used to have a velvet painting of Elvis. He loved this painting but argued if the artist were to appear on TV and say no-one else should ever paint again because his painting is the pinnicale of art that would be insane. He then insists this is what the church has done with orthodoxy. The emerging Church to which Bell belongs suggest that we have domesticated Jesus and thus orthodoxy which was "painted fresh" at the reformation needs painting new in this post modern generation. Bell insists this is should be done not in a superficial way, like fresh worship music but the whole concept of orthodoxy and the Church should be reconsidered. He argued that core doctrines are just unimportant like for instance the virgin birth. He asks if we lose the virgin birth what have we lost? He implies we lose nothing but we lose Jesus! We lose the biblical Jesus at any rate, Jesus who is both Lord of heaven, Son of God and the last Adam. Thus we lose redemption, the atoning work of God on our behalf. Then we lose heaven because there is no way back to heaven without the redeemer. Bell, and Mclaren argue against penal substitution and Mclaren doesn't believe the God of the Bible would send people to hell. What the emerging Church leaders are giving us is a hippy Jesus, a Jesus who loves, but is a watered down lifeless version of the radical Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of the emerging church is nothing more than a velvet Jesus, a Jesus who is unable to save, and has nothing to save us from. What they are seeking to do is make the message palatable, who wants to hear about sin and hell? Hell just isn't nice! Of course hell isn't nice, our sin isn't nice, that is why the gospel is offensive, that is why the gospel cuts to the heart, that is why the biblical Jesus is (in the words of C. S Lewis) not a Tame Jesus, he isn't safe but he is good. It is not the Church that has domesticated Jesus but the emerging church.
We should not write off every emerging church however, the idea of reaching out to adults who wish to remain in their teens is a good and necessary calling, however to abandon the faith to win them is suicide. A radical alternative to the emerging church is the new breed of reformed churches who don't just love doctrine but are passionate for the gospel and for mission. Amongst this new breed of reformers are Mark Driscoll who is often identified as emergent, yet is committed to the faith as entrusted to us by the Bible.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The worthship of Christ

As I mentioned on my former blog (before I accidentally erased it), that my favourite quote outside of scripture is Jonathan Edwards 'To sin against an infinite being deserves an infinite punishment.' I was talking to my good friend, fellow blogger and fellow Spurgeonite, Dan Paterson this morning about the holiness of God. If we understand something of the meaning of both the words infinite and holy we can understand the justice in an eternal hell for sinning against an infinite holy God.
The word worship derives from the word worthship, and Christian worship is ascribing to the triune God his true value, which is infinite. There is a modern chorus that says 'that's why we worship because he gave his everything.' That is incorrect we worship because he is worthy of worship because of who he is. Yet we can worship because on the cross Christ made a way for us who were not his people, a people who deserved an infinite punishment to recieve an infinite grace.

God Bless

Agreeing with Richard Dawkins

I have been away from the blog for a few weeks whilst we waited for our new broadband connection, now I am back let me begin again with earnest. You might wonder from the title of this post what has happened in these few weeks to take you from a passionate Christ centredness to agree with the world's number one Atheist writer. Well don't worry there are not many areas I agree with Dawkins but here is where I do. Dawkins argues against the idea of Christian children, just because someone has Christian parents doesn't mean they are Christian children. I think it was Michael Harper who wrote in the 70's God Has No Grandchildren. The Bible also agrees with Dawkins on this point, it is only when someone repents and becomes regenerate that they become a child of God. I wonder though, did Dawkins bring his own children up to think critically and examine these things to see if they are as he says? I know my own parents are agnostic about the things of God, when I was 15 I rejected their faith because I became a Christian. If God should bless Joy and I with children we hope to raise them to examine these things and we shall pray that God would awaken their minds to himself, that they might confess Christ as Lord. We shall not presume that they are Christian because they have Christian parents but they will have an advantage that they will sit under the sound of the gospel from an early age.
God Bless
ps, Spurgeon suggested in the C19th that the only reason hetrodox books sell at all is because orthodox Christian's buy them. I think the only reason Dawkins and co sell is because Christians buy it as I don't know any Atheists who have ever read Dawkins.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Together For The Gospel: Preaching the Cross

I have just read the TFTG's, Preaching the Cross, this book came out of their conference last year. I am familiar with most of the authors and contributors with the exception of C. J. Mahaney. Yet it was C.J's contribution that blew me away. What I do know about C.J. Mahaney is that he is a bible centred bald preacher, sounds good to me! :) He is a charismatic but is passionate about the word, he is also a Calvinist which probably means he is a mild charismatic.
Anyway, his chapter is called 'The Pastor's Priorities: Watch your Life and Doctrine'
He majors on life because doctrine is dealt with by the other contributors. The chapter has a feel of C. H Spurgeon's The ministers self watch, this is deliberate as Mahaney acknowledges Spurgeon's influence. He points out that many ministers of conservative evangelical churches do love doctrine and love to read, he tells the amusing story of a stampede as ministers rush to get their hands on free material. He argues that ministers (and Theology students, often watch their doctrine but are less likely to watch their life. C. J warns of the dangers of not watching our life at this point I was enjoying the chapter but started to ask the question, how do we watch our life?? Mahaney then went in to self deception, how we can deceive ourselves regarding our sin. He points out that as Calvinists we can acknowledge in general that we along with everyone else on the planet are utterly sinful and needs our sins forgiven in Christ. What is harder and embarrassing to us is our own personal sin. He meets up with elders/other pastors to confess his sins on a regular basis, they all hold each other accountable questioning one another. He acknowledges that this is difficult, that brothers who you hold to be wise and discerning, when they see something in you that you don't will suddenly become fools in your eyes as you try to deceive yourself. He also said to give your wife a gift ask her what three areas she would like to see you grow in, in your relationship with Christ because no-body knows your sinfulness better than her. When I finished reading this chapter I started to pray, saying I knew that I do sin in general but I didn't know what specifics. Very quickly several specifics came into my mind as the Lord laid them on me. I was then able to confess them to God and later to tell Joy my wife about them. This was a refreshing exercise and I would encourage everyone to watch their life!
God Bless
Stephen <><

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

live life to the full

I recently read John Pollock's biography of D L Moody, Pollock writes in such a way that you are transported to the time, and following the great evangelist around. It was interesting to read that John Kennedy the local Free Church Minister in Dingwall at the time was opposed to Moody. This was because Moody wasn't a Calvinist, well so what, Moody was a man who sought to serve Christ with an all consuming passion, he loved Jesus and he loved people and he wanted to live a life that was well lived for the glory of God. It is really easy to disagree with people's Theology and then dismiss the work that God is doing through them. There are some Theological debates worth fighting, at the moment the debate over Penal Substitution is a worth while debate, as those that are opposed to it are in danger of losing the gospel. There are other debates that are not such as dividing over the gifts, I am a secessionist by persuasion but that doesn't mean I need to bite the heads of people who believe in the Gospel, preach the word and believe in the gifts. We are called as Christians to share the good news of God, and we are also called to love another. Moody did both well and got slated by some areas of the church because of it. My Pastor frequently reminds people that Moody lived in such a way that when he was criticized he "kept sweet" and that is what we are to do, yes we can disagree and have theological discussion but don't close your eyes to the work of God when someone doesn't cross your Theological T's.
Keep sweet

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Testimony of a Defrosted Calvinist

Reformed Theology shares its heritage with the reformers and the puritans, it is vital Christianity. It should lead to orthopraxis as well as orthodoxy, right living as well as right doctrine. However a lot of older reformed congregations are stilted, having a tradition that you need to buy into. I found this when I was a young convert, I joined a reformed Church. I was saved and had a passion for Jesus and reaching the lost but I found as a working class guy I didn't fit in with the congregation. I started to conform, not to be transformed to become like Christ but to conform to the churches expectations. Thankfully the church moved buildings and changed. I didn't, I enjoyed the preaching but as I was into Theology I found I started to sit in judgement of everyone's Theology and to sit over the preaching. I had lost my passion for Jesus and was losing my passion for the lost, I had become a Pharisee. In spite of being converted from a non-Christian background, in spite of experiencing grace (unmerited favour), I was starting to count my own orthodoxy as the standard by which everything should be judged.
Praise God a few things happened to move me from my frozen chosen position:
Firstly the book Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper, made me realise that worship was more than singing songs to God. Rather it was having a changed life, a life lived for the glory of God.
Secondly we sang at church; "I'm coming back to the heart of worship" I enjoyed the song but I thought that's great Matt Redman has realised worship isn't just music, its all about Jesus. However it dawned on me that I had done the same thing with Theology, I had replaced Jesus with Theology. Theology is a great tool to learn about Jesus and can aid your relationship with him, like everything else we need to guard against it taking the place of Jesus. I was doing my Theology degree long distance at the time and I prayed that I would give it up and give up the books, it was after all about Jesus. The morning after I read in Acts 17 about Apollos who was a man mighty in the scriptures whom God used to win souls for him. I felt a strong sense that God was giving me back Theology, that I now understood it was all about Jesus. If your heart has grown cold to God, call out to him and he will change you, press the defrost button. John Flavel said, do not look for warm fire underneath cold ice, let God melt the ice and set the flame burning once again.
God Bless
Stephen <><

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Christ soaked Puritianism

I am rediscovering the Puritans. I have just started reading the works of John Flavel, when you think of the word Puritan do you think, dry as dust dour theology? Well that is the image but it is far from the reality. Hear John Flavel:
'What shall I say of Christ? the excelling glory of that object dazzles all apprehension, swallows up all expression.When we have borrowed metaphors from every creature that hath excellency or lovely property in it, till we have striped the whole of creation bare of all its ornaments, and clothed Christ with all that glory; when we have worn out our tongues, in ascribing praises to him, alas! We have done nothing,when all is done. '

Flavel reveals that even the best human ability has to offer in praise to Christ is unworthy to capture Christ's true worth.

I am also currently reading the autobiography of John Bunyan, called Grace Abounding to the chief of Sinners. In this Bunyan tells of his early life, how he lived with little regard for God until he came under conviction of sin. He then tells how he struggled to know that he had indeed found mercy from the hand of God. This is very different to today as we no longer talk about conviction of sin, repentance and obtaining mercy. Bonhoffer called this cheap grace, we have sold our birth right for a bowl of porridge. Evangelicals need to be clear on the worth of Christ and on the Gospel of Christ.

God Bless