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!