Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Anthem of the New Calvinists



A few months ago I was struck by the message of the Lost Son(s) from Luke chapter 15, so much so that I got to preach on it. Tim Keller (whose book 'The reason for God' was probably my favourite new book that I read in 2008)has recently published a book called the 'Prodigal God'. Keller rightly points out that prodigal means 'recklessly extravagant' and that is how our God is, He lavishes us with unmerited kindness, bringing sinners back to himself. Keller rightly contends that there are two lost sons which reflects two type of characters. The first younger son represents those who are out for adventure at the cost of others. The second type elder brother types stay at home and are moral but no nothing of the grace of the Father. Both are lost and both in need of redemption.


On page 15 Keller says, 'Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, button-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we'd like to think. Keller The Prodigal God p.15,16


A couple of months ago at an event called Souled Out I got to hear Jean Larroux, Jr. senior pastor of Lagniappe Presbyterian Church speak about his church plant in a community devastated by Katrina. Larroux pointed out that many churches have a sign as you leave the car park that says 'Your mission starts here' Larroux says this is one of hells lies. We have received God's free grace , unmerited and undeserved favour, and instead of pointing to people and saying 'sinner repent of your sins, we first need to stick our hands up and acknowledge that we are sinners, and broken and that God has saved us.' We all sin and as C H Spurgeon said 'Evangelism is just one beggar showing another where to get bread.'


One of the problems that modern evangelism faces is how to relate to broke people again, we are possibly frightened by them, and too often sit in judgement of them, we tend to forget the grace we have received. We need to love like Jesus with unconditional love, we need to remember God's grace.


Later in the prodigal God, Keller quotes one of his parishioners who seems to have knocked Keller over with her insight. 'She said that she had gone to church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message she was now hearing, that we can be accepted by God by sheer grace through the work of Christ regardless of anything we do or have done. She said, "that is a scary idea! Oh, it's good scary but still scary."I was intrigued. I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: If I was saved by my good works- then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace-at God's infinite cost-then there's nothing he cannot ask of me.' p.121
As we end this year let us look back on the favour of God, in the midst of both good and bad circumstances. Remembering that the only thing we have earned is judgement, yet we can call God Abba Father if we have received the grace offered through the death of his Son.
Happy New year
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A New Testament for the High School Musical generation

The Word of Promise Next Generation

When I first started listening to this I found it very annoying, but then I realised that it was actually in step with the historical bible translations of the reformation. I haven’t heard of any of the stars but if I was 12 or 13 I am sure my big heroes would be on this CD. The translation used by The Word of Promise is the International Children’s Bible. I have given these away before and will probably do so again in the future. However because of the audio dramatic style of the presentation I believe that the makers could have used a more accurate translation and not lost their audience. That said for the most part the translation is accurate and in some places the different wording was actually helpful. For example in Revelation 12: 4 most translations say that the Dragon was ready to devour the male child. The ICB translates this as eat, and I know that devour means eat but it was more effective in bringing that across.

The sound effects
The sound effects were on the whole good, although I couldn’t understand why after the gospels, when Jesus or an Old Testament prophet were quoted we had to hear two voices. This was especially weird when Paul was recounting the story of his Damascus road conversion throughout Acts. Also the post resurrected Jesus and Angels/demons sounded like the Daleks with an eerie echo, but how do you convey the voice of the risen Jesus when the actor is either a teen or barely out of his teens. However the general sounds of the market place, the crowds and especially the whipping of Jesus bought out the text in a good way especially as I was listening to it on my mp3 player. The dramatic effect of revelation with the sounds of thunder, trumpets and horses helped me feel horror, terror, and awe.
Narration
The narrator Sean Astin did a fantastic job, I preferred the letters where it was just Astin, but this probably reflects my age bracket because he is the same age as me.
Introductions
Max Lucado and his daughter Jenna did the introductions, these were probably written by Lucado, they were short but set each book in its historical context. They were both excited about the text and hopefully their enthusiasm will effect the target audience. These introductions presumed a conservative evangelical position (which is a good thing) and didn't fall into the trap of arguing over authorship (also a good thing).

Would I buy this?
Would I buy this, not for me, but I love reading and so I have little use for an audio bible. Especially one aimed at pre-teens, or teens. Yet I think it is probably the perfect gift for someone that age, who loves, High School Musical, Hannah Montana and is not a reader. The team behind this CD have done a great job in communicating the Bible in the language of their target audience.









Friday, 26 December 2008

why dont we call her blessed?

Having watched the trauma of a woman giving birth, it got me thinking about what Mary went through. As Joy was in labour she had a midwife constantly monitoring her, she had a safe cosy hosptial room. she had medicine at hand, and at one point seven health professionals in the room. Still I would never belittle the pain that she endured, I am in awe of her. Yet contrast that to what Mary had, Mary was probably in her early teens when she said yes to the message that Gabriel brought from the LORD. Through that she endured ridicule from her neighbours for being pregnant before she got married. The suffering that she went through in travelling during the final stage of pregnancy. Finally giving birth to the LORD Jesus in an area fit not for birth but for feeding cattle. She had no drugs, no health professionals, yet she endured it because God had called her to bare His Son. She was chosen, and highly favoured. When we evangelicals read the magnificat we rightly point out that Mary acknowledges that she is a sinner in need of a saviour but we have possibly overreacted to Roman Catholicism's Mary worship by ignoring her or despising her as though it was her fault that she has been made to much of. In the magnificat we have evidence that this young lady was a woman who loved her saviour, who knew her scriptures and was prepared to say yes to God even though it meant hardship. She even sounds like Piper in the magnificat (which means magnify)which begins with "my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. We must not worship her but we should admire her and seek to follow her example and commitment to God, even when it costs.
God Bless
Stephen

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

unto us a child is born







onto us a daughter is given! As Joy and I were contemplated our last Christmas as a couple before the baby was born. The baby decided to get in on the act and make an early appearance. Hannah Joy was born at 20.01 Christmas Eve. She was 7 pounds and one ounce, Joy and I value the prayers of our friends who prayed through our childlessness. We are now praying that Hannah would one day come to know the one who was born to take away the sins of the world.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, 21 December 2008

So bitter yet so sweet


I find it fascinating how the world around us loves Christmas and can enjoy Christmas carols about a baby in a manger. It is all so very safe, but as Mr Beaver says in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe "who said anything about safe of course he isn't safe but he's good." At the incarnation God comes in the flesh as a baby, yet he is still God and the purposes of God are fulfilled in the baby who came to redeem us. Graham Kendrick wrote a song that sums up the true significance of Christmas:



Since the day the angel came It seemed that everything had changed

The only certain thing Was the child that moved within

On the road that would not end Winding down to Bethlehem So far away from home

Just a blanket on the floor Of a vacant cattle-stall

But there the child was born She held him in her arms

And as she laid him down to sleep She wondered - will it always be So bitter and so sweet


And did she see there In the straw by his head a thorn

And did she smell myrrh

In the air on that starry night

And did she hear angels sing Not so far away

Till at last the sun rose blood-red In the morning sky T

hen the words of ancient seers Tumbled down the centuries ... A virgin shall conceive... God with us... Prince of Peace Man of Sorrows - strangest name

Oh Joseph there it comes again

So bitter yet so sweet


And as she watched him through the years

Her joy was mingled with her tears

And she'd feel it all again The glory, and the shame

And when the miracles began She wondered, who is this man

And where will this all end

'Til against a darkening sky

The son she loved was lifted high And with his dying breath She heard him say 'Father forgive'

And to the criminal beside "Today-with me in Paradise" So bitter yet so sweet

Graham Kendrick Copyright © 1994 Make Way Music, http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk/


Saturday, 13 December 2008

Free books to bloggers

A word of thanks to Jonathan Hunt over at Glosbaptist who pointed people on his blog to Thomas Nelson. Nelson give free books to bloggers for writing a 200 word review. I got my first "book" earlier this week, its actually a dramatised version of the bible on mp3. If you are interested in free books for writing reviews here is the link to Thomas Nelson. Does anyone know of any similar schemes for IVP, crossways, Baker books etc? As this could save me a small fortune!
Once again many thanks Jonathan!

God Bless
Stephen
I'll be back soon :-)

Friday, 21 November 2008

Biblical view of mankind

I have been reading David McKay's book 'The Bond of Love' which is a well written book on Covenant Theology. Two things struck me early on, On p.87 he points out that evolution has an optimistic view of man . What he means by this is that evolution doing away with sin believes that mankind will keep progressing to become more and more godlike. You actually see this in science fiction shows like Star Trek where mankind is much kinder and more noble than their ancestors. He goes on to say, 'However unpalatable Covenant Theology's view of man may be, it is the only true anthropology, since based on divine revelation.' It is biblical anthropology that points to man in the image of God (which the evolutionists have done away with) as well as man the sinner. It is this biblical understanding of our nature that is sooooo observable from outside of ourselves and from within that led me to believe in the veracity of the Bible. As Calvin says in his institutes a true knowledge of ourselves can only be found in knowing God. When we see ourselves as we truly are, we see our sin, and our need of a saviour.
McKay then goes on to quote Thomas Boston 'ye are apt to think light of the sin ye were born in, and the corruption cleaving to your nature; but to know that God does not think light of these. it behoved to be an article of the covenant, that Christ should be born holy, and retain the holiness of human nature in him to the end; else the unholy birth and corrupt nature we derived from Adam, would have staked us all down eternally under the curse.' p.88

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Is science God's undertaker? pt 3


Christianity doesn't kill scientific discovery or enquiring minds John Lennox reminded us, in fact it is the opposites, it was in the Christian west that science developed and this was no accident. C . S Lewis said "men became scientists when they came to believe in a law-giver." I recall hearing Vishal Manawaldi on the same subject a number of years ago, he pointed that in India men studied Hinduism and astrology and allowed nature to dominate their lives. In the west they studied the Bible which told them that God created the universe, therefore they studied astronomy and sought to use creation to their own advantages. Mangawaldi went on to say that is why Europeans set out to the sea, whilst his own people sat in the mud.


Lennox reminded us of Isaac Newton who didn't abandon the idea of God when he discovered gravity instead he delighted himself in the genius of the creator who was the designer of the mechanism not himself the mechanism.

Lennox went on to talk about the Genome project, the first director was an Atheist, the second and current director is Francis Collins, a Christian, this isn't about science versus religion its about worldviews and which worldview best fits the evidence.

The evidence is on the side of theism, for instance the rationality of the universe.

Alvin Plantinga argues that Dawkins believe in random chance does away with human rationality and so cuts off the three the branch that he is sat upon.

Dawkins argues that religion is violent, but is it fair to lump Islamic terrorists together with members of the women's institute (for example)? Lennox says we can play the same game and point to Hitler and Stalin. It is much better however to point to Jesus who turned the other cheek and gave his life the just for the unjust.

Shalom

Stephen

Palestine Christianity

Yesterday morning we attended a Tearcraft sale at the local Free church, whilst drinking tea I found myself sat next to a retired nurse called Joy. Joy had lived for several years in Nazareth working in a hospital working amongst and with Arabs there. I asked her if it was difficult working in a predominantly Muslim area, she said it was but what Western Evangelicals had forgotten was that Palestine was home to a large and ancient Christian community. These Christians suffer persecution from their Muslim neighbours, are shot at and killed by Israeli snipers and are ignored by the Christian churches in the west who think "Israel= good Palestine= bad." It was a golden opportunity because I was unaware of this and knew that I had to prepare Saturday afternoon for a short talk on the suffering church.
There is plently of material on the situation in Palestine for believers and I would encourage you to read it and to pray for Christians there.
God Bless
Stephen <><

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Is Science God's undertaker part 2

John Lennox told us that he challenged Dawkins last week with regard to God being an object open to scientific probing rather than a subject. He pointed out that the universe is complex but its designer must also be outside the universe and more complex. In the same way that the author of the God Delusion must be more complex than the book itself. We couldn't get to know Richard Dawkins by studying the book because Richard Dawkins exists outside of his creation, he is a real person with a personality separate to his writings. We could study any Ford car by taking it apart and understand its complexity but it would tell us nothing about the man Henry Ford except it might point to his genius. What we need then is not a minute study of the universe alone to tell us about God but God's own self-revelation, we find this in the scriptures and ultimately in Christ Jesus who is the image of the invisible God.
Lennox questioned Dawkins scholarship, he pointed out that in the God Delusion Dawkins says that in historical scholarship the belief in Jesus' historical existence is very much disputed. Dawkins then adds weight to this by quoting a German scholar, however Dawkins fails to tell us that it is a literary scholar and not a historical scholar that he quotes. Lennox says that Dawkins has a cavalier attitude to history and by not taking his opponents best arguments he shows a real lack of desire to prove his case. I myself this week have begun reading The beginnings of Christianity by Dr Michael Bird and James G. Crossley. Crossley is a historian and a passionate non-believer, he presents his best case for an alternative origin to Christianity to the one presented in the Gospels, yet Crossley presumes that Jesus was a real historical figure. Lennox points out that history according to Dawkins is not to be taken seriously.
part 3 coming soon.
Shalom
Stephen

Saturday, 1 November 2008

John Lennox, is science God's undertaker part 1



HTC is part of a collegiate system called UHI earlier this year UHI organised a series of public lectues on the relationship of science to theology. It started with Richard Dawkins, followed by HTC principal Professor Andrew McGowan and was completed this week by John Lennox. Sadly I was out of town when Dawkins gave his lecture but I know there were many Christians as well as Atheist there for that occasion. On Monday night from the questions that followed Professor Lennox's address I assume there were no or few view atheists in attendance this was a great pity as I would have loved to hear their questions.


John Lennox like Dawkins is an Oxford Professor, his area is maths and science so I expected it to be informative but dull. Yet Lennox is a very gifted communicator. He attended Oxford University in the time of C.S Lewis and attended many of his last apologetics lectures. Lennox has a real gift for apologetics and a passionate Christian faith. A Couple of weeks ago he and Professor Dawkins debated in the natural history museum and Dawkins referred to Lennox as 'a Oxford professor of maths and science, who also believes in the resurrection of Jesus." Lennox is guilty as charged is talk was why that is not only plausible but the most likely response in a universe that points to a intelligent creator.
He likened himself to Dawkins in several key areas:


1) They are both passionate about science

2) they are both interested in evidence

3)passionate abut truth

4)They both have a horror of religion that leads to war, and terrorism.


Lennox said the new atheism differs from the old Atheism not in its core philosophy but with regard to its relationship to religion. The old atheism was content to ignore it, the new atheism is seeking to destroy religion. He said in a post modern world the new atheism can be very attractive, some of its points are correct and it offers a worldview with some answers.

However it is misleading. Lennox pointed out that Dawkins' dedication in the God Delusion says "isn't it enough to believe that the garden is beautiful without believing in fairies?" Dawkins is very sly hear, it is not the question of fairies at the bottom of the garden but more how is there a garden instead of a wilderness. Doesn't the garden point to a owner and a gardener?

Dawkins believes that all faith is blind faith. yet the Christian gospel is the opposite to blind faith. john in his gospel argues that presents his evidence John 20: 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

More tomorrow God willing !

Shalom <><

Stephen

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The place of Theology in.. the local church

A few months ago professor Andrew McGowan gave a public lecture on the place of Theology in the university. He argued that theology even reformed evangelical theology had a place in the university and that in fact universities came into existence as training centres for the clergy. Theology is the queen of the sciences and philosophy is her handmaid. It was a well argued lecture that I am surprised I never blogged on.
However a few conversations over the years have caused me deep anxiety and the direction of much of evangelical Christianity at a grass roots level.
1. A friend of mine who is a very godly man was concerned that I thought I needed to study theology at all. if that wasn't bad enough he is also a gospel minister.
2. An undergraduate Theology student who has been accepted for the ministry within the church of Scotland said "I don't do theology."
3. An evangelical church a friend attends said "we don't do theology."
4. The manager of a good Christian book store told me that Christians don't buy good books and the church just isn't reading.
Now before I sound completely alarmist I do think that both my pastor friend and the undergrad do theology. I also realise that a dry theological student is open to the danger of being a hearer of the word rather than a doer of the word, we need to be confessional, mission centred, and completely God saturated. Paul told Timothy to study to find himself approved, the proper study of theology should lead us to be changed and drive us to our needs in adoring worship of the God we know about who is the God we also know.
Certainly the study of theology, systematic, biblical, practical needs to be at the heart of the shepherd's role so that he can feed the sheep. If the minister is going to guard the flock against wolves he needs to be sure of the truth he is proclaiming. God has given us minds to understand and hearts that are made to worship Him.
God Bless
Stephen <><

Friday, 3 October 2008

Goligher at the Northern Convention pt 3

At the Northern Convention last night I had the privilage of sitting next to William and Carine MacKenzie who founded and run Christian Focus, a reformed evangelical publishing house in the Highlands. They are an amazing couple and one of these days I shall have to write a blog about them.

Isaiah 49

The problem of sin

Goligher started with an illustration from an interview with Donald Trump. Trump had stated that the banks and bankers had made huge mistakes to cause the global credit crunch. He stopped himself at the end though and said that is the presenting problem the real problem is human greed. Goligher believes something similar is occurring in Isaiah the presenting problem is Assyria and then Babylon. Assyria would be checked and wasn't a real problem but Babylon would be a big problem and cause more trouble to the Jewish Psyche than the Holocaust because they would destroy the Temple. The real problem for Israel in Isaiah's day was not the Assyrians or the Babylonians the real problem was idolatry. Isaiah's writing offered a solution with its short, middle and long term prophecies ensuring that idolatry was never again a problem for the returning exiles.

A Political Messiah
In this section of Isaiah we are given a picture of the LORD's chosen one, the anointed one/messiah. All these terms are used of the political and pagan Cyrus who would come and deliver the people of Israel from exile in Babylon back to their home land of Israel.
However the underlying problem of sin meant that Israel needed a salvation bigger than the return from exile.
The Servant Speaks
In v.1 of Isaiah 49 the servant speaks and he speaks with authority sounding exactly like YHWH. 'Listen to my voice you people' even though he speaks with divine authority and is clearly divine he speaks with a human voice. ' The LORD called me from my mothers womb' giving him a name. This is the seed of eve, the promised redeemer, the child of the virgin from chapter 9. His name is Immanuel.
He is also a prophet he speaks with a ready sword, the word of God.
v.3 He is called Israel but he is called to save Israel, he is not cooperate Israel but the new Israel. Where national Israel fails he succeeds because he is righteous and obeys his call. in V.5 the servant gathers Israel back to God. V.6 however even this is to light a thing for someone as worthy as the servant so he is given the nations. V.7 points us to the cross for one deeply despised , one of the worlds outcasts vindication shall come. Kings will rise in your presence, princes will bow down to you. Even the cursed heaven and earth shall finally be jubilant and rejoice at the work of the servant.
Sadly the convention didn't follow its usual practise of both speakers giving a sermon on the final night so I never got to hear Martin Allan.
Shalom
Stephen

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Goligher Northern Convention pt 2

Last night Liam Goligher preached on Isaiah 44:6-11 and 45:20-25.
God
Liam pointed out that many in the wider evangelical scene believe that sincere people of other faiths might make it to heaven. We have all heard the phrase "saved according to the light they recieved. He pointed out that this isn't the biblical position God tells us in Isaiah there are no other gods. Goligher reminds us that Isaiah lived in a plural society because Israel since its inception had always worshipped gods alongside YHWH.
God reminds the people of Israel "who amongst the God's is like me" he challenges is to show them a god from the nations who can tell the future in advance.
God and his rivals
The gods of the nations are unlike the god of Israel because they are man made, therefore they are like man. They are not jealous and so there is a pantheon and when a nation conquered another nation it would add its gods to the pantheon, just in case. Goligher points out that as Isaiah moves away from talking about God to idols he moves from Poetry to prose, this is because idols are prosaic, there is nothing poetic about them. Those who delight in them become like them. Gollum from the Lord of the rings reflects this, he holds a ring as more precious than life itself and we are horrified to find that Gollum the pathetic creature was once a hobbit but now he is a mere shadow addicted and controlled by his "precious." As Keller says we can turn a good thing into an ultimate thing making it an idol.
God and his claim.
Isaiah 40:20
Turn to me and be saved. God offers to Israel and to the nations his open arms. Turn to me and be saved. There is a promise of hope that the nations will one day call upon the Lord as saviour.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Liam Goligher at the Northern Convention pt 1

Last Night I attended the Northern Convention, at Castle Street CoS church. The banner on the side of the church is 'All One in Christ' and is a fitting banner as Conservative Evangelicals of various denominations come to worship together. Liam Goligher is witty and passionate and very self effacing. He said that Isaiah contains many themes but as far as he can tell Isaiah doesn't suffer from multiply personality syndrome there is just one Isaiah.

Isaiah 40:1-11 and overview



God is gracious



1) chapters 1-5 judgement on corporate Israel's sin

2)because of individual Israelites like Isaiah himself and their individual sin. Goligher pointed out that the biggest sin was lack of trust in God alone. They seemed willing to trust in God and foreign allies. Isaiah shows that God will deal with Israel and with the nations.

Isaiah's prophecies are short range, medium range and long range. Liam suggested that short term prophecies gave the prophet credibility and gave the people hope. For example when they were sent into exile they had the hope that they would return. When they returned they had the hope that God would continue to be with them in spite of their sin.



God is coming/God has come

This was because in Isaiah 40 and following Isaiah begins to speak comfort to Israel. It is comfort to the rebels because there is promise of a redeemer. Liam reminded us that we shouldn't read Isaiah like BC Jewish Rabbis but as New Testament believers, we now know the promised comforter has come in Jesus. This is a gospel prophecy and we know its fulfillment. Nonetheless Isaiah's first readers found hope in the one who would take away their sins. Isaiah promises that the warfare is over, now it could refer to aggressive neighbours but the context suggests that it is the warfare between God and main.The penalty for our sin has been paid, we receive grace. The promise is that YHWH's messenger is preparing the road for someone the capitalised LORD tells us that the one who is coming is none other than YHWH himself. Jesus referring to Isaiah's experience in the temple said "Isaiah has seen MY glory" Isaiah predicts the day when every tribe and tongue will see the glory of Jesus. We have seen it, but a day is coming when every knee shall bow in either joy or terror at the glory of the LORD.


God is reliable

All flesh is grass the prophet tells us, grass is inconsequential, grass withers, the flowers fade but the word of the LORD remains forever. Nothing man can do can thwart the plans of God.


God is Saviour

Finally this is Good NEWS. God is a saviour the prophet is called in v.9 the herald of good news. Jesus was politically incorrect when he spoke to the Samaritan woman and told her 'salvation is of the Jews' yet it is true, this is why Israel had to return from exile because the Messiah was to be born there and salvation to reach to the ends of the earth. This God is a terror to his enemies but he is a reconciling God and we like Isaiah are called to be Gospel people to herald the good news in our own day.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The Northern Convention


Here in the Highlands we are blessed with a Christian convention every year called 'The Northern Convention'. The meetings are held in Castle Street, church of Scotland, literally a stones throw from HTC in Dingwall. I am pleased that the main speaker for a second year in a row is a reformed baptist. Last year it was Bruce Milne, this year it is Dr Liam Goligher, pastor and author and HTC D.Min graduate.

The other main speaker is Martin Allen, a leading reformed Scottish theologian and former CoS minister. I hope to attend most evenings and hope to keep you posted.
Shalom
Stephen

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Bird man cometh



Michael F. Bird, (or the boy phd) is a prolific writer, a very energetic lecturer at HTC as well as a vibrant itinerant preacher and a family man. Last week I read his introduction to Paul 'A Bird's Eye view of Paul', The man, his mission, and his message. In some respects this book is doomed to failure as Mike tries to cover Paul in 171 pages. Yet Mike packs a lot in there, although I would have liked him to develop some of his arguments. For example he rejects the idea of post-conversion Paul being the I of Roman 7's and as this book is an introduction he only explains why on half a page. Dr Bird is a very smart evangelical scholar and interacts with his peers throughout this book. I like that he doesn't always opt for the standard evangelical scholarly option for example many modern evangelical scholars argue that Paul wasn't converted on the Damascus road but was called. Dr Bird takes a mediate position rightly pointing out that Paul was both called and converted. He writes, 'We might remember that Paul's gut-wrenching and decisive transformation meant he was indeed swung around 180 degrees.' (p.35) He goes on to say that he wasn't converted from Judaism to Christianity but from Pharisaic to Messianic Judaism. Whilst I agree with this comment as the rest of the book acknowledges Paul was the apostle to the gentiles and helped transform the early Jesus movement from a sect within Judaism to a gentile/Jewish body. For Paul experienced on the Damascus road the fulfillment of the Jewish hope, as he met the risen LORD, his expectations concerning the resurrection of the righteous were changes, he now knew the escaton had entered into time.

I was pleased to see his personality within the pages of this book for example his passion for the New Testament is felt on every page and I can see him in class trying to contain his energy as he expounds his material trying to enthuse his students. Although Mike's wife Naomi probably rolls her eyes at Mike's unique story telling ability tt was good to see many familiar friends that I have met during my time at HTC. For example, Mike's inventive use of the Skywalker family, father and son as a means of understanding Romans 5. As well as the fictional story of Carlos Hernandez, the Peruvian peasant who was wrongly convicted and sent to the electric chair whose story Mike completes with a very witty hymn which ends with 'Now I know that God does care, 'cause he sent Carlos Hernandez to the electric chair.' (p.163)

I didn't expect to agree with everything in the book but I actually agreed with more than I imagined I would. Mike is a thought provoking thinker and Ialso got more out of this book than I expected. As it is primarily written for first and second year undergraduates and doesn't presume on them knowing too much about Paul. It is well written with a conversational style that is easy to follow. On the whole Mike succeeds in communicating to his target audience, I did wonder on one or two occasions if more explanation was needed especially when talking about Greek grammar. I very much enjoyed this book and 'I shall watch his career with great interest.' Thanks for a great read Dr Bird!

Shalom
Stephen

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The nature of God

I heard one of Tony Campolo's stories recently, Campolo was in the city and he couldn't sleep it was 3'o clock. He gave in got up and went out and found a coffee shop that was open. Whilst he was sitting there the place filled up with hookers who had just finished "work". Campolo heard one of them say "its my 25th birthday tomorrow", the other girls teased her, what do you want a cake or something. She replied she didn't expect anything she had never had a cake or a party she just realised it was going to be her birthday. Campolo was touched by this young girls story, never had a cake or a party. After they left, Campolo asked if they came in every night. the owner replied yes, so Campolo went to work. He organised a cake and streamers and he even got the other girls involved. Shortly after 3 the following night the hookers were back, and the girl was so shocked. She didn't want to cut the cake, in fact she asked if she could take it home for the 24 hours because she was so pleased. After they left the owner of the coffee shop asked Campolo why he would do all that and he said, well I am a minister and I thought it would be nice. What kind of church are you from, the guy replied with disbelieve. Campolo replied: 'The kind of church that believes in a God who throws parties for hookers'.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Make Me A Christian

Channel 4 have an interesting 3 part series at the moment, it's called 'Make Me A Christian.' There are several people who have one thing in common, they are not Christians and are living lives that are opposed to some core aspects of Christian morality. Including a lap dancing witch, a lesbian an Atheist, a white Muslim and several others. They have been given mentors from 4 different wings of the Christian church to help them on their journey to the Christian faith. Channel 4 are not exactly known for being sympathetic to the Christian faith. Yet the commentary and the volunteers were all fairly open with the exception of the militant atheist, who did have a lot of valid questions that remained unanswered. Although I found the show interesting there was a couple of problems at the core of the show. Firstly the four representatives from the church have serious differences about what exactly is a Christian. The second one and for me the most serious flaw was the whole show (including the two evangelicals) seemed to be concerned with reforming the morals of the volunteers, Christianising them. This made the Christians appear judgemental and Christianity appear like a law based religion. For example the Rev George Hargreaves, A Pentecostal went round a young ladies house and cleared away all her witchcraft paraphernalia and told her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend. I agree both of these are wrong from a Christian point of view but she wasn't a Christian. Saul of Tarsus wasn't a believer when he met the LORD Jesus on the road to Damascus. Yet Jesus didn't tell him to clean up his life, Saul was converted and his life got changed completely he was transformed before he reformed. Gerard Gilbert picks up on this in article in the Independent newspaper 'And then there was all the confiscation of personal effects that the mentors considered obscene, such as the kinky personal photographs and soft-core lesbian erotica belonging to Laura, a schoolteacher. The process seemed dictated by the need for conflict, or at least action, but it pointed up a fundamental flaw in Make Me a Christian. This was Christianity as a code of behaviour. But do you become a Christian because you act like one, or do you act like one because you believe in a living Christ? Any theological issues were always going to struggle for airtime in a series tied to this format, a series that doesn't know whether it is being Kim and Aggie for the soul, a Gillian McKeith for moral flab, or just a novel twist on Ladette to Lady.'

I realise the program was edited and we didn't get to see if the gospel was shared and I am still thankful to channel 4 for making this show. Hopefully it will lead to some fruitful conversations about what exactly is a Christian.
God Bless
Stephen

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Prodigal Son- Africa Bible Commentary


One thing Dr Mike Bird encouraged us to do during our New Testament Classes was to read books from different times and different cultures. I now always try to read from a different perspective when I can, because of this I enjoy reading the one volume Africa Bible Commentary as it gives a totally different perspective. Last week in preparation for my prodigal sons sermon I read this:

'The image people are left with at the end of this parable is an image of the waiting, running, embracing and partying One.' p:1236

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Parable of The Prodigal Son

I shall be preaching at Culloden Baptist Church this Sunday, in preparation I have been studying Luke chapter 15. In Luke chapter 15 Jesus is having another run in with the Pharisees over the "tax collectors and sinners" who are responding to Jesus message. He then tells three parables, the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and then the parable traditionally called the Prodigal Son. However there is much more going on in this parable, someone has suggested that it should be called the parable of the compassionate Father. That is a better title than the traditional one, the Father is the central character. However the parable finishes with a twist the "prodigal son" is in the banquet dressed in his fathers robes and receiving good things. While the elder son refuses to acknowledge either his father or his brother whom he refers to as "this son of yours." The parable ends with the younger sin definitely in the father's family and the elder brother is out it ends with a cliff hanger, will the elder son go in or stay out. Joel Green suggests concerning the pharisees that at the time Jesus was speaking to them the jury was still out on whether they would come in or not. Elsewhere he suggests by not acknowledging the out castes who have come in, they place themselves out of God's grace. I would therefore suggest the title is better as the parable of the prodigal sons or the parable of the disobedient sons. I believe we should all be like the younger brother who acknowledges where he stood with the Father, knowing his sins and his need of forgiveness. If we have been believers for a while we can find ourselves like the older brother, thinking that we are earning our way into the kingdom and looking down on anyone else. May we continue to see that we are sinners saved by God's extraordinary grace.


God Bless


Stephen

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Majesty and Humility of Jesus- from the pen of Jonathan Edwards


Rather than read The Shack, with its over familiarity with the Godhead we should immerse ourselves in people like Jonathan Edwards who truly grasped the infinite majesty of God. This is from a letter that Edwards wrote to lady Pepperell following the death of her son:


Infinite Wisdom also has contrived that we should behold the glory of the Deity, in the face of Jesus Christ, to the greatest advantage, in such a manner as should be best adapted to the capacity of poor and feeble man; in such a manner, too, as is best fitted to engage our attention, and allure our hearts, as well as to inspire us with the most perfect complacency and delight. For Christ having, by his incarnation, come down from his infinite exaltation above us, has become one of our kinsmen and brothers. And his glory shining upon us through his human nature, the manifestation is wonderfully adapted to the strengths of the human vision; so that, though it appears in all its effulgence, it is yet attempered to our sight. He is indeed possessed of infinite majesty, to inspire us with reverence and adoration; yet that majesty need not terrify us, for we behold it blended with humility, meekness, and sweet condescension. We may feel the most profound reverence and self-abasement, and yet our hearts be drawn forth sweetly and powerfully into an intimacy the most free, confidential, and delightful. The dread, so naturally inspired by his greatness, is dispelled by the contemplation of his gentleness and humility; while the familiarity, which might otherwise arise from the view of the loveliness of his character merely, is ever prevented by the consciousness of his infinite majesty and glory; and the sight of all his perfections united fills us with sweet surprise and humble confidence, with reverential love and delightful adoration.

The God who answers prayer

A little bird might have already told you but my wife and I have been trying for a baby for four years. Last year we had a miscarriage which was one of several hard events that came our way last year. In April this year I was out on a walk and prayed that God would take away the desire for a child as it was hurting me too much. I walked a few paces and the desire to pray for a child came stronger. About a week later I prayed again and felt a strong sense of peace that God had heard my prayer and it was going to be answered. I even got to tell a college friend whilst we were out for coffee that I knew God was going to give Joy and I a baby. About two weeks later Joy took a pregnancy test and it was positive. The pregnancy is going well, and we are excited that we are going to be parents.
God answers prayer!
Stephen

CT on The Shack

I've just read a worrying article published by CT on the novel called The Shack. Cindy Crosby reviewing The Shack describes it as one of the best Christian novels of recent times. Yet she points out that in its pages we will meet with God as we never imagined. God The Father it says appears as an African woman with a edgy sense of humour, the Holy Spirit as an Asian man and Jesus as a Middle Eastern Labourer. Crosby asks, heresy? and answers no! I would answer that it sounds like heresy because it is! If we imagine God in anyway other than He has revealed himself in his word we have built an idol. God is invisible, majestic, transcendent. Yet God humbled himself and became a man in the person of His Son and died in our place. If we want to encounter God we must not use our imagination we must turn to His word to see Him as He truly is. Mediating upon his word , and praying to Him to reveal Himself to us.
Then we will meet with God who is beyond our wildest imagination!
Shalom
Stephen

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Packer and Anglicanism


When I first got into Reformed Theology I was fairly immature spiritually and found myself siding with Martyn Lloyd Jones over J.I.Packer and John Stott in a debate that happened before I was born. MLJ wanted Anglicans to come out of their mixed denomination and work alongside their evangelical brothers and sisters in the independent church. Stott and Packer both insisted on remaining with their denomination to change it. I have since grown to appreciate J.I Packer and John Stott and do believe that God calls people to work in the Anglican church. This month Evangelical Nows published an interview with Packer about his battle within the Canadian Anglican communion. Packer is fighting a battle with the liberals and has been for sometime. I admire his fight for a tradition that he obviously loves and feels very much as home. I noticed though that he called the Anglican Church, The English version of the reformed faith. I believe Packer is wrong on several counts. The 39 articles although reformed are fairly broad and reflect something of Elizabeth the 1st 'middle way' for the church of England. The CofE has always been a mixed bag, The Westminster Confession of Faith was written during the height of the Puritan era and was intended as a corrective to the 39 articles, this was a truly reformed confession and was written in England (with help from several Scot's including Samuel Rutherford), by Independents, Presbyterians with some Anglican influence. The WCF was never accepted by the Anglican Church because of the via media but its influence is still felt within England through the Savoy Confession and the Baptist Confession of 1689. It is Purtianism and its heirs in the Independent churches that better reflect the English reformed tradition. I am thankful that there are Reformed ministers in the CoE but the CoE, if it is a reflection of English reformed faith it is only one reflection and not THE expression of it.

Shalom
Stephen

Friday, 27 June 2008

Being Blond


I have two friends, both young but serious Christians who just happen to be blond. Now I would never make racist or sexist comments but as I was blond before my hair departed I feel I can make blond comments especially when they are true.

Rhona saw Buffalo Wings in a Pizza place and asked "Do Buffalo really have wings"

Both Annie and Rhona did some church history and said on separate occasions. Oh, I know who John Knox is, "he is really old now isn't he?" (I know Rhona mean't John Stott but I have no idea what Annie was thinking).
They have both become legends at HTC!

The Dance of Love

Timothy Keller like Piper is influenced by Edwards this really shows in his chapter The Dance of Love. Keller begins by pointing out that if there is no God, love is nothing more than a biochemical accident, it lacks meaning. He then goes on to show that we can only understand 'God is love' through Christian Trinitarianism.
'But if there is a God? Does love fare any better? It depends on who you think God is. If God is unipersonal, then until God created other beings there was no love, since love is something that one person has for another. This means that a unipersonal God was power,sovereignty, and greatness from all eternity, but not love. Love then is not the essence of God, nor is it at the heart of the universe. Power is primary.
However, if God is triune, then loving relationships in community are "the great fountain...at the centre of reality." When people say, "God is love," I think they mean that love is extremely important, or that God really wants us to love. But in the Christian conception, God really has love at his essence. if he was only one person he couldn't have been loving for all eternity. If he was only the impersonal all-soul of Eastern thought, he couldn't have been loving, for love is something persons do.' Keller, p.216
philos
Stephen

Costly Grace



I finished Tim Keller's 'The Reason for God' earlier this week, I am really pleased I have American family because the book isn't released yet in the UK (so thanks to my brother-in-law Tim for getting me this).

There are several great quotes in this book:

on Grace:
'Some years ago I met with a woman who began coming to church at Redeemer. She said that she had gone to church growing up and never before heard a distinction drawn between the gospel and religion. she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message was scary. I asked her why and she replied:

if I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with "rights"- I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace-then there's nothing he cannot ask of me.' Keller p.182-3
This reminds me of a story I heard on Christian radio in the States a few years ago. Abraham Lincoln as a young man was at a slave market. a Young black woman was for sale, Lincoln was already opposed to slavery but he started bidding. Lincoln out bid all the other bidders and so I bought the young woman. He told her that she was now free to go wherever she wanted and she replied "then I will go with you". I am not sure if that story is true but how like the gospel, we were slaves in debt to God and God paid out price for us. We have our freedom and we cannot replay our debt to God but our response to grace should be one of wonderful obedience to such amazing grace.
in His grip and in His grace
Stephen

Friday, 20 June 2008

Got the t'shirt, now I've read the book

I recently noticed through a Christianity Today article that Collin Hansen has extended his article Young, Restless and Reformed into a book. The book isn't going to change any ones opinion about the growth of Calvinism amongst young American Christians it does make interesting reading. Its interesting that this is happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Driscoll describes the New Calvinists as different to the old ones in that we like people. Hansen talks to all the big players such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, C. J Mahaney but Hansen also talks to people who sit under their ministries. This book is well written and was a joy to read. I hope someone writes something similar on the growth of Calvinism in Britain.

Shalom
Stephen

Cultural Diversity and the Book of Acts

Following on from my previous post I just want to show a biblical case for cultural diversity from the book of Acts. Prior to the New Testament Age, God revealed Himself almost exclusively to the people of Israel. There are exceptions such as Melchizedek who worshipped El Elyon, God most High, and Jethro priest of Midian who worshipped YHWH, the name that was revealed to Moses at the burning bush. There are also examples of Gentiles being brought into Jewishness such as Ruth and Naaman, yet the exceptions prove the rule, to be in God's kingdom you needed to be Jewish. Even during Jesus earthly ministry the church is confined to Israel, yet as Jesus is set to return to heaven he commands the disciples to go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Acts chapter 2 On the day of Pentecost, the eschaton (the last days) arrives and the Gospel is preached to the gathered diaspora. All these Jews from different cultures hear God's word in their own language (they experience a hearing miracle), Babel is reversed. While Peter and the others spoke all these Jews from around the Roman world hear in their own language. The God of Israel accommodates Himself to speak in other languages, the exclusivity of Israel is gone and is replaced with the exclusive message of Jesus, the only name given under heaven by which we can be saved. This continues, Stephen and Philip are appointed as deacons to serve the Hellenistic Jews. Although they are Jews, they are from the nations and therefore have a different culture to the Judean Jews. As the Gospel spreads throughout the book of Acts, we find Samaritans are accepted without having to become Jews. Later Cornelius is converted and experiences something similar to what Peter and the others experienced at Pentecost. Peter realises that the church just went global in spite of his initial resistance. The Ethiopian eunuch experiences conversion when Philip witnesses to him through the book of Isaiah. The eunuch has only the Torah and the gospel message, and baptism to go on. Yet Philip leaves him because the Eunuch has the gospel, according to legend he went back to Ethiopia and planted the church, an essentially Ethiopian church not a Jewish church. Paul in every city he goes to goes to the synagogue but then turns his attention to the gentiles (nations), in each culture the message is the same yet Paul uses local language and poets to speak to them (Acts 17).
At the start of Acts we find a new Church in Israel with a very Jewish understand, by the time we come to the end of Acts we find Paul in Rome, the gospel having spread throughout the Roman World and ready to be taken further. Thankful the message stays the same but the context we do mission or church in varies from culture to culture and from age to age.
God Bless
Stephen

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Every Tribe and Tongue


Something I think about often is the multicultural, multinational dimensions of the church. One of the sad things about British missionary efforts in the days of the empire was we exported a very British Christianity. Its quite interesting from a British perspective hearing American preachers do the same thing, mixing Biblical Christianity with C21st Americanism. I am sure we Brit's still do that too. I think its one of the strengths of Biblical Christianity that it can cross cultures and transform them without making become, British, or American or Jewish.

These same thoughts are picked up by Tim Keller in his book 'The Reason for God'.

'Why had Christianity, more than any other major religion of the world, been able to infiltrate so many radically different cultures? There is, of course, a core of teachings (the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's prayer, The Ten Commandments) to which all forms of Christianity are committed. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of freedom in how these absolutes are expressed and take form within a particular culture. For example the Bible directs Christians to unite in acts of musical praise, but it doesn't prescribe the meter, rhythm, level of emotional expressiveness, or instrumentation- all this is left to be culturally expressed in a variety of ways.' p.44


Keller goes on to quote historian Andrew Walls "There is no "Christian Culture" the way there is an "Islamic Culture" which you can recognise from Pakistan to Tunisia to Morocco."

I think its wonderful that we do not have that uniformity of the cults, like Mormons who look the same the world over, or J. W's who you can spot from miles away. Our God has made us to worship Him with such freedom of expression, the truth is the same but it is filtered through our individuality and our cultures , all ethnic groups and every culture, can all worship in their own way to the glory of God. God delights in our diversity and so should we.

Shalom

Stephen

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The Reconciling God

I have been looking at 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21 over the last few days ready for a sermon on Sunday. There are some fantastic portions to this little passage:
1) That it is Christ love that compels (or constrains us), this is the cross, experienced in our own conversion, making us aware of who we were and what it cost to make us new creations.
2) Salvation is all of God. It was God who through the death of His Son reconciles us to the world. I think this passage puts Steve Chalke out of business. The cross isn't cosmic child abuse, or Jesus dying to appease his reluctant Father. The cross is God actively loving the world and reconciling it to himself through the death of his beloved Son in whom He delights in. I always think of Stuart Townend's hymn 'How Deep the Father's love for us' it captures the other aspect of the cross, that the Father turned his face away from the Son, such agony as the perfect eternal fellowship between the Godhead was broken.
3) An Entrusted Message. The message of reconciliation is how Paul terms the gospel in this passage and what a wonderful description of the gospel. It is clear that it is not our gospel but God's. Yet God uses us as ambassadors of Christ, making His appeal through us. What is that appeal "be reconciled to God."
In this passage it is clear that Paul remembers what he was before his conversion, that he was once the chief of sinners, relying on his own righteous deeds and looking with contempt at others especially the crucified Christ. This drove Paul and it should drive us, we were once lost, dead and blind but if we are in Christ we are a new creation. The Old has gone we are now found, alive and seeing. May we remember God's mercy to us and be gracious to those who are lost and in need of Him. So that we can share in this vital ministry of reconciliation.
Shalom
Stephen

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Important Lessons

I am on the verge of completing my time at HTC, in fact I have sat my last exam and have no more papers due. I have learnt a lot from the classes, the lecturers, and the other students. I was reflecting on these things and realise they have shaped me and will shape my future ministry. Something else that the LORD has used in making me the type of Christian I am are two important things. The first church I ever attended was orthodoxy theologically, yet failed to communicate the love of Jesus to me a young convert with no Christian friends. The next church I attended was very friendly and I settled down there, I soon learnt from reading my Bible that there were some serious theological flaws at this church. I stayed there for three years before moving on again. I hope to have learnt lessons from both, my deep desire is to shape a church with sound biblical teaching and to ensure that the people are loving and welcoming as Jesus is. So that the whosoever of JOHN 3:16 can come to believe and have eternal life.
God Bless
Stephen

Monday, 26 May 2008

John Thornton, the forgotten evangelical

I have just finishing reading Jonathan Aiken's biography on John Newton 'From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.' This is the 3rd Newton biography I have read and my favourite so far. I like John Newton, although he was described as a moderate Calvinist he saw himself as more of a Calvinist than anyone else. He didn't push it but it affected everything he preached. Although an Anglican he could be found with the Independents, and Baptists because he realised that God was at work amongst them.



I have also read several books over the years on the Clapham Sect, esp William Wilberforce. Between you and me I think I enjoy this period of history even more than I do the Puritans. One name that crops up often in these works is John Thornton, a wealthy man who used his resources for the glory of God. Aiken says that he would purchase church vacancies and fill them with evangelical clergymen, some of these churches are still conservative evangelical to this day. Although he was an Anglican he also funded an Independent Bible College. He funded mission work in India, and New South Wales (this is where the Jensen brothers minister and serve Christ, defending the authority of the word of God). Thornton also funded colleges and schools in the States. Thornton was related to William Wilberforce and a friend of John Newton and because of this he was one of the instruments God used to end slavery. Although he may be somewhat forgotten in contemporary Britain the effects of his giving  are still  felt and he is not forgotten in heaven. His earthly resources he used for the glory of God  and now he is enjoying his heavenly treasure.


God Bless


Stephen <><

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Postmodern Christianity?


We had a visiting speaker today from the emergent village John Franke, quite a departure from HTC's usual speakers. A very nice man who describes himself as reformed, evangelical, postmodern and post conservative. He dismissed the idea of truth with a Capital T outside of the Godhead. He affirmed the place of scripture which he believed to be inerrant (as far as a human/divine work can go). he had something of Barthian attitude to the word of God which he saw as being Jesus, preaching and Scripture. He is less sure that the canon is closed.

He also believes that all the different traditions within Christendom have small t truth. I asked him how these small t truth claims could coexist while being contradictory. He argued that it could only be by recognising that we are all finite and that we do not grasp the whole truth as we are affected by both our culture and our tradition.
I realise Christianity is always affected by culture as we do come to scripture from within a framework of our culture. Accepting all the different truth claims within the wider Christian Church does sound very nice and I appreciate we do need to get on with other Christians outside of our conservative evangelical circles. Yet Paul warned the Ephesians elders that savage wolves would come into the flock, how would emergent village deal with the wolves? Paul told Timothy to keep away from those who do not teach sound doctrine, why does Paul see doctrine as important and warn against error if there is no capital T truth.

Rant over. God Bless
Stephen

Monday, 12 May 2008

Whatever Happened to Heaven and Hell?

The David Crowder band have a line in one of their songs, " Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." Is that true? Certainly the last part is, but I don't believe Christians think about heaven all that often.
I was asked recently when the last time I heard a sermon on heaven, I can't actually recall hearing one. Although I have read several Puritan sermons on Heaven, including an excellent one by Edward Griffin (see here). The last time I heard a sermon on hell was in the mid 90's, neither heaven or hell seem to get much of a mention in sermons these days.
I realise we should be like Robert Murry M'Cheyne and only preach hell with tears in our eyes, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't preach it. Jonathan Edwards preached on hell several times, including his most famous sermon 'Sinners in the hands of an angry God.' He always preached on hell as an evangelist, he did the same when he preached or wrote on heaven. Heaven is where God is and so it is the most wonderful place to be, we should speak more about it, and contemplate it also.

May God Bless you!
Stephen

Monday, 21 April 2008

Barton at Barnton

Yesterday I got to preach in a Church planted by Charlotte's chapel in Edinburgh. As I found out my dissertation is due four weeks earlier than I had anticipated I revamped an older sermon from 1 John chapter 1. Fellowship with God. You can hear it on their website:- Barnton Baptist Church. I enjoyed the church and especially the fellowship with one family who put us up for the weekend. The church had a youthful vibe to it, so Joy and I really enjoyed our time there.

Shalom
Stephen

Friday, 11 April 2008

The Life of God in the Soul of Man- The Revivial booklet

Last week my wife Joy and I went with her parents to visit Christian Focus Publishers here in the Highlands. One of the books that I had bought for me was, 'The Life of God in the Soul of Man' by Henry Scougal. Scougal became a divinity professor at Aberdeen when he was just 19. He is Scotland's forgotten Puritan. He died in 1657 at the age of 27. His effectiveness though did not cease because this amazing book was given to George Whitefield by his friend John Wesley and became the means of the conversion of Whitefield, and so was used of God to start the Great Awakening. I decided that I would highlight anything that stood out, I now have a little yellow book. On page 48 he contrasts false religion with the genuine article:
'This forced and artificial religion is commonly heavy and languid, like the motion of a weight forced upward: it is cold and spiritless, like the uneasy compliance of a wife married against her will, who carries It dutifully toward the husband whom she doth not love, out of some sense of virtue or honour.'

'I come next to give an account why I designed it by the name of Divine life; and so it may be called, not only in regard to its fountain and original, having God for its author and being wrought in the souls of men by the power of His Holy Spirit; but also in regard of its nature, religion being a resemblance of the Divine perfections, the image of the Almighty shining in the soul of man; nay, it is a real participation of his nature, it is a beam if the eternal light, a drop of that infinite ocean of goodness; and they who are endued with it, may be said to have "God dwelling in their souls", and "Christ formed within them." '

In spite of the Old language and the long sentences, this is as Piper rightly says on his blurb, ' a remarkable book.'
This is an excellent little book.
God Bless
Stephen

Sunday, 23 March 2008

BBC The Passion Part 4

At last the BBC Passion records a miracle, and they waited to convey the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection! This was by far the best of the four parts and not just because of the Resurrection. They covered the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection and how Mary, and the Disciples would have mourned. The realization (so they thought) that Jesus was deluded, that he wasn't the son of God and that they had wasted the last few years following someone who wasn't the Son of God. You could almost feel their pain as their hope was turned to despair and how much greater their joy at the resurrection.

On the 3rd day I was a little worried when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus and it was a different actor, but this was only to convey that she was kept from recognising him. On the Emmasus Road, Jesus again appeared as a different actor and I thought they were going to suggest that to Mary and these disciples, Jesus had risen because they were so caught up with the idea that they believed it in spite of the evidence. Yet just like in Luke's Gospel when Jesus broke the bread they saw it was it really Him. They then showed Jesus amongst His disciples commanding them to go to the end of the world preaching the Good News and promising to be with them to the end of the time.

Shalom

Stephen

BBC The Passion part 3


I didn't get to see the Passion part 3 on Friday but it was repeated this afternoon. I noticed again there was no miracles, apart from that it was pretty good.

I liked the trial of Jesus where opinion was divided about Jesus and the destruction of the Temple, one member of the council said, I know what he said, but surely he wasn't referring to the Temple, it was a parable. They covered Pilate pretty well, including his wife's dream. Pilate really seemed torn, yet I don't know why they didn't include him washing his hands. I liked the way Caiaphas was one step ahead of Pilate and made sure the mob who were gathered were faithful to the Temple and so were ready to shout for Barabbas. I still got frustrated that the BBC Jesus doesn't quote Jesus very often. This was especially evident at the cross, where the thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into the kingdom but Jesus ignored him. There was also not victorious cry from the cross On a positive note unlike the 50's passion movies, Jesus truly suffers on the cross, and not just physically.

There was no darkness at the cross, no curtain torn in two, it seemed that Jesus might have been deluded about being the Messiah. There is a part 4 so hopefully it will cover the resurrection faithfully. We shall see! One thing is certain, whether the BBC cover it or not He is risen!

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Together for the Gospel,Culloden Style

I would love to attend this years TftG with Al Mohler, Mark Dever, C J Mahaney and Ligon Duncan, however here on Barn Church Road we have four gospel churches and they are together for the Gospel. On Good Friday these four local Evangelical churches got to together to celebrate what Luther called the great exchange, Jesus dying in our place. It was great to see the four pastors interacting together not just as gospel ministers but as friends. I know these guys disagree on some secondary issues but they are united in their belief in the Gospel. I remember when the Watchtower guys came around recently that they tried to say these four churches had completely different understandings of the way to heaven. How wrong they are, Smithton Free Church, The Barn Church CoS, Culloden Baptist Church and Kings Fellowship are agreed that the only way to heaven is by placing our trust in Jesus who died for own sins.

The service started with a short video a son affirmed, the moving tale of a father's love for his newborn son whose life was always going to be short. You can watch the video here 99 Balloons. The sermon was by our own Pastor, Jim Turrent, who told the story of his visit to Budapest where he found himself in serious trouble when the authorites took him aside at the railway station because his ticket had not been stamped and so was invalid. Jim tried to explain that he didn't no that he needed to do this as a visitor to the country. the authorities were having none of it. Jim started to daydream about how the church would react to the Pastors Prison Plight when a stranger seeing his situation, went up the elevator and purchased two tickets. One for Jim and one for Jim's wife, the man paid a price that Jim was unable to. Jim compared this to the great debt we owe to God, and that we are unable to pay it. Yet on that first good friday Jesus laid down His life on our behalf.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

BBC The Passion part 2

I am glad I gave the BBC's 'The Passion' another shot. This time Jesus clearly knew and declared the reason He had come, to die in place of sinners. The show treats Judas in the typical way, as he is portrayed as a misguided figure who probably betrays Jesus by mistake. However Jesus reaction to Judas really caught something, Jesus was showing compassion to him by reaching out to him. Every time he left Jesus' eyes filled with tears.
I am glad also that the washing of Jesus feet was done by a prostitute and not Mary Magdalene, so they have followed the two different gospel accounts as two separate incidents, which is correct because they are to different to be referring to the same event.

I am looking forward to the next one on Friday.
God Bless
Stephen

Monday, 17 March 2008

BBC The Passion part 1



Last night I got to watch the 1st part of the BBC's new production the Passion. I had been excited about watching it but found it disappointing. Their Jesus seemed to be a misguided figure who seemed for the most part unaware of the reason He was travelling to Jerusalem. It also showed Him caring for the sick, but not healing them. The worst part the only direct quote from the Gospels that I heard in the first 35 minutes was 'Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and To God what belongs to God.' I even found this annoying though because Jesus did a cheap magic trick and made the coin disappear. There was also a New Age element as everyone was already brothers and sisters with Jesus without any repentance. His message to a prostitute who wanted to follow Jesus was come and tell the world my message 'the kingdom of God is in your heart.'
I shall give it another shot and see if it gets better.
God Bless
Stephen

Friday, 14 March 2008

Are we Fundamentalists? Barry Seagren

I recently read Barry Seagren's article in the March edition of Evangelicals Now. This is an excellent article in many ways comparing Evangelicalism with Islamic Fundamentalism. Seagren points out there are a number of similarities between conservative Christianity and Islamic Fundamentalism. For example, we both disagree with Western decadence, and are both serious about living for the faith. Yet, Seagren accepts Richard Dawkins' definition of a fundamentalist, someone who will hold on to their beliefs in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, Seagren says he is 'guilty as charged'. This disturbs me, I had a conversation last year with a lady who was surprised to find me say, 'if they could prove Jesus body had not been raised, then I would walk away from the faith.' Christianity unlike Islam is a reasonable faith, the evidence points in the direction of God and of the resurrection. Seagren's concluding remarks, 'Are we fundamentalists? Yes, we are, in the best and most basic sense of the term, and let's not lose our nerve on this one.' I realise that some evangelicals are fundamentalists, and one hundred years ago (if the term had been invented) I would subscribe to that term. However historically evangelicals are distinct from the fundamentalists who have their own doctrinal views, that I as a British Evangelical do not subscribe to especially dispensationalism and their premil eschatology. Evangelicals do not withdraw from society as do fundamentalists (both of an Islamic and Christian kind), but seek to change culture to the glory of God.
I believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God in its original autographs,I believe in creation in six literal days. I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that He is the eternal Word who was with God and is Himself God. I believe in His atoning death and resurrection, I desire to live for God and to bring others to know Him. I believe the fundamentals of the faith. I am an evangelical not a fundamentalist.

God Bless
Stephen Barton

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Remembering You in Prayer


This morning in our worship time Dr Jamie Grant lead us through Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in chapter 1:15 and following. In his introduction he asked:

How do you feel when someone tells you they'll pray for you?

We have all said it and sometimes we don't follow through.

How about when someone says "They have been praying for you"?

That is different isn't it. How about when they tell you what they have been praying for you. He encouraged us to do this, he said when he was at Reformed Theological Seminary. His New Testament professor said this was Paul's method, Paul always told people that he was praying for them and what he was praying for them. Jamie said we should follow this practise, when we pray for missionaries or anyone else, we should write them a note and tell them how we have prayed for them.

Dr Grant reminded us that it is'The Father of glory' to whom we pray that He is the creator of the heavens and earth, and we can come to Him as Father because He cares for us. He is also almighty and therefore our prayers should reflect this, quite often it appears that from our prayers that our God is a little God. We should remember to whom we pray and pray great big prayers to a great big God, then our prayers will be used by Him to change the world for Him.

God Bless

Stephen

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Calvin: What's the big idea




I've been working my way through Calvin's institutes since January and so leaped at the chance to hear Professor Paul Helm lecture on Calvinism this week. Tonight he did the annual Highland Theological College, John Murray lecture. His topic was Calvinism, what is the big idea? He started off saying that for a lot of people Calvinism is associated with Predestination, this idea is found in Calvin but it didn't originate with him and it is not the central doctrine that Calvin's institutes are concerned with. He argued that the central idea for Calvin was the 'knowledge of God and of ourselves.' Which is found in the opening chapter of the institutes. Calvin argues that to know ourselves we do not contemplate ourselves in isolation like philosophers are prone to, to do that leads to a misunderstanding of ourselves, to see ourselves as morally upright. To see ourselves correctly we need to see God, as he reveals Himself. We cannot see God as He truly is, but only in God's accommodating Himself to us, especially in the incarnation, where God reveals himself to us like a nurse to a child, or as one who lisps, so we can understand Him. This knowledge of God and of ourselves, Helm suggests is the Big idea in Calvin's theology. Although theology is a term Calvin disliked preferring the term religion which means to bind ourselves to God. This is because Calvin disliked mere speculation, religion, true religion means being converted. For Calvin (unlike Luther) conversion, or converio was a gradual thing, this is because he understood it in terms of justification and of sanctification. So he could speak of himself as suddenly converted but could also speak about a process. justification and sanctification are distinct but not separate things. Helm suggested that Calvin's theology was not Christological in the Barthian sense instead Calvin places an emphasis on the Spirit, the Spirits work in creation as well as in converiso which effects both the kingdom of Christ and the secular kingdom which are both effected by God's providential care.


You can check out Professor Helm's blog here: Helm's deep


God Bless

Stephen


The LORD's supper

Some reformed churches pride themselves on their orthodoxy by having a very closed table. I really enjoyed reading in 'The Heidelberg Catechism' from 1563:
Question 81. Who ought to come to the table of the Lord?
Answer: Those who are displeased with themselves for their sins, and who nevertheless trust that these sins have been forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the passion and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and improve their life. The impenitent and hypocrites, however, eat and drink judgment to themselves.'

How great is that? the table is open to those who recognise 1. their weakness and 2. and realise their need of Christ and trust him to cover their sins.
I also like that it recognises our remaining weaknesses, that we are still sinful even though we are saints.

Shalom
Stephen

Monday, 25 February 2008

Vintage Driscoll


I recieved my copy of 'Vintage Jesus' by Mark Driscoll last week. I was going to leave it until the end of the semester but I couldn't help sneaking a peak. Chapter 2 is Vintage Driscoll! Chapter 2 is a defence of Jesus' humanity. I asked myself why on earth would anyone need to defend the humanity of Jesus? Yet Driscoll is right on the money when he says:


Perhaps the people who most commonly prefer Jesus' divinity over his humanity in our present age are hardcore Protestant Christian fundamentalists. They are so committed to preserving the divinity of Jesus that they tend to portray his humanity as essentially overwhelmed by his divinity so that he was largely not tempted to sin, if indeed tempted at all.' (Vintage Jesus P.35)

Driscoll goes on to say that hardcore Protestants tend to view Jesus 'like Superman, Jesus only appeared to be a regular, tempted Galilean peasant; under the Clark Kent-like disguise there remained on Jesus' chest a big red "G" for God, which made him unable to really suffer from the same weaknesses as the rest of us mere mortals.' (p.36)

I know from my own experience of listening to sermons and to preaching that Jesus' humanity is often undermined in English independent reformed churches, through the influence of the late Martyn Lloyd Jones. Lloyd Jones' arguments for the temptation of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane really goes a long way to argue that Jesus wasn't tempted at all. Certainly there is the issue of how a perfect man, who is also fully God can be tempted, yet we should let the texts speak for itself. As it says in Hebrews 4:15 'For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.' (NIV). Jesus was not faking human weakness, or faking temptation but experienced the full onslaught of the evil one and overcame, therefore he conquered sin in our place and is able to symphasise with us in our struggles and temptations.


I would recommend Vintage Jesus because it is Vintage Driscoll, he might make you cringe but he'll also make you think.


Shalom

Stephen