Saturday, 31 January 2009

Come and Worship Together

Adrian Warnock is offering a chance to win a free copy Of Mark Driscoll's new book Vintage Church on his blog. It got me thinking what do I think about church? There have been times in my life as a Christian when I have found church a real struggle. The last few years I have grow to love the local church though because it is at the church that we get to join with other believers and exalt Jesus together. I love corporate worship times and this is at its best at my home church because you also get to see it lived out in the lives of your brothers and sisters. There is no other place on earth where Jesus is exalted like in church.
Having had a baby recently far away from home neither Joy's family or my family have been there but our church family have stunned us, with meals, with gifts and with love. A reflection of the fact that we as a church are a family.
Worship includes the preaching of God's word where we get to listen into the word of God expounded, I love good preaching (I also dislike with a passion poor preaching that fails to interact with the text). For me preaching either listening to it or even better doing the preaching is an act of worship as the Holy Spirit draws us in to hear with our ears and experience something wonderful with our heart. Good preaching that challenges us and changes us to become conformed to the image of God, what can be greater than that?
I am looking forward to becoming part of the church exalted when we shall gather with the global victorious church, diverse in colour, tongue and expression but all perfectly reflecting the likeness of Jesus.
So what do you like about church?

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Max Lucado ----- For the Tough Times

I have read three of Lucado’s books previously, one of them Just Like Jesus I remember being impressed with his story telling ability but thinking that he had nothing to say. Also I read He Chose The Nails, which was better and shows that Lacado has a good understanding of atonement, although not from a reformed perspective. I found this book For the Tough Times a little to short for the subject matter, for the most part it felt like a pep talk from a couch before a football game. In fact at one point taking Paul’s words from Romans 8 he talks about God being for us, his illustration is of God being on the sidelines cheering us on, being at the finishing line to embrace us as we finish. Although I agree God is for us, the illustration left me wondering do we worship God or does God worship us?
Although he did cover how God uses suffering to produce character in the believer’s life, the introduction and the closing prayer suggested keep going things will get better. He used David, Joseph and especially Job to illustrate this, but did not really get to grips with how suffering can be a gift. In the closing prayer Lucado says ‘Most of all do again what you did at Calvary. What we saw in this tragedy, you saw there on that Friday. Innocence ended. Goodness suffering etc, he goes on ‘Turn this Calvary into an Easter.’ I would really like to ask him what he was thinking at this point. The atonement is a one off event, he knows this, so what does he mean? Maybe he is talking glibly about our “Calvary experiences” As Christians are we called to experience resurrection every day? Or for us to take up our cross and follow Him? I was also wondering what the young Joni Erickson Tada would make of the pep talk after she took her dive and found herself disabled, would she find hope in the tough times? I am not sure that she would.


Christian Hedonism in the 4th Century

I came across this prayer of Augustine from his confessions:-

Hear my prayer for pardon, Lord, lest my soul faint under your discipline, and do not let me fail in acknowledging before you your mercies, by which you have snatched me from all my most evil paths, that you might grow sweet to me beyond all the allurements I followed, that I might most powerfully love you and hold fast your hand with all my being, and to the very end you might tear me from temptation.
For, look, Lord, my king and my God, let whatever that is useful which I learned as a child serve you. When I was learning trifles you disciplined me, and forgave me the sin of the delight I took in what those trifles held. In them I learned many useful words, but such words can be learned in serious contexts, and that is the safe path in which children should walk.' (Translated by E.M Blaiklock)
Notice Augustine laments his wasted youth on fleeting pleasures, even when those pleasures were intellectual pursuits. His desire is know his God more so that God might grow more sweet to him. He realises that the more he knows God, the greater will be his awe and his desire for God will grow stronger and the fleeting treasures of this world will pale as a result. I think Augustine was a Christian Hedonist!
Shalom <><

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

a secret gospel

Inverness probably has the most evangelical churches in the UK, there seems to me to be more respect for Christianity here than elsewhere. Yet I got a real shock today, I was reading Mark Driscoll's book 'Death by Love' whilst enjoying a cup of tea, a lady walked by and asked how love could be demonstrated through death. So I explained the book was talking about Jesus' death for us, the gospel, a fantastic opportunity. When I said that God loved us and sent His Son to die for us the guy on the next table asked. "Is that some hidden secret Gospel." I explained that to the contrary it is the gospel! I thought it was ironic that I was reading a book by the pastor of Mars Hill church and the reaction I got was like the men of Athens, what strange teaching is this.
The more I think about it, this guy's ignorance isn't his fault, this is a day of good news and we are obviously keeping it to ourselves, who else is to blame for this guy never hearing the gospel in his 40 plus years? Granted he might have heard it before but never taken any notice but I am for one am going to ensure that his response prompts me to be more effective in presenting the gospel to lost and broken people in need of good news.
God Bless
Stephen <><

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

hot off the Navpress

A friend of mine from Colorado Springs just emailed me to let me know that Navpress have just launched a free book to bloggers scheme. You can find the details at Navpress.

Come on Crossways/IVP you know it makes sense!

Stephen <><

Monday, 12 January 2009

John (Calvin) The Baptist

I know Reformed people of all different denominations would like to claim Calvin and I know as a Baptist I don't really have a claim on the king of the Presbyterian system however.... I was surprised to find him arguing:-
Matt 3.6; Mark 1.5. The were baptized of him... confessing their sins. The evidence of their repentance was this confession, for as the Lord binds Himself to us in the sacraments as in His own writing, so in faithfulness should we in turn respond to Him. in Baptism, it is testified that our sins are remitted us, and He calls us to repentance. So that men may offer themselves properly for baptism, a confession of sins is required of them, otherwise the whole action would be nothing but an empty mockery. We must note that here adults are being spoken of, who we know are not to be admitted into the Church indiscriminately, not to be initiated by baptism into the body of Christ unless they are first examined.' 'A Harmony of the Gospels' (Eerdmans/Paternoster) P.118
He goes on to say of Christ and John's baptism 'We infer that he had no intention at all to distinguish his baptism from that which Christ ordered His disciples, the continuing practice which he wished to keep alive in the Church. Nor did he contrast the visible sign with another sign.' P.126
I love it!!! No mention of infants, covenants or circumcision. Maybe I can claim Calvin after all ;-) looking forward to seeing what he says in Acts.
God Bless

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Happy Birthday John Piper!!

Today (the 11th of January) I believe is the birthday of John Piper, Mark Dever describes Piper as an evangelical superstar. I am sure Piper would hate that description but John Piper is probably my (and many other people's) favourite living preacher! His humility adds to his appeal, I got to meet him a couple of years ago and he is very self-effacing. I have met several other leading evangelical preachers and some of them seem to believe their own press, that isn't true of Piper. Hi passion for the word is enthusing and dynamic! His war time mentality is a real challenge.
I was introduced to Piper through my affiliation to the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) as he came and spoke at one of our conferences. Sadly I had read a negative article and didn't like the sound of him. That was a big lesson for me to make up my own mind about someone rather than trusting orthodox criticism. When I first read Piper's Desiring God I felt a kinship to the central reformed theology but it caused a reaction I wasn't expecting, my ultra-reformed, ultra-conservative cold heart started to melt. I started to care for people again and had a new zeal for godliness. My religiosity came crashing down and I felt myself re-reborn.
I still enjoy reading and listening to Piper and occasional leave myself open to further promptings. For example it was through reading Don't Waste Your Life that I felt it was now time to listen to the voice of God that had been calling me for years. I am so grateful to God for John Piper!
Happy birthday John may our God continue to use you mightily for the glory of God!
Stephen Barton <><

Saturday, 10 January 2009

some churches say the funniest things

Having applied for a few church vacancies now, I have noticed a lot that I wouldn't apply for.
There was one instance where a church advertisement said, "we are a non charismatic church and we pride ourselves on a closed table." Now you might agree with both of those things but would you really want to start an advert about yourself with what you don't believe.
Other churches write that the man they are looking for will be...
An experienced preacher of the word, an evangelist, with a pastoral heart. A family man with children. He will be expecting to preach twice on Sunday's, and mid week. He will chair all meetings, be a good administrator and well organised. He should visit the flock on a regular basis and have the gift of encouragement, (notice that neither Paul nor Jesus could apply). The church has a manse but cannot afford to pay a salary.
God Bless
Stephen <><

Thursday, 1 January 2009

2009 The Year of The Calvinists

This year is the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth, another but less important anniversary is it is now 20 years since I was last fashionable. As Calvin will be in fashion this year I thought I would jump at the opportunity to get on the band wagon.
I have recently finished reading T.H.L Parker's biography of Calvin.
You can tell that Calvin is Parker's hero. Parker leads us briefly through Calvin's early life, but as the details of Calvin's conversion are sketchy he doesn't speculate but moves quickly through Calvin's education to his fleeing France because of persecution. Parker concentrates on the act of providence that sent Calvin to Geneva and away from his desired life of scholarship.

Parker presents a reluctant but gifted pastor with a real heart for the gospel and for people, (although it would be wrong to call him a people person). We also get to see that Calvin with weak health endured much suffering because of his stand for Christ. He was something of a workaholic and responded to letters from Evangelical leaders throughout Europe, it took a long time for him to be persuaded to do this through a Secretary.

Parker does deal with the messy controversy involving Servetus (although I felt he tried to hard to get Calvin of the hook). Parker did point out Calvin's faults because Calvin did, his temper was a constant matter for prayer for Calvin.

I have one other biography of Calvin but this book presents a better picture of Calvin the man.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the very occasional dig at the later Calvinists, Parker's theology would be nearer Karl Barth's. However this is very occasional and for the most part there is a genuine admiration for Calvin and a desire to present his life in the best light.

As I have read the institutes last year I have set myself the challenge to read Calvin's 12 volume New Testament commentaries over the next 12 months.

God Bless

Stephen <><