27/01/2007

The gift of old people to the church


I was recently given a copy of the excellent new Africa Bible Commentary. It is a one-volume commentary written by African Bible scholars to assist pastors and teachers in Africa to teach God's word more effectively. It is an evangelical commentary that is written with the perspective of African culture. It is a valuable commentary for non-Africans, too, containing lots of practical insight and helpful articles on issues such as debt, democracy, HIV/AIDs, idolatry, poverty, rape, slavery, and widows and orphans that are not normally covered in a standard commentary.

The introduction explains its style and purpose: "The ABC is not a critical, academic, verse-by-verse commentary. Rather it contains section-by-section exegesis and explanation of the whole Bible as seen through the eyes of African scholars who respect the integrity of the text and use African proverbs, metaphors and stories to make it speak to African believers in the villages and cities across the entire continent. The application is both bold and faithful. Thus the ABC does not speak of a Black Jesus. To do so would be a travesty of the Bible story and cheap scholarship. Instead, the ABC is true to the text and honest to its context both in Bible days and in our day.
"The ABC is, in fact, a mini-library that equips pastors and teachers to teach the churches and encourage students and church members to study God's word for themselves."

One of our retired elders is using it as part of his daily time with the Lord - something I am about to follow. I shall report on how I get on!

However, the purpose of today's post, is to share something generated through my reading of the commentary's introduction to the Pentateuch. It points out the many references to passing on the knowledge of the Lord and what He has done from generation to generation. Then the writer says this:

"The death of an old person is like the death of a library."

That has left me very challenged - how do we treat the older believers in our churches? They may not be "the life and soul of the party"; they may be frail in body (and perhaps in mind); and they may not appreciate the modern way so many things are done in church today. But they are a library of rich volumes of experience with God. Many of them have a lifetime of reading His word, hearing His voice and seeking His face in prayer. They have a wealth of testimonies of how the Lord has guided, protected, provided, answered, comforted and encouraged.

Maybe we don't like to visit our local library because it is old and dusty. But if it closed, the books would be lost forever...

When the old people in our fellowship die, their 'books' are lost forever. We may prefer the company of friends our own age, but we are surely missing something if that is all we do. How about spending time with some older Christians - seasoned saints - and asking them, graciously, about their lives. Then their 'books' will not be lost but handed on - to you and me. And we will be far richer because of them!

26/01/2007

A word about links to other blogs

Since starting this blog I have gradually been adding to the links. So I thought it would be good just to say a few words about them.

Life on Wings

This is the site of my best friend, Dan Bowen. He was the main motivator behind me starting this blog. We became friends because my pastor, Peter Cockrell, had been assistant pastor at Dan's old church (Peter has now moved to Worthing - he has his own site, but it hasn't been updated for a while).  {Edit 2013:  Peter blog is very active now and has been for several years - see the link under "blogs I read".  Peter is now involved in an itinerant ministry supporting churches and leaders around the world.}

Dan came to visit a few times and we chatted a bit, then we met up at a Word, Spirit and Power conference at Westminster Chapel back in 2001. We discovered a shared love of reformed theology, a passion for experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, and a love Ern Baxter.

Dan's site is a tribute to Ern Baxter. The site contains a number of articles by Ern, transcripts of his sermons, as well as Dan's own insights into issues facing the church today. Dan's teaching is wonderful and he raises many important issues (for example his latest post is a review of two recent books by Wayne Grudem on evangelical feminism). An excellent site.

Spirit of God

This is Dan, too! It was birthed from the Life on Wings blog where, as well as sharing the teaching of Ern Baxter, Dan found himself (in his words) "waxing lyrical about my passions of the Holy Spirit, His Person and Ministry". So, he was led to devote a blog to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and particularly the gift of prophecy. He has transcribed some awesome prophetic words, which are worthy of reading and weighing before the Lord.

Between Two Worlds

This is the blog of Justin Taylor. I've never met him in my life but find on this blog some very interesting articles and links to other sites of reformed theology. I believe he is part of the Desiring God team. Many of the articles and links are very thought provoking and I have found it helpful to browse. He is the one who has co-edited the excellent new modernisation of John Owen's books on Overcoming Sin and Temptation (you can read this here).

Sunshine Allotment

This is the most important blog of all, as far as I am concerned anyway - because it is my wife's!!

Margaret has grown vegetables in our small garden for a number of years, with great success. Very tasty and far better than can be bought in the supermarket. However, she has outgrown the garden and for a long time has had a dream of having an allotment. Last July we visited a local allotment society and were put on the waiting list. We waited and prayed, and a couple of weeks ago we were told one will become available for us in the middle of March! Here is a picture of Margaret looking delighted - the wait is finally over and we can start planning in earnest!

Margaret has just started this blog to report on our progress. There are only two posts so far, but many more will come as the seeds arrive and we start to dig and plant.

Hopefully there will be some spiritual parallels for my blog too, as we till the soil, plant seeds, water and nurture, and by God's grace see things grow.



I'll leave it there for now and do a post on the website links in a few days!

25/01/2007

Overcoming guilt

One of the realities of the Christian life is that we sin. Of course there is abundant grace to overcome sin, but guilt-ridden souls need a remedy. The greatest problem for many believers is not the fact that they sin, but that they are consumed with guilt.

Of course, conviction from God is right. If we sin, it is right that we know we have grieved the Lord. We need to confess and repent of our sin, but we also need to rejoice in the knowledge that He is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins" and that "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitation for our sins..." (1 Jn 1v9, 2v1-2).

But if we don't grasp this, then we can become consumed with guilt. I remember a friend who years ago was due to share a short word one Sunday evening. He came to me on Sunday morning asking me to pray for him because he didn't feel he could speak in the evening because he sinned the day before.

Guilt keeps us away from intimacy with the Lord. Intimacy with the Lord is one of the greatest helps in resisting temptation - superior pleasure. Guilt can lead to a subtle reliance on works rather than grace. "If I fall, I can't pray, worship, serve, preach, witness until I have really worked hard on my relationship with God." Many believers think like this.

Worse still, joy and passion declines, a believer listens to the lies of the enemy and feels completely useless. The long term result is a slow slide into mediocrity.

I have found a hugely helpful transcript of a message by John Piper. While the message deals specifically with sexual sin, I actually believe it is helpful for every single child of God who struggles with guilt.

I strongly recommend reading it. I'm going to run off lots of copies and share it in our church (I hope John Piper won't mind!).

Freedom from guilt means that if we sin, we don't wallow for hours or days, but we confess, repent, seek fresh grace from God and return to service in His purposes straight away. No time wasted, a return to fellowship with the Lord and joyful service - which is a further protection against falling again.

23/01/2007

Overcoming sin and temptation

I've just come across this exciting publication through the Between Two Worlds blog.

{Edit 2013:   I've noticed that Justin's blog has not been updated for over a year.  I don't know why, but I do know that I have been thoroughly blessed by reading it and so the link remains, for now.}

Justin Taylor (who does this blog) has been involved in the editing of a new and clearer edition of John Owen's great classics in Vol VI of his works - On the Mortification of Sin, On Temptation, and On Indwelling Sin in Believers. This new edition is called Overcoming Sin and Temptation.

In the past I have been a little suspicious of "updates" of the great puritan works of the past. While the style of the originals can be difficult to read, it is achievable with work. The puritans teach so thoroughly and they teach so clearly on the experimental (or experiential - to use the more modern term). I am probably unfair, but the role of editor gives that person the opportunity to downplay the more experimental teaching, if it doesn't fit with his/her theology. Every one of us has a theological slant that effects the way we read things and thus the way we might "translate" them into modern language. Hence, ever since discovering the puritans thanks to JI Packer's glorious book Among God's Giants, I have sought to study them in the "original".

Having said that, this new edition of Owen's work appears a full and accurate update - with many additional helps including extra scripture references where Owen makes allusions, translation of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin statements, and some very clear overviews and outlines of Owen's structure. My only tiny gripe is that the language has been Americanised (or Americanized!) but that can be forgiven!!

The file is about 2MB to download - it is well worth it. Or you can buy a hard copy from Amazon. We do need to address the seriousness of indwelling sin in the lives of God's people. As John Piper puts it in his preface

"As I look across the Christian landscape, I think it is fair to say concerning sin, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11, ESV). I take this to refer to leaders who should be helping the church know and feel the seriousness of indwelling sin (Rom. 7:20), and how to fight it and kill it (Rom. 8:13). Instead the depth and complexity and ugliness and danger of sin in professing Christians is either minimized—since we are already justified—or psychologized as a symptom of woundedness rather than corruption...

"We proceed to heal the wound of the people lightly. We look first and mainly for circumstantial causes for the misery—present or past. If we’re good at it, we can find partial causes and give some relief. But the healing is light. We have not done the kind of soul surgery that is possible only when the soul doctor knows the kind of things Owen talks about in these books, and when the patient is willing to let the doctor’s scalpel go deep.

"What Owen offers is not quick relief, but long-term, deep growth in grace that can make strong, healthy trees where there was once a fragile sapling."

Overcoming sin isn't a quick fix, but the Lord, by His divine power "has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1v3). Too often in charismatic churches our people look for a quick fix. Many times people come forward for prayer and ask for "deliverance" from a certain sin and then go away and carry on sinning. I have no doubt that many who come for prayer and many who do the praying are sincerely wanting to be free from sin. We also know that God is merciful and such times can be great means of refreshing and encouragement from the Lord. A mighty touch of the Holy Spirit certainly stirs up love for the Lord and should make sin less attractive.

However, overcoming indwelling sin is not a matter of a quick prayer but a daily and growing application of the grace of God to our lives and a ruthless putting to death of sin in our lives through the power of the cross of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit.

We never stop fighting sin, we must never rely upon ourselves but continually seek the Lord for fresh grace, because His grace is always sufficient for us.

This book is a powerful tool. May the Lord use it mightily.

13/01/2007

Lessons from the Ashes - a tale of two churches

What ashes? The Ashes is a little trophy that the England and Australia cricket teams compete for every couple of years. England, having won the trophy back in 2005 (2-1, with two matches drawn), have just been totally slaughtered in the return competition in Australia, losing 5-0.

The rematch in Australia had been billed as a great contest between two great teams. Unfortunately, England's fell short in every area of their game, while Australia just played awesome cricket. But the bottom line was - having lost in 2005, Australia were passionate and hungry for victory, and it showed in how they prepared and how they played.

This led me to ponder - what if these two teams represented two kinds of churches: England, the cold and flabby church, defeated, representing what we need to avoid; Australia, the passionate and victorious church, representing what we need to be?

I hope the analogy won't be lost on any non-English readers. For a brief explanation of cricket, try reading this; and for an explanation of what the Ashes are, try this. Here goes...


Coming out of the cold - avoiding the mistakes of England

Living in the past. During the 2005 series, England were focused, passionate and desperate and they won narrowly. This led to great celebrations on the streets of London, plaudits from the Prime Minister and an award from the Queen. But then all the passion and fire seemed to evaporate. To their cost England found that the historical term "Ashes winners" meant nothing when faced with a new battle.

Victory is great - we should rejoice over every soul saved, every taste of glory in our worship meetings, over every outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but we must not rest in the victory. Rather, we give thanks, refocus and move on, however hard it is. Even past revivals cannot help us now. We move on - more victory, more souls, even greater outpourings - please, Lord.

Lack of preparation. Many of the players simply weren't ready and their play showed it. Are we ready? "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2v15).

Too many injuries. Many players were carrying injuries - as with the church today.

So many of God's people are battle-weary, carrying wounds of the past that hold them back from their full potential, and so many stay in that state because church simply makes them comfortable. Of course every church should have a "hospital wing", but one that heals by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit so that God's people are truly free. We are His army. There is a war on - and the church needs godly leadership (the ministries of the ascended Christ) to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, a people strong in the Lord and mighty in battle.

Relying on a couple of star players. The England team had some good players, but if they didn't perform, that was that!

Of course it is right to look up to the great men in the church today, but you can be God's instrument for transformation. Your prayers can change your nation, your godly lifestyle can convict your work colleagues and your neighbours, your worship can release a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Don't wait for someone else to do it - you are mighty in God's hand.

Lack of passion. The team talked of having passion but their play seemed indifferent. We need the fire back - passion for God and His glory, and compassion for the lost.


Lean and mean - learning from the Australians' fire

Australia were angry. They were totally horrified that they had lost the Ashes.

We need to be filled with holy indignation at the activity of the enemy in our lives, families, the church and the world - and let that holy indignation stir us to bold intercession. The devil is no mere inconvenience that we have to put up with in the Christian life, he is "that serpent of old, called the devil and satan, who deceives the whole world" (Rev 12v9) - our enemy.

Australia were united. A few months before the Ashes series started, the team went on a much maligned "boot camp" to build their team. They learned to survive and to support each other in the battle.

True unity is vital and it is where the Lord commands His blessing (Psalm 133). We need time together in quality fellowship, sharing our lives, praying for each other - so we stand as one man.

Australia were hungry, passionate and desperate. From the very first day it was on their faces, and it was seen in their play. They fought and fought and were determined to win.

We need to be desperate enough to cry out to God, hungry enough to refuse to let Him go until He blesses us, and passionate enough to seek Him with the whole heart.

Australia took care of their whole game. Some teams are good at batting, others at bowling, others at fielding, but Australia were on top in every area.

Some churches love to worship, or hear sound teaching, or reach out, or pray. But surely we should seek excellence in every aspect of church life. I want the Church of Jesus Christ to worship with the joy and extravagance of the redeemed, the intimacy of the child of God, and the reverence of those coming before the Lord of the whole earth. I want preaching with a fire that wakes the dead and transforms the saints. I want us to be saturated with the presence of God. I want us to take evangelism seriously - not as an optional extra. I want the prayer meetings to be full. Every area!

Australia were uncompromising. They didn't just win the series 3-2 but 5-0. After 3 matches up with 2 to play, victory was assured, but they still fought.

Are we willing to rest on our laurels after a couple of victories? We must become uncompromising - to see heaven full, streets, communities, towns, cities and nations completely transformed. Praise God for every victory, and for every individual person saved, but we need more, and more, and more.


Conclusion

I am just so challenged to become more passionate than the Australian cricket team (after all what is cricket compared to the glory of God's kingdom being extended?); I want to be more focused, more ruthless, and more desperate to see the glory of God breaking forth and victory against the enemy.

It is not easy, but what alternative to we have? The world needs a church on fire. Stir us, Lord!!

11/01/2007

Digging Ditches


Two posts in one day! Trying to make up for lost time!

Seriously, however, I need to draw attention to an awesome sermon by Dr Ern Baxter posted by my friend Dan Bowen. He has posted two entries on his site about it (here and here).

The text is 2 Kings 3 - the record of the three kings of Israel, Judah and Edom pursuing the king of Moab, finding themselves lost and without water and then, finally, seeking the Lord through the prophet Elisha. The prophet called for a musician, and the word of the Lord came to him - "Make this valley full of ditches." They did, and water from nowhere (from the Lord) came and filled the valley. There was drink for the armies, confusion for the enemy, and victory for the people of God.

The message is truely awesome and so timely. It speaks about:
  • The danger of doing anything without seeking the Lord (they only sought the Lord after spending a week going round in circles). Today we are quick to act and slow to seek the Lord - and the result for us is going round in circles without lasting growth.

  • The danger of settling on our own experience. These were three important kings going into battle; surely they could win easily? But they couldn't - and nor can we without an abundance of God's water equipping us for every good work.

  • The power of God-anointed worship. Something happened to Elisha when the musician played. Ern mentions in the sermon itself that something awesome happened in the worship that night. Oh, how we need the breaking in of the glory of the Lord as we worship Him!

  • Waiting for the word. Elisha didn't just speak out or say "let's have a discussion", he waited for God to speak to Him. What a need for us. To quote Ern directly, "Blessed be the day when there is a restoration among the servants of God of an understanding that to be a servant of God and a leader is not to be theologically instructed or ministerially ordained. It’s not to have a charge or a parish but it is to stand in the counsel of God until you feel a burning of the Word of God in your spirit and until your mind is blanked out with a consciousness of the Almightiness of God and you come out of that counsel with the Word of the Lord burning in your spirit and you know that then and only then have you fulfilled your responsibility of being a prophetic voice to God’s people."

  • The visitation of God through a man of God. This wasn't an official, titled important man, but one whom God had anointed. Our validity isn't official names and titles, but the presence of God.

  • We ourselves are divine recepticles for the water of God. There is a visitation in the wings! We need to be filled. And we need to stay filled... To many movements have come and gone - they had the water but didn't have the ditches to hold the water.

  • Finally, practically. How do we dig? Time seeking His face; digging into things, loosening our ties to the things we have that hold us back; digging in relationships (see Mal 3v16); digging in devotion; and digging in faith - the expectation that the visitation is coming!
I'll close myself with the comment I put on Dan's website when I first read his "taster" about the sermon.

I'm shaking with the awesome weight of this. Firstly, the statement "The badge of your validity is the Presence of God." All the things we look to to identify our "importance" in the kingdom of God (scholarship, size of church, number of influential friends, whatever) - these are nothing, totally nothing. We need the awesome presence of God.

Secondly, this cry "where is the church?" The church as God intended her to be? Not weak and ineffectual. No longer "by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed." No longer wracked by scandal of ungodly saints and fallen ministers. But instead a church drenched with the glory of God, vibrant in truth, beautiful in purity, and awesome in power. Because she has fulfilled her destiny in being "a dwelling place for God in the Spirit."

Thirdly, the challenge of ditches. One of the cries that has arisen among our church leaders is "Come, Lord. But don't just come, STAY". We long for the permanent residence of His glory. God, help us to dig deep, deep ditches. And let the glory come, and let the glory stay.

01/01/2007

Thoughts of peace

This New Year post is a lot later than planned, but here it is anyway. Welcome to 2007! May this year be greatly blessed of the Lord.

This year our church scripture text is "I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jer 29v11). We have one each year, and it defines the preaching, prayer and vision of the church for the year.

The church leadership seeks God and we find that a particular text witnesses with us all - and that becomes the text for the year. Having the text in my heart, I attended the Watchnight Service of the local Pentecostal church, Worldwide Mission Fellowship (WWMF), to find that the message was about peace for 2007! And what a powerful message it was. I had been invited there to pray for the blessing, unity and growth of all the churches across our area. But in God's mercy I received a feast!

WWMF is pastored by my good friend Dennis Greenidge. He is a mightily anointed preacher; and it seemed at this service, the Lord gave him a special anointing. He is by no means a classic verse by verse expositor, nor is he theologically reformed, but He is a man of God. He is a man of prayer, of the old school - arising around 4am each morning to seek the Lord, usually alone, but sometimes with close friends. Even to pray with him you sense the presence of the Lord in a very special way.

I could hear him preach all day. Every application and challenge shares stirs and humbles heart and mind. Many times I have sat under his preaching and had "the secrets of my heart revealed" (1 Cor 14v25) and left profoundly challenged, convicted and stirred by the Lord. It happened again on New Year's Eve, not only for me, but for a number of unbelievers who made commitments - new babies in the small hours of New Year's Day. Hallelujah!

Stop the thief - time for payback

Each year, WWMF has a theme for the year. 2006 was "Stop the thief". It was the theme of church conferences both here and in Barbados, and God's saints were equipped to face stand firm against the enemy of souls.

This year, the "motto" is "time for payback", and this was where the message started at the Watchnight Service. Proverbs 6v30-31, "People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; he may have to give up all the substance of his house."

The ultimate thief is satan himself. Dennis challenged us about our attitude to the enemy. The verse states that people do not despise a thief who steals when he is starving. Similarly we can have a casual attitude to the enemy. We can take the battering and the robbery of joy, peace, health etc as part of the deal, rather than have a holy indignation about the robbery.

satan has no right to keep our joy, peace and health. He has no right to leave us battered and bruised. Whereas 2006 the theme was learning to stand, in 2007 the focus will be winning back ground we have lost in the past. It is time for payback...

The central need of peace

However, when confronted with difficult circumstances, we often slip into panic mode. We are in no position to reclaim ground in panic mode. We fail to rest in the Lord, and we lack authority. We act in our name, in anger and stress, rather than in the name of Jesus. Panic, anger, and "losing the plot" does not defeat the enemy of souls!

Dennis then proceeded to highlight a number of scriptures about the need for our hearts and lives to have God's peace in 2007.

Firstly - he spoke to the unbelievers from Rom 5v1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God."

Secondly, the place of rest - Isaiah 26v3. The promise of perfect peace is given to the one whose mind is stayed (steadfast, focused) on the Lord - not distracted by the difficulties.

Thirdly, peace as part of everyday life. Rom 15v13 says "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Peace is part of our birthright and inheritance.

Fourthly, peace in all our dealings (Prov 16v7). For the man who pleases the Lord, even his enemies will be at peace with him. Wow! What a place to be!

Enough is enough

There was so much more to this message. There isn't space to include it all. I shall leave a link to it should it get placed online.

The final challenge, was for us as children of God to take our stand. Too many times we just resign ourselves to the enemy's battering. But it is time for us to say "enough is enough". Let us return to the Lord. Have peace with Him and in Him, rest in our souls, and no longer settle for being battered and bruised, discouraged and defeated.

Peace is one of the most precious aspects of the Christian life. Let us make every effort to grow in the peace of God. That quietness and rest which gives us the confidence to stand firm in every circumstance.

So may 2007 be a year of peace...

Rereading the above, I am not sure I have done the message justice at all, but I trust that even this skeleton outline will be an encouragement. "My soul finds rest in God alone [or "silently waits for God"]; my salvation comes from him. " (Psalm 62v1, NIV)

What can shake us, when we are at rest upon the Rock?

And from that place of rest, to experience the reality of this song: "I went to the enemy's camp, and I took back what he stole from me... he's under my feet... satan is under my feet." (Richard Black (c) 1991)

To God be the glory!