28/02/2007

Paul and the Church (part 1) - Sam Storms

I have just got back from a truly awesome final evening session at Life in the Spirit. God has been moving in power, feeding through the word, restoring vision and filling with the Holy Spirit. A dear older brother shared tonight that he had been seeking the Lord for many years for the gift of tongues. Tonight, at aged 70, the Lord met with him and he spoke in tongues. Isn't God good!! Never give up on Him. He desires to give good gifts to those who ask Him.

In terms of the teaching - it continues to be excellent. In order to make sense, I need to keep my reports in some kind of order. So, I am looking back now to the second session yesterday (27 Feb) morning, when Sam Storms taught. This really was a key message - renewing mind and setting fire to the heart. It was also deeply challenging concerning our commitment to our Saviour and His glorious cause.

So here it is (it will benefit more to follow in your Bible!):

Acts 20v17-38

Introduction

Key verse: v24. We are so devoid of this attitude.

The conference theme is maturing the church. The church will grow into maturity, if we take heed to the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. The life and vision that captivated his heart and conduct here in Ephesus is a pattern for leaders to follow. Church will never attain maturity until leaders embrace the values here.

There is so much advice and so many books on the church as different people have sought to diagnose what ails us and prescribe the answers. All share a common theme, a “re-ing” of church: re-imagining, re-envisioning, re-structuring etc. But we should not be interested unless the “re-ing” takes heed of NT patterns, and grounds itself in them. God is not interested in any ideas that do not gather His people into local assembly according to the patterns in His word.

The church is in a dire state. But God loves and is committed to the local church. He gave His Son to die for her; He cares for her. And He has given us His word and spoken clearly to us our about our responsibility as His body and to us as leaders. These things are to be reproduced in our day so we can turn world upside down.

Some people say that the cause of our problems is doing church according to the New Testament. It is said “Times have changed and culture has changed and church must change to embrace culture; church should not offend sensibilities.” Of course we do need to be aware of our culture, but the only answer is for them to see the glory of God in the face of Christ. That is seen in the people of God gathered in covenantal relationship, with God in their midst. It is not for us to follow the culture of NT, rather to bring to bear on our culture the principles that governed the early church and Paul and the other apostles.

So this message will examine Paul’s conduct and theology. 6 observations.


1) Paul refused to exploit his authority and gifting for monetary gain

See v18, 22-23, 33. He coveted nothing. He had every right to be supported. But Paul chose to suspend that privilege. He didn’t want any chance of an accusation of being in ministry for the money. Next to sexual infidelity, a mercenary spirit will destroy credibility of church and ministry and is a reproach to the name of Christ and hinders the church’s maturity. Poverty is not a gift of God, but illicit gain obtained by means of the gospel is a tremendous sin. Paul was never tempted to hold back because he didn’t want to offend the givers.


2) He willingly sacrificed his own personal comfort for the spiritual welfare of the church

See v19, 22-23, 31. Why does he mention tears and trials? Tears from the pain of rejection, and offences, over ingratitude, sin and idolatry, compassion (v31), people’s lack of commitment to the body. Compare 2 Cor 11. Yet Paul never gave a second thought to it so that he could glorify Christ. Paul mentions these things because it is normal Christian living. If haven’t experienced tears and trials then you have not really got your hands dirty in the ministry.

The problem today is that the church believes it exists for its own comfort, to avoid suffering and minimise inconvenience. Then it constructs theology justify this.

Suffering by itself is not a virtue, but: Col 1v24 “for your sake”, Matt 5v10-12 “for righteousness’ sake”, Acts 5v41 “for His name”, Rom 5v3 “produces perseverance… character.” These are things morally superior that can only be attained through the battles of suffering. If you don’t cherish something more than ease, and treasure more than comforts or conveniences of society then this passage seems nonsense. If you don’t see something so precious in itself that it transcends suffering, you will not endure. You will be bitter and resentful. We need to take the long view. If your church saw that in its leaders we will see energy and zeal in them.


3) He refused to let anything get in way of his involvement with people

See v19-20 – ministering to the people. He taught, preached, counselled and lived among them. See 1 Thess 2v19 – “you are our glory and joy.” Heb 6v10 – serving the saints is how we honour the name of the Lord.


4) Faithfulness and perseverance in bearing witness to the gospel of grace was more important to Paul than staying alive

See v24. He said “I die daily” (1 Cor 15v31). We cherish our lives, jobs, money, status more. We say we would die for Him because we never have to; we won’t even go across the street to share the gospel with our neighbour. “It is a shameful thing to be so gripped by living, that we lose the reason for living.” The only reason to live is to fulfil the call of God.

We get to this place by understanding what the gospel of the grace of God is. We have lost it today. 2 Cor 4v3-6 says the gospel is the knowledge of the glory of God in face of Jesus Christ. We see the glory through hearing and reading. So Act 20v24 – Paul testifies to the glory of God in the gospel. The majesty and blinding beauty of God is bound up in preaching the gospel. We are not to peddle like a salesman and bargain (adulterate). It is not mere words, but the glory of God – no matter how inarticulate we are. Nothing is more important!


5) Faithfully proclaiming the whole counsel of God to declare the gospel of grace

Shrinking back from the whole counsel of God has eternal consequences – v20,27. There may be distasteful subjects to you or your hearers which expose sin, expose traditions, threaten your status within the community, but Paul was not going to hold back. The question is whether the teaching is profitable, not whether it is popular. We must never allow culture or comfort to dictate the terms of what we teach. If society sets the agenda then we will be indistinguishable from it. We are not to be isolated, we are called into the world, but don’t let society tell you what you can tell it. The only thing that will ultimately penetrate hearts is the revelation of the beauty of God in the face of Christ. Make sure there is a message no matter how it is presented.

What does “whole counsel of God” mean? See Rom 6v17 – standard of teaching, a body of teaching that all Christians embrace. 2 Tim 1v13-14 – a pattern of sound words, a body of truth, theological realities apart from which we cannot live as the church. We must never downplay doctrine. Of course we don’t go out of our way to be offensive – the gospel is offensive all by itself!

We are told not to pursue knowledge about God! But my satisfaction in God is in direct proportion to my knowledge of Him. I cannot delight in that of which I am ignorant. People say “I don’t want the truth of Jesus, I just want Jesus.” But you can’t love Jesus without propositional truth about Him. What Christ do you believe in?

The consequences of not declaring the whole counsel is that we would be guilty of the blood of the people (v26-27); Paul was not guilty of that. I don’t want to stand before the judgment seat of Christ having left those to stumble. V28-30: failure opens the door to theological wolves.


6) The whole counsel of God alone has the power to build up and sustain the people of God

See v32. The power of the word. It’s what God uses to impart your full inheritance in Christ. We are suffering a loss of confidence in the Word of God; a lack of faith that God can do great things in our lives through His word. But look what the Word is and does:
1 Peter 1 v23-25: imperishable;
Rom 10v17: the word gives more faith;
Rom 15v4: endurance of scriptures;
Rom 15v13: joy and peace in believing (revelation of God in scriptures).

The Spirit restricts His faith giving ministry, peace producing, joy-evoking work to the Christ-exalting Word. We need to lay ourselves in way of His allurement, where He can captivate us. There are other ways (prayer, worship etc) but the primary way is through the Scripture. Look, read, and see -
1 Thess 2v13
1 Tim 4v6
1 Pet 2v2
Ps 19v10-11, sweeter than honey.
Ps 119v14, 16, 20, 24, 40, 47, 72, 97, 103, 111, 127, 162, 167.

27/02/2007

Living the dream (part 1) - Dave Smith

Here are my notes from session 1 of Tuesday at the Life in the Spirit conference.

Dave Smith's bio is here. He is pastor of Peterborough Community Church {Edit 2013:  Now Kingsgate Community Church}. They have an amazing story of how God has built them. Dave's preaching is very powerful indeed, and very practical.

Here is this morning's message:


Living the dream (from the life of Joseph). Part 1


This is not an exposition of Joseph’s whole life (this is available from the Peterborough Community Church website - you can find the messages by typing "dream" in the search box on this page {edit 2013:  I couldn't find this message, but you are welcome to search through the church archives - just follow the link}). Rather in this and the next session, we will be allowing the Holy Spirit room to highlight the things particularly relevant to us.


Introduction

God took a young man at age 17 and gave him an incredible dream. He spent 13 years waiting while in preparation and then 80 years of leadership fulfilment. And he finished well.

These messages are to help us look at the kind of things we are doing to help people grow – to apply the Word to the mess of Monday - and also to show us the tests we need to pass as leaders. If we are not living dream ourselves, then we won’t progress.


The Power of a Dream

Where there is no vision the people perish (Prov 29v18). Where leaders have no vision, they perish. If we don’t live in the light of God’s dream for our lives we will get bogged down. Joseph had a dream and that kept him going for 13 years. And he didn’t just dream the dream, he lived the dream.

It is not too late for us to dream. Or to rekindle old dreams that lie dormant.

What a dream does for you – it gives you a goal, a destiny, a purpose and keeps you moving forward; you become more pregnant for the purpose of God. Are we still anticipating God’s purpose?

How do we get a dream? Our call comes from God. Joseph was Jacob’s 11th son and the result of his parents’ cry. Joseph was born by God’s ordinance. And us – God has chosen us to lead His people and chosen the church to do great things in the earth. As leaders, we need to help people realise God has called them for a purpose. And our people need to receive a dream.

How? Through the Word (reading), preaching, or a prophetic word. This is for every one of us. It is not self-promotion because there is a bigger dream than one’s own personal fulfilment – that is, God’s plan and purpose in the earth today. Joseph himself only had part of the dream - but he was part of bigger plan of God. Only at the end did he realise that the bigger picture was to save many lives. That is the bigger picture for us – to save many lives.


Gen 39: Years of preparation

Joseph had a pretty hard time. There was a long period between the vision conceived and the vision fulfilled (also Moses – 40 years). During the preparation season we can lose heart. Circumstances can rob us of hope. We need to learn how to undergo God’s preparation time.

Often at the beginning it seems that not a lot is happening. This is root work rather than fruit work. God is taking us deep into Him and the deeper the roots the bigger the tree. That was Dave Smith’s own testimony from a church of 9 to a new building with 5,000 people at its opening. At each step (and it was step by step), God didn’t let them go further than they were ready for.

At the beginning Joseph was not ready to influence a nation. For us – it is not how old we are but how ready. We need to be ready otherwise we can slow and hinder God’s purpose for us and impact the extent to which the dream fulfilled in our lives. We need to show people that God’s dream for them is bigger than the world’s dream.

[There was a time of prayer for those who had lost their dream. Very precious!]

There were three tests for Joseph:


1) The test of forgiveness and dealing with offence

Joseph had just cause to feel offended. But there is no indication that he carried the offence. Gen 39v2 says the Lord was with Joseph and prospered him; that could not be if Joseph was carrying the offence (see Heb 12v15). Offence can hinder God’s grace in our lives. As leaders we can’t stop offences but we can stop them getting inside us. Joseph kept his spirit clear. We need to quickly and unconditionally forgive. Joseph suffered repeated offence (cast into prison, forgotten). So do we and we must leave the past behind.


2) The test of fruitfulness in an unpromising situation

When did he live the dream? Not only before Pharaoh. He started in the house of Potiphar (39v2-5). For us and our people - not just Sunday, but Monday. Even if the boss is unkind we can witness there Monday-Friday. The blessing of God can happen in the here and now.

Also v21 – the Lord was with him – that’s the key. Whatever situation, he could prosper because the Lord was with him (v21-23). He didn’t wait for good circumstances. If we don’t prosper where we are, then we will never get to where we want to be. It is not just for us to arrive but step by step, glory to glory. Pass one test, then the Lord says ready for next.

We can feel like we are in the dungeon, but God’s power works in the dungeon. Look at China! The prosperity of gospel is dependent on God Himself, not the circumstances. Start prospering where you are. Meet the test of fruitfulness in the here and now.


3) The test of faithfulness in the area of morality

V6-12. It is estimated that 60% US pastors have a problem with internet pornography. We must pass this test – and we can be sure our people are struggling too. Joseph kept pure through his life. We must be alert, even as we get older, we must guard what we think. 8 principles:

a) Realise vulnerability. If you think you are standing firm be careful lest you fall. Be aware of what you are likely to be vulnerable to (eg: money, power, pride, sensual)? Ask when at most vulnerable? Can be when very weak – Joseph was a slave and far from family, no accountability. But he was also strong, in that Lord was with him. We can think ourselves invulnerable. Who? Is there a who in your life? Be alert to danger with certain people. How? Spoke day after day. Doesn’t just come once. Came with words – be careful of the words we speak and hear. Where? Don’t be in the wrong place. Use common sense.

b) Refuse to compromise. (v8, 10, 11). Don’t simply pray – run! Stay close what is right.

c) Recognise the sin. V9 – against God. He understood covenant man had with his wife. Kept not by fear of consequence but love for God.

d) Request God’s help. God is able to help you in temptation (1 Cor 10v13).

e) Refocus our attention on Christ (Heb 3v1, 2 Cor 10v5). Remember how Sam Storms described overcoming the song of the Sirens (in Pleasures Evermore). Not just no, no, no, but oh oh oh to Jesus. Personal intimacy with the Lord. Be made new. Live by the Spirit. Follow the law of love and you will not break the commandments. If you constantly think about the sin it becomes stronger. The way to be free – keep falling in love with Jesus.

f) Reveal struggle (Ecc 4v9-10, James 5v16). Don’t need to pass test alone. Wolves like to attack lone animals.

g) Resist the devil.

h) Receive your reward (James 1v12).


Conclusion

We all have these tests. We are all still in preparation. So we still have to go through these things so God can entrust us with more.

Jesus our model - Sam Storms

When I said in my last post that I would be bringing reports from the conference, I had in mind to bring summaries of the key messages each day. However, I didn't bargain on the gloriously intense programme and also the extent of my notes - which are quite difficult to summarise, as I don't want to leave any riches out!

So I will commit myself to sharing one message each day while I am here and then next week posting summaries of the other messages. So please be patient!

Anyway, yesterday evening, we were thoroughly blessed through a glorious time of sung worship where we were caught up with the Lord, He spoke to us about drawing close to Him and then came time for God's Word. Sam Storms was the speaker.

I have done my best in note-taking. If anything seems odd don't blame Sam, blame me!! I will try and post details of how to get CDs of messages later.

Here goes:


Acts 10v34-38 (esp v38)

The WWJD phenomenon provoked important questions. Many asked the question – what would Jesus do about poverty, racial discrimination, social injustice etc. But one question is not really asked – what would Jesus do when confronted with the sick and demonised? We look to him for our strategies and models for everything else, but what about diseased bodies and oppressed souls?

Confronting poverty etc doesn’t require the presence of supernatural power (while these things are important, a person doesn’t have to be born-again to serve in these areas). But for the sick and demonised, mere human goodwill won’t do. Not more money, volunteers, or strategies. But Jesus should be our model!


Key point - The Identity of Jesus

“Of Nazareth”. A person who had a hometown. Shows his humanity – it is real humanity [there was an awesome prophecy about Christ the Man during the worship time at the conference, amazing given that only the conference leaders knew what Sam was going to speak on!].

Christ is God, but we mustn’t defend His deity by diminishing His humanity. According to Phil 2, He did not empty Himself by surrendering deity, but by taking to Himself humanity. He renounced the independent exercise of His divine power and prerogative. He didn’t pretend to be human. When we see Him doing superhuman things, our reaction is often “because He is God”. But He did these as a human in dependence on the Holy Spirit.

All these points are an exposition of Acts 10v38, although the first goes into a lot of depth to show the truth of the point from the gospel accounts.


1) His whole ministry was through the power of the Holy Spirit

If He did everything simply as God then His anointing was unnecessary. But John 3v34-35 tells us God the Father gives the Spirit to Him – without measure.

Luke 1v15 – if the herald is filled how much more One heralded? Luke 1v35 – bathed in the presence and power of Spirit. Luke 2v40 – being filled with wisdom (Is 11v2 fulfilled) – this text is a clear reference to the development of the Lord's humanity, being formed and shaped by Holy Spirit.

Luke 3 – baptism. The Spirit came like a dove, there was the audible voice of God. John says that the Spirit descended and remained, in contrast with all OT prophets that preceded Him whose anointing was temporary.

Luke 4v1 - led into the wilderness (Mark says thrust forth) by the Spirit. He resisted temptation as a man, relying on the Spirit. The Spirit brought to mind scripture.

Luke 4v14-15 – the power of His preaching ministry was in the power of the Spirit. Luke 4v16ff – His whole ministry.

Luke 5v17 – the power of the Lord was with Him to heal (power is always synonymous in Luke with the Holy Spirit). Luke 8v43-48 (esp v46) - power came out from Him – shows impartation. Matt 12v27-28 – explains source of His power – the Holy Spirit.

Heb 9v13-14 –how did He find strength to persevere? Through the eternal Spirit.

Acts 1v1-2 – teaching after resurrection. He only did things He saw His Father doing. He was given revelation by the Spirit.

Everything took place (according to Acts 10v38) because God was with Him. God gave Him the anointing.


2) It’s a good thing to heal and set free

But if it’s good thing, why doesn’t He do it more frequently? 6 responses:

a) Although we must be careful in giving more weight to faith than the NT, sometimes healing doesn’t take place due to lack of faith. Many times Jesus says “your faith has saved you.”
b) The presence of sin without repentance – James 5v14-16.
c) The person doesn’t want healing(John 5v6). In some situations a person’s identity is wrapped up in the affliction and so they don't really want to be free.
d) James 4v2 – people don’t ask. Do you pray for sustained seasons?
e) The demonic caused is not identified (Luke 13v16). Sickness can be demonic in origin (not always).
f) There are dimensions of spiritual growth and moral development that God desires more than physical health and in His wisdom can only be attained through what we learn in midst of and how we react to physical affliction – lessons of submission, humility and patience. God is at work (Rom 8v28).


3) How many?

“All.” Shows heart of God to set captives free.


4) Not merely the miraculous

It says “doing good and...”. Everything that Jesus did was in the power of the Spirit – preaching compassion, reaching to outcasts, forgiveness, teaching disciples, His acts of kindness.

They were not simple signs attesting to the presence of His kingdom, but are the essence of kingdom. Kingdom is more than these things, but not less than signs and wonders Jesus performed. “The kingdom of God has come upon you” – the Spirit is operating through Me, that shows presence of Kingdom.


Application

On the day of resurrection the disciples were hiding. In John 20v22 the first thing Jesus said, was, peace be to you. “As the Father sent Me I also send you.” I am sending you in the power of the same Spirit. His ministry did not terminate with His ascension, but is continuing. Luke 24v49, Acts 1v8. The same power that filled Him has filled and energised us.

Acts 1v8 – is not exclusively verbal testimony. Luke uses “power” (dunamis) 25 times in Luke-Acts, 10 of which relate to Jesus and 10 to us. Of the 10 that relate to Jesus, 8 refer to healing etc. Of the 10 that refer to us – 9 times refer to signs and wonders and the other is Acts 1v8!

So Acts 10v38 is a description of what should be true of us. Acts 6 tells us Stephen was “full of the Spirit”. Full as Jesus was full. That is so for us. How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?

So:

1) Read the gospels with new eyes. He is our example. A man empowered by the Father.
2) Expand your expectations of what God can do in your ministry. Do not yield to the temptation to give up.
3) Don’t back down to any disease, oppression whatever – physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological. Do not back down from any opposition of enemy. Never use perceived failures or excesses as excuse for disobeying God’s Word.
4) May God empower your preaching, teaching, prayer life, whatever your ministry. May He equip, awaken, expand your vision of what He can do through you.

26/02/2007

Enjoying God at Life in the Spirit

I've been a bit slow with my review of website links, but a brief review of one particular site (and the Lord's servant who runs the site) is essential before I make any other posts this week!

I am currently at the Life in the Spirit conference! And Sam Storms is one of the key speakers.

Sam Storms is another of my spiritual heroes. He was first introduced to me as someone who brings the message on desiring God that John Piper taught, but presents it in a way that is clearer. Having read both authors and heard both speak, I don't want to make any comparison, but I know that when I read Pleasures Evermore, it impacted me again in a similar way to Desiring God. In particular, Sam Storms' illustration of superior pleasure using the example of from Greek mythology of more beautiful music to defeat the power of the song of the Sirens, really struck me. Such is the power of superior pleasure (read the book to find out more).

Tonight at the conference Sam Storms was described as one who brings logic on fire. He is a man of the Word and mightily Spirit-filled. Truly reformed and charismatic.

The website is amazing - there are articles on almost everything one could imagine. It is worth taking a day out of your schedule to peruse the site and read its contents.

I have just ordered a copy of Sam's latest book on the doctrine of election - Chosen for Life (online version available too). Such a vital doctrine that needs to be made accessible, understood, loved, and enjoyed - that amazing security and liberty of being a child of God, and the humble awe that arises in our hearts when we consider that God in His sovereign mercy chose me!

I hope to bring reports from the conference over the next few days. So watch this space!

23/02/2007

Resolutions

Continuing my review of the sites that I have linked to... {Edit 2013:  Many of these blogs no longer function.  However, I am keeping some of the posts because (I trust) the points these blogs are making, along with my reflections, are helpful.}

A few weeks ago, I posted on Prophetic Reformation {edit 2013: no longer exists}, a wonderful site "dedicated to bringing mature Christian praxis to the prophetic arena, encouraging a greater understanding of the role of the prophetic in the church, and to also address issues that are a concern to pastors and church leaders concerning the use and abuse (including neglect) of the prophetic gifts and ministry that have taken place over previous years."

The site has recently been updated and is as good as ever. Even more excellent articles. There is also another site linked to it, with the glorious title "the days are coming!" {Edit 2013:  blog no longer exists.}

In a recent visit, one particular set of articles really caught my attention. They are entitled "Hidden Agenda?" Acknowledging that we are all prone to the suspicion of others as to our real motives, Jon says, "We each have a personal calling (as well as a corporate one) to live before God in integrity, uprightness and obedience to the leading of His Spirit."

He goes on to explain the role of truth in giving an anchor to our hearts: "What I am discovering, very slowly, is that in my giftedness that my self esteem needs can only ever be met by recognising the truth. That truth, that I need to visit regularly, is that I am in Christ, forgiven, accepted and loved. Nothing I do will make God ever love me more than He already does. Soberingly, nothing I ever do will make Him love me less either. What an amazing Lord!"

Jon has a challenging page where he describes his own "hidden agenda" and then he shares with us Jonathan Edwards' own resolutions, which speak very powerfully. It is impossible to say which are more important but let me share those which leapt out of the screen at me:

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God' s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

47. Resolved, to endeavor, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving and sincere temper; and to do at all times, what such a temper would lead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have done so.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age, say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what am I the better for them, and what I might have got by them.


Legalism or vision?

It might be argued - why have resolutions? If we are free in Christ, why impose upon oneself additional rules and regulations?

However, if we are devoted to the Lord then surely it must be our desire to please Him! Not with man-made rules, but with biblical goals for our lives. We should have a reason to live, and a way to live which is in line with God's word. We should "examine ourselves", and seek to be "transformed from glory to glory." If we can summarise scriptural commands by writing for ourselves "resolutions" then that is a good thing. It prevents drift. "Resolutions", surely, is simply another way of describing personal vision. It is saying "this is what I live for and this is what I intend to do with my life."

For me, I have a vision for my life and ministry, and that causes me to commit to certain things.


My vision

My vision is: "To see the glory of God in the transformation of the community in which I live, and the church [my local church and the wider body of Christ] fulfilling her calling to the nations."

My vision is also to have "a Christ-centred and worshipping church, where the people have a clear vision of God through His Word, experience and enjoy Him by the power of the Holy Spirit; a people who know who they are in Christ and are being conformed to His image; a people who are baptised in the Holy Spirit, being witnesses to Christ, and enjoying the full measure of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and a people with a clear vision of what church is, who are seeking the Lord and serving Him here and in the nations."

These things give me a reason to get up in the morning! God has given me a purpose on the earth. From this purpose, a lifestyle naturally flows (or should, by His grace - I'm not perfect by any means).
  • Complete devotion to the Lord. A lifestyle of worship and intimacy with Him. Seeking to live well-pleasing to Him. Seeking His presence at all times.
  • Redeeming the time - every moment to be used wisely for the glory of God.
  • Diligence in the study of the truth. My main book is God's word, but also to feed on the centuries of the wise study of men and women of God from past and present. To grow in understanding, application and enjoyment of the truth.
  • To be a man of prayer - following in the footsteps of my Master. To pray for the people, the community and for revival. To pray with people for them to enjoy their inheritance in the Holy Spirit.
  • To examine myself and allow Him to search me and know me. To be ruthless in rooting out sinful acts, thoughts and words.
  • To seek to grow up in Him, not to settle for staying in the same place, but daily maturing.
  • To be a diligent teacher of the truth of God's word. To be passionate for the growth of the whole body.
  • To live a life of love. Loving Him first, and my family, then the wider household of faith and the world that the Lord Jesus loves.
I don't live up to these things and I thank the Lord that with Him there is forgiveness. But it is helpful to consider my ways before Him, knowing why am I here and how must I live to please Him. I can then apply myself with all the strength He supplies.

21/02/2007

The power and empire of Christ

Last Monday, my wife and I took our daughter out for an early birthday present - a visit to the Tower of London. My daughter loves history and has wanted to see the Tower for a long time.

As well as having a very interesting history, the Tower is home to the Crown Jewels. As people queue up to see the jewels a video is running showing the last Coronation of the Queen. At one point she was handed an Orb (see the picture), and the Archbishop says these words:

"Receive this Orb set under the Cross and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer."

These are powerful words. Are they true? I believe so, and I believe that ultimately His empire will extend:

From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
And all be prayer and praise.
(From the hymn Crown Him with many crowns)

The scriptures tell us:

"Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession." (Psalm 2v8)

"He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth." (Psalm 72v8)

"The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool'" (Psalm 110v1)

"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2v14)

I called this blog The Best is Yet to Come because I believe that, despite many tribulations, ultimately, "All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name." (Psalm 86v9)

In God's providence, my sight of the Orb coincided with three other things:

1) I have arrived in my Sunday evening expositions of Zechariah to the middle of Chapter 14. Next Sunday's message will cover - "And the Lord will be King over all the earth" (v9).

2) My good friend Dan has transcribed a teaching of Ern Baxter's entitled "What on earth is God saying about discipling the nations?" This is a must read - a totally awesome message.

3) I have just started reading properly (as opposed to skimming) the glorious book The Puritan Hope by Iain H Murray, which shares the biblical vision (through the teaching of the Puritans), of the glorious hope of the triumph of the gospel.

All three of these things are setting my heart on fire. What a glorious thing God has purposed for His church and for the earth!

I was thinking of filling this post with lots of quotes, but I would really encourage everyone - read for yourself and be stirred with the glorious vision of Dr Baxter and the Puritans! Very different people, but yet sharing the same Biblical vision.

But why is this so important? Because such an understanding of God's purposes stirs us to seek His face with true passion. I can't resisting closing with Murray quoting J H Thornwell:

"If the church could be aroused to a deeper sense of the glory that awaits her, she would enter with a warmer spirit into the struggles that are before her. Hope would inspire ardour. She would even now arise from the dust, and like the eagle, plume her pinions for loftier flights than she has yet taken. What she wants, and what every individual Christian wants, is faith - faith in her sublime vocation, in her Divine resources, in the presence and efficacy of the Spirit that dwells in her - faith in the truth, faith in Jesus, and faith in God. With such a faith there would be no need to speculate about the future. That would speedily reveal itself. It is our unfaithfulness, our negligence and unbelief, our low and carnal aims, that retard the chariot of the Redeemer. The Bridegroom cannot come until the Bride has made herself ready. Let the Church be in earnest after greater holiness in her own members, and in faith and love undertake the conquest of the world, and she will soon settle the question whether her resources are competent to change the face of the earth."

10/02/2007

Desiring God

This is the next site on my list of links.

Back in 1992, during a four month stay in Washington DC, I was handed a book by a dear older brother in the fellowship I was attending. It was called Desiring God. At that time I had never heard of John Piper, but this was one of those books that changed my life.

While I must admit I struggled with the term "Christian Hedonist" (and I still wonder if people are put off the from examining the truth of the doctrine, by the title given to it), I was immediately gripped by the "revision" of the Westminster Shorter Catechism - "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever."

Yes, God is to feared, honoured, worshipped and obeyed, but He is to be enjoyed. The book did for me what it was meant to do - it radically increased my desire for God. It is right to enjoy God - to seek pleasure in Him. I thank God that, even though I still fall, I can say that the Lord is more satisfying than anything sin can offer; there is greater pleasure in Him than in all the passing pleasures of sin. One of my favourite quotes from Future Grace (which I read later) - "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" - is so true. "My soul finds rest in God alone" (Ps 62v1)!

I brought the book home with me and lent it to a couple of people - one was outraged by it and the other didn't read it! But after a few years John Piper's ministry became more widely known here in the UK and I found more books, and the hunger for God grew in me. So I am indebted to John Piper's ministry for drawing me to pursue God Himself in all His sufficiency. And also for encouraging me to explore Jonathan Edwards for myself.

There are many excellent articles, interviews and sermons on this website. They also now have a blog! There are some very good posts and links there, not least the links to all the audios for the recent pastor's conference! For free!!


RC Sproul

I was very excited to discover that RC Sproul gave three messages at the conference - the Holiness of God, the Holiness of Christ, and Holiness and Justice.

In my "biographical" post I mentioned my early introduction to reformed theology at Leeds Reformed Baptist Church, and the many books that I had been encouraged to read by the friend who led me to the Lord. One of those books was The Holiness of God by Sproul. This is another one of those life-changing books. It should be on the reading list of every believer. If you have led someone to the Lord, then they must read this book within the first few months of discipleship. As well as showing me just how awesome God is - how worthy of adoration, worship, awe and fear - it showed me a key thing that has helped form the rest of my theology.

He says at the end: "How can we love a holy God? The simplest answer I can give to this vital question is that we can't. Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds his holy love into our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. He is the One who takes the initiative to restore our souls. Without Him we can do nothing of righteousness. Without Him we would be doomed to everlasting alienation from His holiness. We can only love Him because He first loved us. To love a holy God requires grace, grace strong enough to pierce our hardened hearts and awaken our moribund souls."

Piper enabled me to see how totally glorious God is, the supreme goal of our pursuit, the ultimate source of delight for my soul. Sproul helped my to realise that before I could ever pursue God as He really is, I needed God to break in with irresistible grace to my soul. He breathed life into me who was dead, and with a new heart, I can indeed see God as He is and love Him. What amazing grace we have received that He has saved us, and drawn us to Himself! What an awesome privilege that He is our God!!

"Thus says the Lord, 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgement, and righteousness in all the earth, for in these I delight,' says the Lord." (Jer 9v23-24)

08/02/2007

A word about website links (part 1)

As promised, here are a few comments about some of the websites I have links to...

{Edit 2013:  I have removed some links from this blog (either because they are no longer active or because, while I followed the websites once, I can no longer do so in clear conscience).  Where the website has been removed, I have also removed the comments from this post.}


Worldwide Mission Fellowship

WWMF is the local Pentecostal church. The pastor, Dennis Greenidge is a great friend of mine and we are prayer partners. We share a desire to see our community won for Jesus Christ. There is some excellent material on their website, including video messages (Dennis preaches with real fire!) and some answers to difficult questions. The church holds an annual conference each year over the Easter weekend - it is well worth visiting if you are ever in South London.


Westminster Chapel

When Dr Kendall announced his retirement from the Chapel, a number of reformed commentators expressed the wish that the new minister would be a man that would bring the church back to a more "sound" position. Well, there is nothing unsound about Greg Haslam (there wasn't anything about Dr Kendall, either)! He is a truly man of Word and Spirit. God brought him to the Chapel and I believe the Lord is doing, and will continue to do, a great work in that place.

Greg Haslam is one of the best Bible teachers I know. I could listen to him for hours. He preached at my induction and I have had the opportunity to share fellowship with him occasionally. There is a link on the website to download some of Greg's sermons.

One of the highlights of 2003-2004 were monthly seminars at the Chapel called "Preach the Word" designed to equip pastors and preachers to meet the high challenge of preaching in today's world. All the talks were compiled into an excellent book, which is available from the bookroom.



New Frontiers

{Edit 2013:  New Frontiers is now the banner name for the group of leaders (who were part of Terry Virgo's team) who now lead new son/daughter movements.  I now have no direct relationship with any of the leaders in these new movements.  For this reason, I have removed the link to New Frontiers in the blog.  However, I am leaving my comments below as they shed some light on my spiritual journey, if anyone is interested.}

I discovered New Frontiers shortly before being baptised in the Holy Spirit. I went through a season between 1994 and 1996 moving from an "open but cautious" position (from my reformed foundations) to a more cessationist one, mainly because of the criticism levelled at the "Toronto blessing". My pastor then told me of this group of churches that was both charismatic and reformed. I admit to regarding such a combination as impossible.

I have since found that being charismatic and reformed is not only possible but biblical! I have never left the reformed foundations but in prayer and worship one morning, I found myself speaking in tongues. My joy in God grew and grew. Then in 1998 I went to the Life in the Spirit conference (where reformed theology meets charismatic experience) and found myself laid out on the conference room floor basking in the glory of God!!

I studied the scriptures and Jonathan Edwards "Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God" and realised that manifestations were not ultimate proof of whether something was a work of God or a work of the enemy. The test was the fruit - and I realised that I was meeting people who had been powerfully touched by the Holy Spirit and their lives were different! I had to repent of my attitude to the ministry of the Holy Spirit - and it became my heart's desire to be 100% charismatic and 100% reformed.

So I went to the Brighton 1998 Leaders' Conference. What glory! Drenched in the awesome presence of God. And from there I haven't really looked back. We went as a family to Stoneleigh in 1999 and again in 2000 (we missed 2001 because our son was born a few weeks before) and most of the Leaders' Conferences. Every conference has had a mighty impact upon my life.

Their vision is truly awesome. "Newfrontiers is a worldwide family of churches together on a mission, currently approaching 500 churches worldwide. With a passionate commitment to build the church according to New Testament principles, we believe that the most effective form of evangelism is worked out from strong local churches. Churches where each member participates, the gifts of the Spirit are outworked, where there is joy in caring one for the other, where there is a desire to make a difference in society and to reach those in need. We aim to achieve this by restoring the church, making disciples, training leaders, planting churches and reaching the nations." Amen!

This is God's vision for His church. I thank Him for Newfrontiers and look forward to Together on a Mission 2007. {Edit 2013:  Which was a great conference!}


More websites to follow soon...

05/02/2007

I'm Your servant

Apologies for the lack of posting over the last week - we have been decorating my son's bedroom. We've had some help from a good friend (my DIY skills are virtually zero). Its done now and it is excellent, but it has taken longer than we planned.

10 days or so ago I posted a brief description of the links to other blogs. I started today's post as a description of the website links, but - as the first link is about my own church - it has turned into something of a mini-biography! So I shall leave it at that for today! I hope it is interesting!


Lansdowne Evangelical Free Church

This is the church that I pastor - in a small corner of South London, UK! The current website is very out of date, but I am reliably informed we are going to have a new site soon (same address)! {Edit 2013:  The website was updated but then our hosting company stopped hosting.  There is now a holding page and the rest (I am sure!) will follow in the next few months.}

I became pastor of Lansdowne four years ago after six years as assistant pastor (three of them "full-time" and three while I was working as an accountant). Apart from my time at university and a four-month stay in Washington DC, Lansdowne has been my home church. I first heard the gospel at university in Leeds, some 200 miles north of London, through the son of an elder of Lansdowne Church - yes the very church I am pastoring now! Prior to university I had lived a few minutes away by bus - but the sovereign Lord sent me to Leeds to hear the gospel and then brought me back home - to Lansdowne. After a couple of years I was baptised there, became a member there, and grew there, mainly under the excellent teaching ministry of Peter Cockrell.

Initially, I was half in London and half in Leeds. During my Leeds time I attended Leeds Reformed Baptist Church. Here I sat under the ministry of Peter Parkinson and Errol Hulse. I was taught reformed theology with fire! At the same time I was discipled by the dear brother who had led me to Christ. He insisted on me reading Christian books. The very night I was converted I was just so amazed that I read the first two gospels and a book about a soldier in the Soviet army called "Vanya". Then I read "God's Smuggler". Then he got me into theology and JI Packer and Dr Lloyd-Jones! And we did regular Bible study - including a verse by verse study of Ephesians. I have never forgotten these days - they laid a vital foundation for the rest of my Christian life.

During the early days at Lansdowne (before Peter Cockrell came) the church was at a low ebb. I was even encouraged to leave and find fellowship elsewhere (something of a lack of faith)! But the Lord convicted me so clearly to stay. So I did. And under Peter Cockrell the church began to grow and open up to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Many, including me, began to see that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for today, and began to find new joy in worship. I was challenged about being baptised in the Holy Spirit. A study of the scriptures showed me that I hadn't "got it all at conversion", but I needed to be "endued with power from on high!" I sought the Lord, actually for a long time, and then the glory of the Lord filled my soul!

Right at the beginning of my Christian life, I had a sense that I would preach. That just grew and grew. Another elder from the very early days at Lansdowne, Clive Anderson, took me with him to preach at various small churches and chapels in South London. They were precious days - and I thank God that I was given the opportunity to preach. It wasn't about fame - many of the congregations were less than 10 people - but it was about getting before the Lord and opening His Word, and learning how to share with the people and feed them.

After a number of years I had a sense of call specifically to Lansdowne. I had been nurtured by Peter Cockrell, initially with a view to moving elsewhere, but the Lord clearly led me to stay. And then after Peter moved on, the call came from the church to be their pastor.

It is an awesome privilege and a great responsibility, but God is so faithful to us. We are currently relatively small, and yet there has been a great heritage. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 1,000 people worshipping at Lansdowne. We are now less than 10% of that number, but the Lord has given us a promise: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the former... and in this place will I give peace" (Haggai 2v9).

We stand on this promise that the Lord will do great things for us, and for the community where He has placed us.

We are totally dependent on His grace. As pastor, I am just a man and I struggle like everyone else - but God is faithful. At my induction service in March 2003, this song was sung, which has spoken to me powerfully ever since I first heard it a few years before:

Now into Your presence Lord
I will boldy come
It’s only by Your grace O Lord
It’s nothing I have done
Grant me Your servant heart
That I might live like You
And as you set me apart
I will humbly share the love
I found in You.

I’m Your servant here I am
Bended knees and open hands
Lord I hear Your voice today
Lord I hear and I obey
When I’m weak will You be strong
When I’m lost will You lead me home
Though I struggle on the way
Would You use me anyway
Lord I give my life today.

© 1998 Parachute Music CCLI # 2396374
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My prayer remains, whatever happens in the days that lie ahead, Lord "would You use me anyway."