Sanctified suffering

During our recent holiday, I found a book on the shelf entitled Puritans – Religion and Politics in Seventeenth Century England and America by John Adair. I have never heard of the author, and am not sure if he is a believer, historian (or both). However, it has been an interesting read.

The book contained a number of biographical references to real lay people. A striking theme throughout the book has been one of suffering- and the way in which the ordinary person graciously accepted the suffering as from the Lord’s hand, but also was enabled to endure it because of their theology. Here is an example for two families, the Johnsons and the Otwells (who were related by marriage):

“Waves of pestilence rather than war brought death into the circle of the Johnson family and friends. They longed for a remission of these scourges. ‘I pray God send quietness,’ wrote Sir Anthony Cave to John in November 1544, ‘for we have deaths pests and wars to know God.’ But worse befell them. A year later Otwell concluded a letter to John with the sad words ‘it has pleased God this day to take Henry Johnson, my boy, from me by death.’ His son had died in his arms. But faith rose to the challenge, and the bereaved father added: ‘Our Lord have his soul and all Christian souls, and keep you in health.’ To escape infection Otwell moved to his brother-in-law’s house, only to report a few days later: ‘God Almighty has still his scourge for me in his hands, for on Wednesday last he stuck William, my brother Gery’s lad, with the plague as we suppose, for he complains much under his arm and is become very sick.’ William died within a day or two.

“The face of death ever before their eyes certainly deepened the faith of these early English Protestants. It cast them on their knees in humble supplication and loving trust. ‘Let God do his pleasure with me,’ wrote Otwell. God alone knew the time of a person’s death which happened ‘at the Lord’s pleasure, who be our guide thereunto.’ There is no hint of theological controversy in the Johnson letters, for the laity in those days as now left all that largely to the clergy. What they desperately needed was a faith strong enough to hold a dead son in its arms. That is what the Reformation gave them.”

These amazing statements – “It has pleased God… to take…” There is no outrage, but submission. There is a turning to God for comfort in the sufferings of life. There is no questioning of God’s right to act in ways that were painful to them.

They were kept by their appreciation of eternity, “Our Lord have his soul.” They were kept by an appreciation of God’s comfort. And they were kept by the truth – “What they desperately needed was a faith strong enough to hold a dead son in its arms. That is what the Reformation gave them.”

Of course, we believe that God is able to deliver and heal, and we must pray for healing. But we also see in Scripture that there are seasons where the Lord permits us to go through trials - even when we have prayed with faith!

We should take care about rebelling against God’s providence in our lives. We have become so sophisticated at thinking we are better at knowing what He should and shouldn’t do with our lives.

This is not meant to condemn those who have been wrestling with painful things that have happened to us or our loved ones. But, we spare ourselves anguish by resting in God’s providential care. When we question Him, deep down we are questioning His goodness and His love for us; that in turn is undermining our trust in Him, when actually in the valley of suffering we need Him. We need to have that walk of trust that turns the valley of weeping into a place of springs (Psalm 84v6).

We could learn a lot from resting in God’s sovereign care, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5v7).


The harmless church?

In his book The Tide is Turning, Terry Virgo quotes a newspaper’s modern appraisal of the modern church minister: “He is a general dogsbody looking after a group of well-meaning, but generally harmless people.”

That is a very serious statement and a tragic reflection of the state of the UK church. Praise God that the tide is turning. However, I find this whole issue to be a personal challenge to myself and my church. Am I harmless? Should I be harmless? Should I be regarded in a somewhat derogatory way as “well-meaning” (but presumably wrong)?

This does not fit with the position of scripture.

The church is not well meaning, but possesses the truth

The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3v15). “Your word is truth” (John 17v17) and we have His Word. We possess the truth. The truth is:
  • A double-edged sword (Heb 4v12).
  • It’s a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer 23v29).
  • The entrance of His Word brings light (Ps 119v130). And men hate the light. The truth exposes the deeds of darkness.
Therefore, if our church is simply regarded as well-meaning, there is a problem. Of course we are not going out of our way to offend, but we should be known as people with something to say.

The church is not merely a group of people, but a people saturated with God

There is something lacking if the world simply regards us as a group of people, perhaps like any other group of people in the world. Some may go to the golf club, some to play bingo and some to church. Yet the Bible teaches quite clearly:
  • We are God’s Holy temple (1 Cor 3v16-17).
  • We are a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2v22).
  • We are a bride – beautiful for our Lord (Eph 5v25-27, Rev 19v7-8) – even those who are not being married on the day recognise the beauty of the bride. Psalm 45v12, speaking prophetically of the bride says, “And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; the rich among the people will seek your favour.”
  • We are a spiritual house (1 Peter 2v5). Again, a place where God is present, as He is worshipped. He says that He is enthroned upon our praises (Psalm 22v3). We are a holy nation (1 Peter 2v9), distinct and separated. As clearly a nation as the English, French, Chinese, Nigerian, Brazilian. People should know who we are.
  • As a result of this, the presence of God is known – even by unbelievers (1 Cor 14v24-25). They might not like it, but they know it as a fact.

The result is a dangerous people

Acts 5v14-15 says “Yet one of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Far from regarding the NT church as “generally harmless people”, those around were in awe and fear of them – and people were being saved in multitudes.

We are meant to be the head and not the tail. The tide is turning – and the scriptures give us a vision of what we should be seeing. To quote Ps 45v12 again: “The rich among the people will seek your favour.” Spurgeon comments on this verse:

“Not by pandering to their follies, but by testifying against their sins, shall the wealthy be won to the faith of Jesus. They shall come not to favour the church but to beg for her favour. She shall not be the hireling of the great, but as a queen shall she dispense her favours to the suppliant throng of the rich among the people. We go about to beg for Christ like beggars for alms, and many who should know better will make compromises and become reticent of unpopular truth to please the great ones of the earth; not so will the true bride of Christ degrade herself, when her sanctification is more deep and more visible; then will the hearts of men grow liberal, and offerings from afar, abundance and continual shall be presented at the throne of the Pacific Prince.”

There is a sense in which this is beginning to happen. The local district council in our part of London is saying to the churches “we need you to help us with the young people – here is some money.” But this should be the norm. Sitting in dilapidated buildings, getting smaller and smaller until we die is not the answer God has for His church.

May the complaint of our enemies be, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” (Acts 17v6). Turning the world upside down is the destiny of the church!


That He might be Lord

There have been some important posts in recent days concerning the nature of the atonement. Adrian Warnock has reported the decision of Word Alive and Spring Harvest to separate over the issue of the atonement. NT Wright has also commented on the issue of the atonement, in particular commenting on Steve Chalke's position and also on the book Pierced for our Transgressions. Sam Storms has also written an excellent post on his blog.

It is sad when any matters divide the people of God and it is to be avoided if possible. It might be said that we should concentrate on matters such as revival rather than divisive issues. Yes, it is vital that we talk about revival and pray for it. However, if revival is to last then it must be build upon sound doctrine. Therefore we must understand and proclaim the truth. The truth is the foundation of the church, and the church itself is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3v15).

Staying focused

Yet such controversies must not distract us from the mission of the church to extend God's kingdom. I believe that the voices that have been raised in defence of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement are right to be raised. But it is also important that those who are praying passionately for revival and seeking to restore the church continue to do so. Praise God for His apologists and for great theologians. But not everyone is called to be an apologist and/or theologian. There is a danger of getting on a bandwagon and blogging (or writing) on the latest controversy simply because everyone else is.

For example, the issue of the Da Vinci Code led to numerous books, videos, sermons and blogs. It is right to defend the truth, but it is not right that we all come to a stand-still in order to defend the truth. Let those who are so gifted and called do so, and let the rest of us be equipped through their preaching and writing, but not get distracted from the mission of building His kingdom.

I am grateful for all those who have written on the subject of the atonement (and indeed for the material on the Da Vinci Code - although we may be suffering from information overload on that one), but at the present time I don't see my role on this blog to write about either. In my original post I wrote:

"[The church]... has a great future. The Lord has promised that He will build His church and the very gates of hell will not prevail against it. Despite the pressure and the seasons of decline, Jesus Christ is returning for a radiant church without spot or blemish. The church will grow and the gospel will impact every nation, tribe, people and language in the world. Jesus Christ will win through His church.

This great victory is my vision and the vision behind this blog. I will be sharing this more in the days that lie ahead."

The risen Christ

In the light of this vision, the post which really caught my eye on Adrian Warnock's blog was one on the resurrection called "The Resurrection Empowered Life" (there is also an earlier post here). It is so exciting that, in the midst of all that is being said about the atonement of Christ, God's people are being stirred to look again at the resurrection (for another example, see my last post). This is so important. In looking at Revelation 1, Adrian says:

"We see here once again, as so frequently in the Scriptures, the death of Jesus linked with His resurrection. It struck me that “even those who pierced him” will see Jesus. Then it hit me — how will they see Jesus? How do we see Jesus now? If I say the name Jesus, what image fills my mind? If you are like me, it is probably an image of the cross. Now it is not wrong for us to gaze upon the cross in our mind's eye. But I would put it to you that it is not that image alone that will transform us. For we will not see Jesus again on a cross. Instead, we will see Him in all His glory.

I also turned this morning to the book of 2 Corinthians, which I am more and more convinced is critical for us to read and understand when considering these twin themes of the atonement and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. I cannot encourage you enough to read it through from beginning to end. Consider in particular these four verses carefully:

“We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

“. . . the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

“For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:11)

To me the conclusion of these verses is simple. We are supposed to gaze upon the glory of Jesus, the Risen Lord, and as we do so, we will be transformed into His image and live a resurrection empowered life."

Amen to that!

Jesus the Lord

Thinking on the resurrection led me to these verses:

"For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living." (Rom 14v8-9).

We see here, the glorious ultimate purpose of both the cross and the resurrection. That He might be Lord! That He might reign, all-glorious on the victor's throne. We belong to Him, and we will give and account to Him - that's a challenge. Yet we can also have great confidence - the Lamb is upon the throne. Victory is assured - both our personal welcome into glory and the ultimate victory of His church.

"For we see Jesus enthroned on high..."


The resurrection is central

Over the Easter weekend I posted on Boasting in the Cross. Today I found a very helpful post on the resurrection - "Cross-Centred? or Resurrection Centred?" by Mark Lauterbach, a Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor from San Diego.

He says,

"What if we heard this as the Gospel?:

Jesus died on the cross, paying the penalty for our sins. Jesus spirit went to heaven to be with God. Therefore we can rest assured that if we accept him, when we die, we too will go the heaven.

Would I think this was the Gospel? Is it OK not to have a bodily resurrection. I find I have no "gut rejection" of this. Yet that could not be less true of the Scriptures. Richard Gaffin says that the Christian life is a resurrection life. That the cross includes the resurrection.

I know one of the movements of our day is a call to be Gospel centered and cross-centered. I am part of that and agree with it! There is no doubt that the NT makes much of the fact that Jesus died on a cross and we are to preach Christ crucified. But as I read I remembered a conversation with a brother just a few days before, in which he asked me -- do we sometimes leave out the resurrection in our focus on the cross?"


"Here is what I see across the pages of the New Testament-- a very consistent emphasis on the exaltation of Jesus. Why is it that the most quoted text of the OT is Psalm 110 -- the ascension of the Messiah to the Right Hand of God? The NT writers stood on this side of the empty tomb and spoke of the cross. I must be careful not to go back to the other side of the empty tomb to look at the cross."

An important reflection.

Risen to reign

Now (and this me now!) reflecting on Psalm 110 as the most quoted OT text in the NT - it is clear that the resurrection is not an end in itself any more than the cross is! The resurrection has achieved so much - it shows us Christ's victory over death, it is the proof of who He is, it is the fulfillment of the OT promises concerning Messiah, it is the assurance of our own resurrection. But the resurrection itself does not stand alone. He rose in order to reign.

And He reigns until His enemies are made His footstool (Ps 110v1). The Father has installed His Redeemer - Resurrected, Ascended, Glorified, and Reigning - His King, upon His holy hill of Zion (Ps 2v6). And He says to Him "Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession." (Ps 2v8)

In fact every part of the ministry of Christ is vital. The Incarnate One, the True Man who alone could stand in our place (and who is our example in life), became the Man upon the Cross - the Redeemer, who triumphed over sin, death, satan and hell and rose from the grave, to ascend (going before us to prepare a place for us, to intercede for us), to reign in glorious splendour, to pour out His Holy Spirit (His coronation anointing oil - Ps 45v7) upon His church, to govern the church as her exalted Head, and to return for a radiant church when His enemies are made His footstool.

Thank God for all this. What a glorious Saviour.


Sam Storms on tongues

Sam Storms has recently updated his site and started blogging!! This will be a wonderful blessing to God's people, and an encouragement to all us Reformed Charismatics.

Sam's first post is an excellent piece on "The Bible and tongues" - a response to an article on the Baptist Press website by Jimmy Draper.

It is totally sound, balanced and respectful - an excellent defence of the present-day use of the gift of tongues. Do read and be equipped.


God's radiant church

One of the privileges of being away is the opportunity to visit other churches and see what the Lord is doing elsewhere in the land. Last Sunday we went to Church of Christ the King (CCK) in Brighton.

Simply being with 1000+ worshippers was so inspiring. But there were three special things that spoke to me.

A vision for the next generation

CCK is blessed with outstanding musicians, including the worship leaders that are known through the Stoneleigh and Brighton CDs. There must surely be a temptation to use these musicians every single week, but they were all sitting in the congregation worshipping the Lord while some younger guys were leading.

So, the leadership there are determined to release the younger generation into ministry - so important. Also, they are free from being caught up with celebrity status. Some might say "people will come if we have these famous worship leaders playing each week." But CCK are saying - "God is here - so people will come and meet Him."

A vision for the community

Part of the service was set aside to explain their Urban Impact iniative for 2007. The initiative started around 4 years ago, through serving the community in practical ways. 

The Church is here to make a difference to the community. We are called to be salt and light. CCK is savouring the community through loving service. Doors are opening and people are being brought into contact with church who would never normally do so.

This is a stirring example - a challenge to every church - do we have a community vision?

A vision for God's people

The message last Sunday was a wonderful pastoral exposition of Romans 8v5-11 by John Hosier. {Edit 2013: Here is the download.}

The message was entitled "Life in the Spirit." John Hosier carefully contrasted life in the flesh with life in the Spirit. He brought such encouragement. Most believers at some time or other experience doubt and discouragement about ongoing sin. But here was the reminder, we may sin "But you are not in the flesh." We are therefore not condemned, we have not lost our salvation (in fact we cannot). Even though we may sin, we are still saved.

John Hosier gave a powerful contrast. There are those who can look very much like Christians but are not in the Spirit, just like an artificial flower may look very impressive but it is not real. A real flower can look very unimpressive and withered, but it is still a real flower. As believers, we can fall and become deeply discouraged - but we are still real believers. We need to go on being filled with the Holy Spirit, we need to be revived, but we are still believers.

A true believer will believe that Jesus is Lord. We may fall in all kinds of ways, but we still know Jesus is Lord. A true believer will pray - albeit weakly. A true believer will know that God's Word has the answers, even if he or she doesn't read as they should. We may fall short in all these areas, but if these things are there in our lives, then it is a sign that we are alive.

Our body is dead because of sin, but He will give life to our mortal bodies - new and glorious resurrection bodies. What a joy to look forward to!

So - we must not be discouraged, even if we feel incredibly withered. We need the Holy Spirit to fill us again, but the life is there.

I praise the Lord that He will never let us go. But I want more, more, more!

At the end there was a time of praying for those who knew they needed a fresh touch from the Lord. And the offer of prayer for healing to which a number responded. Newfrontiers is taking seriously the challenge of praying for the sick with faith (see Dan's post on the most recent Newfrontiers Magazine).

All round a wonderful time - this is a church on the move and it was a privilege to be there.


Why should we praise the Lord?

I have just returned from a few days of blessed holiday with the family in the Sussex countryside. It was wonderful to read God's Word each day surrounded by bird song and peace. There were a few things that came out of my reading while away, but for tonight, a very short thought that challenged me deeply.

Psalm 146v2 says: “While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to God while I have my being.”

That’s it - while I live I will praise. The only reason we need to worship is that we live. I believe it was the philosopher Descartes that said "I think, therefore I am." Surely the Bible's view is "I live, therefore I worship."

We don’t need any other reason to worship. We might feel more inclined to worship when things are good, but we owe Him worship simply because we breathe.

That means everyone should worship. That means as believers we should never stop worshipping – we have our being for all eternity in His presence.

Let us speak to our soul. The AV bible puts Psalm 146v1 as a command – “Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.”

Praise ye the Lord…


The tide is turning to recover all

I am going away with the family for a few days, but I had one more post on my heart...

Easter in West Norwood, London, is an exciting time! We have had two precious services - Good Friday morning and Easter morning, and an outreach on Saturday morning. We had many visitors at both services and a number want to find out more about the Lord. We are starting an Alpha course in week's time to meet that need.

At the same time as this, our friends at the Worldwide Mission Fellowship have held their Easter Conference, which concluded last night.

The theme of their conference this year was "Recover All." This follows on from the message brought by Pastor Dennis Greenidge at the start of the year (see my report on that). The enemy is a thief and a liar and we do need to learn to take back all that has been stolen (God's promise to David was "Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all" 1 Sam 30v8). But they are not seeing this simply as things, but in the wider context. For example Isaiah 61v4: "And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations."

It was sitting in one of these meetings (on Saturday evening) that a number of prophetic words (some old and some new) are witnessing together that we are truly in amazing days. There are four which are particularly on my heart.

The tidal wave - and the turning tide

My good friend Dan. Back in November he had a powerful dream of a tidal wave hitting Brighton. I understand that he has shared this with Terry Virgo and that a number of others have had similar visions.

At the same time, Newfrontiers are speaking of the tide turning. Terry Virgo speaks of this in his book, The Tide is Turning. Let me quote from him:

"When recently gathered with some hundreds of pastors for days of prayer and fasting, it seemed that God impressed upon us that we have entered into a new era. It would not be like a new day, when familiar bird sounds and the light of the dawn prepare us for the predictable. It would not be like a new season with its recognisable transition from heat to cold or from buds to leaves. An era is less recognisable. One man discerns that steam lifts the lid of the kettle and begins to ponder the possibility of steam power. Within a few years steam power has changed the world. Sailing becomes only a sport or hobby. Steam ships encircle the globe and an industrial revolution has broken out. A new era has come.

"While it is possible to deplore the closing of many a church building, it is also possible to celebrate the opening of new churches on every side. Warehouses are being purchased, school halls are being hired, even redundant church buildings are being snapped up. The manager of a music shop in London told a friend of mine that he was selling most of his musical instruments to 'all those new churches that are starting up around here.'"

The tide is turning - and a mighty wave is coming!

This was a word given to Dennis Greenidge a short while after he had the word for his church for 2007, "the year of payback". The term replevin is a legal term and means:

"A judgement in favour of a person giving them the right and authority to recover all goods and possessions which have been wrongfully taken. A decree by the judge giving a person the legal right to recover all."

This obviously inspired the theme of the Easter Conference, but I believe it has wider implications. The nations are the rightful inheritance of the Son, because the Father has given them to Him, but at present the world is "under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5v19). This should not be. The nations belong to Jesus as His right. As His chosen vessels we have the right to recover what has been stolen. That is the Church's mission - to the ends of the earth.

The people of the Word and the people of the Spirit

This is a word given by Smith Wigglesworth in 1947. Here it is in full:

“During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it, and will be characterised by the restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

"The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches. In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say, ‘This is a great revival.’ But the Lord says, ‘No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.’

"When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidence in the churches of something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit.

"When the word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest move of the Holy Spirit that the nations, and indeed, the world have ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and Welsh revivals of former years.

The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the United Kingdom to mainland Europe, and from there, will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.”

We have seen each of the first two waves. With the exception of Newfrontiers, by and large, the restoration movement of the 1970s has declined from the heights of those Dales Bible Weeks. And yet something is stirring around the world. Not simply in the "new" churches, but in many churches - and people are coming together. I believe the prophecy given by Greg Haslam at the Brighton Leadership Conference in 2003 , is significant. The prophecy spoke of different metals - different streams - coming into a crucible. He told them “'Do not call unclean what I have called clean'. There will be such an openness and receptivity among us to something that God is gathering and heating under the power of His Holy Spirit."

The Lord is bringing people together - in order to bring revival!

The people of the anointing

Finally, this is a vision that Dr Ern Baxter had many years ago (in the 1960s). I first heard it about 7 years ago, but recently it has been quickened to me again.

Ern Baxter spoke of this vision at the Kansas City Shepherd's Conference in 1975. But the vision itself took place during a convention in Canada some 12 years previously. Ern said:

"One night as I waited there, I felt I should get on my knees and as I got on my knees I had a vision. In a vision, I saw the earth as the astronauts pictured it from the moon. It was an orb out in space, and all over that orb were Quonset huts. Now many of you are too young to know what they are, but after the last world war, the army sold those aluminum, warehouse-like structures called Quonset huts which had become army surplus. At any rate, I saw Quonset huts all the globe and they were all the same size.

"I said, "God - what's this?". He replied, "I am going to have in every place, a people that are known for the anointing". Now at that time I had a permanent pastoral charge, and I didn't know then that I would be involved in a travelling ministry; but He said, "And when you travel from place to place, you will not ask for My people by this name or that name, but you will say 'Where are the People of the Anointing'?".

It fits so clearly with the promise of the people of Word and Spirit coming together, and with Greg Haslam's prophecy. Not this church or that church - but the people of the anointing. All over the world.

There has been talk of convergence! Praise the Lord. We need to seek God for this. He has promised it and it is beginning, but we need to continue to seek Him. A tidal wave surely shall come. The church shall exercise the replevin that God has given her to bring the nations to worship: "All nations whom You have made shall come and owrship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name." (Psalm 86v9)

I believe that this is a significant year. Let us be diligent seekers after the Lord.

All-powerful on high,
Dazzling in splendour bright,
Enlarge our souls, our hearts inspire
With Pentecostal might-
We dare not let Thee go –
Thou art our one desire:
Oh, rend the heav’ns, in power come down!
Baptise us, Lord with fire.
(LFW Woodford)
{Edit 2013:  So 2007 passed without significant breakthrough!  Yet, we continue to pray!

Does this mean that the prophecies were false?  Were they prophecies at all?  I am going to leave the question of prophecy for another day.  I would just say this:  2007 was a year of great hunger after God.  We didn't see revival.  But let's not allow that to stop us seeking today!}

Living the Dream (2) - Dave Smith

Here is part 2 of Dave Smith's teaching on Living the Dream from the Life of Joseph, given at Life in the Spirit. Part 1 is here.

Before I start, I just want to highlight that fact that my former pastor, Peter Cockrell, under whom I trained at Lansdowne has now started a new blog - Already not yet.

Anyway - here is the message.

Acts 7v9-10.

In the previous session we saw how Joseph passed the faithfulness test. Today, we will be looking at the test of promotion.

We can sometimes be more comfortable with adversity than with blessing. We get used to the failure mentality of being always in the dungeon. Yet the Lord wants to take us and exalt us to a place of influence. The decline is beginning to bottom out; the real trend for the church is up because the true church is growing - out from obscurity to a place of prominence.

We see the amazing exaltation in Joseph from dungeon to throne. This is also a picture of Christ – and of us Eph 2v6 – seated with Christ. He says if we humble ourselves, he will exalt us.

So the principle is humbling today, exalting tomorrow. While the place of His pleasure is to be holy and happy, regardless of circumstances – we are not to be under a cloud all the time. His anger is for a moment, weeping endures for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. There is a time when God says “it’s enough.” And that time came for Joseph. And it will come for us. Not necessarily open exaltation, but encouragement relief, being set free. All of us want that.

I) Acts 7v9 – But God was with Him

Enjoy God’s presence. This is the theme of the whole conference. Ps 37v4 whatever the season of your life put Him and His presence first. Determine that we will trust and delight in Him whatever. When we stop and come to the end of ourselves, the presence of God comes. It’s about allowing Him to do it His way, laying down our agenda and ideas – for Him to come through. Paul and Silas in the dungeon. – at the midnight hour, did not despair but turned to God.

II) Acts 7v10 - Expect God’s deliverance

“…and rescued him from all his troubles.” There are incredible promises for those who wait on Him. We can feel like we are in a long tunnel – but the light is somewhere.

We must wait for His timing but not be passive in waiting. Not impatience, but actively exercise faith, with tenacity, “I’m not going to let go.” Through faith and patience we inherit the promise. Joseph must have kept an eye on the dream, otherwise how could he have kept sane? For we must pray like this – eg, for healing: “God has said. We believe we know God has said.” So like terrier dog, we do not let go. We are not rude but we come boldly.

Waiting is one of the hardest things, and Joseph had some waits! Gen 40 – cupbearer forgot. Gen 41 – full two years. Then, when the waiting was over, it suddenly came (Gen 41v14). When God wants to promote, it can be suddenly.

III) Exercise God’s gifts

God wants to something through us. God gave Joseph gifts and a man’s gift is going make a way for him (Acts 7v10). Not lifted up by doing nothing! As we exercise our gifts the blessing of God will come.

Realise that God hasn’t called you to be someone else, but He has called you to be you. When He made you he said, “I’m not going to do that again!” God is into originals not copies. We can learn from each other, but the way God will use you is unique. So use Your God-appointed gifts with boldness, faith and humility. He got out through the gift God had given him.

Wisdom. The wisdom was the interpretation of dreams. The first exercise of his gift didn’t bless him – it got him into trouble. The problem wasn’t the gift but his administration of it. But this lesson wasn’t lost. He is now a man of compassion – he sees their faces and asks, “Why are you so downcast?” He meets the needs of others when hurting the most.

Confidence. Gen 40v8 – Joseph had not lost faith. He acknowledges God as the source and faithfully uses the gift. In Gen 41v15-16 he shows both boldness and humility (“It is not in me, God will give Pharaoh an answer.”) He isn’t saying he is nobody, but that the power is not in me. We rightly run from soulish arrogance, but we should also run from self-degradation, which is an expression of unbelief. Peter and John said, “What I have I give unto you.” Recognise and know that you have different gifts, and when you use them the anointing will come; and know what you cannot do.

To church leaders – the way to break through is not to be holding on to everything in the church, otherwise you will burn out. At start you have to do things, but if you have someone else with you (they don’t have to be full time) then share the load. To build strong churches, we need all the gifts in operation. Churches will become fulfilled and unbelievers want to come.

God gave Joseph the gift of wisdom. Wisdom will promote you (Proverb 4v7-9). But He also gave gifts of organisation management and administration (which operated in Potiphar’s house and prison). God prepared him through these things.

We need all these gifts in the building of church (not just the 1 Cor 12 gifts). If each one is faithful to God there will be an elevation that comes to the body.

IV) Embrace God’s favour

Joseph was put in charge of Egypt (Gen 41v40-45). For us, this is not self-promotion but for church to be centre-stage in the land again. We need to be able to handle influence and affluence. Paul was content in need and in plenty.

Can God trust us? Not only financial prosperity, but a biblical balanced prosperity? Can we become distributors of God’s resources? We’ll always have more vision than provision. But if provision doesn’t catch up, we will never fulfil the vision.

Why do we need these? They are never an end in themselves, but God wants to change the nation and the nations and for us to become a light to them. God wanted to raise up Joseph because famine was on the way. “To save Egypt and Israel…” Not for us but for the lost.

We are to preach the gospel no matter what. There is a spiritual famine in the land. WE are Josephs, but we are not to stay in the dungeon forever. The Lord wants the church to open the storehouses and reach a starving nation. Not just to minister to the saints. True growth will lead to conversions. The true sign of a healthy church is where many are on the journey in.

Joseph opened the storehouse (Gen 41v56-57). And, by the end, Joseph knew that all had been God’s purpose in plan in order that he might save many (Gen 50v19-20).


Boasting in the cross

At this time of year the focus of much of our worship, sermons and meditation is upon the cross of Christ. We have nothing without the cross, nothing at all. We would all be hell-bound if Jesus had not died in our place. So what should be our response?

The cross should stir great awe at God's amazing love and the Son's glorious work

The angels are truly amazed at what God has done through the sacrifice of His Son. Even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1v12). The praise of heaven is "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain" (Rev 5v12). The living creatures and elders (angelic representations of the redeemed) cry, "You are worthy... for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood." (Rev 5v9)

The cross should be a cause of great love adoration and devotion to the Lord. Meditating upon the cross and the love of God for us should cause awe and wonder. The angels who long to look into these things and not even beneficiaries of the cross! We must worship!

Yet the worship of heaven does not focus on the cross as an end in itself, but what the cross has achieved. So we need to be in awe at the love of God ("Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us..." 1 John 3v1), amazed at what the cross has achieved and make sure we enter into it all fully - that we take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us (Phil 3v12).

A few things to consider...

The cross has brought us into the new covenant

Jesus said, "this cup is the new covenant in My blood" (1 Cor 11v25). The new covenant: the law written upon our hearts. We shall know the Lord. Our sins and lawless acts the Lord shall remember no more! (Jer 31v31-34) That is glorious.

But are we living in the light of the new covenant? Are we revelling in the intimate knowledge of the Lord that is ours now because of the shed blood? Are we entering in boldly to the most Holy Place (Heb 10v19)? Are we growing in the knowledge of the Lord? Are we living as those who have the law on our hearts or do we live as if the commandments of the Lord are burdensome (1 Jn 5v3 - when they are not)?

The cross has killed us - and our relationship with the world

I have been crucified with Christ (Gal 2v20). In Gal 6v14 Paul's boast is because the world has been crucified to him and him to the world. Our old self and our sins (Col 2v14) are nailed to the cross.

So - are we living in freedom from guilt? We might sing "Jesus keep me near the cross" (which is interesting since Jesus is nowhere near the cross now - He is on the throne, highly exalted), but still live under a cloud of condemnation. This should not be. Let us (as Dr Lloyd-Jones encouraged) preach the gospel to ourselves. The price is paid.

But also - the power of sin. We have been crucified. We are dead (Col 3v3)! Therefore sin has lost its power. We are no longer slaves bound to irrestibly follow sin's call, but we are sons of the living God, completely free to say "no."

And also - we are no longer alive to this world! We have no longer got to be conformed to it (Rom 12v2). We are transformed and called to be transformers! This is the power of what the Lord has done for us.

The cross has crushed satan

The Lord Jesus has made a public spectacle of the powers of darkness (Col 2v15). The Lord Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth and in that authority we are able to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28v18-20). Are we?

Do we realise He that is in us is greater than He that is in the world (1 John 4v4). The cross has proved His glorious victory. He came back from the grave triumphant. He took the keys of death and hades (Rev 1v18). He is seated upon the throne until all His enemies are made His footstool (Psalm 110v1).

The Holy Spirit has been outpoured

Ultimately the Lord Jesus purchased for us the promise of the Holy Spirit (Gal 3v14). And all of the above is applied to us by the Holy Spirit. The new covenant is all about the work of the Spirit. The law is written on our hearts (Jer 31v33). We have new hearts of flesh and no longer hearts of stone (Ezek 36v26). The Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh (Joel 2v28 -in contrast to simply kings, priests and prophets in the OT).

Phil 2v9 says "Therefore God has highly exalted Him." The exaltation was the result of the cross. The exaltation preceded the promise of the Holy Spirit "exalted to the Father He has poured out what you now see and hear." (Acts 2v33)

So we have the Holy Spirit by virtue of the cross. And it is the Holy Spirit that gives us new birth, it is the Holy Spirit that brings us the work of assurance, it is the Holy Spirit that grows fruit in our lives, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that we know when we draw near to God, it is in the Holy Spirit that Jesus baptises us, it is the Holy Spirit that gifts the church of Jesus Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that fills the church with the glory of God.

And He comes because of the finished work of Calvary.

Therefore let us not stay at the cross but enter in to all that the cross has purchased

The greatest response to this amazing sacrifice and everything that has been achieved, is to enter in. Nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to stay gazing at the empty cross trying to stir up emotions in worship. Yes, the cross should break our hearts, and we should be filled with love and awe. However, we should not stay gazing. Rather we should enjoy all that He has done for us.

An illustration. If someone had bought us a huge house, with lots of rooms and gardens, would they be impressed if we simply stood and gazed in wonder at the great price that was paid for it but never went and lived in the house and enjoyed the gardens? I think not. Therefore, let us not only be in awe of the price that was paid. Rather, enjoy all that was purchased. And that brings great glory to Christ.



{Edit 2013:  Sadly this website never came to pass, and so the links don't work, but I am leaving this post as evidence of our desire in these days to see Ern Baxter's messages made more widely available - a desire that remains.}

In early 2004 my best friend Dan and I were praying together. The aim of our time was simply to encourage each other in the Lord. We had been talking about the legacy that Dan had received in a large number of sermons tapes by Dr Ern Baxter but really had no idea what to do with them, other than to feed our own souls.

But in this prayer time, the Lord spoke to us. His word to us was "the call is to publish." To publish Ern Baxter's sermons. Dan has set about transcribing many messages and he has published them on his blog. He has also been converting the sermon tapes into MP3s.

And now, we have registered www.ernbaxter.com! There is just one page there at the moment, but we intend by mid-June to have MP3s there for live streaming. We will also be able to supply MP3s on CD for those who prefer their own hard copy. There will be transcripts and biographical material.

This is a major step forward - part of fulfilling God's commission to bring back into the light Ern Baxter's glorious teaching for a new generation.

If you want a taste of what will be on the site, Dan has transcribed lots already on his blog. The most recent two are on the Kadesh crisis and on the land. Awesome words.

In the next week or so there will be opportunity to leave your contact details on the site so that we can get in touch when it is up and running. We would value prayer that we get this site right and that all the glory will go to the Lord of glory!


Sam Storms on Acts 20 (part 2) - from Life in the Spirit

Finally, here is the next post from the Life in the Spirit Conference. I apologise for the delay. The first part of Sam's message can be found here.


In 2005 Piper addressed the PCA {I wasn’t able to take down this quote word for word and I can’t find it on the internet, although the CD of the message can be ordered from here}– “It is our desire that God would send a spiritual awakening, of Christ-exalting, gospel-centred truths… not truncated, partial truths. The Glory of God is seen when we see the full gospel. He is more glorified when we desire more and more of God through more and more of His truths. How can knowing more about God get in the way of loving God? More of the Word puts more kindling in place… But there are people who say we can marvel at the mountain by staying distant. No! It is the clarity of gospel truths that drives the awakening. [Those] who have treasured the fullness and clarity of gospel… so rekindling… spread around the world the highly combustible gospel doctrine.”

We need the Spirit of God to take these convictions and make them ours. Today it is not just the pursuit of understanding the text but kindling in the human heart.

I) The depth of your commitment to church must reflect depths to which God went to save it

Look to the cross to inspire your responsibility. “The church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20v28). It would be more accurate to translate this “with the blood of His own (Jesus).” “His own” is a term of endearment, showing– God’s affection, devotion and delight for His Son, which magnifies the extent of the sacrifice. So if you question your own sacrifice, consider the depths to which the Father went.

II) Behold the awesome overwhelming responsibility of those in leadership of the local church

Leaders are “undershepherds” under Him – we have a responsibility to shepherd. George Barna’s book Revolution {not in any way recommended by Sam; he reviews it at here and here} – diagnoses a revolutionary trend that many young people have concluded that they can follow Christ with no connection with local church. They do not have any notion of a covenantal bond, with leadership or teaching. But Barna supports this {and Sam Storms most definitely does not!}

But many have bad experience of abusive leadership. Heavy handed authoritarian, manipulative leadership must be banished and eliminated. If a leader cannot obey Heb 13v17 – to lead with joy – then he should resign. A leader needs to give care with understanding that they are sheep; if not then you have no business being in the ministry.

Paul realised that leadership meant time and pressure and disappointment and hurt. What sustained him or (better) who sustained Him? 2 Tim 1v12 - the person, who removed all sense of shame, removed any hint of shrinking back through fear of standing for the gospel. It doesn’t say “in whom I have believed” but “whom I have believe" relationship; let nothing come between you and Jesus. God has entrusted the gospel to you, God is able to guard what He has placed in our hands as stewards. 2 Tim 1v13 – don’t modify it. That is our responsibility.

III) Failure to consistently preach the whole counsel of God opens the door to false teaching

V30 – twisted things, even from among the elders! This turned out to be a true prophecy. See 1&2 Timothy.

IV) Never underestimate the power of God and His Word

V32 - God through the instrumentality of His word is able to build us up. God does not promise to build us up any other way than through the power and efficacy of His word. Many churches have abandoned the functional authority of the Word in their lives. The Word is not allowed to govern how the church thinks and thus the church has lost the sense of its power.

Col 2v2 - that is the goal. 1) The knowledge of the mystery of God. Now, there is a place for doubt, under the work of the Spirit; no doubt can lead to arrogance, doubt humbles us. But it can be crippling. So Paul wants to bring full assurance. Full assurance is a real possibility in this life, despite theological and personal struggles. Not saying this is infallible knowledge but can be sufficiently accurate to give us assurance. We are never fully free of doubt because of the work of satan. Yet we can still experience full assurance of understanding.

2) There are riches. Wealth, treasure, indescribable spiritual value in resting in God’s word.

3) Of understanding – assurance is a function of knowledge and depends on our depths of understanding of who He is. This is the primary way we overcome doubt. Knowledge is not an end in itself (it puffs up), yet knowledge of God is the soil in which the seeds of peace and love germinate. Ignorance sows seeds of heresy.

V) Now, returning to point 3 (Failure to consistently preach the whole counsel of God opens the door to false teaching)

We face an array of twisted things. These hinder growth and maturity.

1) 2 Tim 2v7. Illuminism. Many have abandoned expository teaching. It is a command, “consider what I say”, with a promise, “He will give understanding.” What he says is in 1 Tim 1v13 – sound words. Illuminism ignores the command and presumes about the promise. Thinking is hard work. It is easier to simply trust the promise. But it is a false presumption that God will fulfil the promise despite ignoring the command. Illuminism seems more spiritual, but actually true illumination is the fruit of investigation. Illumination does not replace meditation, it is the fruit of meditation. It is dangerous to expect it the other way round. It is a problem in the body of Christ; some close the scriptures for words of prophecy. There is an anti-intellectualism. Some are so terrified of being Pharisees that they turn off their minds. Of course dead orthodoxy is terrible, but knowledge is not the enemy, arrogance is. Truth enflames the heart. Flesh is the enemy. The mind is only the enemy when yielded to fleshly arrogance. The mind is to be renewed.

2) Sentimentalism- diminishing theology for good feelings, especially if the theology offends you. Paul’s experience: Acts 20v19, 23 – trials and imprisonment (so was he outside the will of God as some say we are if we suffer?); v20, 27 - teaching, exposition of the whole counsel of God (yet we can yield to laziness, lack of preparation, and the pressure of managing time); v21 – repentance (it means abandoning sin); v21 – faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not inclusivism (this is hard for many to swallow).

3) Atonement of Christ – v28 Shedding of blood was necessary. It was not cosmic child abuse. Such a comparison is grievous to the heart of God. The Father gives and the Son willingly offers up His life. It is not victimisation. The new view rejects divine wrath. But the absence of penal substitution means I have nothing to say to a lost and dying world. What can I tell them? What hope is there in dealing with guilt, and bringing deliverance from bondage and alienation from their Creator? But only Jesus suffered and died in our place. We are forgiven because He was forsaken. This is the only ground for our forgiveness. “I’m accepted because you were condemned.”

4) The only way of defining whether something is twisted is if there is a straight line to contrast it with. Paul believed in absolute truth. Today we are being told that if there is such a thing then we cannot know it. So heresy loses all sense of meaning.


How will you discharge your ministry? 2 Tim 4v1 – Paul was under the scrutiny of God, beneath His gaze. So Paul was not ashamed.

How aware are you as you stand before your flock? He is watching. The ears of heaven are attuned to everything you say. His eye is over every gesture, application, thought and attitude. The most important thing– am I pleasing to my Father? Preach the Word. Don’t shrink back from the whole counsel of God. May God enable us, by the Holy Spirit.