Sunday, 28 September 2008

Evangelistic Inspiration

Watch this video from "Way of the Master" (an evangelistic outreach group). A very cool inspiration to evangelism.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

8 exhortations from Edwards on why we should help the poor

From Jonathan Edwards' "Treatise on the Poor"

1. What we have is not our own and it should be used in the ways he directs.
2. What we do to the poor we do to God.
3. We must do the difficult things (such as giving money away) if we will follow Christ.
4. God will deal with us in the same as we deal with our fellow creatures.
5. It is an essential part of godliness.
6. There are promises made to those who are generous and what we give away is never lost.
7. If we are unkind and ungenerous we will be helpless and cursed when we are in distress.
8. Our prosperity and success depend upon God’s providence, so learn to be generous as God is generous to you.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

A Challenge to RIch Christians from M'Cheyne

"Your haughty dwelling rises in the midst of thousands who have scarce a fire to warm themselves at, and have but little clothing to keep out the biting frost; and yet you never darkened their door. You heave a sigh, perhaps, at a distance; but you do not visit them. Ah! my dear friend! I am concerned for the poor but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you in the great day....I fear there are many hearing me who may know [now] well that they are not Christians, because they do not love to give. TO give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends! enjoy your money; make the most of it; give none away; enjoy it quickly for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout all eternity." (p.483 Sermons of M'Cheyne)

Monday, 15 September 2008

What does the Spirit do?

Rom 2:29 He circumcises our hearts

Rom 5:5 He pours God’s love into us

Rom 7:6 He gives us a new way of serving God

Rom 8:2 He has set me free from the law of sin and death

Rom 8:5 He gives us new desires

Rom 8:9 He steers us towards righteousness

Rom 8:9 He is a sign of our belonging to Christ

Rom 8:11 He is the promise of future resurrection

Rom 8:13 He enables us to put the sinful nature to death

Rom 8:14-16 He brings the reality of adoption into our lives

Rom 8:26 He helps us in our weakness

Rom 8:26 He prays for us

Rom 14:17 He brings us righteousness, peace and joy

Rom 15:13 He gives us power

1 Cor 2:10 He reveals God’s wisdom to us

1 Cor 3:16 He lives in us and makes us into the Temple

1 Cor 6:11 He washes us, sanctifies us and justifies us

1 Cor 12:3 He enables us to say “Jesus is Lord”

1 Cor 12:7 He is working for the common good of the Church

1 Cor 12:8-11 He distributes spiritual gifts to the Church

1 Cor 12:13 He baptizes us

1 Cor 12:13 He quenches our spiritual thirst

2 Cor 1:22 He is the deposit of things to come

2 Cor 3:6 He gives life

2 Cor 3:8 He brings a glorious ministry

2 Cor 3:17 He is Lord

Gal 3:2 He is received by faith

Gal 3:14 He is the promise offered to Abraham

Gal 5:5 He will bring us future righteousness

Gal 5:17 He is opposed to the sinful nature

Gal 5:18 He sets us free from the Law

Gal 5:19 He enables spiritual fruit in our lives

Eph 1:13 He is the seal of our salvation

Eph 1:17 He gives us wisdom and revelation

Eph 2:18 He enables access to the Father

Eph 2:22 He is God’s presence with us

Eph 3:5 He reveals the purposes of God to us

Eph 3:16 He strengthens us

Eph 4:4 He gives unity to the Church

Eph 5:18 He fills us

Phil 1:19 He is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus

2 Tim 1:14 He helps us to guard the deposit of the gospel

Titus 3:5 He brings rebirth and renewal

Friday, 12 September 2008

Marks of a Spiritual Leader

Here are John Piper's overview of the character traits of a spiritual leader. You can see the full article here.

His definition: "knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God's methods to get them there in reliance on God's

Key qualities:

1. Wanting others to glorify God
2. Loves both friend and foe
3. Meditates on and prays over the Word
4. Acknowledges helplessness

Other qualities:
1. Restless
2. Optimistic (because God is in control)
3. Intense
4. Self-controlled
5. Thick-skinned
6. Energetic
7. A hard thinker
8. Articulate
9. Able to teach
10. A good judge of character
11. Tactful
12. Theologically-oriented
13. Dreamer (can see God's power over the future)
14. Organized and efficient
15. Decisive
16. Perseverant
17. Loves his wife (if he has one!)
18. Restful

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Trinitarian Spirituality

What a snappy name for a blog post!

The God we know is trinity: one God - Father, Son and Spirit. This isn't just meant to be a theological point but it has deeply practical implications for how we practice our spiritual lives. Our relationship with God is structured along 3 lines:

1. Knowing the Father means that we are adopted and have become sons of God.

2. Knowing the Son, Jesus Christ, means that we find ourselves "in Christ" - with the salvation and infinite number of blessings He has for us.

3. Knowing the Spirit means that we are born again and "walk according to the Spirit" and not according to the flesh.

Now, the fact that our God is One means that all these relationships are a unity and cannot be understood apart from one another. This means that we need to hold together all these relationships if we are to have a right relationship with God. When you read the Scriptures the one relationship through three relationships is seen everywhere and is intertwined. Salvation is a trinitarian work and we neglect the different aspects of it to our peril. This is implied by the whole reality of three persons and oneness, and particularly by the doctrine of perichoresis.

The fact is, though, that we, and our various subcultures and churches, regularly become less than trinitarian in practice and in our spirituality. We start to focus on certain aspects of the one relationship and ignore other aspects. So, we focus on the Spirit but ignore Christ, or we ignore the Father and focus on Christ, or we focus on the Father and ignore both Christ and the Spirit. The result is that our spirituality starts to veer off in a wrong direction. Our assurance disappears, or our trust in God's providence disappears, or our prayer life disappears or our sanctification disappears. One needs to be properly trinitarian in one's knowledge of God to practice a proper spirituality.


"Helpful" is the standard vocabulary that evangelicals use (at least in my context) to describe a sermon, comment, conversation that has meant something to us. I wonder, is this really "helpful"?!! Can we not learn to be a little more encouraging and enthusiastic than this? I wish to start a new campaign: let's start learning to praise people and give them real encouragement. Let's excise the word "helpful" from our vocabulary. Let's learn to rejoice in people's gifts and thank them properly for their input into out lives. Americans are great at this - can we not learn to be a little more American (and a lot more more biblical)? Such praise does not need to be empty, false, man-exalting; nor does it mean that we do not critique or even rebuke. But I think we should do one or other and not be lukewarm. We should either praise/encourage properly or we should critique properly (even if it should be done with gentleness). The irony is that real praise when you also give critique is very powerful, as is real critique when you really praise.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Magician's Nephew: Evil

The Magician's Nephew (CS Lewis) is a brilliant distillation of the nature of evil and probably my favourite Chronicle. In the book you have basically two kinds of evil presented to us: foolishness/ignorance (represented by Uncle Andrew) and pure wickedness (represented by Queen Jadis). It is fascinating to see how Lewis gives us insight into evil in its different shapes and forms.

Uncle Andrew is selfish and conceited, but also foolish and silly: “Oh, I see. You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true; most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys - and servants - and women - and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory,. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.” He is unable to hear Aslan at the creation because of his unbelief and so he only hears roaring. And throughout he is unable to relate to Aslan or any of the talking animals. He only sees animals, not talking animals. He reduces reality to empirical truth. His naturalism makes him, ironically, not wiser but blind to reality, "the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed." Aslan laments such human foolishness,“Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good.”

Queen Jadis (the white witch) is, on the other hand, a depiction of real wickedness. She is very attractive and very strong. She demonstrates the unity of aesthetics and cruelty and reminds us of how attractive and seductive evil can be. She demonstrates a character that has lost all conscience and that has become absorbed in itself. Jadis is essentiallly pure power gone evil - she sees herself as living beyond the moral law. She kills all who stand in her way, using the "deplorable word" in her home of Charn, even killing her own family. When Polly objects to her killing everyone “Don’t you understand?.... I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?” (p.42). People exist essentially for her. She is beyond all moral accountability, “You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I.” Charn had been a great and powerful city and yet had become incrediby twisted. Its civilization/culture/power were incredibly developed and yet had also become horribly wicked and violent. One can't help seeing a picture of Western culture here with our own version of the deplorable word (nuclear weapons).

Yet, powerful and frightening as she is she is also self-deluded. She fails to see that her own power is sovereignly limited. 1. It is limited in other worlds, not working on Earth (when she tries kill someone with a spell nothing happens and the intended victim thinks she’s mad or drunk) 2. She does not understand the deeper magic 3. She is no match for Aslan. When in Narnia she encounters something frightening for her, “Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stringer. She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop singing.” She tries to kill Aslan by throwing a metal bar at Him “The bar struck the Lion fair between the eyes. It glanced off and fell with a thud in the grass. The Lion came on. Its walk was neither slower nor faster than before; you could not tell whether it even knew it had been hit. Though its soft pads made no noise, you could feel the earth shake beneath their weight.... The Witch shrieked and ran...” Up until that point in the story the Witch was the most powerful and intimidating figure but then Aslan comes and she seems very small. What a wonderful reminder: Christ has absolute power over all evil. The iron bar becomes the lamp-post and becomes the source of light to Narnina!! The Witch’s evil deed turns against her. Evil is absorbed and transformed by the power of Aslan/Chrsit.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The daily choice

Each day forces a decision on me, whether I like it or not. Will I live by this age or will I live by the cross? (1 Cor 1-2) These are two mutually incompatible and contradictory lives, cultures and ministries.

What do I choose?

1. This age: self-sufficiency, independence, achievement, power? Do I spend the day thinking and boasting about myself? Am I taken up with what I have done? Am I taken up with what other people have achieved? Is the acceptance of other people the main driving force in my life? Am I trying to get things done my way?

2. The cross: is my boast all day long in what Jesus has done for me? Are my thoughts taken up with Golgotha? Am I unconcerned by looking foolish, weak and unimpressive to people? Am I most concerned with His repute? Am I trying to get things done Christ's way?

I make a decision every day and have been making it (consciously and unconsciously) every day ever since I came to know Christ. Which way am I choosing?


John Piper, in his book "Tested by Fire", give us some useful, compassionate and biblical reflections on the battle against depression - based on the life of William Cowper(see p.109ff). These are both useful for those who struggle with depression and for 'helpers' and friends who live alongside them.

1. We fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of his pessimism.

2. Love your children dearly (Cowper's family life was marked by an awful father).

3. Despair not of the despairing. Here he refers to Newton's constant care and concern for his friend William Cowper. Do not give up!

4. We need to practice the gift of self-forgetfulness. We are often best when we are not so aware of what we feel. Self-examination is needed but mental health is best when we are focused on worthy reality outside of ourselves. Self-forgetfulness and happiness are inextricably linked.

5. Escape and isolation are not an answer. Health nor holiness is had by escaping from the world and it sin.

6. Those of us who teach and preach should not limit ourselves to success stories. Hope can also be had by the looking at the struggles of a man such as William Cowper.

7. Let's rehearse the mercies of God often in the presence of discouraged people. Let's tell them of the cross often. Keep soaking people in the grace of God even though it seems to have little seeming effect.

Minister: take heed to yourself (2)

Some more from Richard Baxter on why ministers need to keep a careful watch on their lives...

1. "You have a heaven to win or lose yourselves....O sirs, how many men have preached Christ and yet perished for lack of saving interest in Him! How many that are now in hell have told their people of the torments of hell, warning them to avoid it!"

2. " have a depraved nature and sinful inclinations, as well as weak, alas, are those that seem strongest! How small a matter can cast us down, by enticing us to foolishness, kindling our passions and inordinate desires, perverting our judgment, abating our resolutions, cooling our zeal, or interrupting our diligence."

3. "...because so great a work as ours puts men on greater exercise and trial of their graces.

4. "...because the tempter will make his first and sharpest attack on you. He bears those the greatest malice who are engaged to do him the greates mischief."

5. "...because there are many eyes upon you.....Although other men may sin without observation, you cannot."

6. "...becase your sins are more heinous than the sins of others....You are more likely to sin against knowledge...Your sins have more hypocrisy than those of other men...Your sin has more perfidiousnes in it than that of other men. You are more publically and solemnly engaged against it...."

7. "...because the honour of your Lord and Master, and of His truth and His ways, lies more on you than on other men...Would it not wound you to the heart to hear the name and truth of Godreproached on your account?"

8. "...for the souls of your hearers and the success of all your labours depend on it. If the work of the Lord is not deep and genuine in your own heart, how can you expect Him to bless your labours for the salvation of others?"

Moaning about manna

Reflecting once more upon the familiar story of manna being supplied to the people in the wilderness (Numbers 11), I was struck by the spiral of sin into judgment.

1. It begins with ingratitude: the people (i.e. us) despise God's daily grace and provision ("manna"). Once seen as amazing, it is then assumed. Then it becomes ordinary and finally it seems to lack. God's grace is simply not 'enough' for me. How much of my sin is rooted in the feeling that God and His grace is not enough!

2. One seeks something else instead of God's grace and provision. We're told that the dissatisfaction of the people is rooted in a "strong craving" (v.4) for something other than what the LORD has given them, "Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing but this manna to look at." Egypt will provide what the LORD does not. The craving blinds and deceives.

3. Self-pity, melodrama and demands take over - the people end up weeping dramatically at Moses's door for meat (v.10). The subtle growth in the heart of self-righteous indignation ("I've been treated badly...I deserve something more") is very powerful.

4. What is the judgment? The people get what they want! (v.19-20)"You shall not eat for just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathesome to you..." How scary to be given what you want! Your craving is met and you find out that it wasn't what you were craving!

I am reminded of how ingratitude leads to an unhappy and dissatisfied life. The root is despising daily grace, which really means despising the LORD, "you have rejected the LORD who is among you" (v.20).

Friday, 5 September 2008

Minister: take heed to yourself!

Here's an excellent resource, particularly aimed at people in Christian ministry. It's a series of podcasts from Sovereign Grace ministries - the one on joy was, in my opinion, excellent. The great focus of this ministry is 1 Tim 4:16 "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching." Here is an excellent talk by Cj Mahaney on this verse. This is obviously really important for anyone but particularly so for those of us in ministry. I've just been re-reading Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor. He exhorts pastors to 'take heed to themselves' in ministry, to constantly examine themselves and keep watch over their hearts and ministry. His reasons are sobering....
(see Chapter One "What is it to take heed to ourselves?")

1. "...lest you be void of that saving grace which you offer to others...And lest while you proclaim the necessity of a Saviour to the world, your own hearts neglect Him and cause you to miss an interest in Him and His saving benefits....God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able pracher."

2. "...lest you live in those actual sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn...If sin is evil, why do you live in it? If it is not, why do you dissuade men from it?...It is easier to chide at sin than to overcome it."

3. "...that you may not be unfit for the great employment you have undertaken. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge who desires to teach men all those mysterious things that must be known in order to be saved..."

4. "...lest your example contradict your doctrine...lest you unsay with your lives that which you say with your tongues, and thus be the greatest hinderers of the success of your labours....It is a palpable error in those ministers who make such a difference between their preaching and their living. They study hard to preach exactly, and yet study little or none at all to live exactly....we must be doers and not preachers only...we must study as hard how to live well as how to preach well."

What's my ministry perspective?

I caught myself about 18 months ago while I was thinking about the work I'm involved. I suddenly realized that my perspective upon church planting was amazingly small and self-centred: I only thought in terms of 5-10 years. I was focused on what I achieved and what God did through me. Immediately I was struck by a strange thought. How about if I took a 100 year perspective?!! Let me commend the benefits....

If I think in terms of a 100 years everything changes. I might fail to really grow a church but the next guy will improve upon it, and then the guy after him. My failure does not mean the failure to impact the culture.... I'm just too short-sighted.Thus I can persevere in something because I don't have to 'win' now. Someone else down the line can 'win' by building on what seemed small and pathetic now. Ultimately, I can be patient with slow change in a community because taken over a 100 years it might be part of very Big Change. The real goal is not my life-span, my ministry and my success but God's glory - if I'm thinking 100 years ahead it gets my mind off myself to the true goal of history: Jesus Christ and His repute. How liberating this is! I recommend that every ministry have a 100 year plan.

A crazy church planting idea

Can I make a rather absurd and ridiculous suggestion? How about if conservative evangelicals stop planting any more churches in the suburbs or with middle class congregations? How about if we say that for the next 5 years we will ONLY plant churches in the inner cities and on council estates?

Now, of course, someone might ask why I would make such a suggestion. The answer is this: we are already so overwhelmingly white, culturally conservative, middle class and highly student/graduate-focused that if we don't do something soon we will become incapable of reaching our nation (which is mainly not this, and certainly not in London). To reverse both the trend of church culture and to develop pastors/evangelists from different backgrounds we will have to do something pretty radical. We will have to do the uncomfortable, sacrificial and potentially very slow work of reaching people WHO ARE NOT LIKE US. I suspect that if we did something as foolish and silly as this we would find ourselves in the midst of tremendous spiritual renewal as we encounter the gospel afresh and as God pours out His blessing upon us. What are we waiting for?

A definition of the Christian life

I've been struck by the way that 1 Thess 1:10 gives a (for us unusual description) of the Christian life "to wait for his Son from heaven..." The Christian life is described here in terms of waiting for the return of Jesus Christ. I wonder how many of us really think of discipleship in those terms? We are busy with so many projects, plans, ideas and our own 'perfecting' that we forget to 'wait for his Son'. Perhaps that reveals our lack of hope. It seems almost passive and joyless to simply wait for Jesus, doesn't it? It would be easy to parody such waiting as typical Christian anti-worldliness. Yet, perhaps it is our problem that many good things take the place of the one supremely Good Thing - the personal presence of Jesus. Perhaps, our hope has become diluted by things that are temporal. What are we really looking forward to? What does it really mean to live the Christian life: it means to wait for Jesus to come back.