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Mercies in Mission

This is just a brief ‘diary entry’ after day 2 of my current pastoral visit to two missionary families in Nantes, West France.

After waking up late and bleary-eyed on Friday morning (having tried unsuccessfully to stay awake for the UK General Election results the night before), I grabbed a bite of breakfast, a mug of coffee, and headed off to our Team Meeting.

I began our time by reading Romans 1.1-17. I briefly stressed Paul’s note of thanksgiving and desire for mutual encouragement expressed in v7-12, in their saving Gospel faith v16-17, which is located in the promised, incarnate, risen, glorified Christ v1-6:

“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long […]

Love and Hell

Hell is not mentioned much these days, except when used as a curse word. It is a topic that many consider outdated and a place that few believe actually exists. And in these days of hyper-tolerance, which quickly becomes intolerance when anyone sounds the least bit doctrinaire, speaking of hell is seen as a strange, brutish thing to do.

So why do it?

In a word, it’s all about love.

For you see, hell does exist. Mocking it, ignoring it, forgetting it – none of that changes its reality. Jesus Christ preached about it repeatedly, warning his listeners of its danger. He taught that it is a real location where those who do not live as the Bible commands will be punished consciously forever. Not to believe in hell is to distrust the very words of Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith, speaking about the final judgment, uses Biblical language as it describes hell in this manner: “The wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.”

So what does speaking of hell have to do with love?

If someone is about to […]

Strangers in Saunas – Update 2

Just back from my Monday lunchtime swim at the gym – thought it might be good to pass on some more information.

Up to 60 lengths today – please don’t get visions of a Bluefin Tuna gliding effortlessly from end to end. My aquatics are more akin to that of the Humpback Whale!

The main thing learnt today in the Steam Room was God’s sovereignty over circumstances.

After entering and sitting I tried to start the conversation with a middle-aged guy in the corner by saying: ‘They could do with a light in here!’ I’ve often thought that to myself, so it seemed a reasonable introduction. Well, to my surprise there was no response at all. Just long silence for the next 5 minutes.

My next attempt was more fruitful: ‘The weather’s great, isn’t it?’ Now it just happens to have been the driest April on record in Northern Ireland. Yesterday also just happened to be a real ‘blue-sky belter-of-a-day’ (sorry if these colloquialisms seem strange across the pond!).

Suddenly the stranger perked up – it seems I’d struck the conversation-opener jackpot. ‘Yeh!’ he agreed. ‘Spent the whole day up the Mournes!’ (our local mountain range and of Don McLean fame).

‘Climbing were you?’ I inquired […]

Strangers in Saunas – Update

For those who of you who are wondering how things are going in my local health club in Belfast, or praying for the ‘strangers in saunas’ with whom I was conversing, I thought it might be helpful to give you a brief update:

I’m not sure how a clerical collar would look in the sauna, but I was tempted to consider, for future ventures, wearing a ‘onesy’ or ‘Lycra body suit’ or a bathrobe, following my next encounter with another stranger in the sauna. Perhaps you may have guessed, by my slightly prudish comments, it was an older lady who entered the sauna a couple of days later. Happily we were seated in opposite corners of the sauna, but it didn’t take too long before she introduced herself, WAIT FOR IT, by her christian name FAITH.

Well, after I had recovered from the surprise (o ye of little faith!), I couldn’t help but ask “Well, tell me FAITH ….do you have faith?” It turns out, actually, that she does – and she also attends a local church, whose former minister I know of (who is, I think, very mildly evangelical). Anyway, she goes to church regularly, and expressed her thanks for the pastoral care […]

Lord of Men and Nations

The following article is a guest post by Brad Johnston, pastor of the Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church. In sharing this news about a national confession of faith by the country of Poland, we at Gentle Reformation want to be clear that we are not advocating Roman Catholic doctrine, as Brad’s article states several times and this recent post shows. Rather, this rather remarkable situation provides a challenge for the Protestant church to pray greatly for the kingdom of God to be further manifest through nations coming to Christ.

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You may have heard the thought-provoking news that a former Soviet-bloc country in Eastern Europe has confessed the Lord Jesus Christ as King and Lord. This type of confession is what Christians pray for when they recite or sing Psalm 67: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth” (Psalm 67:4).

This notable event took place on the 1,050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland when the Polish prince embraced Christ in the year A.D. 966. A millennium later in the past century, Poland found itself pressed by Nazi Germany on the west and Communist Russia on the […]

Refreshment on Revival

At last…..  almost a month without proper internet access & the stress of moving to a new house. Which reminds me of a few thoughts I had some time ago on Revival from Zechariah 1.1-6….

Exile was now over. The people had returned. State-sponsored rebuilding of the House of Yahweh in Jerusalem had been decreed by Cyrus . The harsh reality of life in the Empire back in their homeland which had not, as yet, lived up to their dreams of restoration. The Jews as a consequence had grown spiritually gloomy and cold. So the Prophet of God is sent to stir up his returned Church. There are at least ten lessons or principles the Spirit gives us which help us think properly about revival…

1. The Church always tends to decline so is constantly in need of revival v4.

2. Church revival comes through the efficacious preaching of the Word of God v1, 3 & 6.

3. Church revival comes with messages which place a stress on sinful behaviour or practice & the need for the grace of repentance v2, 4 & 6.

4. Church revival comes after a period of chastening & acknowledgment of waywardness on the part of the people of God v6b.

5. Church revival is forgotten by previous generations […]

Visual Missiology in the Bible

The following guest post is penned by Brian Wright. Brian is a senior at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary from Arlington, Massachusetts. He and his wife Lisa spent three years in Manhattan, Kansas before moving to Pittsburgh for seminary. He is a student under care of the Midwest Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

If Israel was God’s chosen people in the Old Testament era, what about the rest of the world? Did God care about the other nations? Jesus told his disciples to make disciples of all nations, and the missionary efforts of the New Testament era are hard to miss. What does the Old Testament have to say about the nations of the world?

The chart seen to the right (click image to enlarge) is a preliminary attempt at a Biblical theological timeline of God’s concern for the nations. This August, I took part in a week-long Theology and Methods of Missions class at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Three weeks before the class began, the students were split into four groups of four and tasked with constructing a visual representation of God’s interaction with the nations. We were assigned sections of the Bible by group, and […]

To Condemn Surfing? Define Your Christianity.

“Protestant missionaries… had forced surfing deep into the shadows… To Calvinists, surfing was a sinful exercise, leading only to unbridled licentiousness and godless impiety. Go surfing they pronounced from their pulpits, and eternal flames awaited.” Pacific, 131.

Simon Winchester (one of my favorite authors) makes this passing statement  about surfing and 1820’s Hawaiian Calvinism. Calvinism is condemned in less than forty words in the midst of a 492 page book which concerns the ecological, international, and economic importance of the Pacific Ocean. Why did Calvinism get discredited in the midst of a discussion on the ocean? With no footnote or historical anecdote, the assertion was made that Calvinists believe that surfing leads to hell’s flame.

I am not arguing that such condemnations have never been made. Somewhere someone at some time has most-likely condemned wave riding, yet Winchester’s statement demonstrates that outside of the church people have presuppositions about what defines the Christian. People assume they know what is Christianity. That assumption is based on how we reflect Christianity; how we define it. To an unbelieving world, we define Christianity, not in our words only — but also in our actions.

What defines you?

What defines your Christianity?

Is it defined by a condemnation of surfing or some other lawful activity? Is […]

Expectant Prayer for the Nations

Do our prayers really matter in missions and the spread of the gospel around the globe? Is it worth leading our children to pray for specific nations of the world?

Recently, God impressed upon me the amazing era in which we live. The good news of Jesus Christ is rapidly spreading around the world.

Today, even I get to see with my own eyes the work of God in people from India, Arabia, China, and Africa – even if it is just a token of what is happening globally. My great-grandparents could only have dreamed of so many people from these lands joining us for worship as a church and sitting around our dining room table. I confess that as a child I did not expect this as I should have.

What has led to such progress? Jesus has also ordained that social, economic, and technological forces would align to propel the advance of the gospel in our day. Faithful gospel preachers have gone out over the years sowing with tears. And people have prayed for generations, and God has graciously answered.

In my growing up experience, our parents taught us to pray for the world. We prayed for specific countries from our little farm in Indiana. […]

Evangelistic Preaching

In conversations I have had recently with both seasoned ministers and young men preparing for pastoral ministry, the subject of what constitutes evangelistic preaching has been discussed. As we wonder why we do not see more conversions in Reformed churches, generally speaking, certainly one simple reason is that we do not preach for them. Are there not times where a preacher should preach not only an edifying gospel-centered sermon, delivered faithfully in his weekly Lord’s Day preaching, but an evangelizing one, whether in the church for special seasons and services or outside the church along the highways and the hedges (Luke 14:23)? If so, what would such a sermon look and sound like?

Below are thirteen characteristics, briefly explained, which help distinguish an evangelistic sermon from what we might call an edification sermon. These qualities should not be understood as mutually exclusive, but rather as weighted tendencies or features.

An evangelistic sermon is aimed primarily at unbelievers; an edification sermon is aimed primarily at Christians. An obvious quality perhaps, yet this question is worth asking. When is the last time you preached or heard such a sermon? We may rightly scoff at the excesses of the widespread Arminian, revivalistic preaching of our day. Certainly I […]