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Why do you read about heaven to people dying with cancer?

Not presumably because you were taught to do that in your pastoral theology class! Nor because that’s what you saw an elder doing when one of your relatives was sick! Nor because you just like saying comforting things to other Christian people!

The far better reason to do it is because it is the means of grace that God has appointed for Christian people to be strengthened in their trials, particularly in deeply distressing times of suffering and sickness. When we minister in this way, with careful thought and prayer, from a heart full of gentleness, kindness and love, great blessing often flows to both reader and receiver.

Of course there are many other things people do to make things a little easier for a loved one or friend in their dark hours of need. You can show them kindness by purchasing a thoughtful card or writing a letter or buying them a present. You can try to cheer them up by saying perhaps you will be cured (which experience and medicine indicate may be a little falsely optimistic at best). You can share some humorous comments which may engender a wry smile or elevate their mood temporarily – but inappropriate humor […]

Frustrated with a Friend

Introduction

Having an interest in Hebrew and Old Testament studies in particular there are few people to whom I am more indebted than the scholar Mark Futato. His language courses are brilliant and his contribution to Hebrew studies massive. Whether thinking of ‘BibleWorks’ or ‘Daily Dose of Hebrew’, though I have never met him personally, I regard him as a friend.

I Just Happened To Be Reading

I was, however, a little troubled recently, when I picked up a new book entitled ‘A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Promised’, edited by Ligon Duncan III: this text contains many brilliant contributions from numerous outstanding authors. It was with a sense of excitement, therefore, that I eventually turned to the chapter on the Psalms.

Why I was frustrated

I really was not anticipating what I encountered next, as I lit upon a surprising comment he makes, on page 353 of this tome. It comes at the end of a lucid, succinct, informative, in many ways excellent entry: the section is headed ‘Approaching the New Testament’; he is dealing with the question of how many or which of the Psalms should be considered Messianic? Let me quote what our brother says:

“The answer can either be […]

No longer talking

Have you noticed that people are no longer talking? Sure, there is plenty of chat in shops and restaurants, but how often do you phone someone? If you’re over 40 you probably haven’t changed your habits, but I suspect that if you are under 40 there has been a change.

I’m reading Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, a book whose subtitle is ‘Why we expect more from technology and less from each other”. In it she explores how technology is changing us and how we interact with each other.

One aspect she writes about is the growing distaste for the talking over the phone, and a preference for texting; of how using the phone is often seen as an intrusion on people.

Turkle quotes a sixteen-year-old who won’t use the phone: “When you text, you have more time to think about what you’re writing… On the telephone, too much might show.” Another says, he might, not now, but sometime soon, “force himself” to talk on the phone. “It might be a way to teach yourself to have a conversation . For later in life, I’ll need to learn how to have a conversation…”

She tells of a daughter being picked up from school by […]

Strangers in Saunas 4

Just back from the gym! It’s been a rather hectic week – well behind on preparation. Yet, it has also been the best personal witnessing week for a few months. Had two or three long chats with total strangers who have been stopping me to ask questions.

Tonight, in the sauna, however, really ‘takes the biscuit’ (an Irish term that means gets first prize)! Let me be very brief indeed.

Three strangers (man & wife and another young man in his early twenties) plus me in the Sauna.

Young man says to us ‘as older people, what advice can you give me?’ You are probably as shocked by that as I was.

After hearing the fairly bland response of the older man, I said ‘I’ve never been asked that question before by a younger person: here’s three things I would say to you.’

The first is…….

The second is…….

The third is…….

Three answers, six words, for maximum impact (by the grace of God, with the help of the Spirit). I’ll probably never meet the young man again!

What would you have said?

An Old Christian Model For New Church Growth

Chat in Corinth

‘Have you heard about the latest Church Growth Model in Corinth? The latest preachers in Acro Creek think they’ve nailed success! O.K., it’s a little alternative, and it’s the opposite to what Paul said (but then again, for some strange reason, he seems to have cancelled his announced visit – some lame excuse about an unforeseen turn of events)! Yet, we cannot help but notice, it does seem very popular: it appears to be working! They’ve definitely had results! The crowds of pagans are flocking! They’re going to extend their buildings! Even better, there’s no suffering, so perhaps we should give it a go.’

Model for Ministry

If that was the chat in Corinth, it would explain Paul’s loving determination to put the record straight, and turn Corinthians back to the Cross. Having explained the nature and glory and hope of the Ministry of the New Covenant, he commends his urgent appeal, by the model minister he is. Effectively, he says, ‘this is how to do the work, this is the Christ’s model for church growth’, as we make our appeal, 2 Corinthians 5.20, ‘Be reconciled to God.’

“We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed, […]

The Importance of Practical Religion

‘The Gospel is at stake! You must not budge an inch! Peter, brothers, Barnabas, you’ve got to change your practice!’

Is that how it happened in Antioch, with Paul’s face-to-face rebuke of Peter, where he refused the spare the blushes? The truth of the Gospel was endangered by behavior that was disconnected from principle (Galatians 2.11 & 14):

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned …But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of Gospel, I said to Cephas: ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews.”

In my initial naivety, I thought that there was only one simple single principle being taught: that we should lovingly, prayerfully, firmly, yet bravely, highlight hypocrisy publicly, if the Gospel is in jeopardy – of course we should do that, no matter who it embarrasses, for the love of Christ, with the hope of restoring brothers – but to bow to peer pressure, and create confusion about the Gospel, puts souls at eternal risk, so we cannot pass the buck!

However, on reflection, principial disconnection from practice […]

Christian Competence

Time is pressing on in sermon preparation, so on this Saturday afternoon I thought I’d share my morning thoughts.

Introduction

Perhaps your feeling tired or jaded in the work. Maybe you feel the burden of the responsibility to preach. “Who” you may wonder “is sufficient for these things?”

Context

In 2 Corinthians 1-2 Paul has been wrestling with this question. He clearly had detractors who were running down his credentials. After laying out his defense, in 1.12-2.11, he asserts that his change of plans was neither whimsical or selfish. Instead he delayed his visit to spare pain to God’s flock.

In 2.14-17 he deals with Christian conquest, for Christ has called them, as ministers, to diffuse fragrance around the globe in Christ’s Gospel victory march.

Next in 3.1-3 he shows that in exercising his powerful, successful mission, through God’s means of grace, he needs no other, human, Christian commendation, for results speak for themselves: Corinthian conversion and church planting is proof enough of divine power at work in Paul’s apostolic efforts. The fruit of New Covenant ministry is seen in the regeneration of the ‘living letters’ that Christ, through Gospel ministry, has written on living ‘fleshy’ human hearts

Then, in 3.4-6, he insists that such apostolic boasting […]

Violence in Vegas – When false gods let us down

Stunned, saddened, sickened & silenced – that captures something of my reaction to the news of the terrifying, tragic, carnage in Las Vegas last night.

Perhaps some who read this post will have relatives caught up – brothers, sisters, friends, may you know, in abundance, the grace, peace & comfort of the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, in dark days that lie ahead.

How horrifying for survivors to watch loved ones mowed down in cold blood or expiring in their arms! How terrifying for those who, at a moment’s notice, were snatched away from earth by this barbarous act!

I’ve been reflecting a little today on how to make some sense of what frankly beggars belief: we are wise to admit, there are elements in all this that our finite minds cannot fathom – in the end we know God will overrule gratuitous violence for good; yet there are other elements here, which should give us cause to pause and help lawmakers learn lessons.

By instinct, you must know, I’m politically naturally strongly conservative. I believe in the right to self-defense, though I’ve never owned a gun (nor even fired a loaded rifle – except an air gun once or twice in childhood). Indeed, […]

The language of tears

I came across a set of photographs of tears taken using a microscope. They are fascinating to look at; vastly different in their detail and patterns, like looking down at changing landscapes from an aeroplane.

The photographer, Rose-Lynn Fisher, has pictures of tears from all sorts of circumstances: tears of happiness, grief, pain, reminiscing, tears caused by irritation or for lubrication, and many other sorts—each like a unique work of art. Some are jagged and angular, some are densely detailed, like an aerial view of the Amazon rainforest. Others pictures are sparse in their detail, yet others square and block-like like a city plan. I love how she describes them as “aerial views of emotion terrain.”

Our tears are mostly salt water but contain a variety of substances—including enzymes, oils, antibodies, hormones, and even natural painkillers the body releases under stress. Each of these seems to impact the detail. (Although another photographer seems to think these additives are less of a factor.)

All this came to mind because I was preaching last Sunday on Psalm 6. The songwriter is at the end of his tether, he says his “I flood my bed with weeping… my eyes grow weak with sorrow”. Perhaps you know that […]

Underestimating the Genius of God

I am of the opinion that C.S. Lewis’ book Perelandra is a work of genius. The rich allegory, theological depth, and masterful literary style all combine to make this one of the greatest books I have ever read.

But not all share my opinion.  It is not hard to find reviews that, while enjoying the more fanciful features of the story, nevertheless miss the Christian center.  And for that my shoulders slump. They do not have, one might dare to say, eyes to see and ears to hear.

There are layers to Perelandra that require a certain measure of Christian maturity to grasp; a certain macro-theological understanding of Scripture is needed to catch its sweet scent. If a person is only familiar with the merely terrestrial, they will miss the allusions. The subtleties will pass them by like a child reading Jane Austen.

After my latest pass through Perelandra, it occurred to me that life is very much like this little volume. Not in the simple sense that Lewis’ book is meant to tell us about reality. It does that splendidly. I have in mind the idea of underestimating. In the same way that people underestimate the book and fail to grasp its […]