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Archive | Musings

Conversations with a snowflake

The world outside my window lay blanketed in dazzling white. I stepped outside and drank deeply from the cold fresh air.

“Good morning, Mistress Snowflake,” I greeted the freshly fallen flakes.

“Tell me, where have you come from this morning?” I asked as I marvelled at her beauty and splendour.

“O from vast heights of velvet clouds. But we were not always as you see us now,” chirped the particular snowflake I had focused my gaze on.

“Go on, tell me more.”

“We lay about the earth, in stagnant pools by busy roadsides, in polluted puddles in industrious cities, in effluent-ridden seawater. Some of us lay in leaf blocked gutters and in wayside ditches.”

Seeing my surprise she explained, “We were not as you see us now. We were mere water drops—filthy and contaminated.”

I gazed at the breathtaking beauty of the intricate structure of this perfect crystal flake and marvelled at its brilliance, “How then did you come to this?”

“The sunlight kissed us and caught us heavenward. How it happened none of us can tell. Before we knew what was happening, we were swept through the skies and set free once more.”

There was a moment’s silence as she remembered that glorious day, then she continued, “We […]

What C.S. Lewis Taught Me

On November 22, 1963 the death of C.S. Lewis was eclipsed by the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy. However, fifty-four years after his death Lewis remains in the mind of many one of the most successful and influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Indeed, few if any have left such a legacy on the evangelical church, the secular academy, and even children’s literature. Today, I remain thankful for C.S. Lewis.

Now, that may sound strange to some. I’m not overly interested in developing the differences only to say that there are a number of extremely important subjects on which Lewis and I would part ways. While I think he was brilliant his brilliance isn’t always biblically satisfying. I won’t make him something he wasn’t, nor would I offer a ready defense for the things I disagree with him on. Nevertheless, his writings have had a profound effect on me and were very formative in shaping the way I think. Here are five things I learned from C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis taught me that Christianity doesn’t have to be mindless. I grew up in the broad streams of evangelicalism in the 1990s which, not to be overly critical, probably won’t be remembered […]

The Double Groan of the Gospel

Introduction

It would be ridiculous to deny that Christian are drenched with countless blessing both material and spiritual. Yet it would not be overstating the case to recognize that every Christian personally, and Gospel workers in particular, have the greatest share or portion not in this life but the next. Glory, for the main part, belongs to worldly men. In this valley of tears believers are often heaped with shame.

It is in the context of despised, inglorious, faith that the apostle Paul mentions a ‘double groan’ of the Gospel to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 5.10. His double aim is confidence in their travail for the Lord and consolation for the afflictions and reverses they endure.

The Gravitational Groan

Our home is not down here, but with God in heaven above. Paul contrasts the temporary, flimsy, earthly body with the permanent, indestructible, heavenly frame – one day soon we will be like the risen, exalted, Lord Jesus, death swallowed up in glory, in the Temple prepared by God. Contemplation of this new resurrection body, in the likeness of the glorified humanity of our exalted Lord Jesus, should be light a magnet which draws our hearts, by soul-transforming, heart-rejoicing, triumphant-overcoming, walking by faith and […]

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 […]