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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 […]

A Minister of Mercy

An Offer Too Good To Refuse

What a wonderful surprise! That’s was my reaction to the very kind and generous offer made by one of the older members of my congregation. He is a retired missionary who possesses a deep theological knowledge. I couldn’t believe my ears: ‘Take any books you like – you can have first pick from my library!” So on the appointed day, and at a pre-arranged time, I went round to my friend, with some sturdy cardboard boxes, and filled my car boot [trunk] with dozens of weighty tomes.

The Secret Workings of Providence

This all happened around the time when we recently moved house, so half of my library is still in boxes. This explains why I haven’t had much time to survey the contents properly or the leisure to digest their accumulated wisdom. Yet, as providence would have it, I recently read a quotation from Thomas Goodwin in a Banner of Truth magazine (it was either imbedded in a magazine article or just the bare quote and nothing else). The quotation was something along the lines of (my heavy paraphrase) “Salvation will not be withheld from any penitent sinner who comes to God truly believing that the Lord is full of mercy.”

Isn’t is […]

Strangers in Saunas

After the swimming pool today, where I swam 30 lengths freestyle, I spent twenty minutes in the Sauna. It happened to be full of aged 50+ years men who were pontificating loudly and crudely about the politics of Northern Ireland.

As the air was getting ‘blue’ I thought I’d introduce God into the conversation. To a stunned silence I pronounced confidently ‘the problem with the nation is we have turned our backs on God – our people no longer have any time for Christ’ quickly followed by, half-smiling ‘I thought that would be a conversation stopper!’

Now, of course, the men felt obliged to talk. I was happy to confess I was a Christian minister. This began a debate on the role of church and state – in both European Catholic and Protestant churches. I was, with the Lord’s help, able to answer one inquirer about these matters (just about), and, to give a couple of little snippets about the US separation of powers (I hope I got it right!), when that was raised.

There ensued a free lively exchange for the next fifteen minutes or so. One man proclaimed himself an atheist and said one thing he could never understand, brought up in the […]

Martin Luther on Prayer

No doubt we will hear a fair bit about Martin Luther in the coming months, but I don’t think he’s featured too much on Gentle Reformation so far, so perhaps I can share a few notes I recently came across on some points Luther made about prayer.

Prayer is a duty

Luther understood prayer first and foremost as a duty, because God has commanded us to do it. It’s more than a duty, of course, but it is not less. The third commandment not only forbids us from using God’s name in an empty and meaningless way – it also requires us to praise the holy name of God and call upon it all our needs. Prayer is just as clearly and solemnly commanded as having no other gods, not murdering or stealing, and we need to have a greater sense of that than we do. Luther wrote, ‘From fact that prayer is so urgently commanded, we ought to conclude that we should by no means despise our prayers, but rather prize them highly.’ Even more strongly, Luther declared, ‘He who does not pray should know that he is no Christian and does not belong in the kingdom of God.’

I wonder […]

Our Heart Telescope

In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, making it unique among attempts to peer into the universe. As Hubble orbits the Earth, it does so above the atmosphere, which distorts and even blocks the light that reaches our planet and is what makes the stars seem to twinkle.  This orbit allows Hubble to give a view of the galaxies that far surpass that of conventional telescopes on the ground that struggle with atmospheric distortion.

So 353 miles above the Earth, Hubble orbits our globe every 97 minutes (which is about five miles per second, meaning it goes across the United States in about 10 minutes).  Hubble has caused the knowledge of outer space to explode, as it has captured images never seen before of newly discovered galaxies and space phenomenon. Scientists have realized what is out there is far more beautiful, complex, and grand in magnitude than they had even imagined. For instance, they discovered there are ten times more galaxies in the observable universe. Who knows what lies beyond what our telescopes can observe now? It took getting beyond earth’s atmosphere for scientists to see new things.

As the Hubble telescope is to astronomy, so is the Spirit to the heart […]

Man Up!

What does a real man look like in today’s (western) culture? A macho tough guy who never cries; he doesn’t let anyone tell him what to do – not his wife or his workmates or his buddies and certainly not God. He does what he likes with his money and his free time. If he wants to spend every night watching sports or his favourite TV shows or playing X-Box, that’s his right.

It would be easy to let the world’s expectations and stereotypes shape what we are as Christian men, even though the word of God challenges these cultural norms at every point. It would be so easy to just copy the models of masculinity we see all around us—our own fathers, our friends, our fictional heroes from TV and the sporting world—rather than searching the Scriptures to see what a real man is meant to be. A whole series on this topic would be helpful for those of us who need all the help we can get in learning to be men, but let me mention just one way the God who invented masculinity when he made human beings male and female tells us we are to act like […]

Kill the Midweek Prayer Meeting?

“The church started to grow when we killed the midweek prayer meeting.” Those words might seem anathema to some, but this was the sentiment of the pastor of my youth. The late Dave Long looked back on three decades of ministry in one congregation with those words. His assessment was true because more people participated in the small group Bible studies that replaced the Wednesday prayer meeting. The small groups always included prayer, and the net result was a more prayerful congregation that prayed more specifically and personally for one another and others to whom we were ministering. For that to happen, a long-established tradition had to go.

Church leadership often laments a lack of participation in midweek prayer meetings because we know the power God gives through prayer. Perhaps we can overemphasize one good-but-not-required way of doing things. The one divinely ordained corporate prayer meeting is public worship on the Lord’s Day. On that appointed day, the congregation calls on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26, Psalm 65:2-4, 1 Corinthians 1:2), and God’s people gather at the house of the Lord which is a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17). Paul and Silas supposed that […]

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 […]

In This Election Cycle, Remember the Sabbath (and the rest of God’s moral law)

Need a break from election-season stress?  How about embracing the break God built into creation from the beginning?  The Sabbath day is such a beautiful gift from God.  Through it, the giver of every good and perfect gift calls us to “cease”, to step away from life as we live it Monday through Saturday, to rest our souls in our Savior through public and private worship, and to rest our bodies through laying aside the work and recreation appropriate to the rest of the week.  This election season especially, more than any I can remember, maybe more than any in our nation’s history – that’s for historians to decide – we are a stressed electorate.  We need a break.

You’re Invited: A Day of Prayer and Fasting

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,“return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” Joel 2:12-13

Our session (at Immanuel RPC in West Lafayette) has called for a day of fasting and prayer on Thursday, September 8th. I would like to use this opportunity to invite you and your congregations to join us.