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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 […]

Reading God’s Handwriting

I made a comment recently that we should be readers of three books in particular: the book of Scripture, the book of Creation, and the book of Providence.

This was off the back of a holiday which took us across the States and into Canada—so enabling us to enjoy some of the glories of God’s creation, whether it was the mountains around Seattle, the islands off Vancouver, the sheer might of Niagara Falls, or the beauty of sunsets. We saw God’s artistry in a new way. Added to that were many experiences of God’s providence as we travelled—from misplacing tickets and missing a train (which ended up saving us money!) to a stranger offering to carry a suitcase down four flights of stairs (which enabled us to catch a bus to the airport to make a flight) to many, many more—which filled us with a sense of our heavenly Father’s care.

So in preaching I said we should be good students of these three books, and in particular we should note down God’s providences so that we can see the regular care of our Father for us, and learn to marvel at his kindnesses. This way we train ourselves to see his […]

Longing for Home

I have been away from home a lot this summer. It’s not been vacationing on a beach with a little-umbrella’d drink–I can do that without leaving. My travels have been for ministry purposes with a quick trip to Vancouver for some family time. Despite the good reasons for travel, like most of you, I began to long for home.

For many people, home is a place of love and a place for which we long when we are away. You know the longing for home? Remember when you were first sick while away at university, how you longed for home?  Or during a time of family trial where you longed to be with those that needed you? Maybe a birthday missed?  Do you know those familiar smells, sounds, or sights which bring to memory your love for home?

Most of us love home and when we are away we long to be there.

As Christians, that love and longing for home ought to be a desire for our eternal home as well. We ought to long for heaven and the Christ who dwells there. For heaven is our eternal home.

Do you long for eternity? I don’t think that we consider heaven enough. At […]

Addendum on Resisting Redefinition

I’ve been thinking a little more on the need to guard against the casual adoption of the language of the PC establishment.

What I have found really helpful in thinking about this question is some recent reading about Martin Luther’s ‘Theology of the Word’. The German Reformer, pointing to biblical texts like Genesis 1.3, Romans 10.17 or 2 Corinthians 4.6, believed that the Word of God, as Carl Truman summarizes, “not only describes reality but also determines reality: all reality,” in ‘Luther and the Christian Life’ (p.80).

From the point of view of the Gospel, it is good to ask the question, why is it necessary and important to resist redefinition? Can I suggest that it would be good to bear in mind some or all of the following reasons?

First, because the chief instrument Satan uses to promote unbelief and undermine the truth, is the lies he tells. One example might be the lie of ‘same-sex marriage.’ In reality there is no such thing. Marriage is between one man and one woman. This linguistic redefinition is a false construction of the PC establishment which bears no relation to reality before God.

Second, because this blinding power of words is only removed by the […]

Resisting Redefinition

I wonder have you noticed a whole new vocabulary has been adopted and spread within our culture by the media and political elite. ‘Same-sex marriage’ is an oxymoron if ever there was one. ‘LGBT community’ presents a cohesive, friendly face. I won’t bore you with a full glossary of terms. Some others may be pertinent, but I’m sure you could cite more.

Changing vocabulary is an age-old tool to brainwash. It was the favorite method  of the Babylonian ruling class to safely assimilate immigrants and erase the memory of their own culture, both political and religious. If you struggle to remember what Shadrach’s Hebrew name was, it helps to prove my point and shows the technique had success!

Belteshazzar, as he was known, refused redefinition like the rest. Those who published the Bible were quite right to call his prophecy ‘Daniel’ and not ‘The Book of Babylonian Belteshazzar’. How easy it is to spot assimilation in ancient times. I fear redefinition is more accepted in our own days. If this blog seems a quibble about words, the PC lobby has rightly recognized, words are more powerful than we think.

Take bXXXXXy or sXXXXy as almost unmentionable examples (I never feel comfortable to mouth […]

Some Encouragments To Frequent Prayer

Out walking our beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog this evening on a lovely summer’s evening.

Here are some thoughts from a conversation that I had with my wife, on the stroll, as to reasons we should delight to pray often.

First God’s Open Access Policy. Round the clock, day and night, the Father’s door is open to hear His children’s prayers.

Second Our Great High Priest. Christ is engaged in continual everlasting intercession for His people in order that their persons and prayers may find acceptance with the Father – Hebrew 4.14-16.

Third Believers Sin Frequently. More than we know, we are in constant need of ongoing confession, cleansing of conscience, and assurance of pardon, so keeping our list short and confession up to date is best – 1 John 1.5-10.

Fourth Saints Need Much Grace. To keep our vows, fulfill our duties, know God’s will, meditate on truth, enjoy Christian fellowship, cherish our relationships, obey the commandments with joy, thanksgiving, devotion, sacrifice and kindness requires more faith than we have and more grace than we seek.

Fifth Prayer Lists Are Long. Luther did not always pray 3 hours a day. Sometimes, he said, that his dog was keener on eating dinner than his master was eager […]

Like Eden’s Cooling Breeze

As I look ahead, these next weeks weigh heavily upon me. They will be filled with travel. Yes, I will see dear people that I love. But there will be meetings. Debates. And more meetings. Concerns about church and care for sheep burden me. Then a long, long flight to follow. Messages to preach.

I confess I lack the strength for it all. My body, along with my dear wife, has been telling me for a while that I am weary. A lab report concurred. Anemia? Me? Finally, I stopped resisting and agree. Extra rest, quiet walks with my love by my side, and vitamins have already helped.

I am thankful too for this gentlest of summer Sabbath morns. The whir of hummingbird wings near my porch chair contrasts distinctly with the pileated’s thumping on the old oak up front. The dawn’s soft rays make the woods appear to come slowly to life, as if preparing to obey the psalmist and sing for joy. Indeed, they do, as cardinal and titmouse and robin and chickadee and wren harmonize from their branches. Like Eden’s cooling breeze, the morning air refreshes my face.

Yet that little cup that is my mind overflows with thoughts and, […]