You can change. No really. Even porn problems.
It's a beautiful morning in Leicestershire and we're sitting under the ministry of Tim Chester, author of You can change. He's talking about…change. Here are some highlights:
- do/don't doesn't work – Colossians 20-23. Rules lack any value, but we need to recognise that legalism is appealing. It makes change something we can claim the credit for. One of the primary reasons we don't live more holy lives is because we desire to be known as holy people. Legalists don't wear horns.
- 1 Thess 5.23. Change is God's work. Other therapies may help. But only God can bring lasting change because only God can change our hearts.
Tim explains how we should be encouraged that the Father is involved in our lives; the Son has broken the power of sin and the Spirit is working to make us more like Christ. "The combined efforts of the Trinity are at work to make us holy. Be encouraged!"
Tim has just outlined four "liberating truths"
- God is great – so we don't have to be in control
- God is glorious – so we don't have to fear others
- God is good – so we don't have to look elsewhere
- God is gracious – so we don't have to prove ourselves
Tim is then applying this directly to the issue of pornography.
- While porn promises refuge, the gospel says: God is great, he is sovereign over our lives.
- While porn promises respect, the gospel says: God is glorious, he is the one whose opinion matters
- While porn promises reward, the gospel says: God is good, he is our ultimate and lasting joy.
- While porn promises revenge, the gospel says: God is gracious, he gives us more than we deserve.
And for those really struggling in this area, Tim presents five practical stages:
- abhorrence of porn: a hatred of porn itself (not just the shame it brings) and a longing for change
- adoration of God: a desire for God arising from a confidence that he offers more than porn
- assurance of grace: an assurance that you are loved by God and right with God through faith in the work of Jesus
- avoidance of temptation: a commitment to do all in your power to avoid temptation, starting with controls on your computer
- accountability to others: a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle
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Jesus’ manifesto and our plumb line
We're away at the Younger Ministers Conference with a really good group of guys, eager to grow and learn and keep going in gospel ministry. This evening we've kicked off with William Taylor outlining Jesus' manifesto in Luke's gospel. It's good stuff. We started off in chapter 4:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
William is explaining how this is Jesus' manifesto and in the chapters that follow that we see this manifesto being worked out in Jesus' ministry. Jesus' actions, especially his desire to preach and proclaim is always in line with his manifesto and we could do a lot worse than preaching through these early chapters of Luke to make sure they are our manifesto too – or, to put it another way, this chapters can be our plumb line for ministry.
If you're interested, we've tackled this section in three parts:
- the priority of Jesus' word – he came on earth to be a preacher and teacher and this must be our priority too. Luke 4.43, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose."
- the power of Jesus' word – Luke 5.4-8, "at your word I will let down the nets" – Jesus is the one who can command the fish to come (and heal and cast out and cleanse and call etc)
- the purpose of Jesus' word – to summon poor sinners into Jesus' service. Even Peter responds to a theophany the same way most people do in the Old Testament: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord." But Jesus speaks a gospel word to him: "Do not be afraid."
So, here is our plumb line. How does your ministry measure up?
PT Cornhill – apply now and/or pray now
Here's the new full length promo video for PT Cornhill. Perhaps you have people in your church who would benefit from the course? Even if not, please do pray for this important part of our work and Christopher Ash (the Director of PT Cornhill) and his team.
Office shut today, so here’s a joke instead
It's a bank holiday today so the office is shut (I know, another one, though we do, overseas readers, have less than most countries….). Here instead is a preaching joke, purloined from the pages of Leadership journal.
What's the definition of irony?
A multi-campus live screened sermon on the incarnation.
A better royal wedding
As you might expect most of the PT staff are avowed republicans (ever heard of irony?) so tomorrow we'll all be playing golf rather than watching the royal wedding (yep, irony again). But whatever you might think of our delightful royal family and the pomp and cirumcstance that tomorrow's celebration offers, we have a better royal wedding to look forward to…and this time I'm invited!
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev 21.9-11)
We have a fitness for eternal life, a meetness for it, but we have no desert of it. We deserve nothing of God even now, in ourselves. but his eternal wrath and his infinite displeasure. What, then, does It mean? Why, it means just this: we are so far meet that we are accepted in the Beloved, adopted into the family, and fitted by divine approbation to dwell with the saints in light There is a woman chosen to be a bride; she is fitted to be married, fitted to enter into the honorable state and condition of matrimony; but at present she has not on the bridal garment, she is not like the bride adorned for her husband. You do not see her yet robed in her elegant attire, with her ornaments upon her, but you know she is fitted to be a bride, she is received and welcomed as such in the family of her destination. So Christ has chosen his Church to be married to him; she has not yet put on her bridal garment, beautiful array in which she shall stand before the father’s throne, but notwithstanding, there is such a fitness in her to be the bride of Christ, when she shall have bathed herself for a little while, and lain for a little while in the bed of spices — there is such a fitness in her character, such a grace given adaptation in her to become the royal bride of her glorious Lord, and to become a partaker of the enjoyments of bliss — that it may be said of the church as a whole, and of every member of it, that they are “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light."
Rejoicing in the active obedience of Christ
As evangelicals we love the work of the cross. We rejoice in the fact that are sins and impurities are washed away – yes! All of them, wiped clean. But justified does not mean "just-as-if-I'd-never-sinned" – that is too simplistic. For the work of salvation is to pass to us the righteousness of Christ. Sin wiped clean makes me a moral nothing. Sin wiped clean and righteouness imputed makes me like Christ himself before the throne of the Father. We mustn't lose sight of this great truth which completes the picture. It dawned on me afresh as I read Hebrews 10 this morning and saw that Christ's sacrifice was acceptable to God because of his perfect obedience. It is this obedience that makes his death sufficient and "does away with the first [old covenant sacrifices] in order to establish the second."
Each morning I try to write myself a short prayer as an aide-memoire to what I have learnt; here is today's:
Precious Jesus, thank you for your perfect obedience to your Father in coming to earth and living as he called you to live. Thank you that your perfect obedience made your sacrifice acceptable and effective. I praise you for your holy life – that never a sinful word; never an impure thought; never a wrong action was ever yours. Thank you that despite temptation, you always took the Father's way. How wonderful that you never procrastinated or neglected to do the works of love. And I praise you that this righteous life, the life I read about in the gospels, is mine before our Father's throne. Thank you for the great salvation which has removed my sin and clothed me in your perfect righteousness. Amen.
This great theme is represented in all the major confessions, perhaps most explicitly in Q60 of the Heidelberg catechism: "as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me." But it features in few modern songs about redemption. One springs to mind:
All the claims of Satan's curse
Lifted through His offering,
Satisfied through suffering;
All the blessings He deserves
Poured on my unworthy soul.
(That's from Loved before the dawn of time). Perhaps we need more on this? Incidentally, Wesley's anthemic "Yes, finished the Messiah dies" captures it perfectly:
In Christ accepted and brought near
and clothed in righteousness divine;
I see the path to life made clear
amd all your merits Lord are mine.
Rubbish church names and why it doesn’t really matter
I've been preaching this weekend on Hebrews 9 and I am confirmed in my suspiscion that my church has a rubbish name. Theologically, that is. East London Tabernacle. Trouble is, there are only two tabernacles – the one that belongs to the "present age" (i.e. the tabernacle/temple of the old covenant – Hebrews 9.9) and the one that belongs to the "time of reformation" (i.e. heaven itself – Hebrews 9.10). Our tabernacle doesn't really fit into the pattern. Period. Our church was, essentially, a Spurgeon plant. He was big on taberncales.
Mind you, my last church didn't start off too well either. It started life as Zoar Baptist Chapel – that's zoar (Hebrew) meaning little (which it was) or…. insignificant (which hopefully it was not).
But in neither case does it really matter. The average Joe Punter doesn't understand tabernacle any more than he understands the nuances of Hebrew or, for that matter, why some evangelical churches are named after saints. These things don't mean what they would have done, even 50 years go. Now they're just names. Sure, our name may be theologically flawed, but for the majority of outsiders whom we are looking to reach, I don't think it really matters. In fact, around us, locals endearingly refer to the church as "The Tab." That means even less to them than tabernacle would and it is good to be well known in the community to have an affectionate name.
So our name is rubbish. But it really doesn't matter.
(BTW, the picture is of the old building, kindly reordered for us by the Luftwaffe).
From today we're shut for the Easter holidays until Tuesday 26th April. Then we're back for a couple of days before we are graciously given another day off for a royal wedding. (On which note have you seen the latest T-mobile ad!!?). All of which thinking about Easter led me to this old favourite prayer from Valley of Vision:
O Lord, I marvel that thou shouldst become incarnate,
be crucified, dead, and buried.
The sepulchre calls forth my adoring wonder,
for it is empty and thou art risen;
the four-fold gospel attests it,
the living witnesses prove it,
my heart's experience knows it.
Give me to die with thee that I may rise to new life,
for I wish to be as dead and buried
to sin, to selfishness, to the world;
that I might not hear the voice of the charmer,
and might be delivered from his lusts.
O Lord, there is much ill about me- crucify it,
much flesh within me- mortify it.
Purge me from selfishness, the fear of man, the love of approbation,
the shame of being thought old fashioned,
the desire to be cultivated or modern.
Let me reckon my old life dead because of crucifixion,
and never feed it as a living thing.
Grant me to stand with my dying Saviour,
to be content to be rejected,
to be willing to take up unpopular truths,
and to hold fast despised teachings until death.
Help me to be resolute and Christ-contained.
Never let me wander from the path of obedience to thy will.
Strengthen me for the battles ahead.
Give me courage for all the trials, and grace for all the joys.
Help me to be a happy, holy person,
free from every wrong desire,
from everything contrary to thy mind.
Grant me more and more of the resurrection life;
may it rule me,
may I walk in its power, and be strengthened through its influence.
Why do kings have jesters?
The third of Carl Trueman's church history track talks from New Word Alive focused on Blaise Pascal. I confess that, other than as a mathemetician, I knew very little about him. Perhaps his best known saying is Pascal's wager, which goes something like this:
If you're a believer and it all turns out to be false you haven't lost very much. If you're an unbeliever and it all turns out to be true, you've lost EVERYTHING.
The problem with this, said Trueman, is not only is it not biblical, it also contradicts much of what Pascal wrote elsewhere, so we're probably reading it wrong. In fact, in context (!), Pascal means this: "you live your whole life as a percentage game – everything you do is based on outcomes and logic – except this one question, which would look like this if you spelt it out. But you don't spell it out. Why? Because belief is ultimately a moral issue." Thus, Pascal's wager is not an apologetic for Christianity as it has sometimes been proposed – rather it is a rationale for why people reject God.
Along these lines, one of Pascal's most interesting questions was, "Why do kings have jesters?" In human terms they have everything they could need or aspire to. They want for nothing. We could modernise the question. Why do we always need entertainment? Why does every waking moment have to be filled when we have so much? The answer is, says Pascal, because the jester prevents the king from thinking about the one issue he really needs to face up to – death.
This is a profound insight into the modern culture. Entertainment, sport, music are ultimately distractions that prevent us from having to think about the real issues of life and death.
And that's why kings have jesters.
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Luther, preaching and the Universal Preaching Question
Mention "Luther" and "preaching" and the chances are you may be drawn into the debate about whether Luther believed in mediate regeneration. In particular it's this quote that gets people wondering:
I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble . . . I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.
Mediate regeneration is, essentially, that the word converts rather than the Spirit. Guy Davies has answered this critique here, here and here. It's not actually what I want to post on. Rather, I wanted to make the point that so much of the good stuff Luther believed about preaching has been lost in the cloud because of this worthy debate.
It was joyful, therefore, to hear Carl Trueman last week at New Word Alive. He took the church history stream and taught on four fairly eclectic characters: Athanasius, Luther, Pascal and J Gresham Machen. I was very struck by what he said about Luther – and here I paraphrase: "Justification by faith is about a key exchange between us and Christ. We receive Christ's life. He gets our death. But how does that exchange come to us? Through God's voice – through preaching. It's what makes preaching so critical. Preaching is powerful because it brings the very presence of God. That's a key idea in the Old Testament where the absence of God mirrored the absence of his words."
This preaching – a declaration that God has done certain things in Christ – is at the heart of Christian ministry. And it's why, at the end of every sermon, Luther wanted to ask himself the question, "Have I taken people to the Lord Jesus Christ?"
And it doesn't matter what you think about mediate regeneration, or if you even understand it, that is surely the Universal Preaching Question.
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