Take heart – God converts the famous too
I'm not one to gloat, but, oh man, we won the Ashes in Australia! A wonderful victory. Those England cricketers are worthy of admiration for achieving what no one has achieved for two decades. However, the Christian in me knows that they need Christ more than glory or fame. And yet, if I am brutally honest with my heart, there is a part of me that thinks that it is all just too difficult; some of them seem just too far away. Of course, I would never say that in public! But I need to be realistic that my theology (where I believe firmly that the arm of the Lord is not too short that it cannot save) is not always matched by my practice or feeling of the moment.
So, I've been encouraged to read today John Pollock's excellent little book, The Cambridge Seven, and in particular the section on the great missionary CT Studd. As you may know, CT was an England cricketer who famously played in that first Ashes test at the Oval (we lost, by the way). WG Grace described him as probably the best cricketer of the day.
CT is immortalised in the inscription found on the urn.
When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.
CT was a Christian, but unlike his brothers not a fervent one. Yet during the off season of 1883-4 his life was changed through an encounter with DL Moody the famous US evangelist. CT eventually became a great worker for Christ in China, but not before he determined to take Christ to the entire English cricket team. He took every one of his colleagues to hear Moody and AJ Webbe, AG Steel and captain Ivo Bligh all gave themselves to the Lord.
Imagine. Andrew Strauss. KP. Graeme Swann.
"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save or his ear dull that it cannot hear" (Isaiah 59.1)
Take heart, preacher and believe that God is able to do great and mighty things through the preaching of his word. Even amongst the famous.
Keeping the heart: help from John Flavel
I really appreciated Adrian's blog post on the importance of guarding the heart – thanks Adrian!. As I am involved with training preachers on the PT Cornhill Training Course, I see more and more how vital our hearts are as preachers. As well as Thomas a Kempis, I have benefited greatly from John Flavel's 'Keeping the Heart' which the good folk at Christian Focus have re-published in a very accessible format. Here's how Flavel kicks off:
'The heart of a man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles, and the foundation of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it. The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God' (p 7).
The Puritans used to talk about the need to hold orthodoxy (correct doctrine), orthopraxis (correct actions) and orthocardia (correct heart) We tend to think a lot about the first two of those. If you want help with the last one – orthocardia – Flavel is a wonderful heart surgeon.
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It’s sin that leads to death
Reading the satirical press over the weekend I noticed this story which sounds like a puerile schoolboy joke but is absolutely true. It concerns an adult TV channel which broadcasts unencrypted during the day; basically, according to Ofcom the industry regulator, the channel features barely dressed women flouting for phone-sex business. Not very nice. Ofcom have just made a ruling against the channel because one of the models……wait for it…..was seen smoking a cigarette for 3 minutes. You can't make this kind of stuff up.
It's an incredible ruling – incredible in that reveals a lot about our society (just in case you think this is all made up, you can read the ruling here, about halfway down the page). We tend to think we live in an incredibly permissive society, but we don't. It's just that the things we are permissive about have changed. Society is not just more permissive, period. For sure, in some areas it is and, typically in areas of sinfulness. But there are plenty of other areas where we are more restrictive. You can't smoke on a sex channel.
Gloriously, Scripture presents a different pattern. Alongside strong warnings about sin there is glorious grace for those who are washed clean by Christ. As Paul writes:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Genesis 1, definite articles and hard work
I'm preaching a four week series on Genesis 1 at the moment. Stirring stuff. Today in my prep I've been looking at the climax of creation on Day Six and how the text has some clues that draw us to the conclusion that this is what it is all working towards. Most noticeably, of course, the description changes from "good" to "very good."
But I also noticed today that the descriptions of the days change as well. All along the creation path there are no definite articles in the days. Days One through Five are all introduced as "there was evening and there was morning, first day" or "a first day." When you get to Day Six there is a definite article introduced to break the pattern. "there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day." There, in the text, is a clue that there is something special or climatic about this final day of creating.
I'm not a Hebrew scholar and I'm prepared to be corrected. But why do no English translations reflect this change (bar one, the New American Standard Update translates more literally)? I don't think the difference is inconsequential. I wonder if sometimes familiar words (this is how the KJV translated it) or even theology can get in the way of translation?
On occasion you see this elsewhere. For example, few translations which claim to be in the vernacular bother translating "hallowed" in the Lord's Prayer though this is a bizarre phrase that is pure jargon to the uneducated (for the record, only the HCSB amongst modern 'essentially literal' translations make a change in Matthew 6.9 – although less literal translations all do, e.g. The Message, Living Bible, NLT, CEV, NCV etc).
All of which reinforces what we believe and teach and I have found to be true again and again. There is no substitute for sitting down and working hard at the text. No short cuts.
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Goodbye Major Dick
I was genuinely saddened to read in the paper last night the obituary of Major Dick Winters of Band of Brothers fame (see also BBC report here). Almost unknown outside his regiment, the world became aware of him when the late Stephen Ambrose wrote his excellent account of Easy Company, 2nd Btn, 506 PIR during the Second World War (later made into a gritty TV mini-series starring Damian Lewis, BTW the box set has excellent interview material with Winters).
I've no idea whether he was a Christian or not. However, some years ago a fellow pastor told me that I ought to read military history and military biographies for these most closely resemble church life – we are, after all, in a battle. I think he was right. In God's common grace, Dick Winters was a remarkable leader. His men looked up to him with great respect – they testify still that they would follow him anywhere. He was not aloof, but he kept a distance at times. He was humble but brave, courageous not reckless.
Most obituaries report his famous quote when asked if he was a hero in the war. "No", he replied, "but I served in a company of heroes." That should be the testimony of every 'successful' pastor.
He is one of the last of that generation. I don't see the same mix of qualities in leaders today, which is to our loss. But we, as Christian, leaders, can still learn much from such men.
(Also interesting are Winter's war memoirs which give more detail of the man and leader – see here)
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If you're a techie who's into ebooks (for Amazon kindle, ipad, or just to read on your laptop or PC) you may not realise that many of John Piper's titles are available as free pdf files. That can be a great way of getting resources. In fact, I've been thinking with another minister whether a great way to resource overseas pastors in developing countries might not just be to buy them a kindle and load it up with these and other free resources?
It's worth checking out the Desiring God website for these – in particular, the superb Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood is available for free (not sure why as it's a Crossway book edited by Wayne Grudem). Get it while you can!
Guarding your heart
I've been much convicted over the last six months that the cause of preaching is linked closely to the state of the preachers' heart. So, I've been seeking out some things to read to help me think about my heart, and here is a surprising one. It's Thomas a Kempis' Of the Imitation of Christ. It's not a particularly Protestant books (though it has some clear Protestant ideas in it). But it also contains (amongst everything else) some devotional nuggets. Here is what I read today:
That the lovers of the cross of Jesus are few
Jesus hath now many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of his cross. He hath many desirous of consolation but few of tribulation. He findeth many companions at his table, but few of his abstinence. All desire to rejoice with him, few are willing to endure anything for him. Many follow Jesus unto the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many reverence his miracles, few follow the ignominy of the cross. Many love Jesus so long as no adversities befall them. Many praise and bless him so long as they receive any consolation from him. But if Jesus hide himself and leave them but a little while they fall either into complaining or into too much dejection of mind.
But they who love Jesus for his own sake, and not for some special comfort which they receive, bless him in all tribulation and anguish of heart as well as in the state of highest comfort. Yea, although he should never be willing to give them comfort, they notwithstanding would praise him ever and wish to be always giving thanks.
What a great desire for preachers! To love Jesus for his own sake.
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Confess your sins…and get writing
I am struggling a bit with this Scripture memorisation. Robin and I tested each other in the office yesterday and he was pretty much word perfect whereas I stumbled over my words. Moreover, I now realise that Week 1 was the easy bit of Philippians to remember (1:1-5). This week I've got Philippians 1:7-11 and it's more complex. So, like one of Wenger's double substitutions, I am trying two new strategies at the same time:
- I am going to write out the verses in my journal, not just read them through. I hope that this will keep my mind focused on them and help me to think about them more (after all, memorisation is not just about remembering for remembering's sake)
- I've admitted defeat with the ESV. Instead I'm headed for my favourite translation, the HCSB. Robin helpfully pointed out that he won't now know if I've got it right or not. Precisely! Seriously, I hope that a slightly more readable version might make the memorisation more straightforward. We'll see.
BTW, it's a great prayer that Paul prays and I'm also going to use this week to pray for friends in ministry, knowing that I need this prayer – I'm sure they do too.
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The Game Plan
One of the consistently best evangelical publications we get here in the PT office has to be Modern Reformation (hopefully we'll have a sub offer in this year's resource guide published in June). In 2011, the publication is focusing on what we sometimes call The Great Commission, but they're calling The Great Announcement. Here's a helpful quote from Editor-in-Chief Michael Horton:
It's not enough to get the gospel right; we have to get it out. But what is this famous mandate of our Lord? It has become common these days for churches to draw up mission statements and strategic plans. What often gets lost in the shuffle, however, are the elements that Jesus gave us in the Great Commission itself: proclaiming the gospel, baptizing, and teaching everything he commanded. Like the gospel itself, this mission (and strategy) is often taken for granted. The Great Commission functions more like a slogan than an actual game plan. How do you make disciples? How do you grow churches? More often than not, the answers Christian leaders give today bear little resemblance to the Word and Sacrament ministry that Jesus actually ordained for the creation, sustenance and expansion of his kingdom.
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Last term I had the joy of doing a Bible Overview with the first year Cornhill students. We did it by looking at the main covenants God makes with people. In his latest book on preaching. Philip Jensen says that preachers need to have both a strong Biblical theology and systematic theology. One of the many things I learned from doing a covenant Bible overview is that covenant is a great way of combining a Biblical and systematic theology. The 'covenant' cuts both ways (please pardon the pun…)
Books on the covenant tend to lean either towards Biblical theology or systematic theology. On the former, I benefited from the close exegesis of both William Dumbrell's Covenant and Creation and Paul Williamson's Sealed with an Oath. Both deny a covenant with Adam which I think is a pity. Looking at covenant more systematically, Michael Horton paints a beautiful picture in his Introducing Covenant Theology.
If you're only going to read one book on covenant, then
my recommendation would be O. Palmer Robertson's The Christ of the Covenants. It is an excellent blending of both Biblical and systematic theology, and although I find his definition of covenant not relational enough, it is a really insightful book with close exegesis of the text and a sensitivity to systematic categories.
If you have read all those and want to dig deeper, here are a couple of suggestions. Tentmaker Publications have just republished Samuel Petto’s careful and balanced 17th century book called The Great mystery of the Covenant of Grace. And from the 19th century, I am told that Patrick Fairbairn's The Typology of Scripture is really unbeatable.
For those who have never really thought about the covenant, perhaps this from Mr Spurgeon might encourage you to do so:
“I love men who love the covenant of grace, and base their divinity upon it; the doctrine of the covenants is the key of theology. The doctrine of the Covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scriptures are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and the covenants of grace. May God grant us now the power to instruct and you the grace to receive instruction on this vital subject.”
CH Spurgeon, 1891 inaugural address at his Pastors College Conference.
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