It is not everyday that this happens. My wife, Susan, is a Deputy Head Teacher at Sinfin Community School in Derby. Today the school got a mention in the national press! Hurrah!
Been out of bloggy circulation for a few days.
Sunday: Preaching on John 18:1-11 where Jesus is arrested. Amazed a Jesus’ control of events in spite of hypocrites (Judas), the world (mob of Jews and Gentiles), and over-zealous, loose-cannon Christians (Peter).
Monday: a) Domestic admin. Huge pile of things to deal with have just got too embarrassing to leave. b) some planning for evangelism with David.
Tuesday: Team meeting with Gareth, David and Paul. Boy! some heavy issues to think about! Read and snoozed for a bit in what remained of the afternoon. I have been fighting off a cold for the last few days. Derwent prayer meeting and Bible study in the evening.
Wednesday: Pastoral issues. Some encouragements, but draining. Ecclesiology in the evening.
Today: Sermon prep for Sunday pm.
Bit of a ‘Dear Diary’ entry today. Bored yet? I am. Time for some more work…
Originally uploaded by Dancers.
On Thursday night I spent some time with this man. Don’t fear! He is a friend, despite the photo. Andy Court is a great encouragment and well worth getting to know.
Anyway, during the course of another dose of encouragement and crisps he mentioned his bother David Court, who is a Rev. in the Church of Scotland, has a load of his sermons on his church website. I have only had a brief listen but they sound good. Go and listen too!
The remarkable thing about the church’s website is that on the front page makes direct reference to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Anyone who knows anything about the CoS will know that this is unheard of. To most minsters, if they have heard of it, the WCF is like the embarrassinng auntie that everone wishes would stay upstairs, shut up and not show her face. I’m glad to see that Mr. Court is proud of his auntie and has her in the front room with all the visitors.
UPDATE: Oops! The reference to the ‘auntie’ is not quite on the front page. In fact, not at all. You will find it here. Which is just as well. After all, who puts their auntie at the front door? (Am I pushing this metaphor too far? I think so.)
More Calvin, I’m afraid. I am reading the section on the Christian life. In particular the section on self denial and bearing the cross. In it, Calvin comments on the tribulations that afflict Christians. He himself was no stranger to afflictions, being regularly stoned on his way to teaching and preaching.
In affliction there are, of course, the things that trouble everyone: poverty, illness, bereavement etc. And there is also suffering for righteousness’ sake i.e. because one is a Christian. These are not to be handled as the Stoic would, by ignoring all emotions and waiting patiently. Rather the full range of emotions must drive us to dependence on God alone. (Calvinists are often accused of being fatalistic, like the Stoics, and I suppose some are, but clearly Calvin knew nothing about it!)
I found this quote most interesting because it resonated with me. Speaking of Peter and his response to Jesus’ prediction of his manner of death (John 21:18), and his subsequent obedient life, Calvin says,
…even though he obeyed the divine command with the utmost fervor of heart, yet, because he had not put off his human nature, he was pulled apart by a double will. For while he contemplated that bloody death which he was to die, stricken with the dread of it, he would have gladly escaped. On the other hand, when it came to his mind that he was called to it by God’s command, having overcome and trampled his fear, he willingly and cheerfully undertook it. This, therefore, we must try to do if we would be disciples of Christ, in order that our minds may be steeped in such reverence and obedience towards God as to be able to tame and subjugate to his command all contrary affections. Thus it will come to pass that, by whatever kind of cross that we may be troubled, even in the greatest tribulations of mind, we shall firmly keep our patience. (Institutes, III.viii.10)
What struck me about this was his reference to the existence of a “double will”. All through my Christian life I have struggled with this phenomenon – a desire to do the right, in obedience to Christ, but at the same time a fear that it might hurt in some way. I’m in my 3rd decade as a Christian and I have come to believe that all Christians share the same kind of problem to some degree or other. What has troubled me though is the lack of treatment of this subject in any of my reading. Biographies of Christians, from my recollection, seem to present the subject of the biography as a great, fearless hero of the faith who would boldly and joyfully go into the most appalling situations for the sake of the gospel, and experience no emotion other than joy, joy, joy.
My own experience has been one of almost constant battle with self. I would much rather sit at home with a coffee in hand, reading nice books, writing blog entries, than going out and meeting and ministering to real people. People bring pain, sorrow, confrontation, anger. Oh, and sometimes joy too. In the quote above, Calvin recognises that such problems exist and are to be expected. This does not mean that he has a natty technique of avoiding the pain and keeping the joy – we still must “tame and subjugate … all contrary affections”. Nevertheless, his recognition that it is present and an expected problem is a great comfort and encouragement.
Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.
(Institutes III.vii.6, Battles translation)
Recently there has been a discussion on the Warfield list about the necessity of youth ministry in churches. One of the contributers, Pastor James MacDonald, said this:
…youth ministry does not produce disciples. Every study, from Barna to the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention], tells the same story – few youth discipled through youth ministries stay the course – few embrace the faith of the youth minister, let alone their parents.
Where the SBC reports that 85% of their youth walk from the faith by their second year at university, Brian Ray with the National Home Education Research Institute reports 92% of homeschool graduates claim a faith similar to their parents.
This is not a call for home education – but it is a call for home discipleship.
The statistics are pretty shocking, and I wonder what the equivalent would be in the UK.
Now, I am not one who would want to ban all youth work, but I have to admit that over recent years I have increasingly become skeptical of the emphasis that churches often place upon it. It seems to become something of a sacred cow which cannot be questioned, and certainly not killed. But my own experience, where Susan and I led a youth work for a number of years, and that of some others leads me to believe that it is over-rated. Only one person out of the many 10s of kids that we worked with can I say for sure is a Christian. At best, it is a handmaiden to home discipleship. But if there is nothing in the home, then there is little hope for the youth group.
At Derwent we get some kids coming from the housing estate to our evening service. Recently we also had some visitors who were in the area for the weekend. When the visitors saw the children they were pleased and encouraged, as we all are. But then the fateful words came out which I have heard many times before,
“After all, they are the future of the church!”
I hate disagree with someone who is encouraged and wants to express it with these words. But they are wrong. Under God, the future of the church lies with adults, especially the parents. Evangelism (of Christians and non-Christians) needs to be directed to them. “Get” the parents, train them to be godly parents along the lines of Deuteronomy 6, and the children will follow.
Don’t you think?
I have been reading some of Acts this morning. I came across 18:4,
Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (NIV)
Here is an important reminder about an aspect of preaching to non-Christians. We believe that the declaration of the gospel is a supernatural event. The message is to be handled as a holy message from God and not to be tampered with. But the method we use is to be one of reasoning with a view to persuasion. We preachers must not be content to simply stand up and declare truth. It takes more effort than that. We must seek to appeal to the mind. Win it, and hearers will have no excuse for the moral condition of their hearts.