It has been a week of varied experiences. Last weekend I wanted to go north to Scotland to see my folks. However, we were thwarted by a cam-belt pulley (whatever that is) which came off the engine while on the M6 near Manchester. The glorious RAC transported us back home in the early hours of Saturday. The car’s condition was potentially very serious (so they told me). Turned out it was not and it cost me only 90 notes to get the problem fixed on Monday.

More seriously, on Tuesday a man at DFC died after a long illness. He was a fine Christian man, quiet yet faithful. He and his wife were a joy to visit. I think they were more encouraging to me than I was to them. I was taken aback when yesterday I was asked to take the funeral in just over a week’s time. This will be a first time for me. I would value prayer.

Yesterday was also the start of the ETCW Residential. I have only two modules for which I needed to attend lectures. So I travelled down in the morning and returned after this morning’s session. I enjoy these sessions as much for the fellowship of shared sufferings of study (!) as anything. It is good to meet the guys again.

I also had the privilege of preaching at the morning worship in the chapel. Preached on John 12:31,32 on the work of the Cross. I found there were surprising emotions. I enjoy preaching, but thinking of myself handling such subject matter feels a bit like looking at a child playing with matches. The child does not know the dangerous material he holds in his hands and that it needs to be treated with care. So to with the truth of God. Also, self always wants to live. Even when seeking to portray Christ in the glory of the cross, there is that dirty little voice inside saying, “look at me! look at me!” You preachers will know what I mean, I’m sure.

Anyway, best to finish with some words of the apostle Paul,

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal.6:14


Weakness in Strength. Strength in Weakness

Recent events unveil, for those who want to look, a fundamental difference in the identity and work of Muhammad and Christ Jesus. John Piper picks this up in a recent article. The very thing which we as Christians glory in – the suffering and ignominy of our Saviour on the cross – is the very thing that Islam cannot bear. Says Piper,

[A] religion with no insulted Savior will not endure insults to win the scoffers. It means that this religion is destined to bear the impossible load of upholding the honor of one who did not die and rise again to make that possible. It means that Jesus Christ is still the only hope of peace with God and peace with man. And it means that his followers must be willing to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).

Every political event in this country which highlights a moral or religious issue simply confirms to me that the Christian action necessary to alleviate these problems is not concerted effort to lobby for legislation, education or policy. Rather it is the task of singlemindedly bearing Christ’s name before men and women whatever comes our way and boldly declaring the good news of the gospel.

Weakness in Strength. Strength in Weakness

Not much going on around here…

Must be a week since I blogged last. Been fairly busy though…

  • Last Sunday started a series on Ruth at DFC. It was an overview before exposition of the passages themselves, where I drew out some main themes. I’m not sure I will do this again. I found in my sermon prep that in order to make reference to specific verses I had to spend a lot of time setting the context. Thus the main themes may have got lost under a sea of detail. Perhaps would have been better to plunge straight in.
  • Tuesday afternoon: Bible Week in Derby meeting. This is a Keswick affiliated event that runs each year. I am on the committee and am the treasurer (which is disastrous – I am not the greatest administrator!). I have done this for nearly 10 years. Prepared accounts for 2005 and budget for 2006. Somebody’s got to do it.
  • Tuesday evening: DFC midweek meeting. I took a session on reading the Bible. Not Bible exposition, but practical stuff.
  • Wednesday evening: sevice at a residential home. I enjoy these. Had an interesting conversation with a gentleman afterwards about faith and repentance and being right with God.
  • Thursday 2.45am: had to get up to take a couple of guys to Manchester airport. I don’t think I’m allowed to say where they are going or what they are doing. So I won’t.
  • Thursday evening: Went to Solihull to help out with an outreach meeting run by Solihull Presbyterian Church in the town centre arts complex. It’s about an hour’s drive away. There were 15 or 16 turned up, most of whom were Christians from other churches. However, I had a good conversation about the gospel with one bloke.
  • In between times I have done some work on my independent study module, though I am woefully far behind. I feel I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this. It’s all too much!

I now have a clear weekend to go and visit my parents in Bonnie Scotland. We did not get to see them over Christmas so there is still a goose to be eaten.

Not much going on around here…

Time for a Rambly Blether

There are some people in church life who have a lot of good things to say. They are worth listening to and getting to know. There are others who have… well… just a lot to say. And much time is lost listening to their drivell. It is one thing to have an honest question which is puzzling you, or simply to have misunderstood something. It is quite another to have got things wrong and yet to assert something strongly with a come-on-then! attitude. This will sound/read as uncharitable, but it is true. Such people would be better off, and I dare say more useful, learning what their limitations and channeling their energies more fruitfully. They would be much better saying less and thinking or serving more.

This applies to blogging as much as to face to face conversation.

With such uncharitable views it is only natural that I should apply the same line of thinking to myself. I have not blogged much over the last few days. It is not for lack of time. Just that my contibution to anything useful in this sphere must necessarily be limited. There are much more important and useful things to be doing.

I have been taking the time to think over some aspects of church life. At the end of June I will finish my stint at Derwent Free Church. What can be achieved in the five months that remain? It occurs to me that the answer seems to be “not much”? In my time at DFC, which has been part-time, my priorities have been,

  1. Preaching and teaching. This must be maintained at all costs. As Driscoll says, “preaching is where it’s at”
  2. Pastoral care. Not only the elderly and the sick, though they are important, but also the others. Helping bring the scriptures to bear on life is the real challenge rather than simply passing the time of day.
  3. Evangelism. A church must be outward looking, seeking to carry out the great commission.

All in all I have been able to maintain this list. However, the last item – evangelism – has suffered the ravages. I am the only one in that church with any meaningful time to spend in the locality of the place of worship. On paper at least.

In practice there has been precious little time and this has frustrated me. I do not think I am the greatest evangelist and I have always feared the process of evangelism. But in my time at DFC I have had a growing desire to reach out with the gospel. I am not one for fire and confrontation in evangelism. I do not believe methods such as street preaching is appropriate today. But I do believe people know the “real thing” when they see it – real love, lives that really have been marked by the gospel. I am frustrated that in a small church like DFC we seem unable to get out into the community and let people know.

I have also come to believe that as much as possible a pastor must model the behaviour he would like to characterise the church. If the church truly is a new community of God’s people characterised by love and upbuilding fellowship then the pastor needs to be a catalyst for this community. If he wants the church to be a welcoming place to newcomers then he needs to show how people are to be welcomed. Much of this comes down to dealing well with people, spending time with them, praying, reading, laughing.

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 1 Th 2:8 (NIV)

So that is what I have been thinking about over the last few days and attempting to do something about it. I expect this will dominate my thinking over the next few months. Frankly, blogging is well down the list. Besides, instead of reading what I write here, come on guys! shouldn’t you be reading Calvin or something instead?

Time for a Rambly Blether

Books Read in January 2006

Reading was a bit light in January. The first three weeks were taken up with cramming for my Hebrew exam, and afterwards sorting out the things I left undone. So I think I have an excuse. Having said that I seem to have a number of books on the go at once which I suppose will all fall out in February. So, I have two books to report on:

Transforming Keswick by Charles Price & Ian Randall (OM Publishing, 2000). 268pp.

Interesting book, written from the point of view of two seasoned supporters of Keswick. One thing I learned from this was that a ‘convention’ is concerned with an object (in this case to promote practical holy living) whereas a ‘conference’ is concerned with a subject (e.g. ‘a study in the book of Romans’). I had not appreciated the distinction before.

The book traces the history of the Convention from its beginning in 1875 through to the present day. The influence of Keswick has been substantial in UK evangelicalism in the 20th century so it was interesting to see how it has changed having had to deal with various influences over that period (e.g. the Weslyan holiness movement, Pentecostalism, post-war Calvinism of Packer and others, the charismatic movment of the ’60s and ’70s.) In doing so, it also covers other issues such as its influence on world mission and the role of women in ministry.

For me the most interesting chapters were those giving more detailed examinations of Packer’s criticisms of the Keswick view of sanctification, and on the various interpretations of Romans 6, with particular emphasis on John Stott’s controversial exposition in 1965.

Not a hard book, but useful in getting the flow of evangelicalism in the UK in the 20th century.

Faithful God by Sinclair Ferguson. (Bryntirion Press, 2005). 157pp.
This is the fruit of a series of expositions of the book of Ruth at the EMW Conference in Aberystwyth in 1996. Therefore it is short, it is kept simple and clear and does a good job of keeping the main things the main things. He strikes a marvellous balance between the personal lessons that can be learned and keeping in view the much broader purposes of God in redemptive history. From what I understand there are two dangers we can fall into in reading a book like Ruth,

  • First, to look for examples of how to live. The obvious one in Ruth is what do we learn about dating/courting.
  • The second is to see it in allegorical terms. This is not so popular I think since it is not very “how-to”. The allegory is Boaz=Christ, Ruth=Church. Of course this simply fails to treat the Bible as history, but instead some abstracted code of truth which must be deciphered.

Ferguson avoids both of those dangers, as you might expect. Well worth the read.

Books Read in January 2006