A full day, though I have to confess I slept through my alarm, missed the prayer meeting and almost missed breakfast. I was knackered yesterday. I had just enough time to let the sleep creases disappear from my face and get something to eat before the opportunity passed.
You would not expect me to say anything other than, “Today has been good” – but it has been.
This morning Phil Heaps speaking on ministry in challenging times, drawing from Romans 1:1-31. Interestingly he went backwards from the problem that the culture around us presents (vv18-31) to what Christians must do (vv1-17). The logic of Paul leads you to say that the answer is preaching the gospel to a needy world. He said it better than I can write it, but it was fresh and clear, encouraging and challenging. How can we find ways to speak to people in this culture about the gospel?
David Vaughn spoke on living under the Lordship of Christ from Romans 14:7-9. By his lordship he was thinking go his “redemptive Lordship” as the incarnate Christ (as opposed to his eternal Lordship). The hypostatic union brings its challenges to our life in union with him. It was a challenge to our self-centred piety (even asking, “Is God enough for us?” can be self-centred!) which can often be desire-centred. It challenges our attitude to prayer and worship which is not simply to honour him by expressing our need, but to act in homage to God. There were many other applications. Challenging stuff.
In the afternoon, Ian Hamilton spoke on “John Owen: A Word Association.” I may be a bit dim but I didn’t get the meaning of the title. However, the talk on Owen was wonderful, particularly on how Owen speaks of the glory of Christ with such affectional language. It should affect the heart. “Theology should provoke doxology.”
Owen’s treatise on the Glory of Christ is an exposition of 2 Corinthians 3:18, said Hamilton. This was a wonderful comment that opened up the idea of the verse, that to behold the glory of the Lord is the way we are transformed as Christians. Growth in the Christian life is not about doing our duties (though those are good) but on turning our focus to the incarnate Christ.
This has a number of applications, drawn from Owen:
- making up our mind that beholding the glory of God in the glory of Christ is our greatest good.
- recognise that we need the help of the Holy Spirit in this, therefore we pray that he brings his glory to me
- faith is exercised on divine revelation, therefore we need to be searching the scriptures (with the help of the Holy Spirit)
- we must take time to meditate on Scripture, not just read it. Owen understood that lack of this keeps us in a low state.
- let our occasional thoughts of Christ be many. He should be the answer to the question, “What do you think about when you have nothing to think about?”
The last talk of the evening was from David Campbell on the 3rd, 4th and 5th sayings of Jesus on the cross. I have to admit I have never heard a series on this before, even after 35+ years as a Christian. I have heard that many people do it and some have written books on “the sayings”, but I have to confess I have tended to dismiss that idea as only a quaint, quick idea for a sermon series.
But this has been really good and pastorally helpful. Tonight we looked at Jesus taking care of his mother (John 19:26,27), the sufferings of his body, (“I thirst”, John 19:28) and the sufferings of his soul (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45,46). Jesus’ own suffering binds these together. Pastorally, these help us by showing us how Jesus now has sympathy for us as he sits at the right hand of the Father. For me, the talk gave depth to Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses”.
One other encouragement today, was for some of us EPCEW men to sit down and talk and pray with our brothers in the EPC in Ireland. We have a strong connection with them historically and the closer we are the better we can seek the glory of God.