Monday, November 29, 2004

Jesus' tears - No 3

This is the third in the series on Jesus’ tears, and these tears are perhaps even more wondrous than the previous ones. We read of these tears in Matthew 26:37ff.

The hour is late. Christ has left Jerusalem with his disciples. They leave the warmth of the house and make their way out into the cold night, down into the Kidron valley and start to ascend the Mount of Olives. At its foot lies a small grove of olive trees with a press for crushing the olives. Gethsemane was a peaceful place where Jesus had spent time in prayer.

Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him into the garden. He begins to pray and soon his face is marked once more with tears. Why is he weeping? In these tears Jesus displays for us the agony he went through to win our salvation.

Although we are not told of the tears in any of the gospel accounts, the writer to the Hebrew Christian makes it clear for us:

Hebrews 5:7 "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission."

Loud cries and tears.

And these perhaps are the most precious tears, because in these tears we see what we have been spared from. We see the depths of Jesus’ love for us, and we see the awful price he paid that we might be forgiven.

It is easy to lose sight of the immense personal cost that Jesus paid in winning our salvation. It is easy to stand in the garden on the resurrection morning and gaze at him standing majestically, but we also need to stand in the garden of Gethsemane and see him struggle in agony at the thought of the cost he was going to have to pay.

What do these tears tells us?

These tears speak of the intense sorrow Jesus felt
This was no usual sorrow. Jesus was a man of sorrows. The holy Son of God lived amongst sinful men and women. He saw behind their masks of decency. He lived a lifetime amongst the suffering caused by the fall. He was a man of sorrows. But this is unusually real and deep.

He was overwhelmed to the point of death, surrounded by grief and drowning in pain. Mark in his account says Jesus was “greatly distressed.” This word describes the sudden and horrifying alarm as some great terror approaches. Like a man seeing a colossal tidal wave just about to hit him. Luke calls it an ‘agony’. So intense is his sorrow that he feels just inches away from death. It wrings from him great drops of blood-soaked sweat in the chill of the evening.

Never before, and never again was there a man so utterly immersed in misery, sorrow, and agony. For us.

These tears speak of the awful suffering Jesus would bear
It was not the physical pain of the cross, immense though that was, which troubled Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane an awful prospect was set before him in a fresh light. What was it?

He is going to take the sins of his people on himself. In this moment it is as if all the sins he will have to bear crowd into his vision in the most glaring light. Is it any wonder that he looks on this and shudders in utter abhorrence? The awfulness of it swamps him. It sweeps over him like a relentless tide of raw sewage that keeps on coming and coming and coming. And he hasn’t got to Calvary yet where it actually happens, but this is just (if I can say just) this is just the realisation of the awfulness of it.

And that was not all. Not only is there our sin to bear, but there is something much worse: the wrath of his father. The gracious smile of the father was to be lost. And replaced with a face of holy judgement. Here is the garden we see Christ is deep and terrible distress. The awfulness of what awaits him crushes him and the thought of facing his beloved father and seeing the face he loved filled with holy anger against him squeezes rivers of silent tears from him. It is pictured in Matthew 26:39 as a cup full to the brim with the undiluted wrath of God against evil. This cup of unspeakable suffering is placed in Christ’s hands. The anguish it brings causes tears to run in rivers down his cheeks.

So then these tears speak to us on the unspeakable agony that our saviour faced on our behalf.

These tears speak to us of the thanks our Saviour deserves
In v39 Christ prays, as he lies prostrate on the ground, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Was he having second thoughts? Far from it. So awful was the prospect that in his sinless human nature he recoiled from the cup of wrath, from bearing the sin with every fibre of his being. As one would do if approached with a red hot poker. But there was no weakening of his obedience. In just a few moments he will say to the sword wielding Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me?”.

And here is the grounds for our thanks. Although death and Hell were in that cup, although the prospect of it overwhelms him and leaves him gasping as the full brunt of it hits him, he will take that cup drink it down to the very dregs. In this moment we see Christ enduring our Hell so that we might be set free to enter his heaven. At unspeakable cost he will drink ‘the cup’ to the very last drop.

These tears tell us how much we owe our saviour, how much we must love him. There was a cup at our place but he sat in our seat and drank our cup and turned and gave up his. He drank the cup of sin so that we could drink the cup of salvation. He drank the cup of wrath so we could drink the cup of love and grace.

How thankful we should be.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

There's a reason...

Sorry for the lack of posts at present - I'm off for a couple of weeks holidays. But sometimes I get near enough a computer to post. See ya soon....

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Jesus’ Tears – No. 2

Tears are like a window to the heart. They show our deepest emotions. In Luke 19:41 we find the second occasion of Jesus weeping, this time over the city of Jerusalem. Why?

I want to paint two pictures. The first is found in Luke 19:28-38.

Jesus is approaching Jerusalem for the last time. It’s a sunny afternoon. Jesus rides on a donkey, at the centre of a great crowd. People from Bethany have accompanied him, shouting excitedly. They have watched him raise Lazarus from the dead. News has spread to Jerusalem, and people have thronged out of the city to see him, to sing his praises. Palm branches are being waved, people are throwing their cloaks down on the ground for the donkey to walk on. Slowly the donkey makes its way through the crowd. There is a majesty about the moment – like a royal procession. See the colours of the robes, the flashes of the afternoon sun, the vibrant green of the palm branches. Hear the excited, delirious, triumphant shouts of the welcoming crowd. Smiling, happy faces, full of hope and life and joy.

As he moves through this great crowd of welcoming people he comes to the brow of the Mount of Olives, and he has a magnificent view of the city. He is above it and looking down on it. The roof of the temple, covered over with gold, reflects the afternoon sun. It was a magnificent sight. He sees, not only the crowds behind, beside and in front of him, but also the great sprawling city of Jerusalem with all its teaming multitudes. It is a city rich in history, rich in culture, and above all rich beyond measure in the knowledge of God. And he can see all this and hear the roar of the crowd, and he loves this place, and all its people.

But as the Son of God looks, he can also see the future. It is a different scene. (He describes it briefly in v43,44, and the early historian Josephus confirms these events in much greater detail, here and here.)

In his mind’s eye he looks out over the majestic city, the same city. It is 40 years later. It is surrounded by Roman soldiers digging siege trenches, and stripping the land bare of trees to build their siege towers and great battering rams. He sees the Roman soldiers setting up fortifications circling the city to prevent any provisions getting through. The siege lasts for 9 months.

All hope of escaping is cut off for the Jews. Jesus sees the famine slowly taking hold. People die by whole houses and families; the upper rooms are full of starving, dying women and children, and the lanes of the city are full of the dead bodies of the elderly. He sees the countless thousands starve slowly to death.

He sees their bodies flung over the walls into the valley by their fellow citizens while the Romans watched. He sees the Roman general Titus doing his rounds along those valleys, seeing them full of dead bodies, and raising his hands to Heaven, calling God to witness that this was not his doing. He sees inside the city where the famine is so bad that people steal food out of one another's mouths. Women kill and eat their own babies.

He sees the Romans finally breaking into the city. He sees the slaughter of countless thousands. He sees the temple set on fire. He sees slaughter in the temple courts. No mercy is given. He sees Jerusalem ablaze, he sees the soldiers toppling the temple walls, he sees the city he loved razed. He sees the people that are currently greeting him so warmly, their corpses lying scattered throughout the city for the wild animals to scavenge.

And as he sees Jerusalem in front of him in mid afternoon glory, and as he sees in his minds eye the horror that it will become, he weeps. This is not quiet subdued weeping. The word describes bitter weeping, loud sobbing. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.”

Now that you have those pictures in your head, we’ll be able to answer the question, “Why did Jesus weep?”

He wept because of the great opportunity that they had lost
v42 “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace.”

He was their only hope, but he knew that, despite all their religious show, they would want nothing to do with him. They could have had eternal peace with God. But they would reject it. And Jesus weeps for them as they lose their only opportunity.

Many today are doing the same thing. They have a great opportunity. They have been brought up in a country where the Bible, God’s word, is freely available, but they are living in danger of missing out. Are you rejecting the opportunity and choosing to die without Christ? If so Jesus weeps because of this.

He weeps not just because they were losing a great opportunity, but also because it was an opportunity for a great peace, a great bliss. He says to them, “What joys you might have had!” The delights of pardoned sin, the bliss of eternal safety, the joy of communion with God, the rapture of fellowship with Christ Jesus, the heavenly expectation of infinite glory, all might have been yours; but you have put them away from you.

See Jesus’ heart for the lost. Here is no cold heart, instead a heart moved by compassion. What sort of heart for the lost do we have?

He wept because of the destiny they faced
Jesus saw the future. In Luke 19:43-44 he predicts the awful events of AD70. Our Lord saw this coming; a city in flames, bodies heaped high, the rotting stench of carcases mixed with the bitter reek of smoke. Our Lord wept to think this would be so. Few events, if any, exceeded the horror of the siege of Jerusalem. But it is nothing compared to Hell. And Jesus wept here because he saw what happens when people reject God. Jesus sees the unspeakable horror and he weeps.

Here we see the judge weeping over the sentence he knows he has to deliver. It gives Jesus no joy to speak of judgement. But the doom must be pronounced. God’s justice and holiness demand it. But tears fall amid the thunders. It is no small matter to be sent to Hell. It grieves the very heart of Jesus himself.

Even though they were set against him, so awful was what they faced, so awful was the destiny they had chosen that he wept , he sobbed, his cryings were there to be heard.

If you are not a believer, Jesus sees what is in store for you and he weeps. You too need to weep, to come and seek forgiveness for all the years of rejecting him. As Christians does Hell bother us - it is real - and the thought of people being their should trouble us.

He wept because he loves sinners

Jesus knew that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going to execute him in a few days. Yet he wept for them. Jesus has a vast compassionate love which extends to every man, woman, boy, girl, backslider, atheist, everyone.

Surely this shows us the very heart of God - a God who is rich in mercy and love towards sinners. Friend if you haven’t put your trust in Jesus, let this encourage you. If you have any hesitation, look at these tears.

But do not count these tears as softness. Do not think that he will excuse your sin. He wept because he saw that there was no way that sin would be excused. Jesus’ love is balanced by his justice. In his love he has provided a way of escape. In his justice he will judge anyone who rejects it.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Jesus' Tears

There is something deeply moving about tears. We see someone weeping and it can have quite an effect on us. The stronger the person who weeps the more powerful the effect is upon us. We are more affected by seeing a man weeping than a child. And when the man is a strong emotionally stable man, with tears running down his face, it speaks volumes to us.

We are told of only three occasions when our Lord wept. I intend to look at each of them over the next number of days. This is not just at a great man weeping, that would be touching enough, but here we see the Son of God weeping.

Tears allow us to see what really matters to a person. And it is no different with Jesus.

In John 11:35 we come to the first instance of our Lord's tears. His close friend Lazarus has just died and Jesus has gone to see Lazarus' sisters.

'When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"'
(John 11:33-36)

The question we need answered is: "Why is Jesus weeping?"

Jesus is not weeping because Lazarus is dead. He knows that in just a few moments he will raise Lazarus from the dead. So why is he weeping? I suggest 2 reasons:

Jesus is weeping because he loves Mary & Martha
Have you ever had a moment when you've seen something and it moved you so much that your eyes filled and the tears ran in rivers down your cheeks? Jesus tears were not like the loud wailing of Mary and Martha, for a different word is used. Instead these were silent tears running down his face as he looked at the suffering his loved ones were going through.

The people around are struck by this. They react, "See how he loved him."

Our saviour is no cold conqueror who comes to dispatch the enemy and to free the prisoners. He is one who weeps as he sees what the enemy has done to his people. His heart is moved by our plight. When we are struggling he is not sitting watching impassively.

Jesus knew that in a few minutes Mary’s tears would be turned into inexpressible joy, that delight would wash away the memories of sadness. That in a few moments time Lazarus would be restored to them. But though he knew all this, still he weeps. He weeps for the pain caused, for the mess that sin has made of what was a perfect creation. He weeps at his loved ones having to suffer. There is no casual pat on the back, no glib “All things work together for good”, instead there is love made silent through tears. The quietness of sympathy.

The momentary sadness of his people matters to him. Here he weeps at his loved ones having to suffer.

Here we see the beauty of Christ's tenderness. Here we see Jesus' love for his people in the midst of suffering. The Saviour who offers himself to us is a most tender caring and feeling Saviour. He knows what you are going through and he cares. He wants us to bring our troubles to him.

Although he is not with us as he was with Mary and Martha, he hasn’t changed. He has still the same heart. And although he knew exactly where the body was, he shows his love to Mary when he asks, “Where have you laid him?” He wants her to take him, to show him, because he loves her. And he does the same with us, he invites us to tell him our problems, to take him to them. He comes gently to us.

What struck me here was how much my saviour enters into my feelings. Do I realise how much he loves me? As those who surrounded Jesus that day said, "See how he loved him", can you hear the angels say to each other in awed amazement, "See how he loves them"?

But these tears are not solely tears of sympathy.

Jesus is weeping because of his anger at sin
He sees two of his dear friends, Martha and Mary distraught at the death of their brother. He sees their grief and pain and suffering. And another emotion stirs in his heart. It is a surprising one. It is anger.

The phrase 'was deeply moved in spirit' (v33) might be better translated 'was deeply angered'. As Jesus sees the misery and pain that sin has brought to the world it angered him.

Jesus sees before him all that life was not meant to be. Pain, suffering, sadness and death only came into the world after Adam and Eve sinned. Jesus hates to see the suffering that sin causes. In Mary's grief Jesus sees the history of the whole human race. And he is angry.

But his anger is not wild and uncontrolled. It is focused. He approaches the grave of his friend, and we see in his tears a desire to reverse the situation. Sin will not triumph this day. Death will not win. Satan will not have the last say. Jesus did not come to leave sin and suffering reigning supreme. He came to defeat them.

His victory at the tomb of Lazarus is a foretaste of his victory at Calvary. And if he strode determinedly to the tomb to Lazarus to call him forth, how much more will he do the same for us, and call his people from the grave into an eternity of unending pleasure? Here is proof that Christ has defeated sin.

How joyful we should be.

Some men go to war not knowing the demands it will make. They go off full of high hopes of an easy victory, and an idealism of what it will be like. Not so this warrior. As Jesus approaches the tomb he knows what it will take to defeat sin, to free people from death. He knows that there is a price to be paid, a high price, the highest price. He knows the pain and the suffering that his own death will involve, but his desire to defeat sin and to free the hostages is greater. And watch here as he thanks his father for this opportunity (v41). He is glad to pay that price.

How grateful we should be.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Five books that changed my thinking

Like the title says here’s 5 books that significantly changed by thinking – mostly earlier in my Christian life. I haven’t included the Bible, because its always changing my thinking, as it should for every Christian.

Of course, if any of you decide to read these, you’ll probably make the same mistake I make. When I hear someone raving about a book, I then read it with ridiculously high expectations, and then wonder why I’m disappointed! These books came at just the right moment for me in my walk with God – its my prayer that they may do the same for you:

The Cross He Bore – Frederick Leahy
Changed my view of my Saviour’s suffering

Until I read this book I don’t think I had begun to grasp what Christ had gone through on the cross, and in the events leading up to it, for our sake. It is a book to be read slowly and thoughtfully – a chapter at a time.

“Gethsemane is not a field of study for our intellect. It is a sanctuary of our faith. Lord, forgive us for the times we have read about Gethsemane with dry eyes.”

Often as you read it you will find yourself pausing to say, “Thank you, Lord”.

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life – Don Whitney
Changed my view of walking with God daily

I started reading this book at a time when I had just come out of hospital. I was trying to get my Christian life back on track – hospital had been a wake up call.

Whitney sets out the biblical basis, with practical application, some of the different disciplines for living the Christian life – Bible intake, prayer, serving, evangelism, as well as some less obvious ones – silence and solitude, and fasting. Often these areas are things that we are already doing, but this provides a good refresher course as to why and how.

His gentle insistence is that if we want ‘freedom’ to grow in godliness and to express Christ-likeness in every area of our lives, and to enjoy knowing God, we need disciplined effort in these areas.

Transforming Grace – Jerry Bridges
Changed my view of Grace

This book helped me see that, despite the discipline that I had been challenged to by Don Whitney, I was still totally dependent on God for living the Christian life. It showed me the dangers of legalism – how a desire to live a life pleasing to God can become corrupted and can become a tyranny of rules and regulations and judgmentalism. It showed me the freedom that the Gospel brings. The subtitle sums it up – “Living Confidently in God’s unfailing love”.

The Holiness of God – RC Sproul
Changed my view of God

This book was a real eye-opener for me. It gave me a fresh appreciation of who my God is. It is a study of the majestic holiness of God, and how we should come carefully into his presence

Chosen By God – RC Sproul
Changed my view of salvation

Well ‘changed’ is perhaps too strong a word. Sproul clarified and explained for me what I found I had always been taught about salvation – namely that it is something God does. He elects, he redeems, he draws, he preserves. Here is a simple and clear explanation of the Reformed faith.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The great role reversal

We live in a world of changing values - it doesn't take any great genius to see that. But values are changing so much and so fast that they are being turned on their heads. A while back in the Irish Independent there was a great article by Mary Kenny on this subject. She writes about the 'Great Law of Reversal' where, "whatever was held to be truthful in the past is now regarded as the opposite and will be reversed - almost anything you were taught in your childhood that was wrong, is now right."

You'll recognise some of her examples:

"The moral and social education we were given in the past is virtually useless, because all the moral and social rules have been reversed. Girls were taught, for example, to prize virginity. Now virginity is seen as something young people worry about being rid of. Then, 'virgin' was itself once a sacred word: now it's just another brand name, with its very own logo."

"Ladylike conduct was once praised, this is now called 'repression'."

"Where discretion was once a virtue, it is now a vice - it is called hypocrisy. Where vulgarity was once a fault, it is now an attribute - it is called honesty."

"Apply same to nearly every sphere of morals and manners. Once it was shameful to "live in sin", but acceptable to smoke. (Doctors recommend "Craven A" for your throat," went one advert of a brand long gone.) Now to smoke is widely stigmatised - in California, virtually illegal - while cohabitation is regarded as altogether sensible."

To many, this is a sign of progress and of advancement. And so we are treated to shows like Big Brother, where we see this lived out - one contestant bares his backside to the camera and outside the house his parents (mid 50s) are cheering and proud of his exploits.

This isn't progress - not by any standards, least of all God's standards. He has his opinion on the matter:

"Destruction is certain for those who say that evil is good and good is evil; that dark is light and light is dark; that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter." Isaiah 5:20

"When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their depraved minds and let them do things that should never be done - They are fully aware of God's death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too." Romans 1:28,32.

It is deadly serious. Ireland is in the middle of this - God is abandoning us to suffer the consequences of our abandoning him.

This is a wake up call; we need to act before it is too late.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Book Review - Heaven & Hell - Edward Donnelly

Prof. Donnelly deals here with the Bible’s teaching on both Heaven and Hell. The opening chapters are wisely devoted to Hell allowing the reader to finish the book contemplating Heaven. Dealing with the widespread unbelief in Hell, Prof. Donnelly, with surgeon like precision, cuts to the heart of the issue and diagnoses the problem in our own hearts and in society in general. He lays open our own failure to grasp the awfulness of sin and the holiness of God.

Prof. Donnelly’s approach to this most disturbing of doctrines is characterised with a tender compassion for his readers and a passionate concern for God’s glory and His word. He does not avoid the difficult and distressing issues and deals with questions as they arise in the reader's mind.

His pointed application is made, not just to Christian and non-Christian generally, but to those careless, those afraid, those in distress over loved ones, those unaffected, those doubting their salvation, and all with tenderness, clarity and a powerful challenge.

If the section on Hell drives us to greater appreciation of our salvation and to a more urgent evangelism, the subsequent section on Heaven does exactly the same. Prof Donnelly cuts through all the whimsical nonsense which usually portrays Heaven and gives us a majestically biblical God-centred perspective. It fills us with hope and anticipation, and inspires us to worship. Many times, as you read this book, you will find yourself saying, “Thank you, Lord, thank you.”

If you want to love your God, your Saviour and your neighbour more, buy this book and read it.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Food for thought - Sex & Sex Shops

(Article for local newspaper after opening of sex shop in Letterkenny)

Sex was God’s idea. He invented it.

It’s not as if Adam and Eve discovered sex one day and thought, “Oops, let's not tell God. He's bound to get annoyed”. The Creator is creative. He could have invented a method of having kids that involved spitting on each other's big toe. But instead, he invented sex – enjoyable, intimate and exciting.

God’s verdict at the end of the creation week, having created Adam and Eve, and their sexual relationship, was “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” - Genesis 1:31.

Unfortunately the overwhelming impression is that Christians and God are somehow down on sex. And, to be fair, many Christians have given credence to that opinion. But God designed sex in such a way to bring pleasure to men and women. He is emphatically not down on sex.

God is no spoilsport – it is people who are the spoilsports.

Our problem is that we have too low a view of sex rather than too high a view. Sex is precious, and valuable. We have been conned into thinking that sex is purely a biological function. That’s like saying that the Maclaren F1 car, valued at about €1,000,000, is just a vehicle.

Many would like to believe that sex isn’t that special, more like an old Lada that you lend to everyone that needs to use it. But in God's eyes, sex is more like a Maclaren F1 than a Lada. It is valuable. It demands care. It is something precious. You don’t use an F1 to race around the fields in!

And because it is precious we need to follow the maker’s guidelines. After all, he invented it; he should know what the guidelines are. His guidelines and rules are for its enjoyment and to keep us from getting hurt and from hurting others. God's insistence that we enjoy sex in the context of a life-long relationship of loyalty and trust is liberating and not restrictive. It is like being given the keys of the Maclaren, after promising to keep to the roads.

But what’s all this got to do with a sex shop in Letterkenny?

The Bible is God’s unchanging word to an everchanging world. Sex was as much a business commodity in Bible times as it is today (for example Genesis 19, 1 Corinthians 6). And God’s word remains our guide. It warns us against exploiting people for our own sexual pleasure. It warns us against taking God’s gift and abusing it. A sex shop markets a poor substitute for what God offers, a cheap and shoddy imitation of the delicacy that God has designed to be enjoyed in marriage. And when God’s guidelines are not obeyed, then hurt and pain follow, lives are damaged, people are degraded.

But the reason that the Bible warns us against abusing sex isn’t just for our pleasure or because of the hurt that might be caused. It warns us because disobeying God’s guidelines, and putting pleasing ourselves above pleasing God, is sin. And God will punish sin.

This shop promotes a breaking of God’s rules. It promotes sin. It is irrelevant what creed or belief you are. If God says something is wrong, it is wrong, and we will have to answer to him for it. It is my job as a Christian pastor to warn people of the standards God has, and the standards by which they will be judged.

Some would say, “Why can’t you Christians leave the rest of us alone to do what we want?” There is a simple answer – it wouldn’t be loving.

It is out of a love for God, a love for his gifts, and a concern for the souls of the people of Letterkenny, that I long to see this business come to an end, and people giving God his rightful place in their lives and in society.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Build your own library - a plea for reading

If we were to measure the interest Christians have in Christianity by the books they have on their shelves, many would seem to be distinctly uninterested.

Spurgeon, preaching on Paul's words, "Bring me my cloak and books", pleads:

"Even an apostle must read. How rebuked [we] are by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own...

YOU need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service. Paul cries, "Bring the books" — join in the cry."

With this in mind here's a list of basic books in various categories to get your library started:

21st Century Bible Commentary - IVP
New Bible Dictionary - IVP
NIV Complete Concordance
Survey of the Bible - William Hendriksen
New Bible Atlas - IVP
Matthew Henry's Commentary

Understanding the Bible
How to read the Bible for all its worth - Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart
Knowing Scripture - RC Sproul - IVP

A summary of Christian doctrine - Louis Berkhof - Banner of Truth
Holiness of God - RC Sproul
A Journey in Grace - RP Belcher - EP
Transforming Grace - Jerry Bridges - NavPress
Knowing God - JI Packer
Foundations of the Christian Faith - JM Boice - IVP

Christian Living
Pursuit of Holiness - Jerry Bridges - NavPress
Practical Godliness - Jerry Bridges - NavPress
Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian life - Don Whitney - Scripture Press
Guidance and the Voice of God - Philip Jensen & Tony Payne - Matthias Media
Don't waste your Life - John Piper - Christ is all Media
If God already knows, why Pray? - Douglas Kelly
A heart like his - RM Pippert

The Cross He bore - FS Leahy - Banner of truth
Just Like Jesus - Max Lucado
In the grip of Grace - Max Lucado
Pursuit of God - AW Tozer
The Joy of fearing God - Jerry Bridges
The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven and Hell - Edward Donnelly - Banner of Truth

Books to help in daily bible reading
Expository Thoughts - JC Ryle - Banner & EP
Prayer, Praise and Promises - Warren Weirsbe
Romans - Stuart Olyott - Welwyn Commentaries - EP
The Shepherd King - Roger Ellsworth - EP
Sermon on the Mount - DA Carson - Paternoster

Out of the Salt Shaker - RM Pippert - IVP
Know & Tell the gospel - John Chapman - Matthias
Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God - JI Packer
Questioning Evangelism - Randy Newman

I will never Become a Christian - Peter Jeffery - EP Wales
A Fresh Start - John Chapman - Matthias Media
A Sneaking Suspicion - John Dickson - Matthias
Turning Points - Vaughan Roberts - Paternoster
Basic Christianity - John Stott

Defending your Faith
Truth under attack - Eryl Davies - EP
Answer to Tough Questions - Josh McDowell
The Case for Christ - Lee Strobel
The Answers Book - Ken Ham et al - Answers in Genesis
Persuasions - Douglas Wilson - Canon Press

Biography/Church History
Sketches of Church History - SM Houghton - Banner of Truth
Men of Purpose/Men of Destiny - Peter Masters - Wakeman Trust
Singing in the Fire/Sound of Trumpets - Faith Cook - Banner
Shadow of the Almighty - Elisabeth Elliot
King of the Cannibals - Jim Cromarty - EP

Food for thought - Contradicting Jesus

(My column from the local newspaper)

I was at a conference recently and I met the 'John 3:7' man. A most remarkable and interesting man. Have you seen him on television standing behind the goal posts at the big matches with a poster saying 'John 3:7'? Maybe you've wondered what on earth John 3:7 means. It's a reference to something Jesus said in John chapter 3 verse 7, which reads 'You should not be surprised at my saying, "You must be born again".'

This phrase 'born-again' tends to get people's hackles up. But it was spoken by the one who came to save us: the Lord Jesus, the Saviour, the Son of God, the Messiah. So whether we like it or not we have to take it into account.

It made me think of a friend of mine, also a minister, who recently told me this incredible story.

He had been preaching at the funeral of a young person. Many young people were there. In his preaching he laid before them the tremendous fragility and uncertainty of life. He urged them to look beyond this world, to lift their eyes from the seductive pleasures of life and to think of what life is really about.

He pleaded with them to take the words of our Lord Jesus in John 3:3 to heart. There Jesus is speaking to a very religious man and says that being religious isn't enough, 'Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."'

He explained that we are all born as enemies of God. He explained that throughout our lives we continue to offend God. He explained that there was a way of escape. He unfolded for them God's offer of a fresh start - as if you had been born all over again - all the wrongs of the past, present and future wiped away.

That's an incredible offer - but something else happened that amazed me too.

On the day after the service a person who had been present at the funeral visited the homes of many of the young people and told them that what they had been told was wrong - that they did not need this fresh start that God offers, that they did not need, as the Bible describes it, to be 'born again'.

I find that incredible. Who would you rather believe? Jesus? Or one who contradicts our Saviour?

I'll leave you to judge who is right:

'Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."' - John 3:3

And he says it again in John 3:7, 'You should not be surprised at my saying, "You must be born again".'

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Back scratching...

A good friend of mine also has a blog - who hasn't these days? Since he was kind enough to point people to mine I thought I would return the favour.

Read his latest musing here. It's a plea I wholeheartedly endorse.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Your Word I have hid in my Bible

I have been challenged recently about how much of God's word I know. I don't mean - how good is my general knowledge of the bible. Nor do I mean how well do I know themes, truths or general principles. But how much of God's actual words do I know.

Have I hid God's word in my heart or can I only find it when I open up my Bible? What happens when I don't have my Bible? Or if something happens to my sight?

So I started on a course of memorising verses - the Navigators do an excellent Topical Memory System. Essentially its a small walllet and a series of cards with verses on them. The wallet means you can carry them around with you so you can look at them throughout the day. It's been a really helpful exercise.

Why didn't I start this earlier? How much of my life have I wasted until now?

Last night we were hosting a speaker from Answers in Genesis (Great organisation) and we were talking about memorising scripture. He had been similarly challenged about this too. But he had decided to go a stage further and aims to memorise the whole of the New Testament.

Why not?

It means that you know not just verses, but their context. It means that you can follow the flow of the argument. And God gave us books, not a collection of individual sayings like the Qu'ran.

Anyhow, that's my aim too - well at least to start with memorising a book.

For anyone who cares to join me here's a site that sets out a method here