Friday, March 31, 2006

Another Voice - Escort agencies, Call girls and Jesus

(Column for Letterkenny Post - responding to an article claiming that escort agencies are eyeing up Letterkenny)

What should a pastor say about prostitutes coming to Letterkenny? Maybe more to the point, what would a pastor say to the prostitute?

I’d say, “Come to church, and find cleansing, forgiveness, and acceptance from Jesus.”

What would a pastor say to the man who used the services of a call-girl? I’d say exactly the same. What Jesus offers is better than the fleeting pleasures of a one-night stand.

What would a pastor say about the town of Letterkenny? Is it going to the dogs?

I’d say that this whole town needs Jesus. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that escort agencies coming to Letterkenny are the cause of the problem. They only go where there is a demand. The problem doesn’t lie out there with escort agencies, the problem lies within.

And it may be much closer than we think. It lies in our own hearts. True, not everyone would use the services offered. But we each have our own ways of ignoring God and his rules. We classify our own ways as acceptable, but the things others do that we find offensive we call unacceptable. But to God they are all unacceptable.

Within each heart lies the seed of every sin. And until the problem of the human heart is dealt with we’ll have escort agencies, prostitution, and people willing to pay for sex. And if it isn’t call-girls, it will be something else that springs out of the human heart – drunkenness, lies, greed, marital unfaithfulness, bitterness, etc – all of which wreak their own havoc in more subtle but equally destructive ways.

Ultimately there is only one way to deal with these problems. External measures like legislation are helpful, but it deals only with externals. We need a new heart that is wired to following God’s ways. Only Jesus can bring about that change.

The answer for all concerned, from the call-girls to the punters, to every one of us is simply, “We need the fresh start Jesus offers.”

Read these verses from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to a town that knew all about escort agencies and the problems of the heart – and keep reading until the end of the quote.

“Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers – none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But now your sins have been washed away, and you have made right with God... because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


“Should that man be proud that has sinned as thou hast sinned,
and lived as thou hast lived,
and wasted so much time,
and abused so much mercy,
and omitted so many duties,
and neglected so great means?
-that hath so grieved the Spirit of God,
so violated the law of God,
so dishonoured the name of God?

Should that man be proud, who hath such a heart as thou hast?”

Richard Mayo

Abortion hypocrisy

BBC News item about doctors in India scanning a foetus to determine its gender. Apparently its illegal in India to scan to determine the sex of a child since 10million females foetuses have been murdered in the last 20 years, leaving an imbalance in society. The implication of the article is that it is wrong for people should abort on the basis of gender.

So it's wrong to abort a foetus if it's female, that's foeticide. But if you abort them simply because you don't want them, that's ok?!? Or if its less convenient to you to have a child, that's ok??

And so the UK and those in Ireland who support abortion will look down their collective nose at India who are so 'primitive' to kill off baby girls in the womb, while we are so 'advanced' that we kill off both boys and girls.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sabbath Sermon - This is a day of Good News (2 Kings 7:9)

Several years ago a family was travelling in Oklahoma when a gunman commandeered their car and held them hostage for several days as they drove around over the countryside.

Finally, they stopped at a little station out in the country. The husband saw his chance and he grabbed his abductor and begged the station owner to call the sheriff. "Please," he cried, "Please call the law."

The owner got his own gun and told them all to leave. "I do not want any trouble around here," he said. "Just all of you leave." The terrified family drove away with their captor. The next day the couple and their two children were found murdered. Their bodies had been thrown into an abandoned well.

Their killer was finally brought to trial and convicted. Later the state tried the station owner and convicted him for his failure to notify authorities and perhaps to save the family's life.

One writer says, “Sometimes silence is golden, but sometimes silence is just plain yellow.”

To be silent when we have something lifesaving is criminal. And yet this is something that no Christian needs to be told. Our own consciences tell us this often enough. I don’t think that there is a Christian in existence that doesn’t wish that he or she witnessed more for their saviour.

However, the simple truth is that we don’t speak as we should. So how can we? This verse and this passage give us several key pointers:

2 Kings 7:9 Then they said to each other, "We're not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let's go at once and report this."

An Admission to make - We have not done right
The lepers at the gate of Samaria feel that they have nothing to lose. Perhaps the enemy will have pity on them because hunger certainly won’t. So they make their way from the gates of the famished city and approach the outskirts of the camp. The first tent they come to, you can imagine themselves prodding one of the four towards to the door, and he straightens himself up, and rehearses mentally what he is going to say, “Excuse me sirs, we’re not really part of the city, and we were wondering if you would show pity on us because nature hasn’t shown pity. We suffer enough in life.” And as he steps into the first tent there’s non-one there. So they approach the next, and the same again, and the next and the next. And they end up running from one tent to another deeper into the camp and there is no-one there. And things have just been left as they were. There may have been some meat sitting ready to be eaten, some stew hanging over a fire that had burned out. And so they tuck in and it’s amazing.

But soon their consciences start to get he better of them. And they say to each other, “We're not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.”

There is something morally repugnant about the image of people feeding their faces, and gorging themselves on fine food while others nearby starve and even the richest haggle over a donkey’s brains.

And yet, here in Milford we are able feed ourselves on God’s word, and delight in his salvation week after week, while hundreds/thousands just beyond here starve for want of food.

If we are going to be a witnessing church, here is where we have to start. Confession –

As a congregation we need to confess that we have not done right. We have been placed in this town as a witness and we have by and large kept the gospel to ourselves. This is where we must start.

As individuals we need to confess that we have not done right. Too often we are silent when we know we should speak.
It’s not right because people are dying.

It’s not right because its not as if our salvation is something that we have worked hard at, as if there is a secret to be guarded, as if salvation devalues the more people who are saved. We were starving beggars when God saved us. And he saved us, we did nothing to earn this, so how can we keep it from others.

To hide the great discovery of God’s provision for mankind is utterly wrong. Illustration from Cambodia. “How long have you had the gospel in your country?” “for 1600 years” “Why did it take to 1948 for you to get here? My father died looking for enlightenment.”

So perhaps we all need to come to this point and seek forgiveness

And we need to learn to see the urgency of the situation.

An Urgency to Grasp – if we wait
The next thing to see here is that there is an urgency to grasp. As these men stand out in the camp, people are starving in the town. And as they stand there they grasp this urgency. Listen to them:

Literally: “This day is a day of good news… if we wait until morning…”

They grasp the sense of urgency. Why is it urgent? Two reasons:

Silence is dangerous because some will die - today
Each moment they delay brings another closer to death. While we delay people are going to Hell.

The death rate for Ireland is 8 people per 1000. For Donegal, that means that approx 1120 people will die this year. That’s three a day, entering into eternity. Somewhere between 2-4% are professing evangelicals. 20 –40 people per year from Donegal entering Heaven. 1 every 3 weeks. While 62 others enter a lost eternity.

These men where feasting and enjoying food for themselves, and it was right that they nourish themselves.

We need to feed first on Christ so that we can speak of him to others. If any say to you, “Are you sure that it is true?” you will answer, “Certainly I am, for I have tasted and handled of the good word of life.”

But we can go too far, and spend all our time feasting, and all the while people are going to Hell. What a despicable thing that while we should be enjoying the blessings of God’s word people are lost because we wont go to them.

Now we have to be honest with the passage here. There is a difference between the people besieged inside Samaria and the people around us today. The people in Samaria knew that they were hungry. All you had to do was to point them I the direction of food and they would run for it. That is not the situation we are in with regard to evangelism. People do not realise that they are starving to death. It isn’t just a matter of pointing them in the right direction and then they will be sure to go.

But their plight is no less real. Yet it is true to say that where God is working in a person’s life, then they are aware that they are hungry, that they are on the brink of death. And where that is the case they are more like the people in Samaria. And we need to be praying that God will give people a hunger for him, and we need to be telling people where to find spiritual food, because we don’t know who the hungry are.

Silence is dangerous because God will punish
In v 9 the lepers say to each other:

“If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us.”

These men know that to delay with such good news which can save so many lives is really a criminal offence. And because it is such, then they will face punishment

How does God view his servants who do not do good when it is in their power to do so?

Luke 19:20 "Then another servant came and said, `Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 22 "His master replied, `I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!…

Why has God allowed you to find out the solution? So that you can tell others. To not tell is contrary to the entire purpose of your salvation. We were saved to speak, not just for our own personal pleasure.

You see the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection and the triumph that he won is so precious that God wants it to be told so that his son will have honour and glory. When we fail to speak of it we dishonour Jesus, and displease God the Father.

A Message to tell
A Simple message
Can you imagine the lepers returning to the city? Can you hear them shouting up at the gate keepers? “The army has gone! There is food for all in the camp!”

It wasn’t a complex message. It was a simple one.

We don’t need to know everything. We worry because we wont know how to answer questions. Can you imagine the lepers handling this one? The people of Samaria shout down to them, “Well if you know so much about this food, tell us what way is the chicken cooked? What seasoning was used – was it thyme, or basil, or oregano? How long were the vegetables done for? Where did the bread come from? What was the name of the baker?”

“We don’t know all the answers, we just know that we ate the food, and it has filled our stomachs. If you have questions come and taste it for yourself.”

Likewise our message is a simple. God has taken the punishment on himself so that we don’t have to face it. Jesus has died to free you from God’s wrath.

A Focused message
Imagine the lepers standing at the gate of the city talking about the weather - no they spoke about what they had found. Their message was a focused one.

A Necessary message
Everyone we meet has the same problem. God is angry with them. But we know the solution. Jesus has taken wrath on himself so that we don’t have to. So we need to call men and women to come to Jesus.

It is the greatest message that anyone could ever hear. All have sinned. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

Not when you think of evangelism and witnessing – perhaps the key thought in your mind is that “I wont know what to say.” Or, “What if they ask me a question that I wont know how to answer?”

Let me tell you something that puts you miles above everyone you will speak to. If you are a Christian you have experienced the truth of what you say.

A True message
We know because we have experienced the solution

Can you imagine the lepers going to the city and the people of Samaria saying to them. “We don’t believe you – there is no such thing as free food”. Would that throw the lepers? How would they react? “You can say what you like, we have eaten, our bellies are full, we know that what we speak of is true. Nothing you say will make us change our minds.”

There would be a confidence about them – wouldn’t there.

And then there would be the usual accusation that we hear all the time when we are confident about what we believe – “You Christians always think you are right.” Can you hear them saying that to the lepers,. “How dare you stand there and be so confident, there are more of us here, and you are so few – how could you be right?”

We know because we have been there, we have tasted of the feast of God’s forgiveness, we have enjoyed the sweet wine of peace, and the joy of burdens lifted. You can’t tell us that these things aren’t real.”

You know I think there would have been a confidence about those lepers in the food they had eaten. They would take any criticism and still stand there, for after all they had enjoyed the food, and the others had known nothing of it. And fellow Christian that is exactly the position you are in. Of course there will be questions you and I can’t answer. But we can and should have confidence in what we have experienced. We should have enough confidence in the gospel, and in Christ to say to people, come, come and see for yourself. Come and hear God’s word. Come and hear the gospel.

The lepers knew that once they would get the people to the food that all doubts would be swept away. We should have similar confidence in our God.

A minister once came to Spurgeon and said, “I have been preaching for three months, and I don’t know of a single soul having been converted.” Spurgeon asked, “Do you expect the Lord to save souls every time you open your mouth?” “Oh, no, sir I” he replied. “Then,’ I said, “that is just the reason why you have not had conversions: ‘According to your faith will it be done to you’”.

And this is the way it is even in the Bible – remember the women Jesus met at the well, “Come and see the man who told me everything.” She spoke of what she knew, what her experience was. She had a message to tell.

An Encouragement to Take
Lepers and unnamed servants bring the good news
I love how God goes out of his way to emphasise in his word that it is not by the strong, the mighty, the influential, the wise that he works. Who is it that God uses here? Four lepers.

Not just four lepers, but when the news goes to the city gate, and comes eventually to the kings palace, and the king is aroused, and he is irate, “are you all thick, don’t you know that this is just a trick, honestly, why do I have to do all the thinking around here”, and then an unnamed servant speaks up. And that unnamed servant convinces King Jehoram to send and check anyway.

Four lepers and an unnamed servant bring salvation to an enormous city. It’s not the person, but the message that matters.

Unnamed people have played a big part in the history of God’s people – there was the unnamed preacher whose simple sermon was used by God in the conversion of Spurgeon, whose preaching was then used by God in the conversion of thousands. There was the unnamed preacher who was used by God in the conversion of John Owen, the mighty Puritan preacher whose writings and preaching secured the gospel from many attacks, and promoted truth in a dark age.

We’re not popular; we’re not on the town council; we’re not well known; our names aren’t mentioned by people when they speak of Letterkenny or Milford.

But I’m glad because when I read my Bible, I see that God uses the weak, and the foolish, the outcast, and the unnamed to bring good news of great joy to many.

Not only that but see the slightly different roles they play. The lepers are news bearers. They bring the good news, but it wasn’t enough that the good news was brought to the city. The role the servant played was vital too. He was a convincer.

Both news bearers and convincers are needed. You may be a news bearer or a convincer. It may be that you haven’t ever directly started a conversion about the gospel, but there is someone you know who has questions, and they ask you, and you answer, and by your answering you are seeking to convince them. And here we also see that God will provide convincers when his people speak. That’s an encouragement for us – we speak and people ignore us, and yet we don’t know who God will bring across their path.

A Reaction to Expect
When the good news comes to the King – he can’t believe it. It sounds too good to be true. This is not unbelief. This is disbelief. It is not a refusal to believe the news, but just that the good news is too good – there has to be some sort of catch

But here is a reaction we should expect. And it is one that we should seek to answer – “That’s why its called Good news, and not reasonable news.” “If sin is as bad as the Bible makes out, then we can’t do anything, and God has to do it all.”

A Vision to Pray for – v16
Also here is a vision to pray for:

“Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the LORD had said.”

The people went out. They heard the news that God had provided for their needs and they responded. Isn’t that what we want?

We want the message to go out so convincingly, and for God the Holy Spirit to work so powerfully that we will see the people going out, going out to church to hear the gospel, going out to ask their Christian colleagues and friends where can they find spiritual food.

Oh friends this will not happen by our talking, but by God working. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk, but it means we pray and then talk.

Lets pray.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Another Voice - Yellow Lines

(Newspaper column for Letterkenny Post)

Funny old thing the lines on the road. You don’t miss them until you don’t have them. Take the road at the mountain top – It’s kind of tricky to negotiate those bends in the dark, especially with on-coming headlights to dazzle you. Without lines to tell us where the edge of the road is, you could end up in the wrong lane or demolishing an oversized ice-cream cone on the garage forecourt.

The other day, on another road, I saw a man who had needed lines to keep him right. He had missed a right hand bend and was sitting in the middle of a field bogged in to the axles.

We all need edges in life. We need direction, we need guidance otherwise we’ll end up away off course, hurting either ourselves or others, or getting nowhere. Thankfully, God has told us exactly what to do and where we need to go. He has given us the yellow lines for life. His 10 commandments show us how we should live, and His son said “I am the way … no-one comes to the father except by me” (John 14:6). Unless we follow this way, we’ll end up nowhere.

The thing is most people don’t like God’s yellow lines, or directions. They think that they can find their own way. I’d like to see them take the same approach to the guys that paint the yellow lines on the road!

“Hey you! Yes you with the yellow brush in your hand. What do you think you’re doing?”
“Just painting lines”
“What makes you think you can tell me where to go? What gives you the right? I’ll drive where I want”
The line painter shrugs his shoulders, and stands aside, “Whatever you say sir.’

So off he goes. Bouncing out across the fields, hurtling through hedges, demolishing crops, banging his head alternately off the steering wheel and then the roof, pursued by a horde of angry farmers. Eventually he collides with a tree, and in the wreckage of his smoking, battered car, he thinks proudly to himself, “Nobody will tell me where to go and how to get there.”

Yellow lines are for our benefit; we would do well to follow them. When God says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding; acknowledge him in all your ways and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5,6), it is because he knows what is best for us.

Friday, March 24, 2006

“Love your God with all your mind” - JP Moreland

Tim over at posted a review of a book Phil at 16:16 recommended to me years ago. It was "Love your God with all your mind" by JP Moreland. I really enjoyed it then. Later Matt Brennan who chips in at Irish Reformation suggested that a group of Irish pastors read it and discuss it via email. Here's my comments of chapter five - for those who havent read the book - it might make you want to read it; for those who have - it might serve to make you think about what you read. I don't think you'll need to have read the book to find some of this useful.

All in all its a good book.

Summary and Comment on Chapter 5 of “Love your God with all your mind”

This is the second chapter in the second section on developing a mature Christian mind, and falls into two main sections:
  • Forming habits of the mind
  • Principles of reasoning
Forming habits of the mind

Good points

  • The need for discipline in order to think Christianly. “To develop a Christian mind skilfully, you must want to be a certain sort of person badly enough that you are willing to pay the price of ordering your lifestyle appropriately” – p105 I think this is something amongst Irish Christians that we need to encourage. We need to be setting before them the need to spend time reading and thinking over their Bibles, to the extent that sacrifices need to be made in other areas – such as entertainment.
  • His section on the virtues to be cultivated in Christian thinking had much useful material. Five sections of virtues – Wisdom/honesty – trust – nondefensiveness – fortitude/zeal – commitment to God’s glory not our own.
  • The first section on honesty made an excellent point “God is not honoured when his people use bad arguments for what may be correct conclusions.” This is something we can help people with in our preaching, by being rigorous in what illustrations, examples we use. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell people that there is no proof that Darwin recanted, that NASA haven’t found the missing day of Joshua, etc.
  • The second section on trust seemed slightly out of place, yet the point is a necessary one. We need to have a complete trust in God and trust that his truth is complete and perfect and thoroughly equips the man of God for every good work. Our people need to see that we are happy to face the hard questions, that we have a supreme confidence in the word of God. When we answer such questions, or counsel on the basis of the Bible and not popular psychology, and when we take a stand on ethical/moral issues on the basis of what God says – then our congregations will be encouraged to see the Bible has being complete, and that they have nothing to fear in trusting the Bible.
  • The third virtue of nondefensiveness – great point. We need to learn to dispassionately dissect the oppositions arguments and highlight their weaknesses. Also we need to be able to see the good in what someone is saying so that we can, if possible agree on some issues, before launching an attack.
  • Fifth virtue of not caring what the world thinks of us is a useful one too, especially when many of our decisions will be at odds even with other ‘christian’ church leaders.
I would have added love and humility to the lists of virtues to be cultivated. It is easy to become proud in what we have learned, or in our intellectual ability. It is easy to wheel out the big guns of our arguments and blow someone out of the water – it might make us feel good, but it doesn’t win the soul.

Application to Ireland
  • I really think we need to do all we can to encourage and equip people to ‘gird up the loins of their mind’. Perhaps more one-to-one discipling would be useful – for if we can equip them to think and to use the resources God has given them, then they will grow more, be better equipped for standing for Christ.
  • Encouraging our people to read good Christian books, perhaps meeting with a few people to show them how to study their Bibles, rather than just assuming that they know how. One to one Bible studies on a weekly basis with a few people.
  • Great comment - “If all you do is read simple books or those that over emphasize stories or practical application, you’ll never learn to think for yourself as a Christian” (p112). Perhaps we could do more to encourage our congregations to read. Or perhaps it requires a more particular approach – recommending specific books to specific people.
  • Challenging sloppy thinking in our discussion and Bible studies. Too often perhaps we allow someone to say, “To me, the passage says…”followed by a comment utterly removed from the context. If we love people we have to help them (gently) to think biblically. I sometimes think that the failure of Christians to be able to see what a passage says stems from a style of preaching where the minister took a text and used it as a spring board to launch into a hundred other topics, and people think “Wow I could never have got that out of the verse”. And hence they think that when we look at verses we are to look for something that isn’t there! The corrective for this is to explain the text in such a way so that people can see that everything we say comes out of the passage.

Principles of reasoning

Weak points

  • Ok, so I like argument, and logic, but I wasn’t completely sold on the whole presentation of syllogisms etc. You can think clearly without necessarily being able to divide your arguments into their component parts, just like you can drive a car well without being able to dismantle the engine.
I wasn’t sure how much use this section would be to our congregations/fellowships. We’re not going to stand up and teach a logic class. Perhaps too much emphasis on the intellect – Christianity isn’t just for clever people.
  • Emphasising logic has its place, but logic taken beyond the bounds of scripture is heresy. Sometimes people can get so caught up in logical thinking that they reach unbiblical conclusions. Moreland doesn’t emphasize the need to allow scripture to govern logic at every stage
  • I think that this is one weakness overall of the book (which I still think is an great book) – Moreland doesn’t pay enough credence to the impact of sin on the intellect. He seems to think that if only we could present things clearly enough people would be persuaded. But sin leaves us radically damaged in our mind as well as our heart.
Good points
The most useful aspect of this section was the part dealing with fallacies. These are much easier to grasp and explain than all the syllogism diagrams, and people use them all the time in argument. Once pointed out, they can be seen over and over again. Many conversations contain a good number of these fallacies, and so becoming familiar with them will help Christians in conversation and witnessing.

It also will help believers to base their own arguments on a more factual basis rather than false arguments.

Applications to Ireland
I suppose we need to watch that our preaching is well argued and reasoned, rather than emotional hype. Also that our argument is based on the text and not on emotional or fallacious reasoning.

I wonder whether taking an evening at the midweek meeting and using it to share what we’ve read in this section, especially the fallacies, would be helpful.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Letters along the Way

I was listening to the 9marks interview with Carl Trueman the other day. If you haven't listened to it, it's a good listen. He's one of my favourite theologians at present. Somewhere in the middle of it he recommended a book that I had forgotten about, called "Letters along the Way" by John Woodbridge and Don Carson. Its a series of letters written from an older Christian to a younger Christian, from teh time of the conversion of one until the passing of the other.

I don't know much about Woodbridge, other than the fact that he has collaborated with Carson a number of times. Carson on the other hand is probably one of my favourite writers, and there is a wealth of material in these letters, all presented in a most accessible format.

I was so taken with it at the time that I created an index. Here it is for anyone who wants it. You'll see from the index what sort of topics they covered.


1 Cor 3 26

Adams, Jay 107
Agnosticism 79
AIDS 254
Alcohol 89
Assurance 21

Backsliding 70
Books for new Christians 12
Buddha 214
Building each other up 229
Burden of sin 15
Burn out 229
Buying books 183

Call to the ministry 132
Capitalism 114
Christian Academics/Criticism 173
Christian differences in belief 46
Christian freedom 89
Christianity in France historically 64
Christianity in France today 60
Church discipline 240
Common grace 26
Communism 75, 114
Cultural influence on Scripture 214

Darwin on Trial 271
Death 279
Doing your own thing 122

Eastern Europe 264
Economics 114
Eschatology 222
Evangelism 85, 260
Evangelicalism in the UK 51
Evolution 42

Forgiveness 70

Guilt feelings 142

Heart vs Head 167
Homosexuality 254
Humanism 208

Inerrancy 158
Inspiration 214

Justification 15, 70, 274

Liberalism 200
Liberation theology 194
Lordship 32
Lordship/Saviour 26

Marriage 142
Matter 42

Natural theology 147
New Age 268

Pastoral advice 222
Philosophy 42, 147
Pluralism 179
Post Iron Curtain 268
Prayer advice 258
Priesthood of all believers 229
Priorities 246
Psychiatry, psychology 107

Qualities of a minister 126

Revolution 264

Sexual immorality 70
Social action 89
Sound doctrine 96
Spiritual dryness 96

Temptation 102
Theological colleges 137
Theological training 189
Time management 235

Universalism 79

Women’s ordination 214
Worldliness 122
Worship 250

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Book Review - Basics for Believers

Basics for believers
DA Carson
IVP (130 pages)

Wow! – don’t let the title put you off this book. How often in the Christian life do we need to be reminded of the basics? I heard Carson say at a conference recently that he would far rather be writing something to feed the souls of believers than refuting error and dodgy doctrine. And here he does it. Carson covers the basics without being basic. This is warm and nourishing, and at the same time searching and challenging.

‘Basics for Believers’ is a study of Philippians. There is near enough a chapter for each of the four chapters of Philippians, but it is not a book to be read a chapter at a time, much less the whole book in one sitting. It is a book to be read slowly – each chapter is split up into sections and I found that each section had enough meat in it to provide food for thought for each day.

Carson’s writing is packed full of biblical wisdom and insight. This is a cross and Christ centred book, which will give you a deeper appreciation of the transforming power of the Gospel. His two final chapters on ‘Emulate worthy Christian leaders’ and resolutions to help us never to give up the Christian life are particularly good.

(NB - The link in the Blog-title is to the Baker edition, Amazon don't seem to caught up with the change in publishers yet)

Monday, March 06, 2006

New Blogger joins the Blogosphere

My good friend and colleague in teh ministry, who also has a general inability to type the word 'the' correctly, David McCullough has started blogging. You'll catch him here.

David is the pastor of a church planting work in Dromore, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.

He kicks off with a couple of posts that I suspect I'll be 'borrowing' ideas from for up and coming articles.

Welcome to the madhouse David

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sabbath Sermon - How to live in a world God is angry with (2 Kings 6:24-7:20)

Boxing Day tsunami
Hurricane Katrina
Flooding in New Orleans
Hurricane Rita
Earthquake in Pakistan
Famine in Africa
Mudslide in Guatemala

We live in a world that is full of tragedy and accident. Yet many of these ‘accidents’ were called acts of God by an older generation. They weren’t trying to pin the blame on God, simply describing it as something outside of man’s control.

But we don’t call them that any more – we call them ‘natural disasters’. That seems perfectly reasonable, because they involve nature, but at the same time calling them ‘natural disasters’ misses out on a key lesson.

Disasters aren’t natural. Death isn’t natural. Destruction isn’t natural. And in a world where God is in complete control there are no accidents. We need to realise that we live in a world which is full of billions of people whose every breath is constant rebellion against God.

And so we live in a world that is under God’s just wrath for its rebellion. But how are we to react when things go wrong around us, or even in our own lives?

In this passage we see this truth set out for us, and how to live demonstrated.

We live in a world that God is angry with
Despite the fact that Elisha had spared and feasted his troops, and cured his general Naaman, Ben-Hadad, the King of Syria is determined to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Never has there been a people that has been so harshly treated for so long. Even right into the present day.

Ben-Hadad comes with his army and lays siege to Samaria. The price of food rises. And as the price of the food has risen the quality of the food has dropped. And here a donkey’s head is a high priced delicacy. There can’t be much meat on it, but if you wanted a donkey’s head for your dinner, you would have had to pay somewhere around 6 years wages!

And although the NIV translates it seed pods, literally the phrase is dove dung – which apparently has been eaten by people in really dire circumstances. A half pint of dove dung would have cost 5 months wages.

And if you think that is bad – that is not the worst. Mothers had resorted to killing and eating their children.

This should have rung warning bells in the people’s minds. Why was this happening? Was it the fault of Ben-Hadad at the gate? Well yes at one level it was. He was the one stopping food getting through. But several times in his word God had warned the people about what would happen if they persisted in ignoring him, and disobeying his laws. In Deut 28:52 we read:
52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the LORD your God is giving you. 53 Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating.
Is it that God is sick and twisted? No, this only comes at the end of a long list of threats, each one increasing in severity, and in Leviticus 26:27 they are prefaced with “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile towards me, then…”

This is God saying, if you wish to live without me, then I will gradually and increasingly withdraw my presence, and as I do you will see what it is like to live with out me. For without God all sorts of evil fester. Our world, even after the bloodiest century in the history of mankind, where even when you rule out wars, we still managed to murder and exterminate more people that died in any other century – even after the 20th century, man still believes that mankind is basically good. We are not, the only thing that keeps us from the most awful of crimes is the restraining hand of God. And here it is being withdrawn – beware those of you who want nothing to do with God. This is what can happen.

This is what is happening to our world. People say, “We want nothing to do with God” and God gives us what we ask for. Not only that but he ends what he said he would send – famine, disaster, war to alert us to the fact that we cannot cope at all without him.

But why is God angry? Two answers:

Our continual sin – Just like Samaria
Our rejection of Jesus Christ – how much more angry should he be with our world?

How should we live in a world under judgment?
The circumstances within Samaria should have acted as an alarm bell in the minds of the people. This isn’t just hardship, this is living under the judgment of God. And as the months progress under this siege more and more boxes are ticked that prove that it is the judgment of God. But do they change their ways? No! They persist with ignoring God. And we see here three reactions to God’s judgment:

How are we to live in such a world – the person who is a Christian must have substantially different reactions to those of others.

Don’t just put your head down and get on with it
Two women of Samaria had made a pact. They would kill and eat their children to hold of their own starvation. So they murder one child and the next day the first woman returns to see the bargain fulfilled but the second woman, having feasted, has hidden her son.

Gross foul sinfulness. Here are people who are utterly oblivious to God’s judgment. They don’t care. They’ll do it their way. They’ll solve their problems themselves thank you very much. They don’t need God, they don’t want God.

And we see many people like that today. They may not have descended as low as this, yet, but their reactions to problems in their lives is not to throw themselves at God’s feet and plead for mercy – and he is a God who delights to show mercy – instead they try to sort it out themselves.

If you think God is trying to tell you something – listen, before he withdraws himself even further, and things become even darker.

How do you react?

Now we need to be careful, because not every problem is a result of our disobedience. Let me say that again – not every problem we face is a result of our disobedience. God may send problems into our lives so that we may grow stronger in our faith. Or to enable the glory of the gospel to be seen more clearly.

But even so – when we face problems we should ask “why”. In a world where God is sovereign nothing happens by accident. And if repentance isn’t the necessary response, there are other responses that are necessary. It might be “Lord help me to hang in here. Lord keep my faith strong. Lord help me to make do without such and such.”

Don’t get angry at God
Then we come to King Jehoram. We read something interesting about him in v 30
30 When the king heard the woman's words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and there, underneath, he had sackcloth on his body.
Surprising! Sackcloth was the sign of humbling yourself before God. And Jehoram seems to be going about it in a right way – he doesn’t display his sackcloth or all to see. Indeed no-one would have known about it except he is so distressed at the awfulness of the situation that he tears the royal robes which were covering the sackcloth.

The Bible condemns outward show of religion, and the king certainly wasn’t putting on an outward show. But sadly his words in the next verses demonstrate that this wasn’t a humbling that led to repentance. We see him take an oath that his own life would be forfeit if Elisha wasn’t executed that day. And in v33 you can hear his impatience, “Why should I wait for the Lord an longer?”

It would seem as if Elisha has already told him to wait on God, to humble himself and to turn back to God. And Jehoram has come along with that. But its only skin deep. Its not repentance, its bargaining with God. Its almost as if he’s saying, “You told me that if I put on this sackcloth stuff, that God would sort it all out in his time. Well I’ve done all that, and it hasn’t worked.”

He’s like someone who says, “my wife was ill and I prayed and prayed, but God didn’t answer my prayers, so therefore he doesn’t exist. I’ve tried religion and it doesn’t work.”

But God isn’t impressed with bargaining. If I do this, will you me happy with me. Look at what I’ve done. I’ll pray to you, but you give me what I want. Why should God give you what you want? You haven’t given him what he wants – he wants a broken and contrite heart, he wants you to repent and trust him.

And what is missing from it all is genuine biblical repentance.

And amidst the judgment Jehoram gets angry at God. And we see a man more concerned about starving people, than about sinful people. And we see a man shake his fist at God and blame God. And things haven’t changed. In our world God has promised that if we ignore him he will pull back his hand, and then when he does exactly what he said he would do, and there is a disaster, an explosion, people start shouting and blaming God. When if they would humble themselves, and repent of their sin God would return. In Zec 1:3 we read
3 This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, `and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty.
Have you been angry at God over something? Anger at God is never right. You may need to humble yourself and repent, and seek God’s forgiveness. Perhaps some of you think you can bargain with God. God hates to be bargained with. Bargaining only works when you have something the other person needs. God does not need you. You on the other hand need God. And you must come on his terms.

Trust God amidst judgment
There is a third reaction to the judgment. It is that of Elisha. And here we see that God’s people aren’t exempt from trial, or from experiencing God’s judgment on the ungodly. Christians die in earthquakes, are starved in famines, and killed in bomb-blasts. But there is a difference between being under God’s judgment and being caught up in it.

The believer may well be caught up in it. Daniel of whom there is nothing wrong recorded was in Babylon. Elisha, again of whom nothing wrong is recorded, is caught up in this siege. Suffering does not mean for are under God’s judgment. This book was written to the people of God in exile, and here is encouragement and instruction for them. Elisha doesn’t appear to be panicking, from what the king says, it appears that Elisha is waiting on God’s timing. He isn’t ranting and raving, instead he is sitting calmly with the elders of the city.

There is a quiet trust here. And when God speaks, there is a trust in the promise that God gives. What a great example for the Christian. We live in a world that is under God’s judgment. At times we may experience more of God’s judgment than at other times. At times there may be specific ways that a country or a community come under God’s judgment. And if not, then we all still live in a world that suffers the general judgment of God when Adam disobeyed. And we suffer illness and bereavement, and disappointment, and have to worry about cancer diagnosis, and accidents, and depression. And how are we to live?

In quiet trust, depending on the promises of God and waiting on his time. And like Elisha in v32, if there is anything that we can do to prolong our life, or to alleviate the problems we face then do it.

Do you know the promises of God? Which promises are precious to you?

Amidst wrath there is Grace
The word of the Lord comes to Elisha and it is a startling promise. v1
Elisha said, "Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria."

There will be food, at the gate, tomorrow. Here is an astonishing promise, and one that is astonishingly specific. Elisha foretells the prices and the quantities.

The people don’t deserve this, but God isn’t going to bring deliverance. That’s grace. Mercy where their should be judgment. Blessing where there was cursing. That’s what the gospel is. And these people are going to live in a time of God’s grace.

We live in a strange world. It is a world that is simultaneously under judgment and yet living in a time of grace. The bad news of sin is all around us. Yet the good news of the gospel has arrived. How do you react to this good news?

Don’t mock God’s grace
When Elisha had spoken to the king the promise of deliverance from God the officer with the king laughed. It’s always someone on the fringe, isn’t it? Some smart-alec in the background that opens their mouth and mocks. It’s rarely the person you’re speaking to.
2 The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, "Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?"
This is wicked scornful unbelief. Elisha is renowned for speaking God’s words. What he says happens. But this man sees the man of God as an easy target. But God will not tolerate his word being mocked.

Men have mocked it down through history. They have denied it. They have claimed that parts cannot be true –

John gospel wasn’t written by John in C1. Written in C2. Then a fragment of John’s gospel found wrapped with a mummy in Egypt from C1.

Those who say you can’t trust to Bible say so in spite of the evidence. Those who trust God’s word have nothing to fear. It is always trustworthy. Never be ashamed of trusting God’s word. God will not tolerate his word being mocked.

Or his grace being scorned.

And Elisha speaks quickly and forcefully to him:

"You will see it with your own eyes," answered Elisha, "but you will not eat any of it!"

These are shattering words. There is a promise of great blessing. But he will see none of it.

What solemn words. This man choose to disbelieve not because he had any evidence that Elisha had ever been wrong before.

I fear that there may be some in this congregation
I fear that there are many in churches across this land

For whom this could be said. You have heard the promise you have refused to believe it, you will see it fulfilled, but you will taste none of the blessings yourself.

Think on what it must have been. To be starving. To be at the gate, people are rushing out to get food, maybe you’ll be able to go soon, maybe you’ll get some of those coming back in. And then to be knocked down, and in the crush feet pound over you, you can see food, you can smell it, and yet not to taste of it. And last things you see as your eyes close is the sight of people rejoicing as the darkness closes in around you.

Part of the great sorrow of Hell it would appear is that you will see the joy of the believers, enjoying what could have been yours. And you will weep tears of bitter bitter rage. And the saddest cry will be the sound of your voice saying - “It could’ve been me.”

And this is something that is utterly absolute. When God gives a promise of salvation and you refuse to believe it, and you mock the grace of God – God will not excuse you. Look at v16 – it happened exactly as foretold. And then God underscores the whole incident so that there will be no mistake. V17 – the mocker is identified, his fate recorded. And then in v18-20 the whole incident is restated so that we can be very clear on this. Then in v20 we read “And that is exactly what happened, for the people trampled him to death in the gateway and he died.”

God will not tolerate his grace being mocked. God hates to be distrusted. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation”. Hebrews 2:1

Seize the day
There were four other characters in this account. At the gate to Jerusalem there were four lepers teetering on the brink of starvation.

So they make their way to the enemy camp only to find it empty. In the last passage God had enabled someone to see an army that was there. In this passage he causes an army to hear another army that wasn’t there. And we see again how easy it is for God to throw the plans of men and women into disarray.

And the interesting thing is this – the army was gone. It is dusk, evening time when the lepers go out – the army had probably been gone from before the sun rose that morning, for the people of the town would have heard or seen them go. And so for the most of a whole day in Samaria desolate people were pulling their belts tighter around their waists, going to bed hungry when they had no need to be hungry. Had they known it, they were free, free to feast and eat and enjoy the blessings of the abandoned camp. They were starving in the midst of plenty, when they might have been feasting.

God works, and God has provided for man’s great need. Is it not a strange thing – a city under siege and yet not under siege, starving and yet with easy access to food? We see how easily God bewildered the Syrian armies, but do you also see the lesson here?

Isn’t it like so many around us? The Lord Jesus has come into the world to save sinners from the awful punishment that is theirs. The good news is that people don’t have to die in their sins. Salvation is available. They are living under judgment when they could so easily be living under grace. Part of the very reason that God is angry with them is the key to their salvation. God is angry because they reject the salvation he has provided.

Come out, come and find food for your souls. Come and find life giving water, come and find the bread of life. That the message we take.

And there are lepers at the gate of Samaria. Not allowed in, not wanting to move away. Usually they probably got food from the city. But now they feel that they have nothing to lose. Perhaps the enemy will have pity on them because hunger certainly won’t.

They seize the moment. And move from having nothing on the brink of death, to having everything, and life opening up before them.

And here we need to encourage people to think like these lepers. “We have everything to gain, and not very much to lose” they say to each other, “We have everything to gain.” This was what he French mathematician and genius Blaise Pascal said, “If I am wrong and you are right, and God does not exist, I have enjoyed life, and lost nothing. On the other hand if I am right and you are wrong, and God does exist, I have gained everything, and you have lost everything.”

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Another Voice - March's Verse

(Newspaper column for Letterkenny Post)

Along with the Baptist church in the town we gave out a calendar to many homes in the town. The theme of the calendar is “God is Love”, and each month has a different verse from the Bible on this theme.

March’s verse is Hosea 14:4 “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely.”

Hosea is one of God's preachers in the Old Testament. He is a man who hurts much because his wife sleeps around with other men and everyone knows it.

And Hosea is called by God to demonstrate a faithfulness and patience that is utterly beyond the call of duty. He is to wait, he is to love, and he is to rescue his wife. Out of his own pocket he buys her back from another man – paying for the one who is rightfully his.

Hosea’s life is a real life parable of God's love for his people in the Old Testament. They were his people, he showered love on them, but they rejected him over and over again. They chose false gods rather than the God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And yet he didn’t wash his hands of them, but waited, pursued and loved them.

This verse comes at the end of the book where Hosea’s wife has returned to him, and God is now speaking about his own unfaithful people, and he says, “I will heal their waywardness, and love them freely.”

Perhaps you feel that your chequered past excludes you from God's love. Not so – God says here that he will welcome anyone who turns to him, no matter if they have paid as scant attention to God as Hosea’s wife did to Hosea. And more than that, God says he will pay the price to rescue you, and he will love you with a love that is beyond measure.

There are no hopeless cases with God. There is a welcome awaiting anyone who turns to him.