Monday, 24 August 2009

Last Sunday in Scalpay

Yesterday I preached my final sermons in the Free Church in Scalpay. In the morning service I completed a series on 1 John and in the evening I preached from Joshua's sermon (Joshua 24) about life after he was gone.

I have been their pastor here for almost five and a half years, and I learned far more about the Christian life from watching them than they would have learned from listening to me. I have had the pleasure of knowing individuals who prayed daily for the entire community, going from house to house (in their minds) as they interceded for it. I also had the privilege of watching believers make the transition from earth to heaven, full of faith in Jesus Christ as they did so. I learned from others that we can go through distressing trials leaning upon God. In fact, I could make a long list of helpful experiences I encountered here.

Others had such a hunger for the Word of God that their interest compelled me to study very carefully before I preached my sermons. I also sensed the urgency in their prayers for me that my sermons would be blessed to God's people and to the unconverted. So while I cannot say what the benefits were that Scalpay received through me, I am very thankful to God for the spiritual benefits I received through them.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Psalm 19 – Two Divine Revelations

This psalm concerns divine revelation. The author considers two ways by which God makes himself known: in the creation and in the Scriptures. In verses 1-6, the psalmist describes how God is revealed in the created order (this is called general revelation because it is displayed to every person); in verses 7-11, he considers how God is revealed in the Scriptures (this is called special revelation because it is only revealed to some); then in verses 12-14, the psalmist prays that he would benefit from God revealing himself to him.

General revelation is comprehensive (it includes the heavens as well as the earth), consistent (it occurs every day and every night) and clear (everybody can understand it even although they speak different languages and cannot understand one another). The creation continually says that God is pre-existent (he existed before he made the universe), wise (he designed the universe) and powerful (he maintained it in existence). It also tells us that God is good (he provides what his creatures need).

Nevertheless, creation also says that something is wrong because not everything that takes place is good. There are earthquakes, famines and other disasters, and all of creation is marked by death. General revelation is silent as to the cause of these problems and does not hint whether or not the Creator intends to solve them. In order to know these details, we need special revelation.

The various nouns that the psalmist uses for this special revelation – law, statutes, commands – indicate that it contains precepts to be obeyed, which informs us that God is a sovereign King. One of the terms used for special revelation is the ‘fear of the Lord’ (v. 9), which stresses that it is to be approached with reverence, with the same respect that we would give to the King himself.

Each noun is also accompanied by an adjective such as clean, righteous, and perfect, and they state its moral quality. After all, it is possible for a ruler to have unrighteous or irrelevant laws, but not God. There is not one unrighteous law or one unnecessary command in the Bible.

Each of the six descriptions of special revelation has a statement summarising its effect: it revives, gives wisdom, gives joy, gives illumination, is eternal and righteous. Because of these features, the Bible is both beyond price in value and sweet to a believer’s soul. A Christian learns more about God and receives more from God in the Bible than he could learn about him or receive from him in the creation. Climbing a hill to see the view is good for your health, but the resultant vista does not teach us more about God than is revealed in the Bible. For example, the greatest display of divine power is not the upholding of the universe in existence; rather the greatest display of divine power is the resurrection of Christ.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Finding rubbish at removal time

At the moment we are in the middle of packing boxes because we are moving to another address. My study has been turned into a storeroom, as have several other rooms in our house.

One detail we have noticed is the amount of pointless stuff we have collected over the years. In isolation, none of the stuff is very big, but together it amounts to many bags of rubbish. Yet when we first decided to keep these items we imagined that they would be of some use (that goes for some of the books I have purchased and am holding on to with great determination).

Of course, this imminent change of address is not the ultimate removal ahead of me. One day I will be taken away from this world. In a spiritual sense I am wondering how much pointless stuff I will have accumulated by then in my life and in my ministry (if I can separate them). Perhaps even some current activities which I think are very important today will then be tossed into the equivalent of a rubbish bin.

Anyway, back to packing boxes, or perhaps to find more pointless things!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching, PT Media/Christian Focus, 2009.

Christopher Ash is Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, a course designed to train preachers and Bible teachers. In this book he considers the role of preaching today. Aware that some regard preaching as outdated, he begins by considering the alternatives to preaching that can be found in evangelical churches (for example, Bible studies, discussion groups). What these alternatives usually lack is authority, whereas biblical preaching comes with authority, based on God’s Word, to a gathered congregation listening to what God has to say to them through a Spirit-filled preacher.

The effects of such preaching are explained in two subsequent chapters. First, such preaching transforms the church. It brings to listeners an awareness of the reality of God, an understanding of their sins (which implies that the preacher knows his listeners), it aims for a response of faith (to obtain this response, the preacher must preach with clarity, urgency and passion), and is accompanied by confidence in the sovereign grace of God.

Second, such preaching mends a broken world. For a number of reasons, society has been and is fractured. In the church God is in the process of regathering people, a goal that will be achieved in heaven. Meanwhile he deals with many of their problems through regular listening to biblical preaching as he reshapes their lives in a community, which in turn enables a congregation to witness to the communities around it.

The book also contains an appendix detailing several blessings of consecutive expository preaching. They have been stated many times, so I will not list them. He also has perceptive comments on three demons (his word) that hinder or frighten many preachers: they are relevance, entertainment and immediacy, but you will have to buy the book to find out what he says.

This book is not long, but why read a long book if a shorter one can tell you what you need to know? Sometimes those who preach need encouragement as they persist in declaring God’s Word to small gatherings of people. This book reminds such of the task to which God has called them. Indeed the author reminds them that their regular preaching in ordinary local churches has great significance for the development of God’s kingdom. If you need a boost as you serve the Master as a preacher, this book will give you one.

Christ’s Victory Over Evil (Edited by Peter G. Bolt), Apollos, 2009.

This volume of collected essays, sub-titled Biblical Theology and Pastoral Ministry, is based on the 2008 Moore College School of Theology. As its title indicates, the book is concerned with aspects and consequences of Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness that was evidenced in his resurrection. We know that evil exists in many forms in today’s world and it is unavoidable that pastoral interactions will reveal contact with a variety of expressions of evil. Further in several branches of the worldwide church there is an absorption with demonic activity and how to overcome their opposition to the gospel and the church, and the spread of such teachings has caused confusion and disappointment in many churches.

It is not possible in a book based on conference addresses to consider every aspect of evil. Nevertheless, in the areas covered by the various contributors we are given helpful insights into how the church should approach evil. Tony Payne appraises various roots and developments of contemporary deliverance ministries that dominate much of contemporary charismatic practice; Bolt surveys the biblical teaching on the evil powers; two contributors (Salier and Jensen) consider the contribution of the apostle John in his Gospel and in 1 John respectively; Mark Thompson addresses the benefits of the doctrine of justification in silencing the accusations of the evil powers against God’s people; Constantine R. Campbell explores the link between union with Christ and victory over the evil powers that Paul describes in Ephesians and Colossians; Anderson and Lilley focus on evil powers confronted in cross-cultural mission, particularly among the Aboriginal people of Australia; Donald West deals with prayer and the powers of evil; finally, West and Bolt look at several aspects of the power of evil that will be faced in pastoral encounters and give advice on how to deal with them.

Each of the above chapters deserves careful study, especially by pastors and other church leaders. One thing that can be guaranteed is that such will have to respond to evil influences and attacks on their congregations as well as themselves, and the more information and advice they have the more ready they will be when the problems arise. Of course, some elders may not understand the occasional technical terms in the book, so they can get a copy for their pastor and ask him to explain such language for them.