28 November 2006

A favourite picture of salvation

Some books are worth reading, and far fewer are worth reading twice. Charles Spurgeon read Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress over 100 times, always with profit. The following, a favoured section, pictures the simplicity of salvation by faith in Christ and the joy that comes when the knowledge of forgiveness is realised:

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation (Isaiah 26:1). Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, "He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death."

Then he stood still a while, to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks (Zech. 12:10).

Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold, three Shining Ones came to him, and saluted him with, "Peace be to thee." So the first said to him, "Thy sins be forgiven thee (Mark 2:5);" the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment (Zech. 3:4); the third also set a mark on his forehead (Eph. 1:13), and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the celestial gate: so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing,

"Thus far did I come laden with my sin, Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, Till I came hither. What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall from off my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me crack? Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be The Man that there was put to shame for me!"

27 November 2006

Living Like Jesus--a call for unity of relationships

The Atlantic Monthly (11/94) told about superstar tenors Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti performing together in Los Angeles. A reporter tried to press the issue of competitiveness between the three men.

“You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music,” Domingo said. “You can’t be rivals when you’re together making music.”

That’s also true in the church.

The foundation for believers’ oneness is the unity God granted in answer to Jesus’ prayer that His people “may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).

God’s Interest in our Unity

Comfort in Christ

Comforting is God’s proper work, for he turns earlier desolation into perfect consolation for individuals. This encouragement in Christ is the support Jesus gives to his followers.

Consolation of love’. The basic sense of the verb in classical Greek was ‘to speak to someone in a friendly way’

Where as once our consciences spoke accusingly to us and about us, now the sweet words of love settle our hearts by their soft, gentle expressions.

Companionship of the Holy Spirit: Participation in His gifts and influences

Concern and Compassion

There is this great experience of mercy from God. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you have experienced God’s compassion. You deserved hell, yet he loved you and died for you. He leads you in this life and will yet lead you to heaven. You have known great mercy.

God’s Instructions for our Unity

Since we have been blessed with such riches in a magnificent way, let us hear Christ’s exhortation through His own example:

Submission (a bow)

Servanthood (a towel)

Suffering (a cross)

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

God’s Involvement in our Unity

Final Glory; Humility for a time, honour for an eternity

22 November 2006

A Thanksgiving Reflection

"He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17 NIV).

We glimpse God’s reality and goodness in and through simple activities of life--He has designed time around a bountiful table with friends and family as an example of His goodness to all.

For twelve successive years, our family met with another to share Thanksgiving Day together. Tomorrow will be our first year of absence—London is just a bit too far from Los Angeles. Those twelve gatherings are cherished memories. Nothing unique, nothing overly exciting happened. We met, shared laughter, stories, poetry, a sumptuous meal, a brief post-meal nap during the football game, and later in the evening, a documentary or old movie.

Yet, in all those simple things something profound happened; we found our lives had been nurtured with gladness and we were made more grateful to God. Each gathering cemented into the core of our hearts this focus—that there is little more precious in life than to receive and appreciate the goodness of God in friends.

Thank you Garry and Elizabeth. Those times together we hold precious.

May the Lord grant us a greater ability to see and appreciate this expression of His goodness to us every day, in every relationship He's given us.

20 November 2006

5 Characteristics of a Healthy Church Abbreviated Sermon Notes

5 characteristics of a healthy church

The study of human growth is known as auxology. Growth and height have long been recognized as a measure of the health and wellness of individuals, hence part of the reasoning for the use of growth charts. For individuals, as indicators of health problems, growth trends are tracked for significant deviations and growth is also monitored for significant deficiency from genetic expectations.

Height is determined by the complex interactive combination of genetics and environment. Genetic potential plus nutrition, minus stressors is a basic formula.

Diet (in addition to needed nutrients; such things as junk food and attendant health problems such as obesity), exercise, fitness, pollution exposure, sleep patterns, climate and even happiness (psychological well-being) are other factors that can affect growth and final height.

What does Christian maturity look like?

The words “still more and more” indicate something of the Philippians’ present yet partial enjoyment of the graces for which Paul prays on their behalf. The subsequent clauses express, with progressive significance, the goals that the apostle sets before his readers.

I. Increasing in love which is insightful (v. 9)

This is a prayer for maturity, and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be, everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love.

It was Paul’s prayer that the Philippians’ love for other believers would abound, run over as a cup or a river overflows.
Donald W. Burdick gives three characteristics of this godly sort of love:
It is spontaneous. There was nothing of value in the persons loved that called forth such sacrificial love. God of His own free will set His love on us in spite of our enmity and sin. [Agape] is love that is initiated by the lover because he wills to love, not because of the value or lovableness of the person loved.

It is self-giving. [Agape] is not interested in what it can gain, but in what it can give. It is not bent on satisfying the lover, but on helping the one loved whatever the cost.

It is active. [Agape] is not mere sentiment cherished in the heart. Nor is it mere words however eloquent. It does involve feeling and may express itself in words, but it is primarily an attitude toward another that moves the will to act in helping to meet the need of the one loved.

This sort of God-given love is not easily counterfeited. Look at all that is involved:
love for God Himself (1 Cor. 16:22);
love for the brethren (1 Jn. 3:14);
love of truth and righteousness (Rom. 6:17–18);
love for the Word of God (Psa. 1:2); and even
love for one’s enemies! (Matt. 5:44).

The true test of genuine Christianity is how believers “love,” the generous, warm, costly self-sacrifice for another’s good.

John’s epistle makes godly love a kind of litmus test for the true Christian: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (4:8).

With regard to that statement, Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed,

John does not put this merely as an exhortation. He puts it in such a way that it becomes a desperately serious matter, and I almost tremble as I proclaim this doctrine. There are people who are unloving, unkind, always criticizing, whispering, backbiting, pleased when they hear something against another Christian. Oh, my heart grieves and bleeds for them as I think of them; they are pronouncing and proclaiming that they are not born of God. They are outside the life of God; and I repeat, there is no hope for such people unless they repent and turn to Him. 7

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NIV)

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

II. Investigating liberties to focus on excellence (v. 10a)

The idea of testing is clearly in view in the Greek word dokimaz┼Ź, translated “discern.” The testing is with a view to approving. The word was used in testing metals and coins, to determine whether they met the specified standards.

Life is filled with choices:

British prime minister Herbert Asquith once spent a weekend at the Waddesdon estate of the 19th-century Rothschild family. One day, as Asquith was being waited on at tea time by the butler, the following conversation ensued: “Tea, coffee, or a peach from off the wall, sir?”
“Tea, please,” answered Asquith.
“China, India, or Ceylon, sir?” asked the butler.
“China, please.”
“Lemon, milk, or cream, sir?”
“Milk, please,” replied Asquith.
“Jersey, Hereford, or Shorthorn, sir?” asked the butler.
Today in the Word, May 5, 1993

Possessing abounding love would enable the Philippians to give approval to things of the greatest value and importance. Conversely they would disapprove things of lesser significance. Most of the choices that a spiritual believer faces are not between morally good and morally evil things but between things of lesser and greater value. The things that we choose because we love them reflect how discerning our love really is.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
Ephesians 5:8-10 “walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:8–10),
Thessalonians 5:21 “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good”

Our heart condition is a key factor in the choices we make:

A Sunday school teacher asked if any scholar recollected an instance in Scripture of anyone making a bad choice through lack of discernment:
“I do,” replied a boy, “Esau made a bad choice when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.”
A second said, “Judas made a wrong choice when he sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver.”
A third replied, “Ananias and Saphira made a bad choice when they sold their land and then told Peter a falsehood about it.”
A fourth observed. “Our Lord tells us that he makes a bad choice who, to gain the whole world, loses his own soul.”

What value do you place on things?

Jesus put it this way—where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Where’s your treasure? Look at your life and ask what you emphasize in life, in energies, in finances, in time, in discussion. Measure that up with the revelation of God’s word and ask if those things are God’s priorities.

Years ago the son of a wealthy American family graduated from Yale University and decided to go out to China as a missionary for Jesus Christ. His name was William Borden. Many of his friends thought him foolish to give up so much of this world’s goods and his future to go there. But Borden loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and he wished to serve him. After only a short time on the field, and before he even reached China, Borden contracted a fatal disease and died. He had given up everything to follow Jesus. But at his bedside his friends found a note that he had written as he lay dying: “No reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.” Borden had given up everything, but he had found a treasure that was beyond words.

III. Integrity of life that passes test of scrutiny from God and neighbor (v. 10b)

Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian character, “sincere and without offense.” The Greek word translated “sincere” may have several meanings. Some translate it “tested by sunlight.” The sincere Christian is not afraid to “stand in the light!”

When there was a crack in a statue or a vase, a dishonest dealer would fill it in with wax so that one couldn’t tell that it had been broken. Then he would sell it as a genuine, perfect piece. An unsuspecting man would buy it, take it to his villa, and display it in his garden. The next hot day he would walk out and, lo and behold, the wax would be running out of a crack in that lovely art treasure! Finally the reputable art dealers began to put on their material the word sincerus, meaning without wax. In other words, they guaranteed it was a perfect piece.

The renowned nineteenth-century Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren wrote, “The world takes its notions of God, most of all, from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ” (First and Second Peter and First John [New York: Eaton and Maines, 1910], 105).

IV. Intense holiness derived from a vital union w/ Christ (v. 11)

Paul prays that in the hearts and lives of the Philippians there may be a rich spiritual harvest, consisting of a multitude of the fairest fruits of heaven; such as, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22, 23), and the works which result from these dispositions.

V. Intention to direct all efforts to God's glory (v. 11)

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)
7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

18 November 2006

The Lion and the Lamb

Well, the following won't be the easiest thing you've ever read, but the contemplation of Jesus' glory and humility as expressed here by Jonathan Edwards is sure to repay your efforts:

There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension.
Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth, for he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Prov. xxx. 4. “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Our understandings, if we stretch them never so far, cannot reach up to his divine glory. Job xi. 8. “It is high as heaven, what canst thou do?” Christ is the Creator and great Possessor of heaven and earth.

He is sovereign Lord of all. He rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him. His knowledge is without bound. His wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent. His power is infinite, and none can resist him. His riches are immense and inexhaustible. His majesty is infinitely awful.

And yet he is one of infinite condescension.

None are so low or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world,” James ii. 5. Such as are commonly despised by their fellow-creatures, Christ does not despise. 1 Cor. i. 28. “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen.” Christ condescends to take notice of beggars, Luke xvi. 22. and people of the most despised nations. In Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free,” Col. iii. 11. He that is thus high, condescends to take a gracious notice of little children, Matt. xix. 14. “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Yea, which is more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill-deservings.

Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for every thing that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend; to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage. It is enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them. Yea, it is great enough to abase himself yet lower for them, even to expose himself to shame and spitting; yea, to yield up himself to an ignominious death for them. And what act of condescension can be conceived of greater? Yet such an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are so low and mean, despicable and unworthy!

Such a conjunction of infinite highness and low condescension, in the same person, is admirable. We see, by manifold instances, what a tendency a high station has in men, to make them to be of a quite contrary disposition. If one worm be a little exalted above another, by having more dust, or a bigger dunghill, how much does he make of himself! What a distance does he keep from those that are below him! And a little condescension is what he expects should be made much of, and greatly acknowledged. Christ condescends to wash our feet; but how would great men, (or rather the bigger worms,) account themselves debased by acts of far less condescension!

16 November 2006

No Better Representative

Ever need a lawyer? When we do, they are more dear than our closest friend. And only a fool will try to stand without one.

John Flavel takes out his full-hearted pen and eloquently describes Christ as the advocate of His children:

1 John 2:1, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the Propitiation."

Christ pleads the cause of believers in heaven, appearing for them in the presence of God to prevent any new alienation, and to continue the state of friendship and peace between God and us.

In this relation Christ is altogether lovely. For,

1. He makes our cause his own, and acts for us in heaven, as if for himself, Heb. 4:15. He is touched with a most tender understanding of our troubles and dangers, and is not only one with us by way of representation, but also one with us in respect of sympathy and affection.

2. Christ our Advocate tracks our cause and business in heaven, as his great and primary design and business. For this reason Hebrews 7:25 says he "lives for ever to make intercession for us." It is as if our concerns were so attended to by him there, that all the glory and honour which is paid him in heaven would not divert him one moment from our business.

3. He pleads the cause of believers by his blood. Unlike other advocates, it is not enough for him to lay out only words, which is a cheaper way of pleading; but he pleads for us by the voice of his own blood, as in Heb. 12:24, where we are said to be come "to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel." Every wound he received for us on earth is a mouth opened to plead with God on our behalf in heaven. And so in Revelation 5:6 he is represented standing before God, as a lamb that had been slain; as it were exhibiting and revealing in heaven those deadly wounds received on earth from the justice of God, on our account. Other advocates spend their breath, Christ spends his blood.

4. He pleads the cause of believers freely. Other advocates plead for reward, and empty the purses, while they plead the causes of their clients.

5. In a word, he obtains for us all the mercies for which he pleads. No cause miscarries in his hand, which he undertakes, Rom. 8:33, 34. what a lovely Advocate is Christ for believers!

15 November 2006

Hallelujah, What a Saviour!

Jesus is a delightful Saviour. His righteous life and death on behalf of sinners, when considered, brings our hearts to realms of praise and gratitude like nothing else could ever do. C.H. Spurgeon reflects,

How often do we set forth the truth, which is ever fresh and delightful to believers, that Christ Jesus, on the tree, took all the sins of all who believe in him, — took them to himself literally, and carried them as though they had been his own, and suffered for those sins, upon the cross, all that ought to have been suffered by us on account of those sins, enduring that which his Father accepted as an equivalent for all the agony which ought to have been endured by us because of those iniquities.

We believe, brethren and sisters in Christ, in the literal substitution of Christ for his people. Christ stood in the sinner’s place, and suffered what was due to the sinner, even the curse of God, and the wrath of God. And now he has so suffered for sinners that those, for whom he died, can have no sin laid to their charge so as to involve them in punishment, since it is a maxim of all courts of justice that the law cannot first punish the substitute, and then punish those in whose place he stood. Every honest man admits that a debt, once paid, is settled for over; so, as Christ paid the debt that his people owed: to infinite justice, it is far ever blotted out, and our obligations to divine justice are obliterated.

This is the joy of joys, this is the doctrine, that makes the gospel to be God’s good news to guilty sinners, this is the glorious truth that sets the bells of heaven a-ringing with their loudest and their sweetest music, — that Christ has made the sin of his people to cease to be. Thus is fulfilled that ancient prophecy, “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve.” The work of Messiah the Prince is “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness;” and this work was fully accomplished when “this Man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

O beloved, herein is bliss indeed for us if he did really die for us! your question and mine must be this, “Did Christ die for me?” To answer that, I must ask, Am I trusting in him?” If I am, then he did die for me and all my sins are gone because he was punished in my stead. My demerit was imputed to him, and he died to put it away; and, now, his merit is reckoned as my merit A wonderful transfer has been made by means of the death of Christ He has taken all the consequences of our guilt, and borne them all, and ended them for ever; so was he not indeed glorified in his death?

And thou, believer, mayest sing this sweet song, on earth and in heaven too, —

“In my Surety I am free,
His dear hands were pierced for me;
With his spotless vesture on
Holy as the Holy One.
“Oh the heights and depths of grace!
Shining with meridian blaze;
Here the sacred records show
Sinners black, but comely too.”
(MTP, 3024)

13 November 2006

The Jubilation of Heaven

This past Lord's Day, we remembered those who gave their lives to secure our peace. At Trinity Road Chapel, we looked together at Revelation 5 and the investure of Jesus, the Lion and Lamb, who brings ultimate peace to this existance and to His own. In recognition of His right to rule, a crescendo surrounds the throne in praise of Jesus. Note the connection of that wondrous transendant scene to this first-hand account of the night before VE day in London:

VE Day was officially declared on the 8th of May 1945 but the war in Europe was definitely over on that magic night before when London surged into life. My mother said to me: "Let's go to the West End Joan and join in the celebrations." So we jumped on a train from our nearby Clapham Junction station to Victoria and were astounded to see such huge, swirling crowds. We tried desperately to make our way to Buckingham Palace and staggered shoulder to shoulder with the crowds. What an incredible sight. A wave of humanity confronted us. Impassioned emotions would never be as high again. London was aflame with human exhilaration. Bonfires blazed continuously over London and the sky was alight with the glow of victory. No more suffering and hardship; peace had finally descended upon us and everybody was at one with each other regardless of race, creed and status. Survival and freedom were all that mattered. We had waited so very long for this and in our wildest dreams had never envisaged a night like this.
Mum and I finally reached Buckingham Palace with much effort and laughter and joined in the masses converging on the Palace and celebrating outside. Hundreds of people all waving flags were crowding in front of the Palace and drifting in from Piccadilly and Regents Street and thronging down the Mall. They sang their hearts out with many of the war songs particularly the Vera Lynn favourites and London was deafened once again, not from the bombs and artillery fire, but from the depths of human feeling in utter, utter relief that their beloved city of London which had endured so much was free. Dear old London; this was its finest hour. Fireworks streaked through the sky instead of searchlights and bombers. The pent up spirits of the long, weary war burst out and the whole of London was ablaze with celebration.
No more suffering; peace at last!

5 Characteristics of a Healthy Church

Phil 1:9-11
17 Nov 2006
Trinity Road Chapel
Sunday AM Sermon Outline

I. Increasing in love which is insightful and engaged in service (v. 9)

II. Investigating liberties to focus on excellence (v. 10a)

III. Integrity of life that passes test of scrutiny from God and neighbour (v. 10b)

IV. Intense holiness derived from a vital union w/ Christ (v. 11)

V. Intention to direct all efforts to God's glory (v. 11)

10 November 2006

Looking to Jesus

After reading the following quote, give time to consider what makes Jesus so compelling to you:

The object of sight is JESUS. "They shall look upon ME." It is the most lovely, winning, wondrous object upon which the intelligent eye ever rested. There is nothing in it terrifying or repelling, nothing to raise a thought or impart an emotion anything other than the most tender, holy and subdued. Trace the points of attraction which meet in Jesus, and marvel not that when the eye roams over them, the heart is irresistibly won, the soul is instantly dissolved, and the believer prostrates himself at the foot of the cross in the profoundest sense of his vileness before God. All loveliness, all excellence, all glory meet and center in Jesus the Crucified. He is the most wonderful, as He is the most beauteous and attractive being in the universe.

Octavius Winslow. The Foot of the Cross.

09 November 2006

Jesus, My All

"Sweeter sounds than music knows,
Charm me in Emmanuel's name
All her hopes my spirit owes
To his birth, and cross, and shame.
When he came, the angels sung
'Glory be to God on high!'
Lord, unloose my stammering tongue;
Who shall louder sing than I!" -John Newton

Setting Your Affections on Christ

From my early days as a believer, I've found great help in reading the puritans. Much of who I am theologically and devotionally has been formed by their influence--I never fail to profit from reading them. For example, the following remarks by Thomas Brooks puts me right in the centre of who I am:

If the Lord Jesus Christ is a believer’s life, then this serves to emphasize that all believers should highly prize the Lord Jesus.

Oh, it is this Christ that is your life; it is not your husband, it is not your child, it not this or that thing; neither is it this ordinance or that, that is a believer’s life. No; it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the author, who is the matter, who is the exerciser, who is the strengthener, who is the completer, of a believer’s life.

You prize great people; the Lord Jesus Christ is great—he is King of kings, and Lord of lords.

You prize others for their wisdom and knowledge: the Lord Jesus has in himself all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Col. 2:3.

You prize others for their beauty: the Lord Jesus Christ is the most beautiful of ten thousand, Song of Solomon 5:10.

You prize others for their usefulness: the Lord Jesus Christ is the right hand of a believer, without which he can do nothing.

The believer may say of Christ as the philosopher said of the heavens, Tolle coelum, nullus ero—Take away the heavens, and I shall be nobody; so take away Jesus Christ, and a believer is nobody—nobody to perform any action, nobody to bear any affliction, nobody to conquer corruption, nobody to withstand temptation, nobody to improve mercies, nor nobody to joy in others’ grace.

Oh, prize Jesus Christ!

07 November 2006

Showers of Blessing

Sunday, November 5 will be long remembered with joy by the folks at Trinity Road Chapel. A baptismal service was on the books. We made it a family service so all the children could be in to hear the testimonies and witness three ladies being baptised. We also prayed earnestly that God would bless these three baptismal candidates with family members to come with them to church.

When the day arrived, the Lord did abound in giving us His favour. The lower chapel was filled to capacity as was the upper balcony. We were all amazed. The friends and family of the candidates came, but so too did a number of individuals that no one had invited or expected to come. We were grateful for their presence with us in the service. One deacon remarked to me later that when he looked out on the congregation after coming in from the vestry, he could see no wood--the pews were full.

The testimonies of the three baptised will long be remembered for their clarity in detailing Christ's saving power. Of special note was a young lady's named Becky. The Lord visited the singing as the people were quite moved to praise. My sons had an extended conversation later about how powerful the singing sounded to them that morning. And several said they were encouraged by the clear gospel preached from Titus 3. The church was abuzz with encouragement and joy. The church is now busy praying for those yet without Christ who attended, that they may come to a saving knowledge of Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Coming close to celebrating 20 years in full-time ministry, I know these days deserve remembering and called to mind during other, less encouraging times. So please indulge me as I set out a marker declaring that God visited us with His blessing and favour. May He in His goodness and mercy continue to do so, and may He be pleased to favour your congregation with a similar refreshing! And let us be careful to remember Him with praise and thanks for the things He does among us.

Flavel:Christ Altogether Lovely

"There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no, not one" rings a phrase from a song sung in the church I attended as a new believer. There is great benefit in bringing one's heart before that truth. A consideration for you from the puritan John Flavel:

There are certain things in which one friend manifests his affection and friendship to another, but there is not one like Christ. For,

1. No friend is so open-hearted to his friend as Christ is to his people: he reveals the very counsels and secrets of his heart to them. John 15:15. "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knows not what his Lord does; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.

2. No friend in the world is so generous and bountiful to his friend, as Jesus Christ is to believers; he parts with his very blood for them; "Greater love (he says) has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," John 15:13. He has exhausted the precious treasures of his invaluable blood to pay our debts. O what a lovely friend is Jesus Christ to believers!
3. No friend sympathizes so tenderly with his friend in affliction, as Jesus Christ does with his friends: "In all our afflictions he is afflicted," Heb. 4:15. He feels all our sorrows, needs and burdens as his own. This is why it is said that the sufferings of believers are called the sufferings of Christ, Col. 1:24 .

4. No friend in the world takes that contentment in his friends, as Jesus Christ does in believers. Song of Songs 4:9. "You have ravished my heart, (he says to the spouse) you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck." The Hebrew, here rendered "ravished," signifies to puff up, or to make one proud: how the Lord Jesus is pleased to glory in his people! How he is taken and delighted with those gracious ornaments which himself bestows upon them! There is no friend so lovely as Christ.

5. No friend in the world loves his friend with as impassioned and strong affection as Jesus Christ loves believers. Jacob loved Rachel, and endured for her sake the parching heat of summer and cold of winter; but Christ endured the storms of the wrath of God, the heat of his indignation, for our sakes. David manifested his love to Absalom, in wishing, "O that I had died for you!" Christ manifested his love to us, not in wishes that he had died, but in death itself, in our stead, and for our sakes.

6. No friend in the world is so constant and unchangeable in friendship as Christ is. John 13:1, "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." He bears with millions of provocations and wrongs, and yet will not break friendship with his people. Peter denied him, yet he will not disown him; but after his resurrection he says, "Go, tell the disciples, and tell Peter." Let him not think he has forfeited by that sin of his, his interest in me. Though he denied me, I will not disown him, Mark 16:7. how lovely is Christ in the relation of a friend!

06 November 2006

The Boiler Room

When providing guests a tour of their home, most of us pass by the boiler to show off the more attractive features of the house. Yet, without the boiler’s influence, the house in winter would be quite uncomfortable to live in. The boiler supplies necessary warmth and creates a welcoming atmosphere. At many churches, there’s a boiler. And I’m not referring to the heating system of the building, but to the communal prayers and their warming, invigorating effect on the church.

God uses prayer to provide essential spiritual vitality to the ministries and members of churches. How is prayer so vital? In prayer, we openly acknowledge our utter dependence on God and show our sincere desire that Jesus Christ be Lord over us. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit works, exalting Jesus and instilling in us obedient desires and dedication to God. The Lord is pleased to move us to pray and to act through prayer in answer to our requests.

And so where there is regular, sincere and earnest prayer, one can be assured that God is at work, making His glory known among those people. I’ve been very pleased to discover that the “boiler” at Trinity Road Chapel is in constant operation--there are many places where prayer occurs.

If you haven’t made prayer a priority yet, let me give you an encouragement to open the door to the “boiler” and join in with others stoking the fire where you worship and serve the Lord. If at all possible, find some person or group to pray with regularly. Our spiritual life is nurtured and strengthened through prayer. You’ll become more aware of the effect of God working on behalf of your church. Remember too that at any time and in any place, you can enjoy the pleasure and privilege of communion with our Lord in prayer. I guarantee it will warm your heart.

05 November 2006

02 November 2006

A Joyful Prisoner of War

What follows was my first letter as pastor to Trinity Road Chapel, the dear folks under my care as their pastor. May we in leadership see ourselves more and more in the light of Ephesians 4--only servants.

I vaguely recall hearing as a boy the radio and television reports of the last years of the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam. It was a tumultuous period in the history of the country, with antiwar demonstrations and draft dodging common in the news. Yet, even though protests were being made against the war, in the town where I lived, just outside a military base, nothing but the strongest support was given. Of all my boyhood memories of the early 1970s, one thing that distinctly stands out is the interest that town showed for prisoners of war and those missing in action.

As the war ended, the men who had been held captive, the prisoners of war, were released. Images of these men walking off planes, falling to their knees and kissing US soil, even before hugging and kissing family, are indelibly imprinted in my mind.

In time, many told their stories, sharing their accounts of imprisonment and torture under the control of their wartime enemy. I read and listened with keen interest as each related their struggle to survive, their will to live and longing for freedom from their harsh conditions. For them, liberty could only come by being released from the control of their captors.

Hearing the experiences of those prisoners of war instilled within me a strong will to live in freedom. Even death was preferred to any sort of captivity. That is, until I became a believer in Jesus Christ.

No one had to tell me before I was converted that I was an enemy of God—I knew it instinctively. There were things I wanted to do that He disapproved of—my conscience told me that—but I did my best not to allow guilt or any fear of judgment to invade my freedom. I wanted to do as I pleased and for a season, I felt the freedom to seek out my desires without restraint. I was free, or so I thought.

Thankfully, at the age of twenty-one, the Lord demonstrated His conquering grace in my life. I was brought to see myself as a sinner and under condemnation. And in broken, trembling words, I begged God for forgiveness. Instead of receiving the punishment I deserved, the Lord mercifully forgave me and changed me.

Ignorant as I was of the scriptures, it took time to discover what all had actually happened to me. In reading the Bible after becoming a believer, especially in the sixth chapter of Romans, I discovered something that startled me—I had been living my whole life in captivity as a slave to sin!

Even more startling, I learned that being saved meant continuing life as a servant, under captivity to Jesus and His will. I discovered I was now His, and not my own. But there is something completely different about this captivity—this captivity is freedom! Galatians 5:1 says that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” And in this freeing captivity, I found a life of joy and gratitude in fistfuls. Never would I have thought myself to be so glad a captive!

Understanding these metaphorical connections of our sin and salvation to slavery and freedom has proved a rich experience for me, and I look forward to declaring to you those truths more deeply and to our rejoicing together in the liberating life of service we have in Jesus Christ.

In this month of beginning my service (there’s that word again!) as pastor of TRC, there is one more captivating passage I wish to share with you. It is a passage that has become central to my thinking about my role as a pastor and it is a fitting introduction for this, my first article in “The Witness.”

Ephesians four is a familiar place of study for church leaders as they understand the Lord’s framework for congregational life and growth. I’ve examined the passage many times and will soon embark on a detailed study of it here at TRC. But as with many, I typically began my study at verse 11, “It was he who gave some to be apostles…”

It wasn’t until I looked at verses 7-8 that I understood the context of God’s gifts to the church of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. The image presented in those verses is of a conquering Jesus who has proved victorious at war. His victory came through the ironic shame and suffering of the cross and was made manifest in His resurrection and ascension. Though once despised and thought defeated in death, He is alive, exalted and reigning over everything!

The warrior imagery continues in verse 8 with an allusion to Jesus taking the spoils of war. The warriors and wealth of His enemy are now His, and under His will to dispense. And that is precisely what He has done. As a good king, He has taken His captured captives and sent them out into useful service to provide help and development to His people.

That is why verse 11 says Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” These men, gifted as they are, are in essence, prisoners of war, captives set aside for service. These servants are given to the church so that it might develop in the grace and knowledge of Jesus and thus, serve also, bringing about growth and unity within the body of Christ.

In my boyhood imaginations, I feared ever becoming a prisoner of war. Nothing other than death could have been dreamed worse. Now I gladly own that role. It is with great joy that I assume this month my active duties as pastor—prisoner of war—of Trinity Road Chapel. I am at your service in tribute to our King Jesus.