Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Gift that Keeps on Giving


Let’s face it, some Christmas gifts may have novelty value, but they aren't really of much use out of season. Gentlemen, would you wear that musical reindeer tie to work in the middle of July? Thought not. Ladies, what about those Christmas tree earrings? I don’t suppose they see the light of day anytime outside of December. Don’t even get me started on the pointless stuff that emerges from Christmas crackers. If I get another bag of marbles this year I’m going to lose my, er, well, you know.

At Christmas time we traditionally celebrate God’s greatest gift to humankind, Jesus Christ, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Those who accept the gift of Jesus by faith receive the Gift that Keeps on Giving. All year round and for eternity.  

Happy Christmas! 

* From December/January News & Views, West Lavington Parish Magazine. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas wrapped up

O Father, what love is this?
You sent your only Son
forever wrapped in love
to take our bone and flesh
born of woman by the Spirit's power
and wrapped in swaddling bands
to suffer and die for us
the just for the unjust
that we might be wrapped
in his righteousness.
O Father, what love is this? 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gravity


Last Friday evening Sarah and I headed for the newly opened Odeon Cinema in Trowbridge to catch the film Gravity. It's taken me until vow to write this up. The movie centres on astronauts Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and their work aboard the Space Shuttle Explorer. The cinematography is stunning. In the opening sequence the astronauts are shown spacewalking as they maintain the shuttle. In the background the earth in all its sun-illuminated beauty stands out as an enormous blue globe against the star-punctuated blackness of space.

The astronauts look tiny and vulnerable as they float around in a dark ocean of inhospitable vastness. The sense of looming danger is justified. A cloud of debris smashes into the Explorer, ripping the shuttle apart, sending Stone and Kowalski careering into space. Their only hope is jet-pack their way to the International Space Station, some 60 miles away so they can board an escape module and return to earth. 

I won't spoil the plot, but although Stone manages to deploy an escape capsule, it seems that all is lost as the vessel's thrusters have no fuel. The astronaut faces a lonely death. Trying desperately to send out an SOS message, Stone manages to pick up a radio signal from earth, locating an Inuit Fisherman. He knows no English and cannot raise an alarm. Stone nevertheless strikes up a conversation with the man and asks him to pray for her, "No one will pray for my soul...Will you pray for me? I mean I'd pray for myself, but I've never prayed—nobody ever taught me how."

At that moment Stone begins to cry. In the weightlessness of space her tears form into tiny droplets of water and float around the capsule. It is a moment of poignant beauty in the film, as the astronaut contemplates death without hope. It made me reflect on Paul's words in Romans 10:14-15, where he asks, 
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 
Whether intentionally or not the film was a reminder of the urgency of the evangelistic task of the church. It's our mission to teach people to call upon the name of the Lord that they may be able to face death with hope in their hearts, (Romans 10:13). No one had taught Dr. Stone how to pray. Unless we do that, who will? 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Advent: history, mystery and destiny

 
History

People may think that the Christmas story has about as much historical basis as Father Christmas, Raymond Briggs’ Snowman and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. But that isn’t the case. While we don’t know the exact date on which Jesus was born, the Gospel writers are careful to lay down clear historical markers. Caesar Augustus was Roman Emperor at the time, a chap named Qurinius was governing Syria and nasty old Herod ruled in Jerusalem as king of the Jews.  Jesus Christ was a real historical figure and there are references to his life and teaching outside the pages of the New Testament.

Besides, if the Gospel writers were trying to wrap Jesus in myth and legend, they went a funny way about it. Why say that as a baby he was laid in a manger, basically an animal’s feeding trough? Why record that despised shepherds were the first group of people to pay homage to the new born King? That’s a fine way to establish Jesus’ messianic credentials.

Mystery

Jesus was truly born of Mary in the town of Bethlehem and grew up to be a preacher and miracle worker the like of which the word had never seen before or since. Millions people are counted as his followers today.  What makes Jesus so special? Christians believe that he was the Son of God who became human to rescue human beings from sin; the wrong things that we all do. His very name ‘Jesus’ means the ‘Lord Saves’. He died on the Cross for the sins of the world. He rose again from the dead to give all who believe in him the hope of everlasting life. In the Son of God made flesh we see the mystery of God’s love for people like you and me.

Destiny

God made human beings that we might enjoy him and be with him for ever. Sin messed things up, but through faith in Jesus that destiny can be restored. That is why Christmas is such a joyful season, as we remember the Saviour’s birth. In the words of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds,
I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; who is Christ, the Lord.
* Christmas message for Phab Magazine. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Faith in The Times

One thing I enjoy doing of a Saturday morning is to have a good read through The Times. I was interested to see a number of faith-related stories in last Saturday's edition. Much attention has been given to the assassination of JFK fifty years ago, but it's not so well known that on the same day Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down the President, two prominent literary figures also shuffled off this mortal coil (here p. 28 - paywall protected). One, Aldoux Huxley, writer of the dystopian  novel, Brave New World, passed from this life to the next in a haze of LSD. The other was C. S. Lewis, Christian apologist and author of the Chronicles of Narnia. Huxley is almost a forgotten figure, while Lewis' stock has rarely been higher. His books continue to sell in droves and have been turned into big budget movies. A memorial to Lewis was recently unveiled in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey. It features his words, I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” A fascinating BBC radio programme juxtaposes the two literary figures, Brave New World. 

Next, Matthew Parris devoted his opinion piece to discussing the thought that 'Christianity opens minds. Even to atheism' (here-p 23). His main thought was that the Christian faith is a quest for truth and meaning. It has the ability free people from their cultural baggage empower them to stand up for what they believe is right and good. Although a self-confessed atheist, Parris distances himself from Dawkins here, who tends to dismiss all religions as evil and oppressive. Christianity sharpens its followers appetite for meaning opines the columnist and in doing so gives the individual the opportunity to choose to reject God. The strange thing is that for C. S. Lewis it was the other way round. What the author witnessed of the horrors of World War I only served to confirm his unbelief. But he came to realise that his anger at injustice and cruelty in the world was a tacit acknowledgement of an objective standards of goodness, namely the Christian God. He was the light by which he saw the darkness against which he railed .   

The quest for meaning and truth only makes sense if we presuppose that God is there and he has revealed himself to us as his human image bearers. Without that assumption there is no objective standard of right and wrong and no ultimate meaning or purpose in life. If morality is the product of 'evolutionary psychology' or a mere social construct, then moral absolutes cannot be upheld with any conviction. On what objective basis does Dawkins rail against the evils perpetrated in the name of religion? Who decides whether it is more moral to crash aeroplanes into the World Trade Center, or discover the cure for cancer?  In rejecting Christianity, atheists turn their backs on meaning and purpose in life and render the quest for truth and goodness pointless. Christianity opens minds because it points people to God the Father through Jesus the Son by the presence and power of the Spirit of truth. Atheism is a dead end. 

I usually skip Janice Turner's Saturday column. There is only so much whinging feminism a man can take on his day off. But the headline accompanying this week's piece had me intrigued. 'Labour has forgotten that vice causes poverty: The Co-op should its Methodist roots that inspired the fight against drink, gambling and addiction' (here p. 25). Turner could easily have used her column to lampoon Paul Flowers, the 'Crystal Methodist' Minister and former Chairman of the Co-op Bank. Rather she makes the serious point that the Co-op and the British Labour movement as a whole has drifted too far from its original Methodist heritage. Harold Wilson once said that 'The Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marx'. Wesley urged his followers, 'Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.' That kind of responsible, yet generous attitude to wealth led to the founding of co-operative societies. The old Methodist approach to finance was far better than the New Labour variety, which, according to Turner was, 'Borrow all you can, gamble all you can, lose all you can'. But vice does't pay, as the unfortunate Mr. Flowers has found out to his cost. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pastorate Tenth Anniversary

It's been ten years since I was inducted to the joint-pastorate of Providence Baptist Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church. To mark the occasion our people laid on a special tea on Sunday afternoon. My wife told them that I didn't want any fuss, but they didn't listen. Deacons from both churches gave kind tributes and a lovely cream tea was served. Listening to the tributes seemed a bit like attending my own funeral, but in this case I was able to answer back and thank members and friends of the churches for all their love and support over the years. 

I was presented with a copy of The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, by Michael Horton, Zondervan, 2011 and two, yes, two boxes of  Milk Chocolate Brazils. A cake with a picture of the Davies family taken at my induction at 2003 was a nice touch. I'm looking forward to getting my teeth into the volume of systematic theology once I've finally finished Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4, which won't be until the New Year the way things are going. The chocolates will be consumed a little more quickly, however. 

Mention was made that both fellowships are now much more engaged in the local community, with outreach initiatives of various kinds having begun since I started. Opportunities to serve in unexpected ways have opened up, including writing, radio work, speaking at the occasional conference and becoming Chair of Governors at the local secondary school. I didn't realise it until Andrew Stone, a Providence deacon mentioned it that over the period of ten years I've preached through or led Bible Studies on around a third of the Bible. At that rate if I carry on here for another twenty I will worked though the whole lot. 

This is my longest pastorate, as the first one was rather brief, followed by a period as an itinerant preacher when we were based in Dorset. Knowing that my tenth anniversary was due this year I was interested to read Gary Brady's blog series on A long term ministry - pitfalls and positives. I think he's right when he says that,
When a man moves from place to place, especially if he does that a number of times, then obviously his time is going to be taken up each time with the move, with getting to know his situation – the congregation, the community, his living situation. Time spent on this is time that cannot be spent on other things. 
Gary quotes from his father-in-law, Geoff Thomas,
You learn your trade. You learn from the lectures you received in theological seminary. You learn from hearing men speak on these themes at conferences. You learn from sitting under the best ministry. You learn from books and from the web, from whatever sermon series are contained there. There are finally appearing in the public domain through all these media examples of fine consecutive preaching on books other than the epistles of the New Testament. You are a foot soldier in the army of the church of the Lord Jesus alongside others. You seek to grow as a preacher.

People will never hear all the Bible preached to them in a lively, vital, applicatory manner without sitting under a minister whose intention is to remain in that pulpit for as long as it takes to preach the whole of Scripture. 
There have been times of heartache and disappointment as well as joy and blessing in my time as joint-pastor. But I'd be quite content to stay here serving Lord's people at Providence & Ebenezer until I retire or they finally get fed up with my Welsh Rugby sermon illustrations and tell me to clear off. I was reminded that Andrew Davies' text for my induction service was Colossians 1:28 'Him we preach'. If nothing else, I have endeavoured to preach Christ from all the Scriptures.  What greater work could there be? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Augustine on prayer before preaching


In his book, On Christian Doctrine, Augustine sets out some of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith and gives guidelines for interpreting Holy Scripture. In the final section of the work he devotes attention to the matter of how Christian doctrine ought to be communicated. Clearly after having painstakingly discussed theological and  hermeneutical matters, he does not believe that a man should simply turn up in church and say the first thing that comes into his head. Preparation for preaching involves sound exegesis, deep theological reflection and careful consideration of the applicatory force of biblical truth, 
The eloquent divine, then, when he is urging a practical truth, must not only teach so as to give instruction, and please so as to keep up the attention, but he must also sway the mind so as to subdue the will.   For if a man be not moved by the force of truth, though it is demonstrated to his own confession, and clothed in beauty of style, nothing remains but to subdue him by the power of eloquence. (St Augustine of Hippo (2012-07-08). On Christian Doctrine (Kindle Locations 4808-4813). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.)  
As he says, 'Accordingly, he who is anxious both to know and to teach should learn all that is to be taught, and acquire such a faculty of speech as is suitable for a divine.'  But, Augustine does not yet consider the preacher's preparatory work to be done. He urges that the 'Christian orator' give himself to prayer for the empowering presence of the Spirit in preaching. Through his Spirit God enables the preacher to speak the Word in a way that is most appropriate for the congregation, 
And so our Christian orator, while he says what is just, and holy, and good (and he ought never to say anything else), does all he can to be heard with intelligence, with pleasure, and with obedience; and he need not doubt that if he succeed in this object, and so far as he succeeds, he will succeed more by piety in prayer than by gifts of oratory; and so he ought to pray for himself, and for those he is about to address, before he attempts to speak.   And when the hour is come that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up his thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth, and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute.   For, as in regard to every matter of faith and love there are many things that may be said, and many ways of saying them, who knows what it is expedient at a given moment for us to say, or to be heard saying, except God who knows the hearts of all?   And who can make us say what we ought, and in the way we ought, except Him in whose hand both we and our speeches are?   Accordingly, he who is anxious both to know and to teach should learn all that is to be taught, and acquire such a faculty of speech as is suitable for a divine.   But when the hour for speech arrives, let him reflect upon that saying of our Lord's as better suited to the wants of a pious mind:   "Take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.   For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." The Holy Spirit, then, speaks thus in those who for Christ's sake are delivered to the persecutors; why not also in those who deliver Christ's message to those who are willing to learn? St Augustine of Hippo (2012-07-08). On Christian Doctrine (Kindle Locations 4864-4888). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition. 
As envisaged by Augustine, preaching involves both diligent preparation and a readiness to improvise when in the act of declaring the Word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That is a fine line to tread. If a speaker is too tied to his sermon notes, his  message will take the form of a lecture. His delivery will lack the spontaneity that comes from the interplay of preacher and congregation that is of the essence of preaching. On the other hand, if the preacher presumes to speak without due preparation, trusting in the impulse of the moment under the guise of relying on the Spirit, he is a lazy slacker who has neglected his calling to 'labour in the word and teaching' (1 Timothy 5:17). The preacher must give himself to 'prayer and the ministry of the word' (Acts 6:4). As Augustine put it most eloquently,  'And when the hour is come that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up his thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth, and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute.'   

Friday, November 01, 2013

Half Term Jottings


Half term week was meant to be a little less busy than usual, but things didn't quite work out like that. Stepping in to take a funeral in a neighbouring church took time to arrange and take. An elderly church member was admitted to hospital necessitating a visit. Then, of course there was sermon prep for our Sunday services. 

Managed to take some time off on Tuesday afternoon, however. We headed for Stourhead, which looked beautiful in its autumn hues. Our daughter was able to take lots of snaps for her school photography project. One of the project themes was 'isolated'. So, we made our way up a nearby valley to find a well in the middle of nowhere that apparently marks the head of the river Stour. 'Isolated' is the word. Click on the picture above. The well is the thing with a mini-spire on top. 

Nice to have a break from governor-related stuff, though. Although I did have a meeting with my mentor, Keith Clover on Monday morning. He attended the last Full Governors' Meeting and we were able to do a bit of 'post-match analysis', which was useful. 

Good to hear of the work of the Spanish Gospel Mission at our Wednesday meeting. 

Two writing deadlines this week too. Submitted a column for the next edition of the White Horse News and wrote an article for the Christmas edition of Wiltshire Phab Magazine. I'll probably post it here when seasonally appropriate. 

Little time for reading outside of prep this week and no time for decorating the living room either. Not too disappointed about the latter, but when I've a few spare moments I've been enjoying Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton, by W. Andrew Hoffecker (P&R). Making some progress on Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics Vol 4. The chapter on Justification is typically thorough and satisfying. Great stuff in Augustine's On Christian Doctrine on apostolic eloquence that I might blog about some time. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Advice for rookie pastors: On reading

Yeah, I know. You had to read lots of theology and that when in seminary. Some people will tell you that that ain't enough. Strange, huh? But before you get into any bad habits I'm going to give you some reasons why pastors don't need bother much with books. Ready, kiddo? Then let's begin:

1. Just because God gave us the Bible doesn't mean that reading is important. 

2. What's the point in trawling through long books in search of decorative sermons quotes, when you can just pinch some from a golden book of quotations? That'll make you seem learned without the hassle of really being so. 

3.You consult commentaries for your sermon prep, right? That'll do. I mean, what more do people want, exegetical accuracy and theological depth? C'mon. Anyone would think that preaching was meant to be 'theology on fire' or something.

4. By the way, there's no point in reading more than one commentary on a passage because they'll disagree and then you'll have to make your mind up which one's right. Save yourself some bothersome thinking time and always go with your fave bible commentator, without question.

5. There's no point in reading anything published before 2012 because what we need is the latest bang up-to-date 'how to books', not old stuff that people have been reading for centuries. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, what did they know of being missional in a multimedia age? 

6. E-books are best because it's easier to skim read using a screen than a book. Why bother slowly digesting what you are reading, turning pages etc, when you can zip through a snappy 20-pager in a few minutes and then get on to the next one?

7. If you really feel that you must read some stuff outside what's absolutely needed for sermon prep, but can't be doing with books and that, simply follow some blogs.

That's enough. Don't want to strain your eyes now, do you? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Cost of Living

 
Political debate is currently dominated by arguments over the cost of living. Unemployment is falling and there are other signs of economic recovery. But with costs rising and incomes staying the same, people are still feeling the pinch. Things aren’t helped by the fact that some of the big energy supply companies have recently announced hefty price rises. It’s not for me to use this post to sketch out my solution to this problem. Sadly I don’t have one. That’s the job of politicians, not pastors. But talk of the ‘cost of living’ got me thinking of some words of Jesus.

Some charlatan preachers might tell people that becoming a Christian is the route to an easy life, but Jesus made it clear that there is a cost involved in following him, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). For some that may involve losing their life for Christ’s sake. On Sunday 22nd September two suicide bombers headed for All Saints Church, Peshawr, Pakistan and blew themselves up. Eighty five members of the congregation were slaughtered in what was the deadliest ever attack on Christians in the country.

Thankfully, Christians don’t face such dangers here in the UK, but living for Jesus is still costly. It involves devoting the whole of our lives to his service. Yes, Christians gather for worship on a Sunday, but following Jesus means more than that. Going to church on a Sunday is meant to equip believers to serve the Lord throughout the week. English Missionary to China C. T. Studd had it right when he said, “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him." That’s the cost of living for Jesus. Are you willing to pay the price? 

* From November's News & Views, West Lavington Parish Magazine

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Perfect (Ofsted) School Governor by Tim Bartlett


Independent Thinking Press, 2013, Print Length, 217pp, Kindle e-book

No, I'm not commending my authorised biography. Hardly. Rather, this book is meant to tell us how to become a Perfect (Ofsted) School Governor. At least that's the idea. I suppose there's no harm in aiming high, but Perfect? Even Ofsted are only after Outstanding at best. Enough quibbling about the title, though. Perfection in governance might be asking a bit much, but following the advice contained in this book will certainly help governing bodies to do their job more effectively.

The book has six chapters:

1. Strategic leadership and how governors provide it
2. Good governance: the importance of self-evaluation and effective policies
3. Governor visits to the school
4. Holding the head teacher and the leadership team to account
5. Oftsed: inspections and governors
6. Appointing a new head teacher

And no less than eleven appendices. I'm not going to list them here. You can check out the book's 'Click to LOOK INSIDE' thing on Amazon if you're interested.

I wish I had read this book when I was first thinking about becoming a governor, or at least when I had just joined the governing body. It would have helped me to hit the ground running. Well, at least walking purposefully rather than wandering around looking a bit bewildered. The book explains the essentials of governance and suggests ways in which things can be done better for the good of the school.

As a new governor I often found it hard to see the wood for the trees. I suddenly found myself in an educational forest that was so densely populated with jargon-laden information that it was difficult to get a sense of perspective. To that end the book includes some useful jargon and acronym busting. Key concepts such as strategic leadership and accountability simply defined. Illustrations are given of how they work out in practice. You won't find all that you'll need to know here, but this systematic overview will bring a welcome clarity to the thinking of the most befuddled new gov.

There are lots of handy tips here on improving governance that I plan to try out on our Governing Body over the coming months. We especially need to do some work on self-evaluation, seeking feedback from governors on the usefulness or otherwise of our various meetings.

Not that I'll be implementing all of the author's suggestions. Having our longsuffering Clerk read out her minutes for governors' approval at the end of every agenda item would slow the pace of meetings unnecessary. Yes, the Chair may sometimes wish to check that a precisely worded statement has been accurately minuted. But usually the gist of what was said is sufficient and the record can be approved at the next meeting.

I'd certainly urge that all wannabe and newbie governors have a read of this book. Battle scarred veterans of many a Full Governing Body meeting might learn a thing or two as well. In addition, it wouldn't hurt for the Senior and Middle Leaders who attend our sessions so we can subject them to Paxmanesque interrogation to give the book a once over so they can familiarise themselves with the principles and processes of school governance.

To return to the book's somewhat misleading title, I doubt whether our or anyone else's governing body will ever achieve an idealised state of Platonic perfection, but that doesn't mean that we can't improve our practice. Governors expect the school they serve to be constantly making progress. As agents of reform, governing bodies need to be perpetually reforming themselves. Perfect? Never. Better? Absolutely. But then, had the title been, The Better (Oftsted) Governor, it probably wouldn't have caught my attention when browsing for something governory to read on Amazon.

A hardback edition is available for any without a newfangled e-reader device (see here).

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

No God Zone by Cristina Odone


On Sunday 22nd September two Islamic terrorists strapped on explosives-laden suicide vests, headed for All Saints Church, Peshawr, Pakistan and blew themselves up. Eighty five members of the congregation were slaughtered in what was the deadliest ever attack on Christians in the country (see here). Writing in The Spectator, John L. Allen Jr. cites evidence that 100,000 Christians have been killed 'in a situation of witness' each year for the last decade. In the light of those harrowing statistics, Cristina Odone's book-length complaint concerning the treatment of Christians in the West seems rather self-indulgent.

However, she is right to point out that as the West has become increasingly secular, expressions of faith are being excluded from public life. In this 'No God Zone', Christian registrars have lost their jobs for refusing to officiate at Civil Partnership ceremonies. Open air preachers have had their collars felt by the police simply for proclaiming a message that people don't want to hear. Whatever happened to free speech?

Part of the problem is a shift in the meaning of tolerance. Tolerance used to mean putting up with views with which we might strongly disagree. More recently tolerance has taken on a new aspect, involving the acceptance of more or less all views as equally valid (see here). The new 'tolerance' is in fact deeply intolerant. Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close because of their policy of only placing children with heterosexual couples. Odone cites many more examples of this kind of thing affecting both Christians and people from other faith groups.

What to do? Odone suggests that Christians should take a leaf from the the gay rights campaign handbook. As she points out, gay rights campaigners sought to win sympathy for their cause by highlighting the way in which society marginalised homosexual people. They drew attention to high profile figures who were gay in order to remove the stigma of abnormality. By writing this book Odone is trying to do something similar by showing that Christians are now the unfairly oppressed minority. She exhorts believers to be bold in bearing witness to their faith in the public square.  

I can see what the writer is getting at and it is fair enough for Christians to insist that their democratic right to religious freedom is respected. However, that is not the whole story. What is happening to Christians outside of the West is a reminder that following Jesus involves being willing to suffer for his sake. The New Testament could not be clearer on this point, John 15:18, Philippians 1:29, 2 Timothy 3:12. 

Christian values have had a huge impact on Western culture, but we should not always expect to have the upper hand as the moral and spiritual guardians of society. Odone is a Roman Catholic and I sense that what she longs for is a restoration of the Christian cultural hegemony that was Christendon. She references the crowning of Charlemagne by the pope on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. But there can be no going back to the days of Holy Roman Emperors and popes who claimed absolute power over church and state, as did Gregory VII at Canossa.

We should not long wistfully for the restoration of Christendom. The church of the New Testament was a despised minority and yet it had great power. The church will not win the day by following the blueprint of gay rights handbook. Rather we should learn the lessons of the Acts of the Apostles. The early church responded to a hostile 'No Jesus Zone' by fervent prayer, Spirit-empowered gospel preaching and practical Christian living. Have a read of Acts 4.

The historian T. R. Glover has written that the early Christians made such a powerful impact on the ancient world because they 'out-thought, out-lived, and out-died' everyone else. And we need to do the same if we are to see the increasingly 'No God Zone' of the West filled with the presence of God once more. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Without the gospel by John Calvin





















Without the gospel everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel we are not Christians;
without the gospel all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ,
by whom the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.
It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe …

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
he was made a curse for our blessing,
sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life;
so that by him fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labour lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
 ignominy ennobled,
 rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation, abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.” 

From John Calvin’s preface to Pierre Robert Oliv├ętan’s 1534 translation of the New Testament. Versified by GD.