Saturday, December 30, 2006

Evangelism & Warfare

I love this post by David Field. It speaks to a number of common Christian thoughts about evangelism, and just got my pulse going a bit!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What is Sin?

Josh Harris' book Not Even a Hint is a very very good book (now re-issued as Sex Is Not the Problem, Lust Is). I know some have issues with it, and think they've come up in blog-world at some point, but I couldn't find them in a brief look just now. Maybe I'll review it soon & then we can 'have at it'... Leaving that for now:

In the section
(pp. 113ff) where he is talking about what we watch on TV & at Cinemas. He is in areas such as our love to flirt with sin & our ability to rationalise taking onboard a certain amount, thinking certain films OK in the sense of 'not perfect, but not beyond what I can deal with'... Recognise yourself??

He then asks what we are allowed to view, and quotes this letter to John Wesley from his mum, when he'd asked for a description of sin. She says:
Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.
Which is a great answer, because it reminds us why we want to not do / look at / accept / engage with those things, reminds us what we loose...

I've no idea, but she might have been thinking of passages such as Eph 5:3, Gal 6:7-9, Ps 101:2-4, 1Thess 5:21-22, Job 31:11-12, Rom 8:6, Rom 13:14, Matt 5:29-30, 2Tim 2:22, Jas 1:15, Ps 84:10-12, Lam 3:24-26 and probably a few others...

Don't read on to see what I'm going to say next. It will trebble the value of your reading this post if you look up those passages! Isn't it just too easy to be a Christian without looking at the Bible much...

Some More Highlights of Whitecross

This is pretty gutting...
An atheist being asked by a professor of Christianity, 'how he could quiet his conscience in so desperate a state' replied, 'As much as I am astonished at yourself, who, believing the Christian religion to be true, can quiet your conscience in living so much like the world. Did I believe what you profess, I should think no care, no diligence, no zeal enough.' Alas! that there should still be so much cause given by Christians, for the astonishment of atheists! (72)
This is great!
The famous German mathematician, Athanasius Kircher, having an acquaintance who denied the existence of the Supreme Being, took the following method to convince him of his error upon his own principles. Expecting him upon a visit, he procured a very handsome globe of the starry heavens, which being placed in a corner of the room in which it could not escape his friend's observation, the latter seized the first occasion to ask from whence it came, and to whom it belonged. 'Not to me,' said Kircher, 'nor was it ever made by any person, but came here by mere chance.' 'That,' replied his sceptical friend, 'is absolutely impossible; you surely jest.' Kircher, however, seriously persisting in his assertion, took occasion to reason with his friend upon his own atheistical principles. 'You will not,' said he, 'believe that this small body originated in mere chance; and yet you will contend that those heavenly bodies, of which it is only a faint and diminutive resemblance, came into existence without order and design.' Pursuing this chain of reasoning, his friend was at first confounded, in the next place convinced, and ultimately joined in a cordial acknowledgment of the absurdity of denying the existence of a God. (73)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Jerusalem Rewritten

This is from John Piper, here. Thank you to Paddy McBain for pointing me to it. I like it! I've always loved the tune & here's a great set of words for it - and they're vaguely close to the original...
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Israel's mountains green?
And did the Christ of heaven come down?
Was God in flesh both heard and seen?
And did He die to prove His love?
And did He rise more pow'rful still?
And was His rule on earth started there
Upon Golgotha's tragic hill?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!
I will not cease to spread His light;
My faith a shield, His Word my sword;
'Til Christ, my God, is crowned as King,
And all the earth shall own Him Lord
(Another great set of words to this tune is 'Before the Throne of God Above', which is a brilliant fit. Useful at weddings, on Remembrance Sunday, and on 'normal' Sundays too).

Revision Limericks

I wrote these during Marian Raikes' Spirituality course last year. Just how literally I mean the word 'during' I probably shouldn't specify online!

Augustine (more detail here)
There once was a man named Augustine
Who over young girls had been lustin'
So he prayed and God saved him,
Transformed and re-made him,
When he'd seen that his sin was disgustin'
Pachomius (on whom, see here)
There once was a monk named Pachomius
Who built a monastery on his own-i-us
The walls were built wobbly
So visitors could be Godly
He said: come and live on your own-with-us.
Teresa of Avila (on whom, see here)
Teresa's interior castle
Show's her theology's partial:
Humans work alone
Before God's love's shown,
Which make's being a Christian a hassle!
Mysticism (which is more self-explanatory!)
A Mystic is someone who's seen God
And cannot express this 'coz its odd:
Noetic, ineffable,
Vague, inexpressible,
But that doesn't stop most of them trying at great length anyway,using slightly weird poetic metres...
Go on - write a few yourself and stick them on as comments!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Westminster Shorter Catechism Resources

From the index here you can read the whole catechism, which is a great & concise summary of Reformed theology from the Puritans' Westminster Assembly. Tolle Lege.

More than that, there's links to expositions & explanations of each point from great men such as: John Flavel, Thomas Watson, Thomas Boston, James Fisher. It also links into the John Whitecross illustrations I've just posted on...

What an exciting resource! Enjoy!

Some Highlights of Whitecross

More great moments from John Whitecross's The Shorter Catechism, Illustrated (see earlier post here) which I'm loving...

On who we serve:
'I remember,' says Dr Cotton Mather, 'what Calvin said when the order of his banishment from ungrateful Geneva was brought to him: "Most assuredly, if I had merely served man, this would have been a poor recompense; but it is my happiness that I have served Him who never fails to reward His servants to the full extent of His promises." (66)

Cardinal Wolsey, a great minister of state under King Henry VIII, having fallen under the displeasure of that monarch, made the following sad reflection a little before his death: 'Had I hut served my God as diligently as I have served my king, he would not have forsaken me now in my grey hairs. But this is the just reward that I must receive for my indulgent pains and study, not regarding my service to God, but only to my prince.' (71)
Newton quote (which is never quoted quite right!)
Two or three years before John Newton's death, when his sight was become so dim that he was no longer able to read, an aged friend and brother in the ministry called on him to breakfast. Family prayers following, the portion of Scripture for the day was read to him. It was taken from Boganky's Golden Treasury: 'By the grace of Cod I am what I am.' It was Newton's custom on these occasions, to make a short familiar exposition on the passage read. After the reading of this text, he paused for some moments, and then uttered the following affecting soliloquy: 'I am not what I ought to be. Ah! how imperfect and deficient. I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good. I am not what I hope to be; soon, soon, I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, "By the grace of God, I am what I am." Let us pray.'
Just a great tale!
Archbishop Usher, being once on a visit to Scotland, heard a great deal of the piety and devotion of Samuel Rutherford. He wished much to witness what had been told him, but was at a loss how to accomplish his design. At length it came into his mind to dress himself like a pauper; and on a Saturday evening, when turning dark, he called at Rutherford's house, and asked if he could get quarters for a night. Rutherford consented to give the poor man a bed for a night, and desired him to sit down in the kitchen, which he cheerfully did. Mrs Rutherford, according to custom on Saturday evening, that her servants might be prepared for the Sabbath, called them together and examined them. In the course of the examination, she asked the stranger how many commandments there were. To which he answered, Eleven. On receiving this answer, she replied, 'what a shame is it for you! a man with grey hairs, in a Christian country, not to know how many commandments there are! There is not a child of six years old in the parish, but could answer this question properly.' She troubled the poor man no more, thinking him so very ignorant, but lamented his condition to her servants; and after giving him some supper, desired a servant to show him up stairs to a bed in a garret. Rutherford, on discovering who he was next morning, requested him to preach for him that day, which the bishop consented to do, on condition that he would not discover him to any other. Rutherford furnished the bishop with a suit of his own clothes, and early in the morning he went into the fields: the other followed him, and brought him in as a strange minister passing by, who had promised to preach for him. Mrs Rutherford found that the poor man had gone away before any of the family were out of bed. After domestic worship and breakfast, the family went to the church, and the bishop had for his text, John 13.34, 'A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.' In the course of his sermon, he observed that this might be reckoned the eleventh commandment: upon which Mrs Rutherford said to herself 'That is the answer the poor man gave me last night;' and looking up to the pulpit, said, 'It cannot be possible that this is he!' After public worship, the strange minister and Samuel Rutherford spent the evening in mutual satisfaction; and early on Monday morning, the former went away in the dress in which he came, and was not discovered. (pp. 67-8)
How God preserved the Irish!
Queen Mary Tudor having dealt severely with the Protestants in England, about the end of her reign signed a commission to take a similar course with them in Ireland, and, to execute the same with greater force, she nominated Dr Cole one of the commissioners. The doctor coming with the commission to Chester, the Mayor of that city, hearing that her Majesty was sending a messenger into Ireland, waited on the doctor, who, in discourse with the Mayor, took out of a cloakbag, a leather box, saying, 'Here is a commission that shall lash the heretics of Ireland,' calling the Protestants by that title. The good woman of the house, being well-affected to the Protestant religion, and also having a brother in Dublin named John Edmunds, of the same religious profession, was much troubled at the doctor's words; but watching her convenient time, while the Mayor took his leave, and the doctor accompanied him down stairs, she opened the box, took the commission out, and placed in lieu of it, a sheet of paper with a pack of cards wrapped up in it, the knave of clubs being faced uppermost. The doctor, coming up to his chamber, and suspecting nothing of what had been done, put up the box as formerly. The next day, going to the water side, wind and weather serving him, he sailed towards Ireland, and landed on the 7th of October 1558, at Dublin. When he arrived at the castle, the Lord Fitz-Walter, being Lord Deputy, sent for him to come before him and the privy council. He came accordingly, and after he had made a speech, relating on what account he had come over, he presented the box to the Lord Deputy, who causing it to be opened, that the secretary might read the commission, there was nothing, save a pack of cards, with the knave of clubs uppermost; which not only startled the Lord Deputy and council, but also the doctor, who assured them that he had a commission, but knew not how it was gone. The Lord Deputy made answer, 'Let us have another commission, and we will shuffle the cards in the meanwhile.' The doctor, being troubled in his mind, went away, and returned to England, and, coming into the court obtained another commission; but staying for the wind on the water side, news came to him that the queen was dead. Thus God preserved the Protestants of Ireland. Queen Elizabeth was so delighted with this story, which was related to her by Lord Fitz-Walter on his return to England, that she sent for Elizabeth Edmunds, and gave her a pension of £40 a year during her life.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lloyd-Jones 'Spiritual Depression' (IV)

Lloyd-Jones is writing about miserable Christians, arguing that such a condition, though a decent description of many many people, shouldn't occur. He is examining the causes and cures of such a condition, being sad in the Christian life. I'm summarising him, and trying not to comment too much. I'm really enjoying the book - we need more Puritan-loving, Puritan-reading, Puritan-conversant preachers!

7. Fear of the Future
"For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2Tim 1:7)

Satan is relentless, and not bothered how he gets Christians to be downcast. If looking at the past doesn't work depression (see ch 6) then he will try to scare or depress with thoughts of the future. This fear is very common, and there's lots of teaching in the Bible about it. But the supreme example of spiritual depression due to fear of the future is Timothy.

What causes such a condition? First, temperament is central. We are all made different, and this doesn't change at conversion; we are all ourselves, which is one of the great glories of the church. Some are, by temperament, nervous or worried - and Paul himself was such a man, going to Corinth "in weakness and fear and much trembling". Thus temperament matters. Other things also contribute to fearing the future. A high view of the Christian calling might do so, tending to depress those who both know its grandeur and their own inabilities. Further causes multiply, but we must not dwell here.

How are we to treat this condition? Some general propositions, then some exegesis. First, it is helpful to distinguish legitimate forethought from paralyzing forethought. It is right to think about the future, and foolish not to, but still wrong to be worried about it. Just as we saw it a waste of time to worry about the past you cannot change, so it is likewise pointless to exert energy on something currently obscure, or outside of your circle of influence.

Turning to the Apostle's teaching we see that he raises such reasoning to a higher level, giving us specific teaching of a two-fold nature: reprimand and reminder. First comes the reprimand, that God has not given a spirit of fear, which speaks of our major trouble in fear of being to forget what God has given us, namely a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. The trouble with Timothy was, as with all depressed Christians, a failure to realise what God had given him - or done for us. This fault in us is due to the failure to stir ourselves up, to think, to take ourselves in hand. We need to admit that the future contains fearsome things, and then continue to remind ourselves that we are sons of God, etc...

Power. We have a task, and we know our own weakness. Yes, but there is power even for weaklings - and such comprehensive power too! Read the stories of the Christian martyrs, and see not only the bold & strong make their good confession, but the weak, the small, even children, dying courageously & gloriously for Christ's sake.

Love. How many of us would have put this concept here on the list? Isn't love timourous, weak? Well, no - because self-love is often the root cause of fear, and thus love which absorbs us in someone or something else protects from fear. Think how this is modelled by Jesus.

Sound Mind. Discipline & clear thinking are a right antidote to the spirit of fear - as we have already seen.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

John Flavel - a gem

From The Shorter Catechism, Illustrated by John Whitecross. And illustrated here does not mean pretty pictures, but with illustrations such as one might use in a sermon. (I'll hopefully get round to reviewing this book some point!)

This is a gem from John Flavel from his preface to Treatise on the Soul of Man (p. 50):
I studied to know many other things, but I knew not myself. It was with me, as with a servant to whom the master committed two things: the child, and the child's clothes. The servant is very careful of the clothes; brushes and washes, starches and irons them, and keeps them safe and clean; but the child is forgotten and lost. My body which is but the garment of my soul, I kept and nourished with excessive care; but my soul was long forgotten, and had been lost for ever, as others daily are, had not God roused it by the convictions of His Spirit, out of that deep oblivion and deadly slumber.