Monday, October 31, 2005

The King before the World

Last night in the sermon I was looking at the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18:28-38a. The Jews wanted Jesus dead, and the Romans were means to make it so. Pilate really could not be bothered. Why couldn't the Jews deal with this under their own law? Then comes the crunch, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death", they said. Yes, they wanted death.

But then John says that they said this, "that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die." (v32) What's this about? There are two facts which are true:
  1. The Roman method of death was crucifixion. The Jews knew that Jesus would suffer this way.
  2. They also knew Dt. 21:22,23. In Jewish law whoever was hanged on a tree was accursed of God.
Now, it is not too big a step to take to believe that not only were the Jews planning the death of Jesus, but they were taking advantage of the regime of the day to ensure that after his death Jesus would have the worst reputation for Jews - accursedness from God.

But John, here says that this was to happen in fulfilment of Jesus' own saying about his death (referring back to John 12:31-32). It is quite remarkable that both things can be true at the same time in the same events: the evil plans of the godless, and the perfect plans of Jesus. But we see it clearly to be true. The cross to come was the victory of the King of the heavenly Kingdom over the world.

It is often said by Christians in the midst of difficulty and suffering that God is able to "work things together for good" (paraphrasing Romans 8:28). We take comfort from the thought that in the end there will be a net benefit. It is hard to see at the time, but we hope it will be true. What struck me last night after preaching (the best thoughts often come later), was that we have perfect example of this kind of thing going on before us in the life of Jesus. Here in John 18 we can see how the world and the King use the same events for different reasons, but not in the sense of there being a mighty tug of war to pull the outcome to one of two mutually exclusive, but eagerly desired directions. Rather, each side is happy with the proposed outcome, happy with the events as they are, but the forces of this world believe, wrongly, that they will win the day. They do not understand that these are necessary for the King's ultimate victory.

Seeing that, does this not change our perspective on our own sufferings?

(PS All this brings to mind a dim memory of C. S. Lewis's statement that Aslan, in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, knew a Deeper Magic than the Queen. I must look that up...)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Preaching Books

Interesting list of books on preaching with commentary from Mark Loughridge.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Witness Amongst Our Wulers

Did you know that there are Christians in Parliament?

I wonder who the members of CiP are?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

At Last...

... I finished books I-III of Calvin's Institutes.

Only, 50 days later than hoped for. But the clock is still ticking. Book IV is impatiently drumming its fingers as it anticipates the fulfilment of its calling.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Must Get Some of That Berean Spirit

I am abandoned! It is the school half-term holiday and Susan and Kate have gone up north to the holy land of Scotland to see relatives and recharge their accents.

So, anyone want to offer me dinner? I'll practice some jokes specially...

While you think about that, I'll tell you about the day I had. Main events of the day:
  1. Helped S & K get out the door this morning.

  2. Installed OS 10.4 on both my Macs

  3. Did some door-to-door work with David in Belper.

  4. Derwent Bible Study (led by Gareth Crossley) and Prayer meeting.
During the d-to-d I had a particularly long conversation with a JW. The funny thing was, I recognised her from a visit she made to me while "doing ministry" with her husband last year in Little Eaton! She claimed not to remember me, though. In all the debates we had over various passages and bits of theology, I realised how rusty I was in dealing with JWs. Note to self: memorise some Bible references for future use!

The sad thing was, this woman used to be a member of the CofE some years ago. Her testimony was that at a time in her life when she was searching for answers to big questions, no-one was able or willing to give her answers. The tragedy is that she never heard the gospel in all her time in the CofE.

It just happened to be the CofE in this case, but it could have been any of many other denominations. Liberals in the churches have a lot to answer for in this kind of situation since they have effectively disarmed the church of their greatest weapon: the sword of truth, the Bible.

Evangelicals like me are not without blame either. We are simply lazy. We have lost the Berean spirit where we are willing to make a priority the diligent searching of the Scriptures. And even if we do, we seem to have no desire to think carefully how to clearly and simply explain it should the need arise. We are too busy sloganeering, or trying to be 'relevent' (IMHO, the best way to become eternally irrelevent), or trying to sound clever and knowledgeable without really knowing much at all. To the people who need to know something of eternal worth, we seem to be all "sound and fury, signifying nothing".

This woman, humanly speaking, is now almost impossible to reach. She has well constructed fortifications behind which she hides. It could have been so different if a Christian could have been able at the appropriate moment simply to open the Bible with her. It's a sobering reminder to me.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Calvin's Spades

Speaking of the "Scholastic Sophists" (whoever they were - football team? Quiz'n'chips?) and repentance, Calvin says
They have involved this matter ... in so many volumes that there would be no easy way out if you were to immerse yourself even slightly in their slime.
(Institutes, III.iv.1)
Yes. They were different days, them.

Weekend and Preaching

I preached on John 18:12-27 last night at Derwent Free Church (DFC), where I was trying to draw out the contrast between the weakness of Peter's profession in the face of opposition compared to the strength of Jesus. To the unbelieving heart Jesus' predicament looked like a that of a fly caught in the spider's web of Roman-Jewish politics. Peter's courage failed him. But, of course, Jesus was not a naive victim. All this was necessary that the Son of man be lifted up (Jn 12:32).

It is a strange thing, this preaching business. I find myself, as I have all the way through John's gospel, wrestling with the text during the week before, so much so that before preaching I feel quite tired and not sure that I have really 'got it'. Then I preach (it often comes out a bit different from my notes) and people are more generous in their appreciation than I could ever have imagined. There is much to thank God for.

We still have half a dozen kids coming from the local housing estate in the evening. Susan pointed out last night that they have been coming regularly for six months now.

We are also picking up a few (for want of a better term) 'refugees' from other churches. I am not sure what to make of this. I am thankful for them in the sense that they boost the numbers. DFC a small church which can do with any encouragement it can get. But there is the pastoral problem of Christians at some level discontented with their situation. I do not like the thought that their being at DFC will encourage their discontent. They should either be reconciled to their own church and return, or make a definite move to somewhere else, leaving their old church on the best possible terms.

Finally, a strange thing that happened over the weekend. I periodically look up the Tron website. Susan and I spent our early Christian years there in the '80s. I like to see what is going on and sometimes I download some sermons that may be of interest. I noticed that in recent weeks that both Eric Alexander and Sinclair Ferguson had been back, so I downloaded their sermons.

Susan and I listened to some of Mr. A. on Friday night. We noted that his voice was that bit older and slower, but no less clear and powerful than when we lived in Glasgow. There are some preachers who can preach well, but one is left feeling that they have conveyed lots of interesting knowledge gleaned from books. But in this sermon we were hearing a man who had spent a lifetime in the presence of God and therefore commands attention. (Think, therefore, what it must have been like to hear Jesus preach!)

Then, as we were listening, I looked over to Susan I saw she was in tears! She was taken by surprise by the experience. It had evoked for her so many great memories of the Tron, which in many ways were formative for us in our Christian experience.

They were great days, indeed, for which we give thanks. But, of course, the best is yet to come!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

National Recognition

It is not everyday that this happens. My wife, Susan, is a Deputy Head Teacher at Sinfin Community School in Derby. Today the school got a mention in the national press! Hurrah!

Dear Diary...

Been out of bloggy circulation for a few days.

Sunday: Preaching on John 18:1-11 where Jesus is arrested. Amazed a Jesus' control of events in spite of hypocrites (Judas), the world (mob of Jews and Gentiles), and over-zealous, loose-cannon Christians (Peter).

Monday: a) Domestic admin. Huge pile of things to deal with have just got too embarrassing to leave. b) some planning for evangelism with David.

Tuesday: Team meeting with Gareth, David and Paul. Boy! some heavy issues to think about! Read and snoozed for a bit in what remained of the afternoon. I have been fighting off a cold for the last few days. Derwent prayer meeting and Bible study in the evening.

Wednesday: Pastoral issues. Some encouragements, but draining. Ecclesiology in the evening.

Today: Sermon prep for Sunday pm.

Bit of a 'Dear Diary' entry today. Bored yet? I am. Time for some more work...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Court, Crisps and Confessions

Originally uploaded by Dancers.

On Thursday night I spent some time with this man. Don't fear! He is a friend, despite the photo. Andy Court is a great encouragment and well worth getting to know.

Anyway, during the course of another dose of encouragement and crisps he mentioned his bother David Court, who is a Rev. in the Church of Scotland, has a load of his sermons on his church website. I have only had a brief listen but they sound good. Go and listen too!

The remarkable thing about the church's website is that on the front page makes direct reference to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Anyone who knows anything about the CoS will know that this is unheard of. To most minsters, if they have heard of it, the WCF is like the embarrassinng auntie that everone wishes would stay upstairs, shut up and not show her face. I'm glad to see that Mr. Court is proud of his auntie and has her in the front room with all the visitors.

UPDATE: Oops! The reference to the 'auntie' is not quite on the front page. In fact, not at all. You will find it here. Which is just as well. After all, who puts their auntie at the front door? (Am I pushing this metaphor too far? I think so.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Having a Double Will

More Calvin, I'm afraid. I am reading the section on the Christian life. In particular the section on self denial and bearing the cross. In it, Calvin comments on the tribulations that afflict Christians. He himself was no stranger to afflictions, being regularly stoned on his way to teaching and preaching.

In affliction there are, of course, the things that trouble everyone: poverty, illness, bereavement etc. And there is also suffering for righteousness' sake i.e. because one is a Christian. These are not to be handled as the Stoic would, by ignoring all emotions and waiting patiently. Rather the full range of emotions must drive us to dependence on God alone. (Calvinists are often accused of being fatalistic, like the Stoics, and I suppose some are, but clearly Calvin knew nothing about it!)

I found this quote most interesting because it resonated with me. Speaking of Peter and his response to Jesus' prediction of his manner of death (John 21:18), and his subsequent obedient life, Calvin says,
...even though he obeyed the divine command with the utmost fervor of heart, yet, because he had not put off his human nature, he was pulled apart by a double will. For while he contemplated that bloody death which he was to die, stricken with the dread of it, he would have gladly escaped. On the other hand, when it came to his mind that he was called to it by God's command, having overcome and trampled his fear, he willingly and cheerfully undertook it. This, therefore, we must try to do if we would be disciples of Christ, in order that our minds may be steeped in such reverence and obedience towards God as to be able to tame and subjugate to his command all contrary affections. Thus it will come to pass that, by whatever kind of cross that we may be troubled, even in the greatest tribulations of mind, we shall firmly keep our patience. (Institutes, III.viii.10)

What struck me about this was his reference to the existence of a "double will". All through my Christian life I have struggled with this phenomenon - a desire to do the right, in obedience to Christ, but at the same time a fear that it might hurt in some way. I'm in my 3rd decade as a Christian and I have come to believe that all Christians share the same kind of problem to some degree or other. What has troubled me though is the lack of treatment of this subject in any of my reading. Biographies of Christians, from my recollection, seem to present the subject of the biography as a great, fearless hero of the faith who would boldly and joyfully go into the most appalling situations for the sake of the gospel, and experience no emotion other than joy, joy, joy.

My own experience has been one of almost constant battle with self. I would much rather sit at home with a coffee in hand, reading nice books, writing blog entries, than going out and meeting and ministering to real people. People bring pain, sorrow, confrontation, anger. Oh, and sometimes joy too. In the quote above, Calvin recognises that such problems exist and are to be expected. This does not mean that he has a natty technique of avoiding the pain and keeping the joy - we still must "tame and subjugate ... all contrary affections". Nevertheless, his recognition that it is present and an expected problem is a great comfort and encouragement.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quote from Calvin: Love of Neighbour

Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men's evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.
(Institutes III.vii.6, Battles translation)

Rant on Church and Youth

Recently there has been a discussion on the Warfield list about the necessity of youth ministry in churches. One of the contributers, Pastor James MacDonald, said this:
...youth ministry does not produce disciples. Every study, from Barna to the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention], tells the same story - few youth discipled through youth ministries stay the course - few embrace the faith of the youth minister, let alone their parents.

Where the SBC reports that 85% of their youth walk from the faith by their second year at university, Brian Ray with the National Home Education Research Institute reports 92% of homeschool graduates claim a faith similar to their parents.

This is not a call for home education - but it is a call for home discipleship.

The statistics are pretty shocking, and I wonder what the equivalent would be in the UK.

Now, I am not one who would want to ban all youth work, but I have to admit that over recent years I have increasingly become skeptical of the emphasis that churches often place upon it. It seems to become something of a sacred cow which cannot be questioned, and certainly not killed. But my own experience, where Susan and I led a youth work for a number of years, and that of some others leads me to believe that it is over-rated. Only one person out of the many 10s of kids that we worked with can I say for sure is a Christian. At best, it is a handmaiden to home discipleship. But if there is nothing in the home, then there is little hope for the youth group.

At Derwent we get some kids coming from the housing estate to our evening service. Recently we also had some visitors who were in the area for the weekend. When the visitors saw the children they were pleased and encouraged, as we all are. But then the fateful words came out which I have heard many times before,
"After all, they are the future of the church!"
I hate disagree with someone who is encouraged and wants to express it with these words. But they are wrong. Under God, the future of the church lies with adults, especially the parents. Evangelism (of Christians and non-Christians) needs to be directed to them. "Get" the parents, train them to be godly parents along the lines of Deuteronomy 6, and the children will follow.

Don't you think?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I have been reading some of Acts this morning. I came across 18:4,
Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (NIV)
Here is an important reminder about an aspect of preaching to non-Christians. We believe that the declaration of the gospel is a supernatural event. The message is to be handled as a holy message from God and not to be tampered with. But the method we use is to be one of reasoning with a view to persuasion. We preachers must not be content to simply stand up and declare truth. It takes more effort than that. We must seek to appeal to the mind. Win it, and hearers will have no excuse for the moral condition of their hearts.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Unloving Churches

There is a great piece here by Keith Ghormley entitled To serve or to be served? looking at those people who complain that their church isn't loving enough. (You need to scroll down a bit to get to it).

It doesn't pull any punches, so gird up your loins before you read...

(HT: Barb, who adds some advice of her own. No further girding-up needed.)

Just Checking In

It was a busy week last week. What with visiting my parents, taking the midweek Bible study at Derwent (and this is a teaching session, not a discursive, interactive, group, prophetically-get-everything-off-your-chest study), preaching twice on Sunday there was not much time for anything else. I still need a great many hours in preparation, so three preaching/teaching sessions in a week is a tall order. However, I still live.

Yesterday morning: 1 Peter 2:2,3 ("desire the pure milk of the word"). Headings - Being hungry, Feeding, Tasting.

Yesterday evening: John 17:20-26 - Jesus' prayer for all disciples. Headings: Horizontal Unity (amongst believers), Vertical Unity (with Christ), Evangelism ("that the world may believe").

The morning service was much easier to prepare for. Since I was filling in for someone else, I had free choice of what to preach. Isolating two verses means it is easier to focus on a few points in depth. The risk is one of losing context. In the evening I am making my way through the gospel of John. I have not found it easy. I keep finding myself saying, "Why does Jesus say that, in that way?" The temptation is always to try to make Jesus' words say what I want them to say rather than what he actually said! In some ways I am glad to leave the Upper Room and get on to narrative again.

ID to Win?

John Kilpatrick recently posted an interesting email on the Genevanet list server. I hope he does not mind me recycling his post, but he pointed us to an interesting article at Tech Central Station entitled Why Intelligent Design Is Going to Win by Douglas Kern. I don't think Mr. Kern has a particular axe to grind in the argument - if he does then he covered it well - but the article made the following headline points:
  1. ID will win because it's a religion-friendly, conservative-friendly, red-state kind of theory, and no one will lose money betting on the success of red-state theories in the next fifty to one hundred years. ["Red-State" = Republican-voting - Ed.]
  2. ID will win because the pro-Darwin crowd is acting like a bunch of losers.
  3. ID will win because it can be reconciled with any advance that takes place in biology, whereas Darwinism cannot yield even an inch of ground to ID.
  4. ID will win because it can piggyback on the growth of information theory, which will attract the best minds in the world over the next fifty years.
  5. ID will win because ID assumes that man will find design in life -- and, as the mind of man is hard-wired to detect design, man will likely find what he seeks.

Read the whole article to see why.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Visit to Ayrshire

Grave Stone
Originally uploaded by Dancers.

I have spent the last couple of days at my parents home in Dalrymple. It was a brief visit because of the amount of work I have on.

I was talking to my Mum about my grandfather on Wednesday night. I realised as we were talking how little I knew about him. I knew he was killed in WWII while flying a Spitfire. I had assumed that this had happened in England somewhere during the Battle of Britain and that he was buried there. However, Mum told me that he had been buried in Ayr Cemetery. This came as a bit of a surprise, so we decided next day to go and visit.

We went assuming that the war graves would have been in a separate area in the Cemetery. But we discovered, that they were scattered all over. After spending an hour searching, we went home for lunch. Mum phoned the local authority and the gentleman at the other end of the phone very kindly agreed to meet us there and show us where it was. Ironically we walked past it, completely missing it, during our first visit. So here it is:

566178 Sergeant
E. A. Dancer
Royal Air Force
3rd October 1940 Age 25

It was quite moving.

I later discovered that he was killed while flying out of RAF Kinloss in what seems like a training exercise. Evidently the pressure on the RAF to train pilots was enormous, resulting in casualties:
The war seemed a long way off from Kinloss but as the months went by the Station flag appeared to be almost permanently at half mast as aircraft frequently crashed on training sorties. Unfortunately the inexperience of the pilots being pushed through training to supply front line squadrons, the worn-out aircraft and poor weather caused many accidents, over 68 in the first year of 19 OTU's operations. Sadly, many of those arriving at Kinloss for the first time saw the remains of aircraft around the airfield and at one time, even on Tolbooth Street, Forres.(from RAF Kinloss website)

Perhaps most poignant moment was the discovery, later that afternoon, amongst some documents in a little brown case under one of the beds in my parents' home, a letter to my grandmother written the night before he died. They had only been married earlier in the year. In it he expressed his love for his young wife. There was no sense of alarm or urgency. It was just an expression of everyday affection. He was shortly about to fly on routine night training. I can only assume that this was the flight that killed him.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Church as Jesus Intended It To Be

Here's an ill-thought out rant stimulated by a conversation I had in the car today.

There is much talk these days of getting back to the simplicity of being like the church found in the New Testament. If you were to ask an advocate of this view, they might turn, in a rather dreamy eyed fashion, to Acts 2:42:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
Sounds great, doesn't it? Teaching, prayer, communion, real fellowship, sharing possessions, signs and wonders, people becoming Christians. How simple it all was. "How lovely! If only...", we like to think. Just get rid of the denominations, the structures, the buildings and we could get back to that New Testament idyll: the church as Jesus intended it to be.

The trouble is, I have to zoom out a bit and try and get the broader picture. (It is a habit I picked up from years of good Bible teaching in various places.) Now, what early church do we mean? Do we mean
  • the early church in Jerusalem which tried to persuade gentiles to be circumcised and effectively become Jews before they could be called Christians?
  • The church in Galatia with a similar problem?
  • The church in Colossae with the Jesus-plus gospel?
  • The church in Corinth with their factions? their failure to recognise apostolic authority? their incestuous sexual relationships?
  • The churches which received John's letters which were beset by pre-gnostic docetic heresies?
  • The wider early church with itinerant false teachers (wolves in sheep's clothing)? which they had to deal with at a time when no church had yet received all of the New Tesament revelation?
  • etc, etc
Is this the church we mean? Do we really want to go back to all that?