Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Excursion into Uncharted Waters

You may have noticed for a few weeks now I have had a list of books I am currently reading on the right. (Incidentally, Librarything.com is a great, easy way to manage this list.) Some may have been surprised by the addition of Rudolph Giuliani's Leadership to the list. Well, what happened was this. I came across a evangelical pastor (probably presby - I can't remember) who recommended occasionally reading books like this. There is much common grace wisdom to be found in such works. So, I added it to my Amazon wish list (see right) and forgot about it. Lo, and behold! someone bought me it at Christmas.

I started reading it a few weeks ago on and off. I picked it up again last night. It has a funny effect on me. It takes me back to my days in secular employment - the world of people skills, decision-making, performance indicators de-dum, de-dum, de-dum. Enjoyable in a kind of nerdy way. Giulliani writes well and the book is not a dry scientific 'how-to' manual so much as an anecdotal account of what he learned in his time as mayor of New York. Interesting, though not for everyone.

I read a comment last night which got me thinking along a track I usually steer clear of, so forgive me if my comments seem superficial. One often hears of people complaining in the UK of the way the government seeks to manage public services. The problem is perceived to be that treating them as businesses somehow makes them more impersonal. This has been going on for a couple of decades or more in the UK, stimulated I think by Margaret Thatcher's treating everything as a market place and users of services as 'consumers'. In the NHS, for example, patients are treated as consumers of health services. Labour has steered clear of this terminology but is still strongly advocates effective management of resources, making ample use of performance indicators and targets to get results.

In response to this one hears a regular outcry that patients, or children in the education system, or victims of crime are people not statistics. They are quite right, but the statement is often made as though it is in opposition to management use of statistical data.

Now, what about Giulliani? Here is something he said that caught my attention. He was talking about the management of foster care in NY and commenting on the fact that no-one had really looked at the data before to see how effective the service was. But his system seemed to work:
One doesn't want to think of children as inventory, but the fact that no-one wanted to look critically at the problem lest they be labeled insensitive meant that the actual conditions for these children declined. The old saying around the Child Welfare Administration was that the nobility of intention was enough. Because there were no performance criteria, there were no outcome measures. The bottom line for the 280 children removed from worst-performing contractor was that they ended up with an agency that had effectively fared much better. (pp. 94,95, emphasis mine)
Did you get that? People who are able to think macroscopically and think in terms of performance outcomes - i.e. that nasty word, statitistics - are extremely valuable in delivering better services to real individuals. So next time you hear some well-meaning person on the news waxing lyrical about the need to treat people as people as though this was what management of public services was missing, then perhaps we need to examine that statement more critically.

Now, I will get into my bunker...

Monday, February 27, 2006

Today I Took My First Funeral

Today I took my first funeral. I was extremely worried and concerned about it and have been for a number of days. In the middle of the night last night I woke up mentally preaching the message I was going to deliver! There are some things in life where it does not matter too much whether one makes a hash of it. But on an occasion like this, which can be so significant for a grieving family, one must get it right.

The situation was made so much easier by that fact that the man who died, aged 83, was a believer. He had been for some 50 years. He was a quiet man who loved the Lord and loved his word. On the several times I visited him and his wife and we read the Bible together, every word was savoured. No less so on the last occasion I visited him in hospital. Here was a man who had found the source of true life. He had discovered that though his body was decaying he was being renewed inwardly and that "the best is yet to come", as he would often say. It was a delight to have known him.

Of course in a situation like this our thoughts inevitably turn to Christ. It was because of the grace of God in Christ that this man had become what he had become. Christ is the fullest expression of God's being, the altogether lovely one, the fairest of the fair and it is his greatest delight to transform men and women into his own likeness, full of grace and truth. We give thanks to him for his amazing work of restoration, making the filthy clean, the wicked righteous, the poor rich, the ugly beautiful, all reaching its consummation with the resurrection of the dead, where God's chosen receive new spiritual bodies, able to serve and worship him forever.

The Fruit of Preaching

Having recently read Flavel's The Mystery of Providence and as one who often feels that preaching week by week seems to bear little fruit this comment by Mark Dever is a great encouragement. Imagine reflecting on a sermon you heard 85 years before and then being converted by it! Indeed, God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

O Flower of Scotland...

Scotland celebrate their victory at Murrayfield

Scotland 18-12 England

Books read in February 2006 - III

I managed to get a couple of books in while I was away this week:

The Mystery of Providence

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (Banner of Truth) 221pp.
First foray into the Puritans this year. I came away with the strong sense that this man Flavel lived in another world. He had learned to look at events from the vantage point of heaven. Not that he as a creature could make complete sense of them, but from that place he was able to trust in caring hand of God while experiencing them. I greatly enjoyed this book. If you can get over the antiquated language and perhaps verbose mode of expression, this is well worth the read, not simply for mechanically learning about what the Bible has to say about providence, but for getting inside the mind of someone who has learned about it.

The Deliberate Church

The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever (Crossway) 204pp.
I picked this up after hearing Dever speak at the Midlands Gospel Partnership meeting in Birmingham last month. Excellent book, apart from the strange views on baptism and church polity! However, it made for an interesting contrast with Mark Driscoll's book. Whereas Driscoll's book is a passionate popular plea for a radical approach to mission, Dever is a much more measured approach to building a healthy church centered around the gospel, from which all else flows. It is a very practical book and an excellent investment.

Successful Visit, at Last!

I've been away with the family for the last few days. At last we managed to get to my parents' house in Ayrshire. If you have been following this saga you will know that we were to go at Christmas time but failed to get there. We have tried various times since but illness, car breakdown or Mum's hospital appointments have got in the way.

Well, at last we had our Christmas dinner! I forgot to take my camera so there are no photos to show, but we had roast duck, Christmas crackers, party hats etc etc. It was good fun.

We just got back this afternoon, but now I need to prepare for tomorrow's evening service (preaching on Ruth 2) at DFC, taking a funeral on Monday and leading the Bible Study on Tuesday.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Books read in February 2006 - II

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund Clowney (Crossway) 177pp.
I was looking forward to this book when I got it a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I found it more difficult and less satisfying than I first expected. I have a great respect for Clowney as a preacher. I have a few tapes of him from when he came to preach at the Tron many years ago. However, I have not found his written work so easy to penetrate. The first 50 pages or so are instruction on seening Christ in the OT and then preaching. The remainder consists of sermons Clowney preached on various passages. Though these are engaging, I found it difficult to see how the teaching of the first 50 pages was worked out in the examples. It would have been helpful to see his thought processes as he constructed the sermons, somewhat akin to the BT Briefings one finds at beginningwithmoses.org.

The Radical Reformission

The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll (Zondervan) 200pp.
As I have mentioned before, Driscoll is very engaging in a number of ways. Now this book. It is radical, earthy, even irreverent, but boy does it make you think. The structure is determined by the greatest command: love God, love your neighbour. Driscoll has a clear view on what needs to be held on to and what comes down to mere preference. For example, he is rock solid on the need for repentance - where do you hear that nowadays? - calling sin sin, but nevertheless loving people, even your enemies. He is uncompromising on churches that become holy ghettos, and uncompromising on the post modern movement. Then, disarmingly, in the last chapter he says,
The problem with my pastoral job is that I don't really know what I am doing. So I read every book I can find and I cling to the Bible like a kid who can't swim but somehow found a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.
Don't know about you, but that seems like a pretty good way to go about things.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Books read in February 2006 - I

Profiting from the Word

Profiting from the Word by A. W. Pink (Banner of Truth) 124pp.

This is a book that asks what are the expected results that show whether or not one is profiting from the word of God. So this is not a how-to book so much as one for self-diagnosis. As such it makes many good points, but at the same time was a little demoralising!

I once was speaking to a pastor's wife about a book she was recommending that I read. Her summary description of it was that the author "had a good right hook". My immediate reaction (inside - I kept up my outward smile) was, "That sounds awful!" I have not since read the book.

Pink's work seems to have had this effect of making me feel I had been punched a few times. The constant demand for introspection is wearing and I cannot but feel is unhealthy. One is never good enough. I wish there had been more of Christ in it.

There is a good chapter on the place of good works in the Christian life.

The Call of Grace

The Call of Grace by Norman Shepherd (P & R) 107pp.
This has proved to be a controversial book since it was published in 2000. On the first read through it seems to make quite a convincing case for resolving the difficulties that the reformed face in presenting the free offer of the gospel without at the same time selling out to arminian methodology. There are some good points. However, underlying it are serious theological issues which challenge traditional reformed theology. Unfortunately, it is too short to deal with them, so it leaves the reader with more problems than perhaps s/he started with!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Angel in the Kitchen

Angel in the Kitchen
Originally uploaded by Dancers.

I was sure the first time that I looked a girl I knew well had walked into the room. But I looked again and I saw it was an angel...

Friday, February 17, 2006

New Covenant Listening

While travelling to ETCW on Wednesday I listened to Ian Hamilton of Cambridge Presbyterian on the New Covenant.


Thursday, February 16, 2006


It has been a week of varied experiences. Last weekend I wanted to go north to Scotland to see my folks. However, we were thwarted by a cam-belt pulley (whatever that is) which came off the engine while on the M6 near Manchester. The glorious RAC transported us back home in the early hours of Saturday. The car's condition was potentially very serious (so they told me). Turned out it was not and it cost me only 90 notes to get the problem fixed on Monday.

More seriously, on Tuesday a man at DFC died after a long illness. He was a fine Christian man, quiet yet faithful. He and his wife were a joy to visit. I think they were more encouraging to me than I was to them. I was taken aback when yesterday I was asked to take the funeral in just over a week's time. This will be a first time for me. I would value prayer.

Yesterday was also the start of the ETCW Residential. I have only two modules for which I needed to attend lectures. So I travelled down in the morning and returned after this morning's session. I enjoy these sessions as much for the fellowship of shared sufferings of study (!) as anything. It is good to meet the guys again.

I also had the privilege of preaching at the morning worship in the chapel. Preached on John 12:31,32 on the work of the Cross. I found there were surprising emotions. I enjoy preaching, but thinking of myself handling such subject matter feels a bit like looking at a child playing with matches. The child does not know the dangerous material he holds in his hands and that it needs to be treated with care. So to with the truth of God. Also, self always wants to live. Even when seeking to portray Christ in the glory of the cross, there is that dirty little voice inside saying, "look at me! look at me!" You preachers will know what I mean, I'm sure.

Anyway, best to finish with some words of the apostle Paul,
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal.6:14

Friday, February 10, 2006

Weakness in Strength. Strength in Weakness

Recent events unveil, for those who want to look, a fundamental difference in the identity and work of Muhammad and Christ Jesus. John Piper picks this up in a recent article. The very thing which we as Christians glory in - the suffering and ignominy of our Saviour on the cross - is the very thing that Islam cannot bear. Says Piper,
[A] religion with no insulted Savior will not endure insults to win the scoffers. It means that this religion is destined to bear the impossible load of upholding the honor of one who did not die and rise again to make that possible. It means that Jesus Christ is still the only hope of peace with God and peace with man. And it means that his followers must be willing to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
Every political event in this country which highlights a moral or religious issue simply confirms to me that the Christian action necessary to alleviate these problems is not concerted effort to lobby for legislation, education or policy. Rather it is the task of singlemindedly bearing Christ's name before men and women whatever comes our way and boldly declaring the good news of the gospel.

Not much going on around here...

Must be a week since I blogged last. Been fairly busy though...

  • Last Sunday started a series on Ruth at DFC. It was an overview before exposition of the passages themselves, where I drew out some main themes. I'm not sure I will do this again. I found in my sermon prep that in order to make reference to specific verses I had to spend a lot of time setting the context. Thus the main themes may have got lost under a sea of detail. Perhaps would have been better to plunge straight in.

  • Tuesday afternoon: Bible Week in Derby meeting. This is a Keswick affiliated event that runs each year. I am on the committee and am the treasurer (which is disastrous - I am not the greatest administrator!). I have done this for nearly 10 years. Prepared accounts for 2005 and budget for 2006. Somebody's got to do it.

  • Tuesday evening: DFC midweek meeting. I took a session on reading the Bible. Not Bible exposition, but practical stuff.

  • Wednesday evening: sevice at a residential home. I enjoy these. Had an interesting conversation with a gentleman afterwards about faith and repentance and being right with God.

  • Thursday 2.45am: had to get up to take a couple of guys to Manchester airport. I don't think I'm allowed to say where they are going or what they are doing. So I won't.

  • Thursday evening: Went to Solihull to help out with an outreach meeting run by Solihull Presbyterian Church in the town centre arts complex. It's about an hour's drive away. There were 15 or 16 turned up, most of whom were Christians from other churches. However, I had a good conversation about the gospel with one bloke.

  • In between times I have done some work on my independent study module, though I am woefully far behind. I feel I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this. It's all too much!

I now have a clear weekend to go and visit my parents in Bonnie Scotland. We did not get to see them over Christmas so there is still a goose to be eaten.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Time for a Rambly Blether

There are some people in church life who have a lot of good things to say. They are worth listening to and getting to know. There are others who have... well... just a lot to say. And much time is lost listening to their drivell. It is one thing to have an honest question which is puzzling you, or simply to have misunderstood something. It is quite another to have got things wrong and yet to assert something strongly with a come-on-then! attitude. This will sound/read as uncharitable, but it is true. Such people would be better off, and I dare say more useful, learning what their limitations and channeling their energies more fruitfully. They would be much better saying less and thinking or serving more.

This applies to blogging as much as to face to face conversation.

With such uncharitable views it is only natural that I should apply the same line of thinking to myself. I have not blogged much over the last few days. It is not for lack of time. Just that my contibution to anything useful in this sphere must necessarily be limited. There are much more important and useful things to be doing.

I have been taking the time to think over some aspects of church life. At the end of June I will finish my stint at Derwent Free Church. What can be achieved in the five months that remain? It occurs to me that the answer seems to be "not much"? In my time at DFC, which has been part-time, my priorities have been,
  1. Preaching and teaching. This must be maintained at all costs. As Driscoll says, "preaching is where it's at"
  2. Pastoral care. Not only the elderly and the sick, though they are important, but also the others. Helping bring the scriptures to bear on life is the real challenge rather than simply passing the time of day.
  3. Evangelism. A church must be outward looking, seeking to carry out the great commission.
All in all I have been able to maintain this list. However, the last item - evangelism - has suffered the ravages. I am the only one in that church with any meaningful time to spend in the locality of the place of worship. On paper at least.

In practice there has been precious little time and this has frustrated me. I do not think I am the greatest evangelist and I have always feared the process of evangelism. But in my time at DFC I have had a growing desire to reach out with the gospel. I am not one for fire and confrontation in evangelism. I do not believe methods such as street preaching is appropriate today. But I do believe people know the "real thing" when they see it - real love, lives that really have been marked by the gospel. I am frustrated that in a small church like DFC we seem unable to get out into the community and let people know.

I have also come to believe that as much as possible a pastor must model the behaviour he would like to characterise the church. If the church truly is a new community of God's people characterised by love and upbuilding fellowship then the pastor needs to be a catalyst for this community. If he wants the church to be a welcoming place to newcomers then he needs to show how people are to be welcomed. Much of this comes down to dealing well with people, spending time with them, praying, reading, laughing.
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 1 Th 2:8 (NIV)
So that is what I have been thinking about over the last few days and attempting to do something about it. I expect this will dominate my thinking over the next few months. Frankly, blogging is well down the list. Besides, instead of reading what I write here, come on guys! shouldn't you be reading Calvin or something instead?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Theological Education On-line

Jon has discovered an amazing resource from Covenant Theological Seminary.

Where do you start?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Books Read in January 2006

Reading was a bit light in January. The first three weeks were taken up with cramming for my Hebrew exam, and afterwards sorting out the things I left undone. So I think I have an excuse. Having said that I seem to have a number of books on the go at once which I suppose will all fall out in February. So, I have two books to report on:

Transforming Keswick by Charles Price & Ian Randall (OM Publishing, 2000). 268pp.

Interesting book, written from the point of view of two seasoned supporters of Keswick. One thing I learned from this was that a 'convention' is concerned with an object (in this case to promote practical holy living) whereas a 'conference' is concerned with a subject (e.g. 'a study in the book of Romans'). I had not appreciated the distinction before.

The book traces the history of the Convention from its beginning in 1875 through to the present day. The influence of Keswick has been substantial in UK evangelicalism in the 20th century so it was interesting to see how it has changed having had to deal with various influences over that period (e.g. the Weslyan holiness movement, Pentecostalism, post-war Calvinism of Packer and others, the charismatic movment of the '60s and '70s.) In doing so, it also covers other issues such as its influence on world mission and the role of women in ministry.

For me the most interesting chapters were those giving more detailed examinations of Packer's criticisms of the Keswick view of sanctification, and on the various interpretations of Romans 6, with particular emphasis on John Stott's controversial exposition in 1965.

Not a hard book, but useful in getting the flow of evangelicalism in the UK in the 20th century.

Faithful God by Sinclair Ferguson. (Bryntirion Press, 2005). 157pp.
This is the fruit of a series of expositions of the book of Ruth at the EMW Conference in Aberystwyth in 1996. Therefore it is short, it is kept simple and clear and does a good job of keeping the main things the main things. He strikes a marvellous balance between the personal lessons that can be learned and keeping in view the much broader purposes of God in redemptive history. From what I understand there are two dangers we can fall into in reading a book like Ruth,
  • First, to look for examples of how to live. The obvious one in Ruth is what do we learn about dating/courting.
  • The second is to see it in allegorical terms. This is not so popular I think since it is not very "how-to". The allegory is Boaz=Christ, Ruth=Church. Of course this simply fails to treat the Bible as history, but instead some abstracted code of truth which must be deciphered.
Ferguson avoids both of those dangers, as you might expect. Well worth the read.