So, What IS The Point of Bible College?

The following article in the February Evangelical Time by John D Brand is making it’s way across the blogging world. It is excellent and it asks some very poignant questions.

There is, I believe, an identity crisis in theological training in the UK today. I became aware of it during my time on the home staff of an international mission agency and now see it from a different angle, as principal of a Bible college.
The question is: “What’s the point of a Bible College training?” I fear we are in danger of losing sight of the true answer these days.
Do Bible colleges exist to provide a Christian route to get an academic qualification or to equip believers for effective spiritual service? The evidence is that the former has taken precedence over the latter, which has caused a major problem.
For many young people now Bible College is just another, perhaps more sheltered, route to getting a recognised qualification, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with a good academic training and qualification, that agenda has had a massive impact on the ethos and nature of most Bible college training in UK. This fills me with alarm.

Bible neglected
Foe example, we are in danger of turning out good missiologists who know all about contextualisation and cross-cultural communication but are poor missionaries because they haven’t met with God on a deep level.
They haven’t been spiritually transformed through their study of God’s Word with an emphasis on personal, spiritual devotions and disciplines as a core ingredient in their college experience.
We are in danger of turning out gifted theologians and apologists, who know all about higher criticism and are competent in the original biblical languages but are ineffective pastors and evangelists because they are, largely speaking, biblically illiterate, having spent an inordinate amount of time studying books about the Bible but precious little time in the Bible.
And I know – I’ve met some of them. I read some of their application forms when I was in leadership in the mission agency. One of my friends graduated from Bible college fairly recently and estimated he had spent less than 10% of his time in the Bible and that prayer meetings and devotional times had been largely optional.
Another former student said she had been three or four weeks in lectures before they actually opened their Bibles!
As a Bible college Principal this is something that weighs heavily on my heart most of the time. I don’t want us to lose sight of what we are actually about, which is not preparing students for an exam but for Christian service and spiritual warfare.
We need well trained biblically literate men and women, whose lives give evidence of a vital, transforming relationship with the Lord. We need training for head, heart and hands.
I recently read L J Van Valen’s biography of Robert Murray M’Cheyne Constrained by his love and was encouraged to see this statement, made by the author, about M’Cheyne’s attitude to his theological training: “The young student knew the true value of theological studies. These were nothing more than an aid in equipping him to be a servant of the Word of God.” Amen to that!

Seeking God
Van Valen goes on to quote from a letter sent by M’Cheyne to a fellow student: “Do get on with your studies. Remember you are now forming the character of your future ministry in great measure, if God spare you.
If you acquire slovenly or sleepy habits of study now, you will never get the better of it. Do everything in its own time. Do everything in earnest; if it is worth doing, then do it with all your might.
Above all, keep much in the presence of God. Never see the face of man till you have seen His face who is our life, our all.” I love that balance: get on with your studies because it is shaping your future ministry, do everything in earnest and, above all, keep much in the presence of God. Wonderful stuff!
At least I’m not alone in this concern. Here is R C Sproul in Feed My Sheep: “Some years ago, when I was on the faculty at a theological seminary, we reviewed the curriculum. We asked ourselves: what does a man have to know in order to be a godly pastor?
We decided that the main thing was the content of Holy Scripture. So many seminary courses are designed to answer academic questions of background, of authorship, and technical problems that we never get around to the English Bible. Our future ministers are coming out of seminaries not fully conversant with the content of the Bible.
So we began to develop a curriculum from ground zero. We said, let’s step out of the academic world for a minute and design the curriculum not to train professors in the areas of their specialities, but to serve the church and thereby to serve Christ.”
How I rejoiced to read that. That approach to the curriculum is precisely the one my predecessor and I took nearly four years ago (though with a wider remit than just for pastors).
The author is Principal of the Faith Mission Bible College, Edinburgh.

Have Leaders Forgotten How To Follow?

Much of Leonard Sweet’s early writings were influential with me. They resonated with where I was at that time with my walk with God. So when I heard that Len Sweet had a new book out on leadership I wanted to see what it was like. Sweet is if anything someone who looks at things from outside the box and challenges you to think. Here are some quotes from the book:

This is the great tragedy of the church in the last fifty years: We have changed Paul’s words, “Follow me as I follow Christ,”7 to “Follow me as I lead for Christ.” Over and over we hear, “What the church needs is more and better leaders,” or “Training leaders is job one.” Really? Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” We stopped and built worship warehouses. Jesus said, “Follow me.” We heard, “Be a leader.” Paul said, “Do the work of an evangelist.” We’ve done the work of a marketer. Somewhere back in the past half century, we diagnosed the church’s problem as a crisis of leading, not a crisis of following. It’s as if we read Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship and decided we’d rather talk about something else entirely. In the past decade (or more), I bet you’ve attended your share of leadership conferences. Ever attend a followership conference?

Sweet, Leonard (2012-01-03). I AM A FOLLOWER: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus (p. 21). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

The cry for leadership is deafening amid our social disintegration, our moral disorientation. We have come to believe that we have a leadership crisis while all along we have been in a drought of discipleship. The Jesus paradox is that only Christians lead by following.

Sweet, Leonard (2012-01-03). I AM A FOLLOWER: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus (p. 21). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Court Rules in Favor of Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

The judge reviewing the case between the Diocese of Virginia and the six churches seeking to leave has ruled in favor of the Diocese of Virginia. In short – the six churches (or at least the people) must vacate the property if they wish to leave the Episcopal Diocese.

Another loss. Apart from South Carolina, all Churches who have sought to leave an Episcopal Diocese have been ruled against in the courts and thus have lost their property. This has caused consternation amongst those who believe the Episcopal Church has gone into heresy. Now, I too think the Episcopal Church (i.e. it’s leadership) has left biblical Christianity. But sadly, those seeking to remain biblical and Anglican have become obsessed with property.

One comment on a blog says: For whatever reason, in his inscrutable providence, God Almighty has sovereignly allowed this major setback to happen.

A major set back? Really? Maybe in God’s Sovereignty he is allowing the churches to lose so that they may be set from the the bondage and restrictions (and at times idolatry) that buildings bring. Jesus’ disciples leaving temple, and commenting on how remarkable and stunning the temples was, receive from Jesus the response that “not one brick / stone will be left on another.” The Samaritan woman at the well is told by Jesus that it will not matter where you worship – as long as it is in spirit and truth.

Move, rejoice in the Lord. Worship and do the work of Christ, leaving the Episcopal Church in the hands and judgment of God.

Is Tithing Pre-Gospel?

Yes according to Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed. Quoting from Rodney Reeves book Spirituality According To Paul: Imitating The Apostle of Christ McKnight says Reeves would say the apostle Paul believed (and practiced) neither the tithe nor charity. Why? Because of one simple word: grace. Grace revolutionizes us from those who tithe and give charity to people who pass the grace.

IVP very kindly sent me a review copy of Reeves book. It has now gone to the top of my reading pile!!

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case For Biblical Truth by Douglas Groothuis

There are a plethora of books on apologetics – just type Christian Apologetics into Amazon and you get over 8000 results! It can be hard to make a distinction between many of the works, both in content and style. Not so with Douglas Groothuis’ contribution. At over 670 pages Groothuis does not attempt to pack too much into this volume – only 26 chapters – but what what he does focus on makes this a wonderfully concise book on Christian Apologetics. Laid out in three parts, you are taken through the biblical basis of apologetics and christian worldview; the distortions which have been made again the Christian worldview and why truth matters. Part two takes you through the defenses of Christian theism while part three tackles the objections of Christian theism. This is an easy book to read in terms of following Groothuis’ thesis and discussions. It is also a thoroughly biblical and, most importantly, Christ centered book. Probably the smallest chapter in the book, the conclusion, reveals Groothuis’ real heart – Take To The Streets – Apologetics is not about head knowledge, but about evangelism and sharing the gospel. This is what makes Groothuis’ book not just a worthy addition to the topic of Christian Apologetics, but one which should be used widely.

Highly recommended.

Lukewarm People….

…. do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens – they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them – they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live – they have life figured and mapped out . They don’t depend on God on a daily basis – their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God.

Francis Chan – Crazy Love

Gen 12:4: Now Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.

Abram is 75 years old when God calls him. Moses is 80 years old when God calls him. Both lived many years after, but still, alot of life had gone before God said, “Now, I am going to use you.” We live in an age whereby if you are successful by 2nd grade, your never going to be. Children can even fail kindergarten! How ridiculous. It’s never too late for the Lord to do an amazing work in and through us. As believers we must never think God has passed us by because of our age. Nor should we be impatient for God to ‘use’ us – maybe the timing is not right – maybe we need a few more experiences before we are ready. Our life is in God’s hands and he will use us when His timing is right and when we are ready. How would we feel if God said “your entire life purpose will be fulfilled by one action / meeting / sermon / at the age of 81 years old. That is why I created you and placed you here.” Would we rejoice knowing that our entire life was a preparation for one incident that God had determined in his eternal plan? Or would we think “what a waste”?

I do not want to enter into the world of ‘achievement’. I do not want to enter into the thinking that “I am getting on in years and what have I achieved?” I want to be content that God’s purpose for my life is in HIS hands and so whether he will use me for 50 years, or 50 mins; whether from the age of 24 or 84. I want to rejoice and praise Him and most of all to be ready to move and leave as soon as He calls, regardless of age, or destination; whether it is dangerous, or hard.

Father, thank you that you do not discriminate because of age but that in your perfect timing you can use us for your purposes. I pray that I would NEVER think that life has passed me by but that I would always be ready to hear your call and most importantly, to act on it. I pray this in the name of our Lord Jesus CHrist. AMEN!!

From My Morning Devotions

Genesis 11:4 says, Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens 10  so that 11  we may make a name for ourselves.

They built to defy God. These did it deliberately, but we often do it subconsciously. We so often build to make a name for ourselves; even in Christian ministry! We build big churches, and impressive ministries just to make a name for ourselves. Of course, we would always justify it – it is the Lord’s work! But what is our motive? Why do we ‘build’? Do we have an over valued sense of our own ability? The people at Babel believed their work, their tower could reach heaven – could be the place of ultimate worship. They could do it; they could achieve it; they could build it; they; they; they. Do we believe WE can do it; WE can achieve it; WE can build it; is it for us WE;WE;WE?

The result is that God scattered them. He broke it up. And God does that today. He breaks up that which is built so that we may make a name for ourselves.

Am I doing what I am doing to make a name for myself? Am I building what I am building in order have an impressive tower that everybody knew I had built? Is my ministry a vehicle for my own success and advancement or Christ’s? The two are incompatible – I build FOR Christ and for His Kingdom, or it will be scattered. My heart must be to make a name for CHrist, not myself.

Father, may all I do in this ministry, be for you and for your name only, and not for me and my name. And Father, where I have built in the past for my own name, I pray you would scatter it. In JESUS’NAME! AMEN.

Sermon for First Sunday After Christmas

There are times in our lives when something happens, an event or a situation that results in our lives changing forever. It can be a good event, a happy event, or a bad event, or it is just part of the process of life but whenever it happens life is never going to be the same again – Everything Changes. Have you notice those times? Have you had those moments when you have thought – “My gosh – nothing will be the same ever again.”

These moments happen regularly during our life even when we do not recognize them. Going to Kindergarten for the first time means life is never the same again. When we go to middle school, then high school, then college our life changes forever.

When we get our first job, when we get married, when we have our first child, when our children leave home, when we retire, when we lose a parent or a child are all examples of when everything changes forever and life is never the same again.

One of the most vivid times that I had that feeling was when Sam, our oldest child, was just a few days old. Kitty and I had been married 14 years before Sam was born. And I remember sitting on the floor of the living room at 4am, holding a dirty diaper thinking “My life, our life will never be the same again.”

Of course there are times when our life changes because of an unexpected tragedy or accident. Joni Erikson Tarda was 19 years old when a diving accident left her a quadriplegic and her life changed forever, although today, despite her disability she is a powerful Christian teacher. Christopher Reeve, if you remember, went riding one day, fell off his horse, and was paralyzed from the neck down. Everyday thousands are diagnosed with diseases and illness, are in accidents which will change their life forever

This even happens on a national and global level. The First World War changed the world forever – the Second World War changed the world forever – 9/11 changed America forever.

And it happens on a spiritual level too. Everything changed – nothing was the same again for the whole universe when Jesus became a baby – when God was born as a human being. Everything changed in the heavenly world and in the earth forever.

Revelation says that the lamb was slain before the creation of the world. God’s plan to rescue us, determined before creation, was being put into operation. God enters his creation to take back what Satan had laid hold of – the bondage of sin, the reign of the devil – the separation of God and humanity was all going to change.

All the Old Testament, the sacrifices, the rituals, the law and the prophets had been pointing towards this time – this event – to the gospel, the good news begin announced to the world.

The other gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke start their accounts at the beginning of Jesus’ life or with John the Baptists ministry – but the Gospel of John is different. As we have heard read this morning John begins his gospel way before that. He goes back to the beginning of the history of time.

John’s gospel starts as Genesis starts – in the beginning. The Word was at the creation of the universe – and the Word was with God – which means the Word and God are separate and yet John says, the WORD was God.

All things were created through him – in him was LIFE – all life is sustained, upheld by God, by the Word.
Colossians 1 says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.
He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son
and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

It is this WORD – the one who is LIFE itself – the one who sustains and upholds all creation – this Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. God steps into his own creation.

John’s point in beginning his account of Jesus’ life at the beginning of creation was to make sure people understood that from the very beginning, from within the Trinity the gospel was conceived and executed.

For every human being , God becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us, Jesus’ birth into this world, changed everything for all humanity, for all of eternity.

Isaiah knew that everything would change. Our reading from Isaiah 61 shows what happens when God comes – rejoicing, deliverance, vindication, praise. When God shows up, things change.

Our reading from Galatians also make sthis point. Before Christ we were under the law. But when Christ came everything changed – we are no longer under law but declared righteous by faith in Christ – adopted as sons with full rights! Thus we can call God ABBA Father.

The season of Advent and Christmas is a declaration that because the God of the universe became flesh and dwelt amongst us nothing will ever be the same again.

Sadly, in the midst of our commercialization of Christmas too many believers have missed this point.

If we miss this we miss the whole point of Christmas. If we as Christians have not noticed that everything has changed, not just in the spiritual and physical worlds, but in our own lives – if we do not have that realization that nothing will ever be the same because God revealed himself to humanity then we are missing out on one of the most incredible blessings we have as followers of Jesus Christ.

It is to miss out on the incredible joy of knowing that God has won – he has won – he has the victory. He has rescued us, and the creation from eternal darkness and death and has given us the light of his life.

History, the universe, humanity are on a path to a destination – a destination that results in God returning in power to the earth to complete what he began with his birth and death.

Have you noticed that everything has changed – that nothing will ever be the same again?

You see, it is only when we enter into relationship with Jesus Christ that we realize that nothing will be the same. It is only then that we will have the spiritual eyes to realize the magnitude of what God has done both in the heavenly realm, in the earth and in our own lives.

We see a small glimpse of this in the wonderful story of Elisha in 2 Kings 6. The king of Aram had surrounded the city of Dothan in order to kill Elisha. Elisha’s servant goes out and sees this great army and panics. “Oh Lord what shall we do?”

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

At that moment everything changed for the servant – he saw the heavenly army protecting Elisha.

As a Christian our lives have changed forever – everything has changed – our destiny has changed from death to eternal life – our present has changed, as we realize that God has a calling and purpose for our lives today – our allegiance has changed, as we are no longer working for ourselves and our purposes, but for the kingdom of God and His purposes – our citizenship has changed, because we have been adopted by God as his children and so our home is now in God’s kingdom.

Just think about what it means to be called a child of God. Just think for a minute of the image of a good parent / children relationship, how a parent feels about their child? What they would do for them? Think about a parent’s care for their child, their nurture of them, their protection of them and their love of them.

This is what God promises to do with us. He loves us – he nurtures us – he helps us to learn and grow – he gives us good things – the things we need – he is with us even through the difficult times and he guarantees us an inheritance – to be with him forever.

It means that God gets involved with our lives.

How should we respond to this? Isaiah 61 v10 says– I will greatly rejoice in the Lord my soul shall exult in my God

Are we rejoicing in the Lord this morning in light of what we celebrated last week? Are we exulting the Lord our God because we know that Jesus Christ’s arrival as a human being changed everything forever?

Praise and thanksgiving are the natural response to God’s grace, especially grace that has been personally received and experienced.

Too many Christians lack praise, thanksgiving and joy because they do not understand nor have grasped the magnitude of God’s work – that everything has changed forever – he has won. His victory has been accomplished and the victory began when he was born into this world – when God became flesh and dwelt amongst us.

Isaiah 61 also says that HE has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…

This is a description of every Christian – of every believer in Christ – clothed with the garment of salvation, rescued from sin – set free from death and in Christ given a robe of righteousness.

Are we not moved this morning to praise our wonderful King and God. – to want to shout aloud – to declare the awesomeness of God? Isaiah saw this. In chp 61 He saw that one day God will restore the whole world and the creation – after these visions he knew nothing would be the same again – that everything was going to change.

And yet in the face of the fact that what God has done has changed everything forever, we so often remain placid.

Imagine what would happen if Joni Erikson Tarad suddenly had the use of her body again? If she were set free from the constraints of her paralysis? What would happen when someone discovered that they were cancer free, or that the years of being unemployed would now end with the offer of a great job which meant security – what would happen. Great rejoicing and weeping and happiness and thankfulness.

Every Christmas should be a huge and awesome celebration – we should, as the church, put on the most splendid of parties. We should be delirious with joy and happiness – not because we have eaten too much or drunk too much or because we have expensive gifts – but because we celebrate the time when everything in the whole universe changed forever – God became flesh and dwelt amongst us declaring the victory of God over sin and death so that we might never be the same again.