You Have Been Gifted!

As a Church plant of only 5 years old we meet in an Elementary School. Our people do a fabulous job in turning our meeting space into a worship space!

Most Sundays I leave my briefcase at the back of the room, often opened so people can drop notes or things I need to action into it.

After the service Sunday I was gathering my notes for the Adult Education Class when I noticed a box. Here is a picture of it:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The writing says “Andy,you have been gifted. Enjoy!”

And what was inside?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An IPAD!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone gifted me an iPad! It really was a massive surprise and one for which I am very, very grateful.

THANK YOU!!

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians by Kenneth Bailey


There are some authors whom you should quite simply read everything they have ever written. Kenneth Bailey is one such author, He is a superb scholar who writes beyond the normal genre of many christian scholars.

This book, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes is quite stunning. Although Bailey examines 1 Corinthians, this is not a normal commentary – which Bailey himself says in his introduction. Bailey is aiming once again to explore depths not explored by the traditional commentaries. Bailey seeks to uncover the rhetorical method used by Paul in this epistle. Unlike other scholars, Bailey sees 1 Corinthians as a carefully crafted response to issues not just for the Corinthians, but for the whole Church. For Bailey, Paul wrote this letter based around 5 essays, (The Cross and Christian Unity, Men and Women in the human family, Food offered to idols, Men and women in worship & The Resurrection). Each essay is also carefully constructed. Using all his skills and relying on middle eastern writing techniques and metaphorical language Paul sets the agenda of this letter both for the church in Corinth and the wider church. In this book Bailey unpacks HOW Paul does this – and in the midst of this comes a huge amount of information and wonderful insights.

Here you have decades of study, contemplation and understanding coming together in this volume.

This is not a book you pick up from you night stand 20 mins before planning to sleep. This is a book you plan to carve out 40 mins each time, with a pen and paper and sitting down to mine some real gems. Time extremely well spent!

Very Highly Recommended.

Mark: The Gospel of Passion by Michael Card


A while back I reviewed Michael Card’s volume on Luke’s gospel. In that review I commented that I did not expect a ‘worship’ leader to write a good commentary on Luke. Yet Card’s book on Luke really did astound me its combination of depth, accessibility and scholarship.

His volume on Mark does exactly the same thing. Card writes with wonderful insight. It has exactly the right amount of ‘information’ , comment and application.

On a practical note, the layout of this work is very good. Each chapter is broken into sections and each section is anything between 1-3 pages. This makes it ideal for devotional reading. And this is something which has impressed me about these books; they are equally good as a devotional book and as a resource for preaching and study – and that is rare.

I will be recommending these books to members of my congregation and to others as a wonderful way to read, ,mark learn and grow in the scriptures.

Very Highly recommended!!

Introducing Early Christianity by Laurie Guy


I am a big advocate of Christians reading the Church Fathers. These early Christians living in the aftermath of the Apostles and working through Church practice, theology, discipleship and christian witness are an important source for us. Sadly too few Christians take the time to read the ‘Fathers’ or to look seriously into the beginnings of the church. Admittedly the combined works of the ‘Fathers’ at 30 plus volumes can be somewhat daunting. This is why Laurie Guy’s work is so good. As an introduction to BOTH the early Church and it’s practices, and the writings of the early church fathers this book is an excellent resource. At 300 plus pages Guy manages to cover all the major bases of the early church in an engaging and fascinating way. Covering the first 500 years of the church you will be informed, challenged and even surprised. And most importantly you will understand the context of how some of the major traditions in the church developed.

An excellent work, and one which should be used by all christians.

Highly Recommended.

Theology of Adoption

I reads this week in the newspaper that a woman has been fined $150,000 and ordered to pay $1000 per month to a child she adopted from Russia and then returned.

Apparently, she put the boy on a flight back home to russia with a note claiming that the boy had become disturbed and violent.

I am glad she has been told to provide for the child until he is 18 years old. She argued that the adoption had been nullified by a Russian court – but of course adoption cannot be nullified. If you adopt a child they become yours – as if they are your blood child – and you have to deal with what a child becomes just as every parent has to. Just because you ‘adopted’ a child, you cannot return them if they are not the perfect person you wanted.

The theology of adoption is probably one of the most under-utilized theologies of the christian faith. Many, many years ago i read Rev. Dr Mark Stibbe’s book, From Orphans to Heirs and it opened by mind (and heart) to the reality of the fact that God has adopted us as sons and daughters.

Just as when a Roman adopted a child, and that child took on the name and authority of the father and could then transact business in the name of the father, so we have become children of God through his adoption of us. Imagine God deciding to send us back because we have bad days, or are often unreasonable, or even disobedient. No, god doe snot do that. Adoption is a a powerful, powerful message for us. He will not discard us because of our failures and faults. Indeed he will be patient with us, love us, mold us and draw us closer to himself – because when he adopted us we became his children.

May’s Pastoral Letter – Do Not Despise The Day of Small Things

Dear Parish Family

Twenty years after the return of the Jews into Judah after the Babylonian Exile, discouragement had set in. The great rejoicing at their homecoming – the hopes of establishing the temple and worship and reclaiming the promised land had all stalled. Instead only the foundation had been laid and the Jews faced strong opposition.

The book of Zechariah is a prophecy from God aimed at encouraging the Jews. Don’t worry, God tells Zechariah. My purposes will be accomplished. In chapter 4:10 the Lord warns Zechariah, “Who dares despise the day of small things…”

This is a warning for us today.

We all want the big things now, don’t we?

As a church we want to grow NOW. We want our own building NOW.

Yes, we understand that we have to start small, but we can’t wait for the day when we are bigger, better and in our own space.

But I believe the Lord is saying to us – Do not despise the day of small things.

We must learn to be faithful in what God has given us. We must be faithful and true in our smallness. For this is where the Lord has placed us at this time and here, we are to rejoice and give thanks.

Patience in the small things is vital for godly leadership and for a godly church. Moses was a shepherd for 40 years. For 40 years he wondered around the desert of Midian taking care of sheep and goats. Jesus was a carpenter for 20 years, quietly working in a small town in Judah. And yet for both, they were being prepared for the calling God had for them.
God is preparing us, both individually and as a church, and if we neglect this period of preparation it will mar our future ministry and effectiveness.

God is teaching us and preparing us. We may be impatient, but we must remember that God’s timetable is perfect and we must not rush ahead of God. It is OK to have visions, goals and dreams. It is in fact vital to have such things. But we must never have these to the extent of despising where we are now.

It is in the small things that God builds character. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:3-5 that we never get the crown without first bearing the cross.

That was Jesus’ point in Luke 16:10. He says, Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

The Lord is teaching us to be trustworthy in the small things, for when we are trustworthy in the small things He WILL give us much. When we rejoice in being humble, he will lift us up.

• Luke 14:11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
 
• Luke 18:14 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
 
• James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

 
• 1Pet. 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

So, my friends, let us not despise the day of small things, but rejoice in where we are now. Let us give thanks to our God. Let us gather each week to praise his name – to worship, to commit ourselves to serving Him in the place He has put us. Let us prepare ourselves to be faithful each day, each week in what God has given us. And then we will be ready to be faithful in what God WILL give us in the future.

Bless you all

Andy

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith

I liked this book. I know that in many quarters it has been panned, but equally so it has received good reviews from people I admire and respect. The reason for why it was panned by some was the perceived ‘attack’ Smith makes on the Biblicist position. What is the Biblicist positions? Well, why don’t we let Smith define it for himself:

By “biblicism” I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.

The basic thesis of this book is that the biblicist position is untenable and Smith attempts to show why.

What I liked about this book is that Smith is not afraid to face some of the issues that many liberals attack conservatives about head on – and in doing so he has no fear that by saying “this theory does not hold up” that the rest of his theology becomes suspect. Smith is no liberal. He clearly says this:

I view the program of liberalism as an unworthy corrosion of historically orthodox, evangelical (again, in the best sense of that word) Christianity. I view theological liberalism—despite its good intentions—as naive intellectually, problematic in its typical ecclesial expression, and susceptible to unfortunate and sometimes reprehensible social and political expressions.

Smith sees the problem as one of pervasive interpretive pluralism. What does this mean. Smith defines it thus:

If the Bible is given by a truthful and omnipotent God as an internally consistent and perspicuous text precisely for the purpose of revealing to humans correct beliefs, practices, and morals, then why is it that the presumably sincere Christians to whom it has been given cannot read it and come to common agreement about what it teaches? I know of no good, honest answer to that question. If the Bible is all that biblicism claims it to be, then Christians—especially those who share biblicist beliefs—ought to be able to come to a solid consensus about what it teaches, at least on most matters of importance. But they do not and apparently cannot.

Some examples are: Church Polity: Does the Bible teach a free-church congregational system, a Presbyterian church government, an Episcopal church polity, or something else?

Free Will and Predestination: Christians, especially Protestants, with any awareness of church history and theology know about the apparently irresolvable debate between believers over human free will versus the bondage of the will.

The Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” All Christians agree that this is one of the Ten Commandments. What does the command mean? What practically does it require? And, for that matter, which day of the week actually is this day to be kept holy?

The Morality of Slavery: The bloodiest and one of the most tragic episodes in all of American history was a civil war fought by myriad Bible-believing Christians on both sides, many of whom were equally convinced that the scriptures taught the rightness of slavery, on the one hand, and the imperative of abolition, on the other.

War, Peace, and Nonviolence; Charismatic gifts; atonement and justification.

On all these issues biblical christians disagree – and sometimes very strongly.

It is for this reason that Smith rejects the biblicists position. It is important to note that Smith is not ANTI Biblicist, just that it does not hold up to scrutiny:

“Biblicism is thus not so much directly “proved wrong” as a theory, as it is simply never achieved in real life. It is therefore self-defeated in relevance.”

One of Smith’s responses to the Biblicist position, and the one I think is most important and a good response, is to encourage evangelicals to make clearer distinctions between Dogma, Doctrine and opinion. He says:

“The problem is that Christians have an extremely strong tendency to inflate the centrality, sureness, and importance of their doctrines so as to turn them into dogmas. They also tend to do the same thing with their opinions by elevating them to the level of doctrine.”

“What I am suggesting here, then, is this: Christians, including evangelicals, need to learn better, first, how to put and keep their dogmas, doctrines, and opinions in their proper places, and then, second, to stop excluding, dismissing, discounting, and ignoring other Christians who do not deserve that kind of treatment. Everyone needs to take a hard look at their own rankings of their own beliefs and work on pulling down to their proper levels the doctrines that they tend to treat as dogmas and opinions that they tend to treat as doctrines or dogmas.”

This was a very helpful and useful discussion. Below I will give Smith’s other responses to the Biblicist position, but I will not comment on them – read the book to see his arguments:

1. The Centrality of Jesus. Here he takes Barth’s position – the Bible is God’s written Word but Jesus is THE Word. Everything has to be read in a Christological focus.

2. Embracing the Bible for what it Obviously Is:

3. Living with Spiritual Ambiguities – i.e. there are some tough things in Scripture which we may not be able to solve and that’s OK.

4. Dropping the Compulsion to Harmonize

Apart from (1), the Centrality of Jesus in the Scriptures – which is obviously right and paramount to any biblical reading of the Bible, Smith’s last three responses are not necessarily more superior to the biblicist position. However, I think this is a valuable book to read because it does face important issues which we need to understand head on and this book gives a great framework in tackling some of these issues.

I actually came to this book a Biblicist and I have come away a biblicist. But because of Smith I am now a biblicist which understands the weakness in my position and it has challenged me to not be too dogmatic, obnoxious and inflexible in defending a ‘theology’ when instead we should be defending a person – Jesus Christ the Creator of the Universe and Lord of All!

The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry by David Rohrer

I read quite a lot of books, and to be frank, there is a lot of mediocrity out there. I understand that reading and books is a very subjective activity and what is mediocre to one is wonderful to another and vice verser.

David Rohrer’s book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry is quite simply wonderful. For me it is the best book I have read this year, and in my humble opinion should be read by every single person in pastoral ministry, regardless of denomination or structure.

Rohrer tackles the issues of being in pastoral ministry with what I can only call a spirit enabled wisdom. He consistently hits the nail on the head. There is no condemnation in this book. There ARE, however, plenty of challenges. There is also a wonderful dose of encouragement.

Here is an example of both:

“We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to seeding things into our lives that destroy our confidence. The narcism that sends us looking for congregational affirmation also sows the seeds of self-doubt and insecurity. When these seeds begin to germinate, the sound of our own voice commands more of our attention than the voice of God. In the face of criticism, fatigue and failure, it is easy to forget that our ministry fits into the greater reality of God’s story. It is easy to forget that we do our work in response to God’s call in the name of Jesus. Instead of seeing ourselves as participants in the work of God by the mercy of God, we myopically fixate on all that we are not, all that we might have been and all that we should be. The abstractions of our fears displace the concrete reality of God’s love and grace, and like Elijah after his bout with the prophets of Baal, we are left with nothing but fatigue and the sinking feeling that we are alone.”

Much of the book revolves around the ministry lens of John the Baptist. Rohrer points out that the Baptist called for both personal renewal and institutional reform. He spoke into a religious world that was disconnected from authentic relationship with God. He addressed the emptiness of religious institutions that did little more than anesthetize people through empty ritual. He preached about the integration of faith and life.

Rohrer does a fantastic job of re-centering the pastor’s focus. Perhaps my favorite quote is towards the end of the book, when he says:

“We are not here to save the church. Our work is catalytic. Like a catalyst, it has value in that is fosters a reaction. Yet people will not remember what we said so much as they will remember what God did when we said it. Our delivery of the message has a shelf life. But if we don’t deliver it, who will? If we don’t take up the call God places on our hearts to invite people to consider truth that is bigger than themselves, then we miss out. We miss out on the incredible blessing and affirmation of participating in what God is doing.”

AMEN!

Maybe that Rohrer’s book hit me just where I needed to be hit. But my guess is that it would also hit the exact place for many in pastoral ministry.

I rarely say this – but this is a MUST READ.

Very highly recommended!

A Recent Sermon: 1 Kings 19; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Mark 9:2-9

We have all encountered discouragement in one form or another. It can come to us in many ways and forms; through a piece of bad news, doubt about ourselves, a fear of the future, a project not going as well as expected.

For a Christian discouragement is one of the easiest and most dangerous things to fall into and therefore it is something we must actively guard against.

There’s an old fable that says the Devil once held a sale and offered all the tools of his trade to anyone who would pay their price. They were spread out on the table and each one labeled. Hatred, malice, envy, despair, sickness, sensuality – all the weapons that everyone knows so well. But off to one side lay a harmless looking wood-shaped instrument marked “discouragement.” It was old and worn looking but it was priced far about the rest. When asked the reason why, the Devil replied, “Because I can use this one so much more easily than the others. No one knows that it belongs to me, so with it I can open doors that are tightly bolted against the others. Once I get inside I can use any tool that suits me best.”

J. O. Fraser said, “Discouragement is a ploy of the devil to get a foot hole in our lives in order to destroy our effectiveness as Christians.”

This is very true. Discouragement is the gateway into which despair, anger, envy, depression and much more can enter our lives.

Discouragement can creep up on us suddenly – just one event; just one phone call can begin the slide.

William Ward has one of the best definitions of discouragement: Discouragement is dissatisfaction with the past, distaste for the present, and distrust of the future. It is ingratitude for the blessings of yesterday, indifference to the opportunities of today, and insecurity regarding strength for tomorrow. It is unawareness of the presence of beauty, unconcern for the needs of our fellowman, and unbelief in the promises of old. It is impatience with time, immaturity of thought, and impoliteness to God.

Discouragement happens when we make a negative judgment about what the future holds based on what we see or have encountered in the present or the past. The negative judgment may not be accurate or even true, but once we make that judgment our lives begin to revolve around it. Our whole outlook and focus become based on the judgment we have made regardless of whether its true or not.

Let me give you a trival example of this. Friday night at 4:30pm your boss says that he wants to see you at 9:00am on Monday morning in his office. You spend the whole weekend convinced that you are going to be fired. You are grumpy, irritated with your family and frantic with worry. You start to convince yourself life is about to become tough and maybe unbearable. You doubt yourself and think that you are useless – you can’t even hold a job down. Monday morning comes and you find that your boss wanted to congratulate you on a fine job done and to talk about future projects for you to be involved with.

Mark Twain perceptively said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

The issue is that discouragement takes our eyes of God, makes us doubt God’s goodness to us, His care for us; it makes us doubt ourselves and it allows the enemy to shake us.

Charles H. Spurgeon wrote: “Discouragement creeps over my heart and makes me go with heaviness to my work. It is dreadfully weakening.”

We must learn to fight against discouragement as Christians and as a Church. I know you have faced discouragement in the past and there will be many times as a Church we will be tempted to be discouraged in the future. It will come. But may I be so bold as to suggest that a Christian, who keeps both their spiritual as well as their physical eyes open really should never fall into discouragement. With our eyes fixed on God we will be able to see beyond the physical situation and see the spiritual truths and reality which gives us what we need to combat what we face.

I say that knowing that we all will feel the beginnings of discouragement. Some of the very greatest men of scripture experienced discouragement. We see depression and discouragement from Moses, Joshua, Hezekiah, Job, and Jeremiah. Discouragement will try to drag us down, but we must be able to repel it when it does come.

Our passage from the Old Testament is about Elijah and his battle with discouragement.

We all know the background to this passage – Elijah has just had a stunning victory over the priests of Baal in chp 18. Elijah challenged them to a test of their respective gods. Each prepared an altar and a sacrifice and then the Baal priests called on Baal to come and receive the sacrifice. They shouted and cried and even cut themselves but nothing happened. Elijah then calls on God and the sacrifice on the stone altar, which has been drench with water, was consumed with fire from heaven. A stunning and awesome sign of God’s power. Elijah has the priests of Baal killed. And then Elijah receives a letter from Jezebel, who is somewhat miffed at Elijah’s victory and she says to him So let the gods do to me and more also if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And then Elijah flees for his life.

The threat of the future – that Jezebel will try and kill him, overrides everything else and Elijah becomes scared and runs.

Discouragement makes us act in unreasonable ways and there is no more of an unreasonable reaction than Elijah, who having proved that there is no other god that his God – a God who can cause fire to fall from heaven – than running from a threat of Jezebel.

All of a sudden Elijah’s ministry is stalled and he has hidden in a cave.

Notice two things: Firstly, God comes to Elijah. What are you doing here Elijah? What a wonderful word! God seeks out Elijah and asks him why he is in the cave. We cannot go anywhere to be out of the reach of God’s eye, his arm or his word. God knew where Elijah was and he always knows where we are – physically and spiritually.

There is no reason why Elijah should be in the cave but the Lord wants to listen to his child and gives Elijah the opportunity to pour out his heart. His description is dramatic and has inaccuracies in it. We all tend to over exaggerate when we are discouraged: “Everything has fallen apart” “My life has come to an end” “I’ll never recover” “Everyone hates me”. God bids him to come and stand before him – as a child of God and as a prophet should do. We are given the authority to stand before God in our prayers and Elijah should have gone to God first instead of hiding – just as we should always go to God instead of hding. God then reveals himself in wind, earthquake and fire, all of which are associated with God’s advent:

2Sam. 22:11 “And He rode on a cherub and flew;
And He 1appeared on the wings of the wind.
Psa. 11:6 Upon the wicked He will rain 1snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
Is. 29:6 From the LORD of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise,
With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire.

But the most powerful manifestation is found in the small voice – in the WORD of God. It is through His Word that we know God and know of his promises and truths to us.

Notice secondly that it is through his Word that God tackles Elijah’s discouragement, refocuses Elijah onto his calling and ministry and corrects Elijah’s erroneous thinking – go and do what I have called you to do and you are not the only prophet left.

The word of God is the source of helping us from discouragement. God comes to us through the Word of God and by the Holy Spirit and gives us the truths we need to refocus back on the Lord.

I wonder if God might be saying to some of us this morning What are you doing here? Maybe you have become discouraged and have hidden in a cave of self pity. Maybe it seems everything is against you and you can’t see the wood for the trees.

God is calling you to look back at him. How? Listen to his word. Hear his promises. Hear his truths. Set aside your false judgment of the future with the true truth of Christ.

Peter says that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. When we read scripture we know it comes from God to us, not by man to us. We must grasp this fact – that the Bible is God’s truth TO US.

There is no future, no matter how bad we can imagine it to be that can overcome the future God has for us as his Children.

We all need to guard ourselves from falling into discouragement. And even Jesus recognized this fact.

For many the transfiguration is a mystery. Why does this happen? Jesus knew that the disciples where going to be shaken when he died and even after his resurrection there will temptation to doubt everything that had happened to question what they experienced. Here Jesus gives them a glimpse of his glory to show that his sufferings were voluntary. Jesus could at any point have returned to the glory of heaven. He choose not to. We have the representation of the law, Moses and the prophets, Elijah talking to Jesus. Why? Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets and Elijah and Moses represent the law and the prophets. Why are there three disciples? Three was the number of witnesses needed to verify an event – these three were to be the witnesses to the rest of the disciples to stop them being discouraged in the time after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Hence Jesus’ command not to speak of this until after his resurrection.

Jesus provided the disciples all they needed to keep them from being consumed by discouragement. Peter, John and James could attest to the glorious manifestation of Jesus.

And all we need to keep us from discouragement is found in our living active relationship with God – in his word to us and the testimony of the spirit which dwells in us.

When you feel discouragement beginning to rear it’s ugly head we must tell ourselves over and over again of God’s word, his promises and the Lord’s history in being faithful to us. As the Psalmist did in his depression and discouragement, we say to ourselves:

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance Psalms 42:5