Archive for May, 2011

Relief Effort in Joplin, MO

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Tornadoes ripped across the Midwest this week destroying and disrupting many lives in their wake. Our hearts go out to the families who have suffered such great loss, both of loved ones and property.

At the heart of this week’s news has been the storm that tore apart Joplin, Missouri. A PCA church in Joplin, Christ the King Presbyterian, is involved in the relief effort.

You can find more information on their web site about how to pray and contribute.

Praying in Faith

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

We should pray in faith. No Christian doubts that, and many passages of Scripture make it plain. See, for example, Matthew 21:21-22 or James 1:6-8.

But how do we pray in faith? In his notable little book, simply titled Prayer, Norwegian theologian, Ole Hallesby, writes about a living faith and just how much faith is needed in prayer. “Such a faith as this sees its own need, acknowledge its own helplessness, goes to Jesus, tells Him just how bad things are and leaves everything with Him.

“You and I can now tell how much faith we need in order to pray. We have faith enough when we in our helplessness turn to Jesus.

“This shows us clearly that true prayer is a fruit of helplessness and faith. Helplessness becomes prayer the moment that you go to Jesus and speak candidly and confidently with him about your needs. This is to believe.

“The reason that more faith than this is not necessary in order to pray lies in the very nature of prayer.

“We have seen above that prayer is nothing more involved than to open the door when Jesus knocks and give Him access to our distress and helplessness with all His miracle-working powers.

“It is not intended that our faith should help Jesus to fulfill our supplications. He does not need any help; all he needs is access. Neither is it intended that our faith should draw Jesus into our distress, or make Him interested in us, or solicitous on our behalf. He has long since cared for us. And He Himself would like to gain access to our distress in order to help us. But He can not [sic] gain admittance until we ‘open the door,’ that is, until we in prayer give Him an opportunity to intervene.” Ole Hallesby, Prayer, pp. 29-30.

To some, Hallesby’s comments will sound too man-centered, too Arminian, too unbiblical. Jesus “can not [sic] gain admittance”?! Our God is in heaven and does whatever he pleases (Psa. 115:3)! Hallesby would agree. He’s keen to stress that our faith doesn’t help Christ. But faith is the means by which we do business with God. And we are responsible to believe. Faith comes from God. It is his gracious gift. Our opening the door to Jesus is not the result of innate ability. Prayer flows from grace, but it must flow!

The bottom line is that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:2). Opening the door is simply asking. But we’re asking Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, who intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25)! And that opens the door to endless possibilities in the goodness of God!

A Sad Day for the Auld Kirk

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

On Monday, the Church of Scotland (not to be confused with the Free Church of Scotland) voted to allow gays and lesbians to be ordained to the ministry. This is a very sad turn of events for the church of John Knox and our Presbyterian forefathers. But it is an almost inevitable outcome for a church that has by-in-large rejected the doctrine of Scripture.

I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t many Bible-believing Christians in the Church of Scotland. There are. There are still many good ministers in the Church of Scotland who preach the gospel. Dominic Smart pastors Gilcomston South. Philip Hair preaches faithfully at Holyrood Abbey. St. Catherine’s Argyle Church is privileged to have a gifted expositor in her minister, Robyn Sydserff. In addition to these and numerous other local churches, ministries like Rutherford House and the Fellowship of Confessing Churches have sought to stem the tide, but what will they do now?

Please pray for these brothers and their Kirk Sessions. My hope is that evangelicals from the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland will find a way to work together. Two years ago John Ross wrote about a new church for Scotland. Could that day be just about to dawn? Differing views on women’s ordination, however, may well prove to be the biggest obstacle.

Whatever happens with inter-church relations, please pray for revival for all of God’s church in Scotland, America, Africa, Europe, Asia, the whole world. May we see days of refreshing spiritual power like the Auld Kirk saw in the past, days when there was glory in the glen!

The Ministry of the Few or the Ministry of the Pew?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

How are you going to minister this coming Lord’s Day? Teach Sunday School? Be a greeter? Usher? Preach? That’s great if you’re involved in one of those activities, but if you add up the pastor, elders, deacons and all of the Sunday School teachers, greeters, and ushers, that’s still a relatively small percentage of the average congregation. It’s the ministry of the few.

So how are YOU going to minister?

Have you considered the ministry of the pew? The ministry of the pew, you say? What’s that? It’s a way to use where you sit at church as a means to serve others.

Years ago my parents attended a church, found a pew, and sat down only to be approached by a couple informing them that Mom and Dad were in their pew. These folks obviously had their favorite place to sit and were not happy sitting anywhere else. I can understand that. I always like to sit to the left of a speaker. I don’t know why. There’s no good reason; it has just become a habit. But do you think about and even pray about where you sit in church? All of us should.

Colin Marshall was once challenged about where he sat and why. He wrote, “Some years ago a pastor, Ray Ewers, instructed me in the finer art of how to walk into church. To most people, this might appear to be a rather basic accomplishment requiring little or no tutelage. Perhaps a family with five toddlers would appreciate some advice, but most of us would never give it a thought. Ray’s instruction was very brief: ‘Pray about where you sit’.

Praying seemed like a great way to walk into church, better than grumbling about the full car park or feeling annoyed that the first hymn, ‘Tell Out My Soul’, was sung to Tidings and not Woodlands. But of all the things to pray about, why should I be concerned with seating position? After all, I sit in my pew every week.

Ray’s advice was based on a particular view of church. He saw church as a place where Christians go to work. Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church—‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 4; 1 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘St Hubert’s Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own.”

While I have one caveat regarding Colin’s article (I don’t believe we need to change traditional-style services to make people feel comfortable), his emphasis is “spot on.”

Will you pray about where you sit this coming Sunday? I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to read the rest of the article and learn some strategic ways to serve the Lord on his day. Don’t leave ministry to the few. Get involved in the ministry of the pew!

For Colin Marshall’s complete article, click here.

Adventures Abroad

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

This spring and summer we have several young people from our church involved in short-term missions. Lizzie Wilson will be going to the Dominican Republic. Her brother, John, will be working with the Pittsburgh Project. And Jake Shields is currently in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Jake has a blog where he is posting his observations, reflections, and pictures. I encourage you to follow his adventures abroad and to pray. Pray for all of these young people as they seek to serve the Lord and grow in him.

Making a Difficult Job Harder

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

I believe Jesus Christ is coming again; I just don’t believe Harold Camping has the right date. No one has the right date except God the Father (Matt. 24:36).

What Camping’s predictions do, however, is make the job of countless Christians more difficult. We try to warn people that Christ is going to return but now, due to Mr. C’s bogus May 21 date, the unsaved mock even more. Rapture Parties, to celebrate the fact that Christ didn’t return, are planned all around the world. Unbelievers mock and say, “Where is the promise of his coming” (2 Pet. 3:4)? Have you ever noticed how closely Peter connects his warnings about false prophets with the fact that many scoff at the return of the Lord? Read 2 Peter 2 and 3 together.

If I were to preach on the second coming of Christ at our church tomorrow, our people would accept it as the Word of God. They don’t need any convincing that Camping is a nutter. But what about the man or woman on the street? Would he or she accept a gospel tract from me? What if I said to him or her, “Be prepared. Jesus is coming again”? Would anyone listen?

The stupidity of apocalyptic prognosticators make legitimate Christian ministry more difficult. But we rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Only he can open blind eyes (1 Cor. 2:14). May he open the eyes of many. And may we as believers not be ashamed to say, “The day of the Lord draws near” (James 5:8).

T-minus…

Friday, May 20th, 2011

If you want to get attention, just predict the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. Major newspapers are covering the May 21 prognostications of Harold Camping. My heart goes out to the young people featured in the New York Times article.

I’m also saddened, and a bit angry, at what these foolish predictions will do to the testimony of sane Christians, the cause of Christ, and the name of our Savior. The media, and the unbelieving public at large, lumps all “Christians” together. No doubt many will describe Camping as a “fundamentalist” and even “Reformed.” Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.

Enough blogging for now. I’ve got to get back to work on my sermon. Sunday may come after all.

Rapture Countdown

Friday, May 20th, 2011

I’ve been debating with myself all week. Should I prepare a sermon for Sunday or not? I mean after all, if the rapture occurs on Saturday, May 21, what’s the use?

A May 21st rapture is the prediction of Family Radio’s “Bible Guru,” Harold Camping. Camping predicted the rapture in 1994 but left himself an out by entitling his book 1994? You can do a lot with a question mark, especially if you’re out to deceive people. And I believe that is what Camping is out to do. I’ve never written about Mr. C or Family Radio, but today is the day. After all, I may not be able to write about it after tomorrow.

Camping has been fixated with Bible prophecy for many years but sadly doesn’t have a clue about how to read Scripture. He has a twisted mental sieve through which he sifts every verse. His teaching about the second coming of Christ is weird to say the least (based on his calendrical calculations and the misinterpretation of figures of speech—he must have slept through his high school English class that dealt with simile and metaphor), and the tragic fact is that many will be destroyed emotionally, spiritually, and financially when they wake up on Sunday morning. My greatest fear is that people will take their lives over this. After all, if Jesus is coming on May 21 and “the Bible guarantees it” as Camping says, what’s left to trust in when May 22 and 23 and 24 roll around? Family Radio and tomorrow’s rapture prediction is all evidence of people getting their eyes off Christ and following a man.

That’s easy to do for the Family Radio crowd because Camping doesn’t preach Christ. He preaches a false gospel, and that troubles me more than his arrogant date-setting. Camping denies justification by faith. For him, salvation is by regeneration alone. If you read his materials or listen to his open forum (neither of which I advise), he never tells anyone to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells them to cry out for mercy and hope for the best. He turns people in upon themselves to look for evidence of salvation, for example the ability to understand parables. If understanding the Bible is evidence of salvation, then Mr. C is in serious trouble.

I write all of this advisedly because Camping now teaches that the unsaved will be annihilated. There is no eternal hell. And Jesus didn’t really bear our sins on the cross. His death was only a symbolic act. According to Camping, Jesus already died for our sins and rose again before the foundation of the world. Yes, you read that correctly. Jesus died and rose again twice. When he did it in the flesh, it didn’t do anything. This is the false gospel of Family Radio. This is not the saving message of the Bible. Mr. Camping is on dangerous ground. He won’t be raptured on May 21, but he is an old man soon to stand before his maker. What will he say? “I understand the parables.”

That Camping gets a hearing and a following is no surprise. “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

To Pray or Not to Pray?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

“Prayer was so important to the founders of the church, and so integral to its success, that they were determined not to be pulled away from it, even by other good and necessary ministries [see Acts 6:1-4]. But often in our churches today every other ministry takes priority over the ministry of prayer. And I would suggest that many times this is the primary reason why churches decline or die. They may have charismatic leaders or slick programs, but they have become ineffective because the church has stopped praying. On the other hand, any church that commits itself to prayer, no matter how bad things may have become, can be renewed and rebuilt by the power of the Spirit.” Harry L. Reeder, From Embers to a Flame, p. 77.

To pray or not to pray? That isn’t really the question. We have to pray. We must pray. Without prayer the work of God does not go forward. The real question is Will we pray?

Macleod on Suffering

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

In the third and final segment of his series on The Christian Experience of Suffering, Donald Macleod draws several lessons from Hebrews 12.

“We learn in the first place that we must not expect to derive blessing automatically from suffering.  Affliction by itself, no matter how great its intensity, does not sanctify.  The most general reason for this is that we can despise chastening – we can treat it with contempt.  It is profitable only for those who are exercised by it. This gives rise to the question, What is it to despise the chastening of the Lord? and, What is it to be exercised by it?”

For the answers to these questions, continue to read the rest of this edifying article.