Friday, December 31, 2010

Another year through the Bible

I looked this morning at my daily reading planner and it shows as 99.7% done which means that all being well tonight will be our last reading through the Bible for 2010 and we'll have completed the M'Cheyne system for Bible reading. I thought I would jot down a few reflections on how the reading has gone for the year. I'm not aiming to be profound but rather just honestly reflect on how this year has affected us.

1. Firstly and without a doubt most importantly it's been tremendous to spend another year reading through the Bible and being challenged and humbled and thrilled by what God has to say. As a man who loves his food it seems unthinkable to go a day without having at least one square meal and likewise feeding on  God's word each day has been profoundly satisfying. In an age when some seem to love to despise and ridicule discipline and almost deliberately confuse it with mere religion it's worth noting that certain disciplines lead to a healthy lifestyle and some do not. Feeding on God's word helps keep my heart right and my head in gear.

2. The M'Cheyne system has felt like more of a challenge than the previous EDWJ plan. This year has involved reading through the Old Testamement once and the New Testament twice which while good has also been more demanding time wise. If we missed a day for illness or other reasons then the catch up is truely time consuming. For that reason being committed to doing it and sticking with it is not for the faint hearted.

3. Once again I've been amazed at how much of the Bible I feel I don't recognise as I read through. I've read it all through before but still I am hit by some passages as if I'd never heard them before. That may simply be a reflection of my own poor memory but sections of the prophets are so powerful and so unfamiliar that I am glad to be "made" to read through them again and again in a set reading plan.

4. Youversion, who are the people who have provided us with the reading plans are absolutely excellent. Applications on the IPhone, Android and PC make completing each reading simple and the calendar view makes missed days a sinch to spot. ( As individual verses or sections have stood out or challenged us as we've read them the system of linking in with Twitter has means posting stuff for review later has also been of real benefit. (

I don't know what system you use for reading your Bible but let me encourage you to find one that works and do it. Good intentions are all well and good but making time each day to read the Bible is hard at first but I would suggest essential to pressing on in our Christian faith. God's awesome power was at work in creation through his words, in the Lord Jesus his power over sickness, demonic powers even death itself  is demonstrated in his words and I am committed to staying connected to him by listening to those words.

In the immortal words of John Chapman (Chappo) "Read ya Bible you idiot!"

"Break open your words, let the light shine out, let ordinary people see the meaning." Psalm 119:130

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is Luther too risky with his language

I came across this quote from Luther in another blog and I thought it was good so I thought I'd re-blog it. But then it got me thinking about it. I know Luther loved to be shocking in his language and his constant references to his bowels can raise an eyebrow - but what do you think of this?
In this sort of temptation and struggle, contempt is the best and easiest method of winning over the devil. Laugh your adversary to scorn and ask who it is with whom you are talking. But by all means flee solitude, for the devil watches and lies in wait for you most of all when you are alone. This devil is conquered by mocking and despising him, not by resisting and arguing with him. Therefore, Jerome, joke and play games with your wife and others. In this way you will drive out your diabolical thoughts and take courage
Be of good courage, therefore, and cast these dreadful thoughts out of your mind. Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment. Sometimes it is necessary to drink a little more, play, jest, or even commit some infraction in defiance and contempt of the devil in order not to give him an opportunity to make us scrupulous about trifles. We shall be overcome if we worry too much about falling into some sin.
Accordingly if the devil should say, "Do not drink," you should reply to him, "On this very account, because you forbid it, I shall drink, and what is more, I shall drink a generous amount." Thus one must always do the opposite of that which Satan prohibits. What do you think is my reason for drinking wine undiluted, talking freely, and eating more often, if it is not to torment and vex the devil who made up his mind to torment and vex me.
Is he right?
What is the difference between conscience and the Devil's lies that drive us to despair?
How do I know when to stop and when to ignore?
Interested in all input...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A bed of duck feathers

It's easy to feel a little bit embattled and discouraged with the struggle against the world the flesh and the Devil, but Spurgeon had some good words for me this morning:

As a Christian you have to live in the midst of an ungodly world, and it is of little use for you to cry "Woe is me." Jesus did not pray that you should be taken out of the world, and what he did not pray for, you need not desire. Better far in the Lord's strength to meet the difficulty, and glorify him in it. The enemy is ever on the watch to detect inconsistency in your conduct; be therefore very holy. Remember that the eyes of all are upon you, and that more is expected from you than from other men. Strive to give no occasion for blame. Let your goodness be the only fault they can discover in you. Like Daniel, compel them to say of you, "We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." Seek to be useful as well as consistent. Perhaps you think, "If I were in a more favourable position I might serve the Lord's cause, but I cannot do any good where I am"; but the worse the people are among whom you live, the more need have they of your exertions; if they be crooked, the more necessity that you should set them straight; and if they be perverse, the more need have you to turn their proud hearts to the truth. Where should the physician be but where there are many sick? Where is honour to be won by the soldier but in the hottest fire of the battle? And when weary of the strife and sin that meets you on every hand, consider that all the saints have endured the same trial. They were not carried on beds of down to heaven, and you must not expect to travel more easily than they. They had to hazard their lives unto the death in the high places of the field, and you will not be crowned till you also have endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Therefore, "stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong."

Monday, August 02, 2010

Simple Books

A little while ago I was working through Thomas A Kempis'  book The Imitation of Christ. I'm not endorsing the whole book but there was a couple of chapters that I thought were really good. Listen to this from chapter 5.

TRUTH, not eloquence, is to be sought in reading the Holy Scriptures; and every part must be read in the spirit in which it was written. For in the Scriptures we ought to seek profit rather than polished diction.
Likewise we ought to read simple and devout books as willingly as learned and profound ones. We ought not to be swayed by the authority of the writer, whether he be a great literary light or an insignificant person, but by the love of simple truth. We ought not to ask who is speaking, but mark what is said. Men pass away, but the truth of the Lord remains forever. God speaks to us in many ways without regard for persons.
Our curiosity often impedes our reading of the Scriptures, when we wish to understand and mull over what we ought simply to read and pass by.
If you would profit from it, therefore, read with humility, simplicity, and faith, and never seek a reputation for being learned. Seek willingly and listen attentively to the words of the saints; do not be displeased with the sayings of the ancients, for they were not made without purpose.

I like the way he presses us to seek out truth not eloquence and that is particularly useful in the culture of twittering and blogging eloquently and insightfully.  I want to read stuff that does my soul good. I want to read stuff that isn't impressed with it's own cleverness. I want to read stuff that stretches my mind but I also want to read stuff that reconnects my mind to simple truths that stir my heart.

Connected with that, it seems that many people are turned off by Christianity because they think it's all about being clever and bookish. I know that some will find that bizarre when Christianity is portrayed as switching your brain off and believing fairy tales but in massive sections of our society the idea of reading a book and discussing it's meaning or debating philosophical ideas is completely alien to everyday life. Many people read the Sun or the Mirror, watch Corrie or Big Brother and live for Friday night. To them debates about Federal Vision, Sabbatarianism and New Covenant Theology are meaningless. So they view us as people who love to debate and argue about stuff that doesn't matter.
And then along side those we have others in the churches who can't compete in arguments and debates and so think that they can never be "proper" or "advanced" or "mature" Christians because they don't understand what people are talking about or they don't understand half of the sermon.

Back to A Kempis: I think that encouraging people to read simple stuff about the Christian faith is good for everyone. Not everyone can handle reading John Owen, excellent though he may well be, but I think that books that talk simply and clearly about real issues are gold. In other words read stuff that stretches you but also read simple stuff that fires you up too.

Why don't you enter a comment below with the title of a simple book that has done you real good.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to read the Bible

I love reading through the Bible once a year. For me it's a great discipline to keep me from only visiting those bits that I like or feel I need to read for some specific reason or other. The problem with reading through the Bible is a year is that it can easily become an exercise in simply getting through the material rather than properly engaging with it and feeding on it.

I was going to twitter Martin Luther's comments on reading the Bible but I thought it would be difficult to understand them without some small explanation:

First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.
It would be nice to not only have all the hours in the day to read and meditate on God's word but also the energy and discipline of heart to do so. But it still stands as an encouragement to me to work through each passage I am reading and ask the important questions:

  • Who is this speaking to?
  • What would they have understood by it?
  • How does this relate to Jesus?
  • How does it relate to me through Jesus?

And then some of the older questions that divines used to ask:

  • Is there a promise here for me to claim?
  • Is there a command here for me to obey?
  • Is there a warning here for me to heed?
  • Is there a truth here for me to rejoice in?

There are no end of blogs, articles, tweets, papers, books and collected works to wade through but you know... the Bible is better than all of them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Praying for a right walk

It's been a while since I've quoted anything from "The Valley of Vision" so I though some of you might find this prayer helpful. As always there is a very honest confession before God of our failures but also a wonderful dependence on God for help and forgiveness. Notice in the first paragraph how he rejoices because no accusation will finally stand because it has all been laid on Christ.

Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find Thy mind in Thy Word, of neglect to seek Thee in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless Thee that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue my corruptions, and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but do Thou rule over me in liberty and power.
I thank Thee that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with Thy patient work, answering 'no' to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to Thy rule. I thank Thee for Thy wisdom and Thy love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross.
No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If Thou shouldst give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of Thy grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in Thee. Then I shall bless Thee, God of jeshurun, for helping me to be upright.
Note: Jeshurun is a poetical name for Israel; it has a sense of God's people walking in a right way.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Am I random

The answer to the question "Am I random?" may well be yes. That is, some of you who know me well may consider me to be a bit scatterbrained and forgetful. But of course, that's not really what I'm asking. I'm asking the question "am I the product of random combinations and blind chance?"

Biology is certainly not my speciality but at both school and college mathematics was something I enjoyed and did reasonably well at. This morning I read an article on the mathematics of random chance that I found really interesting. Whatever your view on the age of the earth and the evolution debate the article itself is fascinating as a mathematical argument. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Not Going to Church

 "I've decided to have a week off church because you don't need to go to church to be a Christian so there is no obligation for me to go"
Ever heard anything like that? There are other variations on it: "I don't need to read my Bible every day because there is no command that tells me to in the Bible." and so on and so forth.

 Ben (Assistant Pastor at BABC) was preaching on Jesus' words about divorce on Sunday night and came out with something quite excellent. He said that with divorce the wrong question to ask is "is it allowed" because that's basically being legalistic about it. The issue then becomes what can I get away with because LAW is the way to view things.

 He applied it more broadly and said if we say "There is no command to go to church so I wont" is being legalistic about it (albeit inverted legalism). I live my life by what is permitted and what is commanded seems to be a million miles away from the kind of relational priorities that Jesus had.
Better questions are:
How will this affect my relationship with Christ?
How will this affect my relationship with others?

 I bet you've never heard some one who doesn't read their Bible and doesn't go to church a legalist eh?
It's amazing how deceitful sin is.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon is one of the books of the Bible that lots of people really don't know what to do with. At first glance it is a love poem between Solomon and one of his brides, and as such it's intimate and at times surprisingly explicit. Recent sermons I have heard on the book have taken it primarily as a love poem that speaks into the pre-marriage and marriage setting. In other words its about human love and the wonder of a rich gift  God has given us. I found listening to material that treats the book like this very helpful and enriching on many levels. The church has been shy to talk about these things because we don't want to cheapen something precious but in so doing we have left a whole generation of people uneducated about what God thinks of sex and marriage. Song of Solomon has lots to say to couples today and it would be a huge shame not to take its wisdom to heart.

But, in many writers, particularly those of years past Song of Solomon was primarily about Jesus and the Church, it was a metaphor for the deep relationship that exists between the heavenly bridegroom (Jesus) and us.
Listen to how Spurgeon, a great Baptist preacher from 150 years ago speaks about it:

"His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers." 
Song of Solomon 5:13
Lo, the flowery month is come! March winds and April showers have done their work, and the earth is all bedecked with beauty. Come my soul, put on thine holiday attire and go forth to gather garlands of heavenly thoughts. Thou knowest whither to betake thyself, for to thee "the beds of spices" are well known, and thou hast so often smelt the perfume of "the sweet flowers," that thou wilt go at once to thy well-beloved and find all loveliness, all joy in him. That cheek once so rudely smitten with a rod, oft bedewed with tears of sympathy and then defiled with spittle-that cheek as it smiles with mercy is as fragrant aromatic to my heart. Thou didst not hide thy face from shame and spitting, O Lord Jesus, and therefore I will find my dearest delight in praising thee. Those cheeks were furrowed by the plough of grief, and crimsoned with red lines of blood from thy thorn-crowned temples; such marks of love unbounded cannot but charm my soul far more than "pillars of perfume." If I may not see the whole of his face I would behold his cheeks, for the least glimpse of him is exceedingly refreshing to my spiritual sense and yields a variety of delights. In Jesus I find not only fragrance, but a bed of spices; not one flower, but all manner of sweet flowers. He is to me my rose and my lily, my heart's- ease and my cluster of camphire. When he is with me it is May all the year round, and my soul goes forth to wash her happy face in the morning-dew of his grace, and to solace herself with the singing of the birds of his promises. Precious Lord Jesus, let me in very deed know the blessedness which dwells in abiding, unbroken fellowship with thee. I am a poor worthless one, whose cheek thou hast deigned to kiss! O let me kiss thee in return with the kisses of my lips.
I confess I get a bit nervous about this kind of language. It reminds me of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" kind of mushy, sentimental nonsense that gets written and sung in many churches today. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against modern songs, nor against devotional songs, but I do get worried that some of the language we use about Jesus is just weird.

But...then I got thinking about the amazing connection that many of the Christians of the past had with Christ. I see in some of their writing a deep reverence for the Lord Jesus and a wholehearted commitment to knowing him and serving him that is often lacking today in those of us who call ourselves his followers. In an effort to be good at our exegesis (understanding what the Bible is saying) and to be passionate about doing church well I wonder if we are in danger of pushing devotional connection to Jesus to one side.

Maybe I can make Song of Solomon too much about me, and maybe I can make marriage too much about me. If after all God is the designer of marriage and marriage itself is a picture of our relationship with God then I must at some level retain a joy about marriage that is not disconnected from God but rather profoundly grateful for what he has given me and also learning from it what connecting to him means.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Wayne Grudem

I may well be late to this particular phenomenon but this is a video song about a Systematic Theologian called Wayne Grudem. For those of us who have read his stuff his particular blend of extraordinary clear thinking and obvious heartfelt passion for Christ is compelling. But... I have never before heard of a song written about a systematic theologian. When are we going to get the Berkof rap?

Friday, April 23, 2010


A couple of things this week got me thinking about how appropriate expectation is for people who profess to believe in an all powerful God. The first was last Sunday, we looked at Psalm 5, a great song from King David about praying and looking to God in times of trouble. I was really taken with verse 3
"Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly." Psalm 5v3
The idea is that we pray first thing in the morning then we wait and watch for the answer. And not just wait with a vain and vague hope that something might happen but wait with a deep conviction that God hears and answers prayer.

The second thing that challenged me about being expectant was a video from New Word Alive. Rebecca Manley Pippert was being interviewed about her books and experiences in talking to people about Christ. The enthusiasm and joy she had were evident but one of the things that impressed me most was her absolute confidence that God is at work and he is doing things in people's lives to bring them to real faith. 

So I am asking myself do I really believe that God is at work that he answers prayers that he wants to rescue people and that he will do it?
“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

Friday, February 26, 2010


Reading through Job last night I had one of those moments where you come across a verse that you must have read before but it's never hit you in previous readings:

Job 26v14
"And these are but the outer fringe of his works; 
       how faint the whisper we hear of him! 
       Who then can understand the thunder of his power?"

Job has been talking about some of the amazing things that God does and then he says "They are but the outer fringe of his works". I find that idea really compelling: we see God's power demonstrated in creation but he is much bigger than even the most spectacular things we see, and even the things we see are only a small sample of what he can and does do. 

I might think about how spectacular some of the events that happen in other parts of the universe that I will never see are; supernovas and alike but even those things are fringe compared to the monumental work of dying to save us. The simple point is that God is bigger than we think and I need to rejoice in awe at his greatness and stop making him too little by limiting him by my feeble attempts to quantify him.

Don't you find it exciting that God is more awesome than you think?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Real Christianity

Each week I get an email from the Kairos Journal which has various articles on contemporary issues and articles drawn from older works. I was struck by one of the pieces this week because it touched on an issue that John MacArthur had been speaking on. (LINK)

This is the piece from the Kairos Journal:
William Wilberforce is famous not only for his persistent efforts to see the slave trade abolished in England, but as the author of Real Christianity, in which he makes the radical distinction between nominal and real Christians.
Less well-known is the fact that Wilberforce regularly heard this distinction made in the sermons of his pastor and colleague, John Venn, rector of the Clapham Church and Chaplain of the so-called Clapham Sect. 
In this excerpt from one of John Venn’s sermons, real Christianity is distinguished from nominal Christianity in vivid terms:
Religion is not merely an act of homage paid upon our bended knees to God; it is not confined to the closet and the church, nor is it restrained to the hours of the sabbath; it is a general principle extending to a man’s whole conduct in every transaction and in every place. I know no mistake which is more dangerous than that which lays down devotional feelings alone as the test of true religion . . . Let us be convinced that all prayer, all preaching, all knowledge, are but means to attain a superior end; and that end the sanctification of the heart and of all the principles on which we are daily acting. Till our Christianity appears in our conversation, in our business, in our pleasures, in the aims and objects of our life, we have not attained a conformity to the image of our Saviour, nor have we learned His Gospel aright.

Now here is the thing; I have no desire to wade into things that don't concern me but given the public nature of the criticism levelled by JMac at Mark Driscoll it seems odd to me that one of the key works of Mars Hill is to work hard to get the Word into people's lives that brings real ongoing transformation. I think in general the church has been weak at helping people to work through what is taught on a Sunday into the life of Monday through Saturday. In other words we do what John Venn says is so dangerous; we make people enjoy Sunday and forget that excitement about what we do together in singing, preaching, praying is not the same as a life changed and changing by grace. Isn't that dangerously close to hypocrisy?

Don't misunderstand me. I am committed to honesty before God, recognising that we are not the people we should be, and ongoing heartfelt repentance. But... that is not the same as saying that behaviour doesn't matter. So much of the New Testament urges transformed living not only as the right way to respond to grace but actually as the sign of it.  If I am not living the gospel then there is something seriously wrong.
John Venn seems to thinks so, John MacArthur seems to think so, Mark Driscoll seems to think so and Jesus lays before me instructions for a changed life that won't let me just live as I want, not now that I am His.

Matthew 7
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Praise God for Richard Dawkins

Writing today in "The Times" Richard Dawkins is on a mission to demonstrate again how stupid Christians are and how superior his own brand of religion (athiesm) is to all the rest. I have to say much of the article I agreed with.  I find it amazing that we Christians actually lack the courage to say what the Bible says. We sometimes go to huge lengths to distance ourselves from very simple and straight forward ideas the Bible has about sin and suffering because we cannot bear the idea that God is actually in control of all the mess, or that he holds us accountable for what we do or even that he subjects the world to these things in the hope of a new world (Romans 8). Somehow to say these things for some Christians is to commit the sin of offending others unnecessarily.  While Dr Dawkins may object to what the Bible says and call it immoral and depraved he at least is willing to admit to the idea that atonement at the cross is the issue.

Where I do slightly disagree with him through is in this:
"Your entire religion is founded on an obsession with “sin”, with punishment and with atonement." 
I object because I am not at all sure we are obsessed with sin,  I think it would be more accurate to say we are obsessed with grace. I admit I think sin is serious and shouldn't be ignored. I admit I think God is going to punish the world on the last day, and yes I do think atonement is central to a correct understanding of the cross... but I am obsessed with grace. Grace is something so unexpected and so un-religious that it blows my mind.  Religion says "be good and God will love you" grace says "God in Christ loves us more than we can know and repentance and faith not good deeds are the key to getting hold of that love."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Blogging with trumpets

It is not difficult to understand what Jesus is getting at in Matthew chapter 6. Three times he condemns religious acts that are done merely for show. He says God hates it when we pray so that other people can see us and give so other people will praise us and fast so other people will applaud us.

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly
And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do
When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity!

In an age when we are obsessed with getting our message out there and saying things so that people can hear us I wonder if we are doing our blogging and tweeting and podcasting and sermon uploading and so on and so forth "with trumpets".
I am well aware that practically everything we do has mixed motives, and I am also aware that having the wrong motives doesn't mean you should automatically stop doing something. But I feel the temptation in my own heart to do things so that people will say "Isn't he wise" or "Isn't he godly" or alike. It seems like a bit of a slap in the face to Jesus to keep quoting him and using him as an excuse to get ourselves more well known.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Generally I dont like New Year resolutions. Not because I dont think they are a good idea but because I often fail to keep them (like most people) and sometimes wonder if they tend to be an exercise in affirming my own power to change things independant of the gospel. But having said that I so much enjoyed my New Years resolution to read through the Bible in 2009. It was a good goal to set and having done it I find that rather than feel completed and fulfilled I am actually hungry for more. This year Claire and I are going to read through Bible using the McCheyne plan with a little help from Doctor Carson.

My resolution for 2010 is to pray properly each day. What a bizzare confession to make, you would think that a pastor would pray regularly and often but I think like many people I struggle to give proper time to pray each day and end up only firefighting in my prayer life.
As DAC says "If you don't plan to pray you won't pray"
So no more excuses, it's time to knock until my knuckles bleed.