Saturday, November 04, 2006

Defeating temptation the hard way

This is fantastic:

Don't read it if:
1. You think you have any strength of your own to withstand temptation;
2. You want to remain unchallenged;
3. You want a quick-and-easy way to defeat temptation, and aren't willing to take a thorough look at Biblical teaching.

Do read it if:
1. You recognize that apart from Christ you can do nothing, and that, if Abraham, David, and Peter fell, what chance do you have?
2. You're willing to be challenged and even scared by Biblical truth;
3. You take sin so seriously that you're willing to put much prayer and effort into understanding temptation and the nature of your own soul.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What does it mean to do things in God's strength?

I have no spiritual strength of myself; without Christ I can do nothing - therefore I must live in His strength, not my own. All Christians believe this, but what does it mean? Or, more to the point, how can we do it? If it is vital for holiness, then there are surely very few more important questions!

I'm yet to come across a completely satisfying explanation of how we're to live in God's strength - hence this post! Any thoughts would be most helpful.

It seems to me that there are 4 ways in which people view the concept of doing things in God's strength:

(i) Some view it as meaning that we stop doing anything, and God does it all. "Let go and let God", they say. This is completely contrary to Scripture, where slavery to God, and working out our own salvation, both of which demand great effort, are taught.

(ii) Some seem to think that, having become Christians by grace, we have to continue by our own effort. Very few would teach this, but many seem to believe it (and I myself often find that I'm living as if I believed this). This too is clearly an erroneous view, for it does not speak of relying on God.

(iii) Many seem to think that it means working hard for God, but always doing so praying for His help, humbling ourselves before Him and confessing our weakness and need of Him. All of thsi is necessary, but is there more to living in God's strength than simply living and asking for His strength?

(iv) Finally, there is the view that we live in God's strength by "living out our union with Christ". Having read Colossians 2:6 and similar verses, I would go along with this. But what does it mean!? I get my strength from union with Christ, obviously, but what does it mean to live that out?

This will probably be the first of several posts, as I think through this issue. And, as I say, any helpful contributions would be most welcome.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lessons from teaching

So, half a term has gone in my new (teaching) job, and what have I learned? Here are 5 serious and not-so-serious things that I have learned:

1. The difference between a headteacher and an art teacher. A headteacher is someone who sees the importance of getting people to understand objective truth, but fails to take enough time considering how to affect people's consciences. An art teacher, on the other hand, is unconcerned what people believe, as long as it stirs them up, and results in action. I'd quite like to strike a good balance of the two, both informing the mind and affecting the conscience, but unfortunately I applied for the position of maths teacher.

2. The importance of distinguishing between ATL (a teaching union - the Association of Teachers and Lecturers) and ATL (attitude-to-learning).

3. Which trains between Reading and Oxford I'm likely to be able to get a seat on.

4. The true meaning of being busy, and the necessity of a sabbath.

5. That the Biblical doctrine of the inherent sinfulness of the human heart is true - simply watch a group of 11-16s live in utter selfishness for a few days, and there can be little doubt that it is only grace which stops humans carrying out even more horrific atrocities than some already do.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross

"I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross."
The final verse of a hymn by a Christian woman at the very end of her life, as she looked ahead to eternity with the Lord. It seems to me that they encapsulate the very heart of what it is to be trusting in Christ. It speaks of the highest experience that a Christian can have, when we can truly say that our only shame is our sin, that all we want is to see the face of the Lord Jesus, and that our glory is in the cross alone. And it produces love for God, and results in living increasingly godly lives, where the things of this world truly mean little to us.
The question is: how can we have this experience more often, and more deeply? I guess there are many Biblical strategies that we can adopt, especially those which involve reading and meditating upon the Word.
But, given that God alone can produce this experience of Him, perhaps the best way of reaching such a knowledge of Himself is simply to ask Him. Having asked for God's Presence to go with the Israelites, he says "show me your glory" (Exodus 33:18), and God does. If we seek Him, we will find Him - we will see His goodness, and hate our sin, and appreciate the wonder of Calvary far more than if we rely on our own efforts. And we will be better enabled to live for God in fallen world, and effectively preach the gospel, so that others can be won for Christ.
How often do we pray "show me your glory"? However much, let us do so more.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

School, tragic childhoods, and evangelism

Recently, in school, one of the year 7 kids who I occasionally teach was misbehaving. He was abusive to me and another member of class, wouldn't leave the room when either of us told him to, wouldn't follow any instructions, verbally abused ther kids, and hit one of them. I was, understandably, not impressed. I gave him an after-school detention, and filled in an incident form reporting his behaviour.
After the lesson, I went to see his normal maths teacher (if any teacher can be truly described as "normal"), and she told me something which explained his behaviour (if not vindicating it). There are huge problems ast home, such that he has been in and out of care homes for the last three years, and that day he was going back into a new care home. He's 11.
For the first time, I realized quite how sad the situations of some of the kids who I teach are. I wished I could un-hand in the incident form, which could get him into a huge amount of trouble. But more than that, I wished there was something that I could do to help...
...which is how I come onto evangelism. I ended up thinking, and this not for the first time, how little many Christians really reach out to the poor. Most of our evangelism is aimed at the middle classes (e.g. wine tasting evenings, where people have to pay £12.50!!! to hear the gospel). Yet it is probably not just our evangelism that is the problem, but our attitude that lies behind it. Do we really believe that Christ came for and to the poor? Do we really do evangelism out of compassion, as we should (Matthew 9)?
Many have suggested that it is often good to concentrate our evangelism on the rich and educated, so that we can raise up a generation of church leaders. I end with a wonderful quote which reportedly came from Mark Aston (of StAG, in Cambridge). He was asked whether he believed that poor and uneducated people could ever be expected to become good and useful church leaders and pastors. His reply (in sentiment, not in exact words): "I think it very unlikely that wealthy or educated people will ever become good church leaders and pastors, unless they are very much humbled."
Brothers and sisters, let us make more effort to reach the poor, and give them a true and lasting hope.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I need the Sabbath to survive

Just over a week or so ago, Daniel, on his blog, posted about the necessity of believers keeping the Sabbath (not as the Jews did, but in a Christian way), and it caused controversy. I am confused about this. Why don't believers want to keep the Sabbath?

After busy weeks wherever we work, is it not natural and good for us to want to spend a day especially with God, and with other believers? If the Sabbath is made for man (Mark 2:27), then shouldn't we view it as a wonderful gift from God? I personally think it's a wonderful idea of His - we need a day for both physical and spiritual rest, and He's given us one.

Yesterday, I went to church twice. Both times I was challenged (once very strongly) from the Word. Both times, as Christ was present in the special way in which He is when believers meet together, I was enabled to see God more clearly, and by His grace to be more joyful in what we have received from Him. I was able to meet with my brothers and sisters, pray with them, and have fun with them.

Before and in between the meetings , I was able to spend more time in meditation upon God's greatness, and in communion with him, than I have time to manage on a weekday. My housemates and I were able to pray together for one another. I was able to listen to one of them playing hymns and songs on the keyboard. I was able to read some helpful words of John Flavel. And I was even able to grab an extra hour in bed, mid-afternoon. The Sabbath is wonderful! It provides a spiritual kick with which to go out into the world to face a difficult week ahead.

One final note: those who are privileged to be in full-time ministry or training need to realize that others aren't in that situation. If you are blessed with being able to open the Word many times a day, remember that that isn't the case for all of us. Some of us need a Sabbath. Please don't encourage us to try to survive without.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Died He for ME, who caused His pain? For ME, who Him to death pursued?

I'm sure that all genuine Christians would agree that "And can it be?" is a great hymn, in which we confess our astonishment that the eternal Son of God should be willing to die for me; i.e. us individually, and personally. Which makes it so tragic when Christians reject the doctrine which teaches that Christ died for individuals personally.

I'm talking, of course, of so-called "limited atonement", a truth which has gained bad press because of the name it is given. The atonement has no limit, it is infinite, but it is also particular, and it is personal. If we deny that Christ bore the sins of the elect in particular, then all we really believe is that Christ died for sinners in general, and then I was elected to salvation. We can believe that Christ saved me, personally, but not that His death was for me, personally (or we can, but only with inconsistency). We need to uphold this truth, not just because it is true; not just because it is important; but because it is wonderful.


For those who are concerned at the supposed lack of textual support for this doctrine, I leave you witha a single text for a starter, Hebrews 10:13-14:

"Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Here we see two groups of people: the enemies of God, and those who are being made holy. And what is the distinction between the two? Not faith; not election; not the indwelling Spirit. No, the only distinction given is that the sacrifice of Christ has already made those who are being made holy to be perfect in the sight of God. The sacrifice alone imputes righteousness, and only to the people of God.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Getting up in the morning

It's 5:50pm, again, and I have to get up, to get out of the house, to get a train to Reading, to get a bus to Tilehurst, to get to school. It can be hard work, and I've only been doing it for a week.

I don't write this for sympathy, but to make a point. I expect that, to most people, 10 to 6 in the morning is early to get up (even if they have children), and they wouldn't do it unless (as I do) they had to.

Which makes the attitude of godly men of the past very striking. By the time I struggle to get up in the morning, Samuel Rutherford would have been at prayer for nearly 3 hours. Joseph Alleine would have been nearly half way through the four hours he spent in prayer with the Lord, as would Charles Simeon. Apparently John Welch, a Scottish minister of the 16th and 17th centuries considered a day in which he didn't pray for 8 hours to be day poorly spent.

My guess is that many Christians of today would consider this unnecessary, perhaps geeky, or fanatical. But this is how we should seek to be. The guys mentioned above were all used greatly by God, if not in their own lifetimes, then after.

So guys, how about more of us get up at ten to six to pray, and me, even earlier?