Do you Refresh the Hearts of the Saints?

“You have often refreshed the hearts of the saints.”

So Paul wrote to his good friend Philemon, as he thanked God for his love for all the saints. The church at Colosse met in Philemon and Apphia’s home, and it’s not hard to imagine what life must have been like for the household. No doubt every day there was constant coming and going of visitors in and out of the house. There was a guest room for visitors (Phm 22) which was probably well used. Apphia must surely have cooked many meals for guests. When you arrived at Philemon’s home you were always sure of a warm welcome – you never felt like you were intruding – they were the sort of people who were always pleased to see you and who were genuinely delighted to have people stay. Can’t you just picture Philemon and Apphia sitting with people far into the night, giving comfort and counsel, praying with them, refreshing them in the depths of their souls. This word ‘refresh’ is used elsewhere in Greek of soldiers resting. What a beautiful image of Philemon’s ministry: to battle-weary believers worn out from fighting against temptation or persecution or false teaching or […]

Guilty!

Two weeks ago a close member of my family was sentenced to a three and a half year prison sentence for drugs related offences. Although it wasn’t a complete surprise, nevertheless the news when it came was still naturally shocking and distressing. As I’ve had some time to process things I thought I’d write a little about some of the things the Lord has been teaching me over these weeks.

A newfound appreciation of the sovereign wisdom of God. For years we have been praying for this family member to be converted, and our prayer has always been, ‘Lord, do whatever it takes to save him.’ In the last five or ten years, as we’ve watched him go from bad to worse and seen his stubborn unwillingness to change, it’s become increasingly clear that unless God graciously stopped him in his tracks by conversion, only something like a prison sentence would be enough to get him off the road of self-destruction he was hurtling down. And so, ever since he was charged with these offences back in March and the likelihood of a prison sentence loomed, we haven’t really been praying that he would be acquitted, but rather that God would […]

Fidget Spinners, the Gospel and School Assembly

I’ve just come home from taking the assembly at our local primary school and it struck me that the American readers of our blog in particular might be interested – if not downright astonished – to hear something about it. Even UK readers – indeed, even some Northern Irish readers – might be encouraged by the liberty and opportunity that exists for sharing the gospel in a state school in Northern Ireland. Also, there aren’t a lot of good resources for Pastors who take assemblies, so perhaps something I’ve done will help spark off other ideas.

Mossley Primary School has a deeply committed and evangelical headmaster and vice principal, not to mention a majority of Christian members of staff. The school is not a Christian school, but it has the Bible on its crest, and has always given a high place to the Word of God. Parents of prospective pupils are told on open nights that while academic work is important, character is even more important, and that the character traits the school seeks to teach are the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. The headmaster will tell the parents that each child is unique and precious because he […]

A Caution to Heresy Hunters

Recently I came across the following surprising quotation from Charles Hodge, professor of Princeton Seminary from 1820-78:

‘It is not enough that a doctrine be erroneous, or that it be dangerous in its tendency; if it be not subversive of one or more of the constituent elements of the Reformed faith, it is not incompatible with the honest adopting of our Confession. It cannot be denied that ever since the Reformation, more or less diversity in the statement and explanation of the doctrines of Calvinism has prevailed in the Reformed Churches.’ (David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, Faith and Learning, 1812-1868, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994, p.217)

Charles Hodge was one of the leading exponents and defenders of the Reformed faith in the 19th century, yet he showed a remarkable tolerance towards those who did not see things in theology in exactly the same way as he did. In its historical context, Hodge was referring those who held to ‘the New Divinity’ (also called Edwardseanism, Consistent Calvinism or Hopkinsianism). Amongst other things its adherents presented the atonement as the outworking of God’s love or a demonstration of his moral government rather than as a substitutionary satisfaction for sin.

Now, I am certainly not defending […]

The Screensaver of your Mind

What’s your computer’s screensaver? You know – the picture that comes up after a few minutes of inactivity. In the olden times there were only a handful of stock pictures to choose from, but nowadays the choices are infinite. Some hi-res close-up photograph of a butterfly wing or a satellite shot of the Sahara desert from space. Perhaps a random assortment of your family photographs. If you’re unimaginative or just haven’t worked out how to change the default screensaver setting then perhaps you’re greeted by a blank screen when the computer goes into power save mode. Whatever it is, it’s what comes up when you’re not actively using the computer for anything else.

Your computer screensaver (or lack of one) may or may not reveal something profound about your personality and thoughts, but did you ever think about the screensavers of your own brain? What are they? They’re the things your mind reverts to thinking about when it’s left to its own devices. When you’re not focused on a particular task in hand – you’re not trying to solve that calculus equation or write that essay or cook that meal or repair that broken door handle or watch that TV show or […]

Martin Luther on Prayer

No doubt we will hear a fair bit about Martin Luther in the coming months, but I don’t think he’s featured too much on Gentle Reformation so far, so perhaps I can share a few notes I recently came across on some points Luther made about prayer.

Prayer is a duty

Luther understood prayer first and foremost as a duty, because God has commanded us to do it. It’s more than a duty, of course, but it is not less. The third commandment not only forbids us from using God’s name in an empty and meaningless way – it also requires us to praise the holy name of God and call upon it all our needs. Prayer is just as clearly and solemnly commanded as having no other gods, not murdering or stealing, and we need to have a greater sense of that than we do. Luther wrote, ‘From fact that prayer is so urgently commanded, we ought to conclude that we should by no means despise our prayers, but rather prize them highly.’ Even more strongly, Luther declared, ‘He who does not pray should know that he is no Christian and does not belong in the kingdom of God.’

I wonder […]

The Greatest Inauguration Day Ever

It’s unlikely that anyone reading this post today needs to be reminded that it is Inauguration Day in the United States of America, when the 45th President will be sworn in and assume office. The eyes of the world’s media will be fixed on Washington D.C. as this most controversial of figures begins work. As of today he will, in a sense, hold the lives of countless millions of human beings in his hands.

But I’d like us to think, at least for a few minutes today, to a far more significant ‘Inauguration Day’ – the most momentous one in the history not of the USA but of the whole world. It wasn’t witnessed by millions but just a few handfuls of people, and its significance was largely lost on those who did see it. It didn’t take place in the centre of a national capital but in some of the most inhospitable wilderness territory in the world. It was the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth in the Jordan River. This day for Jesus was like his Inauguration as Messiah. He was the Messiah already, but on this day Jesus was beginning his public ministry, he was officially, formally assuming his […]

Man Up!

What does a real man look like in today’s (western) culture? A macho tough guy who never cries; he doesn’t let anyone tell him what to do – not his wife or his workmates or his buddies and certainly not God. He does what he likes with his money and his free time. If he wants to spend every night watching sports or his favourite TV shows or playing X-Box, that’s his right.

It would be easy to let the world’s expectations and stereotypes shape what we are as Christian men, even though the word of God challenges these cultural norms at every point. It would be so easy to just copy the models of masculinity we see all around us—our own fathers, our friends, our fictional heroes from TV and the sporting world—rather than searching the Scriptures to see what a real man is meant to be. A whole series on this topic would be helpful for those of us who need all the help we can get in learning to be men, but let me mention just one way the God who invented masculinity when he made human beings male and female tells us we are to act like […]

What Does Good Preaching Look Like?

I heard a while back of a course on preaching at Greenville Seminary in South Carolina where the students spend a semester working through some sermons of men generally regarded as the best living models of preaching in the world today. The class analyzes the sermons – they put them into test tubes, so to speak, and distill the essence of what makes their preaching so profitable and edifying (there’s a useful idea for a book!). I haven’t taken the class, but I want to suggest three aspects of gt preaching. I realise there are many more, and these may not be the top three. In fact, they may not actually be three separate things at all, but rather three different ways of looking at the same thing.

 

Christ-exalting

Great preaching must exalt Jesus Christ and have him as its centre, since he is the centre of Scripture. In all things he must have pre-eminence – and this surely applies to preaching no less than anything else! Since the Spirit’s great ministry is to glorify and illuminate Christ, it follows that preaching especially blessed by the Spirit will be preaching that exalts Christ.

We have been blessed in recent years by a […]

I believe in the (cryogenic) resurrection of the dead

I just heard on the news this morning that in a landmark ruling a judge in England granted the dying wish of a 14 year old girl with cancer to have her body cryogenically frozen until the day when medical knowledge is sufficiently advanced to revive and cure her. In a letter to the judge she wrote,

‘I am only 14 years old and I don’t want to die but I know I am going to die. I think being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up – even in hundreds of years’ time. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance.’

Isn’t it tragic that the very thing this girl was longing for was exactly what is being held out in the gospel? Isn’t it tragic that she put her trust in a quasi-scientific fairy tale for her hope of resuscitation life rather than the resurrection life the Lord Jesus Christ achieved when he rose from the dead on the third day? Isn’t it just so unspeakably sad that someone would put their […]