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 […]

‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

I’m sitting in Terminal C in Newark airport waiting for the (increasingly delayed) departure of my flight to Belfast. I have earplugs in my ears and an iPad on my lap as I try to redeem the time. I’m on my way home from the annual Pastors’ Conference organised and hosted by Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey, and thought I would write a few words by way of reflection on this year’s conference, which took as its theme faithfulness in ministry.

It’s a vital biblical emphasis isn’t it? Going the distance, come what may; and not just staying in the ministry until the end, but to do so without compromising the biblical convictions we began with; and not just staying the course without compromise but growing in zeal and knowledge and love for God and his people. How many Pastors long for a success in ministry that has less to do with faithfulness and more to do with the kind of status symbols pursued by the people of the world: big numbers, a high profile and far-reaching influence. Not that it’s impossible to desire these things for good and holy reasons, but more often the temptation is to want them […]

Why would you want to kiss your bride through a veil?! (Or, why Pastors should learn Greek and Hebrew)

I’m in the middle of teaching an intensive introduction to New Testament Greek for the ministry students at our seminary this month. It’s a pretty heavy month (though moreso for the students!): 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 4 weeks, followed by 2 hours every week for the rest of the academic year, to give them the basics of a language that no-one speaks any more. Why? Is it just tradition? Or a sadistic desire to inflict the same pain that previous generations of ministers had to go through?

Our passion for teaching ministers the original languages of Scripture is rooted in the Reformed Church’s unswerving commitment to the Word of God as it came from pens of the inspired authors. And it came from their pens in Hebrew and Greek. The Westminster Confession of Faith (I.8) puts it like this: ‘The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all […]

Some thoughts on visiting Niagara Falls

This time last month our family had the privilege of visiting Niagara Falls and spending 24 hours looking at the cascading water from every possible angle, on both the Canadian and (American readers will be glad to hear!) the US side. I didn’t manage to post this last month, since we were caught up in the busyness of sightseeing (sorry, Barry!). So, belatedly, here are a few random thoughts that occurred to me while we were admiring this wonder of God’s world…

We went on the boat trip to the bottom of both waterfalls (you should definitely do this if you visit). As you sail into the horseshoe of the Canadian Falls you are flanked by these two towering walls of water (57 metres high) on either side and it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to think yourself into the shoes of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. If it is an awesome spectacle to be in the midst of all that water tumbling down naturally, what must it have been like to walk between the walls of water divided supernaturally by the hand of God?!

The sight of so much water thundering in a torrent started my mind running […]

How to Read Revelation

Of all the many and various obstacles that stand in the way of people reading and profiting from the book of Revelation, perhaps one of the greatest is the bizarre, head-scratching imagery of the book. But there is a key that will unlock this closed door—and it’s a key you’ve had in your pocket all along. It’s called the Old Testament.
There are more OT references in Revelation than in any other NT book. Just how many there are exactly depends on how you count them and what you regard as an OT reference. The of range estimates varies from 394 up to more than 1,200. Whatever the precise number, you can’t go more than couple of verses without finding an allusion or an echo or a quotation from the OT.
So if the imagery in Revelation seems strange to us, I think it’s mainly because we don’t know the OT well enough. One like a son of man among the lampstands, the four horsemen riding different coloured horsesalyps, the mark of the beast, seven trumpets, seven plagues, the new heavens and earth, a great red dragon, the new Jerusalem adorned with precious stones… The OT must be the first place we […]