Door to Door Deception

29 08 2007

Gone are the days when it was a simple matter of putting up with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses peddling their contorted versions of the gospel door-to-door: now the occult has turned up with a full frontal unconcealed assault…

Just after 9 o’clock this morning a woman in a medical looking uniform delivered a little leaflet through our door. I’ll not name her here but she is offering holistic therapy to the erstwhile citizens of our village. These therapies range from the inane (seated remedial massage, or Australian bush flower remedies) to the worryingly spiritual (crystal healing or ‘angel therapy’). The leaflet pulls no punches, and unabashedly describes some of the techniques as ‘ancient divination‘ which work in ‘the angelic realm‘ providing ‘safe, positive and accurate answers‘.

As I pray for our locality this morning I wonder how many of our neighbours will call the number on the front of the leaflet and book a session. I wonder how many will read this deception more closely and consider it more seriously than the gospel literature which floated on to the same doormat last week. I also wonder how best such influence can be countered. A blog post like this warning folks from the church about its dangers, and a mention of it at tonight’s prayer meeting are both sound practical things to do. But above all else Ephesians 6 needs to be followed closely. How we need to pray and pray and pray against the work of principalities and powers and recognise the reality of the spiritual battle which faces us.


Men of Borrowed Light

28 08 2007

As someone who only has 29 (ok nearly 30!) years of life tucked under their belt, I find that my hall of heroes from church history is constantly expanding – as I get to read more biography and theology. Five years ago as I commenced my pastoral ministry in Armagh I read Iain H. Murray’s Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years and was introduced to a way of thinking and ministering which I trust will stay with me for the rest of my service for God. Since then I’ve been privileged to read of, listen to, and in some cases meet, men and women of God who have blessed me, challenged me and given me a strong sense of inspiration to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In these summer months as my time in Armagh has been drawing to a close I’ve been challenged by some other great lives in God’s work. Arnold’s Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biography lifted the lid on the life of a man whose sermons have touched me deeply, as they have millions of others. David Fountain’s treatment of the life of EJ Poole Connor, Contending for the Faith, had likewise inspired me about the need to stand for the Lord (even if I didn’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions or assertions). Iain H. Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon deepened some of the tones and hues introduced by Dallimore and communicated a profound sense of what it means to truly minister and lead, even if all of society is out of joint with your message.

During these past couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying Andrew Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. M’Cheyne has transformed daily Bible reading for many believers including myself, but I find that I am sadly ignorant of the details of his short life. The memoir (particularly the sections lifted directly from M’Cheyne’s own journal) is moving me and helping me as Carolyn and I face a new sphere of ministry.

In terms of heroes, M’Cheyne provides a welcome perspective. There is a tendency in all of us to set men, and even eras of history, on such a pedestal that we find ourselves spiritually paralysed in our own here and now. A few nights ago I was blessed by M’Cheyne’s own reflections on reading the life of another great man of God. His journal entry for March 20th 1832 records these words:

“Read part of the life of Jonathan Edwards. How feeble does my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun! But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me.”

Here, surely, is the antidote to chronological and personal depression – to remember that our God and His grace are unchanged and unchanging. How I need to remember my own smallness in the shadow of great men who have served our Saviour in the past, but how I need to pray that the light which they borrowed, is still available today if only I would give myself more humbly, fully, and selflessly to God and His glory. I know that I will never be a fraction of the Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeons, M’Cheynes or Edwards of church history – but I can look up to their image in my hall of heroes and ask their God to maximise all of my paltriness for His honour.

Three Great Articles

28 08 2007

The following three online articles have really blessed and, in one case, amused me over the past couple of weeks.

First up is the Evangelical Times article about a quiet revival. How encouraging it is to hear of God at work through His Word in our days. It can be read here.

Second is a review of The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain H. Murray on the Banner of Truth website. This was one of my holiday books, and I had intended on writing a review of it here, but Chantry sums it up so much more clearly than I could. Read it here.

Finally, on the lighter side of life, is an Ebay ad for some Pokemon cards which has attained international status. A distraught mother marketed some cards with a lengthy description of why they were being sold. The upshot is that she has had around 77,000 people visit her (previously unread) blog, and has been given the offer of three jobs. It says something about the power of the web, but also about her consummate skill as a writer. Have a read and get a real good laugh. It is located here.

Following the Cloud

25 08 2007

A week from tomorrow my pastoral ministry in Armagh Baptist will come to a close, and Carolyn and I will step into a new chapter in our lives – going to the Irish Baptist college to study for a year and then on to Peru, South America, to serve as missionaries with Baptist Missions. This is a daunting, exciting, and emotional time for us, but we have been blessed by the ways in which the LORD has led us through His Word, and His confirmation of that guidance in our circumstances. A truth and principle which has richly blessed us in the years leading up to our decision has been the Lord’s guidance of His covenant people through the wilderness by the pillar of cloud and fire. We have been assured time and time again that our only concern ought to be to follow His leading and listen to His voice, and that the other details of life will fall into place in turn.

I’m currently reading Andrew Bonar’s ‘Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne’ and have been blessed this morning by a poem which M’Cheyne wrote just prior to launching into his ministry. It is entitled ‘They Sing the Song of Moses’:

Dark was the night, the wind was high,
The way by mortals never trod;
For God had made the channel dry,
When faithful Moses stretched the rod.

The raging wave on either hand
Stood like a massy tott’ring wall,
And on the heaven-defended band
Refused to let the waters fall.

With anxious footsteps Israel trod
The depths of that mysterious way;
Cheered by the pillar of their God
That shone for them with fav’ring ray.

But when they reached the opposing shore,
As morning streaked the eastern sky,
They saw the billows hurry o’er
The flower of Pharoah’s chivalry.

Then awful gladness filled the mind
Of Israel’s mighty ransomed throng,
And while they gazed on all behind,
Their wonder burst into a song.

Thus, Thy redeemed ones, Lord, on earth,
While passing through this vale of weeping,
Mix holy trembling with their mirth,
And anxious watching with their sleeping.

The night is dark, the storm is loud,
The path no human strength can tread;
Jesus, be Thou the pillar-cloud,
Heaven’s light upon our path to shed.

And oh! when life’s dark journey o’er,
And death enshrouding valley past,
We plant our foot on yonder shore,
And tread yon golden strand at last.

Shall we not see with dread amaze,
How grace hath led us safe along;
And whilst behind – before, we gaze,
Triumphant burst into a song!

And even on earth, though sore bested,
Fightings without, and fears within;
Sprinkled today from slavish dread,
Tomorrow captive led by sin:

Yet I would lift my downcast eyes
On Thee, Thou brilliant tower of fire –
Thou dark cloud to mine enemies –
That hope may all my breast inspire.

And thus the Lord, my strenth, I’ll praise,
Though Satan and his legions rage;
And the sweet song of faith I’ll raise,
To cheer me on my pilgrimage.

Edinburgh – 1835

The Italian Job

20 08 2007

So…I’m back to the blogosphere once again. Sorry for the long gap since I last posted (I can’t believe it’s almost 20 days since I was on blogger) but we’ve been in Tuscany for a family holiday with Carolyn’s mum and dad. We had an exceptionally good time, with excellent company, sensational food (drooling at the thought of caprese salad) and landscapes and architecture that will last a lifetime in the memory.

We’re still on holiday for the next week and are looking forward to spending some time at home.

I’ve also managed to read some interesting books, and will do a few reviews over the next while.

It’s nice to be back…some other bloggers who have just returned from vacation are Exiled Preacher Guy Davies who gives a great snapshot of this year’s Aberystwyth conference, and Gary Brady who is doing a great service to the Welsh tourist board with the lovely photos and descriptions of his native country.

‘Sports psychology in all but name’

2 08 2007

This is how world-famous triple jumper, and high profile ‘Christian’ Jonathan Edwards has described his (now abandoned) belief in God. In a tragic interview in the The Times on 27th June 2007, Edwards speaks openly and candidly of his renunciation of the Christian faith, and of his apparent naivety in following Christ for 37 years of his life. This tragic, and very public, recantation carries with it a certain element of banality as Edwards attributes his ‘loss of faith’ to his retirement from professional athletics, an in depth analysis of his own sense of identity, and the opening up of new intellectual and personal horizons as he forges a career as a BBC sports presenter. One of the pieces of ‘evidence’ which seems to have provoked Edwards’ thinking is the suggestion made by some scholars during his making of a documentary about St. Paul that the apostle’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus may have been an epileptic fit. Of this startling revelation Edwards states, ‘it made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.‘ One would have hoped that a man who had graduated in Physics from Durham University, and whom the Daily Mail describes as possessing a ‘deep, theological comprehension of the Bible’ might have found stronger, more consistent grounds for rejecting the entirety of his belief in God. One suspects that his other reason of having found a bright new world in BBC presenting is much nearer the truth. This appears to be no moral or intellectual rejection of God, but rather the somewhat adolescent turning away of an individual from God once freedom has been discovered in other area of life – much like a first year student in University leaving behind all that they have been taught and have held dear in favour of a new lifestyle away from the constraints of home.

What lessons can be drawn from this tragic episode? Surely the first is that we ought to pray for Jonathan Edwards. He has borne consistent testimony to Christ (in spite of a vacillating perspective on the concept of the Sabbath) in the public eye for many years. Undoubtedly the barely suppressed glee of David Powell in The Times (who goes so far as describing Edwards as an intellectual martyr) is suggestive of the sense of victory which our enemy must feel in the light of such a public climb down. We should pray that Edwards’ very public recantation might be followed by an even more public act of repentance and restoration which would speak loudly of the reality of God’s truth and grace. We ought, also, to pray for his wife who retains her Christian integrity, and for his children also.

Another lesson, however, lies at the heart of this story – that of how we pick our Christian heroes. Somehow when a sportsman/woman/celebrity professes Christianity, we tend to hold them up as a role model, champion and spokesperson for all things faith related. Edwards’ story shows us the folly and harm of investing such people with too much theological or spiritual significance. They are at best normal, weak Christians who are as apt to fail as we are, and should not be portrayed as super-saints or prematurely heralded as heroes of the faith. At worst such individuals may simply be false professors, part of ‘the many’ described in Matthew 7 as professing faith, but not possessing it. Our prayer ought to be that Edwards will ultimately be shown to belong to the first camp.

Finally, it demonstrates the fickleness and waywardness of human nature. Edwards himself confesses that without God he could not have succeeded in his athletics career. Now that he has set records, earned money, and gained an international reputation he seems to no longer need God. His Creator has served simply as ‘sports psychology in all but name’. Does this not smack of biting the hand which has fed him? And yet many of us as believers are the same in principle. We hold tight to God at times of need, of difficulty, or transition in our lives; we ask big things and see God graciously provide – only to forget Him when things go well. This is a problem which is as old as mankind – one need only look at the repeated injunctions in Deuteronomy that the people not forget their God when they are settled in the land – and one which afflicts us all at some level. Edwards has reaped rich reward from his faith, and now feels at liberty to put God out of mind when his goals have been achieved. His experience is indeed salutatory for all who follow Christ. We ought to love the Giver rather than the gift, to live for the blessing of His presence rather than the presence of His blessings, and to continually search our own hearts and motives regarding our relationship with Him.