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Friday 5 May 2017

The Ministry of Turning Up

We talk at LBC about the ministry of turning up.  This is the idea that simply by being present with God's people we are conferring a blessing; we're encouraging and strengthening others by just turning up.  

This article by Tim Challies gets at the same idea.  We want people to gather together for worship and the ministry of the Word not just because it's good for us and helps us to stop relapsing into our old nature but because it's good for others.

Have a look

The Latest Fad?

I thought this article was great.  

Really pleased to hear that systematic Bible exposition is a bigger draw for people looking for a church than "top tips" sermons.   But Challies makes a good point that if churches jump on this bandwagon it's just another display of pragmatism.  

Here's the article


Friday 3 February 2017

Lay Aside the Weight of Insecurity

I've been struck recently by the way insecurity manifests itself in different ways.  Someone can appear classically insecure by appearing as a shrinking violet, not volunteering and putting themselves down.   On the other hand others can manifest insecurity by talking a lot, never admitting they're wrong/not sure/in difficulty and generally appearing to be really confident.  

What's going on there and what's a gospel-of-grace solution?  

This article by Jon Bloom is good and I particularly like the bullet pointed list of how we can apply the Gospel to particular facets of insecurity.  Worth a read.   

Friday 15 July 2016

The Unwelcome Gift of Waiting

Great post by Vaneetha Rendall Risner on something many of us can identify with: 

The Unwelcome Gift of Waiting
Waiting can be agonizing.
It’s hardest to wait when I am uncertain about the outcome. When I’m trusting God for the best, while at the same time preparing for the worst. It would be much easier if I had a guaranteed good outcome. Or at least a promise from God to hold on to. Or some reassurance to anchor my prayers. But God often seems silent when I’m waiting. I have no idea whether he’ll ever answer my prayer, so it feels like I’m waiting in the dark.
I have read and reread Psalm 13:1–2, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” O Lord, how long? I have asked that question many times. If I knew God would eventually answer my prayer with “Yes,” it would be different. But with no such assurance, even a “No” would often be easier than “Wait.”

When God Says “No”

Several years ago, I searched the Bible to find a promise that would help me in the midst of a torturous wait. I wanted a word that I could “claim” — a verse that would assure me of eventual satisfaction. Something, anything, to cling to. As I was waiting, I read, “No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20–21).
While I admire Abraham’s faith, this passage often frustrated me. Of course Abraham never wavered. He had a direct word from God. If I had a direct promise from God, an assurance of my answer, then I’d be content to wait, too. Abraham could wait because he knew he’d get what he wanted in the end. I wanted God to give me a promise like the one he had given Abraham. So I kept begging God for a sign.
None came. No verse. No confirmation. Just silence on that issue. For years. And in the end, God’s answer was “No.”
At first it felt unfair. And purposeless. I struggled to make sense of those seemingly wasted years. While I had grown closer to God, somehow I felt that I had received a lesser gift. I put it out of my mind after a while. It was senseless to keep dwelling on it. But whenever I read that passage in Romans, it stung. Why didn’t God tell me his answer from the beginning?

One Model for Waiting Well

Several years later, as I begin reading Romans again in my quiet time, I hesitate at Romans 4. It painfully reminds me of that time of asking and waiting. Feeling disconnected from Abraham, I decide to look at his life in Genesis. I see Abraham’s humanity in how he sometimes doubted God’s protection. He even tried to fulfill God’s promise on his own through Hagar. Perhaps he thought God needed his help and ingenuity.
This part I can identify with. Abraham’s struggle with impatience feels all too familiar. Too many times I’ve tried to help God fulfill his plans — that is, the plans I’d like him to have. Plans that would give me what I want. What I think I deserve.
As I study Genesis, I see that while Abraham was waiting, God was working. Molding his character. Teaching him patience. Building their friendship. It was in that 25-year wait that Abraham got to know God intimately. It was in those seemingly wasted years that God transformed him. And after decades of waiting, Abraham was ready for the supreme test of his faith, when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise. The son he had waited for.
Then I see it. Why had I not noticed this before? Abraham’s faith wasn’t rooted in the promise of descendants. If it was, he never would have taken Isaac to be sacrificed. He wouldn’t have relinquished what God had promised him years earlier. He would have clung tightly to Isaac, feeling entitled to this son. For Isaac was the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promise to Abraham.
Abraham wasn’t clinging to his own understanding of the fulfillment of God’s promise. God could fulfill his promise any way he chose, including raising Isaac from the dead if he needed to (Hebrews 11:19). So ultimately Abraham’s faith lay in the trustworthiness of God.

The Most Precious Answer

Abraham’s faith wasn’t in the promise alone. His faith was rooted in the Promiser. Because his faith was not in what God would do for him, but in God himself, Abraham was willing to risk. He could do whatever God asked. He wasn’t holding on to a particular outcome. He was holding on to God. Abraham’s waiting strengthened his faith. Taught him God’s ways. Showed him God’s faithfulness. Abraham knew that God would provide everything he needed. 
I have the same assurance that Abraham did — that God will provide everything I need. As I let that promise sink in, I see my waiting differently. Perhaps God is making me, and you, wait for the same reasons that he made Abraham wait. To forge our faith. To make us attentive to his voice. To deepen our relationship. To solidify our trust. To prepare us for ministry. To transform us into his likeness.
In retrospect, I can see that “wait” is the most precious answer God can give us. It makes us cling to him rather than cling to an outcome. God knows what I need. I do not. He sees the future. I cannot. His perspective is eternal. Mine is not. He will give me what is best for me. When it is best for me. As Paul Tripp says, “Waiting is not just about what I get at the end of the wait, but about who I become as I wait.”

Monday 18 January 2016

Envy: Why I Hate Your Borrowed Glory

I've been meaning to read this post for several weeks now and when I finally turned to it this morning - in between visiting Hullabaloo (the Toddler Club of choice for Lymington) and wrting agendas for this afternoon's meetings - I loved it.   
I enjoy reading good theological reflection on everyday subjects (like washing up) and here we have a subject rarely addressed (other than to say: "Stop it!").   Envy.   It's helped me to understand the nature of this particular sin and it's challenged me to fight it in a different way when I see it in my own life.   I commend it to you.   
Envy: Why I Hate Your Borrowed Glory by Tilly Dillehay

I know all about envy. Too much.
I know the experience and act of envy—the way it feels in my mouth and under my fingernails. I know what it’s like to sit in a dark room at a school play and just burn over the lovely way my classmate delivers her lines. I know what it’s like to heartily, actively wish my fellow church member’s marriage wasn’t quite so good. I know what it’s like to turn conversations away from people who are too likeable for comfort, to offer compliments with little barbs in them, to imagine what it might take for a certain confidently spiritual person I know to wobble—just a bit—in his confidence.
Envy is a besetting sin of mine. As such, I’ve sought to analyze and confront it over the past few years, and I’ve come up with a private definition:
Envy is the hatred of someone else’s borrowed glory.
Borrowed Glory 
When I look at people, I see glory. I see little bits and shards of glory borrowed from the Father in whose image they are created (Ps. 8:5).
God’s glory is what we’ll be living in the presence and enjoyment of for eternity. It is all things weighty, all things meaningful, all things worthwhile, all things beautiful, all things that quicken the pulse with joy and the mind with sight. It compels all who see it to respond in either worship or loathing.  
The glory of God is also bestowed on his creation, to a greater or lesser extent. He has especially bestowed glory on his crowning creation—humanity.  
In a broken-mirror sort of way, humans reflect some of these glories. We possess beauty, knowledge, wealth, competence, community, creativity, humor, and love. These glories demand a response from those who encounter them.
Think about this: when you meet a beautiful woman on the street, you find it hard to ignore her, even if you’re another woman. When you talk to an expert in their field, and listen to them dressing down their subject with a perfect and sure hand, you stop and engage. When you watch a film or concert that tells its story with finesse, you laugh, cry, or fume. The response is demanded from you.
The borrowed glory is real. Sometimes, you worship it, which is bad (Rom. 1:25). Sometimes, you thank God for it, which is good (James 1:17). But sometimes, you do a strange thing—you first worship it, and then hate it because it’s not yours (Rom. 1:29). Eventually, envy may even motivate you to destroy it (Gen. 4:1–161 Sam 18:6–12).
Unbearable Inequality
Here’s the problem: the glory isn’t equally distributed.
For anyone preoccupied with fairness, the inequality of the world is downright unbearable. How could the Lord of all creation say things like, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matt. 13:11–12)?
If inequality abounds in the spiritual world, is it surprising there’d be inequality in the temporal world too? Look around you. It’s obvious. The glory is distributed like paint in textured, uneven swaths across God’s creation. One person has a huge dab of brains. Another has a great big fat stripe of beauty. Another has swirls of money, creative talent, and interpersonal skill.
The world isn’t fair. The glory isn’t handed out like ration packets.
And for me, the real travesty isn’t that somebody out there has been blessed with things I can’t even dream of. Oprah, Steve Jobs, Giselle—I don’t mind them so much. What really gets me is the glory I find in my own family, my own pew, my own backyard.
True envy usually flourishes among peers. The biologist cares most about the honors conferred on other biologists. The pretty woman is more likely to envy a great beauty than the plain woman is. The child cares more about his classmate’s height and strength than about his teacher’s.
And inequality is the awful fact that none of us who struggles with envy can get around. Inequality is there. The borrowed glory is real.
How Do We Fight?
This battle is something different than other sin battles I’ve been engaged in: it’s uniquely embarrassing. To confess it, you have to tell another person that you think they’re better than you are and that you have, to a greater or lesser degree, wished them harm. 
Despite these extraordinary characteristics, ordinary tactics will do. Here are some that have helped me:
​1. Love God.
The glory of God is the only thing that can bring the glory of man into right perspective. Cultivate your adoration of his attributes: his superior worth (Isa. 55), his eternal self-existence (Ps. 90:2–4Acts 17:24– 25), his omniscience (Rom. 11:33-34), and his sovereignty (Dan. 4:35), as well as his goodness, love, and mercy (Pss. 136145Titus 3:4–7). Read and listen to and sing things that make God big and man small. Read authors who are enamored with God and who favor sincerity over pithy quips (John Piper, J. I. Packer, C. H. Spurgeon, etc.). Memorize the passages cited above.
2. ​Love man.
Envy is a form of hatred, and only the Holy Spirit can produce its opposite. Love is precious and rare, a jewel to be cultivated and treasured. I understand now that love can’t be summoned with a snap of the fingers. At the same time, in love there’s an element of “fake it till you make it.” Act loving toward those whose success you so bitterly resent. Pray for them. Confess your envy to God, as many times as necessary. Depending on proximity, you may need to confess your sin to the individual. Praise them (with sincerity, not flattery). Speak well of them to others. Become a “fan.” Meditate on 1 Corinthians 13.
3. Enjoy the glory.
Worship the glorious one. Look from him to the glory of his creation, and thank him wherever you find it. Look on beauty and be grateful. Look on truth and be grateful. Look on talent and be grateful. Thank him openly that your friend has the thing or gift he has. Ask the Father to grant you the heart, eventually, to feel that thanks reflexively.
4. Have faith in future grace.
This old Piper wisdom is as useful here as it is with so many other sin struggles. Remember God hasn’t promised you the kind of glory you want now, in the quantity you currently want it. But he has promised to glorify you (2 Cor. 4:17Rom. 8:30). Someday, you will be crowned with the glory that is right and fitting for you as an heir of God, and you will receive praise from the only lips that matter. Run for that praise. Rest in the work that’s already been done.
Fight the envy of borrowed glory by considering the glorious Lamb who laid himself on an altar of humility to redeem your grasping heart.

Tilly Dillehay is wife to Justin and mom to baby Norah. She blogs with her husband at While We Wait. She is the editor of a bi-monthly lifestyle magazine and slowly working on certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). 

Monday 4 January 2016

The Safest Place on Earth

Louise and I used Simon Guillebaud's daily devotional (Choose Life) for a good part of last year and so we felt like we got to know him, in some small way.     When I quickly skimmed his recent blog post I did a double take.   I read how the crisis in Burundi is so bad that after much heart-wrenching prayer they had decided to leave and go home.  I just assumed that it meant that they were coming back to the UK.  But no.  They were, of course, returning to their home - Burundi.

Simon writes:   We are flying back into a very tense, fear-filled and fragile situation. Rumours abound. Dead bodies are regularly found on the streets in the morning. The country is at a critical moment in its history. The kids will have to get used to listening to regular gunfire again (I’ve just downloaded an app for white noise to turn up at night-time to mask the scary sounds). As a husband and father, I feel the weight of responsibility like never before, but as I’ve often preached, the safest place to be is in the heart of God’s will, and safety isn’t the absence of danger, it’s the presence of God. We’re immortal until He calls us home.   We can’t just talk a good game, we have to live those words out.

It put the concerns I have for this coming year and beyond into stark contrast.   I can't just talk a good game.......

Here's a link to the post

Thursday 15 October 2015

Reignite Your Prayer Life

Reignite Your Prayer Life

Don Whitney / October 9, 2015
Reignite Your Prayer Life
How’s your prayer life?
Hardly any question — unless perhaps someone asks about your evangelistic efforts — can cause more chin-dropping, foot-shuffling embarrassment for Christians than asking about their prayer life.
Why is that? Why do so many followers of Jesus suffer with such unsatisfying prayer lives and consider themselves hopelessly second-rate Christians because of it?
Method Is Our Madness
For almost all followers of Jesus, I believe the problem in prayer is not with the quality of the Christian, but with the method of their prayer.
Of course, no change in method will make prayer consistently meaningful to someone who is spiritually dead. But it’s different for those who are spiritually alive. They are born again through faith in Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s presence causes them as God’s children to cry, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), giving them a Godward orientation they didn’t have before.
In other words, all those indwelled by the Holy Spirit really do want to pray. And if an individual Christian sincerely seeks to live for Christ, and has no specific sin issue that he or she refuses to confess and fight against, then the basic problem in prayer is not with sin or failure, but with method.
And what is the method of prayer for most Christians? It’s this: when we pray we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. Sooner or later, that kind of prayer is boring. When prayer is boring, you don’t feel like praying. And when you don’t feel like praying, you don’t pray — at least with any fervency or consistency. Prayer feels much more like duty than delight.
The problem is not that we pray about the same old things. To pray about the same things most of the time is normal. That’s because our lives tend to consist of the same things from one day to the next. Thankfully, dramatic changes in our lives usually don’t occur very often.
No, the problem isn’t that we pray about the same old things; the problem is that we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. The result is that we can be talking to the most fascinating Person in the universe about the most important things in our lives — and be bored to death.
So we can experience boredom in prayer, not because we don’t love God, and not because we don’t love who or what we’re praying about, but because of our method.
Solution in the Spirit
What is the solution? Well, whatever it is, it must be simple. God has children all over the planet, and they represent the widest imaginable diversity in language, culture, age, IQ, education, and Christian privilege (such as access to a Bible preaching church, Christian books, Christian content online, and more). If all these believers, despite the various and dramatic differences among them, are invited to pray, then prayer must be doable by all God’s children.
The simple solution to the seemingly universal problem of saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer is this: pray the Bible. In other words, slowly read a passage of Scripture and pray about all that comes to mind as you read.
Do this, and you’ll never again be left to say the same old things in prayer.
Simple, Powerful, Biblical
Praying the Bible isn’t complicated. Read through a few verses of Scripture, pause at the end of each phrase or verse, and pray about what the words suggest to you.
Suppose you are praying your way through Psalm 23. After reading verse one — “The Lord is my shepherd” — you might begin by thanking Jesus for being your Shepherd. Next you might ask him to shepherd your family, making your children or grandchildren his sheep, causing them to love him as their great shepherd too. After that you might pray for your undershepherds at the church, that Jesus would shepherd them as they shepherd you.
Then, when nothing else comes to mind, you go to the next line, “I shall not want.” You might thank him that you’ve never been in real want, or pray for someone — perhaps someone you know, or for a Christian in a place of persecution — who is in want.
You would continue through the psalm until you run out of time. You wouldn’t run out of anything to say (if you did, you could just go to another psalm), and best of all, that prayer would be unlike any you’ve ever prayed in your life.
That means if you’ll pray the Bible, you’ll never again say the same old things about the same old things. You don’t need any notes or books or any plan to remember. Simply talk to God about what comes to mind as you go line-by-line through his word.
As John Piper puts it, “Open the Bible, start reading it, and pause at every verse and turn it into a prayer.”
If nothing comes to mind, go to the next verse. If you don’t understand that verse, go to the next one. If the following verse is crystal clear, but doesn’t prompt anything to pray about, read on. If you want to linger long over a single verse, pray from and about that verse as long as you want.
By this method, your prayers will be guided and shaped by Scripture, and be far more in conformity to the word and will of God than they will if you always make up your own prayers.
Jesus prayed the Bible in Matthew 27:46 and Luke 23:46, and the early church prayed the Bible in Acts 4:23–26, and so can you.