Our services for March will be held in St. Cuthberts, Cambuslang. They will take place on 10th March and 24th March at 3pm. We will be looking on 10th March at Psalm 122 and what it tells us about the best of all places to be; then, on Palm Sunday, we’ll be thinking through Psalm 123. Come along and enjoy!
With some degree of trepidation I began using Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System (http://www.wbfva.org/files/professor_grant_horners_bible_reading_system.pdf). It initially sounded to me like a carpet-bagger’s elixir of health. But I have to say it is a brilliant system. I’m really enjoying getting a broad sweep of Scripture. I would not recommend it as the only interaction to have with the Bible. You would also need to study a single verse or passage closer and meditate on it through the day, but its a thumbs up from me to Professor Horner.
We all know the film with the aforementioned title. I had a similar, if not more spiritual, experience this morning. I took the underground into my study in town at 7am. I got on at Partick and proceeded to get my kindle out of my bag ready to read Spurgeon’s morning and evening for the day. At the next stop, a young guy got on and sat beside me. He immediately reached into his pocket and got out a slim-line leather Bible. He started reading in 1 Thessalonians 3 (or thereabouts). After a minute or so, I spoke to him and told him how good it was to see someone reading their Bible in public. We spoke and shared fellowship with each other before he got off at Buchanan Street. What an amazing brief encounter. I have learned six things this morning from him:
1. The Evangelistic Opportunity Carrying a Bible Brings – the underground carriage was packed and most people had their faces surgically joined to the Metro, but each person in our vicinity (without wanting to be noticed) glanced at this young guy and his Bible. In that instant, each person made a decision not just about the sanity of this young guy, but also about the Bible itself – and the God of the Bible. Maybe our Bibles aren’t visible enough!
2. The Encouraging Opportunity Carrying a Bible Brings – how blessed I was to have this man sit next to me. How encouraged I feel to have had that fellowship at the beginning of the day.
3. Printed Bible 1 Kindle 0 – both of us were reading the Bible, but his was unmistakeable to the watching world, whereas I could have been reading anything.
4. How God is Building His Church – this young man doesn’t come to the Free Church. He goes to the West End Vineyard. We have mutual friends in Ryan and Laura Smith. How wonderful it is to know that God is raising younger generations to love and serve Him! And if this young man is anything to go by, they will be more faithful to Him than we have been.
5. How God is Working in that Young Man – this man’s Bible was tatty and well-used. I love to see well-used Bibles! A well-thumbed Bible is the sign of a well-disciplined heart. If he keeps reading and doing, He cannot but fail to grow in His faith in Christ.
6. How to Redeem the Time – rather than being annoyed at how long it takes us to get to work, how many distractions there are to our days, use the time of travel or the moments of idleness. Pick up your Bibles and use the time to meditate upon all God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
I am so thankful to God for this young man. I hope he’s thankful to God for me. I’m sure that at some point we’ll bump into each other again. I hope that this time I’ll be able to encourage him in the same way he has encouraged me.
None of us find it easy to lead family devotions. Recently, I have been recommending a book called Intentional Parenting by Tad Thompson to my contemporaries. This is a challenging, insightful and beautifully written book and you can get it for your kindle for under £5. But today, I read this and thanked God for it.
1 John 1:5-11
When I was just a child, my father taught me how to play golf. It may seem obvious to say, but golf consists in hitting a ball in the right direction and as far as you want it to go. To do that, you have to swing a golf club and then bring it down so that it hits the ball. Each person has his own unique swing. Most golf swings achieve, to one degree of success or another, the primary purpose of the game – to hit the ball. But one kind of swing which never hits the ball is that swing which takes the golf club back to the height of the backswing and then doesn’t bother bringing the club back down to hit the ball. Unless the golf club makes contact with the ball, the ball won’t go anywhere and the primary purpose of the game is defeated. If you just play a half-swing, a back-swing, golf is only half-done.
When it comes to Gospel repentance there is an equivalent of the uncompleted golf swing – namely, that repentance which is merely turning from sin. For there to be repentance unto life, there must be a turning away from sin. Read the rest of this entry »
With good jobs getting scarcer and scarcer, earlier this week I was thinking of what I would do if for some strange reason, I could no longer be a minister. Perhaps I could stock shelves in Asda; perhaps I could retrain as a teacher – in order to feed your family and keep a roof over their heads you’d be willing to do just about anything. But one thing I’d never be willing to do would be to take a job as a gravedigger. The melancholy of the job would get to me after a while with the only definite career progression being one of moving from digging someone’s grave to occupying a grave someone else had dug for you. I’d run a mile from a job offer from Graves Incorporated or Cemetery Limited.
These thoughts were brought into sharper focus when I read a quote from the Puritan Thomas Watson where he says, “sin digs our graves”. We may fear the gravedigger’s job; but if we only knew how true Watson is when he talks of sin digging our graves, the thought that we would sin is the greatest grief and the chief hatred of our hearts! The gravedigger consigns our bodies to the ground; but sin consigns our bodies and souls to hell. And so we run from it in repentance to the living God who alone can forgive us and give us eternal life.
Britainhas a population of just over 60 million people. Every inch of its countryside has been thoroughly mapped and investigated. People have lived here for tens of thousands of years. You’d think there would be little left to discover in Britain– but you’d be wrong to think that. Earlier this year, cavers in the Applecross district of Wester Ross discovered a huge underground cave. The 600 foot long cave has been described as ‘possibly the most beautiful’ inScotland. It contains stalactites nearly 7ft long. People have been living on top of this cave for thousands of years without knowing of its existence but it’s literally, as old as the hills.
The Biblical Doctrine of Repentance is very nearly as old as the human race itself, and yet for many of us, myself included, it remains an undiscovered network of beauty and wonder. Perhaps because the Doctrine of Sin has been so downgraded in our thinking the Doctrine of Repentance has also been ignored – after all, what need is there to repent of something which isn’t wrong? But there can be no serious discipleship in the Christian faith without serious repentance.
I hate speaking at General Assemblies of the Free Church of Scotland. For one, it is the loneliest place on earth. For another, it is the most exposed place on earth. Every word must be carefully assessed before it is spoken – a task made all the more difficult because, rightly so, full notes are not permitted. The two easiest approaches are: first, not to open one’s mouth at all and secondly, to open one’s mouth and to say nothing. Say anything meaningful and it will be taken the wrong way partly because of incomplete expression due to time constraints and partly due to feeling what you are saying.
I find that I have fallen into the trap of being misunderstood. The offending speech was delivered on the invitation of the Chair of the College Board. I cannot but confess that in delivering that speech, I had many conflicting emotions running through my head. The particular area in which I was misunderstood was in asserting that preaching had been the main factor in the growth of Glasgow City Free Church. I came across to some as being arrogant and blowing my own trumpet. Rather I should have spoken about the Spirit blessing the preaching of the Word in Glasgow City Free Church. If I did come across that way, I’m sorry. It wasn’t meant. Perhaps I fell into the first trap of public speaking – speaking not so much to make myself understood but more to ensure that I am not misunderstood.
Putting aside what I perhaps perceive as pickiness and piety, the question is: do I believe that the Spirit of God is involved in the preaching of the Word? Yes, Yes and Yes Again. The Preaching of Paul was so effective not because of his rhetoric but because it was filled with a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. Question and Answer 89 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism states – “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.” No Spirit – no Convincing and Converting of Sinners, not upbuilding in holiness and comfort, no faith, no salvation. He is the fountain of the effectual word. How grateful we are for the Reformed, Biblical teaching of the Spirit’s role in preaching – it frees us from self-loathing and frees us to give all the glory to Him.
Does this remove from us the responsibility for earnestly and diligently studying for preaching? Well, we don’t believe in ‘letting go and letting God’ when it comes to personal sanctification; and we don’t believe in ‘letting go and letting God’ when it comes to preaching. Does this mean that we must place preaching as our number one priority in the ministry? I go back to the answer of the Shorter Catechism – how is the Word made effectual unto salvation? Through the Spirit’s making the reading and the preaching of the Word effectual. Committees don’t give comfort to the dying believer. Management strategies don’t build us up in holiness.
And so, although I would like to write more on this subject and fully intend to in the near future, although I apologise for any misunderstandings of what I was saying, I don’t apologise for emphasising the primary of the preaching of the Word. I struggle with a proud heart and I confess my own sinful pursuit of self-glory (if any minister should say they don’t they either don’t know themselves very well or are liars). But for anyone who knows me, you’ll know that I’m not a self-promoter – I’m very good at disguising my proud sinfulness.
I hate speaking at General Assemblies. Next time I’m asked to go I think I’ll politely decline and suggest they send someone else.
Earlier this year, 26 year old Joe Page from Brightondid something extraordinary. Page had cheated on his girlfriend but very soon afterwards realised how big a mistake he had made. Desperate to get his girlfriend back, he stood in the centre of Brightonwearing a sandwich board which read, “I cheated on my girlfriend. I am humiliating myself to show I am sorry.” Whatever you think of Joe’s actions, the celebrity status of the story brought the issue of Repentance into the news. It’s a welcome reminder for us as Christians of the word Repentance. Probably because sin is such a small deal to us today, repentance from sin is most never mentioned. That’s a huge shift from the attitude of our forefathers. The Bible is replete with references towards repentance. The early Church Fathers Tertullian and Ambrose both wrote treatises on the topic of repentance. Our Fathers in the Reformed Church spoke much of our need of Repentance. The Puritan Thomas Watson and the Scottish Father John Colquhoun both wrote books called, ‘Repentance’. It was while reading Thomas Watson’s book on repentance I unpleasantly realised how little emphasis I was giving to repentance in my personal walk with God and therefore how little I was preaching the Doctrine of Repentance.
Have you ever stood at the foot of a huge mountain with the intention of climbing it, and suddenly realised that the reality is somewhat different from the thought. In your mind’s eye, you dreamed of a smooth ascent on a sunny day; but the reality is a tortuous ascent and the rain is lashing down. It’s higher than you thought. There are difficult ridges you’ve got to get over, and just when and exhausted you think you’ve reached the summit, you realise there’s another hours climbing to go.
As we face the first line of the Apostles’ Creed – ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty’ – we are faced with a mind stretching mountain. For the preacher, there are 3 problems: first, these words are literally packed with meaning – too much to tackle in one sermon. Do we talk about who the ‘I’ who believes is, what it means for ‘I’ to believe, what God is – what do we talk about? As it happens, I have decided to concentrate on what it means for God to be Father and for Him to be Almighty. The second problem is one of text – do we simply use the Bible as a source of proof texts for this proposition ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty’ – in which case we could prove anything and everything; or do we narrow down our focus on one Biblical text related to the Fatherhood and Almightiness of God and study the Biblical text itself? Again, I have decided to concentrate our thoughts on Matthew 6:9 – words well known to us all since they comprise the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘our Father, who is in heaven’. Forgive me if you would rather me have taken a different approach to the first line of the Apostles’ Creed.