Saturday, 21 July 2012

Portstewart Convention 2012

The final meeting of this year's convention was the call to service meeting.  Dr Steve Brady spoke eloquently and from the heart on the matter of being available to God to use the gifts, natural and supernatural, that He has given us.  His 'scouser' humour laced his exposition of Eph.2:8-10 and Eph.4:8ff.

Some straight-laced Christians might have had difficulty with his illustrations and humour, but with DMLJ, he certainly gave me a sense of the presence of God.  He said that we must not merely be taught the Word of God but be transformed by it.

That is challenging.  How many 'sermon tasters' attend such conventions is impossible to say, but that they are there is proved by the fact that transformation of life and attitude does not follow the preaching of the Word.  Men can say all the right words in public but what is the real spiritual result in their lives - nay, in our lives?  They can say what is thought to be the right thing to say in such situations, but what is the end result in their, nay, our, lives?  Will the local and regional church know any difference as a result of sitting under a full diet of expository sermons?  Or will men defer once again, as is their custom, to the final authority of the church or denomination?  Time will tell.

Dr Brady structured his final message around the following headings:  God will ask his servants on the last Day, that great and terrible Day of the Lord,
(1) What did you do with the talents;
(2) What did you do with the time; and
(3) What did you do with the treasure;
I gave you?

The message gave me a sense of God's presence, and as we left the tent, we had a lot to process and act upon.

All in all, a good convention and excellent ministry.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Serving Two Masters?

The meeting this morning at Keswick at Portstewart emphasised that "No man can serve two masters."  It is either Christ or mammon (money).
Yet this impossibility is being attempted on a massive scale within conservative evangelicalism.  Some Christians try to have it both ways.  But it cannot be done successfully without dire spiritual consequences.
But this principle is attacked in a much more subtle way, and with the very same consequences.  Ministers and other Christians and also church members are trying to ride both horses - the Gospel and the church.  But no man can serve two masters - so said Jesus then and He still says it now.  Ministers have to choose whom it is they will serve unreservedly. 
And it does not seem to matter what the church does, says, thinks or believes, Christian men will still serve her best interests before those of the Gospel.
Why is this?  Answer: the Gospel costs, but the church recognises and rewards.  Faithfulness to the Gospel demands sacrifice, but faithfulness to the Church gets you a DD.  Serving the church gets you on to all kinds of influential boards and committees, but serving the Gospel is guaranteed to block any such appointment.  Serving the Gospel will lead inexorably to a Cross, but serving the church will get you promoted.
It ought to be that Gospel men are welcome within the Christian church, but that is not necessarily the case.  Especially in theologically mixed and compromised denominations, they are only tolerated because they give their first allegiance in practice to the church in which they serve.  With a Chairman's position up for grabs, who in his (or her) right mind will jeopardise that! 
There is great need for an in-depth re-appraisal of our priorities as Christians and as Christian ministers, an in-depth re-appraisal that will bring the ministry and church back to the Bible, not just to the embracing of an orthodox theology (important that that is), but to a living and vital relationship with Christ that will not be ruptured even by the church and her demands.

Portstewart Convention 2012

The churches and para-church organisations such as New Horizon, Keswick at Portstewart and the Keswick Convention in the Lake District of England are all facing upheaval regarding what characterises Christian worship.
The big motivator towards the modernisation of worship is, not Scripture, but fear - fear of man.  This "fear of man" shows itself in a fear of youth culture, fear that it is contemporary youth culture that is driving young people both into the churches and out of the churches.  By being more like the world the churches draw worldly young people within its ambit; and by being less like the world, they fear they will lose young people.
This begs the obvious question: what it is it, then, that draws and keeps young people in the churches?  It is the good time they have, enjoying themselves?  If so, then that is all they receive - self-enjoyment instead of their enjoyment of God which is why they were made in the first place.  Is it the lively music and modern words?  If it is, then it is certainly not God Who draws and keeps them there.  They are having their own worldly needs met by the churches, but not their real needs.
So poorly taught are many within the youth church culture that they do not or cannot recognise the when God is really present in a meeting, or when it is just raw emotion being excited by emotive words and tunes.
These ill-taught young people are not just the leaders of the future; they are the real leaders in to churches today.  It is they who set the agenda for worship and praise, not the bible taught and bible-based minister.  They call the shots in most churches now.  They determine how God is to be praised and in what way this is to be done.   The Scriptures are not given a look-in! 
I never thought I would hear myself say this, but perhaps a return to a more liturgical worship service will cut out the nonsense that passes for worship today.  And a return to music that touches the emotions but that does not excite an emotional response to specifically designed music.
If this crisis in how God is to be praised is not resolved soon, then churches that are almost evangelical nite clubs will become full-blown nite clubs that are indistinguishable from what we have in our towns and cities.
That is something we do not want or need!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Perfect Ministers.

This is the plague of the church so far as it is believed to be the case within her.  Ministers who see themselves as being perfect, who never sin - at least not in the way some others sin - but walk righteously every day; who never offend anyone and who preach a cross of their own making that causes no offense; who are very keen to keep in with the church authorities at all costs; and who go to the church liberal and ecumenical authorities for guidance on church governance. 

These men only have other perfect ministers preach in their churches, because they cannot be seen as being less than perfect.

Very soon after I went to my first pastoral charge, I was met with unbelief when I confessed that we were all sinners.  "What, you a sinner like the rest of us?"  The minister is not a sinner, you see.  That's the view from the pew; but the view from the pulpit is identical.  This will not be admitted in personal conversation or in confessional public prayer; but it is believed nonetheless. 

Is it any wonder the church is in such a bad spiritual condition?  The church is supposed to be the community of the forgiven and of the forgivers.  But where is the evidence?  Words are woefully insufficient; they must be backed up with concrete practical actions that demonstrate the veracity of their words. 

Should I hold my breathe until this happens?  What do you think? 

The Fellowship of the Forgiven?

In some ways, the highlight of the Portstewart week so far for me was Dr Chris Wright's phrase from John R W Stott, when he said to him, "Welcome to the fellowship of the forgiven."  Whow!  I never heard this term before and it resonated with me profoundly.  "The fellowship of the forgiven."

That got me a-thinking.  It also made me go and speak to Chris after the meeting.  I explained a little of my background to him, and then asked him, referring to his sermon, "Where can I find the fellowship of the forgiven"?  By extension, "Where can I find the fellowship of the forgivers"?

His honesty was impressive when he said he didn't know.  I asked several other attendees the same question, and was met by basically the same answer.  These men were being REAL.  One man said that you can find it here at Portstewart.  But that's only for one week in the year.  What happens when we all return to our churches?  It's back de nova.

My question now is, Is Keswick at Portstewart just a talking shop or does it practice what it has been so ably taught?  Time will tell.  If attendees who are ministers really consecrate themselves to Christ and His Gospel, then I will see this being demonstrated in practical ways in the coming months.

I will now use this as the litmus test of how genuine ministers are in their dedication to Christ and the Gospel.  This will reveal those whose primary commitment is to the church - whichever church.  I will look carefully to see how this will work out in practice.  My prayer is that they will take this teaching with utmost seriousness for the success of the Gospel and the ultimate good of the church.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

You Must Be Born Again.

When Jesus said, "You must be born again," two things are vitally important.  One, The word 'you' is in the plural, which means that all those with Nicodemus and indeed anyone who who hears this truth is to be born again.  Not just the elect, but all men are to be born again.  Two, the little word 'must' is the strongest word available to bring out the idea that it is absolutely essential if a man is to see and/or enter the Kingdom of God he is born again.  There is no heaven for anyone who has not received this new birth.  If you have been born only once (that is, physically), then you are not fit for heaven, because flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  That is why you must be born as second time, born again from above (this is how it may also be translated), brought to spiritual re-birth.  It does not matter how good or great you are otherwise, if you have not been born again, there is no heaven for you.

This is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit as He implants this principle of new life in our dead souls.  If this is not your experience, then seek it with all your heart.  You are now spiritually dead and you must become spiritually alive if you are to be fit for heaven.  Seek it earnestly, determinedly, until this is your experience.  Don't stop until you you possess this new life.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Keswick at Portstewart Convention.

Dr Steve Brady preached on Monday evening on Jonah the backslider - a very poignant and powerful message.  He highlighted (i) the cause of Jonah's backsliding; (ii) the course of Jonah's backsliding; and (iii) the cost of Jonah's backsliding.

The Bible Readings were delivered by Dr Chris Wright who is looking at the "Fruit of the Spirit," (Gal. 5:22,23).  His first study looked at "love," and his second examined "joy" and "peace."

The rock music was toned down noticeably, which was much appreciated.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Keswick at Portstewart 2012

This week sees the start of the Keswick at Portstewart 2012 convention in Northern Ireland.  Speakers: Rev David Scott, Dundee, Scotland; Rev Dr Chris Wright, now working in London; Rev. Dr Steve Brady, Principal of Moorlands College, Dorset, England.

The two sermons/studies I have heard so far were helpful and at times very challenging.  But the music last evening was so loud that I feared my ears would explode.  The heavy rock-like beat sent vibrations through my body, the intention being, of course, to evoke some kind of physical and emotional response in me and the others attending.  As I left the meeting and until I walked the 15 minute walk to my apartment, my head was still throbbing, resonating with that worldly noise.

One of the pieces we were asked to sing had so many first person pronouns in it that for that piece we were not worshipping God at all.  We were singing about ourselves.  How pathetic!

On top of that, we hardly knew when the worship leader was speaking to us or supposed to be leading in prayer.  Also, we had to endure the almost endless repetition of choruses and the jumping about from verse to verse, and of course, the Palladium-type fading out at the end of a series of 'worship songs' to bring them to a conclusion.

It was all a bit too much for me, I must confess.  In contrast was the morning Bible Reading where a lady played the electronic piano to accompany the congregational singing.  This was accompaniment; the other was musical domination with a very heavy beat.

What has become of singing in the evangelical constituency?  What has been done with the old sound reformed way of worshipping the living God?  Where have the biblical principles regulating worship been dumped?  Sadly, few attendees, it would appear, seem in the least concerned about this downgrade.  The attitude seems to be that if the leaders think it OK, it must be OK!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Order and Argument in Prayer - C H Spurgeon

‘Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.’ Job 23:3–4
Suggested Further Reading: Daniel 9:1–19
The true spiritual order of prayer seems to me to consist of something more than mere arrangement. It is most fitting for us first to feel that we are now doing something that is real; that we are about to address ourselves to God, whom we cannot see, but who is really present; whom we can neither touch nor hear, nor by our own senses can apprehend, but who, nevertheless, is as truly with us as though we are speaking to a friend of flesh and blood like ourselves. Feeling the reality of God’s presence, our mind will be led by divine grace into a humble state; we shall feel like Abraham, when he said, ‘I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.’ Consequently we shall not deliver ourselves of our prayer as boys repeating their lessons, as a mere matter of rote, much less shall we speak as if we were rabbis instructing our pupils, or as I have heard some do, with the coarseness of a highwayman stopping a person on the road and demanding his purse of him; but we shall be humble yet bold petitioners, humbly importuning mercy through the Saviour’s blood. We shall not have the reserve of a slave but the loving reverence of a child, yet not an impudent, impertinent child, but a teachable obedient child, honouring his Father, and therefore asking earnestly, but with deferential submission to his Father’s will. When I feel that I am in the presence of God, and take my rightful position in that presence, the next thing I shall want to recognise will be that I have no right to what I am seeking, and cannot expect to obtain it except as a gift of grace, and I must recollect that God limits the channel through which he will give me mercy—he will give it to me through his dear Son. Let me put myself then under the patronage of the great Redeemer.
For meditation: In emergencies believers can pray to God on the spur of the moment (Nehemiah 2:4). At other times it is only right and proper to take both care and time (Nehemiah 1:4; Matthew 6:5–7).
Sermon no. 700
15 July (1866)