Top Five Christmas Albums

As Advent begins I thought that it may be appropriate to share my Christmas playlist. The following are my top five Christmas albums, a great mix of old songs, new songs and fun songs. If you haven’t come across one of these I would encourage you to invest in them.

  1. Sovereign Grace Music – Prepare Him Room (2014).

This is a great album, with a number of new carols written specifically for it; all of which are deeply biblical and often thought provoking. The sound is a very seasonal sound and yet new. I always quickly wear out the CD I copy this album onto.

  1. Relient K – Let it Snow, Baby…Let it Reindeer (2007).

This album is a mix of carols and songs. It is pure and simply a lot of fun and never fails to make me smile. If you are looking for a punk-pop-rock feel to Christmas this is the album for you. There are also a couple of interesting takes on traditional Christmas songs which are well worth a listen.

  1. Casting Crowns – Peace on Earth (2008).

This album has a softer more traditional feel to it than the above ones. Again there are a few original songs on this album, the best of which is ‘While you were sleeping’. Although I wouldn’t sign up to the theology behind that song, I appreciate how it applies the story of Christmas to us today.

  1. Third Day – Christmas Offerings (2006).

I always enjoy the deep, dulcet tones of Mac Powell at Christmas time. There are a couple of really good arrangements to traditional carols and songs on this album which are a great accompaniment for putting up the tree and decorations near the beginning of December. I particular enjoy the arrangement for ‘O Holy Night’.

  1. Red Mountain Music – Silent Night (2008).

There is certainly an alternative sound to this album, but it is a straight forward run through many famous carols. I have this one on the list because it is one of the very few modern albums to have ‘Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus’ – a magnificent carol and prayer for the church today.

I trust and pray these albums will bring a bit of meaning and joy to your Advent this year!

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Reflections on Conferences

church growth
Image by Mars Hill Church

NIMA

For Monday and Tuesday last week I found myself at the annual Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly (NIMA), which this year was held in Maze Presbyterian Church.  The guest speakers were Alistair Begg and Paul Mallard – both of whom were excellent in content and delivery.  In recent years I have attended a variety of different conferences, and on the whole I find myself leaving with similar thoughts and feelings.  The following is a summary of those reflections on conferences.

Positives

Good Teaching

It is vitally important that if we take time off work, or away from ministry, that we do so to receive good teaching.  As the people of God we must be people of the Word and so we must seek out men who will read, explain and apply the Word of God.  Many of the conferences I have attended in the recent past have been those with good teachers, which equates more often than not with good teaching.

Unique to NIMA (as opposed to other conferences I have attended on the whole) is the focus on this being a conference for pastors and preachers.  This means that it is all the more important that the teaching is rich and beneficial – not because pastors and preachers are more intelligent than others (even theologically speaking), but because they are constantly giving of themselves in the task of teaching.  It is imperative that pastors and preachers are periodically fed so that they in turn can continue to feed others.

Fellowship

Another element of conferences which is hugely enjoyable and beneficial is fellowship.  It is a wonderful experience to stand in a room of 200 people and join in singing which sounds something similar (with regard to volume) to a capacity Kingspan Stadium on a Friday evening.  It is enjoyable to bump into people you haven’t seen for a while, renewing friendships and making new friends.  There is something encouraging about hearing what God is doing in some individual’s life, in some back corner of the country that you have never heard off.  Fellowship on big scales like this is very often profitable.

Change of Scenery

A conference also offers the opportunity to have a change of scenery.  This is especially true for pastors and preachers who work tirelessly in local church settings – often with slow or minimal results, or at least it appears that way from close quarters.  Thus, the excuse to get out of the town for a day or two helps clear the head, lighten the thoughts and renew the energy.

It is also profitable for others to take time off work and get away to a conference – meet different people, see a different venue, hear a new song and sit under a different preacher for a time.  All of this can help us assess our usual scenery, noting what is good and lovely about our usual setting and considering those things which could change or be done differently.

Negatives

That being said, there are some dangers to attending too many conferences.

Unrealistic

There is something very special, and a little unnerving, to walking around a church building that is full of friendly smiling faces that are delighted to see you.  There is something delightful about being at a conference where everyone is eager to hear the Word read and preached. But, once you return to your local congregation, well all of a sudden you remember life is not like that…

Conferences offer an unrealistic atmosphere; it serves as a sort of escapism.  However, once you return to ‘normal life’ it is very apparent that all is as it was.  Nothing has changed.  Indeed, from time to time the speakers are guilty of encouraging this as they exhort pastors, preachers and Christians to remarkable feats of holiness, obedience and development.  It is all too easy to be captured by these visions.

It’s No Church

This is perhaps why it can be such a delight to be at a conference, however, it is also the reason why we cannot live of conferences as Christians.  There is no accountability in these settings; there are too many people who look, think and dress the same way; there is no way that this can impact the wider world by itself; in short it is limited in its benefit.

The local church with its structures, diversity, ministries, individuals and community offers the best setting in which a Christian can develop, grow and learn.  Too many of us (and I very much include myself in this) rely on the ‘famous’ preacher who knows nothing about me to aid my discipleship and tell me where I should use my gifts.  In all reality this must be done in the local church with someone who will never be invited to address a pastor’s conference, but who knows me inside out and will speak truth for my benefit.

What to do with the Conference?

Due to these severe limitations to conferences should we just chuck them out?  Refuse to attend and look down on others who do?  No I don’t think so.

I think it is hugely beneficial for Christians to periodically attend conferences.  I would suggest probably two a year at most, as any more could very quickly develop into a dependence on them – limping from one conference to another for our ‘spiritual high’.  Additionally I consider it vitally important that those in ministry attend conferences, and I would say at least once a year.  However, I believe that conferences should be attended with the benefit of the local church very much in mind.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices: Part Nine; Outward Mercy

Asaph expresses the confusion behind one of the great existential questions in the Christian life. In Psalm 73, he confesses:

“I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment…Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:3-6; 12-13).

So, what’s the question behind Asaph’s analysis of ‘the prosperity of the wicked’, we’re all asking? “Why should I struggle against sin? Why should I struggle, if the people who don’t struggle live-out their days in prosperous ease and enjoyment?” Is it all in vain that we have tried to keep our hearts clean? According to Brooks, Satan’s eighth device is to point our souls to this “outward mercy” that people, untroubled by their sin, seem to enjoy. Satan argues:

“the many mercies that [they] enjoy…and the many crosses that they are delivered from, even such as makes other men…spend their days in sighing [and] mourning…[means that] if ever thou wouldst be freed from the dark night of adversity and enjoy the sunshine of prosperity, thou must walk in their ways” (70-71).

In Christ, our hearts are made free to enjoy God. This is a joy-filled privilege. But, this privilege requires crucifixion. This privilege requires the crucifixion of “the flesh, with its passion and desires” (Galatians 5:24). It is a privilege to suffer this kind of death, so that we can live this kind of God-enjoying life. Satan, however, preaches that this cost isn’t worth it because those who don’t suffer this kind of death seem to really enjoy life. Brooks - Precious RedemiesIf your heart longs for the lives of others, seriously consider the following remedies.

Rather than outlining all eight of Brooks’ remedies for Satan’s eighth device, I’m going to focus on the four critical devices.

Remedy #1: seriously consider that we can’t know God’s approval by common grace.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45b). This is God’s common grace. Common grace is ‘common’ because all people, regardless of their moral state, share in God’s providential upholding of the cosmos. While Brooks doesn’t use the term, it’s clear the underlying idea behind common grace is a vital part of this remedy:

“no man knoweth either love or hatred by outward mercy or misery [what we are here terming ‘common grace’]; for all things come alike to all, to the righteous and the unrighteous, to the good and to the bad, to the clean and to the unclean. The sun of prosperity shines as well upon the brambles of the wilderness as upon fruit-trees of the orchard” (72).

We cannot equate that lack of suffering with God’s approval. We cannot equate outward ease and enjoyment with enjoying God. We cannot listen to Satan. In fact, as Brooks reminds us: “usually the worst of men have most of outward things; and the best of men have least of earth, though most of heaven” (72).

Remedy #2: seriously consider that God’s goodness and mercy is never an encouragement to sinfulness.

Brooks is narrowing an earlier remedy to an earlier device. Here, he’s specifically honing in on God’s goodness and mercy to others, in particular people who reject God in their day-to-day lifestyle. “To argue from [this outward or common] mercy to sinful liberty is sinful logic….this is wickedness at the height, for a man to be very bad because God is very good” (72-73, emphasis mine). God’s common grace, to both the righteous and the wicked, isn’t an excuse for sin.

Don’t embrace rebellion because it offers an outward life of ease and enjoyment. Instead, remember that God is good. He has freed us to enjoy Him through Christ. Don’t pour scorn on God’s specific redemptive goodness because you’re hungry for God’s general common grace. In fact, don’t pour scorn on God’s amazing redemptive goodness to you in Christ because you are hungry for the sins of others. God’s providential goodness is no excuse for sin.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that our wants are greater than all our outward enjoyments.

Brooks’ language is particularly effective here. Essentially, Brooks reminds his readers of the sheer enjoyment that is ours in the gospel. Those who don’t know Christ might have “many [outward] mercies, yet they want more than they enjoy; the mercies they enjoy are nothing to the mercies they want” (74). Do we really believe this? Does my heart really rejoice in this gospel truth? We readily listen to Satan as he encourages us to seek out any kind of enjoyment; we readily forget the gospel-truth of the sheer delight of knowing, and being known by, God. Reflecting on the gospel focuses our eyes on true enjoyment. Without Christ, Brooks argues:

“All this [outward mercy] is nothing to what they want. They want interest in God, Christ, the Spirit, the promises, the covenant of grace, and everlasting glory; they went acceptation and reconciliation with God; they want righteousness, justification, sanctification, adoption, and redemption; they want pardon of sin, and power against sin, and freedom from the dominion of sin; they want that favour that is better than life, and that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and that peace that passes understanding, and that grace, the least spark of which is more worth than heaven and earth…” (74).

This is not mere theology. This is the reality of the Christian life. These are not just doctrinal soundbites. These are (to borrow a phrase) thoughts to make your heart sing. Enjoy the gospel! The gospel is the one thing everyone who benefits from outward mercy longs to truly know.

Remedy #4: seriously consider the end and God’s design.

We left Asaph in an existential quandary. But, Asaph’s words are past tense. His shock at the level of outward mercy experienced by the wicked is not the last word of the Psalm. Instead:

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors” (Psalm 73:16-19).

Common grace is not an excuse for sin. Common grace is not an excuse for abandoning worship. Common grace is not an excuse for discounting the gospel. Instead, from God’s sanctuary, Satan’s lie becomes clear. Common grace is a clarion call for thankfulness. Thankfulness, because our God is a just God who rules the cosmos according to His purposes. God’s outward mercy towards others leads us to rejoice in God. Asaph says: “whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

Therefore, Brooks says, this should be the prayer rushing from our lips: “O Lord, I humbly crave that thou wilt let me be little in this world…and low here…let me be low, feed low, and live low, so I may live with thee forever…Lord, make me rather gracious than great, inwardly holy than outwardly happy…that I may be high [with thee] forever hereafter” (76-77).

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Nine: Outward Mercy

Asaph expresses the confusion behind one of the great existential questions in the Christian life. In Psalm 73, Asaph says:

“I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment…Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:3-6; 12-13).

So, what’s the question? Behind Asaph’s analysis of ‘the prosperity of the wicked’, we’re all asking: “why should I struggle against sin? Why should I struggle, if the Brooks - Precious Redemiespeople who don’t struggle live-out their days in prosperous ease and enjoyment?” Is it all in vain that we have tried to keep our hearts clean? According to Brooks, Satan’s eighth device is to point our souls to this “outward mercy” that people, untroubled by their sin, seem to enjoy. Satan argues:

“the many mercies that [they] enjoy…and the many crosses that they are delivered from, even such as makes other men…spend their days in sighing [and] mourning…[means that] if ever thou wouldst be freed from the dark night of adversity and enjoy the sunshine of prosperity, thou must walk in their ways” (70-71).

In Christ, our hearts are made free to enjoy God. This is a joy-filled privilege. But, this privilege requires crucifixion. This privilege requires the crucifixion of “the flesh, with its passion and desires” (Galatians 5:24). It is a privilege to suffer this kind of death, so that we can live this kind of God-enjoying life. Satan, however, preaches that this cost isn’t worth it because those who don’t suffer this kind of death seem to really enjoy life. If your heart longs for the lives of others, seriously consider the following remedies.

Rather than outlining all eight of Brooks’ remedies for Satan’s eighth device, I’m going to focus on the four critical devices.

Remedy #1: seriously consider that we can’t know God’s approval by common grace.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45b). This is God’s common grace. Common grace is ‘common’ because all people, regardless of their moral state, share in God’s providential upholding of the cosmos. While Brooks doesn’t use the term, it’s clear the underlying idea behind common grace is a vital part of this remedy:

“no man knoweth either love or hatred by outward mercy or misery [what we are here terming ‘common grace’]; for all things come alike to all, to the righteous and the unrighteous, to the good and to the bad, to the clean and to the unclean. The sun of prosperity shines as well upon the brambles of the wilderness as upon fruit-trees of the orchard” (72).

We cannot equate that lack of suffering with God’s approval. We cannot equate outward ease and enjoyment with enjoying God. We cannot listen to Satan. In fact, as Brooks reminds us: “usually the worst of men have most of outward things; and the best of men have least of earth, though most of heaven” (72).

Remedy #2: seriously consider that God’s goodness and mercy is never an encouragement to sinfulness.

Brooks is narrowing an earlier remedy to an earlier device. Here, he’s specifically honing in on God’s goodness and mercy to others, in particular people who reject God in their day-to-day lifestyle. “To argue from [this outward or common] mercy to sinful liberty is sinful logic….this is wickedness at the height, for a man to be very bad because God is very good” (72-73, emphasis mine). God’s common grace, to both the righteous and the wicked, isn’t an excuse for sin.

Don’t embrace rebellion because it offers an outward life of ease and enjoyment. Instead, remember that God is good. He has freed us to enjoy Him through Christ. Don’t pour scorn on God’s specific redemptive goodness because you’re hungry for God’s general common grace. In fact, don’t pour scorn on God’s amazing redemptive goodness to you in Christ because you are hungry for the sins of others. God’s providential goodness is no excuse for sin.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that our wants are greater than all our outward enjoyments.

Brooks’ language is particularly effective here. Essentially, Brooks reminds his readers of the sheer enjoyment that is ours in the gospel. Those who don’t know Christ might have “many [outward] mercies, yet they want more than they enjoy; the mercies they enjoy are nothing to the mercies they want” (74). Do we really believe this? Does my heart really rejoice in this gospel truth? We readily listen to Satan as he encourages us to seek out any kind of enjoyment; we readily forget the gospel-truth of the sheer delight of knowing, and being known by, God. Reflecting on the gospel focuses our eyes on true enjoyment. Without Christ, Brooks argues:

“All this [outward mercy] is nothing to what they want. They want interest in God, Christ, the Spirit, the promises, the covenant of grace, and everlasting glory; they went acceptation and reconciliation with God; they want righteousness, justification, sanctification, adoption, and redemption; they want pardon of sin, and power against sin, and freedom from the dominion of sin; they want that favour that is better than life, and that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and that peace that passes understanding, and that grace, the least spark of which is more worth than heaven and earth…” (74).

This is not mere theology. This is the reality of the Christian life. These are not just doctrinal soundbites. These are (to borrow a phrase) thoughts to make your heart sing. Enjoy the gospel! The gospel is the one thing everyone who benefits from outward mercy longs to truly know.

Remedy #4: seriously consider the end and God’s design.

We left Asaph in an existential quandary. But, Asaph’s words are past tense. His shock at the level of outward mercy experienced by the wicked is not the last word of the Psalm. Instead:

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors” (Psalm 73:16-19).

Common grace is not an excuse for sin. Common grace is not an excuse for abandoning worship. Common grace is not an excuse for discounting the gospel. Instead, from God’s sanctuary, Satan’s lie becomes clear. Common grace is a clarion call for thankfulness. Thankfulness, because our God is a just God, who rules the cosmos according to His purposes. God’s outward mercy towards others leads us to rejoice in God. Asaph says: “whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

Therefore, Brooks says, this should be the prayer rushing from our lips: “O Lord, I humbly crave that thou wilt let me be little in this world…and low here…let me be low, feed low, and live low, so I may live with thee forever…Lord, make me rather gracious than great, inwardly holy than outwardly happy…that I may be high [with thee] forever hereafter” (76-77).

Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

Paul Tripp has excellently titled his book on marriage What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. Throughout the book he challenges us on our excessively high expectations for married life, spends much time showing how married life reveals our sin and forces change, and offers a number of helpful hints at how to redeem the reality that is married life.

Today I want to share five ways in which we may be able to redeem the realities of marriage in our own lives. I honestly can’t remember if these are from Tripp’s book, or whether I read them elsewhere. But if you want to find out read my top five books on marriage.

Hold Hands

Do you remember the nervous anticipation when you were first dating your spouse? The excitement that ran through your body as you got ready for a date? The endless repetition of numerous scenarios of how your evening together mightsummer-love-2-1206534-m go, and how you would react in each of those scenarios? Then one ‘perfect’ evening your hands accidentally touched across the restaurant table, both of you made eye contact and smiled and that evening on the after-dinner-walk you held hands; fingers interlocked and thumbs rubbing.

When is the last time you held hands with your spouse?

Holding hands is one of those treasures which we very quickly become accustomed to once we move in together. However, it is one of those realities which can help maintain friendship and romance; it can be another way of showing affection and desire; it can be remain something exciting that you look forward to whenever you are together.

So the next time you are in the cinema with your spouse, driving in the car together, walking through the shops, sitting on the sofa, maybe even sitting in church together(!), grab your spouse’s hand, give a gentle squeeze, smile and redeem a reality of marriage.

Eat at the Dinner Table

Remember how you used to treat your spouse to meals out and you would sit opposite one another, gazing into each other’s eyes and talking about everything and anything? Remember how after a few months of marriage you realised you were talking about the same four things every evening at dinner? Conversation dries up and either eating dinner moves to the sofa in front of the TV or else it is a very quiet affair.

It is hard in the middle of a busy life to sit down, quiet your mind and think about things to say to your spouse which don’t include: nagging them for things they did or didn’t do, complaining about or praising some work colleague incessantly, mumbling through the same, dry, stale ‘how was your day’ conversation. But, it is well worth the effort.

There is a vast amount of truth in the claim that you only really get to know who you married once you’re married – the dinner table is a great place to learn who you married. Make the effort to sit down together, at the table, with no TV or Radio on in the background and talk like you used to talk, flirt like you used to flirt and make your spouse feel like you are wooing them all over again.

Wash the Dishes Together

Don’t let it all stop at the dinner table though – do the washing up together. It is equally easy for one spouse to do all the cooking and the other to do all the washing. But in this cause you total avoid one another in the kitchen…

Continue the dinner conversation as you wash and dry the dishes together, carve out this time where you can be together, laughing, crying, complaining, dreaming, sharing…

Washing dirty plates is certainly a reality of marriage, but it is one we can redeem, one we can use to continue to foster and deepen a real and loving relationship!

Kiss

Remember when the thought of kissing your spouse consumed your thoughts? When was the last time you kissed them?

Like we have mentioned already, living together makes everything seem very routine, very quickly. You see each other every morning (before you look presentable), you see each other every evening (once you’re worn out from work) and you head to the same bed every evening (to wrestle for the covers again). It is all familiar, and I’ll leave in the morning but sure I’ll see you again in the evening.

Take five seconds out of your morning routine to give your spouse a kiss before you leave the house, and take five seconds when you get home to kiss your spouse to let them know you’re back. This simple routine will help spark a bit of romance, care, affection, expectation and love.

Go to Bed Together

Being married is about sharing life, but so many couples do not share so many realities of marriage, so many aspects of their life. One of those aspects is the simple act of getting ready for bed and crawling in under the covers. Spouses enjoy different TV shows, perhaps one is a night owl while the other is an early bird, schedules just don’t line up and so bed time is different for them.

One way to continue to build and strengthen your relationship is to do things together, and going to bed is one of them. It offers another opportunity to talk, and it is one more aspect of life that can be shared.

Redeeming the Realities

Why bother? Well there are no Bible verses that say you must do these things, I can’t remember reading any scientific studies which say this will make your marriage longer and more fulfilling, and to be honest all of these things will be difficult when you’re tired, irritable and not on the best terms with your spouse.

But, Scripture does teach us that when two individuals decide to marry, and enjoy all of the benefits that come along with marriage, they are now one (Gen. 2:24). Logically, to enjoy marriage to its utmost, and find fulfilment in a partner, we must live life together, as one. All of these practical tips will aid us in living life together, in being one – these sometimes tedious realities offer us the opportunity to redeem our marriages, to be one with another again, to find joy in our union.

C. H. Spurgeon on Prayer Meetings

There are myriads of collections of C. H. Spurgeon’s addresses. Recently, I read through one of those collections, a collection of forty addresses at prayer meetings gathered together into a volume entitled ‘Only a Prayer Meeting!’ The title is taken anybody-listening-1563751from the first address in which Spurgeon lambastes those who sometimes ‘wickedly’ refer to prayer meetings as ‘only a prayer-meeting’. However, he is not guilty of viewing prayer meetings through rose-tinted glasses. In another address he highlights some problems and some remedies for prayer meetings. He is acutely aware of the dangers and difficulties of a prayer meeting, and yet deeply desires that the church remain committed to them.

Problems

Here are four of the problems Spurgeon identifies:

Excessively Long Prayers

I assume that Spurgeon is speaking with tongue-in-cheek when he mentions that some brothers would ‘fix’ themselves against a pew before praying for 20/30 minutes. He then jibes, after they have prayed, they ‘conclude by asking forgiveness for [their] shortcomings, – a petition which was hardly sanctioned by those who has undergone the penance of endeavouring to join in his long-winded discourse.’ (pg. 23)

Nothing kills a prayer meeting better than an excessively long prayer, Spurgeon recognised that and for those of us who have been at any type of prayer meeting we have likely experienced it.

Meaningless Phrases

Spurgeon offers three examples which are most likely outdated by now, but we all know the kinds of things he is speaking about: praying for people on a bed of sickness; entering the presence of God; speaking of bowing or standing whenever we are sitting; and so on.

Spurgeon writes:

Very many other perversions of Scripture, uncouth similes, and ridiculous metaphors, will recall themselves to the reader; we have neither time nor patience to recapitulate them; they are a sort of spiritual slang, the offspring of unholy ignorance, unmanly imitation, or graceless hypocrisy; they are at once a dishonour to those who constantly repeat them, and an intolerable nuisance to those whose ears are jaded with them. (pg. 24-25)

We could hardly sum it up better.

Mistaking Preaching for Prayer

Again allow Spurgeon to speak for himself:

The friends who were reputed to be ‘gifted’ indulged themselves in public prayer with a review of their own experience, a recapitulation of their creed, an occasional running commentary upon a chapter or Psalm, or even a criticism upon the Pastor and his sermons. It was too often quite forgotten that the brother was addressing the Divine Majesty, before whose wisdom a display of our knowledge is impertinence, and before whose glory an attempt at swelling words and pompous periods is little short of profanity; the harangue was evidently intended for men rather than God, and on some occasions did not contain a single petition from beginning to end. (pg. 25)

No more needs to be said.

Monotonous Repetition

Spurgeon’s tradition, and my own, was filled with Christian men who objected to forms of prayer – cold, heartless, repetitive liturgy is an anathema to them. However, these same men each time they pray use the same words, phrases, addresses and conclusions in each of their prayers. In fact, Spurgeon admits, ‘We have known some brethren’s prayers by heart, so that we could calculate within a few seconds when they would conclude.’ (pg. 26)

The issue is that these four problems are very often the excuses offered by those who stay away from the prayer meeting. And while Spurgeon tackles these problems sharply, and with a degree of humour, he is not content to just complain. Therefore, he proposes some remedies.

Remedies

Here are four of the remedies that Spurgeon offers:

Set an Example

In setting the example Spurgeon lays the responsibility on the Pastor. Very often it is easy for the pastor to get fed-up, discouraged and cynical about a limping prayer meeting. But, Spurgeon will not allow a Pastor to just complain about it – they must then work to remedy the situation.

Among the suggestions and exhortations offered are the following: speak of the prayer meeting with warmth, joy and eagerness; pray with passion and vigour; be seldom absent from the prayer meeting; make the meeting interesting; give a warm-hearted ten-minute address. Doing these things, Spurgeon suggests, will ‘foster a lover for the prayer-meeting’ (pg. 27).

Labour for Brevity

Strive to make prayers short. Whether you lead the meeting or pray in the meeting you should exemplify, encourage and commend brief prayers. For those attending the prayer meeting Spurgeon instructs that each individual pray for one petition on their heart, drive that petition home and then end your prayer. He writes:

Let as many as possible take part…the change of voice will prevent weariness, and the variety of subjects will excite attention…As a general rule, meetings in which no prayer exceeds ten minutes, and the most are under five, will exhibit the most fervour and life. (pg. 27-28)

Persuade Audible Prayers

This is perhaps the best way to prevent the problems noted above. This may be difficult, but the more people that can be convinced to pray audibly the more a prayer meeting will bounce from one individual to another, from one petition to another, from one voice to another. It may even mean that you have to ‘plant’ prayers, asking particular people to pray for particular requests. However, the result of persuading audible prayers is that, ‘Every man, feeling that he is to take part in the meeting at some time or other, will become at once interested, and from interest may advance to love.’ (pg. 29)

Seek Specific Requests

One way in which we may be able to foster a spirit of brief, audible prayers may be by way of prayer requests. Encourage your congregation to submit requests and then disseminate these requests among those gathered at your prayer meeting. Ask a variety of individuals to pray for some one request at some point in the meeting.

None of this is groundbreaking – but it is simple and when used to good effect could possibly transform the atmosphere in your prayer meetings. In Philippians 1:4 Paul states that he makes his prayers for the Philippians with joy. Listening to Spurgeon on prayer meetings and implementing some of these practical tips may mean we make our prayers in our prayer meetings with joy.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Eight: The Line’s A Dot

Joey turns to Chandler. He exclaims: “over the line? You’re so far past the line, that you can’t even see the line. The line is a dot to you!”. And, unbeknownst to Joey, he brilliantly sums up Satan’s seventh device.

Satan’s seventh device, Brooks’ states, is luring our souls to sin “by making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin” (66). Let’s face it: this seventh device is obvious. In fact, it seems like a departure from Brooks’ previous surgical precision in identifying Satan’s work in our hearts. Of course Satan lures our souls toward sin by tempting them with sin!

But, if we scratch this device, we realise how puss-filled a spiritual sore it truly is. Brooks is arguing that Satan tempts the soul by not simply holding up sin itself but by holding up the occasions of sin. Satan lures us to sin by preaching the myth that Brooks - Precious Redemiesholiness is a line. If holiness is a line, then we can enjoy proximity to the occasions of sin without stumbling into sin. In other words, we can stop before we go past the line. If we manage our occasions of sin carefully, we can enjoy an unchanged life, and the line will never be a dot to us. We “may with Achan handle the golden wedge, though you do not steal the golden wedge” (66, emphasis mine). This “holiness is a line” mentality allows Satan to “make the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin”.

Remedy #1: seriously consider Scripture’s testimony concerning occasions of sin.

Scripture’s testimony concerning occasions of sin may be summed up thusly: “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Brooks contests that: “to abstain from all appearance of evil is to do nothing wherein sin appears of which hath a shadow of sin” (66). If we long for holiness, we must turn away from the shadow of sin. Indeed, our repentance is not simply for the act of sin itself, but for the attitude of our heart that often leads to a blasé ingratitude for our graciously life-giving union with Christ. We repent of a heart that willingly embraces occasions of sin. Following Solomon’s advice against adultery (Proverbs 5), reflecting particularly on verse eight, Brooks concludes:

“He that would not be burnt, must dread the fire….to venture upon the occasion of sin, then to pray, ‘lead us not into temptation’, is…to thrust thy finger into the fire and then to pray that it might not be burnt” (67).

Scripture is clear. Holiness is not a line, distinguishing between the occasion and act of sin. A grace-shaped life will repent of both occasion and act. Therefore, take no confidence from Satan’s message, as you have no confidence in the strength of your flesh.

Remedy #2: seriously consider that there’s no conquest over sin without turning from the occasion of sin.

“It is impossible for that man to get the conquest of sin, that plays and sports with the occasion with sin” (67). Take Sméagol, for example. In J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Sméagol is warped into the twisted Gollum by the Ring’s influence. Proximity to the Ring destroys Sméagol, but he cannot bear any distance between him and “his precious”. For Sméagol, proximity means slavery. If we’re prepared to dance “on the brink” of sin’s pit, then it is a “just and righteous thing with God that [we] should fall into the pit”. Our sanctification requires that we throw out the gunpowder of our frequent occasions of sin. If we don’t, all it takes is a single spark.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that avoiding occasions of sin is an evidence of life-giving union with Christ.

Brooks constantly contends: “a man is which he is in temptation” (70). He argues that the truth of a man’s life is most keenly seen in how he endures, and responds to, temptation. This, he argues, “speaks out both the truth and the strength of grace” at work in a given man (70). “A Christless soul will look for and long after occasions to sin” (70). Therefore, “nothing but grace can fence a man against the occasions of sin….[that man that is surely good] will be strongly tempted thereunto…on many occasions…but in his course will not be bad” (70). It might seem spiritually cool to put our souls closer to occasions of sin. But, our union with Christ is evidenced in our souls when we strive to shun all sin, even occasions toward sin.

Holiness is not a line. There’s not a spectrum of holiness. In Christ, we have been made holy, even as we struggle against the unholy sinfulness that plagues us. Therefore, don’t listen to Satan. Don’t allow him to fan the flames of our indwelling sin by wandering aimlessly toward occasions of sin. Instead, through your union with Christ, work hard at fighting this Satanic device.

On the Wrong Side of History?

Today the Northern Ireland Assembly meet to vote for the fifth time on the two-lesbians-sit-in-front-of-the-capitol-bldg-after-a-dyke-march-in-california-1310788redefinition of marriage. The LBGT community, activists and some political parties want a law passed to permit Same-Sex Marriage. I do not intend to rehearse the debate ad nauseam today, but I do wish to pass one comment.

Just over a week ago the leader of the UUP, Mike Nesbitt, made a speech at his Party Conference. During that speech Nesbitt reiterated that his personal view was that marriage is between a man and a woman. He cannot, he says, bring himself to accept Same-Sex Marriage. Even so, he proceeds to concede, he believes he stands on the wrong side of history (read the story here).

I find myself in agreement with Nesbitt regarding the definition of marriage, but in disagreement about which side of history we stand on! Before I go any further though, permit me to acknowledge that much damage has been done to the witness of the gospel by the church’s treatment of the LBGT community. While we cannot turn our backs on what Scripture teaches, we must take our stand with grace. For an example of this see Gordon Walker’s treatment of the subject here.

Marriage

As I said I am not going to rehearse the debate in its entirety. But, it is necessary for me to state why, as a Bible believing Christian, I believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. The reason? Because the Bible never portrays marriage is anything other.

Scripture’s treatment of intimate relationships is governed by the account of creation, or what theologians call ‘Creation Ordinance’. In other words principles found in creation are binding for the whole of humanity. Genesis clearly teaches that God created humanity male and female, two distinct genders (Gen. 1:27). Why? Well we are told it was not good for the man to be alone (2:18), and so the woman was created as a companion (2:22). This is the first intimate relationship in the whole of creation, and it is one which is binding. Genesis makes this relationship binding on all of creation:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (2:24)

Later in Scripture, after referring to these verses in Genesis, Jesus then makes it clear that this relationship, marriage, comes from God (Mt. 19:6). It is given by him and so it is governed by him. In addition to this other intimate relations are forbidden and condemned (Rom. 1:23-27; 1 Cor. 6:9).

The aforementioned verses are only a small selection of those which treat marriage right throughout Scripture. The picture that is consistently painted by the biblical authors is one in which humanity finds meaning, security, joy, happiness and fulfilment in this union of one man and one woman (although none of this is ultimate as that alone is found in Jesus whether we are married or celibate).

Now this reasoning is very unlikely to convince someone who is in favour of Same-Sex Marriage. However, that is not its purpose. I merely highlight these things to affirm that Bible believing Christians must take God’s Word at face value. God’s Word paints marriage as an intimate and fulfilling relationship that exists between one man and one woman and so we must remain opposed to Same-Sex Marriage.

But does that mean we are on the wrong side of history?

History

Scripture also affirms that God is in control of history (Job 12:10; Ps. 31:15), and that history is heading toward a final point – the return of Jesus Christ.

That Jesus Christ is returning is evident right throughout Scripture (see previous posts here and here). It can most easily be asserted by the angels’ words to the disciples at the beginning of Acts. They say ‘This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go’ (Acts 1:11). Key to our considerations today is what Jesus will do when he comes back. The Bible is really quite explicit about this – he will judge the living and the dead (Mt. 25:31-33; 2 Tim. 4:1; Jas. 5:9). Jesus will judge the living and the dead concerning their standing before God in light of Scripture and the gospel contained within it.

Beyond this judgement then we learn that all things will be made right (Rev. 21:1-8). It could be understood that history is a story of God working in creation. And that God is the God of the Bible. He then is going to put all things right, make all things new. Not just homosexuality, but homosexuality is certainly one of those things. It’s a disordered desire, and humanity has many. Homosexuality is little different than a love for money or the excessive ambition that drives people to work long hours, and do whatever it takes to succeed, to achieve a fame which perishes (note how neither money nor ambition are inherently wrong but how easily they become disordered by excess, the same with sex which God made good but is easily distorted in so many ways by our broken hearts).

The fallout of this is that God controls history; and surely that means that those who abide by his Word, living in light of his Righteousness, will find themselves on the right side of history – no?

On the Wrong Side of History?

Subsequently, no matter what the result of the debate and vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly today, those who hold to the biblical view of marriage will not find themselves on the wrong side of history. It is impossible for those who abide by God’s Word to find themselves on the wrong side of history. Undoubtedly, at various periods throughout human history we will find ourselves in the minority and facing the very real threat of having our religious beliefs threatened by law. But, ultimately, those who hold to Scripture, and what is contained within, will find themselves on the right side of history.

Nesbitt is right marriage is a union between one man and one woman. However, he is mistaken about which side of history he currently stands on…