A ‘Halloween’ Prayer

I would encourage you to take a few moments to join me in prayer today.


 

Our Almighty God, the One who has made, sustains, and will one day renew, all that we see.  We, as your people, seek your intervention in our world today.

We confess our sin before you.  We know that in so many ways we fail to live as your people should, and often neglect what we know and read in your word – both intentionally and unintentionally.  For this we plead your forgiveness.  We also readily admit that very often we fail to acknowledge the true power of darkness at work in our world.  As Scripture displays, Satan and his evil spirits are at work in the here and now.  There is evil and wickedness at work through the apparently innocent Halloween celebrations.  We ask, therefore, for your help to see the seriousness of celebrating anything related to this OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAevent.

In seeing this seriousness, Father, we pray for those who are caught up with the celebrations of evil and wickedness.  Even as some do so unwittingly and innocently.  We think of places such as Derry/Londonderry especially with the growing size of the celebrations there, and many other places across this island.  Open the eyes of those who are blind to the dangers, awaken the sleeping hearts of those who are ignorant of the deeper realities, and startle all those who remain dulled to what is being celebrated.

God, empower your church to be a bold and gracious witness in the midst of this celebration of darkness.  Aid the church in shining light into this darkness.  Give your Word power as it is proclaimed into this world.  In particular, give parents wisdom and courage to explain the realities of Halloween to their children and to make fitting decisions for the good of their children.  Indeed, we pray that you would protect your people from Satan and his schemes.

In recognising the realities and dangers of Halloween, we earnestly ask that you would aid us in not being overly afraid.  We know you to be powerful, almighty, immense, without weakness and always victorious.  Remind us once more that you are greater than he who is in the world.  Therefore, we rest assured knowing that you will accomplish all that you purpose.  Give us confidence in our great God.

We pray all of these things through Jesus and in the Spirit.  May you, God, be glorified through your church today and in the days that follow.

Amen.

Advertisements

Why Read?

Regular readers of the blog, and those who know me will be well aware that I love reading.  This hasn’t always been a passion and love of mine however.  Before my conversion the only books I had ever read were Of Mice and Men, An Inspector Calls and the parts of Macbeth that I really had to read.  Of course all of that was for English Literature in school.  As a Christian, however, my desire to read grew and developed, and as I reflect on reading permit me to suggest four reasons why Christians should be readers.

Aids Bible Reading

The Bible is literature.  To be sure it is God’s very word; it is true, without error, and living and active.  But it is also literature.  Scripture is words, in sentences, in paragraphs, in books.  Therefore, we should be readers because reading will aid our Bible reading.

I am not suggesting that we grab the heaviest commentary we can find, read it and then we will understand everything Scripture says.  Rather as we read a variety of books – theology, novels, poetry, character studies, history, science-fiction – we will become familiar with a variety of styles of writing, the use of language and grammar, and the individual characteristics of authors.  In doing so we will then be better equipped to read and understand Scripture.  After all the Bible consists of poetry books, historical books, apocalyptic books; the Bible has many different human authors all bringing their own distinctive style into play; within books there is parable, allegory, proverb, sermon and prophecy.

Unless we are experts in English literature it is very difficult for us to begin to comprehend and learn all of the subtleties of language.  However, if we read widely over an extended period of time we will naturally (and not too taxingly) develop an understanding of libro-interesante-2-1430990literature.  In doing so we will be aided in reading our Bibles better.

Supplements our Teaching in Church

Your pastor may love you, he may pour hours into his study and teaching of Scripture, he may work tirelessly at applying the principles of Scripture to the world around you, and you may know and appreciate that.  However, your pastor (as good as he may be) cannot be an expert in everything.  Indeed, given the busyness of pastoral ministry it may be difficult for him to have expertise in anything (jack of all trades, master in none).  Therefore, it would benefit you to read experts in particular fields.

There is a myriad of different areas of life that your pastor or elders may not be able to speak to:  same-sex attraction, inability to conceive, Christianity in the political world, transgender issues, suffering, depression, music, art, Christianity in the law courts, or the stock markets, child protection issues, and on we could go.  It is not feasible that a few men can possess an in-depth knowledge of all of the issues that their individual members are going to face.

So how do you cope with those issues?  The tricky theological issues, or the sensitive life-setting questions?  Read the experts.  There are thousands upon thousands of experts all across the world – people who have spent 14 years researching the emotional, spiritual and physical issues surrounding the inability to conceive.  Biblical counsellors who have devoted their life to studying and helping those suffering from depression.  Doctoral students who have forsaken everything to understand some tricky theological concept.  We should not overlook God’s goodness in providing these people to offer us expertise in areas where we need it.

Reading cannot and should not replace the teaching we receive in our home church, but it most certainly can supplement it.

Broadens our Horizons

We are all individuals, and for that reason we all approach certain topics from particular vantage points.  Consequently, when we pick up a book on a particular topic we are likely to have our eyes opened to another angle or issue that we had not previously thought of or considered much.  For example, I recently picked up a book on Martin Luther.  I had read lots about the great reformer – his feisty character, sharp wit and utter determination.  However, this author applied all of this to Luther’s preaching.  I had never really considered Luther a preacher before and this angle helped broaden my horizons.

The more we read, the wider our horizon becomes.  Perhaps a novel will reveal a character trait of humanity that you’ve not noticed before; or a practical theology book will remind you that all illness is not caused by spiritual forces; or your favourite author will say something crazy that will let you know they are human after all.  As we read our eyes will be opened to things we have not noticed before or just did not know.  Consequently, we will have our horizon’s broadened – and that is a good thing.

We are people of Knowledge and Truth

As Christians we are people of knowledge and truth:

These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgements that are true and make for peace (Zech. 8:16)

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another (Eph. 4:25)

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth (1 Jn. 3:18)

While God is the source of all truth, in his goodness and grace he has used means to impart that truth to his people.  Some of those means are authors and books.  If we love knowledge and truth we will read so that we are comforted, corrected and made certain in the truth.

Praying in Light

I am currently enjoying a free trial of The Banner of Truth magazine.  In my first free issue there was a particularly helpful article with respect to prayer by Peter Barnes.  This brief post is inspired by that article.

Prayer is a constant struggle for the Christian.  Our lives are so busy, our minds so preoccupied, and our world so noisy.  To find time, energy, and (if we are honest) the desire is difficult.  Here are four ways to pray better:

Pray in light of the gospel

As alluded to above, motivation is the key to our prayer life.  One way to ensure we are motivated correctly is to pray in light of the gospel.  As Peter Barnes writes: “We are not trying to climb the ladder to heaven, but responding to the grace of the triune God in silence-867434-mreaching down to earth to save sinners.” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5).  Prayer is not something we have to do, it is something we get to do because of Jesus and the cross.  Prayer is not a demand, but a reward for the work of another.  Seeking God in prayer is not our attempt to please, find, or satisfy God; it is the irresistible outpouring of a gratefully renewed heart.  Praying in light of the gospel helps us find and keep our motivation.

Pray in light of the Psalms

The Psalter is a rich book; through them we are “taken into the depths of the human soul and raised to the heights of the glories of God” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5).  The whole gamut of human emotions find expression in the Psalms, and yet through these intensely human poems there is a magnificent theology of God.  Sometimes we face circumstances in life that we do not have words for.  Due to sorrow, fear, or anger we simply don’t know how to address God.  But for those who pray in light of the Psalms they are “helped thus to understand themselves, and also taken out of themselves, to draw near to God” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5).

Pray in light of structure

There is not necessarily anything wrong with impromptu prayer.  Spontaneous prayer is often enlivening and exhilarating.  To pray without preparation reveals our true hearts and minds.  However, this spontaneity can lead to repetition, clichés and mindless babble.  As Barnes illustrates:

Two lovers may sigh at each other, but a relationship consists of more than sighs.  So too with God.  It is too easy for us to resort to set phrases or fill-in words that do not mean much. (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5)

It is good to think about the structure of our prayer, to move through our worship and requests orderly.  This is especially true when praying publicly so that others can pray with you as they listen.  Doing this also allows our prayers to differ each time and therefore become more engaging for our own hearts, minds and souls.

Pray in light of others

Being a Baptist my tradition is to avoid liturgy, but I do fear that me and my separatist friends lose something by avoiding liturgy at all costs.  One of the most profitable aids to my prayer life has been the little book The Valley of Vision.  Praying written prays is hugely helpful in widening our horizons, broadening our praying vocabulary and diversifying our topics of prayer.  This is something that the Anglican liturgy does well.  We can indeed be helped by reading the prayers of others and praying the prayers of others.

Reading Ruth: Four Lessons

tumblr_lz6p2aMgTT1qc3cl1o1_1280The book of Ruth is a popular and well known book of the Bible.  However, sometimes it is a little misunderstood; and all too often the true depths of this rich book are not plumbed.  There is no way I can do justice to the riches contained in the book of Ruth in a blog post, but hopefully we can re-orientate ourselves enough to point us in the right direction in future.  Here are the four deep truths that have struck me as I have preached through the book of Ruth.

God is Sovereign

Rather remarkably God is only explicitly credited with directing the events of this story twice.  First, in 1:6 where he visits his people to give them food; and second, in 4:13 when he gifts Ruth and Boaz with a child.  However, God’s hand is presupposed everywhere in the book of Ruth.  As Longman & Dillard (An Introduction to the Old Testament, pg. 149-150) point out for us ‘the attentive reader finishes the book knowing that God’s hand guided the events of this story’.  God’s invisible guidance is oozing out of the book of Ruth.  Indeed, God’s sovereignty is made abundantly evident by the narrator at the beginning of chapter 2.  The narrator tells us:

So she [Ruth] set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to some to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.  And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem.  (ESV, vv. 3-4)

The brief phrase ‘she happened’ tells us that this was no coincidence.  In Hebrew this phrase means ‘her chance chanced upon’, or as many people would say today ‘as luck would have it’.  But it is not luck at all, the narrator of the story is actually screaming SEE THE HAND OF GOD AT WORK HERE!  This is reinforced by the beginning of verse 4, ‘And behold, Boaz came’.  In other words, ‘as luck would have it Ruth ended up in Boaz’s field, and wouldn’t you know it Boaz turned up!’

One of the doctrines that the book of Ruth teaches us is that God is sovereign, and that is vitally important to comprehend as we move onto the second lesson.

The Worst of Times are not Wasted in God’s Economy

We must be ever so careful not to get caught up too quickly in the romantic whirlwind of the second and third chapters of Ruth.  Naomi can hardly be blamed for the bloodcurdling cry “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.” (ESV, 1:20-21).

The setting of the book is the dark days of the Judges (1:1) – the land of Israel was rife with spiritual adultery and in addition there was a famine (1:1).  Therefore, Naomi and her family head to a foreign land.  After a decade in this foreign land though, Naomi finds herself standing at three graves – her husband and her two sons.  She is now widowed and childless in Moab.  Indeed, Ruth has been widowed too.  We cannot and we must not minimise the pain that these two women experienced.  They are not just fictional characters in a soap opera – they are real historical people living in the worst of times.

But, these worst of times are not wasted!  How come?  Because through Ruth (who travelled back to Bethlehem with Naomi) Boaz fathered Obed, Obed then fathered Jesse, and finally Jesse fathered David…except that wasn’t finally.  After many generations this family line led to Jesus Christ (4:21-22; Matt. 1:1-17).  For this reason alone the worst of times were not wasted in God’s economy.

Radical Obedience is Necessary

There are two striking instances of radical obedience in the book of Ruth, and they both occur in chapter 3.

First, try to picture the scene as Ruth approaches Boaz in the middle of the night.  A man and a woman, deeply attracted to each other, alone in the middle of the night, lying down together, no prying eyes, agreeing to marry one another, perhaps even under a romantic starlit sky and they REFRAIN FROM HAVING SEX.  No one would ever know, they are going to get married anyway and it is o so difficult to refrain just now…but they do.

Second, even though Boaz is keen to marry Ruth there is a bump in the road, a stumbling block for the plan.  Boaz explains, “And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I” (ESV, 3:11-12).  Boaz certainly is a remarkable man, a woman he clearly desires is there with him but he will not overrule God’s law.  There is someone else who is more closely related and so has the first option on redeeming the family.

Radical obedience is necessary from the characters of the story if God’s sovereign purposes are going to be achieved, and gratefully we find that they are faithful.  Mark Dever (Message of OT, pg. 232) writes: ‘We may never perceive what future results will come from our present acts of faithfulness, regardless of how small they are.’  This is certainly evidenced in the book of Ruth.

Redemption

Redemption is a key theme for the book.  The climax is evident in chapter four where the root for ‘redeem/redemption’ is used twelve times in twelve verses to speak of Ruth’s marriage to Boaz.  In those opening twelve verses of chapter four we see Ruth redeemed by a man of character (Boaz) and redeemed into a community (the people of Israel).

Now we must be careful about just jumping from Boaz to Jesus, after all the New Testament never speaks of Boaz being a foreshadowing of Jesus (in the same way it does of Melchizedek for example).  However, what Scripture teaches is that Yahweh is a redeemer.  Indeed, Yahweh is both the redeemer in the Old Testament and the redeemer in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament he redeems his people through many different individuals, and in Ruth we find Naomi and Ruth being redeemed by Yahweh through Boaz.  As we move to the New Testament though we find that all kinds of people are redeemed by Yahweh through one individual – the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Again, Ruth’s redemption was a physical one, but we enjoy a spiritual redemption won by Jesus Christ with benefits that exceed and surpass all that Boaz did for Ruth.  Are we prepared to declare: Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It.

Conclusion

My suggestion is that by keeping these four big ideas in our mind while we read, study, and teach the book of Ruth we will avoid the pitfalls of reading just the romantic aspects of the story.  There can be no doubt that the narrator of Ruth is a gifted storyteller, and we are certainly encapsulated by the way the story is told.  However, we must not lose sight of God’s sovereignty, which orders the worst of times and requires our radical obedience, for it leads eventually to our redemption.

For further help see Top Five Commentaries on Ruth.

Top Five Books from Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is undoubtedly one of the up and coming voices in the world of Christianity.  He is a widely known preacher, conference speaker, author and notably has Kevin-DeYoung-color-preferred.jpghis blog hosted on The Gospel Coalition website.  He also pastors University Reformed Church, Michigan.  Although I wouldn’t sign-up to DeYoung’s ecclesiology – he is a lucid, winsome and helpful writer.  In God’s grace he will likely be a key voice for many years to come.  Here are the top five books from DeYoung that I have read recently.

  1. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is worth knowing, trusting and loving (2014)

This is an excellent book.  It is a well written, brief, accessible and important introduction to the theology of Scripture.  For anyone wanting to know why we can know, trust and love Scripture – this is the book to start with.  This book also tops my list because the doctrine and nature of Scripture is an important debate now within evangelicalism.  It will be necessary for all Christians to defend the nature of Scripture in coming days.  This book will help us to do this.

  1. The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (2012)

This book was an incredibly timely book when first published.  It was vital that this challenge of holiness rung out in the shadow of the ‘young, restless, and reformed movement’.  Even though that ‘movement’ is perhaps a little less pervasive now, this thinking is ever present.  So many Christians claim that freedom in Christ means that we can live however we want, and yet gospel passion is imperative to the pursuit of godliness.  This will be a formative book for anyone who takes the time to read it.

  1. What is the Mission of the Church? Making sense of social justice, shalom, and the great commission (2011)

This book was co-written with Greg Gilbert (who has written a few good books too).  This is one of DeYoung’s larger books, but it is no less readable then his other books.  There are several important topics discussed and explained in this book that are imperative for Christians to grasp.  There is an excellent discussion on the nature of the Kingdom of God, profitable exegesis of significant texts for the great commission, and most importantly a very good explanation of the place of social action in the mission of the church.

  1. What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (2015)

This is another topical book by DeYoung, released at the height of the debate, and yet DeYoung enters the debate winsomely and gracefully.  This book surveys the most important and pertinent texts on the issue of homosexuality.  This book does not always go on to apply the teaching of the Bible into the vast array of pastoral situations that one may find themselves, but then that is not DeYoung’s aim in it.  Rather, it simply and straightforwardly sets out what the Bible teaches on the issue.  It is a must read at the moment!

  1. Just Do Something: How to make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, writing in the sky, etc. (2009)

The title of this book reveals something of DeYoung’s sense of humour.  Discerning God’s will is one of those things which preoccupies Christians.  What decisions should we make?  Where should we go?  What should we do?  Is this God’s will, or is that?  We are so afraid of making decisions in case it is not the one which God has purposed for us.  DeYoung’s book offers an important and helpful corrective.  This is an excellent book (and very short which aids in getting through it).

If you have never read one of DeYoung’s book I would thoroughly encourage you to make time in the next few weeks to read one of the books mentioned above.  Why not get in contact with me and let me know what you thought about it.