A Hiatus

Any regular readers will have noticed that in the month of January the blog has been unusually quite.  The reason for this silence has been the impending increase of output that will be required of myself.  I am delighted to have been appointed as Associate Pastor in Antrim Baptist Church.  I begin this role in Feburary, and from that point on will have to balance part-time pastoral ministry alongside part-time PhD studies.  In light of this increase of output I thought it fair to put a pause to my blogging.davyandtracy

I wish to give the people of Antrim Baptist my full attention, and I desire to continue to make progress with my PhD studies.  For these reasons there will no longer be a weekly blog post.  I will continue to write for the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland’s bi-monthly magazine from time to time, and the odd post may appear here and there.  But for now it is a haitus.

Warmly in Christ.

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Three Reasons I Cringe at Christmas

Last week I shared Three Reasons I Delight in Christmas, and I stand by that post.  However, that is only one side of the coin.  I would suggest that one of the most important words in all of Christendom is ‘balance’.  It is a bland word, but it is vital.  Christians are called to walked a narrow path, and this is no more so than at Christmas time.  Yes, we are to exult in the Saviour’s birth – but we are to do it well and without compromising on the Gospel.  There is to be balance to the way we celebrate.  So, here is a little bit of balance to the celebratory tone of last week’s post.

Sentimentality

I am not a fan of sentimentality at the best of times!  But whenever it is sentimentality about the birth of the Saviour of the world, I am nauseated to the ‘n’th degree.  The usual culprits for this sentimentality are songs and poems, and predominantly those which are performed as solos.  A prime example of this is the song Mary Did You Know? (This has been helpfully combatted by a humorous meme).  But really there are many more, and many which are worse.

Now, we have to be careful about divorcing the nativity narratives from their historical realities.  Of course, Mary and Joseph’s worlds were rocked – we can only imagine how many late-night coguiltnversations it took for them to come to terms with it all.  But, we must be so careful with our presentation of Jesus in the midst of this sentimentality.  This is the Saviour we are presenting to people; this is God in the flesh; this is the pinnacle of redemptive history; this is a history-altering moment.  Do we really want people leaving our carol services thinking about two doting parents?

Sentimentality makes me cringe at Christmas.

Materialism

At the other end of the scale is materialism, a problem all year round, but particularly pronounced at this time of year.  Think about the first question that everyone asks you from Christmas morning onwards.  I would suggest that pretty high on the list is ‘what did you get?’  And there I was thinking that this was the season for giving!

More than that, think about the amount of money we spend on our children, family and friends.  Why does someone need a fourth new iPhone in three years, whenever there are millions of children without food and water?  It is not even just the cost, but also the volume of material things we give and get.  Why must we all buy everyone something whenever there are millions of people dying without ever hearing the good news that a Saviour was born?

We get very quickly caught up in our own small world.  Materialism at Christmas is rife, and so often rife within the Christian community.  We need to think a little bit more biblically about giving and receiving gifts at Christmas.

Materialism makes me cringe at Christmas.

Screwtape

What are we actually celebrating this time of year?  Our time is spent shopping, eating, planning, partying, some singing and a lot of watching movies or sleeping.  Is this really the in which we should worship our Saviour and celebrate his birth?  After all we celebrate his death by gathering around a table, praying, reading, singing and sharing bread and wine together.

In some ways, I think we can see the hand of Screwtape at work in how Christians celebrate Christmas.  We have been duped into believing that we are glorifying God, whenever in all reality we are doing no such thing.  Instead of communing with God, we are dandering in the other direction and completely oblivious to it.  This too makes me cringe.


I do love Christmas, and I enjoy all of the trimmings and trappings.  Perhaps, that’s why I cringe so much too.  All of what has been said above is what I see myself struggling with year in, year out, as I attempt to celebrate Christmas in a generous but Christian manner.  My prayer for you this year is that you will delight in Christmas, but as a Christian you will also cringe.  May our cringing produce a better celebration of Christmas, and may our delighting reflect some of the joy which came with that first Christmas!

Three Reasons I Delight in Christmas

The Pagan Festival

Many Christians are rightly sceptical about terming Christmas time a “celebration of Jesus’ birth”.  It is often noted that in the past Christianity simply hijacked a pagan festival and infused a little bit of ‘Christian religion’ into it.  Additionally, can hardly be520296901 denied that this time of year is one of the most commercially lucrative.  In fact, in many ways it goes against so many Christian values – Christmas is now about what you want, eating way too much, and binging on boxsets.  Therefore, we may legitimately ask can the Christian actually delight in Christmas?  Is it possible in the midst of this madness to worship Christ?  Can Christmas be redeemed?

As I considered these questions, these are three of the (legitimate) reasons for delighting in Christmas that came to my mind.

God is with Us

The first reason I delight in Christmas is the carols!  I am not a huge fan of music, and don’t spend a lot of time listening to it beyond the month of December.  However, come Advent the Christmas CDs are on.  Like everyone else I am partial to a little bit of Cliff Richard, Wham! and Slade, but better than that are the carols.

Thinking and meditating on the lyrics of many of the Christmas carols warms my heart as I picture what it meant for God to dwell with His creatures in the flesh.  The image of a new born babe lying in a mother’s arms strikes a chord which brings the name Immanuel to life.  God physically presenced himself with His people.  And that is no less true today, in and through the power of His Spirit.

Christmas is a powerful reminder to me that God is with us.  At various times this was manifested physically: the tabernacle, the temple, and the Son.  Now it is not manifested physically – but it is no less true, magnificent or comforting.

Waiting builds Anticipation

Two of my favourite carols are O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Come, Thou long-expected Jesus.  This is because the second reason I delight in Christmas is the reminder that waiting builds anticipation.  During the intertestamental period the Jews could very easily have sung the words of the two carols mentioned above – they anticipated, eagerly desired and in all reality were desperate for God to send His Promised One.

As the nativity narrative is heard again, we cannot help but have anticipation build, because we know that the waiting will be worth it.  Jesus will be born.  He will save His people from their sin.  He will offer them all that they have desired, just in a fashion they did not expect.  Living in the here and now this is a helpful encouragement.  Many of us would desire for Jesus to return and end all of the suffering, sadness and pain that we observe in our world.  But don’t be too eager, because waiting builds anticipation.

Just as we open one door at a time on our advent calendar, counting down to December 25th, and eagerly looking forward to the morning we can open our presents.  So we live one day at a time, with anticipation ever building, as we wait for Jesus to return and take us to be with Him.

Marvelling at the Strangeness of the Plan

The final reason that I delight in Christmas is because I am reminded once more about the strangeness of God’s plan.  In order to rescue the world from its sin, a baby was born of an unknown virgin, in a backwater town, under the guise of a scandal!  It is not how I would have planned it…and yet it is perfect.  Look at the nativity scenes, watch children’s faces as they hear the narrative recounted for the first time, and listen once more to the words of those mighty Christmas carols: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!”  What a strange occurrence.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5).

It is a mad time of year, and many of us do get our priorities in the wrong order – but in the midst of it all, see if you can’t find reminders of God’s remarkable rescue plan which might aid you in delighting in Christmas.

Six Reflections on Christians and Competition

Christianity prides itself on being a religion of meekness, humility and servant hood.  Jesus Christ himself is the epitome of this as, silently and without protest, he was led to his brutal death.  Therefore, naturally enough the question of Christians and competition may present itself: how can a Christian in good conscience compete?  Perhaps even if a Christian in good conscience compete?

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Here are 6 reflections to bear in mind when considering the question.

1) God gave us bodies.

First and foremost we should note that when God created us he gave us bodies.  Humanity has not created as some kind of spirit-being, or mystical material, but as a physical body.  Matt Reagan says, “The body is a staggering gift, and it enables us to be creators, achievers and accomplishers of remarkable things.”  Our bodies are capable of remarkable feats, whether it is with our mind or with our physic.  Indeed, our bodies appear to be created with competition in mind, we are gifted with abilities (both physical and mental) which allow us to struggle to be great at what we do.

We thus have the ability to compete, but should we?

2) What’s the motivation?

Motivation is a central issue in competition!  It has to be confessed that it is possible to compete for God’s glory with the remarkable bodies he has gifted us with.  But, it is also possible to compete for our own glory and fame.  It is this which is wrong and sinful.  For competition to be good, beneficial and permissible it must be for God’s glory alone.  “It’s his glory, shining in and from us, not our own. Not only were we made to create and achieve, but also to say gladly with the psalmist, ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory’ (Psalm 115:1)” (Reagan).

So, what’s the motivation in your competition?  If your competition is for your own fame and renown it should probably be stopped.

3) Let the vertical relationship impact the horizontal relationship.

With respect to a Christian attitude in competing it is vastly oversimplified to say that we simply exert our efforts vertically instead of horizontally.  In other words, claiming that when we work hard, we simply do it “for God”.  This is not an appropriate way to talk about competition because competition by its very nature is between humans, it is naturally horizontal.  Rather, what we must be working at is having our vertical relationship with God impact how we compete in our horizontal relationships.  As we do that we make it possible to compete for God’s glory!

4) Giving Thanks.

This is closely related to the first reflection – God has given us the remarkable bodies we possess now.  Therefore, Reagan is correct to write:

Gratitude inherently deflects personal credit, as it acknowledges the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). All achievers of anything, whether through talent or hard work or both (as is usually the case), should remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” The subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) tendency of the athlete is to boast in his natural-born talent, which is perhaps the least reasonable attribute in which to boast.

Ensure you give thanks to those who deserve it for your ability to compete.

5) Enjoy yourself.

All that we have said so far should make it abundantly clear that it is possible to glorify God through competition, but there is more to it than that.  As we exert all of our muscle and intellect we should enjoy and take pleasure in God through what we are capable of.  Indeed, this is closely linked to giving thanks.

If competition does not bring you joy, then it is time to give it up.

6) Ensure God is ultimately what you’re competing for.

Competition must be put into its proper realm of value.  Competition is fine, as long as it is not our final treasure.  The value of competition is vastly less valuable than God who is all in all.  Clearly, because of their arbitrary and fabricated nature, competition itself is somewhere on the value scale beneath real war (where life and death are the line) and relationships (perhaps especially marriage), which deal with eternal souls. When competing is a person’s livelihood things are somewhat different, especially in the realm of sport or business whenever it is your job to win.  As Christians fulfilling our job responsibilities to the best of our ability is very important.  Therefore, one of the greatest testimonies that someone, say an athlete, can give to the glory of Christ is not only victory but a proper perspective.

“It’s just a game” is always one of the more helpful and God-glorifying responses a Christian competitor can offer.  We must be very wary of allowing competition to become our all and all – meaning more to us than other things, especially eternal things.

Conclusion

These reflections clearly show that competition is in many ways compatible with Christianity.  They evidence the fact that competition should be enjoyed and exercised.  However, they also come with the warning that we must be careful with competition.  While it is not inherently evil or unchristian, neither is it without its pitfalls.  Do not be fooled, we must seek to relate our competition to God – otherwise we have failed in living a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called in Jesus Christ.  While there is undoubtedly an element of being ruled by your own conscience in this area of life, there is also space to consider what the Bible says about competition.


This article has been inspired by March Madness, Athletic Achievements, and Christians in Competitive Sports by Matt Reagan.

Domestic Abuse: Need to Know

A Sad Reality

Domestic abuse is a sad reality.  Not only is it sad, but also frightening.  It is most often committed in the context of an intimate relationship.  More frighteningly, domestic abuse broken-mirror-3-1317214is indiscriminate – people from a variety of ethnic, socio-economic, political, cultural, and educational backgrounds have been convicted of this heinous crime.  Additionally, it has been perpetrated against people from a wide scope of ethnic, socio-economic, political, cultural and educational backgrounds.  Indeed, even religious background does not ensure freedom from domestic abuse.  Sadly, individuals and families suffer at the hands of individuals in Christian homes.

It is important to note that domestic abuse is the repeated, random and habitual use of intimidation to control a partner or child.  This can be manifested through physical force, but is often tainted with emotional, psychological, financial and/or sexual pressure.  Below is a list of things we need to know regarding the subject of domestic abuse.  The list will cover impact, consequences and solutions.

It is a Crime

In many places across the world domestic abuse is a criminal act.

If a country has a law against domestic abuse – that law makes it illegal to exercise intimidation, whether physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual, in order to control another human.  Therefore, we need to know that domestic abuse rightly carries the prospect of being sent to prison and having a criminal record.  The consequences of being found guilty of domestic abuse range from an official warning to imprisonment.  The Bible commands us to obey the law of the land in as far as it is in agreement with Scripture.  Any law prohibiting domestic abuse is in agreement with Scripture and so must be obeyed.

It is a Sin

It must be acknowledged, even though many countries have outlawed domestic abuse, that there remain countries today which have no laws to protect people from domestic abuse.  In fact, it is imperative to understand that a law does not eradicate the issue.  Thus, we must understand that domestic abuse is a sin whether or not it is illegal.  The Bible commands loving relationships within the family: husbands are to love their wives (Col. 3:19), to nourish and cherish their wives (Eph. 5:29) and to live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18).  More than that, Scripture also warns that God hates the one who does violence (Ps. 11:5).  Domestic abuse is sin; it is contrary to God’s design for marriage relationships (and parental relationships cf. Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).

It harms the Perpetrator

As noted in the previous point, sin has consequences and this is true for the perpetrator of sin.

Those who domestically abuse their wives will harm themselves.  The Bible says that when a man and woman marry they are no longer two people, but one flesh (Eph. 5:31).  Subsequently, to harm your spouse is to harm yourself.  This harm may come about by destroying a God-given relationship.  Marriage is a gift from God and to act in such a way as to damage this relationship will result the loss of something good.  There is also the danger of eternal harm – while Christians are capable of sinning, persistent sin begins to evidence a lack of holiness and purity.  To consistently sin in one particular area would lead to legitimate questions concerning salvation.  Perpetrators may need to consider their eternal destiny in light of domestic abuse.

Indulging in domestic abuse also contributes to a warped view of reality, for example blaming your spouse for the abuse, considering yourself the victim, unbiblical view of women in general, and so on.

It harms the Victims

The harm inflicted on victims of abuse is sometimes physically apparent – scars, bruising, broken bones, hair loss, weight loss, poor hygiene, social awkwardness, and other signs and symptoms.

Again, by abusing your spouse you rob them of a precious relationship which should be exercised for their good (Eph. 5:25-28).  This loss of relationship can very quickly lead to isolation.  There are self-esteem issues which will take their toll on a victim suffering domestic abuse.  There can also be health issues related to abuse, not only physical but mental too.  Stress and fear may also present itself in the form of other health problems.  Even though the domestic abuse may begin mildly, or sporadically – it may quickly escalate to an uncontrollable level.  It is possible for the final outcome to be murder!

It harms Children

Whether or not your abuse is directed toward a child or children, they are still harmed.

To begin with children are incredibly observant – therefore any abuse, stress or strain in the marriage relationship will be noted by them, even if the perpetrator attempts to keep it hidden.  This brings fear, worry and uncertainty into the life of children.  While they hope for a unified family, with love shown by both parents, they also wish that it would all be over so nobody gets hurt.  This hurt will be primarily emotional and psychological.

Any abuse directed or aimed at children will result in similar harm perpetrated against a victim noted above.  There will be physical symptoms and emotional symptoms and ultimately children will suffer the same trauma as a God-given beneficial relationship is damaged and taken away from them.

It needs to be Mentioned

There is often little willingness to be honest about feelings, fears, worries and hopes.  To keep this inside will not resolve domestic abuse.

Initially, Christians in general need to be more open concerning the reality of domestic abuse, especially the sad occurrence of domestic abuse in Christian households.  Churches need to show an awareness that this happens, intolerance to its presence in Christian households and a willingness to address it in a loving, helpful and healing way.  As Christians we must make every effort to make it easy for people to speak up regarding domestic abuse.

That is only one side of the coin though.  It is important for perpetrators and victims to then avail of this open and honest environment by talking about domestic abuse.  Those who abuse their families but want to stop must speak up.  Even people who suffer from bouts of anger, impatience and violent desires should speak before it descends into sustained abuse.  To be able to break the cycle of abuse, abusers must seek help by talking about the issue.

Ignoring it will not send it away.

It needs the Gospel

The stark reality is that simply speaking about domestic abuse will not stop it.

There is only one thing which can truly stop domestic abuse and that is the gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection is the only real solution to this problem.  All sin arises from the seeking of something which can only be found in God through Jesus by the Spirit.  Domestic abuse is no different.

In the book of Ephesians we are told that all people are dead in sin, obedient to the Devil and children of wrath before being changed by Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-3).  Domestic abuse reveals these sinful characteristics.  Abusers are dead to the consequences of their actions, exhibit an obedience to evil as they destroy relationships and people and deserving of God’s wrath because of wilful sin.  But, God stepped in with great love and mercy to make us alive through Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:4-9).  This is the gospel and it brings about a change in us as we are no longer dead, disobedient and descendants of wrath.  Instead, as we are later told in Ephesians we are cleansed, pure, splendid, holy and blameless (Eph. 5:25-27).

This is the only real solution to domestic abuse, a change of heart because of the almighty work of Jesus Christ on the cross which possesses the power to transform us in his image.  Abusers will only stop abusing their victims when they have their hearts changed, and for disobedient Christians engaging in this when they realise afresh God’s love, mercy and grace.

Close to Home

It should be with great grief that we realise that domestic abuse is widespread – it could be taking place in a home connected to our church, it could be taking place in the home next door.  However, it could also be happening in your own home.  The things we have noted above are concerned primarily with explicit abuse, but the reality is that we could be involved in implicit or subtle abuse.  We may not force our spouses to have sex with us against their will, but we may guilt them into it.  We may not scream at our children, but we may speak to them disrespectfully.  We may not hit our spouses, but we may make them fear us in other ways.  While implicit or subtle abuse may not be intentional, it is no less damaging and harmful for us and our families.  And, it is no less serious in the eyes of God.

However, there is hope and that hope is found in Jesus and his power to change!

Reading Widely – Publishers

For those who enjoy reading the advice to ‘read widely’ is probably something that they books have heard numerous times.  Indeed, it is likely a piece of advice which they act upon too.  Yet, so often this is taken to mean read different authors, different topics, and different genres.  Today I want to reflect on a brilliant piece of advice I heard in a sermon several years ago.  His advice was to check who publishes the books you read.  This is something that I have consistently kept an eye on as I attempt to read widely.  In essence it is the same advice, read widely, but not just authors, topics and genres…also publishers.  This is great advice for at least three reasons:

  1. Different authors on your bookshelf does not necessarily mean different points of view.

It is relatively likely that you can look at your bookshelf and count numerous different authors.  Perhaps there are tens of different authors, or even hundreds.  However, this does not necessarily mean you are reading widely.  All publishing houses employ the service of numerous authors, but they all work for the same ‘body’ so to speak.  Therefore, it is important to not only seek to read different authors, on different topics, but also to ensure you are reading books on the same topic published by different publishing houses.  It is easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we read more widely than we actually do.

  1. Different publishing houses have different theological persuasions.

The reason why it is not enough to just read different authors is because many publishing houses hold to firm theological positions, and often promote material that agrees with their particular outlook.  For example, the publishers P&R (Presbyterian & Reformed) naturally produce material from and in agreement with the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition.  If all your authors are published by P&R you’re reading too narrowly.  On the other hand, all of your authors could be published by B&H, this publishing house favours Believer’s baptism.  Therefore, many if not all of the authors published by B&H will hold to that position.  Naturally, this view has implications on covenant theology, ecclesiology, church membership, obedience to the gospel, raising children, and so on and so forth.  It impacts on numerous other areas of Christian living and thought.  We are not reading widely if all of the authors we read hold to one particular theological position.

  1. Different publishing houses have different levels of content.

It is not only the theological persuasions that are important, but also the level of content.  For example, if all of the authors you read are published only by university publishing houses (such as Sheffield Academic Press, or Oxford University Press) then you are only reading the most academically rigorous material.  On the other hand, if all of the authors you read are published by Christian Focus or Zondervan then you are only reading the most popular and widely available material.  Neither one is better than the other, they merely serve different purposes.  Indeed, some publishing houses have identified this and so have academic wings to their publishing: IVP and Apollos, Baker and Baker Academic, or Zondervan and Zondervan Academic.  We cannot claim to be reading widely if all the material we read is pitched at only one level.

In keeping these things in mind, I find that I have read books from numerous publishers.  Some of them small and unknown publishing houses like Myrtlefield House, to the global giant Crossway.  I believe my mind, thinking and Christian life is the better for it!  Go check which publishers you have on your bookshelf…

Top Five Commentaries on 2 Peter & Jude

I have always been drawn to what one of my friends has termed ‘lesser spotted Scripture’.  I love John 3:16, Isaiah 6, Psalm 23 and Romans 8 as much as the next Christian.  But, I am https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/410z0hhX7fL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgalso keenly aware that God has given us the whole counsel of Scripture which includes 2 Chronicles, Ecclesiastes, Haggai and Jude!  That means I often enjoy preaching from those lesser known books.

What I have found is that the lesser known books are lesser known because they strike us as difficult.  Indeed, Ecclesiastes and 2 Peter are difficult books to grasp the big idea of.  However, once we have devoted some time to them, the truths they possess shine all the more brightly.  After preaching through both 2 Peter and Jude, two books which very much qualify as ‘lesser spotted Scripture’, here are my top five commentaries on them.

  1. Richard Bauckham – Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter (1996)

Bauckham is an expert in ‘lesser spotted Scripture’.  In particular, he is well versed in apocalyptic literature and Jewish inter-testamental literature.  This makes him a good candidate for writing a commentary on 2 Peter and Jude which both reference extra-canonical books with which the Jews would be more than familiar with.

It must be confessed that the Word Biblical series of commentaries is imposing to look at, there is much discussion on scholarly issues and many references to the original languages.  However, in gaining a correct understanding of Jude’s quotation of Enoch we must not cut corners.  While this is not a commentary to be read for 15 minutes before switching of the light at night-time, it is a commentary which will bring the letters of 2 Peter and Jude to life.  Bauckham’s writing style, while academic, is highly readable too.

  1. Peter Davids – The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (2006)

The Pillar series has quickly become a must-have commentary in the evangelical Pastor’s study and Davids contribution on 2 Peter and Jude is certainly a commendable addition to this series.  Aesthetically speaking, the layout and type-face of the Pillar series is much more attractive than the Word Biblical.  Nevertheless, in my opinion Bauckham is more helpful and clearer than Davids on many instances.

While Davids and Bauckham’s commentaries do cover much of the same ground, Davids offers some contradictory opinions which are worth considering.  In addition, Davids has much more of an emphasis on applying the technical arguments he sets forth, and in this way, is helpful for the preacher and teacher.

  1. Douglas Moo – The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Peter, Jude (1996)

Moo is a quality Bible commentator.  I am yet to be disappointed by any of his publications.  Even so, there are two reasons why this publication does not come top of this list.  First, this is not his area of expertise.  Moo has devoted much effort into the Pauline epistles, and Romans in particular.  That makes him something of a surprise candidate for this volume.  Second, there is a dearth of exegetical detail.  While this is necessary to a degree for a commentary of this style, other volumes clearly possess it in the background (such as the volume on Luke by Darrell Bock).

That being said, Moo has a perceptive eye with respect to applying Scripture.  There are few, if any, of my sermons which did not benefit from Moo’s application of these difficult letters to the everyday life of a Christian and the Church.  Indeed, Moo is a scholar who loves the church, and thus writes for the church.  Therefore, time in this commentary will be rewarded in the pulpit.

  1. Daryl Charles – The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Vol. 13; 2006)

Charles certainly displays an aptitude with the literature of 2 Peter and Jude, as well as the scholarly debates.  However, as is often the case with whole Bible commentaries, there is a shortage of detailed argumentation to support assertions.  Even so, Charles has an attractive writing style which often summarises what Bauckham or Davids said in a very quotable way.  Moreover, his structuring of the passages are helpful with respect to sermon structure too.

  1. Thomas Manton – The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Jude (1989)

In all honesty, this is a commentary which was referenced only periodically throughout sermon preparation.  Additionally, it shouldn’t really make it onto this list because it does not treat 2 Peter, except in similarities to Jude at certain points.  However, it is well worth flagging up as the Puritans always force us to think differently about Scripture because the speak from a different era.  This commentary does this – linking these ‘lesser spotted Scriptures’ to other pieces of Scripture which are better known; drawing clear lines from these awkward books to the message of the gospel; and forcing us to pause, dwell and meditate on the glorious truths of Scripture.  These things are a helpful corrective for one who delights in the scholarship of Scripture.

Two other commentaries worth a mention are Dick Lucas and Christopher Green’s volume in The Bible Speaks Today series and Michael Green’s contribution to the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series.  I used both of these commentaries profitably while preaching through the difficult letters of Jude and 2 Peter.

I trust you too will endeavour to explore some ‘lesser spotted Scripture’ and if you do that some of the above will aid your study.

The Kindest Thing

Monopoly

Believe it or not, the kindest thing I can say to you is that you will die!

Life is like a game of monopoly.  Playing monopoly, we collect our £200 as we pass go; we accumulate money which ends up being spent on tax, rent and getting out of jail; every now and again we land on a chance square which brings us joy or misery.  And perhaps, if ‘life’ treats us well we might end up with a property on Mayfair; on the other hand, maybe we get stuck on the Old Kent Road.  Whatever happens in monopoly we spend hours trading, rolling dice, collecting money and spending money – but eventually someone wins and guess what…it all goes back in the box.

Life is the same we spend years gathering money, spending money, landing on ‘chance’ squares and then one day we will die and it is all put back into the box so to speak.  This is the reality – there is no distinction, all die.  Life just cannot be kept.

Wisdom

The book of Ecclesiastes is a book all about gaining wisdom, and in that wisdom making the most of life under sun.  In fact, the author’s purpose in writing this book is to show the emptiness of life, so that his audience would realise their need for the creator God to be involved in their lives.  For it is only with the involvement of God that we will be able to make the most of life under the sun.

One of the ways in which we can gain wisdom, argues the author of Ecclesiastes is by learning that death comes to all.  Life cannot be kept is the stark message at the beginning of Ecclesiastes 9:

It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. (vv. 2-3)

Everyone, absolutely everyone, dies.  There is no escape from it – whether we are good or bad, righteous or wicked, religious or irreligious – there is no distinction all die.  There is no joy in this proclamation.  The author makes clear that this is an evil which takes place under the sun (v. 3).  The fact that all die is indeed a great evil.

This is not the first time that death has had a prominent role in the argument of dunfermline-the-old-capital-1206487Ecclesiastes (2:14).  In fact, in chapter three the author doesn’t even make a distinction between humans and animals because the same fate overtakes them both, death.  He writes, “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other” (3:19).

Death is such an evil that in verse 4 the author offers a proverb to reinforce the fact.  A living dog is better than a dead lion.  In ancient Israel dogs were the equivalent of rats, while lions were held in high regard, as regal even.  It is better to be a living rat than a regal but dead lion!  The reason is that once you’re dead you are dead – that’s it, no second chance:

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and for ever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. (vv. 5-6)

Kindness

How is any of this kind?

The reason that everyone dies is spelt out by Paul in the book of Romans.  Sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and through sin death came into the world.  This death has spread to all men, because all men sin (Rom. 5:12).  Therefore, there is no escaping death, it is coming and having this perspective is of benefit for us.  To know, be aware and appreciate that death is coming is beneficial – it is certainly better than being ignorant of it.

This is why the kindest thing I can say to you is that you will die.  However, it is not simply that you will die, but that this death can lead to eternal life.

Paul continues in Romans to explain that there is eternal life available through Jesus Christ out Lord (5:19-21).  Death does not have to be something that is paralysing, rather it can be something which spurs us into life now by driving us to Jesus.

As Christians Jesus dwells in us, if we love his Word and love his people.  If Jesus has changed our life, then there is hope.  There is a future.  There is eternal life which is given through Jesus and his righteousness.  This truth should give us great hope and encouragement as we face the certainty of death.  Life cannot be kept and it will leave us – eternal life, on the other hand, can be kept and it can be kept only through Jesus Christ.  But none of this has any meaning if we are ignoring the reality that death is coming.

So, believe it or not the kindest thing I can say to you is that you will die…so make sure death is not the end.

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.

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.