Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Report from Christchurch, Newport (SGM)

I've probably been one of SGM's more outspoken critics over the past few years or so - but I have always hoped that if I was proved wrong then I wouldn't be afraid to say so. So today I went to a Sovereign Grace Ministries church for the first time in about five years for my nephew's dedication - Christchurch, Newport - which is very much the "flagship" SGM church in the UK pastored by Peter Griesley.

I had an amazing time in which I was indeed proved wrong and thought the best way to report on it was to use the "Ship of Fools - Mystery Worshipper" format. That will help me waffle less:


Sovereign Grace Ministries - a "family" of churches.

The building:

Intriguingly an old telephone exchange - and the building looks like one too.

The neighborhood:

The M4 motorway.

The cast:

Dave Taylor (the "Executive" pastor) who led worship and his band. Peter Greasley (the Senior Pastor).

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Meeting.

How full was the building?

There were 600 chairs laid out and I didn't see many empty chairs.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. There were car park attendants to direct my family mobile and were stewards on the door who smiled and said "Hello" and gave me an update leaflet. Peter Greasley the senior pastor also grabbed me and said "hello - great to see you" (I should add this is probably cheating as we had previously agreed to speak to arrange a meeting!).

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a grey plastic chair with minimal padding. Not the most comfortable - but also I have sat on far worse pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lively, loud and excitable.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Hello ... can anyone come and sit down and let's get started".

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. There was a projector which displayed the words of the songs.

What musical instruments were played?

A guitar, keyboards, drums.

Did anything distract you?

They have an LED device up near the screen that flashes up a number allocated to parents, whose children are in creche or nursery. When we were singing songs I didn't know I found myself looking to see which parents were scuttling out.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very lively and passionate with lots of hands raised. There were no spiritual gifts (prophecy, tongues etc) however that I saw. The theme that kept coming through to me was the "Unchanging Faithfulness" of God. The highlight for me was singing a re-vamped version of; "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness".

Exactly how long was the sermon?

40-45 minutes or so (but didn't feel like that at all).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

I would say a 9.5 (only Terry Virgo, Rob Rufus or Ern Baxter get 10's). I've heard Greasley years ago and this was probably the best I've heard him preach.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Text: Romans 2. "A Matter of the Heart".

1. Outward religion cannot make you right with God.

2. Righteousness with God is a heart issue.

3. If you rely on religious rules then you had better keep them!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The theme of grace, grace, grace that came through the worship and the sermon.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Probably the walk up to the church - I hadn't been in Sovereign Grace Ministries churches for 5 plus years and I feared the worst.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Peter Greasley the senior pastor found me and chatted about said meeting. I also had a brilliant catch-up with a friend I used to know from previous days which was great - we exchanged phone numbers. He was very real and welcomingly un-religious!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn't have any - I hate after-service coffee but we were told that if we were visitors we could skip the queue.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

The church = 8 (it is still SGM after all). The neighbourhood = less. I did toy with the idea of being a commuting church-goer during the worship!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes - very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?

That it is stupid and naive to tar all churches with the same brush simply because they are in the same family of churches. And also to forget that God does amazing on-going works of grace in church pastors who are also human and can make mistakes and are as worthy of forgiveness as I have received said forgivness!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cross or Crucified - does it really matter?

My thoughts have been caught up with the cross, the resurrection - all aspects of the gospel at the moment. I suppose there couldn't be a much better topic! Before I get onto what provoked this post, I have been reading quite a few books and blog posts specifically on the resurrection. I like the way Adrian Warnock put it in writing here;

"We must remember that the cross is just as empty as the tomb, and Christ is now glorified, having completed his work. The truth is, we cannot be truly cross-centered without also being empty grave-centered! Jesus was not just our prophet and priest—he is our reigning King. At the cross we learn true humility, our hopeless sinfulness, and our need of God. At the empty tomb we fully appreciate what Christ has achieved for us and receive power to live for him. A deeper, fuller insight into the truth of Jesus’ resurrection will cause our lives to be radically transformed".

So I wrote a post called; "A Truncated Gospel?" and the friend I learn so much from (and sometimes disagree with!) - Janelle - made a very valid comment. She said;

"Paul said that he preaches nothing else but Christ crucified, but we also know that when he says that he was talking about the whole gospel, not just literally the cross".

What got me thinking was her choice of words. She quite rightly said that Paul says he preaches nothing but "Christ crucified" (verb) and then said; "The cross" (noun). Paul was declaring that he would preach nothing but the action - the verb - what Christ did on the Cross. Was Paul saying that he would preach nothing but describing the historical event, time, date and detail of what happened there? I wonder ...

To change tack slightly - the popstar Madonna (who I like by the way) - caused great controversy in one of her recent tours; "Confessions on a Dancefloor". During the show the popstar appeared on a sparkling and glittering cross as though she was being crucified. Here she is;

So the question I have is:

Was that performance blasphemous? Or beautiful?

The bulk of the controversy was among Catholics - to whom of course the icon of the Cross is seen as sacred. Madonna achieved her goal - she wanted people to talk about the song and her passion for bringing awareness to the orphans dying in Africa and religious people argued and disapproved of her (something she doesn't care very much about). But what about the song? Is there anything sacred about the actual "cross" itself?

I would argue not.

Crucifixion was a well-known practice of execution designed not simply to kill the condemned but to mutiliate and dishonour them in the worst possible way. It was such that the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21:23) actually said; "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree". The thousands upon thousands who were crucified by the Romans died in shame - but none of them achieved anything for us. Only one crucifixion (verb) achieved salvation for all mankind - and that was of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Son of God was prepared to literally die the worst death - so we could experience the best life!

"He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race".

He took love to Calvary! People often wonder what drives and motivates martyrs to walk with their heads held high to their deaths. I really believe it is nothing but love. Again I am prepared to fully conceed here that this is a too particular a discussion. Much of my concern lies with those (such as SGM) who to me over-emphasise the Cross at the expense of other aspects of the Gospel. But I fully admit that I am not privy to the preaching day-to-day that goes in in the USA churches and maybe the balance there is fully corrected. In which case - praise God!

The gospel is so completely gloriously wonderful in all its facets - why on earth would we want to single out one part? The life of Christ is indeed awesome. He lived and walked this very earth and experienced and suffered and was tempted in all points like as we - yet He sinned not. His death was unspeakably awful (and one that we could never and should never think we can imagine or grasp) - but love compelled Him there. His resurrection was glorious and triumphant as the powers of hell groaned in defeat. His ascension was something we can only dream of as He took His seat at the right hand of God and poured forth the Holy Spirit - "this which you now see and hear".

For us!

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Truncated Gospel?

It's been a few months or so since I have spoken about a subject very close to my heart - the "neglected" resurrection. It's never far from my thoughts though - just like my other favourite topics of theological discussion. Such as the Holy Spirit, His baptism, filling, gifts and Presence or the Song of Solomon! It doesn't take much for me to begin considering the importance of the resurrection though. Usually an over-use of the word; "The Cross" achieves it.

That's happened twice this week. I read a blog post that quoted Chris Tomlinson who asked the question;

"Can we talk about the Cross too much"?

My thought was - no surely we can't if we are talking about the WORK that Christ accomplished on the Cross. The taking of our sin in place of us. The pure and spotless sacrifice. But if we are talking about the Cross as a sentimental icon and sing emotive songs such as "The old rugged Cross" - about a Saviour hanging "there" - then yes, I think we can.

The second thing that brought this issue of the gospel and the neglected resurrection to my mind was reading a blog called "The Wartburg Watch". It is a blog written by two Southern Baptist women in the USA and of course is named after Martin Luther. They take an critical look at some of the church's more legalistic and assumed practices (it won't be to everyone's taste). But the particular blog post that caught my eye was titled; "A Deficient Gospel" - reviewing C J Mahaney's small book; "A Cross-centred Life". The interesting thing is that I have read this small book some years ago but even I didn't notice this (not being Mahaney's greatest fan).

Mahaney builds his book premise around the verse - 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 - that he cites as saying;

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins.”

From that Mahaney builds his theology around what he calls; "The main thing". However the "Wartburg Watch" saw something;

"Here’s why I believe Mahaney teaches a “deficient gospel”. Did you notice that he places a period after the phrase “that Christ died for our sins”? Paul, who was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, places a comma after the word “sins”. Well, maybe the translators actually inserted punctuation, but what is of vital importance is what Mahaney fails to include.

Now let’s go back to his original question: “What’s really the main thing in your life?” In other words, what is of “first importance”? Here is Paul’s complete response in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (ESV): “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

And this was their comment - that I loved so much I posted it today on my Twitter account.

"You see, a crucified “Saviour" ... is of no use unless He is resurrected".

Sounds obvious doesn't it? And many who speak adoringly of "the Cross" will impatiently probably snap that of course they know that Jesus Christ is resurrected. But I've discovered that one's theology and living tend to adapt to the vision of Jesus Christ that you persistently speak of and think about. If we as Christians (I believe) persistantly visualise Jesus Christ hanging broken and naked on a Cross, neglected and alone - then our theology will adapt to that belief. You will not develop a powerful optimistic missiology or eschatology and you may not have an adequate view of the Holy Spirit either.

Am I wrong? Prove me so. The emphasis of popular evangelicalism by "homies" such as Mahaney or Mark Driscoll urge us to spend much time at the foot of the Cross. Indeed Mahaney wrote in his book;

"When you’re tempted to doubt God’s love for you, stand before the cross and look at the wounded, dying, disfigured Savior, and realize why He is there. I believe His Father would whisper to us, “Isn’t that sufficient? I haven’t spared My own Son; I deformed and disfigured and crushed Him – for you. What more could I do to persuade you that I love you?”

It sounds incredibly emotive doesn't it? But is it actually biblical? When Stephen the first martyr was being stoned for his belief in Christ - I suspect that he may have been tempted to doubt God's love. No one who believed in Messiah had died for their beliefs and maybe Stephen wondered for a second if it was real. But he didn't see; "A wounded, dying, disfigured Saviour". Rather he saw;

" .... gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God ...Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

It is a vision of the fully alive and ascended Jesus Christ as Lord that will give us cause to NEVER doubt the love of God for us. Not trying to imagine what it looked like at Calvary. After all - let us never forget this compilation of verses from the New Testament that lead us inevitably and unquestionably to the understanding that it is the ASCENDED and resurrection Lord Jesus Christ who pours out the Holy Spirit that really gives us certainity of the love of God for us.

"Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing (Acts 2:33 - ESV) .... For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Romans 8:15 - KJV)".

For me there is a complete gospel that leads me on from staying stuck considering my indwelling sin. It leads me from deep appreciation and awe and wonder at what Jesus did for me back 2000 years ago but on to the empty Cross and empty tomb and the thrill of hearing the victory echoes of heaven as He entered in with a host and sat down at the right hand of the Father until all His enemies have been put under His feet.

So a complete Gospel?

1. He came to earth in the incarnation - very God and very man.

2. He lived a perfect and spotless life - "tempted in all points like as we - yet without sin".

3. He died a death - taking our sin upon Him and becoming sin for us.

4. He rose victoriously binding principalities and powers by taking away the Law.

5. He ascended on high taking "captivity captive".

6. He sat down enthroned on high until His enemies are made His footstool - and poured out "this which you know SEE and HEAR" - the promised Holy Spirit who cries out "Abba! Father!"'.

Why live a Cross-centred life when you can live a gospel-centred life and take the most glorious message to the waiting and desperate lost?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Christians Fitting the Cliche? Or Being Salt and Light?

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I love to stir things up and question the status quo (translated often as "the mess we are in"). One of my guilty secret pasttimes when I get back from work is to watch "America's Next Top Model" - a famous US reality T.V show. It's just something I enjoy daily while winding down after work.

They have been replaying previous series and I have been following with interest the progress of two Christian young women on the programme. Both are clearly evangelical and have displayed this quite evidently. For example one of the gay models had her girlfriend come visit. The two Christian girls made it quite evident that they disapproved of this visit and would not greet the visitor when she arrived. Instead they stayed in their bedroom and "prayed" and read the Bible until the visitor had safely left. Understandably this disgusted the other models in the competition.

The final showdown was when the models were sent to Paris and were asked to pose nude with diamonds as part of a couture show. The two Christians were offered the chance to wear flesh-coloured body tape but refused to take part. However the twist to the tale was that one of the Christian girls flashed herself inappropriately to the fashion director previously when watched (unseen) by Tyra Banks - the show's creator. The judges questioned the Christian model on her apparant hypocrisy - to which she had no answer.

Here's the scene:

So the question I have is this. Do these Christian women represent what's right and what's good and moral about religion? Are they good ambassadors for the gospel? Or maybe they are victims of media clever editing? Or actually are they typical of "religious" Christians who say one thing and then behind closed doors when they think no one is watching - act somewhat differently?

I have an opinion (of course!) but I'm not going to give it. I am absolutely amazed with a quote I read of Dr Stanley Jebb - he wrote it many years ago in a "Restoration Magazine" that I am reading currently. He may not believe it anymore - but I think it's excellent;

"Have eyes wide open to see the grace of God in each other. Any fool can see the negative things in a life".

Sunday, February 14, 2010

John MacArthur on How to Minister to Legalists

I was interested to read the following answer given by John Macarthur at the Shepherds Conference in the USA. I'm not sure I agree with it - but John Macarthur usually demands some consideration to his statements. The question was this;

"How would you approach a congregation trapped in years of legalistic tradition?"

The answer;

1. Love them by not needlessly offending them.

a - Advice. “I would not attack legalism. I would not preach on Christian liberty. I would not assault their consciences either by flaunting liberty on a personal level.”

b - Scriptural principle. “I think there is a very important principle that comes at the end of 1 Corinthians 10 . . . . Do you offend the non-believer, or do you offend your weaker brother? The answer in that text is you offend the non-believer, and the message that the non-believer gets is that you love one another. . . . You defer always to the weaker brother.”

c - Definition of legalism. “In many cases when you’re talking about legalism, you’re not talking really about works-salvation. You’re talking, I assume, about an approach to the Christian life that is needlessly restrictive and narrow and artificially constructed around certain behaviors that aren’t even biblical issues.”

d - Application. “What you need to do is to understand that’s where they are, and you want to demonstrate love to them because that’s how people know that Christ has changed your life, because you are demonstrably sacrificial and loving to those people who maybe think differently than you do.”

2. Understand that convictions—whether right or wrong—inform the conscience.

a - “You also have to understand that the conscience is a mechanism given by God to everyone. It is a device. It is a mechanism by which we are excused or accused, right (Romans 2)? It is informed by our convictions. Conscience is informed by conviction.”

b - Illustration. “I suppose no one has a more highly informed and aggressive conscience than a Muslim terrorist, right? They do what they do with passion to the point of their own suicide, believing that they’re gonna end up with seventy-two virgins on pillows in the next life. Their conscience frees them to do what they do because it is informed by a set of convictions that have been drummed into them.”

3. Slowly re-educate their conscience by exalting Jesus.

a - Challenge. “When it comes into the Christian realm, you have a dilemma between re-informing them [and] at the same time that you don’t train them to ignore their conscience or after they’re re-informed, they’re gonna be used to doing what their conscience tells them. That’s why Paul is so clear on that at the end of Romans. . . . You can’t train people to ignore conscience. You have to take the long-term approach to re-inform the conscience.”

b - First step. “I would suggest that the first way to do that is to move people off the rules they live by on to the person of Jesus Christ, and just preach the glories of Christ. Get in a Gospel and stay there until those people have been liberated from rules to love for Christ, until they have been literally swept away in awe and wonder over their affections for Jesus Christ. Rather than try to instruct them on the biblical disciplines, which again is just another set of rules, let them be lost in wonder, love, and praise over the person of Christ, and you watch those things begin to disappear.”

So what do we think? Not radical enough? Or hitting a godly and fair balance?

Ryan Rufus Talks about "Sanctification by Grace"

A lot of Christians like to talk about sanctification and there are many approaches to it. Some tend on the more legalistic and like to talk about "indwelling sin". Their hope is that by focusing on how dreadful sin is they may become more horrified by it and thereby stay away from it. While one applauds their zeal, the question is; "Does it work?". Ryan Rufus presents a different approach to sanctification that I think deserves a hearing.

Here he talks about his second book; "Sanctification by Grace";

Sanctification by Grace - Ryan talks about his book. from City Church on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Defying Gravity!!

When I was growing up in Dunstable at my home church - New Covenant Church - there was a book circulating round the All-Age Bible School. It was called; "Living Above the Level of Mediocrity" by Charles Swindoll. I must confess I never read the book - I wasn't old enough and still haven't to this day. But the title of it always stuck with me. Christians - in the main - tend to excel at living a life of mediocrity.

Words like; "Safe", "Maturity", "decently and in order" are all very much words in the Christian vocabulary. Whereas other just as valid words in the Word of God like; "Martyr" and "hero" and "die for the faith" aren't spoken about as much! If you talk about martyrdom or going to the nations to spread the gospel - many Christians look at you oddly. Helen Keller once said;

"The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”

I fear that many Christians don't have much vision. Sure we may believe we are hear to "bear witness" - but do we really believe that the Gospel of God is THE power - and the only power that He has given to transform this world? Sure we may believe that God has the sovereign right and power to heal and intervene in time and space - but do we believe that He has given that authority to us here and now by His Holy Spirit to do the job ourselves?

I was listening to a song from the musical; "Wicked" while I was at the gym the other day. It really excited me because I think it actually sums up the call to Christians to live "above the level of mediocrity".

"Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game

Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes: and leap!

It's time to try
Defying gravity
I think I'll try
Defying gravity
And you can't pull me down!

Together we're unlimited
Together we'll be the greatest team
There's ever been
There's no fight we cannot win
Just you and I
Defying gravity
With you and I
Defying gravity

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
"Ev'ryone deserves the chance to fly!"
And if I'm flying solo
At least I'm flying free

To those who'd ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
Defying gravity
I'm flying high

Defying gravity
And soon I'll match them in renown
And nobody ...
Is ever gonna bring me down!".

I hate the fact that it's been a couple of years since I last did something that could be classed as "defying gravity". One of the reasons why flying to Hong Kong for the "Glory and Grace Conference" was so shocking to me was because I felt God call me to go just a month before the event. It was scary and terrifying flying off around the world on my own to a city I'd never visited before in a conference with Christians I had never met. But it was the most amazing time of my life!

I want this year to be the same. I want to "defy gravity"! And I want to send a message to those "who would ground" me. Sadly those who would ground us tend to be Christians and often Christians who think they know us. So this year I have certain goals and aims!

1. I have a meeting planned with an SGM leader here in the United Kingdom next month. I am dreading it. I'm scared. But I want to go through with it to finally bring closure on that nasty chapter on my life. I am full of faith that it can get sorted and that I hope my relationship with my family will get sorted.

2. There is another "Glory and Grace Conference" in October and I do hope to go - even if I have to go on my own! I am full of hope and faith it will be a catalyst moment that will propel me to greater levels.

And there are just two - but I am looking for more! You see the thing I dread the most is getting to the end of my life and having regrets that I lived a "normal" life - going to work, paying taxes, getting married. That's all valid. But if we don't change the world that we live in for the glory of God - then what's it all about?

Time to fly!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Money .... Money .... Money (In a Rich Man's World)

The issue of money is always a rather sensitive one (particularly in Western culture) and it seems even more sensitive when it comes to church leaders. Charismatic tele-evangelists are frequently lambasted in the media (both religious and non) for their overly extravagant lifestyles, private jets and so on. I think as a result many newer church leaders have become somewhat more private about the handling of finances.

I was intrigued therefore to see a post on "SGM Survivors" (the blog that takes a perhaps more objective look at the popular Sovereign Grace Ministries) that concerned C J Mahaney and his financial giving and in particular - his gifts to Southern Baptist Seminary. This information comes from the financial statements of a publication of Southern Baptist Seminary themselves - so I must emphasise this is not gossip or hearsay but the truth.

Here's what I can make out - C J Mahaney has given large sums of money to Southern Baptist Seminary over a period of years (2005 to 2008 are covered) - both from himself personally and from Sovereign Grace Ministries themselves. These gifts mean that C J Mahaney was given certain honoury titles such as; "President's Council" or "Distinguished Associate" in recognition of these gifts.

Now here's what I want to make abundantly clear.

"SGM Survivors" are discussing the implications of this giving and unsurprisingly are extremely suspicious about it. There are suggestions being drawn that Mahaney has bought himself to celebrity status and so on. There are questions being discussed as to why Mahaney and SGM would give so generously to a seminary that they do not send their prospective leaders to and are not even from the same denomination. But I (and no one apart from Mahaney himself) know the truth of these questions - and NO ONE (apart from Mahaney and his Lord) know the motives behind this extremely generous giving. A gift of an equivalent of £65, 000 in a year is more money than I can even dream of!

I do know that Matthew 6:2 makes it clear what the Lord Jesus Christ thinks of public giving and giving for the wrong reasons. In essence He says;

"They have had their reward in full".

Suggesting the earthly acclaim will be all they receive. The Gospels make it clear that private and secret giving is what brings pleasure to God - and again, I have am sure that Mahaney gives generously and privately (I hope). In the past I would have probably delighted in anything that made Mahaney and SGM look bad - and I think that these annual generous gifts to a theological seminary may be seen as good or bad whatever your perspective.

I think it raises a good question however - and one I have not thought of for a couple of years. Why is it "better to give than receive"? The Bible says so - but can it be right to give with the sole aim of gaining something? Yes - unquestionably. The whole doctrine of Christian hedonism (as taught by by Sam Storms and John Piper) that I am really enjoying re-visiting teaches this. However - the greatest and most highest pleasure must come surely from the sole joy of knowing you have the smile of your beloved heavenly Father.

I learned the most about giving at the Stoneleigh Bible Weeks and the Brighton Conferences when Terry Virgo would recount frequent anonymous blessings heaped on people who would give in faith. God must surely get the most glory when the beneficiary does not know who he or she has received the financial blessing from - and can only give thanks to God.

I remember reading a story about C H Spurgeon going to Bristol to raise money for London's orphans. He raised £300 which was probably an equivalent of Mahaney's £100, 000 - but heard the Lord telling him to give the money to George Mueller in Bristol and his orphanage work. He wrestled but obeyed the Lord in the end and went back to London. When Spurgeon returned to London, he found an envelope on his desk containing more than £300. The Lord had returned the £300 he had obediently given to Mueller, with 300 shillings of interest!

But Spurgeon never knew where that envelope came from. That anonymous giver will have their reward in heaven says the Word of God.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Tributes to Arthur Wallis!

I am still really enjoying my new "Restoration Magazine" collection - and was interested and moved to read tributes that were written in light of Arthur Wallis's death. I have always known of the impact Arthur had on the charismatic scene in the United Kingdom but it was interesting to read the personal tributes from many charismatic leaders.

For example Terry Virgo wrote;

"I would probably have never written a book if it were not for Arthur".

Ern Baxter wrote;

"We weren't destined to meet in some formally pre-prepared setting. We met in the men's toilet's and looking at each other blurted out, "You must be ..."!

And Stanley Jebb wrote;

"Arthur impressed me by his biblical outlook. In the early 1960's when a number of us were working out and studying the subject of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Arthur was a great encouragement. His clear teaching and insistence on going back to the Word of God for answers was a challenge and an inspiration to all".

The other tributes are below. Thank God for fathers in the faith! This is one of the reasons why I could never attend a youth church or a student church (despite the fact that I'm too old!). Of course there are abuses and excesses and leadership manipulation - but the fact is that we need fathers and mothers in the faith. Arthur Wallis was clearly one such to many - and many of my generation I am sure have benefited from his indirect influence on men that we see as fathers in the faith today - such as Terry Virgo or Ern Baxter.

Back to Transcribing - Rob Rufus and Stanley Jebb!!

As many of you know my transcribing has been through a quiet patch - it is so incredibly difficult finding the time to sit down with a glorious sermon and type it out. Working 07:30 to 18:30 many days followed by an intense gym session (I'm training for a half marathon at the end of the month in Brighton!) - it is so hard to find the time! I hate that excuse. I've never had any patience with pastors who have told me that they can't do this or do that because they are "too busy" - but am slowly beginning to understand how busy life can often be.

However I've started two transcribing projects - one is a sermon by the wonderful Rob Rufus. I neglect this servant of God at my peril. It sounds over the top - but hell does not want anyone listening to Rob. He has such an insight into the doctrines of grace that the devil will do anything (including sowing suspicion, lies about him and City Church International) to just stop hearing what he preaches! But everytime I do listen to Rob - my soul is immeasurably blessed. I am typing his message: "“Wisdom for 2010” - the first sermon of 2010 on the 3rd of January 2010 at City Church International.

I love the opening sermons of the year at City Church International - it often lays down the gauntlet for what to expect from the year and this sermon is no different. Rob starts by making a statement about what he expects from 2010. A small part of me cringes when preachers make prophetic statements about what God may do. That's no fault on the part of the preachers. That is a fault on my small faith. I am scared of daring to believe. But Rob said;

"But I am deeply impressed after five weeks of waiting on God – I am deeply impressed that 2010 is a year of blessings that will surpass ANY previous year for the people of grace! You could say that is one of those optimistic, New Year hopes again! No – no. I am believing that for 2010 the will of God is to bring unprecedented blessings for the people of grace that is beyond any previous year we have EVER experienced! That will always be with difficulties and hardships. The blessings will cause many more hardships to come at you but you will be so blessed you will handle it well!"

Rob then moved on to state what he feels will be the devil's main strategy in 2010;

"I am also deeply impressed by the Spirit of God when the enemy’s main strategy and main plot will be to con us through false wisdom out of the blessing. I pray that everyone who listens to this message hears this – the enemy’s main strategy will be to con us through false wisdom or fake wisdom or worldly wisdom or “human” (1st Corinthians) wisdom or the “wisdom of this age” – to give us convincing cons as to what we should do and he will try to get us out of place and position for the unprecedented jubilee of God".

Again I think there is a balance here that is truly biblical. C S Lewis saw it and portrayed it accurately in his "Screwtape Letters". Some Christians completely ignore the devil's presence and blame all hardships, failures and down times on our "flesh" or I guess SGM may call it "indwelling sin". Essentially if something is going wrong in your life then it's your fault and your sin to blame. The other extreme is the more triumphalistic charismatic stream that blame every hardship on a demon of something or other (Derek Prince perhaps typified this teaching best) - and the way to handle this is to exorcise "everything".

I think Rob strikes a mature and sensible balance. There IS a devil and he DOES have an army of demons who ARE actively present in trying to bring down Christians. Rob makes the case that the devil doesn't really care what the issue is he assaults us with. He isn't bothered if Christians live an immoral life or a deceitful life. What he is bothered about is that we lose faith in God. And Rob defines faith as;

"Faith is a good opinion about God. If you have any suspicion towards God then you are listening to a demonic voice; “Did God really say?”.

A good opinion about God. Some Christians may be shocked at that - how can we not have a good opinion about God? But the question is - who do we normally blame when things are tough? Some Christians even dare to say things like; "I'll trust God IF He does this for me". No - true faith is having a good enduring opinion about God and never asking; "Did God really say ... ?".

And being a true gospel preacher Rob then expounded the wonders of the Cross of Christ like I've never heard before. Read this:

"Faith is easy when we have a clear picture of Christ crucified.

1. He wore a crown of thorns so that you and I can wear a crown of glory!

2. On the Cross He was rejected so that you and I can forever and ever be sons of the Father.

3. On the Cross HE looked up and His Father wasn’t there, so that forever we can look up forever the smiling face of our Father is there – after our worst sin, the smiling face of the Father will ALWAYS be there, because that sin was put on Jesus and the face of the Father was withdrawn from Jesus. The great exchange means that forever we can look up and our Father’s face will NEVER not be there and will always be smiling!

It is impossible for Father to withdraw His face! If He ever does then He must implode into oblivion and to nothingness and non-existence because He has violated the law of double jeopardy and has lost all credibility. He cannot punish the same sin twice! Father is permanently there with love and favour and position to desperately want to bless you if you will repent and change your thinking and return to grace!

4. He was made your sin so you may be made His righteousness.

5. He died young so that you can live long.

6. He created the heavens and earth and on the Cross lost everything so we can gain everything! We gain the universe the New Testament says!

7. One of the last things Jesus saw was His garments being gambled over by soldiers while He hung naked so we can be clothed in favour.

8. He took our curse so that we can receive His blessings. In all these things, persecutions, disappointments, betrayals we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us! We rest in the finished work of the Cross!".

True Cross-centered preaching will inevitably build faith. How can we not look at the Cross of Christ in it's true glory and not have a good opinion about God? The trouble is I have sat through too many allegedly "Cross-centred" sermons that are nothing to do with the true Gospel because those sermons raised condemnation and produce legalism and "lists of things" to do. I love the way that Rob Rufus broke down why the Cross was the master plan of God - to bring about the salvation of many!

I've taken up too much time - other than to say that the other sermon I am working on is a recent sermon of Stanley Jebb's that he preached at a church near Southampton on worship. It's interesting to hear. I hope to publish Rob's sermon soon!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sam Storms at Desiring God Conference for Pastors!

If I had an unlimited budget then there is no doubt that one of my greatest pleasures would be to "conference-hop" over the earth and manage to hear the great names that I admire and respect. I was extremely excited to hear that Sam Storms was the keynote speaker at John Piper's conference for pastors at Desiring God this year. The conference has just ended and blog updates can be found at the Desiring God blog. Adrian Warnock has taken a slightly different approach but still reflects on the conference extremely well.

Sam's topic (unsurprisingly) was Christian hedonism. It is a doctrine I am familiar with but Adrian Warnock said quite rightly that it is something we need to be reminded of. In fact he said;

"The message of Christian hedonism is intoxicating!".

I like that. Sam Storms third message dealt extremely practically with the issue of combating sin and this is something I am increasingly becoming passionate about. I have made no secret of the fact that the SGM/Mahaney approach of speaking about "indwelling sin" and the processes of accountability trouble me. Frankly I don't think they work and actually give sin a platform that it does not deserve and take away from the power and finality of the Cross.

Sam Storms summarises the various approaches to dealing with sin well:

"I think Christians have typically employed three tactics in their efforts to help others fight sin:

1. Labor to portray sin in the ugliest possible terms, hoping and praying to frighten people into righteous living.
2. Revert to legalism by producing long lists to corral our impulses.
3. Argue that the problem is the presence of desire for pleasure in the human soul".

He summarises;

"The only way you can conquer one pleasure is with another greater and more pleasing pleasure. The only way to break the bondages in which our people find themselves is by cultivating a passion for joy and delight in beholding the beauty of Jesus".

And concluded;

"People are in bondage to sin today because they are bored stiff with God, and that's our fault. If your people don't hear you speak the same truths that Paul did and if they don't sense the enthusiasm in you that was in him, they will just go home and turn on whatever anesthetizes their pain".

I realise that to some who view grace seriously - this may not be enough. To others like those who still see indwelling sin - this may be too much. But I found this message encouraging and challenging. And above all if it makes us re-think the wonder of what Christ did at the Cross then it's going to be worth-while!