Wednesday, March 31, 2010

By the Grace of God - I Am what I Am!

It's been a bit of a week of considering this age-old issue of "indwelling sin". For me it's one that tends to come and go depending on what I am reading. Yesterday I was considering John Piper and his decision to take a break to;

"... not making peace, but war, with my own sins".

I am so full of admiration for Piper's candour and honesty. My amazing friend Jon Cressey commented SO rightly; "I need 3 life times to have this much character". And I hope and pray that Piper returns from his leave refreshed and revived in his ministry and his marriage. But I hope that he is not disappointed if he returns and finds that his war on sin in his life maybe not over in the way he sees it.

I was amazed and thrilled to read Terry Virgo's latest "Firstline" in the latest Newfrontiers magazine where he deals with exactly this issue. The context to Terry writing the issue was strangely familiar;

"I was expounding Ephesians 2 and celebrating the fact that we are new creations, created in Christ Jesus. We are called ‘saints’, holy ones, and are certainly no longer regarded as ‘sinners’ ... After one of my previously mentioned sermons, a handsome young man approached me with, ‘Surely we are essentially still sinners aren’t we?’ He then began literally shedding tears and confessed to serious problems in the realm of sexual temptation".

Some may applaud the young man for his honesty and ask him to continue weeping over such sin. Terry did not.

"I opened Romans 6 with him for fifteen minutes, asking him Paul’s robust question, ‘Are we to continue in sin …?’ and showing him Paul’s even more forthright answer, ‘By no means!’ (King James, ‘God forbid!’). followed by his clear argument, ‘How shall we who died to sin still live in it?’. The young man seemed surprised, maybe expecting the answer, ‘Well of course we do still struggle with sin because essentially we are still sinners.’ Paul did not take that line!".

The result to Terry's wonderful personal teaching (I admit to feeling very jealous) was this;

"(Terry told him) As a new creation he has the power to rule his members. He was called to live free from slavery to sin because he was not a sinner but a saint. After our chat his countenance changed, his eyes looked brighter and I think a flicker of hope had replaced the inevitability he had felt that as a sinner he was still bound to sin".

Here is the MAIN point that perfectly (as Terry does so wonderfully and frequently for me) sums up the situation here;

"The Cross amazes me and fills me with wonder and worship, praise and thanksgiving! To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel".

Surely that is the MAIN thing about the glorious Gospel! Terry goes on;

"If I insist on teaching that Christians are still essentially sinners, what is the Good News? Has anybody got some better news?".

I admit to a degree of frustration with my friends from Sovereign Grace Ministries. I dearly love a number of them and appreciate and value the emphasis on the Cross that they bring through some of their good teaching. However the emphasis and debates I have on indwelling sin (while loving the debates and discussion!) saddens me - that the door is wide open to condemnation and guilt and fear (emotions and feelings I am so familiar with) through being told; "You must do ... do ... do" rather than the Gospel emphasis; "It's done .... it's done .... it's done!".

A final word from Terry:

"Terry, are you saying that you never sin?’ Sadly in this age of conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil I do, but I sin as a saint with all the sadness and inappropriateness of it – not as a sinner with all the inevitability that that suggests".

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time to Step Upto the Block!

I was interested to read John Piper's latest blog; "John Piper's Upcoming Leave". For those who haven't read it - Piper announces that he is shortly going to go on leave until December 2010. Unlike his previous sabbaticals this will not be a flurry of productivity (usual Piper) with books that we can enjoy and benefit from. He wrote;

"In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation or preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements".

Bad news for Piper fans. Why is Piper doing this?

"I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit ... I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me".

There may be some who wonder why Piper is taking this leave and what's going on - and I confess I'm one of them. But my wondering about Piper the man is overridden by the challenge facing the generation he leaves for a season.

My friend Pete Day and I like to think of these living heroes of the faith as "teachers" in the analogy of a school. Students rely on full-time teachers that come day by day and impart knowledge (local pastor/teachers). But some key teachers only come part-time or sometimes once a term to teach a key lesson (apostles/prophets/national pastor/teachers). John Piper is to many thousands just that - a teacher that we value and love.

But he's going away - and there is nothing we can do about it. For those who over-rely on his teaching, his blogs, his Twitter, and his books - there is a problem! They are going to find a Piper-shaped void. I think that our generation has a challenge and an opportunity to step up and see the amazing productivity that John Piper rolls out month by month. He writes, he prays, he blogs, he tweets, he lives the message that he loves and believes in.

What about us? Do we moan and whinge that we don't have "time" to blog or write or tweet or share what is on our heart? Maybe there is nothing on our hearts! Maybe that is a truth we must honestly confront and go and live in the Word of God and under the hovering Presence of the Holy Spirit. Find the message! Live the message! And then write and share that message. Even if John Piper does return in December to us as he left us - if not better - (and we pray he does) - he will go to glory one day and will not be with us forever.

Where are the John Pipers of our generation? The visionaries who believe in and are prepared to die for the vision they have seen?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hope for the Future by Remembering the Past

The tension between remembering the past and gazing to the future is a problematic one at times. Too many Christians tend to gaze fondly back at the past and say; "If only the old days ...". However I find that remembering God's actions in the past are one of the most sure and firm ways of encouragement and of building faith when the present seems to be absent or devoid of the manifest Presence of God. The devil tries to attack our faith by asking; "Does God really still do that today?". If we look back at the past we know for a sure fact He DOES and He WILL again!

So just a short quote from Restoration Magazine - November 1976. Arthur Wallis wrote this in the editorial letter;

"The Dales Bible Week almost defies description. At times waves of praise and worship seemed to roll over the congregation like the sound of many waters. At other times we knew the awesome silence of God's presence amongst us. The thousands present responded with the leap of faith to the ministry of the Word delivered in such rich anointing of authority and faith. What a tremendous foretaste of the ever increasing multitude who will fill the earth with the song of praise and share in the rule of righteousness".

He did it before! He can do it again!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

New Wine Magazine - July 1983

This is one of my favourite copies of New Wine Magazine - the July 1983 edition - marking the release of Dr Ern Baxter's latest book; "I Almost Died!". I actually have it framed on my bedroom wall - and decided to put it into PDF format so that it is preserved and protected!
I will never forget probably "the" Shepherding Movement historian - S David Moore who wrote; "The Shepherding Movement: Controversy and Charismatic Ecclesiology" made a comment:

"...essential for an accurate history of the Shepherding movement is a complete collection of New Wine. The magazine published from 1969 through to 1986 was the principal publishing voice of the five teachers and the movement."

It is my belief that these journals - New Wine Magazine and the Restoration Magazine here in the UK - were the key and unique element for the Charismatic Movement. Far more people read these magazines than would usually sit down to read a "theological" tome so it is highly likely that the charismatic teachers such as Ern Baxter or Bob Mumford or Terry Virgo or Bryn Jones reached a massive audience at that time.

And their message should not be lost!