Monday, April 30, 2012

Brent Detwiler and Reality in Church

Dear oh dear.

I don't really know what to think anymore with Brent vs C J Mahaney/SGM.  But one of my concerns with the huge fees paid out to Ambassadors of Reconciliation (for what really is quite a shoddy report) and now this - where is the glory to God?  And what does the watching world think I wonder as SGM ups ship and moves to Kentucky?

Here's Brent's latest blog post;

My Appeal to the SGM Pastors for a Church Court in Order to Avoid a Civil Court.

The sum total is that this incredibly focused and driven man is mustering his forces and seems intent on taking C J Mahaney and SGM before a civil magistrate for "damages".  How grieving must this be to God?  I am sure SGM-supporters would place the blame solely at Brent's door - but let us not forget that the closest C J got to an apology was retracted angrily at the SGM Pastors conference.

On another note I was deeply saddened to read about the suicide/allegations of the Voice of the Martyrs CEO.  Having experienced sexual abuse myself in our church private school, I do know how desperation can lead to suicide.  Nothing upsets me more than hearing people claim; "Suicide is the most selfish thing someone can do". The occasional times I have contemplated suicide, it is when desperation and the sickening ache of fear makes it seem as if there is no other way out.  And true - at times, the only thing that does keep me from popping those pills is the guilt of what it would do to my family and loved ones.  So my heart aches for all those involved.

My point is this - I think God is allowing His church to go through a time of transparency when it is impossible to hide the truth from the watching world.  It concerns me when people like a Mahaney or Harvey try and pretend "all's well" - when it isn't.  Let's admit it - we are human and no better than anyone.  But it is the message of the gospel that makes the difference and leads us on.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unchanging Truth in a Time of Change

I think one of the reasons why the SGM drama/crisis affected me among so many others is that it has shaken our faith mainly in church leadership but also has caused us to evaluate what we really believe.  My church history background has been based in based in reformed/charismatic evangelicalism that emphasized most of our problems were sin-related.  We were also taught to respect and honour our leaders.  In both situations - my faith in our leadership was shaken.

In Dunstable, Stanley - our senior pastor - made a major shift in his theology on the Holy Spirit and such a change unfortunately coincided with my baptism in the Holy Spirit.  However God worked this together for good - and I had to dig deep into the Word of God and such teachers as Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Terry Virgo who led me to see the glorious truth.

In SGM, my history and subsequent observation of C J Mahaney and Dave Harvey's behaviour as revealed by Brent Detwiler shook my faith again.  But I am believing that God is working this together for good and is leading me step by step away from this sin-focused obsession and step by step into His glorious grace.

I was running on the treadmill at the gym today and by chance (I run my iPhone on shuffle) a wonderful old chorus of Dave Fellingham's came on (squashed in between Steps and Lady Gaga);

"At Your feet we fall, mighty risen Lord, 
As we come before Your throne to worship You. 
By Your Spirit's power You now draw our hearts, 
And we hear Your voice in triumph ringing clear.

I am He that liveth, that liveth and was dead, 
Behold I am alive forever more. 

There we see You stand, mighty risen Lord, 
Clothed in garments pure and holy, shining bright. 
Eyes of flashing fire, feet like burnished bronze, 
And the sound of many waters is Your voice. 

Like the shining sun in its noonday strength, 
We now see the glory of Your wondrous face. 
Once that face was marred, but now You're glorified, 
And Your words like a two-edged sword have mighty power".

An amazing song!  But it was a tremendous reminder of the unchanging nature of the living God.  I've been spending time tonight re-visiting the past promises, dreams and visions that God has been so favourable to grant me (nothing compared to a man like Rob Rufus - but still - I am BLESSED!).  For example, I was amazed to have completely forgotten these few dreams;

"Terry Virgo and Angels Snipers!!" - a dream I had back in 2009.

"Dreams, dreams, dreams!!" - documenting some of the key dreams I have had in my life - one back in 2001 about a call to "ministry", one involving a tidal wave of glory speeding towards Brighton in 2006 (that I shared with Terry Virgo) and another about walking in a field of corn with my dear friend Pete Day.

A reminder - a glorious one at that - of the power of children prophesying - "your daughters shall prophesy!".

"The tide is turning" - a prophetic promise from Terry Virgo back at the glorious Brighton conference in 2007 - is still true I think.  But tides ... who can predict when they reach fullness?  I found this quote from Jim Goll;

"When God seems silent, there are several things you can do. 1. Stick with what you already know.What was the last thing the Lord said to you or told you to do? Have you done it? Why should He tell you something new until you have completed what He has already revealed?".

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"The Neglected Resurrection" by Matthew Barrett

This is a really good post and needs to be heard now more than ever:

"Too often in our churches the resurrection of Christ is a doctrine of secondary importance. It is neglected and forgotten until Easter comes around each year. The same disregard for the resurrection is seen in how we share the gospel. Christians tend to share the gospel as if Jesus died on the cross and that is the end of the story. We make a zip line from the crucifixion to "repent and believe," contrary to the example Peter sets for us in Acts 2:22-24 and 4:26. The cross is central to our salvation, but what God accomplished there is incomplete unless the tomb is empty on Sunday morning. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is vital "for us and our salvation" (to borrow from the Nicene Creed). But how exactly?

Our Regeneration Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ 

Have you ever read the resurrection narratives and said, "Praise God! Because Christ has risen I am born again!" I know I haven't. But if we truly understand the implications of Christ's resurrection for our salvation, the new birth would be the first place to turn. Scripture teaches that our new birth---God's supernatural, monergistic act whereby the Spirit makes us a new creature in Christ, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh---is only possible because Jesus is risen. Consider two passages. According to Peter, God has "caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet 1:3). The same God who raised Christ from the grave has also raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life. And the apostle Paul says that while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God, being rich in mercy, "made us alive together with Christ" and "raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:5-6; cf. Col 3:1). Because God has raised Christ from the dead, he can make us alive together with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ's resurrection life is the very basis and means by which we are born again.

Our Justification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ 

Those who believe in the God who raised Christ from the dead are counted righteous. As Paul says in Romans 4:23-25, like Abraham we are counted righteous, for we believe in him "who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." By raising Jesus from the dead, God approved the work of Christ on the cross for our sins. God declared his Son's work complete! The penalty for our sin has been paid, and no guilt remains. As Wayne Grudem explains: When the Father in essence said to Christ, "All the penalty for sins has been paid and I find you not guilty but righteous in my sight," he was thereby making the declaration that would also apply to us once we trusted in Christ for salvation. In this way Christ's resurrection also gave final proof that he had earned our justification (Systematic Theology). Jonathan Edwards also states the matter precisely: For if Christ were not risen, it would be evidence that God was not yet satisfied for [our] sins. Now the resurrection is God declaring his satisfaction; he thereby declared that it was enough; Christ was thereby released from his work; Christ, as he was Mediator, is thereby justified (Miscellanies, Vol. 13, 227). In other words, if God did not raise Christ from the dead, he would essentially be saying, "I am not satisfied with your atoning work on behalf of sinners." If this were the case, we would still be dead in our sins, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17. And if we are still dead in our sins then we stand guilty before a holy God, unjustified and condemned. It is hard to improve upon the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: If it is not a fact that Christ literally rose from the grave, then you are still guilty before God. Your punishment has not been borne, yours sins have not been dealt with, you are yet in your sins. It matters that much: without the Resurrection you have no standing at all (The Assurance of Our Salvation, 492).

Our Sanctification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ

In Romans 6, Paul explains that we can "walk in newness of life" because Christ was raised from the dead. We are not to continue in sin, for how, as Paul asked, "can we who died to sin still live in it?" We have been baptized into the death of Christ so that "just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:3-4). But Paul is not finished. He has much more to say about the resurrection and our sanctification. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:5-12). Paul's last two sentences are especially powerful. As Christians, we are united to Christ. Christ died to sin, and so also must we consider ourselves dead to sin. But Christ also came back to life. The life he lives he lives to God. Therefore, as those who are in Christ, we are alive to God. No longer are we to walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Our old, unbelieving, sinful, condemned self has been crucified with Christ. And now that we are new creatures, we are no longer enslaved to sin, but by the power of the Spirit are able to walk in this newness of life. None of this, however, is possible if Christ remains in the tomb. His resurrection is our victory over the reign of sin. Only because he has risen do we have the assurance, the confidence, and the ability to now walk in godliness. In this light, therefore, Paul's admonition is all the more convicting: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).

The Climax of Redemptive History

Richard Gaffin once wrote that not only is the resurrection of Christ the pivotal factor in Paul's soteriology, the "climax of the redemptive history of Christ," but it is also that "from which the individual believer's experience of redemption derives in its specific and distinguishing character and in all aspects of its inexhaustible fullness" (Resurrection and Redemption, 135). I couldn't agree more. If we miss the importance of Christ's resurrection for our salvation, then we have, as Sinclair Ferguson observes, misunderstood the gospel, severing our salvation from the lordship of Christ (Resurrection and Redemption, 6). How unthinkable this must be for the Christian who, as Calvin explains, believes that "our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ" (Institutes II.16.19). 

Matthew Barrett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett has contributed book reviews and articles to various academic journals. He is married to Elizabeth and they have two daughters, Cassandra and Georgia. He is a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

This is No Thaw - This is Spring I tell you!

I am enjoying the first day off of my "new attitude" and have been re-visiting the glorious resources that are out there on the internet for free.  Who would have thought that we can listen to sermons preached on the other side of the world so quickly!?

I have been looking around the old websites I used to visit so regularly - starting off by looking at "the state of the nation" - what Christian conferences are still around and boy, are there a few!  I feel ashamed I have not been more aware.  More of that later.  But I was re-encouraged by a quote of Terry Virgo's in his final Firstline at last years final "Together on a Mission";

"From the original formation of Newfrontiers we have believed that God still pours out His Spirit and that the New Testament model of Spirit-filled churches, established on apostolic foundations and committed to world mission, remains plan A. We have never been content with a cessationist perspective that expects the church to try advancing without God’s manifest presence".

This is ALL about His manifest Presence.  Without Him - we are nothing.

And I have been listening to Rob Rufus speak to his leaders in Hong Kong on; "Charisma and Leadership";

Part 1: The Power of Influence - How to Develop Charisma. Rob Rufus from City Church on Vimeo.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Time for a NEW Beginning ... !

These past few weeks have been difficult ones for me personally.  I've become aware of some traits in my life that need dealing with.  I've neglected this blog quite a bit and have been throwing myself 100% into my work - which I adore.  I love working for an employer like Birmingham Children's Hospital and are so grateful for heroes like my CEO and Chief Nurse who have given me opportunities I am so fortunate to have!

But I have contemplated that I have almost allowed my identity to become my work.  It has got to the point where my body has actually physically given up and I have had to have some time off work (which I HATE!).  But I am hoping this time off will be a good thing and will help me to make necessary adjustments and be an even better employee and all-round person.

But what I have noticed with this blog is that virtually since July last year it has almost become entirely devoted to SGM and their problems with C J Mahaney.  This has been a negative issue and one that still seems unresolved.  My interest in it is tied up of course with my very unfortunate experience with them and the fact my family still go.  But it isn't a subject that is going to awake my passion!  I think of heroes like Terry Virgo and Rob Rufus and Ern Baxter who point us to keeping our faith on fire for the Church!

So tonight I brought two Kindle edition books which I am very excited to dip into - "Invading the Impossible" (which I helped the Hong Kong church transcribe) a few years ago and Rob and Ryan's NEWEST book; "Living Grace: How Grace Affects your Whole Life".  It is my hope that this enforced time off work will help me to remember Kingdom truths that used to set me on fire!

Disappointment in not seeing a coming to reality of the things I have (and still) believe in may have quenched the fire of hope.  But I still believe it can be re-inflamed by reading glorious things like these two books!  Here's the book being launched at City Church International;

Here's my favourite quote from Rob's chapter on the "Grace-Hating Spirit";

"People are hesitant to preach a radical Gospel of Grace but have you ever thought how radical the law is?  Those who preach a mixture of law and grace are actually just compromisers.  If you are going to preach the law, do it properly!  The full extent of the law requires you cut off your hand if it is causing you to sin!  When religious zealots fly planes into towers in the name of their gods, they are being absolutely faithful to the law!  Under the law, we should kill anyone who doesn't keep it.  In fact if you read the law properly you will see that if your kids don't keep the law, then you must stone your own children.

The reason why people say grace is radical is because they have never heard the law being taught properly".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ambassadors of Reconciliation Report on SGM Out

So the report we have all been waiting for is out, and available (I've downloaded the file in case it gets "removed" later!);

Here (40 pages worth).

Once again this point stuck out to me;

"We observed that this lack of declaring God’s grace to people is a weakness of people
throughout SGM, including leaders and members. Although the name of the organization is
Sovereign Grace Ministries, and grace and forgiveness are often preached and taught, there
does not seem to be a similar emphasis on the teaching and practice of declaring God’s grace".

The response has been mixed (unsurprisingly). I don't think the AoR team were ever going to make all happy. My hope is that with the changes in SGM - their move to Kentucky and so on, God will work out His purpose and that His kingdom WILL come despite mankind. Even more so I pray that the "Survivors" of SGM will find a measure of peace despite the wrong done them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come!!

I am in the middle of composing a blog about some thoughts about my current thinking on church, organised religion, denominations, movements and so on. Many old friends and colleagues of mine have declared themselves agnostics or even atheists through difficulties that they have been through (similar to mine) with the church. Yet I remain agonizingly stuck - still. God will not let go of me (because I cannot and refuse to believe that I am maintaining hold of Him).

At times of uncertainity we need to look at that which is unshakable. And those truths are better expressed by no man - no hero - of mine better than Dr Ern Baxter. I've found a precious video that has merged one of my favourite sermons of Ern into song - "Thy Kingdom Come" - and it brings into light, life and worship THE moment of all time (not Calvary, not the Tomb, but the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Enthronement of Jesus Christ).

Here it is! The Lord strong and mighty! The Lord strong and mighty in battle!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Reflections on the Church in Great Britain

Some may remember Mark Driscoll's (the ex-head of Acts 24 ministries) comments made in an interview on the state of the church in the UK - my home country. The comments were less than complimentary. I was encouraged to read that D A Carson had reflections of his own on Driscoll's comments and they are helpful - brave is the man who takes on Carson's intellect!;

"In light of my friend Mark Driscoll's recent comments about pastoral ministry in Great Britain, I wanted to share a few of my own reflections on the diverse ministries that have prospered, or floundered, there. Between 1972 and 1996, I spent nine full years there, scattered over that range of years; and since then, I have been in the UK between two and six times every year. I am neither boasting nor complaining; I'm merely establishing that my knowledge of the country is not entirely superficial. I have no reason to doubt Mark's sincere concern for the gospel in the UK and for young ministers there. Nevertheless, you might be interested in hearing another perspective.

(1) Mark correctly observes the low state of genuine Christian confessionalism in the UK. Still, it varies considerably (as it does in the United States, though with lower figures over there). There's a ring around London in which close to 10 percent of the people go to church, many of them evangelicals; the percentage in Northern Ireland is higher, though falling. By contrast, in Yorkshire the percentage that goes to church once a month or more is 0.9 percent; evangelicals account for only 0.4 percent. Both figures are still falling. This is comparable to the state of affairs in, say, Japan.

(2) The phenomenon of the state church colors much of what is going on. Whether we like it or not, in England itself (the situation is different in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) the Church of England is the source of most heterodoxy and of much of the orthodoxy, as well as of everything in between. It has produced men like Don Cupitt and men like Dick Lucas. Exactly what courage looks like for the most orthodox evangelicals in that world is a bit different from what courage looks like in the leadership of the independent churches: their temptations are different, their sufferings are different. Although I have found cowardice in both circles, I have found remarkable courage in both circles, and the proportion of each has not been very different from what I've found on this side of the Atlantic.

(3) As for young men with both courage and national reach: I suppose I'd start with Richard Cunningham, currently director of UCCF. He has preached fearlessly in most of the universities and colleges in the UK, and is training others to do so; he has been lampooned in the press, faced court cases over the UCCF stance on homosexuality, and attracted newspaper headlines. Then there's Vaughan Roberts, rector of St Ebbe's, Oxford, in constant demand for his Bible teaching around the country. I could name many more. In Scotland one thinks of men like Willie Philip (and he's not the only one). Similar names could be mentioned in Wales and Northern Ireland.

(4) More important yet, the last few years in England have seen the invention and growth of the regional Gospel Partnerships. In my view, these are among the most exciting things going on in England at the moment. They bring together Church of England ministers and Independent ministers who are passionate about the gospel, who see the decline, and who are crossing many kinds of denominational and cultural divides to plant churches (regardless of whether the new churches turn out to be Anglican or Free), and raise up a new generation of preachers. They are broadly Reformed. They are annoying the mere traditionalists on both sides of the denominational divide; they are certainly angering some bishops; but they press on. In the North West Partnership, for example, they've planted about 30 churches in the last eight years, and the pace is accelerating. That may seem a day of small things, but compared with what was there ten years ago, this is pretty significant, especially as their efforts are beginning to multiply. Elsewhere, one church in London has about 17 plants currently underway, all led by young men. The minister at St Helen's-Bishopsgate, William Taylor, was formerly an officer in the British Army: there is not a wimpy bone in his body. The amount of flak he takes on is remarkable.

(5) But there is a bigger issue. We must not equate courage with success, or even youth with success. We must avoid ever leaving the impression that these equations are valid. I have spent too much time in places like Japan, or in parts of the Muslim world, where courage is not measured on the world stage, where a single convert is reckoned a mighty trophy of grace. I am grateful beyond words for the multiplication of churches in Acts 29, but I am no less grateful for Baptist ministers like my Dad, men who labored very hard and saw very little fruit for decades in French Canada, many of whom went to prison (their sentences totaled eight years between 1950 and 1952). I find no ground for concluding that the missionaries in Japan in the 20th century were less godly, less courageous, less faithful, than the missionaries in (what became) South Korea, with its congregations of tens of thousands. At the final Great Assize, God will take into account not only all that was and is, but also what might have been under different circumstances (Matt 11:20ff). Just as the widow who gave her mite may be reckoned to have given more than many multi-millionaires, so, I suspect, some ministers in Japan, or Yorkshire, will receive greater praise on that last day than those who served faithfully in a corner of the world where there was more fruit. Moreover, the measure of faithful service is sometimes explicitly tied in Scripture not to the quantity of fruit, measured in numbers, but to such virtues as self-control, measured by the use of one's tongue (James 3:1-6).

(6) Even where some ministries are wavering, it takes rare discernment to sort out when there should be sharp rebuke and when there should be encouragement. Probably there needs to be more of whichever of these two polarities we are least comfortable with! But I would not want to forget that the Jesus who can denounce hypocritical religious leaders in Matthew 22 is also the one of whom it is said, "He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope" (Matt 12:19-21)---in fulfillment of one of the suffering servant passages. My read is that in some of the most challenging places of the world for gospel advance, godly encouragement is part of the great need of the day.