Monday 23 November 2015

The Book of Jeremiah: A Word for our Times

We had a conference in Sheffield recently and one of the main themes was the Book of Jeremiah. What a treasure trove this book is. It is full of the gospel and gospel promises for the coming Christ, as well as revealing the right way to God; the One who is the "fountain of living waters" (Jer 2:13).

The Book of Jeremiah has probably been under the shadow of Isaiah in the recent church, in a similar way that Hebrews has probably been under the shadow of Romans. However, in the church we need the whole counsel of God and this includes teaching from all Scripture. This includes reading and preaching from Bible books such as Jeremiah, Song of Songs, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezekiel, 2 Thessalonians and Job. Of course we do not underestimate the great usefulness of the most commonly preached Books of the Bible, but we need a full biblical diet for the church to grow to maturity.

Have you ever considered that in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, that some people compared him to Jeremiah? As Jeremiah exposed the sins of Judah, Jesus exposed the sins of Judah. As Jeremiah predicted the downfall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews, so did Jesus perfectly predict the overthrow of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews from the land they had lived in. Hear Matthew 16:13-14 "Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets".

It is interesting that there are not many commentaries on the Book of Jeremiah. I have John Calvin, Matthew Henry and some other selections on this book. I know that there are others, but the content of Jeremiah's teaching has been a neglected subject. Given the rise of apostasy, deception, false teachings, open and defiant sin against God's moral law in the West, it is probably time for this book to be preached again. When I last read the book of Jeremiah, I was so gripped, I could hardly put it down. How about reading the book again? For those who are teaching elders in God's church, how about considering preaching from this book, even it is simply for occasional sermons?

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Sermons by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians 6

Recently, I had to preach in a church family conference. One of my sermons I preached was on Ephesians 6:10-11 and the title was "Stand against the schemes of the devil". Those verses are:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil".

In my preparation I read sermons by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones on these very verses. He preaches around 15 sermons on this phrase "the wiles (schemes) of the devil". He is most helpful and you can sense his previous vocation as he applies the Word of God. He used to be a diagnostic physician and he was very gifted in that profession, however, the Lord called him to preach instead, but those previous skills shine through his preaching at this point most helpfully. We need to grow in our discernment as to what may be sin, our flesh, the world or a scheme of the devil.

I highly recommend these sermons because the professing evangelical and reformed church often suffer from two extreme positions, both of which are unbiblical.

1). To live as if the devil either does not exist or that he is of no consequence. This attitude is never found in the pages of the New Testament. While we love the sovereignty of God as a truth, we must not downplay the schemes of the devil, which are used to outwit Christians and the church.

2). Another problem is where Christians blame the devil for everything. This is unbalanced and it is not biblical. Sometimes, when something goes wrong, like the car breaking down, some professing Christians immediately blame Satan. This is misplaced zeal.

However, this teaching by Paul the apostle is needful for the church and it deserves further mention: "Stand against the schemes of the devil". Just like an army officer recruit needs to be trained in warfare and the tactics in war, so the church need to be aware of the many schemes of the devil. The devil is subtle (Genesis 3:1) and I hope that these sermons which are published by the Banner of Truth, especially the volume on chapter 6, will be of great profit to you.

Friday 13 November 2015

The Church Needs Experimental/Experiential Preaching

There is such a need for sound preaching in the church. Preaching is God's primary instrument for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the church. 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and 2 are just a selection of the Bible's view on this matter. Paul writes: "But we preach Christ crucified" and "it pleased God through the folly of what we preach", 1 Cor 1:21, 23.

However, this blog post is taking it as a given, regarding the importance of preaching, but I want to contend for the need for experiential or experimental preaching. It has long been contended that we need experiential doctrine for the church. In other words, we do not simply mentally assent to the truths of the Bible, but they must become ours by experience, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Now, as ever on all biblical truths, there are twin dangers. Here again we face two opposites, something which affects the church. The first is where people are driven to the priority of personal experience, beyond what is written in Scripture ("I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another" 1 Cor 4:6). The Quakers in the 17th Century were such an example. Today, we have all kinds of groups who teach that all that really matters is our personal experience. However, a valid question is "are you religious experiences legitimate?". "Test the spirits" wrote John the apostle in 1 John 4:1.

The second error is a dry arid rejection of a personal Christian experience. This attitude tends to think that preaching is simply dispensing biblical truths, and it cares little whether the teaching is understood and received. It emphasises historic truths and is sometimes even afraid of mentioning personal experience. In some cases there can be an ardent fear of any personal experience whatsoever. However, Jesus said to Nicodemus "You must be born again" (John 3:7), therefore we expect the gospel to impact and change lives.

I am having to paint with broad brush strokes in this blog post, but this is so that people can begin to think again regarding the matter of preaching. We need to think through a theology of preaching. Preaching is God addressing his people through ordained men who have been set apart for this task. Paul states that: "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" 2 Cor 5:20. Are you conscious that through the preaching of sound doctrine, out of the Scriptures, that God is making his appeal to you? This is a very high view of preaching and one that needs to recovered. However, our theme is the need for experiential preaching and I want to give a list of some pertinent features of this biblical model of such preaching.

1. Preaching has to be out of the Scriptures.
2. Preaching must be in accord with sound doctrine.
3. Preaching seeks to be serious minded and warm-hearted.
4. Preaching must be reverent, but also joyful (without seeking carnal humour or levity).
5. Preaching must inform the mind, but also touch the hearts of the whole congregation: Men, women, boys and girls.
6. Preaching should be aim for changed lives, without being moralistic.
7. Preaching should balance doctrine and application; application that is from the text, should be searching, but also heart-warming.
8. Preaching should connect with the congregation. We must not preach over people heads.

Three examples of experiential preaching in my opinion are Ted Donnelly, Iain D Campbell (Got sermon audio to listen to them) and in previous generations John Calvin. Suffice to say, there is much I could write on this topic. There is yet more to say on this subject and I value comments from readers, in order to explore and open up this discussion.

Two books for recommendation:

Archibald Alexander, "Thoughts on Religious Experience".
Stuart Olyott, "Something must be Known and Felt".

"What then has become of the blessing that you felt" Galatians 4:15.

Monday 2 November 2015

What are your core values as a Christian?

We all hold inner-values. They are held either consciously or unconsciously, but "core values" shape the way we live our lives. We all have priorities and our use of our time, our money and our passions reveal those priorities. The question to ask and to examine ourselves with is: "do my priorities reflect those of the Scriptures and of my being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ?". This blog post is intended to be pastoral, in that I want all my readers to ask themselves what their core values are; then secondly to ask if they are biblical. You could even get a sheet of paper and write them down if that helps you.

I want to be frank and transparent in this blog post as I reveal to you my own "core values". These are what shape my daily decisions daily and they form, as it were, a "spiritual compass" for all I do, and with that for my family and all people that I interact with.

My core values are:

1) Seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)

2) Pursuing godliness and contentment (1 Timothy 6:6). This is because the Scripture explains that this is great gain. Aiming for and pursuing godliness and in being spiritually content through the many seasons we walk through, are highly desirable Christian qualities in my opinion.

3). Being committed to the church. Ephesians 5:25 "Christ loved the church and gave himself for her".

These core values are actually my reference points for success or failure in my life. My aim is not be successful in the world's eyes or in the eyes of other Christians, but it is to please the Triune God. These core values are deeply embedded in my whole being. The third core value has become very important to me and this is not because I am a minister of the gospel. Loving the church and giving yourself for her, is an attribute of the Lord Jesus and if I am to walk in his footsteps, then I will want to do the same.

Do you love the church and seek to give yourself for her? I am married with children and our whole household are served by me as their husband and father with these core values. In my view as a dad and husband, I want them to hold not so much my priorities, but the Lord's.

These priorities and core values are: Seeking God first, godliness and giving myself for the church. What are your "core values"? Why not ponder on this, write them down and ask yourself if they are shaped by Scripture or other things instead? Ask yourself if you need to change your core values if they are not in harmony with the explicit revealed will of God in holy Scripture.