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reports, reviews, thoughts, news (and fun) posted by Gary Ware

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‘Hello Darkness’ – Some Thoughts On Psalm 88

My pastoral letter in this month’s edition of MGPC’s newsletter.

When I was in Sydney last week David Cook asked what I’d be preaching on when I returned home. I replied Hebrews 12:25-29, and Psalm 88. In response to Psalm 88, David commented ‘That’s the dark one.’ And so it is.
I won’t reproduce it here, but go and have a read. The content is bleak as the Psalmist pours out an unbroken stream of lament expressing loneliness, confusion, and a desire to trust God even when he has no idea how that will happen.
Now this is a song which is for the covenant people. It carries no hint of judgment, as if the voice of lament is wrong, or is lacking in some way.
Rather the Psalm give voice to just how low the people of God can find themselves. And even in those depths they are still the people of God.
Some of us have spent long seasons in the dark. Others of us have visited for shorter times.
We can slip in and out.
But we can be in the darkness
and still be assured that we belong to God.
There is a sense of profound isolation from both God and everyone else expressed in these words that seems at odds with the fact that it is a song to be sung to God by a group of His covenant people.
Why put this song on our lips? Well, as I said it helps us remember how dark it can get, and that we are still God’s own in the darkness.
Notice how even though the Psalm may indicate no one is listening, it is still addressed to God. Even in the darkness we can reach out to Him.
We can also see that darkness can continue for a long time. ‘From youth’… Our desire for recovery can turn to impatience, and then to dismissal if there is no improvement. As God’s people we stand alongside others who may be in darkness for a years and decades, rather than days or weeks.
There is a point of empathy which these words evoke among those who have never experienced darkness in their souls. The perceptions and emotions expressed here are instructive in an emotional language that not all of us know, but which all of us need to be aware of.
Those of us who aren’t in the dark need to be aware of what it’s like for those who are.
And we need to remember what it’s like for some who stand among us week by week.
We need to pray and praise for those who can’t, until, in time prayer and praise returns to their hearts.
We need to be faithful to Jesus, who knew the ultimate absence of God’s presence, but who has also experienced the resurrection and glory that all Christians will share.
Psalm 88 ends in darkness, but darkness is not the end. Physically, the presence of God’s people around is testimony of that; spiritually the resurrection presence of Jesus power and the Holy Spirit testifies to a life of eternal light.

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You’re Not (via Paul Tripp)

This is from Paul Tripp:

When I’m
Weary and exhausted
You’re not.
When I’m
Confused and discouraged
You’re not.
When I’m
Fickle and unfaithful
You’re not.
When I’m
Doubtful and disheartened
You’re not.
When I’m
Fearful and anxious
You’re not.
When I’m
Short-sighted and fearful
You’re not.
When I’m
Tired and about to quit
You’re not.
When I’m
Lacking in hope and love
You’re not.
When I’m
Shocked and surprised
You’re not.
When I’m
Angrily withholding grace
You’re not.
When I’m
Unfaithful to what I’ve promised
You’re not.
When I’m
Selfish and disloyal
You’re not.
Oh, Lord of
Faithfulness and grace
I am so thankful
In those moments
When I’m
Losing my way
You’re not.


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Rhys & Rhonda Hall At MGPC

It was a pleasure to joint thirty other folk to hear an update from Rhys and Rhonda Hall about their work in Africa today.
After a very ample lunch, we were told about their work in literacy training and the opportunities which exist for that work to grow.
We also heard how God has encouraged them both to continue to step out in faith to continue the work.


Sufficiency (via David Cook)

From David Cook, Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, dealing with the Christian’s possession of an all-sufficient Saviour and a sufficient revelation of God’s Word, the Bible; and the privilege which pastors have in encouraging people to know and trust that they don’t need anything beyond these for life and belief.

After spending the last 37 years of my life being a Christian pastor, 26 of those years training others to be pastors and missionaries, I have reached this conclusion:

All pastoral ministry is designed to encourage in Christians a God honouring contentment with Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient Saviour who sets us right with God, eternally; and to encourage a God honouring contentment with the sufficiency of His word, the Bible, to tell us everything we need to know about Him and to equip us with everything we need to live the Christian life, from new birth through to heaven.

All God honouring missionary activity must commend the all-sufficient Saviour for salvation and then commend His all-sufficient word as the instrument His Holy Spirit uses to lead the believer to maturity.
Such statements are driven by these Scriptures: The way, not “a” way (Acts 9:2, 19:9); the exclusive claim (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Galatians 1:8-9, 1:16, Acts 20:21). Entry into God’s family through Jesus alone (John 1:12-13).
Jesus’ teaching is the truth (John 8:31-59); and the apostles’ words are true (1 John 4:6); God does not lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18); the prophets say “thus says the Lord”, Jesus says “I say unto you”; the apostles say “thus we have seen and heard”; our certainty lies in that we know, “thus the Lord has written”.
J I Packer says in Knowing God, “the comprehensiveness of our contentment is a measure whereby we may judge whether we really know God.”

Here’s the controversial part. If you believe in an all-sufficient Saviour and an all-sufficient Bible you will not believe:

  • that you need to supplement the work of Jesus, with your own good works in order to make it to heaven.
  • that assurance of salvation is sinful, after all, if it depends on Him and you, how can you be sure you will keep doing your part.
  • that basic 10 commandment morality, church attendance, sacramental practice is an essential part of the foundation of your salvation. (All these other things, though good, are the fruit of our salvation, but salvation itself is based on Christ’s life, death and resurrection, alone).
  • that you need to hear God speak in a supplementary way to the Bible, through visions, dreams, a word from others.
  • that the Bible is not clear and is a minefield for any lay interpreter.

(God can speak in dreams etc, the only thing impossible for God is for God to act contrary to himself. However, we cannot expect Him to reveal Himself other than through His word. He is most honoured when we listen carefully to the Word His Spirit has given to us, that alone is the sure guide to truth. Discontentment that wants more than the Bible is discontentment with God and His Spirit.)

There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ.
He said “no one comes to the Father except through me” and in John 14 urges Philip to believe in Jesus’ sufficiency on the basis of his words or his signs (John 14:11). Jesus said, God’s word alone is truth (John 17:17) and the apostle Paul said God’s breathed out words completely equip us for living the Christian life. (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Peter calls it “the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23); James calls it “the word of truth (James 1:18). To hear God speak, read your Bible regularly, carefully and prayerfully.

Do you have a God honouring assured contentment in an all-sufficient Saviour and an all-sufficient Bible?
Pastors are shepherds, shepherds can readily identify healthy sheep. Pastors identify healthy sheep in God’s flock. They are people of an assured contentment with what God has provided for them.


(UPDATE: edited to conform to corrected version at PCA website.)

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Develop A Gospel Response Plan (via Tim Brister)

Another summer in Australia includes public service television spots reminding everyone in rural areas to have a plan to deal with bushfire emergencies.
After the fire has broken out it’s too late to develop a plan about how you’re going to respond to the threat.
Tim Brister reflects on the lessons Christians can learn from these warnings in the intentional development of a personal Gospel Response Plan.
The plan deals with two certainties of life: someone will sin against you; and you will sin against someone else.
When it’s happened is not the best time to work out what you’re going to do.
It’s far better to have thought it out before hand, and then work yourself through the steps of a gospel-centered response in everyday situations where your fallen nature might otherwise provoke you to respond in non-gospel ways.
This is personal because you know best the situations where you are most likely to react in ways that don’t display the love of Jesus.

An excerpt:

You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?
Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills”. Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide opportunity to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).
Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ.

Read the whole post at Tim Brister.

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One Of Many Privileges This Week

A final blessing in a week full of fellowship and fruitfulness was attending the last Code Committee meeting chaired by Rev Dr Paul Logan, retiring Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
Paul is a wonderful example in serving Jesus, the Gospel, and the Church.
Contact with him has always been an encouragement.

Now it’s time to go home.

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Prepared to Lay Down His Life for His Flock* (via Bondia Timor-Leste)

Gary Ware:

Mount Gambier Presbyterian Church will give thanks for Manuel’s life this Sunday and consider how we may offer practical help to his widow and children.

Originally posted on Bondia Timor Leste:

*The title of this post is the heading for an article published in the third edition of BondiaTL (published before the blog came into existence).

The minute you met Evangelist Manuel Rodriquez, you were struck by the radiance of the smile which took up the whole face of one of the smallest men you have ever met (not even reaching 5 feet high).

The second he opened his mouth to speak, you would recognise that here is a man who is passionate for life and the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

My memory vividly recalls him asking a question one day in a teaching seminar. Ev. Manuel asked, “what should I do when one of my neighbours gives me a gift of a picture of Mary or one of the saints?” The reply came back that he could give them a copy of the Gospel of Mark in Tetun. At…

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