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New Future For Old Ruins

I wrote this article for publication in Mount Gambier’s local paper, The Border Watch last Friday.
Recently our town council has purchased the derelict site of our former hospital, now vacant for some fifteen years.
Tours around the grounds were recently conducted to enable locals to refamiliarise themselves with the precinct.

Having only lived in Mount Gambier for nine years or so, it was with a sense of great curiosity that I walked around the old hospital last weekend. Though the structure has dominated the view of our town from the front door-step of our home for all that time, I had no idea of what was actually there.
It was interesting to walk inside the old nursing school, and, after that, peer through the broken windows into the hospital itself from outside. Wandering as a group I couldn’t help hear someone comment that a former staff-member of the hospital they knew wouldn’t be coming because the sight of the dilapidated structures would make them too sad.
That sentiment was only too easy to understand. Over the decades families had seen members arrive (and depart) in that place. Lifesaving surgeries took place. The distressed and the ill received care and comfort dispensed by a legion of dedicated nurses. It’s no wonder that the older community of Mount Gambier look upon the site with great affection and would like the structure preserved in some fashion or another.
The memory of the old can be a wellspring from which future hope flows.
It’s not always that way, though.
Sometimes all life’s past memories seem to produce are closed doors and deadends. Failure and regret strangle hope and optimism. It’s why, for some people, Christmas Day is the loneliest day of the year. The memory of the old chokes any sense of hope for their future. Some of us go about our lives, day by day feeling like the emotional equivalents of a ruined building. All we need is a sign around our necks saying ‘condemned’.
Jesus’ message, that we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God, is a message that speaks of a new beginning that nurtures hope afresh. While the past is not erased, failure and disappointment don’t disqualify us from fruitful and satisfying relationships in the future. It is not that present trials disappear, or even that the consequences of past failings are gone, but rather that we no longer have to feel they define us and map our future.
Experiencing the new birth enables us to seek a future that is defined by being a child of God, not a past failure. The ultimate ‘renovation rescue’.
Maybe you feel like that old hospital, a ruin whose best days seem to be past and gone, and for whom a future hope seems to be hard to imagine. Jesus invites you not to dwell in those thoughts, but to turn from them and the life that brought them to being and turn to him and receive his invitation to start a new life as a child of God.
Then start dreaming of the future anew.


A Real Prophetic Word Over Australia

An Australia Day reflection.

There are two statements/assertions that I run into from time to time.
The first of these stems from Pedro Fernández de Quirós, a Portuguese explorer and devout Roman Catholic, who named the lands, previously known as terra australis incognito, either La Australia del Espiritu Santo (The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit) or La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo (The Austrian Land of the Holy Spirit), depending on your currency.
Quirós was actually on Vanuatu. There is no real evidence he ever landed on Australia.

The second is usually attributed to Smith Wigglesworth. The idea is that Wigglesworth prophesied that the last great revival would take place in this part of the world. It is notoriously hard to track down exactly what it’s all about. If Wigglesworth didn’t say it, he’s certainly been saddled with the credit.

Time and again, in prayer, conversation and reading, these two prophecies are claimed.
Some seem to genuinely believe that revival will come to Australia because these two said it would.
They are accorded ‘prophetic’ status basically because Christians hope what they said is true/will become true.
I obviously don’t know either of these gentlemen.
But I wish that Christians would claim promises from God that God has made, and not the well-meaning sentiments of men.
I also wish Christians knew the difference between opinions/desires and prophecy and treated each accordingly.

Here’s a couple of prophetic words over Australia that we can put our trust in:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Why would anyone need any other ‘prophetic’ word than these?


A Problem With Evangelical Academic Scholarship

Or, Carl Trueman, A Cage Of Pigeons And A Cat (Or Two)
Carl Trueman is a provocative writer and academic.
9Marks published an essay by Trueman entitled ‘The Real Scandal Of The Evangelical Mind’.
The essay focusses on people characterised as basically claiming an identity as evangelical and biblical scholars while at the same time desiring acceptance in wider academic circles.
Trueman: “We live in strange times. Hardly a year goes by without some conference on the future of the evangelical church somewhere having at least one speaker, or sometimes even a slate of speakers, who arguably represent precisely the kind of theology that has emptied pews, castrated preaching, and disemboweled commitment to the gospel.”
The culture is one in which: “Say nice things about Jesus, have a warm feeling in your heart when somebody lights a candle, and be kind to your grandmother and—hey presto!—you belong; you too can be an evangelical. Thus we have deniers of penal substitution, of any meaningful notion of biblical authority, of the uniqueness of Christ for salvation, of justification by grace through faith, of the particularity of salvation. No matter: just stress that Jesus was a jolly good bloke, mouth a few orthodox sounding phrases, speak with a bit of engaging passion, and you too can get a membership pass and a speaking gig.”
Oddly, (or not) just as there is nothing new under the sun, ideas that were poisonous a
Barth seems to be a source of fascination, despite his offerings being based on a dead methodology and which produced a lifeless sort of universalism that isn’t.
Various atonement theories are espoused with scarcely an open acknowledgment to their last outings when popularised by the liberal theologians of the last century.
Emergent models are collapsing in on their own pretentious lack of clarity.
And those in the theological industry keep returning to this material with the fascination of a child on a beach prodding a dead jelly fish with a stick.
A denomination like the one to which I belong, the Presbyterian Church of Australia, sustains three theological colleges. These are government accredited degree issuing bodies.
My suspicion is that our adherence to such a model as the means by which we prepare and train men for pastoral ministry is less and less motivated by a conviction that this is the best way to prepare men for pastoral ministry. I believe our denomination (those who lead it and especially those within the theological education arm of it) just can’t bear the thought of a ministry that does not share the same academic credentials and experience as that of other churches.
After the disruption of 1977 a lot of energy was put into maintaining theological colleges, so that the Presbyterian Church of Australia could continue with an educated ministry. This was done with scant recognition of the fact that the theological colleges were the places where theological decline was initiated, fostered and defended. They produced the Uniting Church. Their present fruit is available for all to see.
Academic credibility is no guarantee of orthodoxy. Committment to orthodoxy is the best guarantee of orthodoxy.
Trueman, of course, is an academic. He is not suggesting that academic pursuit within evangelical scholarship be abandoned.
Rather, he contends: “This is not to say that high-powered scholarship should be off-limits, nor that the immediate needs of the man or woman in the pew should provide the criteria by which relevance is judged; but it is to say that all theological scholarship should be done with the ultimate goal of building up the saints, confounding the opponents of the gospel, and encouraging the brethren. The highest achievement any evangelical theological scholar can attain is not membership of some elite guild but the knowledge that he or she has done work that strengthened the church and extended the kingdom of God through the local church.”

Evangelical academics producing work that sustains and nourishes the kingdom.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?

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What, Me Worry?

(With apologies to Alfred E. Neumann)

I am a worrier from way back.
I’m not alone.
Some of you are confident extroverts without a care or a backward glance in life, but there are others who are not so certain of themselves or the path through their present circumstances.
The answer for me to hear the Gospel proclaimed and applied to my life, so I remember to take confidence in God’s redeeming love, not my own capacities or present situation.

Justin Taylor offers ‘A Word For Worriers’ that quotes from Charles Spurgeon: ‘You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances.You have been trying “providing” work and forgetting that it is yours to obey. Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing.’
Taylor gives credit to Doug Wolter for initially posting the quote on his blog and also post a quote from a recent sermon of Wolter’s that touches on the same theme: ‘Today is the tomorrow that you were worried about yesterday. And often our worries about tomorrow rob us of the joys and blessings God wants us to experience today.’
Burk Parsons of Ligonier Ministries provides encouragement for those who endure ‘Uncontrollable Anxiety’: ‘As we live before the face of God each day with real reasons for real anxiety, we can rest assured that His sovereignty (not ours)- — His control (not ours) — His faithfulness (not ours) — is our only real hope in this sad world. For that which He creates He sustains, that which He authors He perfects, and that which He begins He completes. And whether we are comfortably numb to our anxieties or fully aware of them, it is neither our acceptance, control, nor rationalization of them that will free us from our self-created, self-controlled, self-contained prisons of anxiety. We will only be free when we become as dependent on God as the birds of the air that our heavenly Father feeds and whose songs lift our eyes heavenward when we hear them sing, “Son of Adam, don’t worry for tomorrow, cast all your cares on Him, for if He cares for me, how much more does He care for you?”’

On a related theme, Tullian Tchividjian, whose circumstances over the last year could have led him to oceans of worry, writes: ‘The Smaller You Get, The Freeer You Will Be’, saying, in part, ‘Interestingly, the world would have us to believe that the bigger we get and the better we feel about ourselves, the freer we become. This is why so many worship services have been reduced to nothing more than motivational, self-help seminars filled with “you can do it” songs and sermons. But what we find in the gospel is just the opposite. The gospel is good news for losers, not winners. It’s for those who long to be freed from the slavery of believing that all of their significance, meaning, purpose, and security depend on their ability to “become a better you.” The gospel tells us that weakness precedes usefulness—that, in fact, the smaller you get, the freer you will be.’

Tchividjean is onto something. A lot of worry is about enduring uncertain and unpleasant circumstances. For the Christian, the outcome is not uncertain, God will have us grow like Christ. That is what is important, not whether we feel comfortable or know with certainty what is going to happen.
Worry is a resistance to growth, a desire to stay as I am and not undergo the sacrificial experience of growing more like Jesus.
How can I teach and model Christianity for others when my worry demonstrates that I don’t want to grow and don’t trust God fully? (Answer: I can’t)

I’m trying to worry less and thank God for his redeeming love more.

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Avoiding Congregational Entropy

Entropy has a lot of definitions, depending on context.
The one I’m basically working from is this: ‘The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.’
Read a whole bunch of definitions here if you want.

A pastor and a congregation have a relationship based on change and growth. The pastor is an instrument of change and growth among the people. The people pray for and support the pastor in his own efforts to continue to change and grow as a teacher and encourager.
It is possible for something bearing the appearance of this process to be taking place, while actually all that is happening is that a symbiotic status quo has set in.
The pastor will preach, biblically from God’s Word, demonstrating sin’s influence and effect and pointing the people toward practical steps of repentance that flow from faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus.
The people will respond with appreciation for having sin exposed and encourage the pastor to keep on preaching to them along the same pattern.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
The problem is that this can take place and yet it is possible for nothing to change.
The sins presented are either those of people who don’t come to church, or are presented in a general way.
The pastor is gratified that the congregation express conviction, even enthusiasm for being told how bad they are.
Kevin DeYoung writes about ‘Religious Cushioning’ and the need for true preaching to be the agency through which genuine conviction of sin and profound appreciation of the saving work of Christ are held before God’s people.
His words:
“But the sin we should hear about most is our own. Just as the iniquity I should most disdain is mine.
Along with a convicting awareness of sin permeating the church, the preaching, and the leadership, there must be an exuberant delight in the Savior. Christ must be seen in his all his glory, which means he must be beheld as a crucified substitute, not simply a dear friend, good example, or revolutionary. We should smell in our churches the stank of sin stinking up to high heaven and the aroma of Christ, the acceptable offering before the Father.”

For some, the Christian corporate gathering is little more that a training event, a self-help seminar with a message emphasising seven or ten or twelve points towards this week’s desired outcome. Salvation, if it is mentioned at all seems, to be simply a precursor to living your best life or becoming purpose driven.
This is simply moralistic, therapeutic deism.
Week by week now, our worship at mgpc includes an action of corporate confession. This can be a prayer, song or unison statement. Afterwards a text is read that proclaims God’s forgiveness of the penitent who trusts in Christ alone for forgiveness.
After this, when the Bible is read and preached, the fallenness of humanity and the saving grace of God are held forth.
It is not true that a pastor is the agent of change in a Christian congregation, that role belongs to the Holy Spirit. If He is truly changing us we will be turning more and more from sin and self and more and more toward a realisation that all of God’s blessings for us are found in Jesus.

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Keep Preaching The Word

This is not really a new-year’s resolution, but an all-year, every-year resolution.
The other pastors in town know that I’m committed to preaching from the Bible. They also know of my disapproval if visiting speakers at combined services here teach their own wisdom and illustrate it with Bible texts, generally removed from context, or take a Bible text and then use it to say whatever they want it to say.
We’ve had a lot of that lately, and many of them just don’t seem to spot the difference between preaching what a Bible text means and using the Bible (or not) to deliver a message based on your own ideas.
But I think we’re making progress.

Anyway, Mockingbird has a year-end round-up of their “top seven picks for “heretical crazy-talk video of the year”.
They are all YouTubes, so you can get it all in context.
All the usual names feature: Warren; Hybels; Hinn; Wilkinson and the following omnibus feature about the prosperity gospel that is just loaded with grabs of breath-taking theological error and goofiness.

This all just serves to underline how important it is to keep the Bible central. So, as a new year begins, the vital nature of preaching the word will always be forefront in my pastoral work.

HT: White Horse Inn.

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Humble Calvinism

There are some who read the words ‘Humble Calvinism’ and think it an oxymoron, a phrase that contradicts itself, like ‘dry rain’ or ‘hot ice’. Rather, it should be a tautology, a phrase that repeats itself.

On Pyromaniacs, among a group of year-end book reviews, Phil Johnson commends a new publication of ‘The Marrow Of Modern Divinity’. It is an old book that seeks to teach the biblical view of justification against that of the legalist and antinomian errors.
Johnson introduces the book as:
“the book that sparked the Marrow Controversy in eighteenth-century Scotland. That’s one of my favorite episodes of theological controversy ever, and it continues to be one of the most important intramural debates among Calvinists. Thomas Boston and the Erskine brothers were on the angels’ side in that debate, in my assessment. They and their allies are sometimes known as “The Marrow Men.” Their opponents were high Calvinists of a severe and anti-evangelistic sort. The high-Calvinist group held to a cluster of ideas that to this day surface and resurface in Internet forums and tend to breed hyper-Calvinism. I wish more of today’s Calvinists had studied the Marrow controversy. I think a lot more gracious, tender-hearted, and evangelistic brand of Calvinism would be the result.”
There are numerous editions available, mine is part of the Works Of Thomas Boston.

In addition Martin Downes pointed to a pastoral letter by Ian Hamilton in which he exhorts his readers against succumbing to pride:
“Of all the dangers that can overtake a Reformed church, pride is surely the worst and most serious. There is, of course, a right kind of pride, a thankfulness to God for our history and heritage. But the pride I am thinking of, is that ugly, self-righteous, self-preening brute that says with the Pharisees, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (“We are not like other churches”!). Such self-regarding censoriousness, is particularly the preserve of the privileged and blessed. You see it often in the lives of the great and the good. Sadly, tragically, such pride can also be seen in the very circles where it ought never to be seen, in the circle of Christ’s disciples.

Of all people, Christians, and Reformed Christians in particular, have the least to be proud about. In rebuking some Christians in Corinth for their pride, Paul exclaimed, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” What have we indeed to boast about? Were we not “dead in trespasses and sins” when God in his grace sent his Son to save us? Were we not guilty, hell-deserving sinners, God’s very enemies, when he “commended his love towards us” and gave up the Lord Jesus Christ to die that sin-bearing, wrath-quenching death of the cross to deliver us from a ruined eternity and bring us ultimately to glory? Total depravity and unconditional election are not merely doctrines to confess, they are truths to humble us to the dust. And yet, how easily, only too easily, can we allow our vast gospel privileges and blessings to turn us into self-regarding, narrow-hearted men and women.”
Read the rest of the letter here.

I know the blackness and sin of my own heart and am distressed to the point of despair, yet I do not know myself as well as God does.
That He has called me into His family and His Son gave up His life for my salvation does not engender pride or a sense of superiority.
Just awe, thankfulness and a desire to live as part of God’s family and help others to know Him.