Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Eve @ Greenview

6.30pm - All Age Carol Service

11.15pm - Traditional Watchnight Service

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Make your daughters sceptical of men...

While visiting Southern Baptist Theological Seminary I was able to sit in on one of Russell Moore's lectures - in this blog he picks up on one of the themes of that lecture. He doesn't repeat it in the blog but the line that stood out for me when he spoke on this subject was - 'Bring up your daughters to be sceptical of men in general, so they can be committed to one man in particular'.

Read HERE to find out why.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scottish Government Consultation on Same Sex Marriage

The closing date for submissions to the Scottish Government's consultation on redefining Marriage is Friday 9th December. You can take part in this on-line via the websites of The Scottish Government or The Christian Institute. Those have an interest and concerns about the changes being proposed should take the opportunity to make their views known.

Below is a slighly reduced version of a letter I have sent to my consistuency MP & MSP on the subject.

Dear Tom / Nicola

Scottish Government Consultation on Same Sex Marriage

I am writing to you on the above subject as a Christian Minister but also as a father and citizen...

The arguments against the redefinition of Marriage to include homosexual partnerships have been well made by groups such as ‘The Christian Institute’ and ‘Care for Scotland’. You will not be surprised that I share their concerns, and would want to express my own apprehension that a trans-political institution of a universal and historic nature (stretching back millennia) should be thought of as something for an individual government to redefine.

Indeed the move to redefine marriage seems wholly unnecessary as there is already provision for those who wish to legally bind themselves to one another in a Civil Partnership. Even if you have no issue regarding homosexuality it is obviously not the same as heterosexuality and therefore it is hardly discriminatory to recognise that difference. It seems that words are being manipulated to make ideological points – why not redefine the word ‘uncle’ to mean ‘cousin’ to suit those who are uncles but would like to be cousins?!

There are many other concerns that could be raised, both philosophical and practical. However, one major concern is the increasing sense of threat and imposition that Christians (dare I say, evangelical Christians) feel towards them in our society. That many Christians have little confidence that a redefinition of Marriage will not simply be the first step in ultimately forcing Christian Churches to conduct Same Sex Marriages should be no surprise. The Civil Partnership legislation was introduced with guarantees that they would remain an entirely secular provision – a few years later this consultation is underway with a view to legislating for them to be conducted in religious premises.

Christians are wise enough to know that their views on such matters are out of step with many in the political and indeed media world. We also realise that for many in wider society this is not an issue they necessarily feel strongly about. However, the right of people to practise their religious beliefs without imposition and threat is the cornerstone of a truly free society. It might be argued that Christians have not always extended such rights to others at times (including homosexual people) and that is something we must acknowledge. However the danger is that now ‘the boot’s on the other foot’ that such unfairness is simply perpetuated in the other direction.

Current trends in our society regrettably suggest that is the ‘direction of travel’. Recently I sat with a Bulgarian pastor at a conference in Hungary. As a young Christian in 1970’s Bulgaria he was not allowed to attend university because of his Christian beliefs. He was not alone in suffering such exclusion at that time in ‘Iron Curtain’ countries – many children from Christian families were denied education, selected out for extra Communist indoctrination or even removed from their parents. Sanctions taken because Christianity was deemed to be an unacceptable challenge to the prevailing political ideology.

In our own society we read about cafe owners being cautioned by the police for displaying Bible verses, and people being disciplined by employers for expressing reasoned disagreement with homosexual practise. A lovely Christian couple, I know of, who applied to be adoptive parents in Glasgow were, despite being cleared for adoption, subsequently ‘interrogated’ on several occasions regarding their views on homosexuality. Despite clearly stating they believed that all people should be treated with respect, tolerance and kindness, they were told informally that their Christian beliefs were going against them actually having children placed. They wondered, as I did, if had they been Muslims they would have had such scrutiny or been told their religion was a problem...

So as a Christian Minister, a father and one of your constituents can I ask you to use the influence you have to counsel against the redefinition of Marriage – and in doing so both uphold its historic and universally understood premise, and prevent a further move destined to alienate large numbers of Christians among others in our society.

Thank you for your time in this matter and for your hard work generally.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Hunter
Senior Staff Worker

Greenview Evangelical Church

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holding the Queen's umbrella

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds
James 1:2

James begins his letter by facing two realities – we will face trials, not ‘if’ but ‘whenever’. Secondly, those trials will take different shapes at different times for different people – ‘trials of many kinds’.

Yet his opening exhortation is to consider facing such trials as ‘pure joy’. We might be forgiven for thinking James’ pastoral skills sound a little pious and simplistic. Is this just some crass ‘cheer up, could be worse, look on the bright side’ advice to make us cringe in the presence of real suffering and desperate difficulties?

Well no – because James isn’t saying ‘enjoy’ your trials or that there is masochistic pleasure to be found in our sufferings. Rather he is encouraging us to put our afflictions in a bigger context – to see that they have a purpose and indeed their very presence is a sign of God’s favour to us.

Imagine being asked to hold the Queen’s umbrella as she does a walk-about on a wet afternoon. You patiently follow Her Majesty keeping her covered from the rain, your arm aches and you yourself are increasingly getting soaked and chilled by the weather battering your unprotected self. At the end of day you’re asked what you did today – you answer, 'I held an umbrella up for 2 hours, got soaked and have cramp in my arms and shoulders'. ‘What a rubbish job’, comes the response. ‘No’, you quickly reply, 'it was a privilege, a joy to have done it’.

The ‘joy’ was not in the umbrella holding – but in the knowledge of who you were holding it for and the effect it was having.

We face trials of many kinds not because life is just a lottery of random ups and downs – but under the sovereignty of God. He allows His people to pass through difficulties precisely because He loves them and is working out great things for them. Further to be ‘asked’ by God to bear burdens is a mark of God’s special regard for someone: ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no-one on earth like him’ (Job 1:8). Job faced his trials not because he was a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time – but because God had a purpose to be worked out through them and was able to trust Job with such a calling. And there is no greater honour that that.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Isn't Christianity just a crutch for weak people?

One of a series of Panels for an 'Apologetics' Display Board I made for use at Community Events etc. Click on panel for bigger size.

If Jesus was God, how come he got Crucified?

One of a series of Panels for an 'Apologetics' Display Board I made for use at Community Events etc. Click on panel for bigger size.

Doesn't science contradict the Bible?

One of a series of Panels for an 'Apologetics' Display Board I made for use at Community Events etc. Click on panel for bigger size.

Doesn't religion just cause conflict & division?

One of a series of Panels for an 'Apologetics' Display Board I made for use at Community Events etc. Click on panel for bigger size.

If God is good why does he allow suffering?

One of a series of Panels for an 'Apologetics' Display Board I made for use at Community Events etc. Click on panel for bigger size.

Where did God come from?

One of a series of Panels for an 'Apologetics' Display Board I made for use at Community Events etc. Click on panel for bigger size.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


What would Jesus say to David...
Beckham - about Celebrity & Wealth

15th October 2011
Speaker: Dr John Dennis (ICC)

Frost – about asking the right questions
12th November 2011
Speaker: Donald Ferguson

Cameron - about Politics & Power
10th December 2011
Craig Dyer

Hume - about Reason & Rationality
14th January 2012
Speaker: Prof Donald MacLeod

Blaine - about Mystery & the Supernatural
11th February 2012
Speaker: Dr James Torrens

Attenborough - about Science & Origins
17th March 2012
Speaker: Dr Paul Knox (Liverpool University)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Music Ministry Conference

Charlotte Chapel
Saturday 12th November


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where the Glamour Gospel leads...

In recent days Pat Robertson (he of the infamous 'Christian Right' in the States) has caused controversy by suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease would be a grounds for divorce. In response comes Russell Moore, a lecturer at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, whose ethics class I had the blessing of sitting in on while there in recent weeks. Russell appeared on CNN to give the authentic gospel response to Robertson. On his blog is a great summary of his comments concerning Pat Robertson's words - but also a much needed reminder about where the temptation to have a 'powerful' gospel can lead....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Greenview Office

In anticipation of new workers at Greenview I've been checking out some new office designs while away. Above is myself, Mike Mackison & Mark Schenk (Pastor of Duncan St Baptist Church in Edinburgh) seeing the sights.

Our main purpose in being in DC however, was the Capitol Hill Baptist Church 'Weekender'. A chance to see the church in action and hear from Mark Dever & others about their commitment to keeping church simple and grounded in the Word.

Now back in Kentucky and benefiting from the chance to do some study and sit in on various college conferences & lectures.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Greenview Small Groups

Small Groups restart again on w/c 29th August.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why is London Burning?

Very perceptive and challenging piece on the Oak Hill College website (situated in north London) on the recent disorder...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Luther and the struggle for faith

One of the highlight chapters of 'Here I Stand' is 'The Struggle for Faith' - well worth a read on its own.

'This man who so undergirded others with faith had for himself a perpetual battle for faith.'

'Luther felt that his depressions were necessary. At the same time they were dreadful and by all means and in every way to be avoided and overcome. His whole life was a struggle against them, a fight for faith. This is the point at which he interests us so acutely, for we too are cast down and we too would know how to assuage our despondency. Luther had two methods: one was a head-on attack, the other an approach by way of indirection...'

‘I dispute much with God with great impatience,’ said he, ‘and hold him to his promises’. The Canaanite woman was a source of unending wonder and comfort to Luther because she had the audacity to argue with Christ...

All this is written for our comfort that we should see how deeply God hides his face and how we must not go by our feelings but only by his Word. All Christ’s answers sounded like no, but he did not mean no. He had not said that she was not of the house Israel. He had not said that she was a dog. He had not said no. Yet all his answers were more like no than yes. This shows how our hearts feel despondency. It sees nothing but a plain no. Therefore it must turn to the deep hidden yes under the no and hold with a firm faith to God’s word.’

'At other times, however, Luther advised against any attempt to wrestle one’s way through. 'Don’t argue with the Devil’, he said. ‘He has had five thousand years of experience. He had tried out all his tricks on Adam, Abraham and David, and he knows exactly the weak spots’. And he is persistent. If he does not get you down on the first assault, he will commence a siege of attrition until you give in from sheer exhaustion. Better banish the whole subject. Seek company and discuss some irrelevant matter...'

'Shun solitude. ‘Eve got into trouble when she walked in the garden alone. I have my worst temptations when I am by myself.’ Seek out some Christian brother, some wise counsellor. Undergird yourself with the fellowship of the church'

'But always and above all else the one great objective aid for Luther was the Scriptures, because this is the written record of the revelation of God in Christ. ‘The true Christian pilgrimage is not to Rome, or Compostela, but to the prophets, the Psalms and the Gospels’. The Scriptures assumed for Luther an overwhelming importance, not primarily as a source for antipapal polemic, but as the one ground of certainty.'

Here I stand, RH Bainton, Mentor 1978

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Luther's Lessons in Love

My holiday reading was 'Here I Stand' the classic biography of Martin Luther by Roland H. Banton. A brilliant book full of food for the soul. In the chapter on marriage entilted 'The School of Character' we get these insights from Luther...

'he [Luther] began to portray marriage as a school for character. In this sense it displaces the monastery, which had been regarded by the Church as the training ground of virtue..' (p235)

To one of his youngsters Luther said, 'Child, what have you done that I should love you so? You have disturbed this whole house with your bawling.' And when a baby cried for an hour and the parents were at the end of their resources, he remarked, This is sort of thing that caused the Church Fathers to vilivy marriage. But God before the last day has brought back marriage to its proper esteem.

'The greatest grace of God is when love persists in marriage.'

In the old days this sound advice was given to the bride: 'My dear, make your husband glad to cross the threshold at night', and to the groom, 'Make your wife sorry to have you leave'.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gospel Gazebo

Despite some drizzle a great afternoon at the Pollokshaws Carnival. Thanks to all the Greenview folks who provided Face Painting, Hand Massage & Kid's Crafts. The 'Objections to Christianity' Board got a bit of interest and those doing our survey on 'spirituality' had some good chats.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pollokshaws Carnival - Sat 18th June

This Saturday is the local community Fun Day (at Greenbank Park, next to the Shell Garage on Netherauldhouse Rd).

Greenview will have a large gazebo there - containing face-painting, crafts, hand-massage and our all new 'apologetics board'. Why not give us a visit.

Terry Pratchett & Assisted Suicide

Christian Medical Comment has a sobering article on...

'Twenty facts we did not learn from Terry Pratchett’s BBC ‘documentary’ on assisted suicide in Europe'

Friday, June 10, 2011

Want to be Wise?

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.(
James 3)

James tells us to seek wisdom as we face the challenges of life (ch.1:5). Which sounds good but can leave Christians feeling a little like groping in the dark. After all how will we recognise 'wisdom' when it's given - as opposed to just more of our self-generated introspections?

Well thankfully James doesn't leave us in the dark but goes on in chapter 3 to describe the wisdom that comes from heaven. It immediately strikes you how different it is from our self-generated worldly wisdom. Our natural 'wisdom' is to rationalise how we can promote ourselves most effectively, or get our way in a situation, or make sure we are seen in the best possible light. Therein, this 'wisdom' tells us, we will find satisfaction - feel good about ourselves and achieve success. But James cuts through the all pious packaging and spin that so often goes with such an approach - its roots are in envy and selfish ambition, earthly, unspiritual, the mindset of the devil himself (v14-15).

Rather, God's wisdom will be recognizable by the following characteristics...
1. It's first of all pure
2. It's peace-loving
3. It's considerate
4. It's submissive
5. It's full of mercy & good fruit
6. It's impartial
7. It's sincere.

For some that will sound like a recipe for being walked over and achieving little. But actually it's the recipe for raising 'a harvest of righteouesness'. It is the wisdom of the Gospel - the very character of Jesus Himself.

If you want to be wise - write out these verses and meditate upon them.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Missional Church

Not 'either/or' I know, but a well made video emphasising where the weighting of a 'Missional Church' will be...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

God's Super Injunction

The whole super-injunction and privacy saga has hit a breaking point. The anonymity afforded by courts to various scandal ridden public figures has proved unsustainable. That which has been whispered in private is being shouted from the rooftops.

It seems that in our internet age the only way to protect your family from embarrassment will be to refrain from doing things that might embarrass them. Kind of simple when you think about it.

However, the problem is that we all have secrets and ‘skeletons in the cupboard’ at various levels – perhaps a youthful indiscretion, a ‘moment of madness’, an unhappy phase of life – that none of us would wish publicised or regard as ‘everyone’s business’. Yet the reality of our age is more & more to deny people such discretion. Every compromising photo posted on Facebook becomes effectively undeletable, as do our hastily expressed opinions or off-the-cuff quips. The Christianity Explored illustration of having all the details of our life put out on public display doesn’t feel quite so theoretical anymore.

But actually even if our private lives were splashed across the Tabloids on a daily basis it still wouldn’t reveal the half of it. All those thoughts, unseen actions and carefully manipulated words would still remain unexposed. And it would be the cumulative weight and mass of all those little sins that would truly shame and condemn us – no ‘moment of madness’ or ‘exceptional circumstances’ will explain away sins committed repeatedly day-in and day-out.

It’s why God’s Super Injunction is not to gag the truth about us – but to gag our excuses for it: so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God (Rom 3:19). The Gospel is a call to stop self-justification, to stop protesting and making excuses for ourselves. It is a reminder of reality – we have not lived as we ought and we cannot cover it up from the one whose opinion ultimately matters. That’s why, Romans reminds us, in God’s court room there will be no arguing – just silence.

Our greatest need is not the suppression of truth but the granting of forgiveness. The former might save our face now – but only the latter can save our souls then. So take the advice of Jesus Himself: ‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way...’ (Matt 5:25).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kate McCann & Guilt

Kate McCann has revealed in her book ‘Madeleine’, that she was so ‘weighed down by guilt’ that she found it difficult to allow herself any pleasure in life. In describing the aftermath of every parent’s nightmare she expressed the sense of it feeling totally inappropriate to allow herself enjoyment when her daughter could be suffering – a situation haunted by a sense of guilt over the circumstances of her daughter’s disappearance.

The McCann’s case is truly horrific and most honest parents will feel a sense of vulnerability in having contemplated it. There are few parents who haven’t left their children unattended in a ‘safe place’ for even a few minutes – but of course it only takes a few minutes... and therein lies the torture when things go wrong. It would be a proud and callous heart that ‘threw the first stone’ at the McCanns.

What struck me though was the effect of ‘guilt’ – the sense of responsibility, regret and shame that changes a person’s whole perspective on life. The intensity of self-disapproval that makes any right to personal enjoyment seem wrong and illegitimate. A sense, ultimately, of injustice – that’s it not fair for others to be deprived of benefits, as a consequence of my actions, and for me to enjoy any such things.

For some such guilt is overcome through self-justification and hardness of heart. But for others, especially in cases where the faults or outcomes have been catastrophic, the guilt can become all consuming infecting every aspect of life. Even when some form of amends is possible – replacement of goods, apologies, compensation – the core effects of distress, lost time, anger, fear, pain – can never be undone or unfelt – the clock truly can’t be turned back.

It is why guilt is so powerful and debilitating – often humanly impossible to resolve. And it is why the Cross stands at the centre of the meeting humanity’s deepest need – forgiveness. Because at the Cross, in his humanity, Jesus took upon himself all our guilt – he plumbed the depths of all the unrequited pain and loss that sin has left in its wake. By exhausting the injustice, in himself, through being the bearer of the wrath & indignation justice demands - he is able to close the holes and chasms ripped open in our souls by guilt (Is 53:4-5). In Christ, through His death, we can be free from guilt because in Jesus there is healing and reconciliation at the deepest levels of the cosmos itself (Col 1:20). The debt and consequences of our actions are not left outstanding but have been dealt with, paid in full, once and forever (Heb 10:19-22).

None of this is to be simplistic or trite regarding the feelings we might have over our failings and sins. Sorrow over fallen acts is not inappropriate – they are part of the right responses and inevitable frustrations of living as fallen people in a fallen world (2 Cor 7:10; Rom 8:20-23). But the knowledge that in Jesus restoration and resolution has been made possible allows us to see light even in dark places. It is the hope that even our worst experiences will one day be settled for good in God’s Kingdom.

Pray that Kate McCann will know that hope in her life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Follow the Compass

Out in the hills last week doing some Munro-bagging* - six if you must know, yes, just the one day – anyway as we navigated between the peaks (did I mention we climbed six?) I was once again struck by how easily it is to get disorientated. On several occasions my instinct of where to go was completely counter to reality. It was the classic choice of follow the compass or your feelings – and man can your feelings be at odds with the compass. You stare at the compass and think, ‘that can’t be right’ – even to point of tapping the compass in case it’s jammed. But, of course, in the mountains losing faith in the compass is to risk losing your life too.

Well the compass is a well used illustration in encouraging us to keep faith with the Bible –to follow Scripture even when it feels counter-intuitive to do so. But let me take it down/up (?) a level to think about the key ‘compass bearing’ of 'Grace'.

We might understand grace in our heads – but so often our hearts find it hard to believe. Our natural instinct is only to feel loved, accepted and secure by God – when we have proved ourselves lovable, acceptable and desirable to God. So when we sin, have drifted in our devotions, been negligent in service – our natural instincts are to feel insecurity, despair & disapproval in relation to God. And the more we follow that instinct of needing to prove ourselves – the more of a vicious cycle it is – because (a) we lack consistency and (b) however highly we ‘perform’ there are countless further levels in which we’ll soon become aware we fall short in.

Rather the answer is to follow the compass needle that tenaciously points to ‘grace’. Believe the compass – let it be your guide in life, let it rule overrule your natural senses, and let it govern your understanding of God’s relationship to you in Christ. Now ‘Grace’ is not an excuse to set aside the disciplines of holiness or the pursuit of Christ-likeness (Rom 6:1-2) – but it is the basis on which to do so. It is the objective, unswayed, trustworthy and directing pointer of truth – ‘by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works’ (Eph 2:8-9.

So follow the compass.

*Munros are Scottish mountains over 3000ft.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Cambridge Change

'Cambridge Change' is the idea of something remaining the same yet changing in regard to other things. So, for example, last year I was taller than John - but this year (because John has grown) I'm shorter than him. I have not changed yet I have lost a property, a feature, a characteristic of my previous being. Cambridge Change is an important concept in theology - it shows how God might seem to change in relation to ourselves and yet be changeless in Himself.

I heard it whispered recently that the church I'm in was being seen by some as 'increasingly right wing' (theologically speaking I hasten to add). Which is odd because I didn't think it had particularly moved in any new direction theologically in recent years. It seems to me to not be being 'increasingly' anything different theologically from what it has been in the past. Maybe 'Cambridge change' is the real change here?

After all, 40 years ago if you agreed with the general theological position and beliefs of people like John Stott, Martin Lloyd-Jones, JI Packer and Leon Morris you would have been called 'Evangelical'. Now if you hold the same general thinking you are required to be called 'conservative Evangelical'. Interesting!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Truth & Tactics in Love Wins

The publication of ‘Love Wins’ by Rob Bell has opened a whole raft of debate on the subject of Hell. My own position on Hell is summarised in a sermon I preached last year (HERE) – and indeed the Biblical shortcomings and dangers of RB’s view are well outlined by others such as Kevin DeYoung.

This blog therefore is not a direct interaction with Love Wins or the subject of hell. Rather it’s a reflection on some of the tactics of Rob Bell and others in their desire to promote their ideas.

Having their cake & eating it
Defenders of RB and others (one thinks of Brian McLaren for example) have a habit of denouncing public challenges to their views as violating good Christian practise. They protest that those who have issues with RB should take them up privately – rather than create a unseemly public spat. Whereas it’s seemingly quite acceptable for RB to write an internationally published best-seller to disseminate his strongly expressed views on what others have taught.

Holier than thou
I’ve noticed in one article how those supportive of RB were cited with warm descriptions such as, ‘fairly perceptive’, ‘a fairly careful theological thinker’, ‘one of the wisest and most Christlike New Testament scholars’ and ‘tremendously dedicated disciples of Jesus’. Contrastingly those who oppose RB’s teachings were categorised as ‘uncharitable’, shameful, putting people through ‘the Spanish Inquisition’, shooting first and asking questions later, ‘vituperative’, ‘intemperate’, and ‘unreasoned’.

This is a great tactic as it avoids having to deal with the substance of any objections. Instead opponents can be written off as spiritually sub-standard – after all you might feel more obliged to actually deal with the arguments of Piper & Driscoll if you credited them as ‘fairly perceptive’ guys or ‘Christlike’ or tremendously dedicated disciples of Jesus.

Name grabbing
Defenders of RB have a tendency to appeal an awful lot to third parties (i.e. non-Biblical sources). So some of the more esoteric thoughts of writers like CS Lewis are seized upon to back-up their position. Thus his thoughts on the dehumanising effects of sin are quoted as evidence of those in hell being in some sense unhuman. Or that Billy Graham thinks there might be some third, undefined and mystical, way to be saved for ‘good’ people in other religions.

Interesting stuff, all very beard-stroking, but you only have to bump down on the Bible for a moment to realise that such speculations are going way beyond anything it actually says (and indeed quickly run into some pretty big NT buffers). That’s the problem with so much modern revisionist theology – it is increasingly detached from any clear Bible texts – it is bolted on to the end of an ever rickety series of extensions. One man’s speculation becomes the next man’s foundation and so on.

Quiet please
This follows on from the second point – but it is the tactic of pushing back challenges under the cover of, ‘we don’t like your tone’. Now, of course, tone is important but is can also be a great smokescreen for avoiding accountability. So again, evangelicals who are passionate about the pastoral and theological dangers of revisionist teaching on hell – can be dismissed as strident or disrespectful. Likewise mainline evangelical understandings of hell are characterised as ‘stingy’ – in contrast to the new ‘generous’ take on the subject.

Let’s just be friends
This is one of the last cards played in these debates – e.g. ‘well even if X is wrong, he’s a great guy and we should welcome him in our churches’. You could imagine people saying the same thing to the apostle Paul – ‘look Paul, don’t get so uptight about Hymenaeus and Philetus’s new view on the Resurrection. After all they’re really top guys, have done a lot of good work and are really popular church leaders’.

But truth is not a beauty pagent of church leaders – doctrine really matters. Getting it right can be a matter of life – getting it wrong, death. Paul doesn’t base his acceptance or readiness to partner with other church leaders on the basis of their ministry CVs – or even whether he thinks they are ‘genuine Christians’ (‘The Lord knows those who are his’ 2 Tim 2:19). Rather he basis it on his assessment of their faithfulness to the revealed apostolic gospel – and he has little time for those indulging in secondary speculations (1 Tim 1:3-6).

But what if RB is right, that we have been too strident on the subject of hell, too unhopeful about its finality, too exclusive in thinking how people might avoid it? Well then, I’ll meet folks in heaven who I thought probably wouldn’t be there – happy thought! But if RB is wrong, then missing from heaven may be folks who heard that hell was not final, repentance could be postponed, and that their own religious thoughts might suffice for God. This is serious.

The final irony is that in claiming to have the best interests of the Gospel at heart the proponents of such teachings simply cause a huge distraction to its proclamation – they suck energy out churches as yet another wave of liberalism arrives on the church’s doorstep. Because there is nothing new in this – the doctrine of hell has been challenged repeatedly over the centuries. The church has been down this path many times – the late 1800’s, the 1960’s and now at the start of the 21st century. As the Duke of Wellington once wearily remarked after one of his many battles – ‘they came on the same old way, and we beat them off the same old way’.

Ultimately, the best way for most of us to respond to RB (and those keen to push evangelical churches into a more liberal mould) – is not to get bogged down in trying to untangle the slippery knots of Love Wins. Instead we should push back such unhelpful and pastorally dangerous speculations by simply asserting clearly & calmly what we do believe is clear about hell, the exclusivity of Christ, and the need for faith & repentance. We keep on declaring the faith as once delivered to the saints – others will bear their own responsibility for what they teach.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Hard Yards of Spiritual Growth

John Newton puts the experience so vividly....

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He'd answer my request,
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

'Lord, why is this?' I trembling cried,
'Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?'
'Tis in this way,' the Lord replied,
'I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break the schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may'st seek thy all in me.'

Quoted in 'Knowing God' by JI Packer - the accompanying chapter (21) on 'Inward Trials' is well worth a read.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

End Time Earthquakes

The recent earthquakes in Japan & New Zealand (not to mention the quakes elsewhere in recent years - Pakistan, Iran, Peru...) can't but help to prompt thoughts on the Second Coming - which is of course exactly what they're supposed to do...

There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. (Matt 24:7-8)

Such thoughts are all the more pointed in the light of a 'superswarm' of quakes reported by geologists. The Times (13/3/11) reported that there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes registering between 7 and 7.9, with 21 occurring in 2010 (there was only 10 in 2006). That some scientists think the 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra in 2004, which killed 230,000 people, may have caused the entire world to shake slightly as it has been followed by an unusually number of other large quakes.

The point of such events (in terms of the End Times) is the ongoing reminder that we inhabit a world that is 'groaning and travailing' as it waits for God's final intervention. Below are a few notes from a sermon I preached last year on the 'Signs of the Times' in Matthew 24 (Second Coming Part 2, see podcasts above).

1. Wars / Rumours & Natural Disasters (v6-8)
 There will be an ongoing cycle of conflict & catastrophes
 The hallmarks of a world – out of joint with God – groaning & travailing
 Notice – Jesus describes these things as ‘birth pangs’ (v8)
 Like birth pangs – those contractions – every one – signal an arrival
 They are warning shocks of coming judgement – of Christ’s own arrival

We live in that world – in such days...
Rather than frighten us, cow us or make us despair they are to focus us...
 Every news story of conflict / every disaster
 Every turn of the screw on Christian freedom / every new attempt to twist the Gospel
 Should flash up before our eyes – 'The Bridegroom is coming!'

Pakistan floods – a spur to try & witness to our friends
 The latest Terror Alert – a reminder to keep ourselves pure
 The popularity of ‘The Shack’ – a call to ‘stand firm’ on Biblical truth
 Christian Foster parents rejected – a prompt to invest all the more in the Kingdom to come

My old Pastor – used to have a parting comment: ‘Keep looking up’
 That 2000yrs have passed has not taken Scripture by surprise
 That Jesus is coming back - should not take us by surprise

The concern of the Bible – in giving us these Sign of the Times
 is not to furnish us with a detailed timetable – or to distract us from living our lives
 but that we might observe this world with a heavenly perspective –
 and thus be focused us & motivated – in living fully for Christ now.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reclaiming our, eh like, convictions or something

Great clip: Christians who think it's trendy, cool & sophisticated to 'question everything' take note!

HT: Nicky Mackison

Monday, February 21, 2011

Baptism is for Believers

Had the privilege to do a baptism last night and by way of explanation here are my comments to the congregation...

Salvation in the New Testament (NT) is firmly focused on faith – that is, we become Christians not by doing but by believing...
• The NT writers are very concerned to resist the natural human instinct to look to ourselves in how we get God's approval;
• Great battle in NT between Paul and those whose mindset is one of pleasing God by our works / activities.

No, the way to be reconciled to God, to enter His family, to become accepted by Him...
• is by simply believing – trusting that Jesus in His death - cleanses us from our guilt
• And that when we put our faith in him – Jesus' own flawless righteousness is credited to us.

So the Christian life is not one measured out by ceremonies, religious activity, or even our best efforts...
• But by a simple faith & deep gratitude – to Jesus for saving us - doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

So the Christian faith, in the NT, is very different from its pagan alternatives – even its Jewish past;
• No elaborate ceremonies, rituals, holy days, food laws, hierarchies of holiness...
• Indeed Paul calls such legalism ‘weak & beggarly’ (Gal 4:9) – mere shadows of the true spiritual reality to be found in simply trusting Jesus (Col 2:17).

The NT sweeps away vast tracts of such activity – the outward & physical – to be replaced by inner faith...
• Yet – not entirely – because delivered to Christians were certain physical practises...
• The Breaking of Bread – Laying on of Hands in prayer - and Baptism

And as Christians have sought to understand – these outward & physical practises...
• They have described them among other things as...
• the ‘outward sign of inward grace' (Calvin)’ or ‘a visible sign of an inner reality’.

The idea of them being signs is crucial – that is, they point us to something else...
• The signpost to London is not ‘London’ – it is simply directing us to the reality that is London;
• So with Baptism – the water, the immersion, the act – is not in itself spiritual, or changing;
• It’s simply an act – to point us to the existing spiritual reality which has already come about in the life of the Christian being baptised

That’s why 'P' won’t be more a Christian – after tonight – than he was before
• The Spiritual realities that Baptism speaks of – cleansing, confession, identification – already exist in him.

So why you might ask – bother with Baptism at all – why be baptised after all these years?
• Well because – Baptism is faith strengthening – not faith creating – but strengthening;
• In these signs – we as physical, feeble people – are given a physical reminder of that inward spiritual reality;
• For Christians– as they experience Baptism & look back to it – it very tangibly reminds & assures them....
• that in Christ – they are cleansed, they were counted in, they did make that good confession.

Baptism is a token of God’s mercy to weak & earthly creatures.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Precious in the sight of the Lord....(Ps 116:15)

Saw this obituary yesterday & felt deeply humbled and yet so 'proud' to be a Christian.

Eric Buchanan; Salvation Army Officer
Published on 7 Feb 2011 in The Herald Newspaper

Eric Buchanan was not brought up as part of a Salvation Army family.

He was born in Northern Ireland, where his Scottish father was a regular soldier. His mother had been a pub pianist in Aberdeen.

On leaving the army, his father moved the family to London to look for work. In 1939, he rejoined the forces. His eldest brother also enlisted and was killed in action.

After the war in 1945, he obtained a post as an apprentice printer. This completed, he undertook his national service in the RAF and met Anne, a beautiful Glaswegian member of the WRAF. They soon married and were then separated when Mr Buchanan was posted to the Korean War.

As a medical orderly, he was in the front line and witnessed many deaths. Not a religious man, he was impressed by the practical Christianity of an Australian Salvation Army officer.

On leaving the RAF, the young couple emigrated to the US. Mr Buchanan’s gift of the gab made him a successful door-to-door salesman while Anne, a trained tailoress, made coats. He never forgot the Salvation Army officer in Korea and they worshipped at the local corps.

Eventually, the Buchanans returned to Scotland where, in 1967, they adopted a boy, Andrew. Mr Buchanan obtained a well-paid post in a printing firm but he and Anne then gave up their affluent lifestyle to train as Salvation Army officers. Their first post, in 1974, was in the working-class housing scheme of Drumchapel in Glasgow. After nine years building a thriving centre, they were moved to Musselburgh.

The area was gripped by the miners’ strike following Government plans to close mines. The families faced great hardships so the Buchanans provided a hall and co-operated with the wives of miners to provide meals. At the end of the strike, the Buchanans were presented with a miner’s lamp.

Their last move was back to Glasgow, to Easterhouse when Mr Buchanan was 56. In the first two days his car was stolen and their windows were smashed. It didn’t put them off. Mr Buchanan walked the streets and got into conversations, while Anne was adept at chatting with women on the bus and in the shops and they became well known.

I moved to Easterhouse in 1987 and Mr Buchanan, on hearing that I was an experienced youth worker, drew me into his youth clubs which were full of lively youngsters.

By this time, the couple had built up an evening service. These were short and lively with corny jokes from Mr Buchanan. Usually he asked for someone to choose a favourite hymn. A well-known drinker always picked The Old Rugged Cross and one night Mr Buchanan joked: “Oh no, not again.”

The man protested, saying: “Right, I’m leaving. And what’s more I want my money back.” He took his contribution from the collecting box and marched out. But he was back the next Sunday.
Mr Buchanan’s ministry had three major characteristics: availability, responsiveness and passion. For years, the Buchanans lived over the hall and were the people the homeless and the penniless would come to. When their home was ruined by a fire, a mother and her children were put up in a council flat, although it was almost bare of furniture. Late on a winter night, Mr Buchanan provided food, bedding and clothes for the shivering family. Next day he delivered furniture.

If the Buchanans saw a need they tried to meet it. They started a Christmas Day dinner for those who struggled to afford a meal or were lonely. Anne and volunteers cooked the meal, Mr Buchanan was the waiter, while I had the unenviable task of organising games at the party. Pass the parcel and musical chairs were hotly contested and I was relieved when Santa arrived with a present for everybody.

Mr Buchanan was zealous that people should become Christians. At the shopping centre and in pubs, he would tell them about Jesus, sometimes to their annoyance, sometimes to their delight. He also felt passionately about those who suffered. I was in the Sally when a mother came in with her children. Her partner had beaten her before taking all their cash. Mr Buchanan wept. Among his followers were a number of hard men, former heavy drinkers. With them, Mr Buchanan marched round to her partner and warned him: “You touch her again and my men will beat you up.” Not professional, probably not lawful, but effective.

In 1993, Mr Buchanan had a stroke and retired. He was one of God’s mavericks who disliked administration and rules. Fortunately, his beloved Anne was there to put him right. His legacy is the people I still meet who thank him for getting them out of debt, drink, drugs, troubles and into stable and useful lives.

He is survived by Anne, by Andrew and his partner Fiona, and by grandson, Lucas..

Born: August 5, 1929; Died: January 13, 2011.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Gospel & Social Mobility

An interesting couple of programmes on TV last night (2/2/11). Firstly, a BBC2 documentary (‘Who gets the best jobs?’) on social mobility – something that has reduced dramatically in recent decades in the UK. This means that if you are born poor in Britain you are more likely to die poor (i.e. not advance up the social/income scale) than at any time since the 1950s. The transition from free university education, the growing disparity between the incomes of rich & poor, and some would argue the abolition of the grammar school system, have all doubtless contributed. Those with money can buy their off-spring a better education (and thus a springboard to greater prosperity) either directly through private provision or indirectly by being able to afford to live in the right postcodes.

The second programme was a feature on Newsnight – about the ‘super rich’, an international elite whose ties with any geographical community are less & less – i.e. they move globally and have few deep roots in any one place. London was cited as one such staging post – with its African plutocrats, Russian oil magnates and Arab Sheiks. A group increasingly resented by those down below – who see them paying little tax proportionately and having little commitment to the societies they move through.

Depressing stuff on the face of it – a return to a Victorian society with its impenetrable class barriers and glaring social disparity between the workhouse and the stately home. But in the programmes a couple of things struck me. Firstly, regret was expressed that a generation of young people were being denied the possibility to advance in such ways. One politician spoke of his frustration that many young people felt such advancement was beyond them and thus were resigned to staying put socially & income wise. The need, it was argued, was to get such young people climbing the ladder, believing in themselves, advancing into the professions and so on.

Now you certainly wouldn’t want to discourage people from that – but the problem is that such a message can itself become misleading and cruel. Because not everyone can be a doctor or a barrister, (it was noteworthy these type of jobs were cited not because they are virtuous and useful ways to contribute to society - but because, you've guessed it, they pay BIG). But we can’t all be at the top of the tree professionally or financially. So by telling young people that getting a highly paid and prestige job is what they ought to aspire to and will give their lives proper fulfilment – we are simply setting up a large number of them to be failures. Unfortunately our materialistic society struggles to see beyond the length of its cheque-book and so wealth becomes the central measure by which it assesses the value of somebody’s life.

There was no message to people who might not be able to afford a Russell Group* university place (or indeed any university place) – that actually having an ‘ordinary job’ or not being ‘well off’ is ok! No suggestion that your life could be just as significant and fulfilling if you’re a gardener, a porter, a factory worker. In short there was no gospel in the assessment of this issue by any of the contributors. Rather a situation is perpetuated that pushes people to think of themselves as successes or failures (or become grateful or resentful) in life on the basis of personal wealth.

Now the Bible is not against social mobility – slaves who could secure their freedom were encouraged to do so. But equally for those who could not – they need not be overly troubled by it, their masters are themselves subject to a greater master, the slave is a freeman in Christ (1 Cor 7:20-22). The gospel transcends all social divides – it places men and women of every class, profession and tax bracket on the same footing before God. Indeed God values the widows mite much more than ‘cash splashed’ easily.

But in case this appears a convenient argument for a capitalist status quo – there is a second aspect, the one picked up in the Newsnight feature. The point was made that cities like London (and we could include Glasgow) were built in large part by the philanthropy of the super-rich in earlier times. The Victorian era being a case in point – a time when private money founded many of our hospitals, schools and public parks. Among the wealthy then it seems was a much greater sense of civic responsibility and of using their wealth to help others less well off. The current Mayor of London was asked, ‘What has changed, why aren’t the rich like that now, why don’t they use some of their astronomical wealth in such ways today?’ (paraphrase). He had no answer, other than it would be good if they were. The problem can't even be solved by greater taxation because this is a group who 'move'. So help for the poor who might go to university doesn't look like coming from this source.

Perhaps the difference between then & now is the Gospel. Then society, for all its many faults, was permeated by much greater sense of gospel values. The teaching of Christianity held much greater sway – far from universal but much greater nonetheless – so that even among non-Christians there was a greater sense of responsibility to others, and a greater sense of humility about the things they had achieved or possessed. It was the difference of being a society where your values are formed by Sunday School and sermons as opposed to Nickleodeon Ad' breaks and Saturday night TV.

You see it is the Gospel that gives people a sense of self-worth & purpose not dependant on financial success – and it is the Gospel that will engender the care and respect for people that will create a giving & humble heart in the rich.

*Russell Group is the name given for the top 20 UK universities.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Twist or Stick - Gospel Ambition

With reference to the above New Year sermon - Times writer Daisy Waugh reflects on the passing of the years and going on pamper hotel breaks....

Of course there was a time... when the idea of spending time and money on anything so grossly unadventurous and let's face it - middled aged, would have been laughed out of court by the pair of us. But circumstances change. People change. Most of us grow a little less curious, a little more complacent, a little less inspired or inspiring as the years rocket by.
The Times Magazine, p7 (9/1/11).

Let the old apostle remind us again of another way...
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

SNAG - Amended Programme!

January 15th
NICEA (The Faith Goes Trinitarian). How the faith defied human rationalism to declare 'God in three persons, blessed trinity.
Speaker: John Thomson (Bible Teacher & Blogger)

February 12th
ANDOVER (The Faith Goes Liberal). How the faith tipped towards liberalism in the 19th cetury.
Speaker: Dr Colin Dow (Minister of Glasgow City Free Church)

March 19th
WITTENBERG (The Faith Goes Reformed). How the Faith recovered its Biblical roots after centuries of stagnation.
Speaker: David Robertson (Minister of St Peters Free Church in Dundee).

7.30pm at Greenview.