Friday, 2 September 2011

Ministers Under Colleagiate Care.

When churches take 'ministers without portfolio' under their 'care,' what exactly does that mean? In some churches it means precious little, though it looks good on paper. The only concern shown to these ministers regards the number of baptisms they adminstered, the numnber of times they officiated at the Lord's Table, the number of marriages they conducted, the number of times they preached, and whether or not they preached outside their own denomination. This is regarded as showing 'care.'

But 'care' in the biblical sense is much more than that, surely. It must include personal care for the individual minister, and for his wife and family, during their time of absense from their normal ministerial work, real pastoral support that provides a non-judgemental readiness to listen empathically to their colleague, supporting them in the courts of the church where necessary, being a good friend to them, ministering to them spiritually, being there for them. They need a 'Barnabas' figure who will give proper time and encouragement to them, and who will work for their restoration to the work of the ministry.

What happens in fact is that such ministers are virtually disowned by their colleagues and ostracised by the very men with whom they had worked. Colleagues just do not want to know! Perhaps they do not know how to care! Perhaps this is not their forte! They are not natural carers - more like career people who want to get on and up within the organisation.

Such a Barnabas figure must also work for changes in church structures and practices that allow such situations to develop. They must also be free to challenge Presbyteries and Sessions, if these are where the trouble emanates from. They need clout. They need not to be establishment men, because this will defeat the whole object of the Barnabas ministry. They must be strong men who are prepared to challenge whatever is contributing to ministers having to leave their work because of work-related stress. And they also need the courage to take on whoever it is is causing the difficulties to Gopsel ministers.

Of course, the need for such a ministry is evident in many churches, but this need is also an admission of the failure of the churches to deal with each other according to Scriptural teaching. For a church to admit to such failure is not a sugn of weakness, but is a sign that it is prepared to deal with the difficulties that arise as the result of the Gospel being preached. That some church members and officers do not tolerate the Gospel being preached clearly is granted; but that such people should be allowed to remain in office and in church membership, is a much more basis question that the churches must address biblically.

I freely admit that ministers' troubles in church are not always because of opposition to the Gospel from unbelievers; quite often they arise because of agenda-driven professing believers who have placed the church and its institution above the very Gospel she is commissioned by the Lords to proclaim. This is a serious problem, and when the very scent of this arises in any congregation, alarm bells must be heard by the discerning in those churches.

Your views and reflections on this crucial issues will be welcome. Just use the comment box to send your 'take' on these issues to me.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Why you Don't Understand the Gospel that you NEED!

One of the excuses that non-Christians make why they do not believe the Gospel and become Christians, is that they simply do not and cannot understand the Gospel. They cannot understand this business of the ‘new birth,’ or having to become ‘a new creation.’ These ideas baffle them. Non-Christians ask how it is that an innocent Man (Jesus Christ) can be punished for a guilty man (like you and me), and they say, it’s not right, it’s immoral, it’s unjust. They simply cannot see it.

Nor can they understand how when a sinner puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, their sins are forgiven and they are accepted as righteous in God’s sight. This leaves them stone cold.

Perhaps they start thinking that it is because they are not smart enough to grasp these spiritual truths; but that does not hold water because the smartest people in New Testament times had exactly the same problem with Christ’s teaching and His apostles’ preaching. The Jewish Sanhedrin was at a loss to understand how a lame man could be healed by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, (Acts 4:9, 10). Nicodemus, one of their number, was unable to understand how someone could be born a second time; in fact, his ignorance was such that he could only think in terms of physical birth, (John 3:4). And he, too, was a very clever individual.

So it has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s intellectual powers or academic abilities. Spiritual understanding has nothing to do with how many degrees a person has, or any other purely human ability.

Paul tells his Corinthian readers that God has not chosen the smart people in the world through whom to do great things, nor the great intellectuals, the Greek philosophers, nor the scientists of the day, (1 Cor.1:26f). Instead, He chose people like you and me, ordinary people. But even people like us cannot understand the Gospel until we are spiritually enlightened or born all over again. Until this happens, you cannot grasp the “message of the Cross” because to you it is both offensive and foolish. To the Christian, however, it is the “power of God,” (1 Cor.1:18). The truly amazing thing here is that those who think they are clever cannot ‘see’ the Gospel. They boast about their great education, and they are proud of their great cleverness. But they cannot understand the simple Gospel.

Now the question we have to ask is this: why do Christians and non-Christians see these same things very differently? Why can very clever people not see the meaning of the Gospel, whereas ordinary people can see it plainly? The answer is that the one is a Christian, but the other isn’t. Paul tells us that Gospel truths are “spiritually discerned.” That means that the reason why you do not understand the gospel, and see no need of it personally, is that you do not have the spiritual equipment to enable you to do it. And only God can give that to you! The fact that you refuse to come to Christ for spiritual enlightenment means that you will never grasp what the Gospel means for you. It will remain foolishness to you. The natural man, the man without the Spirit of God, sees only folly in the Gospel way of salvation. If you think the Gospel is foolish, God will show you just how foolish you are. How does someone know if he will perish in hell forever? Answer this question: is the Gospel message sheer foolishness to you just now? If it is, then you now know what your destiny will be. You are condemning the Gospel at the cost of perishing – not a good deal!

I hope you are beginning to see why you do not understand this Gospel message – it’s because you are spiritually blind. And blind people cannot see! Further, it is because you are living in spiritual darkness, and in the darkness you cannot see, either! These two things are true of you because you are spiritually dead. And dead people cannot know or do anything!

For you to ‘see’ the Gospel and its relevant for you, you must be stripped of your ‘cleverness,’ left totally naked in your thinking, and helpless.

ince you are spiritually blind, you need Christ to heal you; then you will be able to see. This is what He came into the world to do. And He will do it for you if you come to Him confessing your blindness! And since you are in spiritual darkness, you need Christ to shine His marvellous light, not only upon you but into your darkened heart and soul to dispel that darkness. And He’ll do that for you once you come to Him confessing you cannot see. And above all, you are spiritually dead, a spiritual corpse, motionless, lifeless, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, doing nothing. You need Christ, the One Who conquered death when He arose from the dead, to give you new life, a second birth; you need to be ‘born again from above,’ a heavenly birth. Only Christ can perform that miracle.

So what are you to do now? First, you must confess to God that you have found nothing attractive or desirable about the Gospel of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, Who died on Calvary FOR YOU. Second, tell Him you regarded it as foolishness, that you now see your own sinful folly, and that you are truly sorry for that. Third, turn away from your sin, and put your trust NOW in the only One Who can save you, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He loves you, He died for you, and He now wants to save your never-dying soul. He does not want you to perish eternally. Remember, He shed His precious blood and died for you on Calvary. So, trust in Christ NOW.

What you must do before you die!

Recently, my wife and I had the privilege of attending the 150th anniversary of a congregation established for the preaching of the Gospel. The preacher that evening told a story that has gripped me since then.

There was this Christian man who lived in a lovely house in a private housing development. Next door lived an Indian family. One day the Christian man was out in his garden, and was speaking to his Indian neighbour. “You’re a Christian?” remarked the neighbour. “Yes, I am,” replied the Christian. “Isn’t it true that you Christians believe that if a man dies without being converted to Christ, he will go to hell?” “Yes, that’s true,” answered the Christian. “Then, why didn’t you tell me that?”

The point of the story is this: I have an obligation to tell you that unless you are converted to Christ, you have nothing but eternal misery and damnation to look forward to. In other words, you must become a Christian. You must become what you are not—a child of God. You cannot make yourself a Christian, your good works cannot make you a Christian, and, what’s more, your church cannot make you a Christian, either. Religion cannot help in this regard, nor can being religious or even having a religious faith; and certainly the sacraments will not save you!.

Only God in Christ can make you a Christian, a child of God.

But how do you become a Christian? First, let me try to answer the question, “Why must you become a Christian?” The most important answer is this—you are living your life under God’s condemnation! Jesus states that “he who does not believe [in Him] is condemned already,” John 3:18. That means that you are not waiting until you die to see if you will be condemned by God—you are already condemned—FACT!

So this is where you are right now—living under divine condemnation for your sin. And what is your sin? Your sin is that which fills your heart—an attitude of rebellion against Almighty God, an attitude that wants nothing to do with Jesus Christ, the Man who went about doing good (healing the sick, the lame, the blind, the deaf; and even raising the dead to life). You want nothing to do with God’s Son who taught us to “love one another,” and to “do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” (Matt.7:12). You want nothing to do with the holiest, best, most loving Person who ever lived. Does that not strike you as strange? Why is this? Well, Jesus tells us.

You love darkness rather than light because your life is evil in God’s sight, John 3:19. Your sinful heart is your problem. It offends God.

But here’s where people sometimes get this matter all wrong. They believe that God is against them, and is out to get them at all costs. Listen to Jesus again: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved,” John 3:17. God wants to save you; and a God filled with hatred towards sinners would not say or do that! In fact, He “loved the world” so much—the world in all its bigness and badness —”that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” John 3:16. God wants to give you the best future imaginable! He is ‘for’ you. Do you believe that? God is ‘for’ you, and wants to deal effectively with your sin and guilt (and guilt always clings to the past), the very things that keep you from enjoying God. He does not want you to continue living under His condemnation. That’s where you are by nature. But God is offering to deliver you from that condemnation NOW.

Now, Christ was not sent into the world to die on Calvary’s Cross with a view to condemning you along with the world. Not at all. He sent His Son to the Cross to bring you into a new relationship with Him, not to condemn you. He came and died for you. Paul tells us “He died for all,” (2 Cor.5:15). And if He died for all, that means that He died for you. He died for sinners, therefore He died for you, because you are a sinner. If God so loved the world, then He loves YOU, too!

On what basis, then, are you to come to Christ as your Lord and Saviour? On the basis of God’s own Word to you. It’s not just me who is saying to you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. God says it Himself. And do you know what? He says something else: “whoever comes to Me I will by no means cast out,” John 6:37. There is an assured welcome for you from the God whom you’ve offended by your sin. You will not be turned away when you come in repentance and faith to Christ. There is still room in His heaven for you. It does not matter what age you are or how bad you may have been; God wants you in His heaven! Do you want to be there? And do you want to be sure that you’ll be there?

I said earlier that all who reject Christ as their Saviour and Redeemer are under divine condemnation. But you know, there’s another side to this, and Paul tells us what it is. “There is … now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1. None! In Christ alone there is safety for those under condemnation; there’s somewhere they can go to escape this dreaded end. Where’s that? Well, they can find everlasting safety only in Christ. Outside of Him, there is no safety; but in Christ alone there is eternal safety—or, as Paul puts it, “no condemnation.” Now, given your current position, this surely presents itself as a most desirable option for you, is it not?

This is what you want, isn’t it? To be safe with God in heaven forever?

“Tell me,” you ask, “is this possible and, if so, how can it become mine?” Yes, it is; and, what’s more, it is possible for you right now! It’s as easy as ABC.

ADMIT—to God that you are a sinner in His sight. Own up to the fact that you have not loved His Son Who died for you on the Cross. By your sin, you have offended the very God before Whom you will one day stand

in judgement for your sins. Then, ADMIT to yourself that you are a lost, guilty sinner, and see your refusal to “love the LORD your God with all your heart” as serious sin. You have not admitted that, have you? So ADMIT these sins with deep grief and sorrow, and with true repentance. Turn away now from that sinful living, from your pride, your self-righteousness. For unless you own up, you cannot be saved—and you must DO THIS NOW!

BELIEVE—in the Lord Jesus Christ this moment. You must see Him as the only One Who can save your guilty soul, for time and for eternity. You can come to Him right now, because He stands ready to save you and to welcome you home. He will receive everyone who comes to Him in faith, trusting His promise. BELIEVE on the Son of God Who died on Calvary to save your soul. He took the punishment for your sin and guilt, and bore it away. God has “laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” Isa.53:6. That means that He laid your iniquity on Christ when He died for you. So, what must you do to be saved? Cast yourself unreservedly and totally on His offered mercy. Give your whole heart and life over to Him, your sin and all, and He will receive you—AND DO IT NOW!

CONFESS—your new-found faith to someone. Tell someone close to you that you have now become a Christian, a child of God. Don’t be ashamed of the Lord Who has saved you. Tell others. Will you do that now?

Use this short prayer to help you do that.

Righteous God, I admit to You that I have sinned against You in thought, word and in deed. I am a sinful person who is not worthy that you should love me. Your Gospel tells me that You love me so much that you sent your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me, that my sins might be washed away, and that I might become Your true child. You want me to come to You now by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to save me, even me, and to make me Your child forever. I come to You now, just as I am, and put my trust in You for my eternal salvation. I ask all these things in Jesus’ mighty Name. AMEN.


If you need further help, or would like to talk to someone, ring me on 028 7963 4684, or write to: 23 Parkmore Close, MAGHERAFELT, Co. Londonderry, N. Ireland, BT45 6PL. Email:

Remember, you cannot put this matter off – there’s too much to lose!

Preaching Christ from the OT.

Prof. Hywel Jones, Westminster Theological Seminary in California, told me many years ago that when preaching from the OT, we must find the shortest route to Christ, for these are they which testify of Him (Lk.24:27). This must be done without forcing the text to say what it was never meant to say, of course. But the OT Scriptures all point to Christ, our great Prophet, Priest and King. And he is to be seen looking out through the windows of the OT, and the preacher's job is to let his hearers see Him clearly.

When a sermon is preached from the OT that makes no reference to Christ at all, I must conclude that such a sermon is not specifically Christian. It could well have been preached in any Jewish synagogue. That is not to say that the OT does not have a message for the people of God and for the world in its own right; for it does. But Christians must be taught in what way the OT holds forth the things concerning our Saviour.

But what a shame it is to hear sermons from the OT and Christ is not mentioned at all! These Scriptures are all about Christ; they speak of Him; it was these very Scriptures that the apostles preached from, as seen from the sermons in the early chapters of Acts. Christian preachers need to learn how to preach Christ in all the Scriptures, and apply Him to the needs of the congregations.

We are Christians, not Jews. So we want to hear Christ speaking to us in the OT. We must look for the shortest route to Christ from every OT text.

No Application

How sad it is that otherwise good sermons can be ruined by lack of application; but it's true. Christians ought to have been able to apply the message of the Scriptures to themselves, and some did - to their spiritual benefit. But if you were a newcomer to Biblical truth, then application may have been a problem.

There is nothing like a good solid Bible study to inform the mind, and to warm the heart to some extent. Having the Scriptures opened up and their meaning explained by a minister is undoubtedly a great privilege. I would encourage every preacher to follow this pattern and to go as far as Scriptural teaching goes, but no further.

I would encourage preachers to explain also where and how the message of the selected passage applies to his hearers. Every congregation has hurting, puzzled, confused, disappointed people sitting before them, and they need the healing balm of the Gospel applied tenderly and sensitively, yet accurately, to their hurting hearts. Careless sinners, especially if they are church members, must have the gospel applied with precision to their consciences, otherwise they will leave the services imagining that they are true Christians, and on their way to heaven. Backsliders need to be confronted with their spiritual carelessness and urged, through applicatory preaching, to return to Christ immediately. Christians, also, need to be encouraged from the Word, and nothing beats the careful application of the Gospel to their hearts.

Speaking from personal experience, I have discovered that the minister who can conduct a good study of the Scriptures week by week but refuses to apply the messages to his congregation, guaranteed a long and 'successful' ministry. His hearers will talk in glowing terms of how great Bible teacher they have as their minister. He will be asked to speak at conferences and conventions all over the country and abroad, his invitation being on the basis that he is a safe pair of hands to have in their company.

But once a minister of the Word attempts to apply the Gospel, not to some invisible and absent individuals or situation, but to the people sitting in front of him, and to situations known and familiar to those same people, then the declaration of war is announced, and "there is trouble ahead" for that minister. To disturb those who are "at ease in Zion" (Amos 6:1) is a recipe for disaster. To be accused of 'harshness' and 'lack of love' for the people, is what those coming under conviction resort to, and the minister is left defenseless, and certainly cannot depend on the support of his colleagues or of the church courts. He is left on his own, because even his colleagues see him as giving a bad impression of what an evangelical minister really is. In fact, when Jesus was exercising His ministry in Galilee 2000 years ago, everything was reasonably good so long as He spoke in a way that church leaders and people could not really understand; but the moment He started to speak to them clearly, the daggers were drawn, and the religious establishment was baying for His blood. His faithful servants will find exactly the same. Bringing the message of the Gospel too close to home is unwelcome in most churches today, including the evangelical and reformed churches. They just cannot handle it. And the reason? It seeks to handle them, and they do not want to not be in control of the Word; they want to control it. That's why some churches will demand that a certain translation of the Scriptures are read in public worship; it is also why some elders will dictate at what time the service will end. Such people like to be in control; but they do not want God to be in control of His Church.

May God have mercy on every look-warm church that calls itself by His Name.