Torch Times – January 2017 (final issue)

A Christian magazine for the thoughtful reader

Produced and published by
Torch Trust
Torch House,
Torch Way,
Market Harborough,
Leicestershire,
LE16 9HL UK
Tel: 01858 438260
email: info@torchtrust.org
website: torchtrust.org

Contents

Editorial note

We may not necessarily agree with the particular views of an article, because on certain controversial subjects there are several acceptable evangelical viewpoints. It is our aim to give a fair representation of these in this magazine.

Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material received and as such are unedited.

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Editorial

We wish all our readers God’s blessing in this New Year, and trust you find this final issue of Torch Times helpful and encouraging.

We have again a good variety of articles for you to read. One of them is showing us how not to be yesterday’s man or woman. Things change and we do not always appreciate change, yet there are times when it is necessary. As we grow older we often remember the past and tend to look at it through ‘rose-coloured spectacles’ forgetting that there were bad times as well as good.

We are facing big changes in Torch Trust and we may tend to look back wistfully to the ‘old days’ and all the good things that have happened over the years. However, as the article reminds us, we must not be ‘yesterday’s man or woman’. Though unchangeable in his substance and nature, God is always moving on and seeking to take us with him. As William Carey, that great missionary pioneer said, we should: ‘Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God’.

Matters concerning prayer, hymn singing and the Bible are covered in other articles in this issue. All are vital parts of the Christian life. The Bible is being attacked in our day as never before and we do well to remember that it is God’s inerrant Word in its original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Though translations from those languages are never 100% accurate, differences are minimal and we can rely on translations such as the NIV to be God’s Word for us today. The importance of daily prayer and Bible reading cannot be over-emphasized.

Michael Stafford

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Notice regarding Torch magazines

Many thanks for being a regular reader of Torch Times.

We have recently carried out a review of all the magazines that we produce and realised that most readers of Torch Times also receive our other magazine, The Torch.

Because of this, we decided that it would be better to send a new and improved version of The Torch. Therefore, this edition of Torch Times will be the last.

If you have been receiving Torch Times but not The Torch, we will switch your subscription to The Torch. You will receive the magazine four times a year, starting with the next edition, and in the accessible media that you are used to.

If you already receive The Torch, we will continue to send this to you but four times annually. We will be changing The Torch’s format, style and content to deliver a magazine that we hope you will enjoy even more.

New Magazine – Premier Christianity Lite

I am delighted to announce that from January 2017 we are introducing Premier Christianity Lite, a new ‘lite’ edition of Premier Christianity magazine, which will be available in braille and large print (17pt or 25pt).

Premier Christianity is the most popular Christian magazine in the UK and contains informative articles, interviews, and news. The new magazine will be available monthly for both UK and overseas readers.

If you prefer audio, a more complete edition of Premier Christianity is available on DAISY audio CD or USB memory stick. Please note: you need special audio equipment to be able to play these CDs or memory sticks.

Although we won’t charge you for the magazine, you might wish to make a regular voluntary donation to cover our costs – we suggest approximately £35 per year (the full print magazine is £5 per month or £42.00 for an annual subscription).

If you wish to receive Premier Christianity in audio or Premier Christianity Lite in braille or large print, or you’d like to make a donation as a recipient, please contact our Client Services team on 01858 438260 or email info@torchtrust.org or write to us at Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, LE16 9HL, UK. You will not be added automatically for this magazine.

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How not to become yesterday’s man or woman

by RT Kendall

(taken from Premier Christianity – August 2016)

Using the biblical example of King Saul, RT Kendall warns that some evangelical leaders could be carrying on in ministry having already forfeited God’s approval.

Is the Lord richly blessing what you are doing for him at the moment? Are you aware of other people who are not currently as blessed and mightily used as you are? Have you ever thought that, in spite of your being blessed, you could become yesterday’s man or woman? I write this article out of my concern for the drift of British evangelical Christianity I perceive at the present time. I thank God for bright spots in various places, but paralleled with these are some ominous signs that, if not dealt with, could do terrible harm. My fear is that many good people either don’t see the danger or don’t take it very seriously. As the Church we are in danger of blindly following yesterday’s men and women.

Learning biblical lessons

King Saul is probably the clearest example of a ‘yesterday’s man’ in the Bible. He had such a brilliant beginning. He governed over a united Israel. He had such power and authority that ‘... the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one’ (1 Samuel 11:7). But in a short period of time, and without the people realising it, he became yesterday’s man.

None of us wants to be a ‘has been’, especially while we are still alive and well. And yet what stands out with King Saul is that, although he was rejected by God (1 Samuel 16:1, 18:12), he continued to function quite successfully as king for another 20 years.

Apart from Samuel, it seems no one would have recognised Saul as yesterday’s man while he was still king. Strange as it may seem, the Spirit of God came upon Saul as he was on his way to kill young David. He prophesied and people asked: ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ (1 Samuel 19:24). Except for Samuel (and possibly Saul’s son Jonathan), no one at the time perceived Saul as ‘finished’.

How could Saul prophesy when God had ‘left’ Saul? It is because the gifts are not connected to repentance. They are in fact ‘irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). As AW Tozer once said: ‘If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.’ Any layman or church leader can be at the height of their popularity and usefulness, and yet be yesterday’s man or woman. What makes a person yesterday’s man or woman is not necessarily lack of usefulness, lack of success, retirement, being made redundant, or even death. Furthermore, today’s man or woman can be dead and still ‘speak’ (Hebrews 11:4), like Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones or John Stott.

Becoming yesterday’s man

King Saul’s example is a sobering demonstration of how to become yesterday’s man or woman. Although Samuel was the only one who knew it at the time, Saul’s definitive moment occurred when he became impatient with the prophet. Samuel did not arrive on time to offer the burnt offerings at Gilgal. Rather than wait for his authorisation, Saul offered the sacrifices himself. If you want to know how serious Saul’s mistake was, look at what happened to King Uzziah who did the same thing and was immediately afflicted with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16–22).

Apart from becoming yesterday’s men while still alive, King Uzziah and King Saul had at least three things in common: offering burnt offerings when they were not authorised to do so, assuming God’s word did not mean what it said and not believing there were awful consequences for flagrantly disobeying the word of the Lord.

Saul justified his fatal decision by blaming Samuel for being late and then claiming he had felt ‘compelled’ to offer the sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:12). Imagine that! Being ‘compelled’ to go right against God’s order!

Backward steps

How, then, did Saul become yesterday’s man? First, he took himself too seriously while simultaneously feeling very insecure. We take ourselves too seriously any time we place ourselves above God’s word, thinking we are exceptional. What follows is that we become unteachable. You can always tell a successful man but you can’t tell him much. And yet there is the lurking fear that we will not get sufficient credit for what we do. Second, Saul was not accountable to Samuel when he should have been.

He owed everything to Samuel but stopped listening to him. Saul may well have said: ‘I’m king, aren’t I? Therefore I can do what I feel like doing.’

Third, Saul put himself above holy scripture rather than submitting to it. He thought he knew better than God what to do in a crisis moment. He even felt right in going against divine commands. The guaranteed way to become yesterday’s man or woman is to regard ourselves as the exception to holy precepts. The consequence was that Saul lost all integrity, whether in his dealings with his own son Jonathan, or David.

Saul acted ‘foolishly’, said Samuel. The consequence of this epoch-making miscalculation was that the kingdom would be taken from Saul – and his family – and given to David (1 Samuel 13:13–14). This was Saul’s greatest fear. He became so paranoid about the threat of David’s popularity that he feared David more than he did Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. He became yesterday’s man at only 40 years of age and yet the people did not suspect this. That is, for the next 20 years.

And that’s the scary part. Saul ruled for another 20 years and then came the abrupt awareness how bad things were. But it was too late.

Whereas King Uzziah was afflicted immediately and everybody knew about it, Saul was only privately reprimanded. That is when he became yesterday’s man. But there was no immediate outward hint of God’s displeasure: no lightning, no thunder, no leprosy or sudden death. Saul remained healthy. He simply believed that his wisdom was greater than the wisdom of the Lord.

But Samuel instantly knew the seriousness of Saul’s error and was told to find tomorrow’s man.

Samuel anointed young David to be the king. David received a powerful anointing but it came without the crown. Saul wore the crown but forfeited God’s approval. And yet David unceasingly demonstrated the utmost respect for the king, always referring to Saul as God’s ‘anointed’ (1 Samuel 24:6).

Becoming tomorrow’s man or woman

Knowing his time would come, David waited patiently for 20 years. The worst thing that can happen to any man or woman is to succeed before they are ready. Saul succeeded too soon. God would make sure David did not succeed until his anointing was refined. Victor Hugo said: ‘Like the trampling of a mighty army, so is the force of an idea whose time has come.’ We could also say: ‘Like the trampling of a mighty army, so is the force of one’s anointing whose time has come.’

Could it be that you are tomorrow’s man or woman? Are you having to endure a most uncomfortable time in a hopeless situation? Has it occurred to you that this is God’s preparation for you as you wait for your time to come? David waited and became Israel’s greatest king ever. God can also do this for you. It is painful to be tomorrow’s man or woman, but the reward down the road is worth the wait.

As I wrote at the outset, I am concerned at the current drift in UK evangelicalism. The present trend is gravely serious. I have spent more than half of my adult life in Britain. My heart is still here. Since I retired in 2002 I have visited London more than 50 times and have lived here for nearly six months annually for the past three years. I have been saddened to see how some people I love and admire have crossed over a line I never dreamed they would cross. I realise I am not the only person who is concerned, but I have felt an urgency to write as I am doing now.

David – a type of tomorrow’s man – developed a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit during his time of waiting. He was conscience-stricken for cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:5). If you feel you are in danger of crossing over a line and becoming yesterday’s man or woman, be thankful for this. It suggests you are reachable and teachable.

Finally, if you have bordered on questioning the infallible wisdom of the word of God because it doesn’t make sense to you, I urge you to learn from the example of Saul. What happened to him does not need to happen to you.

[RT Kendall is an author, speaker and pastor who led Westminster Chapel, London, for 25 years.]

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Inerrancy?

By David Instone-Brewer

[David Instone-Brewer investigates whether or not churches should teach that the Bible is without error]

There’s something about coming to the end of a film or book and finally understanding the baffling details that have previously made no sense. Different incidents are explained, problems are ironed out, and everything comes to a satisfactory ending. Stories that conclude with unanswered questions and inconsistencies are often hated by viewers or readers. For those who study literature, they simply indicate bad editing, but with historians it’s a different matter. Historians love apparent contradictions, inconsistencies and difficult details. Why? Because they can often lead to the discovery of hidden events and new historical facts.

Critics of the Bible sometimes mistake it for literature. In their eyes, the Bible narrative should be tidy, consistent, and contain no loose ends or apparent contradictions. However, ancient historians know that potential contradictions and apparent mistakes are normal in historical documents, so they aren’t surprised to find them in the Bible. In fact, if there weren’t any inconsistencies or problems, historians would conclude that it was either made up or over-edited to the extent it’s no longer true.

This doesn’t mean that Bible scholars are not keen to get to the bottom of factual difficulties in the text, and every now and then a mystery is solved by new information. For instance, Genesis 2:14 locates Eden in eastern Turkey, at the heads of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. That was a problem because the source of humanity in either ancient or modern thought was not believed to be in that area. We had expected Eden to be in Africa or perhaps in ancient Mesopotamia where human culture first produced towns and agriculture. However, recent excavations at Göbekli Tepe in Eastern Turkey reveal a sophisticated worship centre 2,000 years older than the Mesopotamian civilisation. And on nearby hills, geneticists have pinpointed the origin of the grass from which all varieties of cultivated wheat have descended. In other words, the earliest evidence of human worship and farming is in the area of the biblical Eden.

Problem solving

Although many factual problems are explained by new discoveries, the Bible still contains many problems for biblical scholars to lose sleep over. One such is the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem “when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2). This census was famous in ancient times as one of the causes of the Zealot revolts, but it occurred in AD 6, ten years after Herod had died. Some theorise that Luke referred to an earlier census because, elsewhere, they occurred roughly every decade; but this was certainly Quirinius’ first census because he didn’t become the governor till AD 6. Others suggest it means “the census before the one by Quirinius...” and that Luke put it this way because he wanted to relate it to the trouble caused by Quirinius’ census. Still others conclude that Luke simply made a mistake. So the puzzle of the census continues, but historians never give up, and a missing piece of information may finally solve this mystery, like so many before.

We know that sometimes the Bible approximates. For example, 1 Kings 7:23 says the round temple basins were ten cubits across and 30 cubits in diameter. However, Pi is actually 3.14, so they must have been at least 31 cubits round. But if the authors of Bible books approximate sometimes, how can we know when they are being accurate? Can we rely on every detail in the Bible?

The most authoritative Protestant answer to this question is the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. This says: “Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that...it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses” (Article XI). This is not a simplistic statement that everything in the Bible is true as stated. It affirms that the Bible cannot contain any error on any subjects it addresses, but takes into account that the Bible is not a technical manual and that it often uses poetic exaggeration or metaphor.

In practice, however, many Protestants follow the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council in 1964 on the inerrancy of scripture. The Council considered problems such as Mark 2:26 which says David asked Abiathar for the sacred bread when 1 Samuel 21:1 says he asked his father, Abimelech; and Matthew 27:9 which quotes words from Jeremiah that actually occur in Zechariah 11:12–13. They concluded that inerrancy was limited to matters of faith and morals – ie the intrinsic message of God.

When I come across any apparent contradictions, i am keen to try to solve the mystery

Fallible authors

God has chosen to communicate his word through fallible humans, and everyone agrees that these human authors are reflected in their various writing styles. Most would also accept that these authors could make errors in grammar, but that this does not affect the truth of the message. So, why shouldn’t the same apply to occasional errors in fact? As long as the message is still clear, why would God allow one type of insignificant error and not another?

The fact that God inspired humans to write in their own style instead of dictating his message to them tells me that the method of personal communication was more important than absolute accuracy in every detail. However, I also believe that God did not allow any errors that would obscure his message since it is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

As well as being about faith and morals, part of the gospel is God’s interactions in history – so historical details are important. This means that when I come across any apparent contradictions, I am keen to try to solve the mystery. In fact, I revel in them because really hard questions are often the tiny crack that opens up hidden truth. They may reveal a hidden doorway into something the Church has forgotten about – such as the importance of women’s ministry in the early Church. Or they may lead us to question the weak scriptural foundations for a doctrine that we accepted for historic reasons – such as the divine authority of kings.

Although God may have allowed these fallible human authors to record occasional insignificant errors, this won’t stop me trying to solve those apparent contradictions. Like any historian – even those investigating secular sources – I know that they are probably due to our ignorance of details that may be explained later. Real history is always complex, and the fact that apparent problems exist demonstrate that the Bible is a collection of real historic documents about events when God intervened. That’s the most exciting kind of history I can imagine.

[David Instone-Brewer is senior research fellow in Rabbinics and New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge]

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Leaders who lost

By Vaughan Roberts

(taken from Evangelicals Now – November 2016)

[Vaughan Roberts’s talk from the Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering in Indonesia over the Summer.]

I had two surprises when I started out as a pastor 25 years ago.

The first was that it was even better than I had imagined. I was actually being paid to do what I longed to do above anything else: tell people about Jesus and teach the Bible! But the second surprise was that it was much harder than I’d anticipated. The sense of the privilege and importance of my work was exhilarating, but it was also exhausting.

After four years the pressure had built to such an extent that my health broke down, so I nearly had to pull out of ministry altogether. I had an extended break and was able to continue, but my pattern of life and ministry was still not healthy. A few years later, after a fruitful period of ministry, I took a 3 month sabbatical, which gave me an opportunity to review my life and reflect on the future. I realised that I was vulnerable physically, spiritually, morally and emotionally and that things needed to change.

I am so grateful for the lessons the Lord taught me then, which I have being trying, often feebly, to apply ever since. I now pass them on to you in the hope that they will prevent you from joining the sobering statistic of those who have had to withdraw prematurely from positions of Christian leadership. If you take them to heart, they will help you, not just survive as a leader, but flourish.

1. Remember you are dust

Christopher Ash twice came close to having to pull out of ministry through emotional and physical breakdown. Reflecting on that experience in his book Zeal Without Burnout, he summarises the lessons he learnt and wants to pass onto others in five words: ‘You and I are dust’. He writes: ‘We need to know that and never forget it. You and I are embodied creatures: we are dust. God made us out of dust (Genesis 2.7) and one day he will turn us back into dust (Psalm 90.3)’ (Good Book Company 2016, pp.35–36).

My health collapsed in the early days of my ministry because I forgot that basic truth. I was young, I’d always been fit and well, and took it for granted that I would stay that way. As a result I pushed myself far harder than my mind and body could cope with, leaving me with chronic fatigue, headaches and anxiety.

The road to recovery began as I slowly worked out my limitations and tried to live within them. I got better at trying to find a sustainable rhythm of life and ensuring I had sufficient time for relaxation, sleep and a regular day off. I discovered what re-energised and de-energised me and tried to ensure a balance between the two. But the most important lessons I learned went far deeper than that.

The teacher of wisdom in the book of Proverbs appeals to the younger generation: ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it’ (Proverbs 4.13). Yes, we must look after our bodies, but nothing is more important than the heart. In the Bible the heart stands for the control centre of our lives; it determines the convictions and desires that drive us. It was only when I recognised that behind my physical health breakdown was a spiritual heart problem that I really began to get better.

I did have a genuine longing to serve Christ wholeheartedly in those early years of ministry but, often without me realising it, those godly passions in my heart were mixed with other misguided or sinful desires. It slowly dawned on me that I was driven as much by a concern to be thought well of and be successful as by zeal for the Lord. Perhaps there was something of a messiah complex as well – as if spiritual fruit depended on me, rather than Christ.

Looking back now, I am so grateful for the humbling I experienced in those days. At times I felt so weak that I didn’t know how I would find the energy to get into the pulpit to preach. By being brought low in that way I was reminded that I can’t do anything without Christ, but he can do anything without me. I am dust: God alone is God and he alone can do every spiritual work. And, wonderfully, he did work through me. I began to learn then that, far from disqualifying us in his service, our weaknesses are often the context in and through which he delights to work. As Christ said to Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12.9).

2. Keep Jesus central

An elderly friend, now with the Lord, rang me one morning and began by saying, ‘I just wanted to talk to someone about Jesus. Do you love Jesus?’ ‘Yes I do,’ I replied, ‘but not as much as I should.’ ‘I love Jesus,’ she said, with great emphasis. She meant it. Despite a very difficult life, her face always radiated love for him. Her example is both an inspiration and a challenge to me.

In our busyness we leaders can easily become activists, rushing from task to task, and meeting to meeting, but forgetting why we’re doing it all or, rather, who we’re doing it for. So it’s vital we take steps to ensure, the Lord Jesus remains at the centre of our thoughts and devotion.

John Newton, the converted slave trader who wrote Amazing Grace, choose as his personal motto: ‘None but Jesus’. He longed that ‘Christ maybe all in all to me, that my whole dependence, love, and aim, may centre in him alone’ (Newton: On the Christian Life, Tony Reinke p. 65) but he recognised that wouldn’t happen without determined effort. He wrote: ‘I find that to keep my eyes simply upon Christ as my peace, and my life, is by far the hardest part of my calling... hungering and thirsting for Christ is the central daily discipline’ (Newton: On the Christian Life, Tony Reinke p. 17).

I can certainly echo those words. I know that my life and ministry become dry if they aren’t sustained by the living water of conscious communion with Christ. And yet, perversely, I find it hard to keep coming to him to drink. The battle continues, but over the years I have built patterns and practices into my life which have helped.

Nothing is more important to me than ensuring I stick to a daily time of Bible reading and prayer. I try to keep that fresh through frequent changes: switching from longer passages to shorter ones, even just a verse or two sometimes; reading with study notes or a commentary and then without them; basing my prayers on the Lord’s prayer, or another of the Bible’s prayers for a while, and then writing my own, especially on significant days such as New Years Day or my birthday. I have been weak at taking a day or days for a longer time away with the Lord, but have always been richly blessed when I’ve done so. And I try to remind myself to come to Christian meetings, not just as a leader, but as a disciple, so that I am feeding spiritually with others, rather than just serving up the food.

We’re all different, so we’ll need to work out what helps us most to feed on Christ in those focused times with him. That will then help us walk in love and obedience to him through all of life and to keep trusting him, our sovereign Lord, whatever happens.

3. Be ruthless with sin

Earl Wilson was a respected pastor, but by his late forties he was living a double life and had fallen into a pattern of sexual sin. After facing up to it, seeking help and repenting, he wrote a book called Steering Clear: Avoiding the slippery slope to moral failure. Almost all who have gone down that slope find it hard to understand how they could have ended up doing such things. Wilson comments, ‘The answer is usually found in the description of the process by which one mistake leads to another, with a disastrous cumulative effect’ (Steering Clear, E.D. Wilson (Leicester UK 2002) p. 22).

We need to learn to fight sin, whether sexual or other, when it’s an acorn, or else it will become an oak and be very hard to shift. That might begin by identifying our Achilles heels, the points of greatest vulnerability. Ask the question, “If I was the devil, where would I direct my attack against me?” We usually know where the battle of temptation rages most fiercely when we are tired, lonely, or stressed. If we’re wise, we’ll make sure we give ourselves special protection in those areas. We’ll need to take ourselves in hand and determine there are certain places we won’t go, people we’ll avoid and lines of thought we’ll shut down immediately because of where they might lead.

Resolutions of that kind certainly help, but I’ve found that on their own they will only deliver superficial change. It was a breakthrough for me when I realised that, although discipline is important, desire is fundamental. I sin because at that moment I want to. Some idol such as pleasure or popularity, has captured my heart and convinced me that chasing it, rather than obeying Christ, will give me the happiness and fulfilment I crave. But that’s alien. I know from experience that sin never delivers what it promises; in the end I always regret it. Striving for holiness in ‘the new way of the Spirit’ (Romans 7.6) involves asking him to expose the lies of Satan and to replace them with a deep love for Christ as well as a conviction that his ways are always best, so that I hate sin and long to walk in his ways. We’re back to where we were in the last point: keeping Christ central is indispensable infighting against sin.

I’ve seen some progress over the years but I still fail again and again. It’s so important at those times that I don’t allow shame to keep me distant from Christ, which makes it much more likely that I’ll repeat the sin. I’m slowly learning not to wallow in guilt, but to pick myself up, look to Christ and once more delight in the forgiveness I’ve already been given through him.

4. Maintain close relationships

A group of us were discussing what had gone wrong after a pastor fell into sin and had to leave his ministry. “Who were his friends?” asked someone. The silence that followed was telling.

Leaders easily become isolated. Our position sets us apart from others, so that they’re more inclined to look up to us, rather than get alongside us. Some treat us as if we are on a higher spiritual plane than other Christians. One church member even said to me, ‘Of course, you don’t face temptations like the rest of us’. And busyness doesn’t help. In the midst of all the pressures we face, it’s hard to find time for family, let alone friends. But it’s vital that we do. We’re not meant to live the Christian life alone and, if we try to, we’ll be much more vulnerable to the attacks of the evil one.

For those who are married, your spouse and your children must know that they come first under Christ. You’ll need to protect your time and energy, so they get the best of you, not the dregs that are left when you’ve poured yourself out for others. That will mean saying no to exciting ministry opportunities and not helping as many people as deeply as you would like. But, far from undermining your Christian service, as you’ll be tempted to believe, such sacrificial love of your family is fundamental to it. It will model godliness to others and will also keep you grounded. When you’re tempted to believe you do belong on the pedestal others put you onto, the rough and tumble of normal family life will soon bring you down to earth. That may be humbling, but it’s also healthy. True intimacy is only possible when people know us as we really are, and not just our public face.

It was sobering for me in my late thirties to ask myself the question, “How many people really know me?” I realised I needed to make a deliberate effort to make sure that some relationships went deeper, so there were a few that were especially close. That took time and vulnerability, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I’d assumed that friendship was particularly important to me as a single man, but I soon learned that my married friends, especially those in leadership, felt isolated too. We all need those we can relax with, with whom we can share burdens, and who know both the best and the worst about us. It’s been a great help to me to be part of an accountability group, in which we know the questions to ask of one another. That’s uncomfortable, but it really helps me to fight temptation. And when I’ve confessed sin, they’ve been brilliant at pointing me again to Christ, who is the greatest friend of all.

Boiling it down

You may have noticed that all four of my points essentially boil down to one: Keep looking to Christ! In ourselves we can’t keep going in Christian leadership, or even in the Christian life for a day, let alone a decade. We are very weak, but Christ is faithful and strong. With that great truth in mind, I look forward to the next 25 years if the Lord spare me, with more realism than when I began, but also with real excitement and hope.

[Vaughan began working in ministry at St Ebbe’s, Oxford in September 1991.]

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Teach us to pray

by Rob Parsons

(taken from Premier Christianity – June 2016)

When I was a young Christian, a man came to our church and gave a talk on prayer. He said, ‘Why do you find it hard to spend ten minutes talking with God? You can easily spend an hour talking to your girlfriend.’

It struck me at the time that older people can impart incredible wisdom but also have the ability to come out with absolute tosh. I think of two comments my mother made after Claire Tomkinson had finished with me and I was a heartbroken 14-year-old. She said, ‘Never mind! There are plenty more fish in the sea.’ I didn’t want lots of other fish – I wanted dolphin Claire. And then she added, ‘Anyway, cheer up – we’ve got jam roly-poly for afters.’ My life was over, my love life ruined, and the best comfort she could come up with was jam roly-poly for tea.

Going back to that visiting preacher: what I wanted to say to him was, ‘But I can see my girlfriend. When I speak, I watch her reaction and I can hear her replies. Of course it’s harder to talk with somebody you can’t see, can’t hear and who – at least in my experience – never answers back in a way you can physically hear him.’

When I was asked recently to give a talk entitled, ‘How to pray’, I thought about the occasion when the disciples woke early one morning to find Jesus’ sleeping mat already empty. They found him praying in ‘a solitary place’ (Mark 1:35), maybe in the hills above Galilee. Moments like these must have had a deep impact on the disciples. They had attended the synagogue all their lives and had prayed thousands of prayers, but as they watched Jesus praying they saw something special – something that one day led them to say: ‘Teach us to pray’ (Luke 11:1).

If you have lost heart in prayer then listen to the sheer simplicity of Jesus’ teaching: ‘When you pray, go into your room, [and] close the door’ (Matthew 6:6). I suppose the modern equivalent of ‘close the door’ might be ‘switch off your mobile phone’. Next, Jesus says not to worry about the length of our prayers. And then he continues: ‘This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven...”‘

This short prayer, which we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer, begins with the three things that God wants from us: reverence – ‘hallowed be your name’; allegiance – ‘your kingdom come’; and obedience – ‘your will be done’. And then it goes on to ask for the three things we need from God: food – ‘Give us today our daily bread’; forgiveness – ‘forgive us our debts’; and freedom – ‘deliver us from the evil one’. This is a prayer for the whole of our lives: our past, our present and our future.

I know some readers will find it easy to pray. But what if you are not one of them? What if, even though you serve God faithfully – and you are, perhaps, even a church leader – you have stopped spending time alone with him in prayer? Is it possible that sometime this week you could go into a quiet room, close the door and say that simple prayer? Could you begin the day by saying that prayer from now on? Do you have a good friend with whom you share your deepest joys and fears, but never pray? Could you start to change that by saying, together, the prayer that Jesus taught?

I know it won’t take very long to say, and because of the desperate need most of us have to prove ourselves – even to God – it won’t feel anything like long enough. But it is a start; and perhaps, it will become more than that.

After all, it’s what Jesus taught about prayer.

[The author, Rob Parsons OBE, is founding chairman of Christian charity Care for the Family.]

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The Trinity

by David Instone-Brewer

(taken from Premier Christianity – August 2016)

[David Instone-Brewer tackles one of Christendom’s most difficult subjects.]

When Erasmus produced the first printed Greek New Testament in 1516, he left out a key proof text for the Trinity. The verse in question was 1 John 5:7, which says: ‘For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one’ (KJV).

Despite the verse appearing in all the Latin manuscripts since the ninth century, Erasmus said he couldn’t include it because it wasn’t in any of the original Greek manuscripts. Exasperated at the constant criticisms, Erasmus vowed that he would add the verse if anyone could show him even one Greek manuscript that contained it. So someone commissioned monks in Dublin to write one! Erasmus had to keep his vow, as his complaint in the notes of his third edition shows.

Stories like this make me feel nervous. Like most scholars, I regard 1 John 5:7 as a blessed thought that someone recorded in the margin of an early Latin manuscript. Accidental omissions were normally written in the margin, so scribes who copied this manuscript mistakenly inserted these words into the text. It’s a great verse, but we mustn’t dilute God’s word with human additions. Yet for some in Erasmus’ day, and today, defending doctrine is more important than the exactness of the Bible text.

The Trinity is established firmly in the Bible, even without this verse. It is true that you can’t find the words ‘Trinity’ or ‘three in one’ in the Bible, but nor can you find ‘resurrection of the body’, ‘priesthood of all believers’, or ‘communion of the saints’. And yet these doctrines are based on the Bible, just as the Trinity is.

It is also true that only a couple of verses have all three members of the Godhead in a single list (2 Corinthians 13:14 and Matthew 28:19). But there are many others that refer to all three together (eg Luke 3:22). Other passages state or imply that the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3–4) and speak of Jesus as God (John 1:1). The New Testament also quotes Old Testament statements about God and applies them to Jesus. There are even hints in the Old Testament because God says to himself ‘Let us...’ and ‘in our image’ in Genesis 1:26 (my italics).

A debated doctrine

Sadly, the early Church was pulled apart by disputes about the Trinity because it is so difficult to square with the important doctrine that there is only one God. Some said Jesus wasn’t ever a real mortal, because God can’t die. Others said he completely put aside his Godhead while on earth, because he ‘emptied himself’ (Philippians 2:7, ESV). These disputes were ended by establishing official creedal statements describing Jesus as both ‘fully God’ and ‘fully man’. These creeds became almost more important than the biblical texts for establishing doctrine.

I do worry about the doctrine of the Trinity. Not because we’ve got it wrong, but because we’re too simplistic. We don’t take into account passages such as Romans 8:9–10, where the Holy Spirit is called both ‘the Spirit of God’ and ‘the Spirit of Christ’. Of course, this may merely be different ways to refer to the one Spirit, but it may also imply that our concept of three equal and separate persons is oversimplified. There are likely to be interrelationships in the Godhead that we can’t encompass with a simple creedal statement.

We don’t want to reduce doctrine to slogans, because these are as unconvincing as a politician’s sound bite. But most of us don’t want to read long theological explorations of the Trinity either. Instead we resort to illustrations, and so the Godhead gets shrunk to the size of a cloverleaf. I realise that I may be about to make things worse, because I want to illustrate the Trinity by looking at the atom.

Atomic analogy

An atom was considered indivisible for 2,000 years until we discovered it is made up of three parts: electrons, protons and neutrons. In a similar way, Jews disseminated the precious truth that there is only one God, and then Christ revealed a threefold structure within that Godhead.

Dare I suggest that electrons are like the Holy Spirit? They travel as far from the core (in relative terms) as asteroids travelling round the solar system, and their influence extends outside the atom through electrical and chemical interactions. Protons are perhaps like the Father because they determine the fundamental character of the atom. If the core has six protons the atom is sooty carbon, but add just one more and it becomes gaseous nitrogen.

Neutrons, the third component of atoms, are similar to protons, but a few can leave the core without altering the atom’s character. For example, carbon-14 and carbon-12 act identically inside our body, even though one is lighter by two neutrons. Jesus is a little like neutrons because he can be separate from the Father, and yet this type of absence does not diminish or change the Godhead.

Ok, this is no better than a host of other illustrations, except in one aspect: we are still investigating atoms, and we are discovering new complexities. We now know that neutrons and protons are each made of three quarks, and that electrons interact by constantly emitting and absorbing protons. And that’s just the start.

If we are willing to explore the complexities of atoms, we might also be willing to continue exploring the nature of God. If the Trinity can be compared to an atom, perhaps we should be prepared to explore additional complexities within it. That is, we might continue to dig into scripture instead of complacently resting on what has already been discovered.

Can the creator of the whole universe be encapsulated in a handful of theological slogans? Simple doctrinal statements are good as summaries, so long as we don’t fool ourselves into thinking they represent the complex reality. Doctrines are valuable stepping stones to guide our paths while exploring more about God. He encourages us to find out about him in creation and the Bible. And he has given us firm foundations established by former saints and scholars. But that doesn’t mean we should simply stand still and gaze down at our feet.

[David Instone-Brewer is senior research fellow in Rabbinics and New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge.]

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Sweet singer of Israel

(taken from Evangelicals Now – November 2016)

[Marylynn Rouse fills in the background for some of John Newton’s wonderful hymns.]

‘My friend Mr Newton is one of the sweet singers of Israel.’

The Revd Abraham Maddock of Kettering, grateful for John Newton’s help in a time of fierce opposition, wrote this in his diary on 22 May 1770. Newton’s love for hymns was instilled by his mother. While still a toddler he knew off by heart all of the children’s hymns of Isaac Watts, a close friend of his mother’s pastor.

The business of heaven

However, it would be almost three decades before he would be enthralled by ‘the beauty of singing’ as he attended a communion service led by George Whitefield. ‘Never before had I such an idea and foretaste of the business of heaven... He made many little intervals for singing hymns – I believe near 20 times in all.’

From then on (1755), Newton’s diary is full of references to singing hymns – when walking, waking, visiting friends, worshipping with Moravians (‘the hymns excellent, and the singing and music vastly solemn and agreeable’), providing hospitality at home or riding with his wife as they ‘sang many hymns upon the road’.

Liverpool

Newton started writing his own hymns while working in Liverpool. One of his earliest, as he described to a friend at the time, was ‘made to suit a favourite tune of Mrs Newton’s – in Arne’s Opera of Eliza. The first words of the song are, My fond Shepherds.’ The aria proclaims the mournful tale of merry nymphs who sink into despair and despondency when war is declared and their ‘fond shepherds’ are whisked away to fight. Newton compares the nymphs to himself, for, while all is well:

When my Shepherd my Saviour is near,
How quickly my sorrows depart!
New beauties around me appear,
New spirits enliven my heart.

But when his Shepherd seems to disappear:

But alas! What a change do I find
When my Shepherd withdraws from my sight!
My fears all return to my mind
And my day is soon changed into night.

However (unlike the nymphs), his sorry tale does not end there. First there are lessons to be learned:

By these changes I often pass through
I am taught my own weakness to know;
I am taught what my Shepherd can do,
And what thanks to his mercy I owe.

And then there’s future joy to anticipate:

For ‘ere long he will bid me remove
From this region of sorrow & pain
To abide in his presence above
And then I no more shall complain.

Diary backgrounds

Newton’s diary sometimes gives us fascinating glimpses into the background of his hymns. When his elderly father-in-law became seriously ill, Newton invited him into their home to love and care for him in his last days. On Saturday 2 August 1777 Newton recorded: ‘This morning at five Mr Catlett received his dismission from this state of sin and sorrow, and I trust, my Lord, he is now with thee. The news breaking upon my Dear when she awoke... had a painful effect.’

He began Sunday ‘with a heavy heart, for my Dear, whose head was quite ill yesterday, had almost a sleepless night. Thou only knowest how I feel for her.’ The hymn he had written during that traumatic week, and perhaps even just the night before, was surely for her comfort. It was based on 1 Samuel 1:18 and entitled ‘Hannah, or the Throne of Grace’. It begins:

When Hannah, pressed with grief,
Poured forth her soul in prayer;
She quickly found relief,
And left her burden there:
Like her, in every trying case,
Let us approach the throne of grace.

The most popular of Newton’s hymns during his day was How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, based on Song of Solomon 1.3: ‘Thy name is as ointment poured forth.’ He preached from this text in Olney on Sunday morning 3 March 1765, beginning: ‘A chief part of this little book is an attempt to answer that question: ‘What is thy beloved more than another beloved?’ One of the greatest quarrels the world has with the people of God is for their having such high thoughts and so much to say about the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘They are ready to say, “Can you not be content with fearing God and keeping his commandments, without so much talk of Christ?” This makes the believer sigh, “Alas that you did but know him too. If you did, surely you would think you could not speak enough of him.”‘

Sense of joy

First, ‘The name of Christ includes the whole revelation concerning him, who he is, what he has done – all that we read of his love, his power and his offices make a part of his great and glorious name. The soul that is taught by the Word and Spirit of God to understand a little of these things receives such a sense of love and joy that the very sound of his name is sweeter than music to the ears, sweeter than honey to the taste.’ Jesus is a Saviour, a Mediator, a Husband. ‘Our wants, debts and fears are many. But ... he is rich enough to supply all.’

There were different types of ointment: ‘Some were healing – applied to wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. Now the sinner when he is awakened and comes to himself, finds himself like the man stripped and wounded and half dead (Luke 10). Jesus, like the good Samaritan, comes with an eye of pity, to pour in the ointment of his name. This is a certain and only cure for the wounds of sin.’

Ointment from every wound

Drawing a comparison with the woman with the alabaster jar, he explained how the grace and virtue of this name was known to only a few ‘while our Lord conversed upon earth’, but afterwards it was poured forth: ‘When he suffered – the precious vessel that contained this precious ointment was broken upon the Cross – the savour of his name, his love, his blood, poured out from every wound [in] his sacred body. When we desire a new savour of this ointment, let us turn our eyes, our thoughts to Golgotha.’

Times of refreshment, when the Lord pours the grace of his name into our hearts, include at our conversion, and ‘Often in an hour of distress and trouble. They may expect it likewise at the hour of death’.

The accompanying hymn was surely:

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear.
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole
And calms the troubled breast;
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul
And to the weary rest.

Dear name! the rock on which I build,
My shield and hiding place;
My never-failing treasury filled
With boundless stores of grace.

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain
Altho’ with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain
And I am owned a child.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
My Prophet, Priest and King;
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

‘Til then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath;
And may the music of Thy name
Refresh my soul in death.

The late Dr Alec Motyer, who at the age of 91 spent his last morning at home delighting in reading 2 Samuel in Hebrew, chose How sweet the name of Jesus sounds as one of the hymns for his funeral service. It was profoundly moving to stand a few feet from his coffin as the congregation sang:

And may the music of Thy name
Refresh my soul in death.

Alec wrote persuasively of the writings of John Newton: ‘At a time when so many evangelicals seem to be struggling with their identity, and when evangelicalism is stressed by so many different cross-currents, could anything be more beneficial than a strong injection of that integration of sound biblical doctrine and genuine biblical spirituality so signally taught by John Newton?’

[The writer Marylynn Rouse is Director of The John Newton Project, www.johnnewton.org, based in Kettering. The John Newton Project is building up a free resource of previously unpublished material by Newton at www.johnnewton.org. We encourage you to explore this website for more of Newton’s hymns, letters, sermons, diaries, journals and articles – all full of rich biblical insight, humble testimony and godly counsel.]

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