The Unstoppable Gospel!

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Whilst flying out from Edinburgh earlier today, as the morning sun gently illuminated small towns and villages below, I found myself despairing.

As I looked down on these tilt-shifted, miniature streets and houses, the question entered my mind – just how many of those people were waking up today in the knowledge and fellowship of their God and Saviour?

How many had rejected Him?

How many had never even heard the Gospel?

All of a sudden I felt very small as I was forcibly reminded of the vastness of the task, of our mission to share the live giving Gospel in this our beautiful country.

My worry and thoughts were self-centred and self reliant, the task is incredible, and the opposition and darkness does grow day by day. The first verse of Psalm 97 came to my mind:
The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;
    let the distant shores rejoice.

Our sovereign, ever reigning, never failing God has called us to follow and to serve, and He alone will give us the means and opportunities to share the Gospel, all for His Glory.

In Church History classes we looked at the early church, a small assortment of believers, no visible attributes, by all human reckoning they should have gotten nowhere with their ‘new religion’, some words from Plinius Caecilius the Roman governor of Bithynia, as he faced a new problem:

Meantime this is the course I have taken with those who are accused before me as Christians. I asked them at their own lips whether they were Christians, and if they confessed, I asked them a second and third time with threats of punishment. If they kept to it, I ordered them for execution.

The matter seemed to me worth deliberation especially on account of the number of those in danger; for many of all ages and every rank, and even of both sexes are brought into present or future danger.

The contagion of that superstition has penetrated not the cities only, but the villages and country: yet it seems possible to stop it and set it right.

He, evidently, did not manage to contain and stop the ‘contagion’!

Here we are, 2000 years and many more miles away, and the Gospel has not, and will never be stopped.
The task is indeed massive and our calling to serve is serious, but the power of the Word of God remains the same.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
–  Romans 1:16

 

Edinburgh Theological Seminary – What Really Goes on Inside?

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Walk past the imposing Scott Monument, along the side of the National Gallery, then up the several stone flights of the Playfair steps – you are met with a building that is viewed by many as some sort of a mysterious (and ever-so-slightly sacred) place. Where young men go in, and out come ministers, suited and booted – ready to go.
Edinburgh Theological Seminary, no doubt, is imposing – it just seems to grow greyly out of the ground.

So what is this mysterious place really like?

I’ll happily admit the first time I walked up to this door I little real idea what I was going to face – possibly a line of men in dark suits, staring unblinkingly as they assess my theological weak points? Or maybe even a 50 page questionnaire as to my defence on infant baptism?

What I actually found as I walked in was a room full of smiling faces, a mix of current students welcoming us and new students just as nervous as myself.

The @freechurchscot offices have been located in the heart of #edinburgh since the 1850's. The building also houses the Edinburgh Theological Seminary, a bookshop and cafe which is open to the public . Built in 1727 by James Brownhill, he named it 'James Court' after himself . On 15th August 1857, the western half of the building was gutted by fire and almost a hundred people were made homeless. There was no loss of life, and it is recorded that there were many heroic acts of rescue . In early 1858, a prominent Free Churchman, Mr John Maitland, realising the importance of the site, bought the building and decided to rebuild the western portion. It was ready for occupation in 1862 . #fcos #themoundedinburgh #ets #bookshop #offices #denomination #instafollow #followme #follow

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In no particular order, here’s what I’ve seen in my first few weeks of ETS, bearing in mind that it’s still very much early days:

Diversity
One thing you immediately realise is that the college is made up of a diverse group of students (and indeed lecturers). There are several nations, colours, languages and cultures to be found in the building.
When you look to the history of the Free Church, you will quickly see that diversity (as long as it has no impact on the message or spread of the  Gospel) is accepted and in some cases promoted. This diversity has allowed the college to help train and send out different people back to their own nations – ready to share a solid and firm biblical faith.
This diversity can be seen wonderfully in the fact that in my small class there are at least 2 guys planning (Gw.) to become Reformed Baptist ministers.
We have our differences, but the reality is – time is short, Scotland grows ever darker, and we need to work together for the Gospel.
That’s not to say there’s not a good amount of banter between us. I’d show you the group chats – but perhaps it’s safer not to…


Banter & Fellowship
That brings me on the next point, and I say this with utmost respect – there is fun in the college *cue collective gasp & hushed whispers*.
It’s true, I have not yet seen a day where there has not been some a joke shared or comment made that has not resulted in one of the lectures breaking into, at least, a smile.  In the dining room (more on that later) at break and lunch there is often plenty of banter and laughter. This is not the result of a laid-back attitude to the work or even to the massive reality of our calling, instead this flows from the fact that we are all family together. Just as we work together, and wrestle with all the many difficulties, we also join together to have a laugh – almost always at our own expense. We grow together.

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Prayer & Worship
Every class is bookended in prayer, all that is taught – all that we attempt to learn and put into practice, has been wrapped in prayer. It’s a simple thing, but it is also a wonderful thing. It brings to mind that we are not training to be dry academics, we are training to work for the glory of God and to be useful servants in his service. The class prayers also help to ease the pressure and stress of the work. In a class where you’re tackling ‘Masculine, 3rd declension, Greek Nouns’ you are really thankful for the reminder that we are to work hard, but to ultimately place our worries onto our Saviour.
We sing a few verses together from a Psalm after our morning break, and then after lunch we gather together for a time of student-led worship. Again, just cementing the fact that we are here to serve the God that saved us, all glory must ultimately go to Him.


Scones
Nothing else quite soothes the mind like butter melting on a warm scone (or bacon roll on Fridays). Our 10.50 scone & coffee break along with sharing lunch together after classes offers even more time to fellowship and to get to know each other as fellow servants.


 

 The work is hard, it’s rigorous, it covers ground at a seemingly breakneck pace. But not one day has passed without the reminder that we are all one family, both lecturers and students, we are all there to seek to do the will of God. Seeking to serve him, seeking to see Him glorified in all that is done.

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The Gospel and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Intro)

 

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As Christians we are burdened and tasked with the great privilege & duty of sharing the life-giving Gospel. We have to share it wherever God places us, and with whoever God puts in our path.
It perhaps used to be the case that the Christians on the Island wouldn’t normally come into contact with people of other beliefs until they left the Island for education or for work.
The reality now is that walking around Stornoway you can now come into contact with at least five other major religious beliefs.

If we are to engage with those from other faiths, and share the Gospel with them, it makes sense for us to understand how they understand God/ salvation/ sin/ mankind etc.
Otherwise we will find ourselves talking past each other and not really getting anywhere!
We might begin talking to someone about salvation through Jesus alone, we might agree with each others main points, only then to find out that they think Jesus is not the eternal Son of God, rather he is a mere created being – produced by God the father and one of his many celestial wives (as is generally believed by the LDS Church (the Mormons).
We have to do the hard work, we have to prepare and study hard – most JW missionaries (the ones knocking on your door) pour hours of study each week into how to share their gospel with you.

There are a few warnings to take note of before we continue:

– I would not advise or suggest that new Christians or Christians who are going through a hard time in their walk should engage in this type of study. It is essential to have a good grasp of what you believe, before you begin to engage. You are dealing with something that is truly dangerous and that requires the full armour of God. It is never purely academic, this is real spiritual warfare.

– Before you begin any form of study into other religions, start by reading Scripture,  worship, and prayer. Pray that God would keep you safe from what you are about to study. You might accuse me of being far too cautious or dramatic, but we have to be mindful that when we are dealing with false beliefs and sects we are dealing with evil, we are studying ideas and thoughts that have come from the enemy of God.
We should prepare ourselves accordingly.

– Our study of other beliefs should never overtake our own personal devotional life and study. There is always a real danger that we dedicate too much time and thought to the study of these things, and let our own spiritual walk suffer.

– When we engage with those caught up and blinded in other beliefs we have to remember that once we were just and blinded as they still are, that the same God who opened our eyes to the glorious truth is more than able to do the same for them also.

Originally this was going to be more wide ranging, but with the recent increase in activity on the Island from the Jehovahs Witnesses (JW’s) I thought it might be best to take the time to look at what they believe and how we might engage them with the Gospel.
They are currently building a new Church in Stornoway, when it is completed this will more than likely mean that more JW families will move to the Island. What an incredible Gospel opportunity this gives us!
They come to ur doors, let’s be ready to listen to them, to talk with them, and to share with then the true life giving and life saving Gospel.

Upcoming posts:

1- JW Beliefs Basics 1
2- JW Beliefs Basics 2
3- The Most Common Passages
4- Sharing the Gospel 1
5-  Sharing the Gospel 2
6- What we need to Know

 

As always, comments & thoughts always appreciated.

 

 

My Top 5 Books For Young Christians

There is a huge selection of books available for Christians to read and to study, it’s often hard to know where to start.  The following 5 books are my own personal favourite Christian books that I’ve read (or re-read) in the last year’ish, and that are still available to buy. They are in no particular order.

I’ve tried to provide a link to the most affordable copy of each book. If you live locally let me know, and you can borrow any of the books.

1. “The Lord our Shepherd” – J. Douglas MacMillan
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This much-beloved book is one that has been on the shelf for years, but I’ve only recently actually read it.
Rev MacMillan walks us through Psalm 23, every page describing in beautiful detail the care and love of our Shepherd, as he protects and guides us.
Since the author spent many years as a shepherd, he often writes from experience. It’s a short book and an incredibly easy one to read, but that does not mean that he simplifies anything; rather as he gently walks us through the psalm he delves deep into the wonderful work of our Saviour.
Seriously if you have it read it, if not borrow or buy a copy.
LINK

2. “I AM” – Iain D. Campbell

i-amAgain, this is another short book. But it is not one to quickly skim over. Rev. Campbell looks into the seven “I am” sayings of Jesus as we find them in the Gospel of John. By taking the time to study these phrases we can learn about our saviour by seeing how He described himself.
Rev. Campbell unpacks each saying into manageable sections, he also closes each chapter by asking several study questions.
As well as for personal reading, this book would make a great book for use in a small group study. LINK

3. “The Shorter Catechism”

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Okay, so I know that many of you will have at least had a little experience with this book some point in your life – but bear with me. This little book of 107 Questions and Answers has helped countless Christians for hundreds of years. We now live in an age of 140 character tweets & soundbites. Well, this book beat that trend a few hundred years ago!
The questions range from the purpose of our creation to salvation/ election/ ten commandments/ the Lord’s prayer etc. Almost every area of essential Biblical teaching is covered in bite-size chunks.
With each Q+A you can see the related Scripture references and a short (but incredibly helpful) comment. LINK

4. “Five Points” – John Piper
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I spent years struggling with election, salvation and God’s sovereignty over all things. Questions like “If God chooses certain people to be saved, how can that be fair & right…”etc. If I had had this book during that time all my questions would have been answered. The reality is that, as we have it so wonderfully put in Psalm 115, “Our God is in the Heavens, He does all that he pleases”. Piper gently leads the reader through five different areas where he shows, again and again, that God is our Sovereign King & Loving Father. That He hates sin & loves His people. That God has a perfect plan, and that He will accomplish that plan.
Read this book. If you have not yet dealt with these types of questions you will have to soon enough, prepare yourself now. LINK [There’s a free PDF download of the book available]

5. A Biography / Autobiography

Okay so I’m cheating here slightly, but I honestly can’t think which books to specifically recommend. I’ve read two the last year, an autobiography by Martin C. Haworth “Beyond  Coral Shores”, documenting his missionary calling to work in the Philippines and then amongst the Buhid tribe. It’s a great read, and pretty exhilarating. It shows the power of the Gospel to reach and touch any people/ language and tribe.
I also read “The Life of Rabbi Duncan” by David Brown, whilst it’s a wonderful account of God shaping and forming the life of Mr Duncan etc. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a younger or new Christian.
So just grab any book which documents the life of a Christian, and see how God worked in their life, marvel at how He works all things together for His will and the good of His people.

Just one quick word on some books to avoid, from authors which seem to be unfortunately popular with younger & new Christians. Avoid Joyce Meyer, Sarah Young (Jesus Calling) and Rob Bell.

So there we go, a quick look at my top 5 (‘ish) books for new & younger Christians. What would your must-read books be?

Do I REALLY care for the Gospel?

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“Give me Scotland, or I die.”

These were the words of John Knox, one of the most famous Christians in Scottish History. At a time when the true Gospel was obscured behind the man-made religion of the Roman Catholic Church, Knox was among those that were seeking, above all other things, to have the true Gospel heard again in Scotland [See here & here for more about the life and ministry of John Knox]

In these few short words Knox isn’t arrogantly demanding from God some piece of land or power.
What we see here is a plea from a man who wanted, above all things, to see God glorified in the spread of the Gospel in Scotland.
In other words he is saying ‘Lord, I am desperate that this nation would all come to worship you and know you’.

Knox was willing to give up comfort and his freedom to serve the God he loved.
These few simple words of Knox have really convicted me the last few days.
They’ve made me question my passion for the Gospel; can I say with a heart full of conviction:
“Give me my Lewis, or I die”
OR
“Give me my village, or I die”
OR
“Give me my family, or I die”
Do I care enough for the glory of God and the spread of the wonderful Gospel that I am willing to work relentlessly for His cause?

Not that God needs us to accomplish His work, He doesn’t! But, in His infinite wisdom, He calls us to act. To be the candles in this dark world. To share the beautiful, simple Gospel.

Knox was not just offering up some inspiring words, this simple but powerful prayer came from a man who was willing to work hard for the sake of the Gospel. His zeal & passion for serving God was matched in his actions.

That God would keep us full of love and passion for Him, and that our action would match our words.

Let’s see what Paul [a man who knew what it was to suffer for the sake of the Gospel] says concerning our daily walk as Christians (emphasis mine):
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour.
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,g serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”
-Romans 12: 9-16

Infectious Christianity

It’s 111AD and Plinius Caecilius the Roman governor of Bithynia (modern-day Istanbul) has a problem on his hands. He’s been faced with a secret group of religious believers, a group he has not had to deal with before, a group that will not follow the religion of the people and the country. Looking for help he writes to the Roman Emperor Trajan:

“It is my custom, Lord emperor, to refer to you all questions whereof I am in doubt … In investigations of Christians I have never [before] taken part; hence I do not know what is the crime usually punished or investigated, or what allowances are made. ”

Whilst waiting for advice from the Emperor on how to proceed, he decides for himself on what to do for the time being:

“Meantime this is the course I have taken with those who are accused before me as Christians. I asked them at their own lips whether they were Christians, and if they confessed, I asked them a second and third time with threats of punishment. If they kept to it, I ordered them for execution”

Plinius stresses the danger of this new religion:

“The matter seemed to me worth deliberation especially on account of the number of those in danger; for many of all ages and every rank, and even of both sexes are brought into present or future danger”

But even though it’s so infectious, he is confident  it won’t last too long, that it can be stopped:

“The contagion of that superstition has penetrated not the cities only, but the villages and country: yet it seems possible to stop it and set it right.”



So, did Plinius manage to stop this evil sect from spreading even further, did he manage to “set it right”? Well, the fact that I am sitting here in Lewis writing this shows that they failed in that task.
The Romans had suppressed many other sects and religions (some who resisted violently), so why did they struggle so much with this peaceful, small group of people?

These early Christians (men and woman, boy and girls) suffered awful persecutions (which we can look at in the future). Our brothers and sisters today still face awful persecutions, so how do they endure it all? How has the Church survived and grown through all these years?

The reality is that although there have been many brave Christians throughout the centuries, people who were willing to live in poverty and die in pain for the glory of God; the spread of the Gospel and the preservation of the Church did not rely even on them.
Instead let’s see what Paul concludes when he ponders the care & love of God for his people, the Church:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-Romans 8:38-39

Nothing will stop the Gospel, not violence, governments, laws, false teachings or the many other religions in our world.
God knows his people, God saves his people, God keeps his people. This is as true now as it was 2000 years ago. 

[The text of the letter from Pliny to Trajan is taken from “Selections from Early Christian Writers” pp.27-31, H. M. Gwatkin]

Hymns, Hats, and Tattoos

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This will be a short one. Really it’s just a few spare thoughts from the post “Christians, Cocktails & Coll Beach“. In that post we talked about young  Christians drinking, how a Christian has the freedom to have a drink (providing it’s legal and they don’t get drunk).
The reality is that the Bible is the living word of God, not a bland rule book. In some situations, we as Christians are free to use Scripture along with our own god-given common sense to decide which way to go, and what to choose.
[See WCOF Ch.1 – VI]

As Christians, we are called to be united. But to be united does not always mean to be uniform.
We are told in a wonderful and vivid way 1 Corinthians 12 that we are one body with one ultimate purpose and one ultimate goal. But just as all our different body parts are different, yet still work together; so it is for the Church.

This won’t be a deep scriptural examination of each point.
For each topic, we can look briefly at both sides (including my own view) then see how they are different but not opposed.
They will be short and generally simplistic, they are just to get you thinking.

This is not a definitive list of all the areas where Christians have liberty, but they are some of the areas which we may face in our own normal Christian living.


When we come to look at Christian liberty and Christian living, it’s always good to have these words from Paul in our thoughts:
““All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.”  (1 Corinthians 10:23)


Worship

Hymns vs. Psalms
An issue which has caused so much contention in our Church.
Our sung worship of God is important, but it should never be an issue on which the family should bear ill-will or split over.
As a slightly younger Christian, this was a real strong point of mine.  To my shame, it was “Psalms only or you are deceived” level of thinking.
I still prefer the Psalms to any hymn, but I was led to realise it’s a matter of conviction and personal reasoning and certainly not a Gospel issue.
You can sing a Psalm, with all the correct harmonies, but with a stone cold heart. Just as you can sing even a modern worship song with a heart full of genuine praise.

Bible Translation
Out of all the translation that people love dearly, the KJV (or AV) has got to be #1.
And it’s understandable, it is what many of us grew up hearing and using for our memory verses!
If you use the KJV, if it’s your ‘ go to translation, then that is fine – it is well loved and by all accounts a faithful translation. But whilst it may be a good translation, it is not the only one. Almost all the commonly used translations around today are just as faithful as the KJV.
God’s Word is perfect and unchanging, it’s not only to be found in one certain translation. It is found in all faithfully translated Bibles. Personally, I use the ESV, I find it easy to read and believe it’s one of the best modern translations currently available. [One day we can look at this topic in proper detail]

Dress
Let’s bite the bullet and start off with hats (head coverings to be specific).
Should a woman wear a hat in Church or not?
Much like the Psalms vs. hymns issue, this can attract a serious amount of fire from both sides. Those who believe head coverings should be worn point to one passage in Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:6).
Those who say it’s not necessary,  dispute that the passage applies to women today (instead it applied to the certain culture of the day).
If you wear a head covering, that is fine, but make sure you understand why you do it, don’t just do it as part of the ‘culture’.

So what about the rest of our clothes, how should we dress in Church? The reality is that dressing in our  “Sunday Best” does not make sense scripturally. Yes, we are gathering to worship God, so we should dress appropriately. But ‘appropriately’ does not equal ‘formally’.
The reality is that we are meeting together as a family, so the idea of some sort of special Sunday clothes do not mix with that idea.
Our dress and head coverings are not Gospel issues, as long as we are dressed appropriately and don’t cause each other to stumble then it really shouldn’t be a majour issue.

Church Attendance
This is one area in which we have very little liberty.
This does not include special circumstances (family situations /illness etc.)
If we are able, we should all take every opportunity we can to gather with the Lords people, with our eternal family. Sundays, Wednesdays, and any other chances that may arise.
The reality is, and I speak from experience, if you purposefully neglect gathering with the Church, then your walk will suffer. It is simple as that.
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching ” (Hebrews 10: 24-25)

Lifestyle

Drinking
We already looked at this in detail (click here), essentially if you are old enough to legally drink and you don’t get drunk there is no Scripture against you enjoying a drink.
All whilst bearing in mind where you are drinking and who you are drinking around – always remembering that we are lights in the darkness.
I would say, and this is purely my own thoughts (and my own personal situation), if there is a history of alcoholism in your family I would strongly advise you to just avoid it altogether.

Tattoos
Those against getting a tattoo will point to Leviticus 19:28 as a reason to not get them.
If read in context you will soon see this instruction belonged to the “civil law”, and therefore applied to the nation of Israel [We will visit this in greater detail in a future post].
Essentially this instruction, along with the dietary rules and rules on clothing & hygiene that we find in passages in Leviticus etc. were applicable to the Nation Of Israel – and were highly beneficial to them. But we are no longer bound by those two sets of laws.

So we can get a tattoo, but does that mean that we should?
We still have to ask ourselves why we are getting it?
For our glory, or for Gods?
We also have to ask the obvious question, are we sure we want this on our skin for years to come?
We also have to bear in mind that if we are to get one, it would be wise, for the sake of our witnessing and unity that we perhaps get it somewhere that is not easily seen.
I’ll have to admit I do have a horse in this race. Although we may be able to get tattooed, it’s something we should do with our witness and brotherly unity very much in mind.
[See HERE and HERE for more information on the threefold separation of the Law]

Relationships [boy/girl friend]
In terms of relationships, the Bible is clear that here again is one issue with not much liberty or room for a difference of opinion. If you are a Christian then your other half needs to be a Christian – it’s that simple.
Even if Scripture wasn’t clear on the issue, common sense alone should lead us to realise that it does not make sense any other way.
As Christians our first love must always be Christ, this won’t make sense to one that is not yet saved. We also try to seek God’s glory in all things,  especially in our relationships. That simply won’t be possible with someone that does not care about the Glory of God.


So, there we go.
Just a very brief snapshot of some areas that may to Christians. Like we said already, this is just to get you thinking of these topics. By no means is it a complete Scriptural analysis.
Different opinions on certain secondary issues are not a bad thing. In practice, if love and grace are shown, they serve to strengthen the Church.

Let me know in the comments of any other areas where the Christian will have to use their liberty to make a choice?


Further Reading:
4 Principles for the Exercise of Christian Liberty

Christian Liberty