David's Blog

Queen Elizabeth II, Beacon of Grace

 What follows is a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II from Mark Green of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC) who has been involved in the writing of two books about the Queen as author of  The Queen's Way and the co-author of The Servant Queen and the  King she serves. It first appeared  here


Queen Elizabeth II, Beacon of Grace

The first time I ever thought seriously about the Queen was when God told me to.

It was 2015. And Elizabeth was 89. I had asked God a specific question: please show me someone in the public eye who is an outstanding whole-life disciple of Jesus, someone whose faith shapes all they do and say. ‘Elizabeth’ was God’s answer. Swift, clear, weighty. And to be shared.

Since that day it’s become ever clearer to me that Elizabeth was a gift from God to nation, Commonwealth, and indeed the global community, a beacon of humility, grace, astuteness, good humour, generosity, and deep faith – God’s woman, God’s follower, God’s Queen.

Like many I suppose, I’d never been a ‘royal-watcher’. I admired the Queen, appreciated the clarity and warmth with which she spoke, almost every Christmas, of her trust in Christ and the difference he made to her life, but I hadn’t thought deeply about her particular vision or how God might be working in and through her. Yes, she was a remarkable woman, and a remarkable monarch, but what I came to see, and had confirmed by others who knew her better, was that she was first and foremost a remarkable disciple of Christ. As such, she offered us an extraordinary example of consistent godliness in one of the longest and most public global ministries in the history of the world.

Since her death, our screens and papers have been filled with eulogies from family and friends, from former Prime Ministers, commonwealth leaders, world leaders, religious leaders from every major faith, royal correspondents, celebrities, honorees, former staff…

We have heard of her extraordinary dedication to duty, of her dignity, of her diligence, of her capacity to change with the times, of her astute leadership of the Royal Family, of her curiosity and intelligence and her ability to make almost anyone feel comfortable and, more importantly, valued…

We have heard of her contribution to international relations, to trade deals, to tourism, to the Commonwealth, to public morale.

We have heard of her emotional resilience as she dealt with bereavement, and fires, and the divorces of three of her children, and many a scandal along the way, not least around Prince Andrew.

We have heard of her capacity to forgive, not just to shake the hands of people responsible for killing her soldiers and her husband’s mentor Lord Mountbatten, but do so with great grace and a warm smile, like someone who rejoices in peace and reconciliation. But there hasn’t been much about what made her the woman she was. There’s been little attempt in the mainstream media to look at her and her life through the lens of what she said made the difference to her – her faith in Christ.

Indeed, about that, she was crystal clear, and repeatedly so. In her 2014 Christmas broadcast she put it this way:

‘For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.’

Brilliantly, in an age that is on the one hand increasingly secular, and on the other, fraught by religious conflicts, her approach was winsomely inclusive. She pointed to Jesus and how he expanded her capacity to love people with different beliefs. Her approach was testimonial, not argumentative. She told the world the inspiration that Jesus had been in her own life and left the world to decide if they were interested in being inspired themselves:

‘I hope that, like me, you will be comforted by the example of Jesus of Nazareth who, often in circumstances of great adversity, managed to live an outgoing, unselfish and sacrificial life. Countless millions of people around the world continue to celebrate his birthday at Christmas, inspired by his teaching. He makes it clear that genuine human happiness and satisfaction lie more in giving than receiving; more in serving than in being served. We can surely be grateful that, two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, so many of us are able to draw inspiration from his life and message, and to find in him a source of strength and courage.’

More broadly, we can see the influence of Christ on her understanding of her job and how she did it. At the heart of this is the extraordinary impact of one particular moment in the Coronation. It was not when the solid gold St Edward’s Crown was laid on her head and she officially became Queen, but the moment that was not televised because it was deemed to be too holy for mass broadcast. It was the moment when, stripped of all her flowing robes, she knelt in a simple white dress and was anointed with holy oil. It was the moment when she dedicated herself to God to serve him by serving her people.

At one level, her Queenship was an accident of birth, an inevitable consequence of her uncle’s abdication, but she saw it as God’s will, as God’s calling, and therefore as something that she would need his help to do. And it was a calling she embraced. Wholly. Royal biographer, William Shawcross, wrote, ‘She found, like her mother before her… an almost sacrificial quality at the heart of the service.’

Of course, sacrifice is at the heart of the gospel – Jesus giving his life for ours. And it is at the heart of our own discipleship – taking up our cross daily to follow him. But sacrifice is intertwined with service. We no longer live for ourselves but for God and others. And that is what characterized Elizabeth’s approach not only to her own work, but to her understanding of citizenship. So, for example, at Christmas 2012 she said:

‘This is the time of the year when we remember that God sent his only Son “to serve, not to be served.” He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.’

We are meant to be there for one another. Indeed, her broadcasts – Christmas and occasional – tended to highlight the particular qualities she valued – resilience, kindness, neighbourliness – qualities she’d seen in the wartime generation. When she spoke to the nation during the COVID pandemic she focused on those qualities, summoning us to live up to our heritage:

‘I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge, and those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any, that the attributes of self-discipline, quiet, good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are in not a part of our past. It defines our present and our future.’

Intrinsic to that understanding of ‘fellow-feeling’ was her understanding of what it meant to be a good neighbour. Indeed, time and again, in her Christmas addresses, she referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan, summoning us to serve our neighbours and our countries in whatever role we found ourselves. Indeed, in 1980 she offered a comprehensive picture of neighbourly citizenship that is unmatched in contemporary public rhetoric. Even Barack Obama was never so far-reaching in his communication of good citizenship. That address highlighted unselfish service as the key to citizenship… and she cited examples from every sphere. From health care to the armed forces, from central government to voluntary organisations, from hospital staff to neighbours caring for neighbours in need. And then she closed that section of her address with these words:

‘To all of you on this Christmas Day, whatever your conditions of work and life, easy or difficult; whether you feel that you are achieving something or whether you feel frustrated; I want to say a word of thanks.

‘And I include all those who don’t realise that they deserve thanks and are content that what they do is unseen and unrewarded. The very act of living a decent and upright life is in itself a positive factor in maintaining civilised standards.’

It is as if the Queen had internalised the truth of Colossians 3:17. Yes, we can… ‘do whatever we do for God.’

How refreshing to find a global leader who recognised so clearly the value and beauty of a life lived kindly.

Indeed, Elizabeth’s understanding of her role and our nation’s role in the world were, it seems, similarly shaped by a robust biblical framework. So back in 1957 she said:

‘I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the people of our brotherhood of nations. I believe in our qualities and in our strength. I believe that together we can set an example to the world which will encourage upright people everywhere…’

In the context of Britain’s imperial past this is a remarkable vision. It is not a vision of military superiority, economic dominance, ideological hegemony, creative brilliance, or sporting excellence but of moral example, a vision that would not inspire envy or fear but encourage generosity, justice, kindness, ‘uprightness’. It is similar to God’s original hope for the people of Israel in the Bible, that they would be ‘a light to the nations’. Britain’s military power had diminished but for her size really didn’t matter – even as the granddaughter of a king who had ruled over a quarter of the planet. What mattered was the quality of our example.

We see a similarly robust vision in her commitment to the development of the Commonwealth, arguably one of her greatest achievements. When she became Queen, it consisted of eight nations, primarily ruled by white men. Today, it consists of 54 nations and territories.

How do you turn nations you have conquered, ruled and exploited for decades into friends?

How has it happened that, in our deeply fractured world, 54 nations should choose to meet regularly, not out of military expediency or vital economic self-interest but out of a commitment to a common vision for a different kind of world?

The short answer is through the determination, the warmth, and relational skills of the Queen. When she took the throne she said:

‘The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace. To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.’

It was another promise she would keep. At the Silver Jubilee, she said that she had witnessed:

‘From a unique position … the last great phase of the Empire into Commonwealth and the transformation of the Crown from an emblem of dominion into a symbol of free and voluntary association. In all history, this has no precedent.’

Where did the Queen get such a vision?

It was an idea that belonged to neither the left nor the right. In reality, it comes straight out of the biblical promise of a day when the tanks will be turned into tractors, or as Isaiah 2:4 puts it, ‘swords into ploughshares’. A day when nation will not fight against nation, when peace will reign across the globe. Elizabeth knew that it would only be fully realised when Christ returned and creation is renewed but that did not stop her working to create a context in which understanding could grow, cooperation flourish, and inequalities be addressed.

And if all that were not enough, she seemed to enjoy life – riding and horses and dogs and family and nice clothes and mimicking people and the occasional gin before lunch. But even here in the way she chose to spend her leisure time we saw her Christian devotion expressing itself. She didn’t have to invite a different pastor every weekend of her six-week Balmoral holiday to spend time with her family but she did. She didn’t have to drive herself to the Sunday service in the church on the Sandringham estate when she was there but she often did. She didn’t have to find out the names of the Sunday School prize winners and choose and present their prizes but she did.

There’s certainly no doubt about the identity of the King our Queen served. Nor is there any doubt that the prayer that her people have so often prayed (perhaps without realising that it was a prayer) was answered. God saved our Queen. Our Queen was ‘gracious’ and ‘noble’ and ‘victorious’ in the things that really matter – hope and faith in Christ, love of God and of the people she’s been empowered to serve.

Indeed, there can be few greater indications of God’s mercy and grace to our nation, despite our idolatrous turning away from him, than to have given us a Queen who loved us so faithfully and pointed us to him so clearly.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the gift of his servant Elizabeth.

And may God grace our King in his reign as he graced his mother’s in hers.

 Mark Greene
Mission Champion, LICC

Thank You, Your Majesty - a tribute to the Queen

 Here is one of many tributes to the Queen - it was written by Carl Laferton who works for the Good Book Company here in the UK. It first appeared here on the Gospel Coalition website


Thank You, Your Majesty

SEPTEMBER 8, 2022  |  CARL LAFERTON

 

As a constitutional monarch, the nature of Queen Elizabeth II’s role dictated she not offer opinions. No one knew which political party she supported, or which was her favourite of the 15 prime ministers who served during her reign, or whether she was pro-Brexit or pro-Remain. So it’s significant that in her 70-year reign, Her Majesty only wrote one foreword. The book was published by the Bible Society for her 90th birthday celebrations in 2016, and it was titled The Servant Queen and the King She Serves.

There will be many millions of words written about the Queen over the coming days. Many will have been pre-prepared. When I worked for a news agency, the Press Association, 20 years ago, there were dozens of articles kept under the strictest of embargoes, ready for release upon the Queen’s death. The words that follow here were not pre-prepared and are unpolished.

But however smooth or eloquent, it’s unlikely any eulogy will sum her up better than the title of that book. Though she was herself a queen, Her Majesty always knew she had a sovereign and that he loved her, died for her, had forgiven her, and now called her to live a life of loving service in response. She may have been a queen, but she saw herself first and foremost as the subject of the King. “Billions of people follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives,” she once said. “I am one of them.”

Service, Not Self-Actualisation

That line was from one of the Queen’s Christmas Day speeches, the first of which was given on the radio in 1952. Her addresses are now watched annually by millions on TV throughout the Commonwealth. These were her opportunity to, as far as her constitutional position allowed, talk about her faith and encourage her subjects to consider Christ.

It was striking when we put together a book for children about the Queen’s faith to mark her Platinum Jubilee to see just how often she spoke of Jesus. In 2012, she reminded us that “this is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only Son to serve, not to be served,” both to save us and as an example to us. She followed that example. In our era, when duty has fallen out of fashion and “being true to yourself” has become the lodestar for a generation, she marched resolutely to a different beat. Hers was a life of service, not self-actualisation.

In our era, when duty has fallen out of fashion, she marched resolutely to a different beat. Hers was a life of service, not self-actualisation.

 

Her Majesty met millions of people, but in all the footage we’ll watch on loop over the coming days, notice she always gave her attention to the person in front of her. She never seemed in a hurry to move past him or her. It didn’t seem to matter to her whether the person to whom she was speaking was a president or a pauper. She could have enjoyed the wealth and status her position gave her. Instead, she showed us a life of dutiful service in the interest of others, one that treats each person with dignity regardless of status. In that, she gave us a glimpse of the One who left the riches of heaven and made himself nothing, being born in the form of a servant and giving all he had to serve his people.

Link to the Past, Signpost to Eternity

Throughout the dominions the Queen ruled, no one under the age of 70 has known another monarch. The nature of this world is ever-changing and often uncertain. But she was a fixed point. The Queen was always part of life—rarely front and centre in our consciousness, but always there. She connected us to our past. She’d endured the Blitz of London in the Second World War; her first prime minister had been Winston Churchill; her mother had been born in the Victorian age. Everything changes; but, in many ways, she did not. Until today.

That’s why, though she was 96, her death feels like a shock. We knew she would die one day, and yet perhaps a part of us felt she never would. Something in us craves the constancy, the security, of something that doesn’t change, of a rock you can put your foot on and know it will never move. The Queen couldn’t be unchanging forever, but her feet were on a different Rock.

Who knows what the future of the monarchy will be? Many loved Elizabeth rather than the institution itself. But while to many, monarchy is an anachronism—and they may be right—it’s worth remembering that as Christians, we’re looking forward to living under an absolute monarch.

To the extent that Elizabeth was kind, servant-hearted, and consistent, she showed us the blessing it is to live under a good ruler. She pointed us to the truth that humanity was created to enjoy life under an all-powerful, all-knowing, always-loving ruler, who (like the Queen) isn’t swayed by opinion polls and never needs to run for election and whose authority isn’t dependent on majority opinion. Humans are happiest under a perfect monarch.

The problem, as Queen Elizabeth knew, is that such a leader cannot be found in this world. The wonder, as Queen Elizabeth also knew, is that one day he will arrive, coming on the clouds.

Shared Humanity, Shared Salvation

A commentator on the BBC earlier reminded me of one of the more unlikely friendships of the last half-century: that between Queen Elizabeth and Billy Graham. By background, culture, class, and calling, they couldn’t have been more different. Yet each enjoyed the other’s company, and (despite the raised eyebrows of some in the Anglican establishment) when Graham came to the U.K. for his crusades, the Queen would always invite him to visit her, preach to her, and stay for lunch to discuss the Scripture passage. In his autobiography, Just as I Am, Graham recounted one such lunch, at which he told her he’d not been sure which passage to choose and had toyed with—but then decided against—preaching from the healing of the man by the pool at Bethesda in John 5.

To the extent that Elizabeth was kind, servant-hearted, and consistent, she showed us the blessing it is to live under a good ruler.

 

“Her eyes,” he wrote, “sparkled and she bubbled over with enthusiasm. . . . ‘I wish you had!’ she exclaimed. ‘That is my favourite story.’” Again, it’s hard to imagine two more different people—a cripple for 38 years with no one to help him and a queen for decades with scores of servants. But he needed to hear Jesus’s words of healing and salvation, and so did she.

In these last months of her earthly life, the Queen had suffered with her own “mobility problems.” But not today. Not now. For my monarch was also my sister, and we’ll see her again, standing on steady legs before the throne of the King she knew, loved, and served.

Thank you, Your Majesty, for your years of service. Thank you, Your Majesty, for reminding us that there is a greater Ruler. Thank you, Your Majesty, for the ways you showed us Jesus.

 

Carl Laferton is executive vice president of publishing at The Good Book Company, and bestselling author of The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross (TGBC, 2016). He lives in London with his wife and two children, and serves as an elder at Grace Church, Worcester Park.

 

Church in the Trenches: 6 months of Wartime Ministry in Ukraine

 

It's just over 6 months since Russia invaded Ukraine - this is part of an article which reflects on what it has been like to minister in Ukraine during that time . It is written by Jamie Dean and was originally published on the Gospel Coalition website - see the end for more details

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Church in the Trenches: 6 Months of Wartime Ministry in Ukraine 

The most difficult moment of Sergey Nakul’s life unfolded in a packed Kyiv train station not long after Russia invaded Ukraine. The pastor was sending his wife, his two sons, and a group of members from his local church to safety outside of the nation under attack.

A few weeks earlier, Nakul’s wife insisted on staying with her husband and the church they love, but as Russian assaults grew fiercer and a takeover of Kyiv seemed possible, Nakul gently prevailed: “My beloved, it’s time for you to go.”

He stood on the crowded train platform, holding his wife’s hand and wondering when he would see her, his sons, and his church members again. “It was the most terrible moment for me as the father and pastor responsible for these people,” he says. When news later arrived that the group had reached safety in a bordering country, Nakul felt relief. “Praise the Lord,” he remembers thinking. Now he could serve without fear.

If I am a shepherd in Jesus’s image, how could I leave my people?

 Ukrainian regulations required the 45-year-old pastor to stay, along with most men ages 18 to 60. But Nakul felt compelled to remain regardless of the wartime law. Why? “I’m a pastor, that’s the simple answer,” he said in a recent call from his home in Kyiv. He considered how Jesus is a shepherd who would never leave his sheep: “And then if I am a shepherd in Jesus’s image, how could I leave my people?”

Six months later, Nakul is still serving the church in Ukraine and hoping his loved ones can join him soon. Serving without his family is just one of the ways Nakul and others have adjusted to Christian ministry during half a year of unexpected war. The bombings, the displacement of 12 million people, and the uncertainty about the future require ministry leaders to adapt to a changing situation while holding out the hope of the unchanging gospel.

Nakul says the gospel has kept him anchored. “I’ve experienced the amazing faithfulness of the Lord,” he says. “And this very precious.”

Unexpected Messengers

For Nakul, the faithfulness of the Lord began long before he knew about Jesus. As a child living under Soviet control in Ukraine, he had little exposure to the Bible—but he was curious. He spent time in the library reading atheistic books because they contained portions of Scripture the authors tried to refute. It was the only way Nakul could find what he calls “pieces of the gospel.” When he looks back, he sees his inexplicable interest as “just pure grace in [his] life.”

After Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, the Soviet collapse left former Soviet states in an economic spiral. Times were bleak and often desperate, but one afternoon in 1994, Nakul met two young men on the street who asked him a simple question: “Would you like to talk about Jesus?”

The two men, who attended an evangelical church, explained the basics of the Christian faith. They also gave Nakul a copy of the New Testament. “You can’t even imagine what it meant at that time to get a New Testament for free,” Nakul says.

When he read it, the message he found inside “was like fresh air.” “It was like a light,” he recalls. “It was like a door opened to heaven.” A few months later, Nakul embraced saving faith in Christ and dedicated his life to ministry.

Ministry in Wartime

Nakul’s ministry has included nine years as pastor of Grace Reformed Church in Kyiv. When the Russian invasion began on February 24, Nakul turned the church’s basement into a bomb shelter, where they continued to hold worship services, even when the number of attendees briefly dropped to four.

The pastor adjusted to the fluctuating numbers, as some members evacuated the country and others were called to military service in Ukraine. Nakul reported to a military training base himself, but officials sent him home to serve his congregation. A friend who’s the pastor of a nearby Baptist church recently reported to serve as a soldier.

Meanwhile, Nakul documented the war’s destruction in his role as a senior broadcaster for the Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC), an international Christian radio network. In the early days of the invasion, he recorded videos of destroyed buildings in his neighbourhood and reported on the harrowing conditions for Kyiv residents remaining in the city.

Your prayers are helping me to not be so afraid. They are giving my heart peace.

 
Other broadcasters at FEBC held online prayer meetings and directed listeners to the ministry’s counselling centre for spiritual help. During a June prayer meeting, a listener wrote in to say the building next door to her had just been hit by a rocket. “I can hear people screaming,” she wrote. The broadcaster prayed for the frightened listener and heard back a few minutes later: “Your prayers are helping me to not be so afraid. They are giving my heart peace.”

Help for the Wounded

While peace is in especially short supply in some parts of Ukraine, citizens in most places are dealing with the trauma of living in a country torn apart by war. The tensions have created a need for spiritual care that Nakul and other pastors find as urgent as physical needs….

Hope for the Future

Back in Kyiv, pastor Sergey Nakul continues to adapt, and he continues to see the value of remaining a steady presence with his congregation in Kyiv as well as his work at the FEBC radio network. He hopes his family will be able to rejoin him soon, but says he was boosted by a recent visit from his wife—the first time he had seen her since her evacuation. “It was like we had a honeymoon,” he says. “It was six days that were completely refreshing.”

Until the couple is united again, the pastor says he continues to be refreshed by God’s grace that has followed him since his earliest days. “I tell people I don’t know what will happen next,” he says. “But the only assurance you could have as a child of God is trusting in the precious promises of God embodied in Christ.” Nakul says the message he emphasized at the beginning of the war is the one he still proclaims now: “God is with us.”

(This is part of an article by Jamie Dean, International Editor for the Gospel Coalition and recently published on the TGC website. If you would  like to read the whole article you can view it here )

 

Covenant Fellowship Scotland statement following the decision of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on Monday 23rd May

 

Following the decision of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland this morning, 23rd May 2022, to turn an Overture into an Act that will permit ministers and deacons to officiate at same sex marriages, Covenant Fellowship Scotland released the following press statement:

Monday 23rd May 2022

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in converting an Overture permitting ministers and deacons to officiate at same-sex marriages into an Act of the Church, has acted in a way which is both unbiblical and sinful.

We all have a deep pastoral care and concern for those who wish to enter into same sex marriages, and we understand the pastoral impulse of ministers and deacons who wish to help people at life’s key moments.

But we must nevertheless point to the complete absence of any compelling or persuasive biblical evidence that might permit ministers and deacons of the Church of Scotland to officiate at same sex marriages.

Many of us in the Church of Scotland are deeply saddened and further alienated by this continuing departure from the biblical, historical and ecumenical Christian understanding of human nature and marriage.

The Church of Scotland has always claimed to be founded upon the teaching of Holy Scripture, but this decision contradicts everything the Bible has to say about the complementary nature of men and women, and of the character and purposes of marriage. Instead of following the clear and unambiguous teaching of God’s written word, the Bible, the Church of Scotland continues to follow popular opinion.

In taking this step, the Church of Scotland reinforces its determination to act contrary to the history and doctrine of the Christian Church, and further separates itself from the majority global Church of Jesus Christ.

We believe that this continuation of an unscriptural trajectory will worsen the numerical decline of the Church of Scotland. It is now obvious and clear that the move towards an acceptance of same sex marriage and relationships within the life of the Church of Scotland has not stemmed numerical decline,  but has accelerated it.

Church ministers, elders, members and adherents have left in recent years, and they will continue to leave for as long as God’s plan concerning marriage is ignored. People are leaving the Church of Scotland and going to Churches which take God and the Bible seriously. The devastation of the Church is before our eyes and this is surely what we should anticipate, since we cannot expect blessing instead of judgement when we abandon God’s written word, the Bible.

We believe the Church of Scotland has made a serious mistake. It needs to repent and turn back to God. Every Christian Church that has abandoned the biblical view of marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman is, without exception, in numerical decline, perhaps irrecoverably.

With sadness, we now believe the Church of Scotland permits and encourages immorality and disobedience. Those of us who value God and the revelation of his will concerning marriage must stand together and work for the overturning of a decision that is erroneous and sinful.

(For more information on Covenant Fellowship Scotland see here)

 

Encouragement to read the BIble

Here's some encouragement to commit to reading the Bible on a regular basis:

In the Scriptures God daily comes to his people, not from afar but nearby. In it he reveals himself, from day to day, to believers in the fullness of his truth and grace. Through it he works his miracles of compassion and faithfulness. Scripture is the ongoing rapport between heaven and earth, between Christ and his church, between God and his children. It does not just tie us to the past; it binds us to the living Lord in the heavens. It is the living voice of God

(Herman Bavinck - Prologema, edited by John Bolt, translated by John Vriend, vol 1 Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) p385)

Using time well in 2022

 

I'm very conscious I haven't posted anything on here for a good while  but I came across this article today on the Gospel Coalition website under the title Build Spiritual Habits in Just a Few Minutes & thought it was worth sharing as we move into a New Year as a practical help in our response to Paul's injunction in Ephesians 5:15-16  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,  16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (ESV). The article was written by Sarah Eekhoff and Megan Hill and although the immediate context is the USA., it's still relevant and relatively easy to translate into our own context. If you want to read the original article you can do so here

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Build Spiritual Habits in Just a Few Minutes

December 31, 2021  Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra & Megan Hill 

I (Sarah) never used to make the bed.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like our bed to be made—I really did. A made-up bed is nicer to slide into at night, creates a level surface for folding clothes, and makes the whole bedroom look more orderly. But I just didn’t have time. Making a bed takes forever.

I sighed over this until I happened to run across some advice to time your everyday tasks—folding a load of laundry, emptying a dishwasher, making your bed. The reasoning was solid: if you know how long it takes to do something, you can better judge if you have time to slide it in before you need to run out the door.

Curious, I gave it a try. I straightened the sheets, spread out the comforter, and stacked the pillows as slowly as possible, ready to confirm there was no way something this time-consuming could fit into my morning routine.

Ninety seconds.

I was floored. My entire mindset shifted. I wasn’t too busy to make the bed. I was just bad at estimating how long it would take to accomplish. I was giving up before I’d even begun.

Maybe you run into the same problem with time estimation. How could I possibly have time to fold the laundry? Read a book? Go for a walk?

We even do this with spiritual disciplines, where the consequences are more serious. Who has time to read a chapter in the Bible? Write in a prayer journal? Memorize a verse?

My friend, we do. If you need proof, grab your phone and measure for yourself. Or if you don’t have time for that, Megan Hill and I have been busy with our stopwatches. While we were at it, we found it helpful to pair one of these spiritual habits with a daily task that takes the same time. While you are putting on your jacket and grabbing your car keys, you could be growing in grace.

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30 Seconds

If you have 30 seconds (the time it takes to put on your shoes or feed a pet), you can

  • Pray for a friend
  • Sing one verse of “Amazing Grace” (or most other hymns)
  • Read a Bible verse aloud
  • Find Shane & Shane on Spotify
  • Sign up to receive daily Bible commentary from TGC’s Read the Bible plan

1 Minute

If you have one minute (the time it takes to start a load of laundry or take out the trash), you can

  • Read the first prayer from The Valley of Vision
  • Sing two verses of most hymns
  • Print out a Bible reading plan (we recommend this one)
  • Write a Bible verse on an index card
  • Give online to a charity
  • Tell your coworker you’re sorry for being impatient
  • Invite someone to church

3 Minutes

If you have three minutes (the time it takes to vacuum a room or make a K-cup of coffee), you can

  • Read (or listen to) Philemon, 2 John, or 3 John
  • Write down three things you’re grateful for
  • Send someone an encouraging message
  • Sign up to serve in the church nursery
  • Text someone to ask if they’d like to have coffee
  • Share the gospel with someone on the subway

5 Minutes

If you have five minutes (the time it takes to fold a load of laundry), you can

10 Minutes

If you have 10 minutes (the time it takes to make a cup of tea or take a shower), you can

 

15 Minutes

If you have 15 minutes (the time it takes to wash dishes after dinner or walk the dog), you can

  • Read (or listen to) Ruth, Joel, Malachi, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, or 2 Timothy
  • Walk a mile, praising God for the creation around you
  • Read a chapter of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life
  • Buy the person in line behind you a cup of coffee and offer to pray for her
  • Use your church directory to pray for members whose last name begins with a particular letter

30 Minutes

And if you have even more time, in less than 30 minutes, you can

  • Read (or listen to) Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, James, 1 Peter, or 1 John
  • Read a chapter of Augustine’s Confessions
  • Complete a Bible study lesson (some of our favourites have only a few minutes of homework)
  • Make a meal for someone in your neighborhood or church
  • Listen again to Sunday’s sermon online or catch up on a sermon you missed
  • Use your church directory to pray for 50 members by name
  • Do family worship with the people in your home

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer and faith-and-work editor for The Gospel Coalition.


Characteristics of the Church - Midweek Message 25th August 2021

 

(Thinking about the characteristics of the church as presented by the New Testament here are two relevant quotes from the writings of John Stott who once said that if he had had his ministry all over again he would have spent more time teaching about the central importance of the church in the purposes of God)


What unites the church is a common faith in Christ and a common share in the Spirit. Apart from this essential, Christians may have nothing at all in common. We differ from one another in temperament, personality, education, colour, culture, citizenship, language and a host of other ways. Thank God we do. The church is a wonderfully inclusive fellowship in which 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female'.(Galatians 3.28). In other words, in Christ we have equality. (Christ the Controversialist, London IVP p183) 


Love is the first mark of a true and living church and truth is the second, because the Scriptures hold love and truth together in balance. Some Christians are so resolved to make love paramount that they forget the sacredness of revealed truth. 'Let us drown our doctrinal differences,' they urge, 'in the ocean of brotherly love!' Others are equally mistaken in their pursuit of truth at the expense of love. So dogged is their zeal for God's Word that they become harsh, bitter and unloving. Love becomes sentimental if it is not strengthened by truth, and truth becomes hard if it's not softened by love. We need to preserve the balance of the Bible which tells us to hold the truth in love, to love others in truth and to grow not only in love but in discernment (What Christ thinks of the Church, Milton Keynes, Word UK p44)

What faces Christians in Afghanistan? - Midweek Message 18th August 2021

 How Afghan Pastors Reflect on God’s Sovereignty

(This article by Mark Morris first appeared on the Gospel Coalition website - you can view the original article here)

In early July, Afghan pastors and church leaders made a difficult decision. They decided to formally register their faith with the Afghan government. What an absurdity to register as Christians in an Islamic republic that prohibits a person from converting to Christianity! Against the advice of many, these Afghan church leaders felt compelled, for the sake of future generations, to legally declare their true faith in Christ.

“What about our children and our grandchildren?” they said. “Someone should make this sacrifice so the next generations can openly call themselves followers of Jesus.” They registered with the government, and we all prayed from outside, asking God to protect them from being rounded up and imprisoned the next morning. They were interviewed but not arrested.

Dramatic Church Retreat

This past weekend, we met in an Afghan/English church retreat. On the first night of the retreat, we learned that a pastor in Afghanistan received a letter from the Taliban: “We know who you are, what you do, and where to find you.” By Saturday the Taliban were at his door, but he had gone into hiding. Praise God.

I listened as an Afghan pastor spoke through tears about his friend, a faithful believer, whose village was taken by the Taliban three days earlier. This dear brother’s 14-year-old daughter was ripped from his arms and forced into sexual servitude in what the Taliban would dub as “marriage” and her “dutiful Islamic privilege and responsibility.”

As news arrived on Saturday that the Taliban was already walking the streets of Kabul, we wept and prayed with our Afghan friends as they scrambled to make phone calls to family members who had hoped to leave for a safer location. Nobody was able to leave. The roads and flights had already closed.

Of all topics, on Sunday morning we tackled the plagues in Exodus 7–11. At times Pharaoh hardened his heart. At other times God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. An Afghan evangelist in the room added: “Don’t forget that God called the most wicked king on earth, Nebuchadnezzar, ‘my servant’ in Jeremiah 27:6 and Jeremiah 43:10. “God is most certainly calling the Taliban ‘my servant.’”

We turned to Exodus 33:19: “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” I raised the question we all felt. “We know and believe that God is sovereign, right? We all believe that he is God, perfect in every way, right? He never sins, right? But evil surrounds your brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. Evil is conquering your cities, your nation.”

We opened Romans 9 and were confronted with our presumption in questioning the wisdom of a good and merciful God. He is the potter. We are his clay. We explored the image of the foundation stone and the stone of stumbling from Isaiah 8 and Isaiah 28. From Romans 10 we were all reminded that we are to build our faith on Jesus, the only cornerstone that can stand firm through the storm of the Taliban.

 How to Face Suffering

We ended with a synopsis of David Platt’s admonition at a secret church gathering on The Cross and Suffering:

  1. We must face suffering with a higher view of God.
  2. We must face suffering with a humble view of ourselves and other people.
  3. Remember that suffering and evil exist to exalt the glory of God’s grace, as demonstrated through the suffering of Jesus for the salvation of all.
  4. God ordains suffering for Christians in different ways for different purposes and through different means. Among other reasons, he leads us into suffering to refine our faith, to show his glory and to teach us to depend on him.
  5. Finally, our good and merciful Father leads his people into the turbulent waters of suffering as part of the orchestration of His plan to complete the Great Commission.

Our song leader chose the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As we sang the final verse, an Afghan brother came and whispered in my ear, “Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s president, just resigned. The Taliban are now in control.” And we sang,

Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever!

More Troubling News

It’s Monday morning and through tears I’m giving thanks for the way God planned the weekend. With one heart we gathered to comfort one another and pray together and groan and weep together in these difficult historical moments.

Since this weekend, more disturbing reports are coming in and life for the Afghan church is at the beginning of a new chapter. Young Christian girls are being pursued by the Taliban. The Taliban just raided the home of another church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature.

Here in Memphis our Afghan pastor wrote, “I don’t even have words to pray now.” Yet tomorrow he will somehow broadcast a live satellite message of hope from God’s Word into Afghanistan on Mohabat.tv and facebook.com/afghantv.

The potter is crafting his vessels for his purposes

***

Mark Morris is director of urban theological studies at Union University’s Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies. He also leads Refugee Memphis, which serves, shares Jesus, and makes disciples among refugees in Memphis, USA.

***

PS if you are wondering what to pray for the situation in Afghanistan here are a further couple of helpful articles (here  and  here)

 

Living with Alzheimer's/Dementia - Midweek Message 26th May 2021

 


Dear Friends,

You may be aware that Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar this year for his performance in the film ‘The Father’ in which he plays an aging man suffering from dementia.  I haven’t seen the film but even reading about the film resonated, having read a couple of recent articles from different people caring for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. One was written by a husband caring for his wife in the last 6 years of her life and the other a daughter seeking to care for and support her mother. Both articles revealed how painful and challenging it can be for someone in that caring role, although they also contained hope. In addition, there were some practical pointers for anyone wondering how best to help someone -  a friend or perhaps someone in the church family - suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia - or the person(s) caring for them. I thought, therefore, I might quote a little from both articles.

Robin Thomson writes:

What is the most important thing we can do for the person living with Alzheimer’s, or other kinds of dementia? It’s easy to feel powerless or uncomfortable.…. When my wife, Shoko, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012, we had no clue what lay ahead. Later, when the disease really began to bite, we learned the hard way, as Shoko’s personality changed and she lost her capacity in many areas of life. Despite this her affection remained constant and it was a deeply spiritual journey. She died of heart failure in 2018….

Friends have a vital role….  They can give practical help across a range of areas, from food to financial matters, health issues, going for a walk, help with transport, and more. One of our friends turned up from time to time, bringing a complete meal which he left with us…..Friends give the gift of their time by keeping in touch, whether through visits or phone calls, letters or emails.

It isn’t always easy. Sometimes they (friends) may visit and find their old friend changed, perhaps not recognising them…. they may become discouraged and wonder if it is worthwhile to come again. But it is. It brings pleasure at the time, even if the person forgets soon after. And, crucially, it supports the caregivers too. If friends stop visiting, as sometimes happens when the dementia continues over a long period, the caregiver(s) can become isolated, especially if they have no other family… Friends don’t forget. They don’t stay away. And they don’t give up….

Living with dementia, and caring for a person living with dementia, are strange situations. The disease may come in stages: sometimes not noticeable at all. There may still be a certain stigma to acknowledge it openly. At what point do we speak about it? There are no rules; like any relationship it needs our respect and sensitivity…1.

In her article Cynthia Fischer writes of her pain at the loss of her relationship with her mother but then also reveals where she finds hope:

When my mother, who already suffered from moderate dementia, experienced a stroke earlier this year, her vocabulary of nouns vanished….(as did) the names of people, places, and things she had known…. In one moment, all the stories she had ever told were never to be told by her again…. Mother can’t recall my name without prompting. She’s confused about where her bedroom is located in her home of 31 years… In so many ways, I’m unable to communicate with her….

My mother can’t call on Jesus to help her. She’s no longer clear who he is. She cannot seek God for peace. She cannot pray to him. She cannot cry out to him—at least not in any verbal way. Who among us has contemplated the end of our days and considered we might not be able to pray aloud?....

When I read Psalm 139 I’m reminded that God… knows absolutely everything about my mother. He knows all about her lying down, which is most of her time  (Psalm 139.vs2-3) He  knows about her anxious thoughts and understands her words that we no longer understand (v4) He is behind and before her (v5). 

Mother resides in the depths of dementia’s sea, as it were. And yet, as the psalmist proclaims: “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me(v10). Darkness overwhelms her memory. And yet “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (v12) Dementia is not too dark for God. 

When I settle my heart, I know the only thing changed is my mother’s memory. God has not changed. Our omnipresent God can go where I cannot. He can minister to her soul despite her lacking knowledge of him. I resonate with the psalmist who admits, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (v6) 

I find deep hope and comfort that although I can’t provide for my mother’s deep need for peace, God can. Dementia is not too dark for the God who is fully present with her on this dim and murky path…  The psalmist concludes by asking God to lead him in the way everlasting (v24) So too I ask God to gently, in his time, lead her to her everlasting home and into his glorious light.2 

  ***

I trust that, as I did, you found in these articles much to guide and encourage as we seek both to pray for and care for those suffering from Alzheimer’s/Dementia and their carers,

Yours in that particular school of learning,

David

 

 1 Robin Thomson Living with Alzheimer’s - a Love story in Evangelicals Now June 2021 issue - you can find the whole article here or if you want to find the book of the same title you can find it here

2 Cynthia S Fischer Dementia is not Dark to God - you can find the whole article on the Gospel Coalition website here

 

 

 

Something for a death bed? - Midweek Message 19th May 2021

 


 

Dear Friends,

For some time now I have been reading a hymn a day from The Revised Church Hymnary which was the hymn book which was in common use in the Church of Scotland when I was growing up, though it has been replaced (not I think for the better) by CH3 and then CH4. As I have done so I have found hymns that if I had ever known them or sung them had long since been forgotten.  However, I have found myself moved by some of the words. That happened recently when reading a series of 7 hymns (RCH 97-103) each of them inspired by one of the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross.

The last of them (103) was written on what are usually regarded as Jesus final words, his final prayer: Father into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23.46)  As I read it, I thought to myself I would like someone to read me these words on my own death bed. I don’t know if you ever think about that. It can sound morbid, and we tend to avoid the subject of death, not least our own death.1 Yet we all know that nothing in life is surer but that we shall one day die. It is worth asking and thinking about: ‘What would I like someone to say to me or to read to me as I face death?’

A couple of weeks ago in the Midweek Message I wrote something about Sir James Young Simpson the Scotsman who popularised the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic in medical surgery. While reading about Simpson I came across some entries in a diary kept by his nephew, Robert Simpson who visited his uncle on a regular basis during the last two months or so of his life when he was confined to his bed at his home in Queen Street Edinburgh.2  There were many references to various portions of Scripture that his nephew read to him and also to hymns, for example, Horatius Bonar’s   I heard the voice of Jesus say and also Toplady’s Rock of Ages. There were some lines from Anne Cousin’s The sands of time are sinking:

I stand upon his merit,
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.’

At one point Simpson said to his nephew: “There is a hymn often on my mind at present which just expresses my thoughts:

‘Just as I am without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me’”

“I so much like that hymn,” he said.

Along with the readings from Scripture, these hymns were evidently a great comfort and encouragement to Simpson.

Here then also is the hymn by Eliza Alderson which brought all this to my mind. In the first two stanzas she reflects on Jesus words, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit, in relation to his death and then in the final two, she turns the reflection into a prayer for herself in relation to the day of her own death whenever that should come:

And now, belovèd Lord, Thy soul resigning,
Into Thy Father’s arms with conscious will,
Calmly, with reverend grace, Thy head inclining,
The throbbing brow and labouring breast grow still.

Freely Thy life Thou yieldest, meekly bending
E’en to the last beneath our sorrows’ load,
Yet strong in death, in perfect peace commending,
Thy Spirit to Thy Father and Thy God.

My Saviour, in mine hour of mortal anguish,
When earth grows dim, and round me falls the night,
O breathe Thy peace, as flesh and spirit languish,
At that dread eventide let there be light.

To Thy dear cross turn Thou my eyes in dying;
Lay but my fainting head upon Thy breast;
Those outstretched arms receive my latest sighing;
And then, oh! then, Thine everlasting rest.

Yours in Him

David

 

1 I recently read a helpful review of a book ’Learning the lost art of dying’ whose very title indicates the problems we have in our contemporary world with dealing with death.

2 You can find a record of some of these diary entries here