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Christian Living

Bible Overview Course

24th July 2017 — by stevepalf

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Getting a good grasp of the overall message of the Bible is invaluable in understanding any of its parts.  But getting that good overall grasp is not something that happens by itself or something that you’ll stumble into, it needs to be taught and you need to invest some time to learning.

To that end this new resource from Clayton TV and Vaughan Roberts looks really helpful.  A 9 part video lecture with additional study materials all available freely online.

If you’re interested head over to www.clayton.tv/big and take a look.

 

Christian Living

When Satan tempts me to despair

23rd June 2017 — by stevepalf

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Ever find yourself spending more time thinking about your sin than Jesus? Turning over and over in a never ending cycle of guilt and despair?  If you do you’re not alone.  In fact Thomas Brooks will tell you it’s a device Satan loves to use so as to make our lives “a hell”.

So what should we do? Well here is a paraphrase of Brook’s 6 remedies…

  1. Consider that though Jesus has not freed you from sin’s presence altogether he has freed you from its power to condemn.  God’s law cannot condemn you; because Christ has fulfilled it, divine justice cannot condemn you; because Christ satisfied that, sins cannot condemn you; because Christ took those and shed his blood for them, your own conscience cannot condemn you; because Christ is greater than your conscience and he acquits you.
  2. Consider that though Jesus has not freed you from the harassing power of sin you are free from its rule and reign. In other words, sin cannot and should not be allowed to tell you what to do or how to feel.
  3. Constantly keep one eye on the promise of sins forgiven and the other eye on what God is achieving even through your battle with sin.  In other words God has forgiven you for sins which – though he does not count them against you – he leaves for his good purposes.
  4. When you think of the debt of your sin just remember just how rich Christ is. So like the child of wealthy parents is not afraid of a bailiff because his parents can always pay, so too for our sin Jesus has overflowing riches of mercy and grace.
  5. Remember why God has let you remain in this world of sin and the purposes for which he lets us battle with sin:
    1. He wants to keep us humble
    2. To keep us dependent on divine help – e.g. keeps us praying
    3. Keeps us trusting Christ and not ourselves for our sanctification
    4. To make us love this world less and long for heaven more.
    5. That heaven might be more sweet to us when we arrive.
  6. Consider that you should repent of being discouraged by your sin. That we feel like we do is a sign that we are ignorant of the richness, freeness, fullness and everlastingness of God’s love and ignorant too of the power, glory, sufficiency and effectiveness of the death and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. And for that ignorance we should repent.

Christian Living

A brief meditation on the danger of selfish ambition

6th June 2017 — by stevepalf

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I use the PrayerMate app to organise my praying and it reminds me regularly to pray Philippians 2:3 for myself:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourself.

They are striking instructions and worthy of us spending time reflecting on.

Do nothing – this is catch all, there is no room for selfish ambition in the motives behind any of our actions, even when it clearly motivates the actions of others. Scanning my activities and considering my plans even good plans are ruined when they’re driven by a desire to make me look good for the sake of looking good and feeling better than others.

…from selfish ambition – this is the poison; the desire for self promotion for security founded on my own superiority. Selfish ambition uses phrases like “I deserve better” or “I’ll show them”, it introduces itself to others with a list of its achievements, it wants to have the last word, the best anecdote. It’s the breeding ground of insecurity and is constantly comparing ourselves to others.

…or conceit – this is selfish ambition’s twin brother. It’s the self delusion that thinks itself better than others. It ponders how others can be so stupid and assumes its own rightness. Conceit is invisible to its owner but glaringly obvious to everyone else. If you want to know if you have it, ask a friend.

…but in humility count others more significant than yourself – this is selfish ambition’s antidote. To think of yourself less and others more. To be driven more by the needs of others than yourself considering their status as more important than your own. This humility is more concerned with how it serves others than how it is being served, is more driven to be a friend than to have friends. It’s willing to be in the background not threatened by others being in charge.

Now all that is very difficult to live out, hence the prayer: “Please Lord help me to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit but help me instead to humbly consider others more significant than me”

Christian LivingChurch Community

The danger of comparison

25th May 2017 — by stevepalf

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Comparing ourselves to others seems both natural and common, everyone does it instinctively from school yard competitiveness to grandparents fawning over the achievements of their grandchildren, we’re all at it.  But even taking into consideration the great things achieved under the spur of competition this perpetual comparing of our achievement with others does us no good.
Let me try to explain with a couple of examples.
Tony feels a failure.  His work colleague Gary always seems that one step ahead. His personal life is in better shape, his kids are in better schools, he gets a bigger bonus at Christmas and has just been accepted for a promotion ahead of Tony.  Tony is a Christian but his feelings of failure carry over into church as well.  He’s always the last to pick up the thread in housegroup and his Sunday School class definitely prefer the weeks he’s not on the rota.
Graham also feels a failure.  Marriage has been difficult ever since the children arrived, work has been stressful and issues in the wider family have taken their toll on his emotional health.  Feeling low and away on business with an attentive female colleague one thing led to another and Graham failed to honour his marriage vows, as he and his colleague shared the hotel room.
Now in pastoral conversations you’re trying to apply the gospel to both Tony and Graham.  Both exhibit similar emotions, both are grieved at their failure, both earnest to hear what Christ says to their situations.  Take Graham first, he’s there with his wife, weeping at his sin and the mess it’s made, but as you remind them of Christ’s work on the cross and as you reassure them that forgiveness is real and transformation possible they leave in better shape. They have lots to work through for sure but there’s a hope that wasn’t there before.  Tony is a harder case.  You remind him of the gospel that his standing before God is secure in Christ, that he can be no more righteous or loved or adopted than he is in Christ, yet still he leaves despondent, he desperately wanted Jesus to tell him that he was better than others but somehow despite the beauty of justification by faith alone it doesn’t answer his dilemma.
You see here’s the problem with the grief and failure that comes from perpetually comparing myself negatively to others; the gospel has no solution to it.  Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:10:
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
In the context Paul is referencing a previous stinging letter to the Corinthian church in which he called them on some sin.  The letter made the church grieve, but positively with a grief that led to repentance and not a worldly grief which wallows in failure.  In other words in Paul’s mind there are two kinds of grief which look very similar as they present but have very different ends.
That’s the nub of Tony’s problem, wallowing in feelings of failure resulting from negatively comparing himself to others is worldly grief that leads to death.  The gospel has no direct answer for Tony’s comparative questions, instead it bids him to ask a different question a more important question because what really matters is not Tony’s relative performance but his standing before God.  Tony’s identity, security, joy and life should flow from knowing that before God he stands as perfect as the Lord Jesus.  Tony will only be helped when he is able to repent of trying to secure his joy and satisfaction in fleeting feelings of superiority rather than the gospel of grace upon grace in Christ.
So if you find yourself feeling a bit like Tony, remember that while your assessments of your relative success may leave you feeling a failure it’s not an assessment that really matters. The one that matters is secure in Christ.

Christian Living

8 cures for materialism

20th April 2017 — by stevepalf

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So the book of the moment 1 is Thomas Brooks’ book “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices”.

Written in 1652 still materialism was alive and well and Brooks gives us 8 remedies which I’ll list here with a little of his explanation.

  1. Dwell upon the weakness of material possessions – a crown of gold cannot cure a headache, rich and poor get the flu.
  2. Dwell on the vanity of all worldly goods – there’s a meaninglessness to having lots of stuff, it’s pointless and achieves nothing – just read Ecclesiastes.
  3. Dwell on how quick things can change – your iPhone goes out of date quickly, your car gets scratched, savings can (and do) go up and down, if you’re rich now you may one day be poor. You can’t live for something so quickly changing and transient.
  4. Consider how much hurt to the inner person is caused by material wealth – snobbery, pride, envy, busyness, weariness. Those are the fruits of materialism and who wants lots of them?!
  5. Consider that material joy comes also with pain – materialism is often bitter sweet. Sorrow often accompanies worldly joy. Financial reward comes with bitter costs.
  6. Getter better acquainted with more glorious things – men ate acorns till they realised you could make bread from wheat, so there are better treasures to be had in the gospel than material ones – get to know them, think about them – then materialism won’t seem that shiny any more.
  7. Seriously consider that true happiness is not found in the enjoyment of worldly goods – “certainly happiness lies not in those things which cannot comfort a man upon a dying bed. Is it honour, riches or friends which can comfort you when you come to die? Or is it not rather faith in the blood of Christ, the witness of the Spirit of Christ, the sense and feeling of the love and favour of Christ, and the hopes of eternally reigning with Christ?”
  8. Solemnly consider the dignity of the soul – your soul is worth more than materialism, you were born for greater things than material toys.

Notes:

  1. as in my current reading for Dead Puritans Society – see my last post also.

Christian Living

How easy is it to say sorry?

6th April 2017 — by stevepalf

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Thomas Brooks 1  points out that one of the Devil’s lies to the Christian is that saying sorry – repenting – is easy, so easy that we shouldn’t make too big a deal about sin. Here’s his imaginary quote from the Devil:

“Why! Suppose you do sin, it’s no such difficult thing to return and confess and be sorrowful and beg pardon and cry ‘Lord have mercy upon me’ and if you do this God will forgive your debt, pardon your sin and save your soul.”

Now I needn’t ask whether that’s true, the giveaway is that it’s a supposed quote from the father of lies, but in what way is it not true? How is it to say sorry, to truly repent? Well in reality it’s pretty difficult and Brooks takes some time to explain why but here are 2 highlights from his answer.

1. True repentance is difficult because it involves turning to good as well as from evil. The truth is that the tokenistic “soorrrrry” you said as a small child was inadequate because when you said it you didn’t really mean that you hated what you did and wished you’d done the right thing instead, you just wanted the problem to go away. So with repentance towards God. To mean sorry is to hate sin and love righteousness. It’s not only to not want to bear bad fruit it’s to want to bear good fruit.

Road test that idea with me for a moment. The husband who thinks rather little of getting angry with his wife and family because he can always apologise afterwards is fooling himself if he thinks genuine repentance is simply a regret for the negative consequences of his anger. To be genuinely sorry means loving peace, gentleness and tenderness. That’s more difficult and should make him think twice before losing it.

2. True repentance takes a mighty work of God in our hearts and isn’t something we can do ourselves. When Peter spoke to the Jewish Council in Acts 5 he tells them that the risen Jesus had been exalted at the right hand of God in order to “give repentance and forgiveness of sins” in other words repentance is something God alone can give through the power of the risen Son. So as Brooks says “repentance is a flower which does not grow in nature’s garden”. The Devil’s lie is that repentance is easy so sin needn’t be taken seriously, but the truth is repentance is costly because sin is deeply rooted in our hearts.

Again think through the implications. The temptation to gossip can be powerful and I might consider that the pleasure of sharing the news can easily be repented of later if I get caught out. But the reality is that for me to genuinely repent of gossip takes the power of a crucified, risen saviour which make gossip and altogether more serious thing that I should think twice before indulging in.

Notes:

  1. We’re currently reading “Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices” in our Dead Puritans Society, the book is 99p on the Kindle store and well worth reading. If you’d like to join DPS then just let me know