Church Life: Keep It Two Chevrons Apart

Hurry sickness plagues us all. Read this remedy.

Stephen McAlpine

keep-apart-2-chevrons-road-sign

As a pastor I make it my aim to encourage people to live life, and especially church life, in a “keep apart two chevrons” manner.  Let me explain.

If you’ve ever driven a UK motorway you’ll see the sign above as you hammer along at the usual twenty or thirty (miles) over the speed limit.  Chevron are those arrow signs, and they’re painted on the motorway for a good reason.

They’re there because the speed you are travelling will, over time, lull you into thinking you are not going as fast as you are.  It’s called speed intoxication.  It’s that feeling you get when you go slow down to go through a country town in rural Australia after two hours at maximum speed limit on an open road.  It feels like you’re crawling, until of course you hit something, or someone, and then you realise that 60kmh is just as…

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8 Considerations for Contemporary Worship from Chronicles

You may not think 1 Chronicles would be a place to find guidance for contemporary worship. After all, isn’t the book steeped in lots of language about rituals and rules and prescriptions?

Yes, but . . .Dancing David

Let’s remember the first audience to read 1 Chronicles – the returned exiles. The Jews spent years in exile, away from their homeland and the temple where God dwelled and now many of them were home. The important point to be made is this: how they came to be exiled was not lost on them. It was as fresh in their minds as if it happened yesterday. The sting still smarted. They were guilty and they knew it. Now that God made the way for their return, what they wanted to know was how not or never have it happen again. They knew what went wrong, now they wanted to get it right.

That’s the all-important historic frameworkof the story about David returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. David did a few things wrong but lots of things right. It wasn’t just about the prescriptions for the transportation of the Ark, but about the prescriptions for the heart.

So, without unpacking all that goes into these two summary chapters (15 and 16), here’s eight things we can learn from the episode in Israel’s life that applies to contemporary Christian worship.

  1. Contemporary worship no longer requires Mosaic rules or regulations. David didn’t pay attention to the Law of Moses that proscribed that the Levites carry the Ark on their shoulders. David ordered a new cart drawn by oxen to transport the Ark. When the oxen stumbled, the Ark toppled, Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark, God became angry and killed Uzzah. David was angry at God’s anger but later got the proscription right. All that to say, we are no longer obligated to Mosaic Law. Even though we know this, it’s important to know why – Jesus is the center of worship. He fulfilled all the rules and regulations of the temple because he replaces the temple. This must be stated up front even though there is no evidence in these two chapters. Jesus takes care of this in John 4.
  2. Reverence for God is still required. David knew that his anger at the Lord’s anger for “breaking out against Uzzah” was unwarranted and he replaced it with the proper response of the fear of the Lord. Our worship must rest on the same foundation of the fear of the Lord.
  3. Music! Music stirs the heart for worship and frees the lips to sing praises. The more musicians and singers the better! Luther was right: “I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In [summary] next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits.”
  4. Worship declares the judgments of God. Christ is to be praised for being the covenant promise that saves through the power and efficacy of his shed blood. That plan was God’s judgment since before the foundation of the world.
  5. Worship declares the miraculous deeds of God. God is to be praised for healing the man at the pool in Bethsaida (I’ve been reading John’s Gospel at the same time) as well as for healing the young mother with four children of cancer down the street. All God’s deeds, old and contemporary, are praise worthy.
  6. Worship declares the works of God. He is the God and Governor of creation, the life-giver (natural and eternal), our ransom from sin, the Savior and Redeemer.
  7. In worship, we condemn all idols. Jesus is above all other gods, to be held in awe because splendor and majesty and strength and joy satisfy the needs of our souls. Worship rids the soul of disordered lovers that still linger in our hearts.
  8. God’s work of salvation in Jesus is for all peoples of all nations to give them strength and joy.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

 

The Man After God’s Own Heart?

Can we agree that David was an imperfect man? Although God chose him to be the great ancestor of Jesus, he too was, in the words of John Newton, a great sinner in need of a great Savior. Though he committed adultery with Bathsheba, conspired to have her husband killed, took a census he should not have, wasn’t a model father, mourned more bitterly over the death of Absalom than was appropriate for a leader and gave his son Solomon a “hit list” to execute at his death, he claimed that he “walked in his integrity.” This means that David understood himself to be “complete,” “full,” “perfect,” “upright,” and “innocent.” Even God, who saw it all, agreed with David’s self-understanding. We know this because God favored David with the title: “a man after my own heart.”

It eluded me for years how David could make this claim. David wasn’t one to boast in his own accomplishments; he boasted in the goodness of God. And I understood that he walked in the promised righteousness of the (for him) coming Messiah, yet I winced whenever I read a psalm that said, “You have upheld me because of my integrity.” Did David really think he earned God’s favor because he attained a level of spiritual and moral perfection that obliged God? “May it never be!” Hard to imagine.

The statements David and God made could not be contradictory, much less wrong. So, during my scheduled reading through the Bible, I decided to pay careful attention to the things David did and said and what God said about it. I marked every place where I thought David’s heart was revealed with “D’s H.” It wasn’t until my reading took me to 1 Kings that I discovered the nugget of truth I’d been looking for.

The way to explain this will involve an observation about the story or the statements said (by David, God or others).

That’s what this series of blogs will be about. But the big goal is to see our hearts changed to be like David’s. Stay with me won’t you?

10 Things Lambs Pray For

We have friends that are going to be with family members that are not Christians this Christmas. Some of their comments lead me to believe that they expect to feel the pressure of being a Christian in an unwelcoming environment. You know the feeling: like lambs led to the slaughter.

christmas-lambThe other day when I was reading my Bible, but not particularly thinking about the situations my friends would encounter, I read the story of Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples. He sent them ahead of him to the places where he intended to go. He told them this was a “harvest” situation and to pray earnestly “to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:1-12). He gave them specific instructions about what to bring, where to stay, with whom to stay and what to do when they got there. When the disciples returned, they were filled with joy and stories about what happened. The most notable story was that they experienced the dark powers of demons “subject to [them] in [Christ’s] name!” Talk about thrilling! What could be better than knowing the powers of darkness were no match for the authority of Jesus in their service? Well, Jesus told them what was better: “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to  you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Lambs will always be weak and vulnerable and led to the slaughter, even when they are fully dependent on Jesus’ name for power to serve the kingdom of God. And no matter what happens, your name has a permanence of place.

As I read the rest of the chapter that tells the story of Jesus’ making his way to Jerusalem “to be taken up,” it occurred to me that the whole chapter was instructive for the prayer life of lambs who will go into hospitable and inhospitable places where Christ is to be magnified.

Here are ten things lambs can  pray for as they go to those place:

  1. Pray to be a faithful laborer because there are never enough of us.
  2. Pray for direction to places where peaceful people live.
  3. Pray for the sick and those oppressed by the powers of darkness for healing and deliverance.
  4. Pray for personal protection – you’re a lamb after all in need of the Shepherd’s presence at all times. Wolves are everywhere!
  5. Pray that you keep the right perspective – it’s not about demons being subject to you, it’s about your name written in heaven. Rest in that.
  6. Pray for opportunities to be a lamb-like neighbor. Show mercy at all times – even when you don’t feel like it.
  7. Pray for time to experience the “good portion” of being a lamb at sitting at Jesus’ feet.
  8. Pray to be convinced about Satan’s defeat and that the Father has revealed to you his gracious will.
  9. Pray to bring the kingdom of God near wherever you are.
  10. Pray for the same determination that Jesus had to do the Father’s will.

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How Do We Magnify the Lord?

telescopes Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat, taken from the first words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” How do we magnify God? Is it only with words? Luke portrays Mary as the model disciple who magnifies God with her life, too. In the simplest terms, to magnify the Lord means to “make much of Jesus,” as John Piper has defined it. We make Jesus big and attractive and admired by our words and actions and even in our thoughts.[1]

Piper reminds us that there are two kinds of magnifying: microscope magnifying and telescope magnifying.[2] The first makes small things look bigger than they are. The other makes big things that are far away look as big as they really are. “When David says ‘I will praise the name of God in song; I will magnify God with thanksgiving,’ he doesn’t mean, ‘I will make a small God look bigger than he is.’ He means, ‘I will make a big God look as big as he is with the ways I show and speak my gratitude,'” and I would add, bring him near so others can admire his value.

Piper uses this helpful analogy by calling Christians to become telescopes, not microscopes. Here is the idea for an application to our lives: our calling is to live in such a way that our lives make God look as great and as valuable as he really is and bring him near to others. What does that look like? According to Luke, Mary is our example.

In Mary, we see an example of someone who developed a life that does just that. As I reflected on Mary as a model of someone who makes much of God, I saw a pattern of five activities from her life that when combined have the power to transform us into telescopes of God’s worth.

  1. We make much of God by meditating on his word.[3] Mary “steeped” herself in God’s word through the practice of meditation. Christian meditation is like a tea bag steeping in hot water. Two things happen to steeped tea bags: they transform the color and taste of the water. God’s word transforms the way we think, act, and “taste” to others. This is the only way to account for the content of Mary’s song which has nearly fifty direct references or allusions to the OT Scriptures.[4] She let God’s word draw her in and rewrite the direction of her life. Mary let God’s word reshape her soul’s thinking and renew her affections for him. As a result, Mary had a mind and heart filled with a God-saturated theology.
  2. We make much of God by treasuring his promises.[5] Mary understood that God’s grace is mined by treasuring his promises. She kept alive all the events of the birth of Jesus, the words of Gabriel, the visits of the shepherds and Magi, the words of Simeon, and Anna and no doubt the words of Scripture. She held onto all these as from the Lord to help her face the most challenging times of her life during the ministry and execution of her Son. When we face the disappointments and confusion of life, treasuring God’s promises makes much of God because others would tell us to give up on him.
  3. We make much of God by serving him at the risk of reputation. What motivation did Mary have in the face of the inevitable spiteful gossip and crushing judgments of others? It was not from arguments against those judgments but the joy of serving the Lord in that way. She found personal strength and relief from fears as she put her trust in the mercy of God. She was quick and eager to do it because she savored the holy God whom she knew would not give her anything evil or unloving or impossible to endure. She knew that a holy God never makes mistakes in orchestrating the providences he brings into the lives of those humble enough to receive it.
  4. We make much of God by expressing gratitude for his mercy. Gratitude marks the heart of the person who loves God’s mercy. Knowing God’s mercy the way she did enabled Mary to accept from God’s hands even his mysterious providences. When we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives, we make much of him by expressing gratitude for his mercies.
  5. We make much of God by encouraging others in the obedience of faith. This is a practice that she shared with Elizabeth. Both women were eager to visit, not so much for the confirmation of the work of God, but as a way of encouraging each other in their respective roles in God’s plans. Their praise for God and for each other’s faith gave mutual strength to continue in their obedience.

As we enter into this Christmas season that is sometimes more a distraction to magnifying the Lord than a help, reflecting on Mary’s life as an example for our own worship and praise will bring us back to center. Mary’s focus was centered on the God who sent his Son into the world to save sinners and praised him for his mercy.

Remember: the calling of the Christian is to become a telescope for the world to “look through” and see the infinite wealth and value of the glory of God.

[1]1 Cor 10:31.

[2]John Piper, “How to Magnify God” [on-line]; accessed 5 December 2016; available from http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-magnify-god; Internet.

[3]Luke 1:29; 2:19, 51.

[4]Verse 41 = Gen 25:22-28; Malachi 4:2; v. 42 = Judges 5:24; Deut 28:1, 4; v. 43 = Ps 110:1; 2 Samuel 6:9; vv. 46-47 = Ps 34:1-3; Isaiah 26:9; Job 12:10; Daniel 3:39; 1 Sam 2:1; Habakkuk 3:18; v. 48 = Deut 22:23-23; 26:7;  1 Sam 1:11; 2:1-10;  9:16; v. 49 = Zephaniah 3:17; Deut 10:21; Isaiah 47:4; 57:15; Ezekiel 36:22-25; Malachi 1:11; v. 50 = Ps 103:17; v. 51 = Exodus 6:1, 6; Deut 3:24; 7:19; Isa 51:5, 9; 53:1; Ps 88:1; v.52 = Ezk  12:26; Ps 107:9; 1 Sam 2:5; Job 15:29; Jer 17:11; v. 54-55; Isa 41:8-9; 42:1; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3; Pss 97:3; 98:3; Micah 7:20.

[5]Luke 2:19.

22 Prayers for Your Bible Reading

kristen wetherell

Reading the Bible before praying is like putting the cart before the horse.

The proverbial horse is the Holy Spirit of God, who empowers and enlightens our Bible reading as we mine the depths of his Word. The proverbial cart makes up our willing eyes and hungry hearts, the Spirit-led choice to crack open our Bibles and pursue his everlasting truth.

The cart must be pulled by the horse; our efforts to read must be motivated and helped by God’s grace and power. Christians come to God’s Word willing and hungry because he first made us willing and hungry to receive—but only he can enable us to receive. This is why we ask for help before we start reading.

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Mocking the Toilet Habits of the Progressive gods

Such a good article!

Stephen McAlpine

…27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. 

…36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.37 Answer me, O Lord

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The Mighty Hand of God

   jesushand_thumb[1]            Two Hollywood movies came out this year depicting God’s mighty hand. I haven’t seen either  one, but I know the storylines. The first was Noah. We know how God showed his mighty hand in that era of history. The second is Exodus: Gods and Kings. It’s not Charleton Heston, but Christian Bale. We know how this turned out too. The intriguing thing about “God’s mighty hand” is that in both episodes of redemptive history, God’s hand has two sides to it: one in judgment; the other in salvation.

            The phrase itself appears seventeen times: sixteen in the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament. Peter used the phrase in his first letter to the exiles (i.e., Christians) to exhort his audience to fulfill their high calling in Christ even under the pressures of suffering and persecution. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (5:6, 7).

Usually, especially as far as Hollywood is concerned, God’s mighty hand makes for some spectacular storytelling and some jaw-dropping computer generated graphics. But an examination of the biblical uses of the phrase show what “he cares for you” has to do with “the mighty hand of God.”

Yes, God’s mighty hand was at work pouring down rain for forty days and sending water up from the great depths. But God’s mighty hand was strengthening Noah to build that massive ark of safety. Yes, God’s mighty hand brought ten plagues on Egypt, defeated her ten most powerful gods and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. But God took the children of Israel by their hand and by his mighty hand led them from slavery into freedom and a new relationship with the God.

That’s the amazing thing about God’s mighty hand for the humble – we get his face, too. God’s mighty hand reveals many things about God. First, his uniqueness; there is no other god like him (Deut 4:34).

Second, his hand only begins to show his greatness implying there is more of himself to reveal and do (Deut 3:24).

Third, his mighty hand is the subject matter of spiritual instruction in the home (Deut 6:21).

Fourth, it reveals his mercy, pure and simple (Deut 7:8).

Fifth, it is a means of comfort in times of fear of the future (Deut 7:19).

Sixth, it is motivation for love and obedience (Deut 11:2).

Seventh, it is the basis of tithing and generosity (Deut 26:1-11).

Eighth, it will affect non-believers who hear about it to seek God’s help furthering God’s reputation in the world (1 Kgs 8:42; 2 Chron 6:32).

Ninth, God’s mighty hand shapes his people into his image. God delivers, gathers and judges his people to remove idolatry from their hearts, and afterwards he renews them in a deeper relationship with God.

Tenth, God’s mighty hand is a reason to worship God (Deut 5:15). This is the only mention of God’s mighty hand in the Ten Commandments.

Have you considered how God’s mighty hand has been at work in your life? (See Eph 2:10!)

 

Jeremiah’s School of Preaching for Preachers

foolishness-of-preaching[1]

John Newton wrote a letter to a minister who was about to publish an article criticizing a fellow minister for “lack of orthodoxy.” The minister asked Newton’s advice about the article. Newton gave his friend three pieces of advice. The writer should consider the opponent and deal with him gently for the Lord’s sake, if he was a believer (2 Sam 18:5). If an unbeliever to deal with him graciously so that God might “give him repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth” (2 Tim 2:25).

Next, Newton recommended taking into consideration the various segments of the public who might read the article. There will be Christians and unbelievers; both will respond differently and not always kindly.

Finally, Newton wanted the writer to consider himself in the battle. He wanted to keep his friend from being hurt by the very thing he thought a remedy. He warned of how Satan might try to resist, obstruct and harm his own communion with God.

The basic message of Newton to his friend was to write in such as way as to bring glory to God. “If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to ur fellow creatures and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves . . . Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.”

Confrontational pastors (sometimes called polemic preachers) have a weighty spiritual responsibility. By nature, they will cause controversy. In our day of religious tolerance, the only intolerable thing left is to accuse anyone of having or delivering a false message. Down through the history of the church, pastors who have confronted false teachers and their teachings have sometimes done so in a harsh tone. Think of Luther or Calvin and you get the picture. Men passionate about the gospel and upholding biblical truth did so because the stakes of God’s glory were central and man’s final destiny decisive.

Granted, at times their diatribes were just that. However, they made significant points in their arguments defending the truth against those who despised it. Their target audience was believers vulnerable to deception. The tradition goes a long way back to both Old and New Testaments. Take Jude:

 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4) . . . just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire (v.7) . . . But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively (v. 10) . . . Woe to them! (v. 11).

I love Jude’s sustained intolerance of false teachers as he identifies their character traits:

 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever . . . These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (vv. 12-13, 16)

Probably not the thing you’d hear from the pastor of your church on Sunday as he warns about a nationally known false teacher!

Why did they do it? Because they loved God’s people who were vulnerable to deception. They also loved those who were not God’s people because they needed to hear the truth about the Living God whose words are life. Since it is that God who speaks “holy words,” there’s no place else to go that one could hear them.[1]

One thing you can learn from those who confront false teachers and teaching is what they value. It’s the flipside of the coin. As they denounce one thing, they uphold a noble commitment to another thing.

The OT prophet Jeremiah was like that. God called him to denounce the false prophets in his day who failed in their obligations to God and his people. Instead of preaching that would turn them away from sin and toward God in faith, they soothed the worried conscience that sinned with comforting words: “peace, peace” they’d say when God was clearly angry with his people for ignoring him.

This passage in Jeremiah 23 reminded me how important preachers are in the life of a church. The weekly exposition of God’s word may seem routine to some, but it is how God speaks to his people through his holy words handled faithfully by a faithful servant. Jeremiah’s opposition to the message of the false prophets reveals God’s approval for true shepherds. God’s people grow into Christlikness by his word preached, taught, read, listened to, discussed, memorized and meditated upon. There is no other way to be transformed except through the word’s Spirit illuminated and empowered word. It’s faithful preaching is central to the spiritual faithfulness of a local church.

In the next few blogs, I want to unpack at least ten preaching lessons from Jeremiah’s school for preachers and preaching.

Stay tuned. And pray for your pastor, his study time and his preaching!

 

[1]Jeremiah 23:9-40; 6:68, 69

 

 

‘Tis Wonderful to Me

When you read through the Gospel of John the next time, stop and reflect on the scene at the cross. In that painful, lonely, abandoned moment, the Son of God, is drinking deeply the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. Who can possibly imagine the hellish torment that Jesus suffered? It seems that words to describe that event might even be presumptuous.

Then pause for a moment longer to meditate on the brief scene between Jesus and the few who are present with him in his death. His mother is there with her sister, grieving as they watch Jesus die. Mary Magdalene is there and John — what might they be thinking? Probably about their loss; their grief; their empty futures.

In the middle of this cosmic battle for the redemption of souls, Jesus finds the strength to care for his mother’s future circumstances. He knows that the world is about to be flooded with mercy and the eternal destinies of millions of millions weighs on Jesus’ mind and shoulders. Yet, he finds the need of his mother and her friends too important to overlook.

In a commentary by Bruce Milne, a former pastor, was included this poem by Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), missionary to India, who might very well have lingered at this scene when she penned these words:

Lord of the brooding blue

Of pleasant summer skies,

Lord of each little bird that through

The clear air flies,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee.

 

Lord of the blinding heat,

Of mighty wind and rain,

The city’s crowded street,

Desert and peopled plain,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee.

 

Lord of night’s jeweled roof,

Day’s various tapestry,

Lord of the warp and woof

Of all that yet shall be,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee. 

 

Lord of my merry cheers,

My grey that turns to gold,

And my most private tears

And comforts manifold,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee.

As Milne points out, at the supreme moment of all history, Jesus revealed the heart of his Father in very personal ways.

Be of good cheer! ‘Tis wonderful news that he loves you!