Last night at a meeting at Maidenbower we heard a stonking sermon from Andy Young of Cheltenham on the preciousness of God’s word, highlighting how we out to receive it, our appropriate response to it, and the fearful rejection of it. In his introduction, Andy made reference to the video below about the Kimyal people:
That further reminded me of this video of Chinese believers receiving the Word of God in their own language for the first time . . .
. . . and of this video of Christians in Africa getting their own Bibles:
What is the Bible to you? Is it better than thousands of pieces of gold and silver? Do you treasure it? I am reminded of a famous sermon by John Rogers. What difference would losing your Bible make to you?
I doubt that many readers of this blog would know a brother by the name of Johnny Farese. Johnny was born with spinal muscular atrophy. By the time I had the privilege of meeting him in person, he had been unable to sit up for about ten years. He was paralysed in both arms and legs, his body twisted and passive. But, for a man who the doctors prophesied would not live beyond his eighth birthday, Johnny led a remarkably productive life. The quote which adorned almost all his emails was this: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.”
With these words understood in the light of God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus, Johnny set out to serve as he was able. He learned to code and for years maintained a mailing list for and a directory of Reformed Baptist churches, generating much mutual interest and fellowship. All this he did using an intricate arrangement of technology operated through a small tube.
I met Johnny when preaching at a conference in Florida. He listened to pretty much everything he could online, and – the day after the first sermon, when I went to see him – he gave me a lovely illustrated copy of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, to which I had referred in passing, which evidently coloured my preaching in Johnny’s eyes, and which he had immediately ordered as an expression of kind appreciation. We spoke about some of his labours, his hopes and his fears, the struggles and the joys of his condition. I spoke to his brother, Paul, and his wife and children, with whom Johnny lived, and whose selfless care of him brought its own challenges and burdens.
Johnny’s brief written testimony is here, and a few years ago he was featured in a television programme:
Johnny fell asleep in Christ last Lord’s day afternoon. He went to be with Christ, which is far better. His soul has left that battered and twisted body in which he sought to serve his Lord so faithfully and fruitfully. He is present with the Lord, his soul made perfect, his joy entire. He is now looking forward to the day when Christ returns, when his soul shall be reunited with his body, but not as it goes into the ground.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1Cor 15.42-54)
On that Lord’s day morning, I was preaching to the church which I serve on Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8.14-15). This woman was saved (and there are parallels with our deliverance from the fiery fever of sin); having been delivered, she served. Johnny knew what it was to have his soul delivered from sin, and he knew what it was to serve. The next time you are tempted to excuse yourself from duties, shirk present responsibilities, and let opportunities pass you by, you should remind yourself of a man who could move only his mouth and his eyes, and offered them readily and constantly to the Lord.
Johnny is still serving his Saviour. He will serve him forever, soon with a restored body to match his striving soul – full of strength and vigour, every capacity and faculty thoroughly enlivened and invigorated, knowing no hindrance or obstacle – in the new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells, and where sickness, sorrow, pain and trouble are long past.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis is in the building!
After three days of trying, I finally got a response from the good folks at WordPress telling me that because my blogging had been mainly reviews including Amazon links (which cannot be the main feature of the blog) they decided that the entire blog was out of bounds. I set all these up to run because I was away preaching in Northern Ireland for my good friends at Knockbracken, but apparently they fell foul of the WordPress badstuffbots, which – it seems – are averse to looking back more than about ten posts to see that this is not solely a review website.
Still, we live and learn, and hopefully I will remember to keep a few other things running alongside the reviews, which will remain a loveable feature of this blog.
So, thanks to those who let me know that there was a problem, thanks to both my readers for their patience while waiting for this blog to return, and I hope you will continue to enjoy the feast of good things I find while wandering.
Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons
Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Crossway (IX Marks), 2012, 176pp., paperback, $10.99
Although the lion’s share of this book is devoted to the eldership, the valuable space afforded to the diaconate is much appreciated, if only because helpful treatments of this office are much rarer. Anyabwile offers an antidote to the deacon as ornamental or obstructive, providing a template for a robust and meaningful contribution to the life of the church. The office of the elder is developed at greater length (although the language of “senior pastor” is employed, the underlying assumption seems to be that elders and pastors are one and the same). The author considers both the Scriptural qualifications and duties of the two offices in language that is simple, clear and warm. Those seeking a fairly full but accessible outline for officebearers in the church will appreciate the solid, Scriptural common sense of this volume, making it helpful as a checklist not only for churches seeking officers but also for men assessing themselves for office, whether already holding it or being considered for it. Evidently a horse out of the 9 Marks stable, this book is worthy of broad reach and careful consideration, especially as a fairly thorough introduction to the topic.
What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission
Greg Gilbert & Kevin DeYoung
Crossway, 2011, 288pp., paperback, $15.99
Contributing to the ongoing debate in the “young, restless and reformed” movement about the nature and scope of the gospel, this book is very much of its time, place, and sphere. Written in a chatty and popular style, and assuming a fair amount in terms of the buzzwords, personae, and tensions of the discussion, it attempts to ground, explain and defend the mission of Christ’s church as requiring her “to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father” (62). Given this conclusion, there may be some who – already so persuaded – find this book substantially redundant or simply irrelevant. The fact that it is written out of a specific milieu and addresses a specific issue limits it somewhat, given the assumptions that underlie so much of its discussion (for example, the different British social, political, religious and cultural perspectives – class? Anglicanism? – simply find no equivalent here). For all that, many of the questions raised and issues addressed need always to be considered, and for some already rightly persuaded, the authors’ sensitive and carefully-qualified acknowledgement of their opponents’ concerns make us ask whether or not, in embracing a particular notion, we may have missed other elements of the life of the church in the world. With plenty of insightful exegesis to support their assertions, attempts to define key terms, and helpful applications (especially to those still wrestling with these questions), there is much here to commend. Some up-front discussion and statement of the ecclesiological and eschatological perspectives and categories that so influence such discussions might have helped. Overall, those enmeshed in this debate as it is being worked out in 21st century America ought to read this book; those outside this sphere might find it a helpful prompt and reminder, but it will not be essential.
Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God
Crossway, 2011, 176pp., paperback, $14.99
Engaging critically with a book about affirmation is damned to appear churlish by its very nature. So, with little hope of seeming to be anything but a curmudgeon, off I trundle, hoping that my appreciation of the book will come through alongside any questions and concerns. And I do appreciate the book, because I have a constitutional inclination to consider what is still to be done rather than what has been done, and this is a helpful reminder of the rightness and value of affirming what there is of the image of God, in the best sense, in his creatures, both in terms of common and saving grace. Crabtree spends much of the first and quite lengthy chapter trying to demonstrate the Scriptural warrant his thesis – which I found instructive without being compelling, given the weight he assigns to this topic – with a fair amount of space demonstrating its compatibility with the distinctives of John Piper’s perspective. He moves on to address the simplicity and complexity of his proposition, before considering such matters as assumptions, mistakes, and correction (with what seems to be a fair amount of padding), closing with 100 (to me, sometimes cheesy) “affirmation ideas.” Again, while there is much to commend, I wonder if there may be more of character and culture here than Scripture: different people respond differently to affirmation and correction, and – while all need to be aware of the implications of overdoing either – I recall not only my own appreciation for the transparency and openness of American friends, but also their professed approval for the British capacity for straightforwardness and bluntness. All in all, I would wish to affirm this book and learn from it without endorsing its absolutism on the topic.
It is the darkness of the night that makes the dawn precious. It is the torment of pain that makes relief so sweet. It is the misery of sickness that makes recovery so valued. It is the grief of lostness that makes being found so wonderful. It is the emptiness of self that makes the fullness of Christ so delightful. It is the horror of the curse that makes the blessing of salvation so great. It is the weight of sin’s burden that makes its removal so overwhelming. It is the pain of rebellion that makes peace so dear. It is the distance of being cast out that makes the nearness of being drawn in so enticing. It is the frailty of the creature that throws the might and mercy of the Creator and Redeemer into sharp relief.
Read more at Reformation21.