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One of my readers, Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget, has a great post on forgiving and forgetting.

He suggests we get ‘Holy Spirit Alzheimer’s’:

What I mean by Holy Spirit Alzheimer’s is to forget what we must forgive, to heal the wounds in our hearts, to remember the good and forget the bad, to move on, to stay in relationship with people who have hurt us deeply. When God forgives, He forgets. Would we could do likewise.

He also says that his mother had Alzheimer’s, therefore, using this terminology is not one of disrespect to those who might directly or indirectly be affected by this horrible disorder.

However, last year, I had the opportunity to get Holy Spirit Alzheimer’s and was very glad I did. I also reached out to someone who decided to keep her memory for the time being, if you get my drift. That was disappointing, but I have forgiven her — and forgotten the past.

Life is too short to be holding grudges that have lasted for decades, particularly when they become irrelevant over time.

In October 2014, the controversial Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll resigned from the network of Mars Hill churches which he founded 18 years ago.

The last service at the original church in Ballard, Washington, took place on Sunday, December 28, 2014 (H/T: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod).

Sadly, the interim pastor and congregation seemed happy to listen to and watch a 45-minute sermon from Baptist pastor Rick ‘Purpose-driven Church’ Warren. Will people never learn?

Mars Hill comprised a number of churches in five states in the western US. On New Year’s Day 2015, these were either closed or assumed new independent identities. The Ballard church is now known as the Cross & Crown. It still meets in the converted hardware store.

Not surprisingly, between October and December, many congregants left the Mars Hill church network. Many of us pray that they find suitable congregations where the leadership is truly faithful to the Gospel, instead of exhibiting a macho-man aggression.

I echo Seattle Times reader Ugmo’s sentiment in the comments following the paper’s December 28 article on the Ballard church’s final service:

Those left looking for a new home for their faith might want to consider returning to a mainline Protestant church… Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist… No rants, no big video screen, no “Jesus rock and roll.” Instead, clergy with actual seminary educations, a focus on thoughtful, complex theology, good music, social outreach, tolerant politics, charity and community.

May God’s grace guide the Mars Hill people towards the true Good News — and a good church community.

John F MacArthurOne of John MacArthur’s recent blog posts discussed the importance of private Bible reading and meditation in line with Scripture.

His method for understanding the New Testament is to read each chapter 30 times. He has done this himself successfully.

Alternatively, one can always read the whole Bible over the course of a year. Grant Horner, one of MacArthur’s employees — a professor of English at The Master’s College — has a reading schedule which takes only 30 minutes a day. The various passages read like newspaper or magazine articles. Old and New Testament readings are interspersed. I followed this myself and it works beautifully. I read the whole Bible a few years ago and only regret I didn’t do so earlier.

MacArthur is correct in saying that the more we read the Bible, the better we grasp its meaning. I would recommend the Grant Horner method first, then, after having read the whole Bible, read each chapter of the New Testament 30 times. The same can then be done with the Old Testament.

Now onto MacArthur’s thoughts on private Bible reading and personal meditation. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

you ought to have God’s Word running around in your mind all the time. If you’re reading a portion of the New Testament thirty times in a row, as previously suggested, it will penetrate and shape your thinking. It should lead to meditation

The word meditate can evoke thoughts of empty minds and eastern religions. But it is more likely that Hindus and Buddhists borrowed the term from the Bible … From the time of Joshua’s military conquest of Canaan, we hear the Lord instructing His people to meditate on God’s Word (Joshua 1:8). So what does meditate mean? Biblically, it means to focus your mind on one subject.

In Deuteronomy, God tells His people that they should bind His words, “as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals to your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:8–9). God says He wants His Word everywhere.

David highlighted the role meditation plays in our sanctification when he wrote the first Psalm. The blessed man is one who meditates both day and night on God’s law rather than seeking counsel in the fellowship of unbelievers (Psalm 1:1–3). It is the key to his perseverance and fruitfulness as a child of God.

Meditation is no less needed today. We live in a culture that continually assaults us with distractions through billboards, television, the Internet, and more. God says that we should keep His Word perpetually in front of our eyes, filling our minds and conversations wherever we go.

This is marvellous advice for the week ahead. May it become a lifelong practice.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s Forbidden Bible Verses examined Luke 17:20-27, wherein Christ discusses the kingdom of God.

In Matthew 24, our Lord explained that the world would endure many travails before that time.

Today, many believers over the age of 50 wonder what happened to our secure Western world where, even when people didn’t attend church often, our societies respected biblical values.

John MacArthur’s monthly letter for September 2014 discusses the Church’s travails today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Perhaps, like me, you grew up in America when there was widespread, cultural Christianity. There was a kind of Christian consensusTo some degree, people understood the church, the Bible, and the gospel.  They accepted the Judeo-Christian ethic.  While most people weren’t genuine Christians, there was still superficial acceptance—or, at least, tolerance—of a cultural Christianity in politics, business, education, and public life.

But where are we today?There is no more cultural Christianity; there is no collective Christian consensus wielding any significant power in this country.  In fact, the more biblically that true Christians speak and live, the more they are being labeled as extremists, homophobic, intolerant, and guilty of hate crimes.  We are now aliens.  And I think we can all foresee a day when being a faithful Christian will cost us or our children dearly, and in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a decade ago.  I think we’re closer than ever to living in conditions like the people did in the book of Acts.

His letter says that the first Christians, a number of whose experiences feature in Acts, led difficult lives with some dying as martyrs for the faith.

Although many mainstream American clergy would say that Western churchgoers are far from being persecuted, the trend in Europe is towards a continuous denigration of Christianity which started in the last century and ramped up gradually after the Second World War. The same trend is coming to the United States, just at a slower rate of speed.

MacArthur also takes issue with churchgoers who think along extremist lines as well as those who adopt an everyone-is-saved outlook:

For years I’ve been concerned by the church’s pursuit of cultural change through political and social activities.  Large swaths of Christians have placed enormous time, energy, money, and hope in the wrong placesHand in glove with that thinking, superficial, cultural Christianity has blurred the clear lines between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world, and has softened the hard demands of the gospel, making professing Christ easy and without cost.  As a result, churches have been filled with highly religious, superficially moral, self-righteous people who don’t understand the gospel and are self-deceived about their true spiritual state.

We’re in a lot of trouble, certainly.

That said, MacArthur sees a silver lining now that Christianity stands in such sharp relief against an increasingly secular world.

His solution is a simple yet powerful one:

Scripture teaches and church history confirms that the Body of Christ is most potent and most effective when it simply speaks and lives the gospel without equivocation or apology.  With the mask of superficial Christianity gone, I believe the best days for the spread of the true gospel are ahead of us.

The gospel advances by personal testimony to Christ, one soul at a time.  When the church acts like the church; when shepherds preach Scripture and confront error with clarity and boldness; when believers are sanctified, built up, and equipped in truth; people are saved.  And that’s when the culture truly changes—nothing transforms the culture like genuine conversion.

As Christ said (Luke 17:21):

the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

MacArthur echoes this:

Our confidence is in Christ and His perfect, powerful Word.  Nothing brings us greater joy than seeing that confidence spread in and through God’s people, to His glory and honor.

I know a vicar who is determined that his congregation do something ‘big’ and bombastic (in the nicest sense of the word) for their local community. Thankfully, no one has contributed any suggestions as to what this might be. Still, he perseveres because he says that our God is a ‘great, mighty’ God. Therefore, they must do something works-based to show their faith.

So wrong on so many levels!

Isaiah 64:6 says:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

If this vicar and his congregation were to adopt MacArthur’s long-standing approach of preaching and teaching nothing but Christ through Holy Scripture, then they truly would be honouring a great and mighty God. This doesn’t mean giving sermonettes and handing out tracts on street corners, but it does require that believers competently answer questions on what they believe and why they believe it. This involves prayer and regular Bible reading. The latter, in particular, moves us away from error and easy-grace Christianity.

May the wisdom of the Holy Spirit prevail upon them and us to adopt John MacArthur’s decades long — and highly successful — one-soul-at-a-time conversion to biblical Christianity.

May God continue to bless those converts and those who have returned to the faith after a long absence.

The Revd Walter Bright has an excellent post on the short New Testament book of Philemon.

Philemon might not be well known to some Christians, but, as ‘Refreshing Times of Reconciliation’ explains, it is nonetheless an important letter which St Paul wrote to one of his converts Philemon concerning the man’s slave Onesimus, who also converted.

Philemon is loath to forgive Onesimus for stealing from him then fleeing to Rome. Paul counsels Philemon, encouraging him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

Bright’s post gives us a concise exegesis with concordance of the letter to Philemon in a seven-step route to reconciliation. Here is a brief sampler:

3. There is always a time of refreshing when we humble ourselves in the process of reconciliation… See verse 10 ( I appeal)

4. There is always a time of refreshing when we validate one another…  when we recognize the worth of others… See verse 11

6. There is always a time of refreshing when we see each other clearly… See verse 16; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17 (no longer a slave but a brother)

Then comes this superb observation:

After reading the book of Philemon, we come across the names of God and Christ, but not once is the Holy Spirit mentioned. But, I can tell you, by the time you get through these [‘]7 refresh my heart challenge[s’] Paul gives to Philemon, you are in for a mighty moving of the Spirit of God. The Spirit will release his presence in ways you’ve never experienced.

If you haven’t read Philemon before, now is the time. Then, read Bright’s post with its encouraging words.

John F MacArthurMany unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.

They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.

Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.

To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.

John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.

The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):

Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”

An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.

Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.

 

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s blog post of June 30, 2014, ‘Sin and the Work of the Spirit’, warns Christians against easy conversions and describes what conversion really means.

MacArthur takes the epistle 1 John for his primary text and supports it with passages from Paul’s letters and other books of the New Testament.

He explains:

John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation.

Adding:

The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.

Also (italics in the original):

The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process).

MacArthur’s post is a good one for Christians to read and understand, especially if they are new or returning to the faith.

With regard to St John’s epistles — letters — I did a series on them two years ago. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors could not include more in their readings for public worship.

They can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page and are as follows for 1 John. Many of them contain excerpts from John MacArthur’s sermons and reveal John the Divine’s blueprint for Christian living:

1 John 2:3-11 – Commandments, obedience, light, darkness, love of neighbour

1 John 2:12-17 – speaking to converts as they are in sanctification, countering worldliness

1 John 2:18-29 – antichrists, false teachers, belief in Christ

1 John 3:9-13 – sin, love one another, unbelievers, Cain, first murder, hate

1 John 3:14-18 – love one another, hate akin to murder

1 John 3:19-24 – assurance, conscience

1 John 4:1-6 – discernment, antichrist, the world, faith, belief

1 John 4:7-13 – Christian love, Christ as propitiation

1 John 4:14-21 – perfect love, God loved us first

1 John 5:7-13 – Holy Trinity, unbelief, Christ’s blood and water

1 John 5:14-21 – truth of and confidence in Jesus Christ, faith, prayer, sin, Satan and the world, beware of idols

praying-handsThe closest I get to praying for those who have seriously wronged me in the past is to send a blanket prayer of asking God’s blessing on everyone in the world.

I mean it. It is sincere and I do hope God blesses them. That includes my enemies.

However, for those of us who are our own worst critics, finding out that someone else is piling on the dirt needlessly is, well, nearly unforgiveable. Yet, Scripture tells us we must forgive those who offend us. And those words are in the Lord’s Prayer.

The Revd Walter Bright has an excellent post on the subject called ‘Bitter Free’.

In it, he says that the best way to reach them is not by lecturing them but by showing them a godly and Christian example.

What follows is an excerpt, so please be sure to read his entire post (emphases mine):

The hardest thing to do is to pray for people who don’t like you, could care less about you and are mean-spirited toward you. It’s even more difficult to preach or teach to these same people without being bitter toward them in your sermons. Our calling is to pray for the people of God and not punish them for their sins toward us. We easily fall into sin when we fail to do the first thing – commit to prayer. You will never fulfill the second part of this calling if you fail to obey the first. A lot of pastors use their preaching as pay back to mean-spirited church folk. I have done that before and it is wrong

º Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
º Be angry and sin not
º Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath
º Give no opportunity to the devil
º Let the peace of Christ rule your heart
º Cast all your anxieties and care upon Jesus – He cares

His post contains a very useful compilation of ways we can commit to praying for our enemies — and, possibly, encourage them to mend their differences with us.

If you, like me, find praying for a specific nemesis — past or present — difficult, this is a post well worth consulting.

Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget has a thought-provoking post on a few famous men of letters.

In it, he says (italics in the original):

It amazes me that people can read Hemingway and not turn to God. They embrace his hopelessness and rail against God. His message led him to commit suicide at 61. The Bible says: You will know the tree by its fruit. In other words: Before you buy into someone’s message, see if it worked for that person, at least.

Fellow Christians cannot help but agree. Some would say not to read the writings of such men, yet, Ashcraft enjoys Hemingway as a storyteller, not as someone whose outlook on life should be followed.

Please read his post to find out more of what about happened to Hemingway and other faithless men of letters such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomThe Revd Walter Bright’s site is well worth a visit for words of conviction and inspiration.

A few weeks ago I referred to his helpful post on various types of prayer.

His post ‘Joy is strength: How can I increase it?’ is another thought provoking entry.

Over the past 35 years, the notion of personal ‘happiness’ seems to have overridden our former and greater priorities.

I remember in the late 1970s when young people used to ask each other, ‘Are you happy?’ Hmm.

It’s difficult to be happy when you’re at university or just starting out in the world. So many things interrupt or delay that temporal — and fleeting — feeling. It seemed a silly question to ask at the time. It still is.

Mr Wright puts things in perspective for us with regard to happiness — and joy. We often confuse the two. Excerpts from his post follow; please visit his site to read it in full.

He uses Nehemiah 8:10 as his text:

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

He introduces the biblical context of the word:

Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “a feelings of great happiness” but there is something much richer and deeper from God’s word about the word. This is because joy is more of an “elevated and spiritual kind.”

and elaborates further (emphases in the original):

Joy is God’s will 

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13. It is his will for us to serve with joy, have joy in difficult times and grow in joy. 

Joy comes bursting out of salvation

Psalm 126:1-3: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth were filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Joy is a gift from God through salvation.

This part particularly resonated with me:

Joy is not happiness 

2 Corinthians 7:14.

“I have confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering.”

The word happy comes from the same word as happen. When things are going great, we are happy. Joy, however, no matter what’s happening – you still have it.

If the joy of The Lord is my strength, then the more joy I have the more strength I get.

If you want to find out how to increase your joy and become stronger spiritually, follow Wright’s inspiring — and surprising — advice.

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