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Grace based forgiveness Page 4 The Law and the Gospel (Part 4) Page 7 A

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IN THE ANGEL’S DEN Daniel 6:16-23 & Matthew 27:57-28:10 (Page 6) AUTUMN 2018 £1.75
IN THE ANGEL’S DEN
Daniel 6:16-23 & Matthew 27:57-28:10
(Page 6)
AUTUMN 2018 £1.75

Philippians 1 v 9-11

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Philippians 1:9-11

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CONTENTS

03

First word

04

Grace-based Forgiveness Philemon v1-7

07

The Law and the Gospel. Part three: How to apply God’s Law

09

In the Angel’s Den Daniel 6:16-23 and Matthew 27:57-28:10

12

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 Living in the Light of Jesus’s Return

15

From the churches

21

Praise & Prayer

23

Bookshop reviews

24

Best of the blogs

FIRST WORD

On the 12th of August this year at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe – a spacecraft about the size of a small car, which will travel closer to the sun than any manmade object has ever done before. The probe is designed to withstand temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the sun itself is about 3.5 million degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that the Parker Solar Probe will still have to stay almost 4 million miles away from the sun; any closer, and it would be obliterated.

I n just a small way, this illustrates for us the utter impossibility of sinful people like us drawing close to

the God who is himself white-hot holiness. He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16). For a sinner to draw near to him would mean being utterly swallowed up in his righteous judgement.

How amazing, then, that through Jesus the way to God has been opened up for us! Jesus himself has suffered the full force of God’s wrath against all of our sin at the cross. Carrying our sin, Jesus underwent the divine judgment that we deserve because of our sin, once and for all, so that for those in him there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1).

Furthermore, having lived an entirely spotless life of holiness, fulfilling all of the demands of God’s law, Christ’s perfect righteousness is counted to us when we trust in him. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Thanks to Christ’s perfect obedience in his life

Thanks to Christ’s perfect obedience in his life and death, sinners like us can be forgiven of their sin and counted righteous before God, through faith in their Saviour. Through Jesus, we can draw near to the holy God with confidence, “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22).

Give thanks to God that, through Jesus and all that he has accomplished on our behalf, we have been forgiven of all of our sin, clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness, and reconciled to a holy God forever!

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

Philemon v21-25

Grace-based Forgiveness

21 Confident of your obedience, I write

to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

22 At the same time, prepare a guest

room for me, for I am hoping that through your

prayers I will be graciously given to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be

with your spirit.

A s we have looked together at this wonderful little letter to Philemon,

we have seen that it is a letter thoroughly shaped by the grace of the gospel. By grace, Philemon had been saved, and by grace he was now to forgive and welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus. As we come to the closing verses of the letter, the theme of grace continues. I’m giving this final section the title, ‘grace-based ministry’. That is, Paul is demonstrating through his words here what it means to do ministry together as the church on the basis of grace. Of course, that is important for us as a church as well, isn’t it? As we serve together on a Sunday, and as we serve alongside one another in the various different ministries throughout the week, what will it look like for us to do that on the basis of the grace of the gospel?

4

As we look at this final paragraph, we can notice five aspects of grace-based ministry. That is, five ways in which, by drawing on and reflecting the grace that we have been shown in Christ, we can follow his example and serve in such a way that we give ourselves

freely, laying aside personal interests, and bearing personal cost, for the sake

of others.

1) Abundant obedience

Remember what Paul had asked Philemon to in this letter. Paul had asked if Philemon would act towards his thieving, runaway servant, Onesimus, with sheer grace. He had asked if Philemon would refrain from throwing the book at Onesimus, and instead that he would forgive him and welcome him back as a brother. That is what Paul is referring to there, at the start of verse 21, when he says, “confident of your obedience, I write to you.” Paul, remember, knows Philemon personally. They had met, about 6 years beforehand, in Ephesus, when Paul had led Philemon to Christ. And then, for

a while, they had worked together in

gospel ministry in Ephesus. So Paul knew Philemon well. And that’s why Paul is so confident as he writes this letter, that when Philemon reads it, he will respond in the right way. He knows what kind of a man he is. As

he has mentioned already in verses 5 and 7, Philemon was a man with

a reputation for showing great love

towards his brothers and sisters in

Christ. And so Paul feels very confident that Philemon will act this way even towards Onesimus as well, even though Onesimus clearly didn’t deserve it! However, look at what Paul says there

in the rest of verse 21:

“Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” Paul was confident that Philemon wouldn’t just be obedient, but in fact that he would be abundantly obedient. Paul was asking a lot of him, but he was confident that Philemon would do even more than he was being asked. Paul doesn’t spell out what he means by this, but we can assume that he means that Philemon won’t just welcome Onesimus back as part of the family, but that he will pull out all of the stops in doing

that. A bit like the father in the parable of the prodigal son who didn’t just welcome back his son, but even threw

a lavish party for him, Philemon will

give Onesimus a wonderfully generous welcome. His ministry in the church in Colossae will be based on grace in that he will be abundantly obedient to what Paul is asking of him, and he will pour out undeserved love on Onesimus.

Our context is of course very different

to the unique set of circumstances in

which Philemon found himself. But, nonetheless, we ought to ask ourselves, “as I serve in the ministry of my local church, what will it look like for me not just to be obedient to Christ, but to be abundantly obedient to him?” That is, to pull out all the stops, and go the extra mile, as I serve Christ and serve others. Paul says to the church in Rome, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:10-

11)

As we serve with that mindset of abundant obedience, we are of course following in the footsteps of Jesus, who, out of sheer grace, was abundantly obedient in his ministry for our sake. As you seek to give yourself to obedience to God in ministry, look to the perfect obedience of Christ. In Philippians chapter 2, Paul says that Jesus, “Being found in human form… humbled himself by becoming obedient…” And how obedient was he? Paul continues, “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That’s the standard of abundant obedience that has been set for us to follow, as we do ministry on the basis of grace. Laying aside selfish interests, and giving of ourselves sacrificially with abundant obedience modelled on Christ himself.

2) Hospitality

Paul continues, “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me.” Remember, as Paul writes this letter, he is under house arrest in Rome. But Paul is hoping that, sometime soon, he is going to be released. And, if so, then one thing that he hopes to do is to go and visit this church in Colossae and stay at Philemon’s house. In our first article in this series, we commented how Philemon must have had a fairly decent sized house. He was

wealthy enough to employ at least one servant. His lounge was big enough

for the church to hold their worship services there. Also, he clearly had at least one spare bedroom as well. Paul

is saying to Philemon here, “Philemon,

would you be willing to use that very nice house of yours for the sake of gospel ministry?” Of course, Philemon is already doing that, because he is opening the doors of his house every Sunday for the church to gather there. He is already showing hospitality for the sake of his brothers

and sisters in Christ. And here’s another opportunity to show hospitality for the sake of gospel ministry; by providing

a place for the apostle Paul to stay,

should he be able to come and visit soon. This is a very simple, very practical way that you can be involved in grace- based ministry: simply by showing hospitality to others: opening up your home so that others can be blessed and encouraged by the fellowship that they

find there. Do you know a Christian who

is struggling or discouraged in some

way? Very simply, here’s one thing you can do for them: invite them round. Have them over for a coffee or for a meal. This is what grace-based ministry looks like in practise. Now, perhaps you are thinking, “but how on earth will Paul get to go and visit Philemon in Colossae, if Paul is imprisoned in Rome?” That leads us to the next aspect of grace-based ministry, which is prayer.

3) Prayer

Paul continues, “for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.” Paul’s expectation is that Philemon, and indeed that whole congregation in Colossae, will give themselves to the work of praying for Paul, and in particular for his release from prison so

that he can continue his ministry. Notice that Paul doesn’t even ask for prayer in this letter; he simply assumes that this church is praying for him; calling out to God that Paul would be freed from his imprisonment soon, and graciously given to them. When God intends to do a great work amongst his people, usually the first thing he does is to stir up his people to pray. And, perhaps especially in the context of Paul’s letter to Philemon, there is a call to devote ourselves in particular to praying for believers who are being persecuted or imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. It’s through the prayers of his people that persecuted Christians are delivered and set free. It’s through the prayers of his people that suffering Christians receive comfort. Let’s be faithful in giving ourselves to praying in this way. This reference to his own ongoing imprisonment reminds Paul of the fact that he is not the only Christian who is imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. This leads us to the fourth aspect of grace-based ministry here, which is a willingness to suffer.

4) A willingness to suffer

Paul mentions “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner.” Epaphras is a very significant person for the church in Colossae. Remember how Philemon was converted under the ministry of Paul when Paul was in Ephesus, even though Philemon was actually from Colossae? By God’s providence, Philemon happened to be visiting Ephesus whilst Paul was there. Well, exactly the same thing happened with this man Epaphras as well. He also lived in Colossae, but he too happened to be visiting Ephesus, perhaps on business, whilst Paul was there, and he too was converted under Paul’s ministry. And he then went back home to Colossae, and he was the one who

started the church in Colossae, which in time started to meet in Philemon’s house. In Colossians 1:6-7, Paul says to this church, “you heard [the gospel] and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.” So Epaphras, it appears, was the first minister of the church in Colossae. But now Epaphras has left Colossae and is working closely with Paul in his ministry. He, too, is now imprisoned for that. He is Paul’s “fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus.” Grace-based ministry means a willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel. For us, living in this country, it may not mean imprisonment (though, of course, for many thousands of Christians across the world that is exactly what it means.) But, wherever you are, to give yourself to grace-based ministry always means a willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel. As Paul puts it elsewhere, to be considered the scum of the world (1 Corinthians 4:13). Or, as Jesus puts it, to take up your cross and deny yourself, and follow him. Once again, Christ is our supreme example in this. In his grace-based ministry, he demonstrated willingness to suffer, for our sake. He endured the cross, despising its shame. That is the sort of treatment, in kind though not necessarily in degree, that we should expect as well, as we give ourselves to gospel ministry. The apostle Peter writes, “if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20-21)

5) A readiness to forgive

After mentioning his fellow prisoner, Epaphras, Paul also mentions four other fellow-workers. Of those four

other names, there is one that should really stand out to us in the context of this letter. And that is the name Mark. Perhaps you know the story of Mark from the book of Acts. You can find the key passage at the end of Acts chapter 15. This man Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on part of the first missionary journey. However, at some point on that journey he deserted them. He gave up on the ministry, and he went back home to Jerusalem. This really upset Paul. It hurt him deeply that Mark had treated him in that way. It all came to a head when Paul was planning his second missionary journey. Barnabas (who was Mark’s cousin) thought it would be a good idea to take Mark with them again. But Paul would not have it. Paul didn’t trust Mark. He didn’t want him deserting the work half way through a journey again. And this caused a sharp disagreement to arise between Paul and Barnabas. It was the reason why they separated, and went their different ways at the end of Acts

15.

That’s why Paul’s comment here is so significant. He’s writing this letter a few years after that, and here he counts this same man Mark as one of his fellow workers, once again. In fact, at the end of second Timothy (which is Paul’s last letter that we have), Paul says to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” You can see why that relationship between Paul and Mark is so significant in the context of this letter, can’t you? If I can put it like this, Mark is Paul’s Onesimus. In other words, just as Onesimus sinned against Philemon and deserted him, before being forgiven and welcomed back as a brother, that is essentially what happened between Paul and Mark as well. Mark sinned against Paul, he deserted him, but at some point later, Mark went back to Paul, and Paul

forgave him and welcomed him back into his ministry team. Just as Onesimus has lived up to his name by becoming useful to Philemon (v11), Paul says in 2 Timothy 4, Mark is useful to me. It’s exactly the same Greek word that he uses to describe Mark and Onesimus. At one point they were both useless, but now they have both become useful. And just as Paul is asking Philemon to be ready to forgive Onesimus, Paul has already demonstrated his readiness to forgive a co-worker who had let him down and hurt him and sinned against him. This is what grace-based ministry looks like. Abundant obedience in how we serve, hospitality to our brothers and sisters in Christ, prayer for needy Christians, a willingness to suffer ourselves for the sake of the gospel, and, when necessary, even the readiness to forgive those with whom we serve, and then get on with the work. The last line of the letter shows us how all of that is possible. Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” In that verse, the word “your” is plural, but the word “spirit” is singular. So Paul is speaking to the ‘collective spirit’ of the whole church family there. He’s saying to them all, not just to Philemon, but to the whole church in Colossae:

“would you conduct your ministry on this basis? By grace, would you give yourselves to abundant obedience, hospitality, prayer, a willingness to suffer, and a readiness to forgive? That’s what your ministry as a church ought to look like. And it will only be possible if the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is with your spirit.”

I n this series of articles we have been exploring the nature of the relationship between God’s law and God’s gospel. In the first two articles we saw two errors into which we can easily fall; legalism and antinomianism. The legalist wrongly uses God’s law to displace the gospel. The antinomian abuses God’s gospel to displace his law.

In the third article we considered how to read the Old Testament law as Christians, noting the distinctions that can be made between the civil, ceremonial and moral aspects of the law.In this fourth and final article we will consider how to apply God’s law practically. How ought God’s (moral) law impact upon our lives as Christians? To help us answer this question, we will unpack the three uses of the law; the law as a curb, a mirror, and a guide.

The law as a curb (the ‘civil’ use of the law)

When you’re driving along in your car, the curb is there at the side of the road in order to stop you from veering off in a dangerous direction. It keeps you roughly on track. The curb doesn’t make you into a wonderful driver, but it is there to keep you within certain limits.

In a similar way, when God’s moral law is in the hands of

a government or a civil magistrate, it is a means by which

that society is prevented from veering off in a dangerous

direction. This use of the law doesn’t transform everyone

in the land into people who love God’s law, but it does help

to keep society roughly on track. Even for unbelievers, the awareness that God’s law says “don’t do that!”, and “do do this!”, and the fact that they will face punishment if they go against that law, is enough to restrain sinful behaviour. As Paul writes in Romans 13:3-4, “rulers are not a terror to good

The Law and the Gospel

Part three:

How to apply God’s Law

conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.”

It’s for that reason that the Ten Commandments formed the basis of the laws of this country, and many other countries around the world. In such circumstances, the moral law of God is being used in that ‘civil’ sense. That is why it is so concerning when we see new laws being passed which are clearly contradictory of God’s moral law. The moral law ought to be used to curb society in order to restrain sinful behaviour and keep things on track.

And so, when those laws are changed, it is as if the curb is being taken away, and society is being allowed to pursue a trajectory which is only going to be harmful in the end.

The law as a mirror (the ‘pedagogical’ use of the law)

As the book of James tells us, God’s law is like a mirror in which we see ourselves (James 1:23-25). We come to see that all is not as it should be in our lives, and that we fall so short of God’s standards. As Paul says, it is through the law that the knowledge of sin comes (Romans 3:20).

Therefore, the law makes us feel convicted as sinners, and convinces us that we need a Saviour to rescue us from our sin and all its consequences. So the law, like a teacher, tells us that we need Jesus, and drives us to him. In other words, the law tells us we need the gospel!

Once again, do you see how the law and the gospel relate to one another here? They are not in competition with

one another. In God’s wisdom, his law and his gospel work hand in hand. The law drives us to the gospel, and points us to a Saviour who has fulfilled all of the law’s precepts, and suffered all of the law’s penalty, on our behalf. Only by trusting in him can we be declared right by God, justified by faith alone, in Christ alone, who has alone kept the law in our place.

But then, the big question is, beyond that is there any ongoing role for the law in the life of the Christian, after the law has pointed them to Christ?

This is where the antinomian rings the bell and gets off. The antinomian says, “thank you very much law, you’ve got me to Christ, and I’ll not be needing you anymore. The gospel now displaces you, thank you very much.”

That’s where the antinomian gets it so wrong, because there is what we call the third use of the law. That is, the law as a guide.

The law as a guide

What do we do, as people who have looked into the mirror of God’s law, and realised that we need a Saviour, and have fled to Jesus, and found forgiveness in him? The answer is that we then seek to obey the law!

Contrary to the antinomian, who sees no abiding authority of God’s law over them once they have professed faith in Jesus, Jesus himself says, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” (Luke 16:17) As someone has paraphrased this verse, “creation itself is more likely to pass into oblivion than the law is likely to fail.”

Perhaps that seems a bit extreme to you – like Jesus is overstating the point here. Why is the law of God of more abiding significance even than creation itself? Simply because, as we have seen, the moral law of God is a reflection of the character of God himself. God’s law cannot lose its authority over us any more than God’s character can implode. Of course the law of God is of more abiding significance than the creation, because God’s law is defined by the creator himself!

J.C. Ryle explains this point well:

“The honour of God’s holy law needs continually defending in the present day. On few subjects does ignorance prevail so widely among professing Christians. Some appear to think that Christians have nothing to do with the law,– that its moral and ceremonial parts were both of only temporary obligation,–and that the daily sacrifice and the ten commandments were both alike put aside by the gospel. Some on the other hand think that… we are to be saved by obedience to the law… Both these views are erroneous and unscriptural. Against both let us be on our guard.”

Why, then, do we keep the law, if we have already received God’s acceptance in Christ? Not simply because we have to, though we are still obliged to. And certainly not because we are trying to earn our way into God’s good books, but rather we obey God’s law out of gratitude to him for all he has done for us in Christ, and because in fulfilment of God’s promises in the new covenant, the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within our hearts, and God’s law has been written on our hearts, and with those new hearts we now delight to live to please God. We long to be more like him, so we love to obey the law that reflects his character.

The apostle John writes, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3)

His commandments are not burdensome to us because now it is our delight to obey the Father who has loved us. Of course, our obedience to God’s law is never perfect in this life, and any amount of obedience we do render is only ever possible by the work of the Holy Spirit empowering us, but nonetheless, in his strength we strive to obey God’s law, because we love it, and we love him. God’s law guides our obedience, and God’s Spirit drives our obedience.

As we draw this series of studies to a close, do you see this fascinating relationship between God’s law and God’s gospel? The law leads us to the gospel, and the gospel leads us to the law. This is how Ralph Erskine, the eighteenth century Scottish preacher, described, in poetic terms, this dynamic between the law and the gospel:

“When once the fiery Law of God Has chased me to the Gospel Road Then back unto the holy law Most kindly Gospel-grace will draw”

Or, in the words of the Puritan author, Samuel Bolton:

“The law sends us to the gospel, that we may be justified, and the gospel sends us to the law again, to enquire what is our duty in being justified.”

And so, as Christian people, justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the law of God provides us with the map or the guide of how to live now in light of that grace we’ve received in the gospel. With hearts overflowing with love and gratitude for God, we want to obey him and please him, we want to be more like Jesus, and the law shows us how to do that.

We don’t seek to obey his law to earn or keep God’s acceptance, and we don’t seek to obey it in our own strength, but we do seek to obey his law in the strength that he gives, as a way of expressing our gratitude to him from a changed heart.

In the Angel’s Den

Daniel 6:16-23 and Matthew 27:57-28:10

This is our third article looking at Daniel 6, and if you’ve got a Bible to hand, I encourage you to read that chapter, and Matthew 27:57-28:10.

L et me focus your attention on 2 “tombs”. They are separated by 900 miles and over 500 years, yet crucially

connected. I won’t list all the verses, but think about the similarities. A dead man is laid in one; a man as good as dead is thrown in the other. Both have huge stones rolled across the entrance; both are officially sealed in wax; both are approached by people full of anxiety at the first light of dawn. 2 tombs. 1 question. Is your God able to rescue you?

You may have found yourself in some dark “tombs” in your life. The daylight of hope blocked out by the heavy stone of circumstance. We can have times of feeling low, in despair, even as good as dead. Perhaps that describes how you’re feeling even as you read these words. In those times, and in the less dramatic situations we face daily, the same question rears its head. Is your God able to rescue you?

To recap the story so far, Daniel is an exile from Judah, now living under the mighty Medo-Persian empire. He’s a trustworthy official serving King Darius, but he’s also a loyal Jew serving the King of Kings. His loyalty was put to the test when Darius issued a law that you couldn’t pray to any god or man, except him, for 30 days. Anyone breaking the law would be fed to the lions. Despite the threat, Daniel’s ultimate loyalty was to God, whatever the cost.

Daniel is duly caught praying by his jealous colleagues, who rush off to the king. Darius, who obviously likes Daniel, is distraught but feels his hands are tied. So as Daniel is taken for execution, Darius commits him to God: “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel 6:16b). We know the end of the story, but at that point Darius and Daniel don’t. Try and feel some of the tension. The gauntlet is thrown down. Can your God rescue you? Will your God rescue you?

Here are some lessons we can learn from the next section of the story.

It’s better to be in the lions’ den with God than in the palace without him

Imagine watching this as a film. As the stone rolls over the entrance, we want to look inside the den, to know what happens to Daniel. Instead, the camera follows Darius. “Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.” (Daniel 6:18).

On some level, I expect we can all sympathise with Darius. We know those nights where something is on our mind – an exam, a meeting or a conversation. The feeling of sickness in the pit of your stomach, and the minutes of the night tick by so slowly.

Darius had every luxury available to him, yet, as the ESV translates it, sleep fled from him. What a vivid phrase.

Carl Trueman has drawn attention to something interesting Blaise Pascal said. Pascal was a 17th Century French mathematician, philosopher and theologian. He asked why do kings have jesters? His answer was that a king has everything done for him by a legion of servants and administrators, so he has nothing to worry about, or occupy his mind. In fact, the only thing he worries about is the one thing he can’t control – death. The jesters job is to distract the king from the inevitable reality of death.

Perhaps it’s the same reason why we’re prepared to pay footballers £100,000’s a week; or actors £10million for a film. We cry out for entertainment and distraction but we find that no amount of food, technology, sex, sport, holidays, home improvements, clubs or clothes can truly deliver us from the worries of life and death.

It’s no good being in the palace, with everything money can buy, if you don’t have God. Do you believe that? Think of Darius fretting through the night, and compare Pilate’s wife suffering greatly as she dreams in her own palace as Jesus is put on trial (Matthew 27:19).

What about Daniel? He’s sleeping like a baby! At least if you look at children’s Bibles, you’ll often find pictures of him cuddling up to a big fluffy lion. We don’t know if it was exactly like that, but we do know what happened. “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.” (Daniel

6:22).

I borrowed the title for this article from Iain Duguid. But I think it’s brilliant. We talk about Daniel in the Lions’ Den, but in fact it was the angel’s den. It was the lions who felt out of place. Daniel was right at home. His God was with him.

Even face to face with lions, Daniel knew that he was in God’s hands. He served God continually, was innocent in his sight, and trusted in his God (Daniel 6:20,22,23). Or as the New Testament puts it, by faith he shut the mouths of lions (Hebrews 11:33).

So, how are you sleeping? What’s on your mind in the small hours? The only thing that will let us rest, with all the pressures of the world, is to trust God. We need to know and believe that he is in control. Don’t be fooled by the empty promises of the world’s luxuries. You’ll sleep better in the den with God, than in the palace without him.

God is always able to rescue

Darius didn’t need an alarm call that morning. He hasn’t slept, and only has one thing on his mind. At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he

came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:19-20). He’s asking more in hope than expectation. He doesn’t just say has your God rescued you, he says has God been able to rescue you?

I like to think that Daniel paused a few seconds for dramatic effect, then to everyone’s amazement, a voice comes from the den! “O king, live for ever!” He’s alive! But how? Daniel explains. “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” (Daniel 6:21-22).

Darius condemned Daniel, but he was tried at a higher court and found innocent. His trust in God was vindicated. They haul him out, and find that there’s not a scratch on him (v23). It’s as if Daniel is back from the dead. Was God able to rescue him? What a stupid question! Is honey sweet? Is fire hot? Is water wet? Of course God was able to rescue Daniel.

As an aside, notice that Daniel still shows respect for Darius. There’s no sense of gloating, or desire for revenge. Just a stating of the facts. Being loyal to God is what made him such a loyal citizen. The same should be true of us. Christians should be a blessing to our communities, and wider societies.

Now let’s turn our attention to the other tomb. God was able to rescue from the jaws of the lions, but is he able to rescue from the jaws of death? Jesus was truly dead and buried. There is no doubt about that. As dawn broke on that Sunday morning, the women went to anoint a dead body. Instead, they see an angel and hear these words, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6).

Jesus was condemned by the world, but vindicated by God, innocent in his Father’s sight. They had to haul Daniel out of the den; Jesus did it himself. To put it another way, the angel didn’t come to let Jesus out, but to let us in, so that we could be witnesses of this supreme miracle. I’ve done some rescuing in my time. I’ve rescued fish from the carpet and lego from the hoover. I admire those with the ability and bravery to perform much more dramatic rescues. The Thai cave rescue is one recent example. But whether we think of cavers, coastguards, or the fire service there’s always a limit to our ability to rescue.

Not with God. If there was any doubt, the resurrection proves God is always able to rescue. He’s stronger than lions, stronger than Darius, stronger than death. He can do what no other god or idol or philosophy can.

He can rescue you, too, from whatever tomb or lions, you face. I imagine some of you reading this are struggling because as wonderful as this story about Daniel is, we know it doesn’t always happen like that. Perhaps you feel you’ve been trusting God, but he hasn’t rescued you. You’ve still faced abuse, illness, divorce, loneliness, stress or persecution. Or we think of the countless Christians martyred through church history.

What’s going on? Is God’s power finite? He performs one great rescue then needs to wait for his battery to recharge? No of course not. The Bible consistently shows a God in total control.

So is the problem me? Am I not trusting enough? It’s tragic that Christians have been told, or have inferred, that if only they had more faith their problems would go away. That’s not how it works. It’s wonderful when God miraculously heals or provides, but sometimes he doesn’t. Instead we need to focus on a greater rescue, which brings us to our third lesson.

You can be rescued from the lions’ jaws because Jesus wasn’t

Again, we have to have our eyes on the other tomb. Because Jesus wasn’t spared the cross, was he? In the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel came to strengthen him (Luke 22:43). But not to close the lions’ mouths. No, Jesus would have to face the full fury of the lions’ jaws. The whips and the nails and the thorns and the blood and the excruciating struggle for breath were real. So was the full torment of God’s righteous judgement that he endured.

Why would Jesus do that? The crowds mocked him – He saved others, but he can’t save himself. What a bitter irony in those words. The reality is he didn’t save himself, so he could save us. As Peter explains, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus didn’t do that to rescue you from cancer, financial worries or family tension. Being a Christian does provide comfort in all the trials of life, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll avoid them. Jesus had a greater end in sight. He went to the cross to rescue you from what your sins deserve – eternal death in hell.

This is the wonder of the gospel, the good news of Christianity. Because he succumbed to the lions, we can be rescued. To pick up the language from Daniel, the cross is the reason that we can be found “innocent in God’s sight”. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He walked out of the tomb, triumphant over death. His resurrection assures us of our own. As Paul writes, But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, (1 Corinthians 15:20). In that ultimate sense, Christians can

have confidence not only that God is able to rescue us, but that he will.

This should change our perspective on the trials we face in life. In the last article we considered the response of Daniel’s friends to the fiery furnace. To paraphrase, they said “our God is able to rescue us from the flames, but if he doesn’t, he’s still our God, and will ultimately rescue us,” (see Daniel 3:16-18).

Can you adopt that same attitude? God is certainly able to rescue you from whatever you’re facing, but sometimes he chooses not to. In that case, don’t despair, but cling to the precious truth of your greater rescue from sin, death and hell.

In fact, we can do more than that. We can trust that what we experience now is all part of God’s plan, and will somehow work together for our good (Romans 8:28). As the hymn wonderfully puts it:

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”

What a difference this makes. Darius, and the women, approached those respective tombs full of anxious dread. But before long, Darius was “overjoyed”, and the women were “filled with joy”. Our own anxiety and worry can be replaced with that resurrection joy, as we reflect on how we have been rescued (at the cross) and how we will be rescued (when we go to be with Jesus).

Christian, you will find yourself in tombs as you go through life. Some of them will be very dark and scary. But God will be with you, and even though all the lions of hell roar at you, in the morning you’ll be lifted out of the tomb unscathed.

in the morning you’ll be lifted out of the tomb unscathed. James Buchanan is the Minister

James Buchanan is the Minister of St Peter’s International Presbyterian Church in West Liss, Hampshire. He is married to Jenny, and they have three children. James is also an avid supporter of Sheffield Wednesday.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11

Living in the Light of Jesus’s Return

W hen it comes to the truth that one day Jesus is going to return to this world, Christians are often guilty of two

opposite, but equally dangerous, errors. Either we do not think about it at all or we think about it so much that we neglect to live properly in the here and now.

With a few exceptions, most of us today probably fall into the first camp. The second coming of Christ is a doctrine we con- fess, but it has minimal practical bearing on our lives. The Thessalonians, by contrast, were virtually obsessed with the teaching that one day Jesus would return. In fact, it seems as if they expected Jesus to return imminently, with the result that some of them had apparently stopped working (see 2 Thess. 3:6ff.). Their eschatological expectation was having a profound effect on their lives, but in an unhealthy and ungodly way.

In response, Paul writes this fairly lengthy section from 4:13 to 5:11 in order to correct the Thessalonians’ thinking about the second coming and how they should thereby live in the light of it. We may not have the exact same problems as faced by the church in Thessalonica, but what Paul says here speaks just as powerfully and pointedly to us, especially given our relative neglect of this important subject.

Do you really believe that Jesus is coming again? I hope so. If you do, then here, in this passage, are two ways you ought to be living.

1. Live hopefully (4:13-18)

The truth that Jesus is coming again should fill our lives with great hope.

Many of the Thessalonians were grieving inconsolably because they thought that those among them who had died would miss out on Jesus’s return (v13). So Paul writes to re-assure them that this is not the case. They do not need to grieve without hope. Why? For three basic reasons.

First, because Christians who die go to heaven. This is the implication of what he says in v14. When Jesus returns, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” And where will God bring them from? Clearly, from where Christ currently is, namely, heaven. The implication is evident: those who have fallen asleep (this is a euphemism for death) are with Jesus in heaven right now. Their bodies have been buried in the grave, but their souls have ascended to heaven.

Is that not one great reason we live hopefully in the present? Because we know that when we die (and when our Christian brothers and sisters die), we shall be present with the Lord in heaven. Could anything be better than that?

Actually, yes! A second reason we live hopefully is because we look forward to the day when we shall be raised bodily (vv15- 16). Our chief hope is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. Paul says that those who are still living when Jesus returns will

not precede (i.e. have precedence over) those who have fallen asleep. They do not enjoy any particular advantage. Why? Because when Jesus descends from heaven as the glorious, tri- umphant King, such will be the power of his “cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” that even the dead will hear and wake up.

Sometimes, in order to wake someone up, you need to shout in their ears. Nothing else works. They don’t much appreciate it, but at least it wakes them up. But no matter how loud our shout, none of us could ever wake the dead.

And yet, this is exactly what Christ will do! The ears of the dead will hear the triumphant voice of their death-conquering Saviour, announcing that he, their exalted King, has come back, and they will wake up. They will rise up out of their graves, just as you get out of bed in the morning.

Notice how such believers who have previously died are described. The end of v16 says that “the dead in Christ will rise first.” Paul does not simply say “the dead”, but “the dead in Christ.” Isn’t that wonderful? Such is the union that you have with your Saviour that not even death can break it. Death severs your body and soul. But it can never sever your union with Christ. You live in Christ. And you die in Christ. Even your lifeless body, when it is buried in the ground, is yet united to Jesus.

No wonder, then, that when such people hear the voice of their Saviour they get up! And when they get up, they, along with those who are still living, will together be caught up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v17). This is the third reason we live hopefully. Because one day we shall all be together with the Lord – for- ever.

Let us not get caught up in the hot air that this verse has pro- duced among some commentators. Suffice to say that Paul did not teach some kind of secret rapture of the church. Let us instead get caught up in the main point: that when Jesus comes, not only will we be raised bodily, but we shall also live forever with our Lord and with one another.

Death is tragic because it brings life to an end and because it separates us from our loved ones. But these tragedies will be finally and irreversibly overcome when Christ returns. At that point, we (every single Christian – you, together with your beloved brothers and sisters who have died in the Lord), will always (there will be no end; our future state is everlasting) be with the Lord (we shall forever commune with our Saviour, which is surely the apex of our hope). So, we live hopefully in the present because Jesus is coming again. Yes, we (rightly) grieve when fellow believers die. But we do not despair. Because our grief is infused with hope. With

resurrection hope. After all, Jesus’s resurrection means that our death is nothing more than a prolonged sleep, from which, when Jesus returns, we shall all one day wake up.

2. Live soberly (5:1-11)

A second way we are to live in the light of Jesus’s return is

addressed in 5:1-11. Here Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are to live soberly. That is to say, they are to be watchful and alert. They are not to be ‘sleepy’, ethically-speaking. Rather, they are to be awake. They are to be ready – spiritually and morally – for the return of Christ. This is necessary because, while the fact of Jesus’s return is certain, the timing is not.

The day of the Lord (meaning in this context the day when the Lord will come in final judgment) will, says Paul, “come like a thief in the night” (v2). In other words, it will come unexpect- edly. At an hour that we do not know, nor that we can predict.

What is more, Christ’s unexpected return will also be an unwel- come return as far as unbelievers are concerned. When a thief breaks into someone’s house it is both an unexpected and an unwelcome intrusion. In the same way, the day of the Lord will be both unexpected and unwelcome for every unbeliever.

Just as they are enjoying peace and security, just as they are experiencing ease and comfort, just as life is going so very well, then “sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (v3).

Jesus spoke in the same way about the flood during the days of Noah (see Matt. 24:38-39). Before that worldwide deluge of divine judgment, people were eating and drinking. People were getting married. People were settling down into family life. There was peace and security. And then the flood came. An unexpected, unwelcome, sudden and inescapable judgment.

In a flash, their lives and their livelihoods were gone. Their friends and their family were gone. Nothing was left. And exactly the same thing, Paul says, will happen on the final day of the Lord. Only this time the judgment will be with fire. Its terror will be far greater.

This is a deeply sobering thought. Indeed, it is probably the most unsettling truth in all Scripture. The day is coming when sudden destruction will be inflicted upon every unbeliever – and no one will be able to escape.

In my more reflective moments, I sometimes sit in a coffee

shop and look out at all the people walking by. There’s a young professional rushing to work. There’s a young mother strug- gling with her two children. There’s an elderly couple enjoying

a morning out in the town.

And it occurs to me that all of these people are either heading to heaven or to hell.

Forgive me if that makes me sound overly morbid. But it’s true, isn’t it? Every single person you come across, every single per- son you pass in the street, every single person you work with, play with, eat with – they’re all going in one of two directions:

either to heaven or to hell.

Imagine how terrible it was for those people who drowned in the flood during the days of Noah. Imagine how much more terrible it will be for those who come face to face with the inescapable wrath of God on the day of final judgment.

Praise God that this is not our destiny. Praise God that, because of his grace, we will not be destroyed on that day. Instead, we will be saved. We will be raised up to glory. We will always be with the Lord. For that reason, whilst Jesus’s return will be a surprise to us because we do not know when it will take place, it won’t be a thief-like surprise. It won’t be an unwelcome sur- prise. Instead, it will be the most wonderful surprise ever!

Our status as “children of light, children of the day” who are “not of the night or of the darkness” (v5 i.e. we do not belong to the realm of sin, but to the realm of salvation) means that we can look forward with eager anticipation to the day of the Lord, for we know that the joy of that day will surpass anything we’ve ever known before.

Perhaps there were times as a young child when you were so excited about something that you just could not get to sleep. Maybe it was the night before your birthday or Christmas. The anticipation of the joy that you would feel when the day finally arrived meant that you were wide awake all night.

Paul says, in vv6&7, that there is a sense in which that is what it should be like for Christians as we live in the light of the day when Jesus will return. We are not to sleep, but to keep awake and be sober (v6). We are not to be like drunk men stagger- ing around at night who have no idea what is going on (v7), but like wide awake children eagerly anticipating the arrival of Christmas.

Of course, Paul is not referring to physical sleep here. He is speaking of sleep in an ethical sense. Christians must not be sleepy or drowsy when it comes to obeying God. We should never indulge in sin as if it does not matter. An unbeliever lives that way because they have no conception of a coming judg- ment when they will be held to account for the way they have lived (or, perhaps more accurately, they suppress such a con- ception). But a Christian knows differently. We know that a day of final reckoning is getting nearer. And so we live in the conscious recognition of that coming day of the Lord. Not because we

need fear that Jesus will reject us if we do not measure up: we have been justified and are, staggering though it may seem, just as secure before our God as Jesus himself is. Rather, we stay awake, refraining from sleep, not because our salvation depends upon it, but because we want to please our Lord.

And how do we do this? How do we stay awake? By putting on, says Paul, the breastplate of faith and love, along with the helmet of the hope of salvation (v8). Here Paul is drawing on Isaiah 59:17, where the Lord is portrayed as a warrior wearing armour. In the same way, Christians are called to put on his armour (cf. Eph. 6:10-20).

How do we lead watchful, sober lives? How do we avoid falling asleep and getting drunk? How do we live in the light of the day of the Lord? By clothing ourselves in the three piece suit of the finest Christian attire – faith, hope and love: faith in God, the hope of glory, and love for the Lord and for one another.

It’s not always easy to so clothe ourselves. It’s hard to fight in faith, hope and love. Equipping ourselves with Christ’s armour involves serious effort. But we have every reason to do so. After all, victory is certain.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep [i.e. living or dead] we might live with him” (vv9&10).

Take note of where you are headed. See what your destiny is. Not wrath, but salvation. Not condemnation, but vindication. Not hell, but glory. All of which has been made certain by the decree of God and the death of Christ. It is doubly secure. Knowing the glorious outcome that awaits you on the day of the Lord, are you not motivated to live hopefully and soberly in the here and now?

Encourage and build one another up with these words (4:18 & 5:11). However you are feeling today, whatever trials and griefs you may be experiencing, be encouraged. The day of the Lord is approaching. Jesus is coming back. And when he does return, he will take you to be with him forever.

he does return, he will take you to be with him forever. Doug McCallum is Associate

Doug McCallum is Associate Minister at Cambridge Presbyterian Church. He is married to Rebecca, and they have recently welcomed the arrival of their first child, Luke.

FROM THE CHURCHES

Binghams’ farewell

On the evening of Sunday 24 June the congregation of Stranmillis held a farewell service for the Bingham family who had been worshipping with us for four years. Matt and Shelley, along with their two children, Amelia and John, had come to Belfast from Georgia, USA, where Matt was a pastor, in order for Matt to study at Queens University. Very soon they became valued and active members of our fellowship. Their third child, James, was born in Belfast. For the last year Matt served as Ministry Associate in the congregation. His preaching and teaching, especially of the young adults, was greatly appreciated. Shelley played her part too—in the Ladies’ Fellowship and Bible Study and in many quiet practical ways. Matt had accepted an appointment as lecturer in systematic theology and church history at Oak Hill College, London. He and Shelley will also have some pastoral responsibility for a group of students—a role in which they will excel. There was a palpable sense of sadness as Harold Gibson handed over their farewell gift. The whole family will be missed but we are glad that they are still in the UK and pray that God will continue to guide, protect and use them.

Ruth Burke

Jackie Burton

The Lisburn Road hall was packed on the evening of 12th August. The Stranmillis congregation along with friends and family had gathered to bid farewell to Jackie Burton. For some time Jackie, who has been on various short-term mission trips, has felt a call to more permanent mission work overseas. She has been recognised by SIM, and Mike Ewan was present as the Mission ‘s representative. Jackie hopes to serve in her capacity as a midwife although it is not yet certain where this will be. In the meantime, she has left to study for one year at WEC’s Cornerstone Bible College in the Netherlands. Although it was not easy for her to leave church and home or for us to see her go, Jackie is embracing this new step with her customary enthusiasm. Please pray for her as she settles in to her new environment and studies and as she seeks God ‘s will for her future service.

Ruth Burke.

she seeks God ‘s will for her future service. Ruth Burke. Stranmillis EPC new building By

Stranmillis EPC new building

her future service. Ruth Burke. Stranmillis EPC new building By the time you are reading this,

By the time you are reading this, God willing, the Stranmillis new church building will be completed, the congregation will have moved in and the official opening will have taken place. Watch out for a full report in the next issue. In the meantime we join with our friends in Stranmillis to thank God for his goodness to them and to pray that the new building will be used for his glory in the building up of his kingdom.

FROM THE CHURCHES

Junior Camp

Junior camp 2018 was a sunny week, and not just the weather. We enjoyed a sunny bunch of 47 children (13 girls and 34 boys), we served with 15 sunny leaders, and we loved our 2 sunny cooks who treated us all week long.

The meetings at Junior Camp enjoyed brilliant singing and faithful teaching. The main talks were on the life of Joseph, and we were also taught about the Lord’s Prayer, about Creation and the Flood, and 3 different memory verses. Sunday was special, going to Dunluce Presbyterian in the morning and then having lots of different missionary speakers in the afternoon for some more interactive (and tasty) lessons from around the world. Camp also enjoys quiet times and dorm talks so that the children get to think about what they’ve heard and ask questions in smaller groups.

It’s hard to imagine just how much fun we packed into one week! Sitting was reserved for meetings and meals! The rest of the time was games and craft, bank and book stall, and tuck shop! We had excellent rivalry among our 6 teams—

the chants were brilliant! Intense individual competition too

in 3 different tournaments! And of course; we had outings!

What a fabulous day we spent at the Causeway Fun Farm!

A brilliant day at White Rocks beach! Or the day we had

the incredible inflatables! And then the day in Coleraine, swimming and shopping and chippy!

then the day in Coleraine, swimming and shopping and chippy! Julie and I are very thankful
then the day in Coleraine, swimming and shopping and chippy! Julie and I are very thankful
then the day in Coleraine, swimming and shopping and chippy! Julie and I are very thankful

Julie and I are very thankful to be part of Junior Camp:

thankful to the boys and girls who made it a brilliant week, thankful for an excellent team, thankful for all who helped us set up and clean up, thankful for all the missionary speakers who came and shared their vision with us for the world, thankful for the visit from our Moderator, and thankful to the Lord who came to camp and blessed in more ways than we can number.

Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” Psalm 40:5

be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are
be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are
be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are

FROM THE CHURCHES

FROM THE CHURCHES Inters Camp Inters 2018 was an action-packed week with 43 campers joining us
FROM THE CHURCHES Inters Camp Inters 2018 was an action-packed week with 43 campers joining us
FROM THE CHURCHES Inters Camp Inters 2018 was an action-packed week with 43 campers joining us

Inters Camp

Inters 2018 was an action-packed week with 43 campers joining us for loads of great activities, challenging talks and discussion groups, and lots of delicious food! The weather was fantastic all week which meant we could do lots of outdoor activities. The usual favourites of ultimate frisbee, tag rugby and capture-the-flag made an appearance along with water sports, speedboat trips, obstacle courses, water slides and much more!!

Andrew Lucas opened God’s word each day with talks on the life on Daniel, and Abi Goodrich shared in the evenings on the life of Gladys Aylward. The talks were challenging, inspiring and thought provoking for all. Discussions in dorm groups used Discover devotional resources to prompt some really good questions.

We had a great team of leaders and cooks who went above and beyond to make camp run smoothly and safely and enjoyable for everyone. Thanks to each and every one for everything they did!

Thanks also to you for your prayers and support with encouraging messages and visits throughout the week. God is good and has blessed Camp this year. We continue to pray that the seeds sown will continue to be watered and grow in the hearts and minds of the campers and their families at home.

Senior Camp

After last year’s disappointment with no senior camp, we are thankful to God for a great senior camp this year. We had fluctuating numbers through the week, with a total of 14 young people attending for some or all of the week. There were a lot of first time senior campers who settled quickly and seemed to enjoy the relaxed style of senior camp. We benefited greatly from Andy Hambleton’s talks on “Identity” and had visiting missionary speakers each evening. We look forward to a growing senior camp cohort over the next few years – next up is the reunion weekend 8-10th Feb 2019.

Mark & Jacqui

senior camp cohort over the next few years – next up is the reunion weekend 8-10th
senior camp cohort over the next few years – next up is the reunion weekend 8-10th
senior camp cohort over the next few years – next up is the reunion weekend 8-10th
senior camp cohort over the next few years – next up is the reunion weekend 8-10th
senior camp cohort over the next few years – next up is the reunion weekend 8-10th
senior camp cohort over the next few years – next up is the reunion weekend 8-10th

FROM THE CHURCHES

EPC Night at the Book Shop

On 11 & 14 December 2017, we held our second lot of seasonal EPC evenings in Evangelical Bookshop. These were an opportunity for everyone within the EPC to come down to the bookshop, meet up with friends within our denomination, enjoy some fellowship, drink some coffee, and buy some books for friends and family! As on previous occasions, an extra 10% discount was offered off everything on the night. Ruth Burke read some extracts from Mansoul, her modern re-telling of John Bunyan’s Holy War, which was well received by the children- as well as some of the adults! A free copy of Catherine McKenzie’s book on John Calvin, After Darkness Light, was given to each child in attendance. We had a larger attendance than previously and, due to increased interest, we are going to run this event again on Monday 10 December. Why not put this date into your diary and come and make the EPC Night even bigger and better than last year?

Omagh EPC Easter Mission

Omagh EPC held its annual Easter mission from 2-4 April 2018 at 8pm each night when Rev Andrew Luas preached on the Trial of Christ from Mark15:1-20 (we learned about the determined enemies of Christ: a shrewd politician in the form of Pilate and the fickle crowd); Rev Neil Beatson (Erne West Church outside Enniskillen) preached on the Torture of Christ from John19:16 and the seven sayings of the Cross (interesting to note that some were concerned with others and some concerned with physical and spiritual needs); and Rev Mark Wright (Cookstown RPC) preached on the Triumph of Christ from 1 Corinthians15:1-26 (we were taught that death is in the world- both physical and spiritual, but that death has been defeated by Christ, Acts2:24, and also that our time on earth is short but that we can live forever if Christ is our Lord and Master, although we only deserve judgment, John3:36). The 2 visiting ministers also gave words of testimony which were very welcome. The meetings were well attended but mostly by believers. There was a light supper each night also. Please continue to pray for the seed that was sown.

First Aid training

From time-to-time the POCVA (Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults) Board of EPC organises training events for leaders in our congregations. One such event was the first-aid training held over two evenings in May in Crumlin EPC. The course was delivered by Mervyn Alexander of MTA Training Services and dealt with first-aid management, emergency life support, trauma injuries (such as bleeding and broken bones) and medical emergencies (such as seizures and asthma). Video clips of scenarios and opportunity for hands-on practice helped the 13 participants to assimilate the large amount of information covered and all passed the test at the end of the final evening. While enjoying fellowship and a bit of fun together, all were struck by the very serious nature of the training and by the responsibility it is to work with children, those with disabilities and the frail elderly at various of our church activities. Indeed, our POCVA policy requires us to have a qualified first-aider present on each such occasion. We pray to God for safety for all our events and for diligence and wisdom for all leaders in looking after the physical as well as the spiritual needs of all who come in. Speak to the POCVA coordinator in your church if you would be interested in participating in future training courses.

Speak to the POCVA coordinator in your church if you would be interested in participating in
Speak to the POCVA coordinator in your church if you would be interested in participating in

FROM THE CHURCHES

VISIT TO MERF – LOKICHOGGIO

FROM THE CHURCHES VISIT TO MERF – LOKICHOGGIO One of the Sundays we were there we

One of the Sundays we were there we had opportunity to visit the Kakuma refugee camp. This camp is home to approximately 150,000 refugees.

There are many churches on the camp, Gareth preached in one of the large congregations. Their kindness and warmth of welcome to us was very moving.

There is also a church meeting on the MERF compound at Loki made up of local Turkana believers. It is good to see the work the Lord has done in the Turkana village in Loki, a work that has grown over the years.

The time spent in Loki was very valuable. The students came from very needy situations but were wanting to learn and take in Biblical truth. It was an excellent opportunity and we trust and pray that the Lord will use what has been taught and greatly bless the students in their future service for Him.

At the end of May and beginning of June this year Rev. Gareth Burke and I had the opportunity to visit the MERF training centre at Lokichoggio, Northern Kenya and teach on the course there.

The Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF) began working at this centre close to the border with Sudan, now South Sudan, in 2003. Over the years since then over 700 pastors, evangelists and lay church leaders from various tribes have been trained there.

The group of 20 students that we taught came from South Sudan and Tanzania. Teaching took place for five hours each day and we covered a number of subjects: basic doctrines including the person and work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Second Coming of Christ and the Church. We had some preaching classes including the opportunity for the students to preach and we looked at the Pastoral Epistles.

The students had had other teachers before we came and another six weeks to go before the end of the course after we left. The teaching was in English, the students having a variety of different first languages. Language was a challenge but the students were keen to learn and had lots of questions. It was good to hear their desire to serve the Lord.

More information about the work of MERF can be found at www.merf.org

Marcus Hobson

Times of fellowship with students and staff brought home the many needs of the church in that part of Africa. The lives of many of the students and their families have been deeply affected by the civil war in South Sudan.

Africa. The lives of many of the students and their families have been deeply affected by

FROM THE CHURCHES

Thomas Chalmers and the Struggle for a Christian Nation

20

It is always a delight to listen to an expert

talking with passion and insight about his subject and that’s exactly what happened when Esmond Birnie delivered his lecture on ‘Thomas Chalmers and the Politicians’ on Friday 3 August at Knock Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The occasion was organised by the Evangelical Bookshop and included the launch of Dr Birnie’s new book entitled Thomas Chalmers and the struggle for a Christian Nation. Esmond is a member of Stranmillis EPC and tells us that his first encounter with Thomas Chalmers came when he embarked on his study of economics at Cambridge University and found references to Chalmers in his prescribed reading. To find out more about this intriguing and highly influential nineteenth century Scotsman you really have to read the

book, or at least the review which appears after this article. Those present on the evening of the lecture (and there was

a good attendance from within and without EPC) heard

plenty to whet the appetites of newcomers to the topic, to stimulate and stretch the minds of all and to challenge Christians to apply biblical principals to every area of life. After supper, Darryl G Hart, visiting Prof of History at Hillsdale college, Michigan, delivered the second lecture of the evening on ‘The Political Thought of J. Gresham Machen’, another influential Protestant thinker, though separated from Chalmers by context, continent and century. Prof Hart’s wide-ranging lecture was again most interesting and thought provoking and generated some penetrating questions at the end of the evening, especially with regard to two-kingdom theology. Time did not allow full discussion of all the issues raised in the lectures, but both men fielded questions with knowledge and good humour. Those who interrupted their holiday week to be present at the event were not disappointed and it is hoped that even Esmond’s family who dragged themselves away from body- boarding on the north coast felt it had been a worthwhile effort.

on the north coast felt it had been a worthwhile effort. Have you ever heard the
on the north coast felt it had been a worthwhile effort. Have you ever heard the

Have you ever heard the accusation that “Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly use”

or that Christianity is irrelevant in the “modern” world? The life and work of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) gives the lie to such claims. He was something of a Christian renaissance man with fingers in many pies. Having written this account of Chalmers I think there are many reasons why we could benefit from becoming more familiar with Chalmers:

• Some modern ideas about the

relationship between science and Christianity were anticipated by Chalmers. He used phrases like “Intelligent Designer”.

• Chalmers argued that Christian morality was the right

thing to do. It would also often promote economic prosperity. In contrast, greed was likely to precipitate an economic depression. Chalmers also invented the concept of the Income Tax Personal Allowance.

• In the Glasgow of 1810s-20s and Edinburgh of the

1840s Chalmers led a last ditch defence of the traditional

way of dealing with poverty whereby money was collected and disbursed at the parish level through the churches. This defence ended in failure. Poor Law Reform, the workhouses and ever greater bureaucratisation of attempts to help the poor, continued in Scotland as in England and Ireland. Chalmers, however, correctly predicted some of the problems which would follow from relying on the state and what we now call the Welfare State.

• He was a great preacher. It was not just that on one

occasion the Army had to be used to control the crowds

flocking to Chalmers’s church in Glasgow. Or that his sermons in London moved Prime Ministers. The Holy Spirit worked through what was an apparently unimpressive pulpit style- Chalmers’s usual practice seems to have been to read out a script word for word.

• We have some insight into Chalmers’s devotional life.

During 1841-7 he wrote daily Bible readings (and weekly Sabbath ones). He admitted his temptations (pride, temper and remarkably what he viewed as an “excessive love for mathematics”). Unlike some other 19th century Scottish

Presbyterianism he had a lot of time for some other church traditions- notably evangelical Anglicanism.

• In recent decades there have been a number of allegations

that Chalmers was outside the conservative Scottish Reformed tradition and may even have been some sort of closet theological liberal. I found little evidence for this.

Chalmers called himself a Calvinist although he disliked labels and he “packaged” his theology different from say a Knox or a William Cunningham.

• His publication record was massive. The William Collins

publishing house was started to provide a home for his many books.

FROM THE CHURCHES

• His views about Ireland are interesting- not least because

they sometimes contrasted with those of Irish Presbyterians. Unlike Henry Cooke, and Cooke regarded Chalmers as his mentor, he recommended caution in the speed with which Arianism or Unitarianism was pushed out of the Irish Church. Cooke, to his credit, was also a more forthright critic of slavery than Chalmers. Chalmers, however, was much less enamoured than Cooke by the goal of aligning Presbyterianism with political Conservativism. Chalmers, unlike Cooke, did support Catholic Emancipation.

• As we wrestle in 2018 with the relationship of Church and

State, particularly in terms of whether the internal life of the Church should be subject to secular legislation, it is worth remembering that Chalmers and his contemporaries faced the same issue. When Parliament claimed that it had the supreme authority on the question as to how far landlords might use power of patronage to over-rule the decision of each congregation as to which man to “call” to become their Minister, Chalmers and his colleagues felt they had to quit the Church of Scotland. Hence the Disruption of 1843 leading to the creation of the Free Church. There was a great irony and unintended consequence in all of this. Chalmers who had spent decades struggling to ensure a Christian influence across the entire Scottish (and British) nation now found that his actions in terms of splitting the Church of Scotland

led to a reduction of its influence. That said, as I argue in his book, the issue of principle was so strong that they had little alternative.

• Chalmers remained a strong advocate of the Church

Establishment principle- that there should be Protestant

Church supported by the state in England, Scotland etc. In more recent decades, support for establishment has waned amongst some Reformed people (because of the special circumstances within American Presbyterianism post-1776 such beliefs were never strong in the USA). We

should, however, reflect on why Chalmers was such a strong advocate of Establishment.

• Chalmers’s lectures to his divinity students and his

own practice in parishes in Edinburgh and Glasgow were full of ideas about how to do ministry in an urban setting.

He inspired a whole generation of vibrant evangelicals in Scotland such as Murray McCheyne and the Bonars. Similarly, some of his students from St. Andrews became the first global missionaries to be sent out from Scotland.

• I have entitled the book “Thomas Chalmers and the

Struggle for a Christian Nation”. Chalmers really did place an infinite value on individual souls and he also wished to see all areas of Scottish and British national life subject to a strong

Christian influence. Two centuries later we have an even greater need for that influence.

Thank God for the freedom in our land to run church camps and holiday bible clubs. Thank him for times over the summer when children and teenagers studied his word, prayed together, memorised verses of scripture, heard the gospel and learned about mission. Pray that the enemy would not snatch away the good seed of God’s word, and that peer pressure or the busyness of life would not hinder the growth of new life in young souls.

Pray for the winter season of Sunday school, children’s clubs and YPA. Uphold the teachers and leaders as they prepare lessons and talks. Ask that they would be encouraged in the work and that there would be rejoicing among the angels in heaven over sinners repenting.

Thank God for his hand of blessing upon Marcus Hobson and Gareth Burke as they taught in Kenya in May. Praise him for the work of MERF in Lokkichogio and for the 700 pastors, evangelists and lay preachers who have been trained there since 2003. Pray for the 20 students who attended this recent course. Ask that the word taught would minister to their own lives and to the lives of those they seek to serve.

Praise God for the Turkana church at Loki and also for the many churches in the Kakuma refugee camp. Pray for the church in war- torn South Sudan and for the many displaced and suffering Christians in that land, that they would know the Lord as their shield and defender. Pray that we in the west would play our part in helping our brothers and sisters in need, remembering that faith without works is dead.

Thank God for Jackie Burton’s desire to serve overseas with SIM. Uphold her in prayer as she settles into studies at bible college in the Netherlands. Pray that she would be guided as to her future place of service.

Pray for Matt Bingham and his family as he takes up the post of lecturer at Oak Hill College, London. Pray that he and Shelley will be a blessing to the students. Ask God to continue to guide, protect and use them.

Thank God for those who have attended outreach events in our churches and pray that the Holy Spirit would work in their hearts. Pray for up-coming harvest missions and carol services and for opportunities to engage with our communities.

Praise God for marriage and the blessings of family life. Pray against all influences that would undermine the God-given role of parents and of the family in society. Pray for recently married couples within EPC that they would seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Remember in prayer the many in our church family who suffer severe or chronic ill health. Ask that the grace of God would be evident in their lives. Join in prayer with those who are concerned for ill family members, asking for God’s glory and the salvation of souls.

asking for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. BOOK REVIEWS Title: ‘Heaven on Earth’ Author:

BOOK REVIEWS

Title: ‘Heaven on Earth’ Author: Derek W H Thomas Publisher: Christian Focus Pages: 111 RRP £7.99, EBS price £5.99

Christian Focus Pages: 111 RRP £7.99, EBS price £5.99 Most of the reviews of this book

Most of the reviews of this book that I have read have irritated me greatly. That’s because they have

overly focussed on Dr Thomas’ views on the question: ‘Will there

be dogs in heaven?’

going to ruin things for you by telling you what he says – you need to buy the book! However the reality is that his treatment of this issue covers about two and half pages which amounts to about two per cent of the total content!!

Now I’m not

This is an attractively produced book in which the Biblical

teaching on ‘the afterlife’ is winsomely considered. The book begins with a helpful chapter on the Intermediate State – ‘We

die….Then what?’ -

the great Biblical passages that deal with the final state. He correctly focusses on ‘the new heaven and the new earth’ for while there is comfort in meditating on the state of the believer after death the thrust of Scripture is to get us looking forward to the final day and the glory that will follow

and then Dr Thomas moves on to consider

This is a popular book, easily read. I found it found it helpful to

read a chapter a day as part of recommended

my personal devotions. Highly

Gareth Burke

BOOK REVIEWS 23 23

BOOK REVIEWS

Best of the Blogs

A selection of online blogs and articles to challenge and encourage you in your walk with God and his people…

The Visible Body of Christ (Guy Richard)

www.tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/2018/08/the-visible-

body-of-christ/

“Calvin says that “there is no other way to enter life unless [the visible church acting as our mother] conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly unless she keeps us under her care and guidance.” Such is the importance of the visible church for Calvin that we cannot be saved apart from it. I am conscious that Calvin’s comments may not be fully appreciated by all of my readers. We typically have a much lower view of the church in the twenty-first century than John Calvin did in the sixteenth. We tend to see the church as optional, salvation as private, and worship as personal and individualistic.”

Ten Concise Reasons to Remember the Sabbath (Barry York)

Put your foot in the door (Joel Beeke)

www.ealinglevy.wordpress.com/2018/06/26/put-your-foot-

in-the-door-joel-beeke/

“The beggar sticks his foot in the door. Do you have an unconverted child, a wandering prodigal, for whom you have been praying for two or three years? Keep your foot in the door! God is maturing your faith through that beggary.”

What is the Regulative Principle? (Derek Thomas)

www.ligonier.org/blog/what-is-regulative-principle/

“Put simply, the regulative principle of worship states that the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture. On the surface, it is difficult to see why anyone who values the authority of Scripture would find such a principle objectionable. Is not the whole of life itself to be lived according to the rule of Scripture? This is a principle dear to the hearts of all who call themselves biblical Christians. To suggest otherwise is to open the door to antinomianism and license.”

www.gentlereformation.com/2018/07/09/ten-brief-yet- Let the little children come into big church (Nicholas Davis)

solid-reasons-to-remember-the-sabbath/amp/

“Having enjoyed yesterday another Sabbath, where my soul was rejuvenated and my heart made glad, I thought I would encourage you with ten concise reasons (five coming from the Old Testament and five from the New) as to why you should honor the Lord’s Day.”

www.corechristianity.com/resource-library/articles/let-the-

little-children-come-into-big-church

“People are always asking the question, “Should we have our

children with us in public worship?” This question is clearly an issue that divides a lot of churches, and is often a key reason why some American parents will attend one church over another, otherwise-sound church. To this, I have one thing to

Let the little children come into big church.”

Should we contextualise the gospel? (Bryan Laughlin)

www.tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/2018/06/should-we- say

contextualize-the-gospel/

“This is especially important for those who preach the unchanging gospel to an ever-changing world. Simply put, the gospel must be communicated clearly for God’s kingdom to advance. This is why Jesus says in the parable of the sower: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it” (Matt. 13:23). You cannot make someone understand you, but you can make yourself very hard to understand. The first instance is due to hardness of heart and the mystery of iniquity. The second, however, is a failure in “gospel translation.””