All posts by ilfordipc

The Prayer Meeting

A striking feature of the church in Acts is the disciples’ commitment to praying together:

Acts 1:12-14, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer”.

Acts 2:42, “they devote themselves to … the prayers”.

Acts 4:23-31, “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken”.

Acts 6:4, the apostles say: “we will devote ourselves to prayer”.

Acts 12:5, “earnest prayer for [Peter] was made to God by the church”.

Acts 20:36-38,  “when [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all”.

Every Wednesday, we meet to pray and cry out to God together as a church. One thing that can stop us joining in and taking part is that we don’t think prayer has any power. I doubt any of us would come right out and say that; as soon as you say it, you see how sinful a thing it is to think, but we can think it. That’s why hearing examples of answered prayer can be helpful. The book of Acts itself clearly gives us some specific examples. But here’s a great story from the 19th century revival in New York, told by Samuel Prime, in his book “the Power of Prayer”. It’s a great reminder to keep praying for God to save specific people we know:

“I must tell you one thing in regard to the power of prayer. I believe much in prayer for particular cases and particular individuals. I have seen it to result in the salvation of souls in many cases during the last winter. But the case I wish to speak of is the following:

A brother pastor, who laboured near me, was on his death-bed. I knew him well – knew all about his habits of prayer. When he was dying, some one of his brother ministers asked him how he felt in view of his departure. ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘I feel happy, and assured of my salvation, as a poor, lost sinner saved through a Saviour’s precious, atoning blood.’ But still there seemed to be something weighing upon his mind. So one of us inquired, ‘My dear brother, is there any thing that is now a cause of anxiety to you?

The dying minister put his hand under his pillow, and drew out a piece of paper, on which were written twenty-five names of men, unconverted, leading men in his parish, and, with tears in his eyes, he said, “Yes, there is one cause of anxiety, and here it is: it is the salvation of these twenty-five men. I have prayed much for these twenty-five men, name by name. If I could know that these men would be converted, I could then say, ‘Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.’” This was the great burden upon his heart, and so he died.

At a recent meeting of our ecclesiastical body, when the conversation on the state of religion was being held, and the successor of that departed minister was giving in his account, I asked the moderator if I might, through him, ask the brother about those twenty-five men, for we all knew about the case. The clergyman heard my inquiry, and for some time was unable to speak. Then, with the tears flowing down his cheeks, he said, ‘Brethren, every one of those twenty-five men has been converted.’ We believe they were converted in answer to our deceased brother’s desires and prayers – perhaps in answer to that burden of desire which he had for their conversion in the dying hour. Long had he borne them on his heart as the burden of prayer, and all of them, we think, will be stars in his crown of rejoicing in the great day”.

(HT: darbygrayblogspot.com)

Why is there love in the world?

Why does the widower miss his wife so badly? Why does the mum love her children? Why does the infant desperately want his mum more than anything? Why do you love that particular food, cooked in that particular way? Why does that piece of music give you that spine-tingly feeling? Why do you feel elation at the winning wicket or goal? Why does the fireman run into the burning building to rescue the little girl? Why will a soldier give his life to rescue a comrade?

Why is there such a thing as love in the world? I wonder what answer you’d give.

It’s a question which the atheist has to explain away. “Love is just a chemical process in the brain, that has evolutionary advantages”; “Love’s an illusion”. “Our experience of love makes it look more significant than it really is”. But as Christians we can give a much better answer than that. Here is how the puritan John Owen answered that question, which if you were there on Sunday you’ve already heard (I’ve updated the language slightly):

“the only reason why there is such a thing as love in the world among creatures… was that it might shadow and represent the indescribable, eternal love that the Father had for the Son, and the Son for the Father, by the Spirit” (John Owen vol. 9, 613).

Put that in your pipe and smoke it! I’m not sure it’s possible to come up with a better answer than that. That answer means that we haven’t over-estimated how significant our experience of love really is; we’ve underestimated its significance. Our highest, most powerful experiences of love are just the weakest scent, the most diluted versions of the reality of God the Father’s love for the Son.

And just to remind you what we saw on Sunday: John 1:12 invites you and me into the circle of that love! “To all who did receive [Jesus]… who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”.

Knowing the Times

 The children of Isacchar “had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chr 12:32). “Understanding of the times” is a really good thing to pray for. While we don’t want to be “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14), and just jump on trends around us, we do want to have our eyes open to our specific situation. If you want to get your head around religion in modern Britain, here’s a summary of six interesting factors to bear in mind taken from this book:

1. the role of churches in shaping British culture.  Britain has been hugely influenced by Christianity for a very long time and it still is. E.g. Our view of the week, and public holidays are shaped by Christianity. Wherever you look, church buildings are still scattered across the land and form part of the landscape.

2. these churches still have a place at particular moments in the lives of British people, though they are no longer able to influence – let alone discipline – the beliefs and behaviour of the great majority of the population. So, the reaction to the death of Princess of Diana still involved churches. Churches housed the books of condolences and facilities for lighting candles. It was the Church of England that took responsibility for the funeral. In crises, people do still look to the church and expect her to act in certain ways, even if they don’t regularly take part themselves.

3. active churches increasingly operate on a model of choice, rather than a model of obligation or duty. Religion is less something passed on from one generation to the next and is more based on the individual choice of the consumer. In the 21st century, the two groups of churches attracting most active participants are charismatic evangelical churches and cathedral-type churches in city-centres. Though both are offering quite different experiences, what they have in common is a noticeable experiential element.

4. the arrival into Britain of groups of people from many different parts of the world, and with very different religious aspirations from those seen in the host society. After World War 2, there was an influx of immigration from the Indian subcontinent, West Africa, and the Caribbean, because Britain needed workers. These migrants included Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, as well as diverse kinds of Christians. In the 2000s, there was an influx of eastern European workers. Compared to France, which has emphasised the need for migrants to have primary allegiance to France rather than their religion, Britain has been more relaxed. But new arrivals bring new ways of being religious, and challenge the status quo about the role of religion in public life.

5. the reaction of Britain’s secular elites to the increasing relevance of religion in public as well as private life. Sharp secular voices have emerged, arguing for an alternative to religion. Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are two obvious examples. Their books have sold in the millions.

6. a growing realization that the patterns of religious life in modern Europe (including Britain) should be considered “exceptional” in global terms. Religion is vibrant in America. Christianity is growing fast in the global south (especially in Pentecostal forms); large parts of the world are dominated by non-Christian faiths. In many places religion, and religious difference, mixed with politics leads to violence. It’s a mistake to think that what’s happening in Europe is “typical”.

These 6 things would be good to pray about as we ask Jesus Christ to build his church in 21st century Britain.

Moving to London?

“Come over to … [Ilford!] and help us” (Acts 16:9).

Are you moving to London for work? Are you looking to buy in London but wonder how you can afford it with the property prices? Consider buying in Ilford for the sake of the gospel!  Recent data shows that Newbury Park and Redbridge are the most affordable stations to live close to in London.  They are both local to us at All Nations Church Ilford. More information here

If you want a nice house, this may not be the best place. If you want a big garden, Ilford may not be your top choice. If you want to hang out with lots of people like you, it’s probably not for you. If you want to play it safe, look elsewhere. If your goal is comfort and convenience, try south west London! But if you want to bring the good news of Jesus to a hard place, where there are lots of Muslims, and complete freedom to speak, then why not think and pray about coming to help us at All Nations Church Ilford.

We’ve been going for two and a half years, and have lots to thank God for, but we’re still praying for God to send us more keen Christians, who want to get stuck in to the unglamorous but glorious life of Christ’s church.

Back to Basics

On Sunday morning we looked at the “darkness” in John 1:5 and saw how big a problem our sin is. But God’s grace is bigger than our sin. This question from the Heidelberg Catechism is a brilliant statement, because it doesn’t fudge or belittle my ongoing sin, but shows how Jesus Christ brings me real peace with God. I remember reading this question and answer on a Sunday afternoon over 10 years ago and being bowled over by it. Time and again we need to go back to basics.

Q.60. How are you right with God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though my conscience accuses me

of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments

and of never having kept any of them,

and even though I am still inclined toward all evil,

nevertheless,

without my deserving it at all,

out of sheer grace,

God grants and credits to me

the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,

as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,

as if I had been as perfectly obedient

as Christ was obedient for me.

All I need to do

is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.

Can the follower of any other religion say anything remotely like this?! Praise God for the gospel!

Here are the proof texts: Rom 3:21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Phil 3:8-11; Rom 3:9-10; Rom 7:23; Titus 3:4-5; Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8; Rom 4:3-5; Gen 15:6; 2 Cor 5:17-19; 1 John 2:1-2; Rom 4:24-25; 2 Cor 5:21; John 3:18; Acts 16:30-31.

You can find more of the Heidelberg Catechism here

What’s the speed of our obedience?

“I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments” Psalm 116:60.

When you’re driving your car, there are two pedals that affect your speed – the brake and the accelerator. The brakes slow you down and the accelerator speeds you up. These two pedals can help us appreciate what the Psalmist says in this verse.

When it comes to obeying God’s commands, sometimes we can put our foot on the brakes. We want to slow things down. “Hang on! I know the Bible says stuff about the Sabbath, or about not stealing, or about forgiving others, or about the importance of prayer, but it can’t be that straight-forward”. So, we delay our obedience. We come up with excuses. We put it off and drag our feet. But the psalmist says: “I … do not delay to keep your commandments”. He won’t touch the brake pedal when it comes to obeying God’s commandments.

But that’s not all. Not only does the psalmist not want to slow down his obedience; he’s not happy to coast along either and keep his speed at 30 mph. “I hasten… to keep your commandments” he says. When he hears a commandment, he doesn’t just avoid slowing down his obedience; he deliberately speeds it up. He puts his foot on the accelerator. He wants to get from 30 to 70 mph as quickly as possible. Isn’t that a beautiful idea? God’s commandments are so good, that when he hears them, he wants to align his life with them as quickly as he can.

This is how Jesus talked when he was on earth; he was quick to obey his heavenly Father: “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments”. And this is how Jesus leads Christians to talk too.

So, a good question to ask ourselves is: what’s the speed of our obedience? Are we putting the brakes on? Or maybe we’re just driving on spiritual cruise-control. Or are we putting our foot down fully on the throttle? When I come to church, which attitude do I have? Which pedal have I got my foot on? The brake or the accelerator? Wouldn’t it be great if we as a congregation were determined not to delay, but to hasten to keep the commandments of God as we discover them in Scripture? Let’s pray that as we turn up on Sundays, we’re like a bunch of boy-racers, revving their engines at the traffic lights, eager to obey God.

Confession of sin – the fruit of the Spirit

Some of you have asked for the words for this confession of sin that we used recently in church. Here it is:

The fruit of the Spirit is love,

But we have loved darkness rather than light,

and loved you too little and ourselves too much.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is joy,

But we have been sour, and bitter,

and the joy of the LORD has been absent.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is peace,

But we have fretted and worried.

We have forgotten the finished work of Christ and doubted your fatherly care.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is patience,

But we have snapped at others, and questioned your wise timing.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness,

But we have been harsh, cutting, and biting,

So unlike our Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed for his persecutors.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is goodness,

But we have often chosen the passing pleasures of sin, over your good laws.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness,

But we have been unreliable; we have let others down, and not taken our baptismal vows and marriage vows seriously.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness,

But we have been unwilling to yield, and stiff-necked

 

The fruit of the Spirit is self-control,

But our wills have been weak, and our own sinful desires have got the better of us.

 

Lord, please show us your mercy.

Lord, have mercy on us

in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why it’s good to be in a cessationist church

In the Bible, God talks in the following ways:

  • Elijah heard a still small voice (1 K 19:12).
  • Samuel heard a voice calling him (1 Sam 3:4, 6-8, 10).
  • Ezekiel received dramatic visions (Eze 1:4-28; 10:1-22).
  • Balaam heard a donkey talk (Num 22:28).
  • Belshazzar saw a hand write on a wall (Dan 5:5-6, 25-28).
  • Ezekiel’s hearers saw a dramatic enactment (Eze 4:1-17).
  • Daniel received vivid dreams (Dan 7:1)
  • Abraham had a knock at the front door (Gen 18:1)
  • John touched, and saw, and heard God in the flesh (1 John 1:1)
  • Peter was visited by an angel (Acts 12:7)
  • The seven churches of Asia received personal letters from the risen Christ (Rev. 1:19-3:22).
  • The congregation at Corinth heard ecstatic tongues translated (1 Cor 14:5)
  • The Israelites heard God’s booming voice out of the fire at Horeb (Deut 4:15)
  • The high priest used a special device called the Urim and Thummim (Ezra 2:63).

Some churches teach that God still uses this mixture of avenues to speak to us today. These are often called “charismatic” or “continuationist” churches. Presbyterian churches believe that God has stopped revealing himself in these ways, and now only reveals himself to us in the Scriptures. That is what the label “cessationist” means – we believe the former ways of God revealing his will have now ceased. But this position gets misunderstand in a number of ways:

  1. “Cessationist churches believe God has stopped talking”. No, we don’t believe that! We believe God has stopped talking through dreams and visions (etc.), but he continues to talk to us in the Bible, loud and clear and in a living way. Every Sunday at church, the Holy Spirit is speaking to us, not by adding to Scripture, but by applying it to us.
  2. “Cessationist churches believe God doesn’t do miracles anymore”. No, we don’t believe that! Cessationism has got nothing to do with supernaturalism. Is God still the Creator of heaven and earth today? Of course! Is Christ alive and ruling over heaven and earth today? Of course! Is the Holy Spirit at work raising people to new life who were dead in sin? Of course! Without supernaturalism, there’s no gospel. Cessationism isn’t about supernaturalism; it’s about revelation.
  3. “Cessationism is disappointing; God talking to me in a book doesn’t seem as exciting as a dream”. No, cessationism is more exciting. It says that with Jesus Christ and the complete Bible in our possession, everything God wants you to know for your life lies on the pages between those two covers. If you look for new revelation today, it actually means the revelatory content of the Scriptures is incomplete; it means you need more than Scripture. If you think God speaks extra stuff, outside Scripture today, it actually means Scripture is inadequate revelation. So, cessationism is really the flipside of believing in the sufficiency of Scripture. We are cessationists because we believe the Bible is completely sufficient for revealing God’s will to us.

This is why it’s good to be in a cessationist church. Cessationism is about stopping anything that will water down and interfere with the exclusive authority of the Bible in the life of a church. Cessationism protects God’s people from intruders adding to God’s perfect revelation. It means any words spoken by me, as a minister, or by anyone else, have zero authority, unless backed up by chapter and verse. Don’t wish for the old days when God’s will wasn’t completely revealed. Rejoice that with a complete Bible in our hands, God’s will for our lives is sitting there in black and white print; and pray that the Holy Spirit takes that black and white print and writes it on our hearts and the hearts of many more people in Ilford.

Handshakes & church membership

You’re going to be hearing me talk about church membership in the coming months at church, and church membership makes some people run a mile. But it might be helpful to think of church membership as a handshake. Handshaking is something we do all the time. At church I try and shake everyone’s hand. It’s a way of saying: “hello” and expressing appreciation for someone. But some handshakes are particularly important: maybe two boys shake hands after a fight, or businessmen shake hands to seal a deal.

In Gal 2:9, Paul talks about a very special handshake. In fact, it’s so special, he gives it its own name and it’s still stuck in his memory years later:

“They gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me”.

This handshake between the leaders in Jerusalem and Paul and Barnabas is called the right hand of fellowship; it clearly isn’t any old handshake. The leaders in Jerusalem didn’t give this handshake to anyone. Nor was it a handshake that Paul could just ask for or demand. “They gave… [it] to Barnabas and me”. And with this gesture the visible church at Jerusalem formally recognized the Christian fellowship they shared with Paul and Barnabas.

This is how we should think of church membership; it’s the visible church of Christ extending the right hand of fellowship to me. So, church membership isn’t primarily something I give, but something I receive. It’s not about me signing up or volunteering in the church. It’s not what the extra enthusiastic Christian does. It’s the visible church of Christ recognising and embracing me as a believer. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it very helpfully when he said:

Many see church membership as a dignity they confer on the church, instead of the highest privilege anyone can ever know – Life in the Spirit, p. 196.

I hope as we move towards church membership, the privilege of receiving “the right hand of fellowship” will stick in your mind; we should be pinching ourselves in disbelief – “do I get to be recognized as part of the body of Christ?! Wow!”.

Now the flip-side of this, of course, is that if church membership is received not given, it can also be taken away from me. If we’re let in, we can also be let out. If there’s a right hand of fellowship, there’s also a right boot of fellowship. But that’s a post for another day…

Nails or screws?

It wouldn’t surprise me if some of you inwardly groan when we sing a Psalm in our Sunday services. The tunes aren’t always gripping, and I doubt the words resonate quickly. In his great little book, “Singing the Songs of Jesus”, Michael Lefebvre uses a brilliant illustration to explain what’s probably happening when we feel like that:

“Nails are efficiently designed for what they do. With the forceful swing of a hammer, your nail will sink through one board and secure to the board behind.

Screws, likewise, are well designed for their purpose. Although similar to the nail in many ways, the screw has the added feature of spiralled thread running up its shaft, and a notched head. But the screw’s distinct design requires a distinct action. It must be turned into the surface with a screwdriver, not pounded like a nail. (Can you imagine the splintering mess which would result if a builder started hammering screws into two-by-fours?). For the screw to function at its best, it must be used according to its design.

The same is true of the Psalms. The ancient hymns of Israel (the Psalms) are as different from modern hymns as screws are from nails… the Psalms… lead us in a very different ‘method’ of praise than modern church songs…

To be specific: modern hymns are typically designed to prompt praise through declaration…

The Psalms are different, however. Although the Psalms are full of declarations of praise, they also include doubts, contradictions, problems, and expectations of judgment – all of which feel very awkward to sing if we sing the Psalms within the expectations of modern hymnody (rather like the awkwardness of driving screws with a hammer). But this is part of the distinct design of biblical hymns; and, it is a distinct design which calls for a distinct expectation and ‘heart activity’ as we sing them.

… it is my thesis… that in the Psalms, praise is the expected outcome, but meditation is the underlying activity which we undertake in Psalm singing. Unlike modern church songs which are primarily about ‘getting right to the point’ and declaring praise, the Psalms are designed to help people who don’t always feel like praising begin by meditating on the mess the world is in, and only through a full and robust process of meditation, to come out with praise”. (p.95-97).

So, if you sigh when we sing the psalms, it could be that you’re trying to hammer a screw, when you should be using a screwdriver. The heart action you need to sing Psalm 71 is different to “In Christ alone”. By calling us to sing the psalms (Eph 5:19), God is reminding us that true worship is much more active than passive; this kind of heart work is hard work. Like different equipment in the gym, God is exercising different spiritual muscles when we sing psalms.  If you want help to meditate on the Psalms properly, the book by Michael Lefebvre really is excellent.