The Monday Morning After the AECW Quinta Youth Camp

Quinta

It’s the Monday morning after the AECW Quinta Youth Camp. Our seventeen amazing leaders are propping open their eyes with matchsticks. Our two valiant speakers are in a daze trying to work out what year it is. And our tireless cooks found themselves planning meals for 90 in their sleep last night!

But there’s another feeling that we all have in common today: a sense that it was all worth it.

Every hour of sleep we lost. Every last ounce of strain that our voices endured. Every moment spent trying to understand the humour of Lewis, Dan, and Raul. It was worth it.

In fact, I imagine there’s a third feeling that we’re all experiencing today.

It’s a sense of knowing our own helplessness.

Helpless to bring young people into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Helpless to open the eyes of teenagers to the life-changing beauty of God’s grace. Helpless to bust the myths that satisfaction, identity, hope, meaning and freedom can be found anywhere other than in Jesus Christ.

Yet we hope. God is still in the business of changing lives.

And we pray. The Spirit is our great ally. He draws people of all ages into God’s kingdom. He reveals the gospel of grace. He points towards total fulfilment being found in Jesus.

So we rest. And we look for signs of the Spirit’s work. And nothing would give us a greater sense that it was worth it than seeing these young people following Christ.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)

Rev. Dr. Iain D. Campbell’s Final Sermon: Transcript

 

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Rev. Dr. Iain D. Campbell, 1963-2017

 

You can listen to Iain D. Campbell’s sermons here. Preached on Wednesday 18th January 2017, this sermon – ‘My Ultimate Assurance’ – was his final sermon before his death.


My Ultimate Assurance

Now let’s turn for a short while, seeking God’s help, to the passage we read in John and chapter 6, reading again at verse 37:

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Now these words form part of a very familiar passage and of a very familiar sermon which Jesus preached. And he preached the sermon after performing a miracle. In fact, his congregation at this time was the congregation that was drawn to follow him as a consequence of the miracle. And both the sermon and the miracle have a common theme. They are both centred around bread. The miracle was the miracle of the feeding of the crowd with bread and fish, the sermon was on the theme of Jesus as the bread of life.

And we shouldn’t read this passage without seeing the connection between what he did in the miracle and what he taught in the sermon. The miracle ends with the people saying, ‘This is indeed the prophet.’ So the miracle bore witness to Christ as the prophet. And in the sermon, it is the Prophet who speaks. He comes as God’s final Prophet – as God’s last Prophet – and he delivers this great gospel message. And what is set before the crowd in the drama of the miracle is now set before them in the doctrine of the sermon – that is, that Jesus feeds with supernatural bread. And the miracle demonstrated that in the most dramatic fashion, and the sermon set that before the people in the most-clear doctrinal fashion. And there’s a sense, you know, in which that’s exactly in which God reveals his grace throughout the Scriptures – drama and doctrine, drama and doctrine. And we need both.

The drama of the redemption, of the Exodus for example, and the great doctrine of the atonement – we need these things side-by-side. The drama of the incarnation, and the doctrine of the NT. And the gospel comes both in experience and in teaching; both in drama and in doctrine. It’s come that way to your life, and to my life if I am a Christian, in the drama of a life-conversion and in the doctrine of the gospel that comes to me with words of eternal life – they are life-bringing words. The words form the doctrine and the miracle reveals the life.

It’s very easy, you know, to fill a church with experience, with experiences – people craving drama. And the interesting thing here in this chapter is that the drama of the miracle drew the crowd but the doctrine of the teaching divided the crowd. They all loved the miracle, but they didn’t all love the doctrine. They were all drawn to what was spectacular and to what was seen, but they weren’t all drawn to what was heard. They were all amazed and they were all taken by the miracle, but the sermon offended most of them and many of them no longer walked with Jesus. Churches that fill themselves with dramatic miraculous experience may draw the crowds, but churches that are word-focused will soon discover where eternal life really is to be found. So the miracle and the sermon stand side-by-side. And both what is seen, and what is heard, are life-bringing and life-changing.

So we’re breaking in on this great sermon where it’s not simply with physical bread dealt supernaturally that Jesus satisfies the needs of people, but a sermon in which he unfolds the fact that he is himself supernatural bread – that he came down from heaven, and that the giving of his flesh is the bread that we need. Now, of course, his Jewish hearers couldn’t understand that – “How could this man give his flesh to eat?” His claim to pre-existence that was offensive – “Why is he saying he came down from heaven, we know who his parents are?” And of course the great fact that he preached the impotence of natural man and the inability of natural man to come for salvation – that too was offensive: ‘No one can come to me except the Father draw him.’ And they found that so repulsive, the thought of eating his flesh, and drinking his blood; his claim to be the exclusive – the only way to God. Many of them from that day walked away from him and no longer with him.

And of course that became the great acid test when he turned to the twelve, and said, “Will you also go away?” And they said, “Lord, to whom?” And tonight I suppose that there are many ways in which that’s the acid test too. It’s not, ‘Can we come?’ But, ‘Will we stay?’ It’s not, ‘Will we come to the great miracle-worker?’ But, ‘Will we follow him?’ Will we take his doctrine and live by his doctrine and find in these words that he’s coming to us, not a naked Christ, but a Christ clothed with his promises, and clothed with words of eternal life.

And among the words of life that he speaks are these: ‘All,’ he says, ‘that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not cast any of them out, because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me.’ It’s a remarkable passage. It’s a passage that is giving us our greatest security. We say to sinners, ‘If you come to Christ, he will not cast you out.’ We say to saints, ‘If you are in Christ, you are secure; if you have life now, you will have resurrection in days to come.’ And really I want to ask tonight, what is the basis for that great assurance, that he will not turn any sinner away, that he will not lose any sinner that he saves, that they will all be with him at last in the glory? That assurance, according to Jesus, is grounded, not simply in what he does, but in the relationship that he has with his own Father. And we need to see behind all the promises of the gospel, that the assurance of these promises is based on relations between persons of the Godhead, and not anything in us – not even in our relationship with any of the persons of the Godhead. The assurance of our ultimate security in Christ is grounded on the relationship in which Jesus stands with his own Father.

And I want to ask, ‘What is that relationship?’ Well of course, at a personal level, it’s the relationship of Father and Son. It’s the Son who’s speaking, and he’s speaking of his Father. And for all eternity that was the being of God, to be One God in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit. These Persons are distinct from one another but they are absolutely and inexhaustibly inseparable – where the One is, all Three are. One of the great church fathers simply says, ‘When I think of the One, I think of the Three; and when I think of the Three, I think of the One.’ Well, that is how we must think of God. One in Three and Three in One; all co-equal; all with full possession of the attributes of God; each one God in his own distinct way.

But it’s not about personal relations that Christ is talking here, not if he can talk about his equal commanding him, and his equal sending him. He’s not talking so much about the personal relation that he has with God the Father, as the formal, official, covenantal relationship that he has with his Father. Now it’s a grand and a great and an inexhaustible theme, but in this one gospel Jesus says both, ‘I and the Father are one’ – there’s the personal relationship – but he also says, ‘The Father is greater than I am’ – as if, there’s some sense in which he was less than his Father. At a personal level that can never be true, but at an official level it can be true, because he’s the Servant of Jehovah.

And that takes us to the whole doctrine of the covenant of redemption that lies back of everything we have in the gospel, that from all eternity the Persons of the Godhead covenanted together for us and our salvation. So at a personal level, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, they are all equal in substance, in power, and in glory, but in the covenant they all have their unique and particular offices. The Father becomes the God of the Son. That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? Why does he call God his Father? Because he’s the equal. So why then does he call the Father his God? Because he’s the Servant, and the Father in the covenant says of him, ‘Behold my Servant.’ He’s the Son personally, but he’s the Servant officially. He’s the Son from all eternity in his being, but he’s the Servant in addition in the covenant. And so in the covenant of redemption the Father is the God of the Son, the Son is the servant of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is One by whom the Father anoints the Son for his service. ‘Behold my servant whom I uphold, my elect one in whom my soul delights, I have put my Spirit upon him.’ The Father will not come down to earth, but the Son will, in humiliation. And the Spirit will come down to earth but without humiliation. And they will retain their personal relationships and their personal attributes – the Son didn’t stop being a Son when he became a Servant, he was ‘in the form of God,’ it was no act of robbery for him to claim equality with God but he took on himself the form of a servant – he is now God’s subordinate and God now says of him, ‘Behold my Servant.’

So it’s in that light that Jesus now speaks in these words. And he says that within that covenant the Father has done three things. First of all, the Father has given him a people – ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me.’ And then he says the Father has sent him to these people – ‘I came down from heaven to do the will of him who sent me.’ So the Father has given him a people who will come to him, but the Father has given him a commission to go to them. So he is in the world as the Sent One, but the Father has also given him a commandment – ‘I am come to do the will of him who sent me, and this is my Father’s will, that I should lose none of those whom he has given me.

1.    The giving of the Father

So all I am saying tonight is this: your salvation and your assurance of grace are grounded in the covenant of redemption by which the Son now speaks of his official position before God, and of that relationship he says this, ‘The Father gifted me a people.’

When sinners come to Christ, they come by an act of will – not native, sinful, spiritually dead will, that will will never come to Christ – but awakened by a power greater than the power of sin, a man comes to Jesus willingly, but he comes not because of his will but because of the sovereign transaction of God, ‘All that the Father gives me, they are the ones who will come to me.’ And so if I have ever come to Christ; if I have ever come to Christ savingly, willingly, in faith, seeking his salvation; if I have come with repentance and penitence and tears; if I have come longing for this bread and saying to him, ‘All that I need, you have, all that you have I want;’ if I have responded to the gospel with any degree of spiritual living interest whatsoever, the reason for that is simply in the fact that the Father gave me to the Son.

And it really is the most staggering and soul searching thing, because the gospel is all about the fact that the Father gave the Son to me. Didn’t he say that just three chapters earlier? ‘God so loved the world that he gave his Son.’ But now the Son is telling me that he so loved sinners, that he gave them to Christ. So if you were ever humbled by the thought that Christ was God’s gift to you, then you remind yourself tonight that in the deep mysteries of the eternal covenant, you were actually God’s gift to Christ, as if the Father said to the Son, ‘What will I give my Son, to show him how much I love him, to enhance his dignity and reputation. He has all things – all things belong to him. And he is daily my delight. How can I make his beauty any more glorious, or his perfection any more complete? I know,’ said the Father, ‘I’ll give him the gift of sinners, that’s what I’ll give him. And in that gift he will have even greater glory than the glory that he possesses in his own personal being. I’ll make him my firstborn, more high than kings of any land, and my covenant will stand with him, and he will have such a reputation because of the sinners that I give him – that all will have their mouths opened at him.’

And how do I know that I’ve been given by the Father to the Son? Because I come to him – that’s how. I may not know that when I come to him. I come to him as a poor, needy, hell-deserving sinner, but I come to him and I say, “To whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.” I say, simply, “To your cross I cling.” And then I realise that behind it all was this remarkable fact of the Father’s own donation – he gifted me to his own Son.

There is the most practical application of that, you know, every time a minister goes into the pulpit to preach the gospel. How does he know that anyone will be saved? Is it because he spent hours in his study preparing his sermon? Is it because he’s put all his energies into the act of preaching? Is it because of his eloquence and his argumentation? Is it because of his logic, is that what will draw sinners? Is it because he is so dramatic or he’s got the ‘x-factor’ in the pulpit, is that what does it? Not at all. If the success of preaching depended on any of these things, no-one would ever come. But I have the assurance that sin-hardened hearts will melt, I have the assurance that hell-bound sinners will turn, not because of anything on this side of the pulpit but because in the covenant of redemption the Father purposed that a people would be born to do service to him – ‘Thine they were, and thou gavest them me.’

And when you’re battling over the soul of your children, both with them and with God – speaking to them about God and speaking to God about them – and when you’re working in your Sunday school and you’re wondering if these children are taking in anything, and when you’re witnessing and when you’re praying and when you’re telling people about Jesus, you just remember that your great assurance isn’t the success of your enterprise but the success of God’s. All the Father gives to the Son, they will come to him – they will come to him. For that he endured the cross, for that he despised the shame, for that he made himself of no reputation, for that he gave his life, for that he endured the scorning and the betraying, for that he endured even the forsakenness of the covenant God at Calvary, for that – for his people, for those whom the Father gave to him.

So, my assurance is grounded first in the giving of the Father.

2.    The sending of the Son

My assurance is grounded, secondly, in the sending of the Son.

‘I’ve come down from heaven to do the will of…’ Whom? ‘…of the One who commissioned me – the One who said to me, “I’m sending you into the far country. There are prodigal sons in the far country. I’m sending you, my Beloved Son, into the far country. I’m sending you out of Paradise and into the wilderness world.”’ He had said that to the first Adam, by way of punishment and banishment. God said to him, “Go.” He drove out the Adam that was in paradise. The remarkable thing is that he said it to the last Adam too. “Go out of the garden paradise that you’ve always inherited – down from heaven, into the wilderness world.” But to him, it was not the world of punishment, it was the world of rescue. “Go, find these prodigals, and bring them home. I’m not going to leave them in the state into which they’ve brought themselves, not until my justice is satisfied and my wrath is extinguished. And I want you to bear them – bear all their sins and their punishment. Go – go, live the life they could never live. Go, bear the death they deserved to die. Go, endure the punishment that ought to be theirs. Go, be their substitute, be the pledge of their salvation. Go, seek and save the lost, leave the ninety-nine and find the one that’s lost.” And the Son is in the world, and he’s in the world under commission.

I often think of our missionaries in different parts of the world, and wonder “Why are you there? Why are you here?” Well, they’ve obeyed some sense of call, they’ve obeyed some sense of summons, but there they are in foreign lands, in alien territory, just because they were sent. And I say to Jesus, “Why are you here? Why are you here? Why, from being the daily delight of the Father did you opt to be a man of sorrows? Why did you choose this portion? Why did you, why did you leave everything else for this?” And he simply says, “I was sent.” “I was sent – I am here as God’s missionary.” Only one Son, and he made him a missionary. And he’s in the world where the first Adam was banished, and the last Adam was sent to find him.

3.    The commission of the Son

So the Father gives to him, and the Father sends him, but the Father sends him under orders – ‘I didn’t come down from heaven to do my own will.’ Now, listen to who is talking. This is God of very God. This is the One who was in the beginning with God, who is God, who has the right to command, and just occasionally there is a flash of that sovereignty – when he says to his creation, to the winds and the waves, be still. And there’s a calm, and they say, ‘What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?’ But the winds and the waves said it first, ‘What kind of man is this,’ recognising the voice of their Creator. He speaks into death – he says to Lazarus, ‘Come forth,’ and Lazarus, who was powerless to come out of the grave, is now powerless to stay in the grave because of the sovereign will of the Christ who spoke.

He has every right to command, but it was not to command that he came. ‘I came down from heaven, I made the descent, not to parade my right of sovereignty, but to take the form of a servant under commission and under orders of my Commissioner – I am here to obey, to do the will of Another.’ And all through his life he’s conscious of that, isn’t he? ‘I must be about my Father’s business,’ says the teenage prophet. And the mature Prophet in the garden says, ‘Not mine will, but Thine be done.’ So I want to know, ‘What are your orders? What did the Father command you? What’s in your commission? What are you here to do?’ And he tells me, ‘I am here, first of all, to give life to everyone who looks on the Son.’ This is the Father’s will, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes on him should have eternal life. ‘I’m here to give them life.’ Or, to put it in the language of chapter seventeen, ‘The words you gave to me I have given to them; I give to them eternal life. I have come that they might have life and have it in all its abundance.’

The first Adam is banished out of Paradise to a realm of death; the last Adam is sent out of Paradise with a commission to bring life, so that everyone who looks to the Son and believes on the Son will have eternal life. The reason you have eternal life in your soul tonight is because of the obedience of the Servant of Jehovah. By grace you looked through faith and the Son was commissioned to give life to all who would look at him, and to give it in all its abundance. The Father says to the Son, ‘Give life.’ The Father says to the Son, ‘Do not lose one of them. Don’t lose one of them.’

Remarkable, isn’t it? ‘This is the Father’s will who sent me, that of all that he has given me I should lose none – not one.’ He won’t appear at last in glory with some of us who believed in him. He won’t stumble and drop some of us along the way. He will say in the great words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Behold I and the children whom God has given to me.’ Every one of them accounted for; every one named in the decree of election, present at last when the roll is called up yonder. And God gave them all to him, and at points in time they came to him, and he invested them with eternal life, and they started on their pilgrimage. And they went through dangers, toils, and snares but he did not lose one of them. And they stumbled and they fell, but they were not cast off utterly. And underneath them always were everlasting arms. And in the darkness he was their light. And in the storm he was their shelter. And he didn’t lose any of them in the darkness or in the storm. Every one of them accounted for.

And Satan made many attempts to rest them out of his hand, but found it impossible. Aimed his arrows at them, and they hit, and they backslid. And sometimes, in Satan’s sieve, as Peter would discover, they would find themselves breaking their promises to him – ‘I’ll go with you to prison and death.’ Then, at the campfire of the world, he is cursing and swearing and saying, “I never knew this man.” But it wasn’t Peter’s grip of Christ that kept him. It wasn’t even Christ’s grip of Peter that kept him. It was Christ’s obedience to the Father that kept him. ‘This is the will of him who sent me, that not one should be lost – not one should be lost.’

You’re all familiar with the footprints poem. “One set of footprints, that’s when I carried you.” Well I wonder, I think from the moment I became a Christian, I think there were only ever one set of footprints, and they were all his. And when he brings me at last into his glory it will be to the praise of his glorious grace. ‘That I should lose not one.’

So I say, ‘Well, I’ve got the security of knowing that if I come to him he won’t cast me away, and I’ve got the security of knowing that he won’t lose me, but what about death – what about the last enemy, what about that great enemy that I must face?’ Well, you see, that’s included in the commission too. ‘This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day.’ The days are ticking by. The hour came that the world and that the Saviour was waiting for – the hour has come, that hour came and went. The day of atonement came and went. The day of resurrection came and went. The day of Pentecost came and went. The day of your conversion came and went. And many other days came and went too. And the last day will come because last days always come. The last day of the year always comes. The last day of the holidays always comes. The last day of the week always comes. The last day always comes. And the last day of the world’s history will come too. And Christ has written in his commission the Father’s command that every one that he has died to save he will raise up when the last day comes. And he will stoop down to gather the dust of his people, and assemble it together, and raise it immortal and glorious like his own body. Because he’s the surety, not just for their souls but for their entire persons.

You remember the great argument of Judah in the book of Genesis when, after all that the brothers had gone through, Joseph insisted that Benjamin should stay his slave and the rest should go back home. And Judah stepped forward and said, ‘I gave a promise to my father, that it would be my life for that of Benjamin.’ He had sold his brother Joseph as a slave into Egypt, and now in Egypt he is willing to make himself a slave for the other son of Rachel, for Benjamin – ‘How can I go back to my father,’ he says, ‘if the boy is not with me?’ And I seem to hear a Greater-Than-Judah – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Servant of Jehovah – speaking the same language, ‘How can I go back to the glory that I had with the Father before the world was if my people are not with me, raised in triumph over the neck of death and of the grave?’ It is his obedience that will ensure the final resurrection of all of his people – saved in time, and saved to eternity.

So tonight, you must look to the obedience of Jesus as your great and ultimate security. What he is to his Father – to whom the Father gave a people, whom the Father sent for you, and whom the Father has commanded now to give your life, and keep you in life, until that life triumphs over death and you come to the Head of the Fountain from which you began to drink in the gospel here below. And may that Christ be to us our All in All.

Amen – may God bless to us our thoughts and meditation on his own word.

The Good God & a son without a father

The Good God and a son without his father colour

Five years ago my dad lost his battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Recently I’ve had the great joy of sharing his and our story (which I plan to blog at a later date). I’ve also had the chance to reflect on this event specifically in light of providence and other aspects of the doctrine of creation. Simply put, this is a personal reflection on how who God is has comforted me over the last five years.

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Reflections on personal history in light of providence and other aspects of the doctrine of creation

In the early hours of the morning of the 19th November 2009 my dad let out his final breath. His breathing had been laboured and pain-filled for almost a day by this point, his body groaning as a result of the final blow of its enemy, Multiple Sclerosis. I leaned over and kissed his forehead one last time, drawing his eye-lids shut as I stepped back. He lay in the arms of his beloved and now heart-broken wife. I moved to comfort my mother before going to make the necessary phone calls. Five years on and it seems like just last night.

Reflection on worldly doctrines of creation

I wonder what I might have felt that night, and many nights afterwards, if the sovereign God had not claimed my affections. What would that night have looked like if my God was not the Uncreated, Creator and Sustainer of all things?

I might have interpreted the event through a fatalistic ideology that would limit God’s power to intervene. Mankind has rebelled against its Creator and now we live in a broken world, riddled by disease and illness. God was powerless to prevent my dad from getting Multiple Sclerosis. He was powerless to prevent him deteriorating at the pace in which he did and so it was merely inevitability that his body would eventually fail him – the simple cause-and-effect of broken human biology, operating outside the control of God.

Or perhaps without a God of providence I might have put it down to chance. It just so happened that my dad was my dad; it just so happened that he suffered this illness; it just so happened that he died on this particular day at this particular time; it just so happened that I found myself in this family at this moment.

The thing is, throughout this period of my life, I just could not believe in either fatalism or fluke. My dad’s passing and all of the emotions and thoughts that came with it just could not be explained by fatalism or fluke. I wanted to thank God for providing me with my father; for providing my mum with her husband; for providing my sisters with their dad. But why thank a god who is powerless to intervene? Is he even the one to thank, if everything is just one big fluke? Indeed if everything is one big fluke then why do I feel the need to thank anyone or offer any praise for my dad’s life – it’s all meaningless anyway, isn’t it?

Fatalism nor fluke could explain it. But rather, as I observe the secondary causes that placed me in that particular situation at that particular time, things point towards purpose rather than accident; to intent rather than fluke; to intervention after intervention rather than mere cause-and-effect.

Reflection on providence

Not long before that night, perhaps just months before, a transformation had taken place in my life. I had gone from seeking pleasure and popularity (indeed from finding pleasure in popularity) to no longer caring about people’s perceptions and opinions. I had become a Christian. God had revealed to me the dazzling wonder of his grace in the person of Jesus Christ against the jet-black backdrop of my now mournful past. I was no longer seeking the empty pleasures characteristic of twenty-first century adolescence but was now in hot pursuit of knowing more and more of my Saviour.

In quite possibly the most painful time of my mum’s life, she didn’t need a self-indulgent adolescent around the house. She needed someone who could point her to her God. She needed someone who could care for her and who could serve her. God had saved me so as to provide for her in this way.

In a dark and confusing time for two young teenage girls, the last thing they needed was an older brother who was leading the way in empty living. They needed someone who could lead the way in how to grieve with hope. God saved me so as to provide them in this way.

The secondary causes that had placed me in that particular situation at that particular time pointed overwhelmingly to a purposeful and powerful God.

This God of purpose and power revealed himself also to be a God of great care. I saw him caring for my mum and my sisters. I saw him care for us as a family in intimately kind ways. One family friend thought that we wouldn’t like to drive around in a wheelchair-accessible car any longer and so gave us her car. Many people gave us money to see us through what were financially difficult days. Church members brought round meals for us well into the following month. All of these acts of kindness pointed towards a God of tremendous care.

Not only did these things point to his care for us as a family but also to the fact that he knew and understood our situation. As our Creator, ‘the LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth – he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.’ (Ps. 33:13-15). I knew his providence then to be not a detached providence, but an intimately involved care and governing. This brought comfort in knowing that I and my family are worth ‘more than many sparrows’ (Matthew 10:31) to God.

Reflections on God’s sovereignty as Creator

What gave God the right to rule over this situation – to move people to generosity and to manoeuvre circumstances – is the fact that, as Creator of everything, he owns everything and everyone. Through seeing that my dad’s life was not his own (‘the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away’ – Job 1:21); through seeing that my mum’s life was not her own (she would not have chosen this course of events), it came home to me that I did not only belong to God because he had ransomed me in the Lord Jesus, but that even if I did not bow the knee to him, he is still my rightful Owner.

This had a significant impact on how I responded to that situation. As the rightful Owner of all things – including me – I had no right to shake my fist at God and complain of his dealings. I remembered something that my uncle and aunty had written on the order of service for the funeral of their 10 year old daughter and it struck a chord – “We thank God for loaning Megan to us for 10 great years.” They understood how the reality that God, as Creator, having an implied ownership of all things impacted on their response to him. I was beginning to learn a similar lesson.

In the midst of the difficulty, the truth that God is a wise and good ruler brought much comfort. Because God is wise, I could trust him to deal wisely with me. I could trust him that even though at the time things were unclear and painful, he was working out his wise purposes. He understands his creation better than anyone else does. Who better to have ordain my steps and circumstances? Many a nights were spent during this period of time sitting and resting in the knowledge that God is a wise Sovereign.

Many a nights were spent marvelling at the fact that God is not only a wise Sovereign, but a benevolent Sovereign also. His creation is good (Genesis 1) because it comes from Him, and so I could trust him to be able to work all things together for my good, and for my family’s good (Romans 8:28). This brings a new dimension to reflecting on the past as God, in manoeuvring circumstances and ruling over his creation, is not just showing off his power or his wisdom, but is working for the good of his creation. There is a great deal of comfort to be found in reflecting on this truth.

At the heart of God’s benevolent care for his creation is his care for his people. Not only is he able to work all things together for his peoples’ good, but he does work all things together for his peoples’ good. During this time upon which I am reflecting, it brought great hope to rest in the knowledge of God’s good intentions.

Reflections on God’s will in creating

Having a biblical doctrine of creation means believing nothing happens by chance. Believing that the opposite is true only brings a sense of hopelessness. My dad’s death would have been pointless. The grief that I was experiencing would have been merely an inconvenience. But knowing that God creates and sustains by his will (Revelation 4:11), meant that I could have a very real hope that my dad had not died in vain; that the grief I was experiencing had purpose. Looking back, much character shaping was done through that event. God willed that my dad would die, and that is a hope-inspiring truth.

The fact that God sustains his creation by his will also gave me strength to carry on. If God did not sustain by his will, then by implication I am self-existent. That’s not good news when you feel incredibly frail and life seems so obviously fragile. But the truth is that since God is the purposeful Sustainer, then I am invincible until God says otherwise. Grief would not overwhelm me. The seemingly immense responsibility ahead of looking after my younger sisters and mum would not crush me. God would sustain; God did sustain.

Therefore, all the glory belongs to God. The world might look at this situation and think that it speaks of my strength or resolve. The fact of the matter is that it speaks of God’s strength and resolve. To him belongs all the praise as it is due to him that we, his creatures, are sustained.

Summary

Providence and the biblical doctrine of creation is good news. It inspires hope, brings comfort, gives meaning, and allows us to interpret history in light of these things. As Creator, Owner and Sustainer he is due all the glory for everything that is praiseworthy.

Personally, it means that I can look back on an emotional event and not hate God. It means that there is nothing in God to hate, and indeed I have no right to do anything but praise him. It means that even though I don’t understand everything that has happened, I can trust that his purposes and intentions are good and wise, and so rest in the fact that I don’t need to understand everything.

It is then a great joy to finish with the words of Revelation 4:11,

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

Reflections on a week of prayer

This last week we embarked on a ‘week of prayer’ as a church. It was nothing extravagant – one prayer meeting in the morning, one prayer meeting in the evening, Monday to Friday, 45mins to an hour in length.

And when I say it was nothing extravagant, it’s because it really wasn’t! We could have been more creative and engaging. We could have gotten out and about to pray in certain geographical areas and for certain places; we could have had more visual aids to help direct our thoughts; we could have done many other helpful things that would help us to pray, but for whatever reason, we didn’t. It was simply a group of us sat together in a cold (though surprisingly not too cold) church building, praying. Twice a day, for five days. It was so simplistic, and yet right now I can’t think of a better way to spend five days’ worth of spare time.

Reflecting on the week, here are three things that I’ve learned and/or been reminded of:

1. God teaches us as we pray

Sometimes we might think that prayer is a completely different subject to teaching for the Christian. We are taught from the Bible, and we respond in prayer. We are taught as we read, and we then discipline ourselves to pray. But while it’s true that we are indeed taught from the Bible we are taught also as we pray.

This makes sense doesn’t it? Particularly as we pray together as God’s people. A big part of our praying is that we verbally affirm truths about God. This is how Jesus prays in John 17. So in verses 1-5, for example, his request – “Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (v.1,5) – is made with a string of affirmations about the Father – “You have granted [the Son] authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him”; “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” When Jesus prayed he verbally affirmed truths about God.

When we pray out loud together as God’s people, we find that people voice truths about God that we have not pondered before, or that we have not pondered for a while. God teaches us through his people as we pray together.

2. God convicts us as we pray

Praying is an emotional task. Take Psalm 90 for example, which is a prayer Moses prayed. It’s so clearly packed with emotion as he retraces how “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (Ps. 90:1) Retracing our steps is always an emotional task. You don’t have to talk about ‘good old days’ with an old friend for very long before you find yourself experiencing the emotions of yesteryear, the highs and the lows. Praying is an emotional task. It was emotional for the Lord Jesus too, more emotional than we will know it to be. Just consider Gethsemane; consider the intensity of Matthew 26:36-46, of Mark 14:32-42 and of Luke 22:39-46 as Jesus prays before being betrayed and crucified.

And praying is an emotional task even in more ordinary prayers. Why? Because the very act of praying is a humbling act. It says, “God I am completely dependent upon you.” And in the midst of our humility and our vulnerability, to pray is to say, “God, you are completely dependable, completely sufficient.” As we are brought to that point, God convicts us. He convicts us not only in the negative sense of the word. He doesn’t just convict us of sin (though he absolutely does) as we pray. He convicts/convinces/persuades us of ways forward, of steps to take, of people to minister to and so much more. In the vulnerability of of corporate prayer, God deals with us.

3. God unites us as we pray

There’s something special about God’s people praying audibly together. There’s something unique that is achieved as we pour out our hearts and minds to God among brothers and sisters. In these times we are struck that the person sat a few seats around from us who annoyed us earlier with an off-hand comment about something or someone, is in fact a child of the King, and so our annoyance disappears. In these times we can sit opposite somebody who we disagree with on x, y or z on how church should function and love them as we hear them speaking to our God – the God we share; the God we worship together. When we pray together small things are seen for what they are – small things.

Of course, this isn’t a given. In 1 Timothy 2:8 we see that Christian men in first century Ephesus were full of anger as they prayed. Disputes even broke out during prayer times! (Nobody ever said a prayer meeting was boring in first century Ephesus…) Corporate prayer is a great opportunity for us to come and lay down our preferences and put our little annoyances aside – but we need take that opportunity. We can harbour anger in our hearts against one another even as we pray together. Disputes still break out in prayer meetings today – probably not so often as clear cut disputes, but we can easily turn our prayers into duals and try to counter-act something that somebody else has prayed! Corporate prayer is an amnesty invitation to gather together around our great God and Saviour with worshipful hearts, not divisive hearts. Corporate prayer entices unity. I’m pretty sure that we could coin the phrase “Show me a united church, and I’ll show you a praying church.”

In summary…

Let’s not neglect meeting together… to pray. It has value. It has bigger value than we know. And in a (Christian) culture that is constantly in our face urging us to do, do, do, we need to remember to gather together and pray, pray, pray.

End of Year 1 – Thank You!

Dear family and friends,

Little over a year ago I made the decision to begin training for full-time pastoral ministry. I am writing to thank you for the support you have shown to me over the last twelve months, and also to give you an update on how things are going.

In September 2013 I began a course of study at Oak Hill College. Oak Hill is based in London but has also established a learning ‘base’ for distance education students in Liverpool. When I was looking choose a theology course to take, I had two desires (if you take the need for the course to teach sound doctrine as a given!)  that I wanted said course to satisfy: I wanted the course to, 1) allow me to stay as a part of my home church and, 2) offer the opportunity to meet with other theological students as regularly as possible. The course in Theological and Pastoral Studies offered by Oak Hill via the North West Partnership in Liverpool looked like, and has proved to be a good fit.

It has meant that I travel over to Liverpool on the train on Tuesdays and Thursdays where I meet up with 7 other students. We meet in a building owned by the North West Partnership and Christ Church Liverpool and there we watch video recordings of lectures from Oak Hill. This year I have studied the following modules: Biblical Theology; The Word of God; Theological Reflection; OT: The Pentateuch, Joshua & Judges; Denominational Identity; Church Planting; Ministry for Corporate Worship; OT: Prophetic & Wisdom Literature; An Introduction to NT Greek. I am extremely thankful for the lecturers of these modules who have stretched my thinking and unpacked gem after gem from God’s Word for me! I have uploaded most of my essays to an online blog (www.deiniolsblog.wordpress.com) should you want to see in more detail the content of some of the modules.

While proving to be very demanding, the course is, however, only part-time. The rest of my time week-to-week is spent as a ‘trainee elder’ at Gwersyllt Congregational Church. Ministry ‘trainee’ job-titles are, in my opinion, one of the vaguest job-titles you can come across! So let me explain a little bit of what I do as a trainee elder. What the title is helpful in suggesting is that I am being trained for eldership. Practically, this looks like sitting in on elders meetings, regular conversations and meetings with the existing elders, visiting people from the church family, preaching, leading a church ‘community group’ and co-leading another ‘community group’ which we hope will soon have the foundations to become a church plant. In this role I would value your prayers. Training for eldership cannot have a timescale as the qualifications for eldership are not primarily academic qualifications, nor experiential qualifications, but are spiritual qualifications. Please pray that I would mature spiritually in order to serve the church in the role of an elder.

It has not always been easy to get ‘the balance’ between studies at Oak Hill and work at Gwersyllt Congregational Church, in fact, it has been very difficult. Having vetoed university, I have found myself needing to cultivate a study-ethic from scratch, and at times it is much easier to throw discipline out the window and spend the bulk of my time on non-study based projects. However, while this has been challenging, I am grateful to God for the opportune to spend a number of years intentionally studying who He is and what He has done. Thank you for the ways in which you have supported me in both study and church work, and thank you for your prayers.

In summary, looking back over the last twelve months I can see and feel that I have known God’s blessing in this work. Perhaps the main lesson I have learned (and re-learned) is that He is faithful. I hope I get to spend many more years diving deeper into this truth.

Next steps? Well, the next twelve months will be similar in many ways. I will continue with Oak Hill for another year before the course looks set to change provider to WEST, and I will continue for another year at least at Gwersyllt Congregational Church. There will be, however, one beautiful change. In July Charis and I will get married! We can’t quite believe the wedding is now just seven weeks away! Following the wedding and our return from our ‘honeymoon’ we will be living in Wrexham. We are both thankful that we have been able to buy a small apartment in Wrexham itself – our new address being the address at the top of this letter.

As well as knowing God’s provision in the form of a home, we are also so thankful that He has provided Charis with a job teaching history at a school in Malpas, a 30 minute drive from our home. Please pray for Charis as she finishes off her PGCE and begins her first teaching post.

Something that has overwhelmed me over the course of the last year has been the generosity of many people in helping support me in my studies, church work and recently in our purchasing of our first home. I, and we, are incredibly grateful to you all and to the generous God who is at work in you. As I’m sure you can appreciate, these two big steps of moving into our first home and getting married have increased our forecasted expenditure for the next year. While the course at Oak Hill is a good fit, it does come with fairly large tuition fee demands and also travel demands, approximately to the sound of £5000. I am currently trying to enlist the support for another year of an evangelical trust. Without their financial support last year I would not have been able to enrol at Oak Hill. Studying brings with it not only financial demands, but is also very time-demanding. This arrangement of study and work in the church leaves me with very little time to find paid employment elsewhere in order to raise funds. As a result, this year I will be heavily reliant on the generosity of trusts, family and friends again. I don’t want to push this matter any further in this letter, so if you would like more information on this front please get in touch. Once again, thank you for your generosity

So, thanks for being part of what has been an amazing journey so far! I’m looking forward to chapter 2.

With love and from a grateful heart,

Deiniol