Monday, 25 April 2011

Psalm 121

My Help Comes from the LORD

A Song of Ascents.

121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The View from the Valley

No one wants to be diagnosed with a brain tumour. A craniotomy still sounds to me like a medieval form of torture, or at best an early Victorian form of surgery when lusty butchers hacked away with lots of gusto and little precision. This is not something I would have chosen to have faced, but I feel as well prepared as possible, and I want to share why.

I’m quite familiar with hospitals.

Normally I pop in, have a chat, read a passage from the bible, pray- then it’s back out to the car and home. It’s been an altogether different experience of late. Here I am in the valley. And I’m pleased to report, there is much to be thankful for, even here.

I watched Question Time recently and one panellist lamented ‘where is Florence Nightingale?’ speaking of the nurses she had encountered in the NHS and complaining that it was to them a profession rather than a vocation. Well our Florence Nightingale’s are all in the Monklands and Southern and General Hospitals. They are professionals- and I’m pleased to know that before I pop the pills they provide, but they lack nothing in care and compassion. I am therefore very reluctant to offer any criticism of them. One thing however I have had to correct is when they say to me –knowing I’m a minister- ‘its good you have your faith.’ Maybe it’s a phrase you’ve used before, I’ve heard it repeatedly in the last few days. But the reality is my faith is no help to me. It’s the Object of my faith who matters.

When I hear the phrase ‘its good you have your faith’ I respond ‘I have a great God’. My faith is powerless to help, to heal to comfort or console, but the One I have faith in is my Rock my Redeemer my Refuge and my Rest.

Commending me for my faith as if it’s something I’ve worked hard to earn is to totally miss the point. I have great hope, because I have a great God.

There is a peculiar peace and even joy in suffering as a Christian. Spurgeon said   'I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the rock that is Christ.' These past few days have driven us deeper to God. We have known the presence of the living Lord and the power of prayer. Every day God has gifted us the grace we’ve needed and we trust in that grace for the day tomorrow!

I’m pleased to report that the passages I’ve read to others in difficult days are proving true sources of strength and peace in the valley. I’ve been dwelling in some very familiar places; Psalm 23, John 14, Romans 8, Psalm 103. What power there is in these words.

God has prepared us for this so well in many ways, recently I’ve been reading Bonar’s biography of McCheyne (buy this if you can!) a minister of the gospel who suffered much, but whose sufferings bore much fruit.

McCheyne also knew he was a sinner. When suffering came there was no anger, no ‘why me’, no questioning of God’s sovereignty or goodness. I have to say a lot of man-centred rubbish which passes for Christian literature today would have left me totally unprepared for the valley.

I am a sinner. A few non-Christian friends have been surprised that a minister- (surely a good guy) and a nice minister, and a young minister would face something like this. The reality is Jesus does not promise his followers a life of comfort and ease, infact he promises the opposite. But he does promise his presence and peace to those who turn to and trust in him. He is faithful to that promise and to his people.

Neither have I any cause for complaint. I have not just broken his commandments, I’ve broken the one Jesus called the most important.

Actually I’ve broken it every day.
Truth be told, I’m not convinced I’ve perfectly fulfilled it for five minutes of my 31 years of life.

And yet for 31 years he’s let me breathe his air.

I don’t know how many times my heart has beaten, or my lungs have filled over these years but I’ve not earned a single breath or beat. I never earned my way into existence in 1980, and haven’t made up for that since. It’s all gift, all grace. We all like to think we’re good people. That the scales of our lives tip the right way, for that reason people put ministers like me on a pedestal. The truth is we’re all sinners, we’ve all treated the God who gifts us life as if he didn’t matter, we all need forgiveness. And its only found in Jesus.

Only in Jesus has a truly good man got what he didn’t deserve- he got it on the cross, to take the punishment of every believer.

I believe God is going to heal me, but I don’t fear death, not because I’m good, because I’m forgiven. I know God’s smile in the valley, he is for me, he is with me, he goes before me.

If you were to be brought into the valley, would you know this hope and peace? If not, stop praying for me and start praying for yourself. This wee website explains the gospel, but best thing to do is to find a strong Christian and a bible to talk\pray you through this.

As I was saying I have a lot to live for. And a lot to be thankful for.

As well as all the stuff we take for granted- life, food, colour, music, laughter, security etc

I have a loving, faithful, beautiful, loyal, godly wife
A beautiful wee girl who can make me weep just by calling me daddy
A great mum and wee brother who have loved me so well throughout my life
A church family who have been overwhelmingly kind, thoughtful, patient, prayerful, and loving.

Death for me as a Christian is gain.

But I’m not ashamed to say I’m praying for many more years here with these blessings and responsibilities. I want to be about to vet Katie’s boyfriends, and when if I reluctantly concede to one, to walk her down the aisle!

Matt Chandler sums it up better than I could. He’s a young minister like me, with a hot young wife and cute young daughter like me, suffered a sudden seizure like me, was diagnosed with a tumour in the right frontal lobe like me, requiring a craniotomy like me, and was overwhelmed by God’s love in the valley, like me.

Here he is speaking (he’s well worth a Google by the way!)

One more thing people have said to me- ‘it’s a shame you’ve taken so unwell right at your busy time!’

Actually Easter is a good time to face this, because the Easter message is the one that offers joy, not by building on the sand, or by burying your head in it, the Easter message offers joy and perfect peace even in the darkest of valleys.

Thank you for your love and prayers. We have shed many tears over these past few days, but none birthed of despair, most birthed simply in real, deep gratitude. 


Saturday, 16 April 2011

An acceptable preacher?

.“As a preacher he is earnest and persuasive rather than argumentative. His command of Scripture, imagery, and illustration is intensive; but some of his figures he pursued rather too far. His voice has considerable power; but it is deficient in flexibility. Upon the whole he promises to be an acceptable preacher…”

 This was how the Dundee Advertisor assessed Robert Murray McCheyne’s second sermon in St Peter’s Dundee in 1836, he was 23 years old. Mercifully I have not been subject to the Airdrie Advertisor publically appraising my sermons. That said, I have recently taken to listening to my own preaching, trying to discern strengths and weaknesses, noticing idiosyncrasies that I’ve been blind to for years, and hoping for progress week by week.

Recently as part of my probationary studies I handed out evaluation forms to the congregation. Dangerous as this is (it may give the impression the sermon is a performance to be judged like a reality TV show) it proved worthwhile exercise for preacher and congregation alike. We both need to know what constitutes good preaching.

I was surprised at how few resources there seem to be online for such sermon assessments.

Acts 29 have an online resource here
Biblical Preaching have some feedback questions here
The form I put together is available here

What would you include\exclude on a sermon evaluation form?
Do you know of any other good examples?