Monday Music Plus! (How to be a one-buttock liver!)
This is still music, but it's rather more. The whole thing is well worth a watch. I'd not heard of this guy (Benjamin Zander) before - my ignorance, I'm sure. This video says a great deal about life and leadership.
Here and here Reformation 21 (in the persons of Paul Levy and Carl Trueman) celebrates the ministry of the late Douglas MacMillan, the best preacher I ever heard. I'd never heard OF him when I was present at the Aberystwyth Conference back in 1979. He preached the now-legendary series on Psalm 23; this former Highland Shepherd and giant of a man made the whole psalm live. As an expositor, Lloyd-Jones was better; but as a preacher, MacMillan left him standing.
Not many years later, I met him. I'd gone for the very first time to the Bala Ministers' Conference. I'd only graduated from LTS two days earlier, but I really wanted to hear this man again. I remember going in to the dining room (sensibly, the conference began with lunch) and seeing that all the tables were already filling up. On each of them was a minister I was still inclined to call 'Mr' - Graham Harrison on one, Hywel Jones on another, Hugh Morgan, Andrew Davies... How could I possibly sit with them. (I'm a very shy man.) Oh, bless the Lord! There's one table with no-one sitting at it at all. Quick, Gary.
So I sat down, and was aware as I sat that someone had followed me and was sitting opposite me. Looking up, there was Big Douglas, stretching out a massive hand to me and saying 'Hello, I'm Douglas. Who are you?' (I'm not sure I could remember at that point!)
I've never forgotten that. As he walked into the dining room he must have seen those men - his friends. But he saw one young, lonely, nervous preacher sitting alone. He ignored his friends, and sat with me. He was a Big Man.
You've never heard him preach? In the words of the song, 'betcha by golly, wow! Some of his sermons are on the web; you could try this one, from a different 'Aber.' But really you need to get hold of his sermons on Psalm 23. The book's worth reading - but hear the sermons first, if you can. How about pestering the Evangelical Movement of Wales to put them on line? And the Free Church of Scotland to make many, many more available?
I pay for my prescriptions in advance; it's (marginally) cheaper since I have ongoing medication for migraines.
I've got a prescription waiting for me at the Pharmacy. Couldn't find my prepayment card, so phoned the Prepayment Office in Newcastle to find out if my last card was still valid. Whoops - no. It expired at the end of August. No problem, though - the nice people at the P-O are quite happy to take my money over the phone and issue me with a card that I can use from today. So I can pick my prescription up immediately. When the snow clears, that is.
But as I settle down to a nice cuppa, I think. And what I think is this - I'm sure I've had a prescription - without paying for it - since August. Check records and yes! I've had two. Oh well; nobody's likely to find out. Except God of course. Nobody's likely to call me to account. Except God of course.
Hmm. Better put the cuppa down and sort it. So I phone the P-O again and explain. Nice lady puts me through to a colleague. 'Oh, no - we don't deal with that. You'll need to phone your local health care trust.' Kindly, she gives me the number in Poole.
Phone the number in Poole. Another nice lady, who transfers me to yet another nice lady. Plainly, only nice ladies have got through the snow today. Anyway, this one says, 'Oh, no. We don't deal with that. You'll need to phone a number in Ferndown.' So I phone a number in Ferndown and get through to a lady - nice one - with a bit of an accent. (I should explain: it sounded very slightly foreign - Indian, perhaps. But the nice lady in Newcastle - now she HAD an accent. But it doesn't count, 'cos it's an English accent. And no doubt it'll improve - when the boat comes in.)
Anyway, I'm now talking to a nice lady in Ferndown - just up the road. And she says (can you guess?) 'Oh, no. We don't deal with that. You'll need to phone a number in Newcastle.' She gives it me. And it's the one I phoned to start with. I explain.
'Oh, OK then. I'll talk to my manager. Just a minute.' Manager comes on - she seems a nice lady, too. 'How can I help?' So I explain.
'OK then,' she says. 'Just give my your address and we'll send you an invoice for the prescriptions you haven't paid for.'
I don't mind the run-around; after all, I did it from my own home and it only took a few minutes. (About 20, I'd say.) But what strikes me - and it's struck me before - officialdom has no well-understood procedure in place to deal with honesty.
Mt. 7:15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them.
Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard!
Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
For various reasons, the leadership here at MBC has had to consider what 'wolves' look like, in Christian terms. Here are some basic conclusions of mine based on the above texts:
1. Wolves are not a theoretical problem, but a real one
I think we can take it for granted that neither Paul nor the Lord Jesus are saying: 'For your information, there are wolves. But don't worry, you'll never meet one.' How can we take that for granted? Because the Lord says 'Watch out' and Paul says 'be on your guard'!
2. They are dangerous
Wolves eat sheep. When a church has wolves prowling around, the sheep are in danger. (Obvious, eh? Yep; sometimes the art of Bible teaching is 'stating the obvious'. Then illustrate, and apply.)
3. They are hard to recognise
That is, they are in sheep's clothing. They (apparently) bear many marks - or at least some of the marks - of the true believer.
4. It is possible to recognise them
Otherwise, there'd be no point being told to 'watch out'. They are not easy to spot, but the alert shepherd can spot them.
5. It’s the duty of the shepherds to recognise them
This is an area where greater discernment than the 'average' church member has is needed. Many church members never get beyond the mythical beatitude 'Blessed are the Nice.' But shepherds - elders, pastors, overseers - are to be chosen on the basis of spiritual wisdom and maturity. Discernment is part of that.
6. They are recognised by the effect that they have
That's the clear teaching of Matthew 7:16 (above), where Jesus mixes his metaphors. We recognise wolves not by their intentions - still less by what they say their intentions are - but by what they actually do and the impact that it has. This is a vital point to grasp.
7. Once they are recognised the shepherds must deal with them
Once again, it’s clear that neither Paul nor Jesus means ‘look out for them – and then do nothing about them.’ David (1 Samuel 17:34-37) describes the responsibility of the (literal) shepherd when the flock is threatened, and the (spiritual) shepherd learns his responsibility from the parallel. Often, though, that can be difficult, not least because...
8. They have friends on the leadership
‘From your own number’ (Acts 20:30) means they will have worked closely with other leaders, which makes them difficult to identify and painful to deal with. They have worked themselves onto the leadership somehow - obviously with an appearance of grace and orthodoxy and probably with genuine leadership gifts. Friendship is a good thing; but it may cloud our judgement. 'He can't possibly be a wolf - our children grew up together, we've spent holidays together, we get on really well.' Yes - but what do they do? (See point 6, above)
9. They are not just false teachers
Much of the stress seems throughout the New Testament is on false teaching, but some verses (e.g. Titus 3.10) make it clear that this is not always the problem. False teaching is certainly dangerous and divisive - but there are other ways of being divisive, other ways of damaging the flock. Even the false teachers, though, manage an appearance of orthodoxy, enough to be appointed to the leadership of the church.
I don't know whether there are many/any readers of my blog who don't also see Martin Downes' 'Against Heresies' blog. Today's the day to pray for his nine-year-old daughter Kezia who was recently discovered to have a brain tumour and will be operated on today.