Monday, April 30, 2007


I've been mulling over what I would write. During a cleanup of my computer, I came across a letter I had written, quite some time back, to some brethren who were going through a rather torrid time. I feel compelled to share it with you, and I'm sure you will understand why it was written:

Dear Brethren,

Many times I have mentioned to younger people the fairly familiar words heard from the lips of older folk regarding the fact that the older one gets, the more one knows, and the more one knows, the more one realizes the little one really knows.

I don’t know about you, but during the many years I have been a member of a congregation of God’s people, I have listened to quite a few messages about God’s grace, especially the use of the word in the salutations and benedictions of the Apostle Paul.

Do you really know what the word “grace” means? I thought I did!

Please don’t get the idea that I am suggesting that I know much more now, but I have realized that until one has experienced the lack of grace, in the behaviour of those with whom we walk this world as a child of God, we cannot begin to grasp how we, ourselves, have failed to reflect grace towards those with whom we have to do.

As with many of Scriptural words, such as this word “grace”, which define God’s attitude towards us and our attitude towards our brethren and others, we may well be experts in the original language in which it was written and still have little, and possibly no, grasp of what it means to practice grace.

It’s 3.30 a.m. on Sunday the ninth of April, 2006. I awoke about an hour ago with the thoughts about grace which I’m sharing with you. I have been mulling this matter over in the back of my mind for many months now and believe I must put my thoughts on paper to share with you.

Those of us who have been trusted with shepherding a local congregation of God’s people, have a very good idea of the expectations of our calling, which grow as our traditions develop; we have a very good idea about the developing expectations of our congregations, which translate into a solid idea of the expectations we place on ourselves.

If we are genuine in our desire to serve our sovereign Lord and Shepherd, Jesus Christ, we take those expectations rather seriously, but, the problem is we then project those expecations onto the congregations we are supposed to serve. The result is that we become legalistic. Like most, we erroneously believe we are being Scriptural. I’m certain that the Judaizers, mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, also said they were being Scriptural.

In reality we have become Parole Officers, who are watching over convicted criminals who are being given an opportunity to prove him/herself, but not trusted to remain within the bounds of the law without supervision.

This has become more and more apparent as I read, and listen to the sermons emanating from the more orthodox leaders of congregations. There is a constant, and sometimes increasing pressure, for better performance, being exerted upon those poor unfortunates who listen to these messages. In addition, we seem to be persuaded that legalism, based on our interpretation of Scripture, isn’t enough law to control our congregations, we have to invent even more laws, often included in constitutions, which we pile onto the backs of the unfortunate congregation.

Antinomianism is a pernicious cancer in the life of any believer or congregation, and sadly, it is a growing problem, especially some of the newer Christian groups of our day, but legalism is equally pernicious because it is graceless. Law has no room for grace. Law demands what God has never demanded of God’s people, that’s why He became incarnate.

When He efficaciously calls a person to His saving grace He sets them free from the bondage of legalism.

As Charles Wesley was moved to write:

Long my imprisoned sprit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature's night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th' eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th' eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

No! I didn’t say the law was unimportant. It reminds us of the fact of sin. It tells us clearly, what is displeasing to God, but it also tells us about the grace with which God dealt with sinners such as you or I, because it reminds us of what would have been but for the intervention of a loving Father.

Christ died to set His people free, the bondage of the law was broken and indeed, our chains fell off, the prison door was throne wide open.

Foul sinners, such as you and I, were given citizenship in Heaven, we were made members of the Family of God, Sheep in His pasture, spiritual stones in His Building.

The prison doors were thrown wide open.

Full Pardon was implemented as the signature of Christ’s blood was written large across the certificate of debt which belonged to you and I, and every other child of God. That certificate of debt was nailed to the cross of Calvary, on which the Prince of Glory died.

Every human who was ever born on this earth, or will be born, has one such certificate of debt, BUT, every child of the living God, born again by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, through faith in the finished work of Christ on that cross, has been stamped, PAID IN FULL. “It is finished”, was the cry of the Saviour before He died.

That’s GRACE in its every form: the state of one who has come under the divine influence of God by His Spirit, and set free from consequences of sin and the horror of death, through His gift of faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ; the free and unmerited favour or beneficence of God in this amazing act; the elegance and beauty of this majestic, sovereign expression of divine love; the propriety and consideration for others shown in that love; the merciful disposition of God to kindness and compassion.

Where is that grace seen in the leadership and administration of those who set themselves above God by demanding of the sheep what His Sovereign Majesty doesn’t demand?

Where is that grace towards that sheep who dares to ask ,”Why?”, or who says, “Before God, I think otherwise”?

Where is that grace when pointing the finger at the failure of a sister or brother, or gossiping about hearsay without checking whether it is true?

Where is that grace when making judgments about the same without going to the one about whom judgments are made?

Where is that grace in trusting, and acting upon the fact that the Scriptures really do say that every brother or sister is gifted for a ministry in the Body?

Where is that grace in fulfilling the elder/teachers task of equipping, and releasing the congregation for the ministry to which they have been called?

Where is that grace in understanding that God’s grace is not restricted to one’s own ministry?

Where is that grace in remembering that one’s own understanding is fallible and limited?

And where is that grace in owning the fact that according to God’s law one is no less culpable than any other human being? Even though saved, which law have you NOT broken today?

Oh! The grace which has been poured abundantly like the oil of anointing, upon the heads of all who are in Christ.

Grace is only seen in those who are not Parole Officers, and who understand that they are simply sheep of the Flock, who have been freed from prison.

It rather interesting that sheep tend to follow a leader, but that leader sheep is indistinguishable from every other sheep in the flock, until they go to pasture. That sheep simply walks in front, until the pasture is reached, and then it becomes indistinguishable again.

It takes much grace to be indistinguishable. Parole Officers have to have prominence.

With much love,


Sunday, April 22, 2007

We've travelled south from our home to help our youngest daughter prepare for moving. Today, Val and I have enjoyed a great day of fellowship with the family of brethren we left nearly four years ago, after ministering amongst them for eight years.

Our daughter had arranged a surprise barbeque lunch for us all. How good to spend several hours with brethren such as they.

But it was a sad day as well because our daughter, who stayed with the local assembly when we moved away, is going to move away as well. She is a bank manager and has been transfered to a branch in the capital city of Queensland, Brisbane.

There is joy in the move for us because she will be one and a half hours closer to our home, never-the-less, it has a sense of severance that is difficult after so many years.

At least she will be the closest, to our abode, of all our children. One daughter,with husband and two children are 21 hours driving time distant, another daughter, husband, five children and one grandchild (our great grandson) is 14 hours away, 2 sons and their wives are 2 1/2 hours away.

How our world has changed since my youth when families never strayed more than an easy journey from home and weekend get togethers were commonplace.

Aussie John

Thursday, April 19, 2007

How good to read the discussion going on at the moment at The Assembling of the Church.
Alan is discussing Eph. 4:11ff. What a blessing to read his objective study of the Scriptures. Read and be edified!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The journey that God has allotted me has taken that turn towards that signpost on which we read, three score years and ten. What great grace He has exercised towards me in allowing me to take the road I've traveled.

As you would have seen from the last post, thoughts of the past arise, some seeming to have an important lesson to teach.

Despite, as a young man, being recognised by my pastor, and the congregation, as having preaching/teaching gifts and abilities, I was far too young and immature to be unleashed on a congregation.

I knew my Bible, I was full of enthusiasm and zeal, I desired to preach the Gospel to all and sundry. It was agreed by all that I had good presentation and speaking skills, and was a good organiser. Oh! I was also very puritanical (no reflection on the Puritans whom I love). Piety exuded from my every pore. I was given many preaching assignments in our local congregations, as well as distant. In the years that followed I soon learned that there were many such young men.

In a short while I received several invitations to consider becoming "The Pastor" of distant congregations. After much discussion and prayer, my wife, family and I decided this was what God wanted for us, and accepted a call.

How gracious God was in those early years as He blessed our labors. Many new born children of God, the congregation doubled. A notable event occurred when a deacon, who had led young people, was church secretary, and an occasional preacher, for twenty-six years, stood before the congregation and confessed he had never known Christ and had just been born again. Our Sovereign God had over and over again blessed that precious congregation. Six years on another call was accepted. Again the Lord doubled the congregation.

During those years of rich blessing, our children grew, all becoming our brethren in Christ, all going on to be respected members of the communities in which they worked. I never fully understood just how gracious our God had been towards us, as a family, and especially myself!

One day, as I attended one of the regular denominational conferences for pastors, the reality of what I was experiencing hit me with such force I felt shocked. Almost all of these fellows, including myself, who shared the outward qualities I described above, changed when they came together. I heard jokes which would have made tough men blush, I heard unkind, unloving comments which surprised me. I joined in conversations about the workings of the denomination which were more about personal ambition, position and influence. The first words often spoken were, "How many baptisms since we last met?", or, "Has your membership grown?"

I realised, as well as a fallible man could , I didn't know an honest pastor, including myself!

We had shut ourselves away from reality. We were playing a part! We were hypocrites unwilling to face the truth about ourselves, that we had the same struggles as every other Christian has.
We thought that polishing the outside of the vessel was sufficient. We never let our congregations know that we were fighting spiritual battles in which we needed their support. We had disregarded the whole Biblical concept of the Body. We thought our congregations needed to understand that, but we could stand alone.

We hadn't recognised, nor openly admitted to our congregations, our utter weakness and need, and until we do, neither will those to whom we preach. Who decided that leaders are exempt from congregational participation in the exhortation to confess your sins to one another, to bear one anothers' burdens?

It's encouraging to see that there seems to be a new generation of young men, who are seeking an honest, open relationship with congregational brethren, recognising that "the ministry" is not their exclusive province while the congregations remain passive soaks of pastoral wisdom. They are recognising that, as elders, they are part, but not the most important part, of the whole, and as such have no need to play the super-spiritual, pious giant among men.

I trust they are recognising that there is only one such indispensable person to whom they are to point all men and women, and even He "has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin".

Saturday, April 14, 2007

We live in a world fraught with all kinds of dangers. The last few years have taught us that our governments seem to believe in the philosophy of shooting first and asking questions afterwards. Many, if not most non-Christian religious philosophies seem to think similarly.

For some reason, today, I'm reminded that much of what calls itself Christian, even though claiming to do otherwise, does the same.

I'm reminded of a very dear friend, very gifted in pastoral ministry, a skilled communicator, and most of all, a God fearing, Christ exalting, preacher of God's word. He was filled with the joy of life in Christ, bubbling over in love for the brethren, and extremely sensitive to the needs of others. As his reputation became more widely recognised he had invitations to speak widely, and to lead churches; so much so that he confided in me that he worried that people were looking more at him and his gifting and skills than to the Master he loved and worshipped.

A malicious lie was told. The lie grew into a rumour that this man had fallen morally. He was terribly wounded.

He had a lovely wife, whom he adored, and who knew the rumour was a lie, as well as children whom he regarded as precious gifts from God.

As the rumour spread he sought the support and help of his denominational peers. There was a great rush, and when the dust settled, he realised that the dust was raised by those he thought were brethren, friends and colleagues, running away from him as fast as possible. no one bothered to ask him whether there was any truth in the rumour.

He was alone with his wife and family. Soon he saw the impact the rumours were having on these dear ones, and on the congregation in his care. This weighed so heavily on him, he was unable to carry the burden, and took his own life.

Why am I telling this terrible story? Here was a brother in Christ, deeply wounded, and instead of showing the world that they took our Lord's words, in John 13:35, to heart, those who claimed to be brethren showed they knew nothing of the many great "one anothers" in Scripture. In this instance, his brethren made his wounds mortal.

How easily we can all fall into that evil trap!

Even if they believed that there was truth in the rumour, they had obviously not understood Paul's words in Galatians 6:1-2!

I remember reading about a Roman whose name was Cyrus. As he observed those early Christians, he commented, "I will never understand these people of the Way; they love one another before they meet!"

I wonder what Cyrus would say as he observed the Christians of today? Possibly, "I will never understand these Christians; they shoot their wounded!"

The old adage is right, "When you point your finger at someone, remember, there are three fingers pointing back at you"!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

What? Why?

Sometimes I think it would have been useful to have a dollar for every time I've heard the excuse, " I don't do things that way!", or, "We've never done it that way before!". Mind you, most who say those deadly phrases truly think they are mouthing a legitimate reason.

We are all creatures of habit to one degree or another, some more so than others.

There was a lady in a congregation I was privileged to minister to as pastor (I'd rather say elder), who always came in the door of the building in which we met ( it was designated 'the church') ten minutes late. She was ten minutes late, punctually! Every Sunday she would grasp my hand and apologise. One day I said to her, "Phyllis! Why don't you leave home fifteen minutes earlier?"

She looked at me with wide eyed surprise, and said,"I never thought of that!"

During the ensuing years, as I ministered to people in other places, I often thought of those words in connection with how those different groups functioned. I often asked the question, especially of elders and deacons, "Why do you do things the way you do?" Their responses were invariably ones which related strongly to habit, ritual, formalism and tradition, both locally and denominationally developed.

When questioned as to the justification for what was regarded as normal, the answer was that it was Biblical. As you can imagine there were some fairly unusual references given in this regard.

Those many years ago, when I first entered, so-called "full-time" ministry, I looked into why people resist necessary change. I can't remember the source, but some of the results of a study stuck firmly in my mind: 16% of people accept change for the sake of change, 16% of people will change when persuaded that it is necessary, at the other end of the scale 16% would not accept change, even if it meant the destruction of the group to which they belonged.

Obviously, if a Christian group, the first are in dire peril, but less obviously, if they don't have a reality check, so are the latter.

Isn't it true, and I am generalizing, that, like the lady mentioned earlier, we don't really think about what we do as a Christian group, nor why we do what we do?

Why do we think what we do for an hour on Sunday is really worship? Why not what we do every day of our life?

And please don't answer with, "The Pastor said...."! And, I am, deliberately, being provocative!