Hospitality, Books and a Grave

I am still enjoying the memory of my visit to Inverness last week. A major factor in my enjoyment was the hospitality of William and Carine MacKenzie with whom I stayed on Wednesday night. William is an elder of the Kingsview Centre congregation in Inverness.

William and Carine are the founders of Christian Focus Publications. The business started 35 years ago when Carine wrote a children’s book. Since then CFP has grown to something like 2000 titles and distributes Christian literature all over the world. There are books for kids, popular titles, historical republications, and academic works for pastors and serious students.

Steven Lawson, John Ferguson and me.

Last Thursday, I had to hang around for the day waiting for my late afternoon flight back to Birmingham. So William took me up to see the operation, about an hour’s drive north to Geanies House, a working farm near Tain, overlooking the Moray Firth. From this surprising and beautiful setting issues the ministry of Christian Focus.

I was not alone on this visit. John Ferguson, minister of Kingsview, arrived with Pastor Steven Lawson and his wife and son (see previous post). They were on their way for a game of golf so not only did the car have four people, but sets of clubs too.

We had a tour round the grounds and met the staff. William showed us some new titles not yet in the shops. All the time he spoke passionately about the ministry he has served and told some of the stories of lives that have been affected by the books that CFP has published.

It was a moving visit. I have to admit that I have not paid much attention to books as part of the ministry at Solihull Presbyterian Church. We have a small book table, but it is not well stocked and only occasionally do I plug anything. However, what with Iain Murray at the Banner conference last month recommending that pastors promote a “book of the month” to congregations and William MacKenzie recommending the same thing independently, I am challenged about it. We are all for promoting the Bible at SPC, but books can be a help to educate, challenge and inspire.

After the others had left to play golf, the final part of the visit was to see the grave of the great John Murray, the Scottish reformed theologian. Murray was one of the key figures in the early days the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and in the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the USA. He spent most of his years teaching at Westminster before retiring back to Badbea in Sutherland. His body’s final resting place was in a small cemetery by the loch side, near Bonar Bridge.

John Murray’s grave.

William MacKenzie knows many people in the Reformed christian world as a result of his work. He has many photos of well known visitors to CFP pinned on his wall in his office. Many of them when they visit want to make the journey to Murray’s grave. I have to admit, I don’t have such a pressing fascination. I am interested enough to stop if convenient, but not to make a special journey. However, I had time to kill and William was offering, and it was not too out of the way.

The place was beautiful, but the grave ordinary. Perhaps fitting for a man whose life was marked by humility and who put the glory of God as his highest priority. The legacy of Murray is enormous. His work of writing, teaching and preaching gave stimulus to a resurgence of interest in Reformed theology over the last several decades as well as forming the minds of many young ministers across the world. Yet he was a just a man devoted to his Saviour.

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Hospitality, Books and a Grave

Assembly

Yesterday, I returned from a trip to Inverness. I was there at the Kingsview Centre on behalf of the EPCEW to speak to the assembly of the Associated Presbyterian Church and bring our greetings to our sister church on Wednesday evening. This event happens once a year following one of their daytime presbytery meetings, and the evening is then given over to worship and words of encouragement from other churches.

The evening began with the outgoing moderator, John Ross, preaching on Jeremiah 9:23,24 where he focussed on the key clause, “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD“. This a key element in our mission because in bringing the gospel we are calling people to know God.

Fletcher Matandika then spoke of the work at New Westminster Chapel in Vancouver, an APC church. With typical African enthusiasm, he spoke of the encouragements of the work not only in Canada, but in his ministry in his homeland of Malawi and neighbouring Uganda. Wonderful!

Malcolm Maclean, representing the Free Church, then spoke of the situation in the Free Church and in Scotland generally. This was a slightly gloomy review. The recent debates over worship in the FCS had been difficult. However, he felt that now that that was past there is a sense of togetherness once more. On the broader picture in Scotland, there is no doubt that it is complicated. There are several Westminster Confessional churches in Scotland, sometimes seeming to be in competition in some places. Dr Maclean, drawing on Phil 3:13,14, felt that it was right for churches to be running as athletes in order to win, but not in competition with each other. I was still left with the feeling that it is a big looming issue in Scotland that will not go away, and for all the words of commitment to effort to spread the gospel, a lot of energy is spent looking over their shoulders at the other sister denominations.

I then spoke about the EPCEW’s work in England and Wales. Our situation is very different from Scotland. We don’t have the ecclesiastical complications north of the border. Our field is open. As I was preparing to speak, and reviewing our progress, I was encouraged at what God has done. We are tiny. Yes, tiny. Yet our churches, though small, are generally growing. We are planting new churches (recently Gateshead, Sheffield) and are actively looking at three new opportunities in England and Sweden. My word of exhortation was from Acts 17:1-8 where the angry people of Thessalonica complained that “these men … have turned the world upside down”. My point was that the ministry of the word is powerful, but the method is very simple: teach the scriptures (17:2) and proclaim Christ (17:3).

However, for all that, the highlight of the evening was the ministry of the word from Dr. Steven Lawson of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. Dr Lawson had been over for the Scottish Reformed Conference in Hamilton. I think he was due to preach at Kingsview Centre for Rev Dr John Ferguson this coming Sunday (you will find the sermons popping up here eventually, I guess).

Dr Lawson spoke from Hebrews 4:12,13 on (a) what the word of God is (of God, living, sharp), and (b) what the word does (pierces, judges). You would think that after all this speaking, one would be a little jaded listening to this. Not a bit of it! Dr Lawson’s sermon was powerful, incisive, insightful and encouraging at the same time. We have a powerful weapon which needs to be unsheathed and used because it comes with the prophetic words, “Thus says the Lord…”

It was a great evening. The brotherly love was palpable. I was very glad I went.

Assembly

Stealing the sheep?

While I sympathise with Paul Levy to some extent (and I always sympathise with Paul!) in his latest blog post on Ref21, it isn’t fair always to say that a man seeking to gather a core group for a new church plant is actually trying to steal sheep. There are those who are reckless ill-disciplined sheep-stealers, but not all.

Core-gathering can and should be done in an orderly way with consultation with the elders of neighbouring churches and their permission, as we have done here in Solihull. That is not stealing.  When a place is identified as a location for a church plant, there will often be Christians in the locality for whom there is no suitable church and are travelling far to get to a church. They may have been praying for a new local church, and a sensible church planter turning up is the answer to their prayers. The right thing, of course, is for that member of a distant church to seek the wisdom of his/her eldership about joining the church plant, and the planter ought to have good relations with that eldership. Then an orderly transfer can take place.

But that is not sheep-stealing!

What do you think? Read Paul’s post here: gathering a core or stealing the sheep? – Reformation21 Blog.

Stealing the sheep?

A Faithful Witness

If the following statement were used in our context in the UK, it might seem ordinary.

They object to my evangelizing. But if one finds a blind person who is about to fall in a well and keeps silent then one has sinned. It is our religious duty, as long as the door of God’s mercy is open, to convince evil doers to turn from their sinful ways and find refuge in Him in order to be saved from the wrath of the Righteous God and from the coming dreadful punishment.

We have those who object to evangelism, but only because it presses inconvenient thoughts into people’s minds. We take our freedoms for granted.

However, those words were quoted by a man who was facing the death penalty in Iran for “apostasy”, that is, converting from nominal Islam to Jesus Christ.

The words were part of an address to the court. In the face of death such bravery is astounding. Read it here: A Faithful Witness Whose Testimony Challenges Muslim Insider Movements | 9Marks.

A Faithful Witness

Vanilla Men

Carl Trueman writes on ‘vanilla men’ in the ministry, i.e. not the stars or the personalities but the ordinary pastors called to minister God’s word week by week. How are they to be honoured? The simple answer is to listen to them, not because it is they who are speaking, but because of the message they are called to preach. The article finishes with this startlingly great quote from Lloyd-Jones:

[I]f a Christian man, however able and learned and knowledgeable he may be, is not ready to sit down and listen to the man whom God has called, and appointed, and sent to perform this task, with joy and with keen anticipation, I take leave to query whether that man is a Christian at all.’ [my emphasis – SND]

Read the rest of Trueman’s article here: Honour the Vanilla Men – Reformation21 Blog.

Vanilla Men