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Tim Challies

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September 10, 2013

I think I saw about half of Scotland yesterday. I am here to see the work of 20schemes, an organization dedicated to providing gospel churches for Scotland’s poorest. Scotland’s poorest tend to live in schemes, government housing that is free for the destitute or subsidized for the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Scots live in such housing and these neighborhoods extend through every Scottish city. Very few of them have churches where the gospel is believed, honored and preached.

We began our day in a scheme on the outskirts of Edinburgh. For ten years one young lady and her brother have been working with the young people in this scheme, even moving in to be a part of the community. She befriends the children, organizes sports and activities for them, and tells them about Jesus. Just a couple of days ago one of the children saw her mother die of a drug overdose; her care will now pass to her grandmother. Around 150 children attend the programs every week. There is no church in this scheme and no nearby church to send children to when they profess faith in Christ. She has a growing number of children asking about the gospel and showing interest in it, but no church there and no pastor. It was a joy to see her joy, it was a blessing to see her serving, but sad to know that there is no church nearby.

From Edinburgh we headed to the city of Dundee, a working-class town traditionally built around the textile industry. It has a significant Roman Catholic population that came in a wave of Irish immigration. There in the heart of a great neighborhood is a church building that has not housed a congregation for over 20 years. The building could easily house 100 or 200 people, just as it did in its glory days. Today it provides a location for some clubs and activities, but there have not been worship services there for many years. A nearby gospel-loving church has made a commitment to continue to support the building, to pay for its maintenance, to keep it open, even to provide some funding for a plant. But again, there is no pastor. 20schemes is partnering with this church to look for a team of people who will settle in the scheme, who will become part of the community, and who will preach the gospel. In Toronto and so many other places we have planters with no buildings; in the schemes there are buildings with no planters.

We left Dundee and drove to Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city and the city with the highest population settled in schemes. And here we met two young men who, along with their wives, are caring for the kids in one of these schemes. Just like that young lady in Edinburgh, they lead the children in games and activities and they tell them about Jesus. And just like her, they do not have a solid church to direct the children to. A Church of Scotland building houses the activities; its sanctuary has seating for 600 or 700 people, but today only 40 or 50 attend on a Sunday. There is no pastor and if one is ever assigned, it is unlikely, based on the condition of the Church of Scotland, that he will know or preach the gospel.

September 09, 2013

I have not traveled often beyond the North American continent, but when I do, the truest joy is not in seeing the sites or getting a glimpse of the culture. The truest joy is in worshipping with fellow believers. Last fall I was able to worship with Christians in Dubai and India and was deeply moved. Yesterday, on this vision trip with 20schemes, I worshipped at two different churches in two different cities in Scotland and they highlighted both the past and the future of what Christians are trying to accomplish here.

We began the day at Niddrie Community Church. Mez McConnell became pastor here six years ago. When he arrived it was a church in long decline. There were believers here who genuinely loved the Lord and longed to serve him, but the members were intimidated by the people in the neighborhood and were making few inroads into the scheme. The church building was a constant target of vandalism and the pastors were being oppressed and intimidated.

Yesterday there were well over 100 people in attendance, many of them new believers and the majority of them saved in just the past few years. There were children all over the place, young couples, singles young and old, and some elderly. The church has seen a complete reversal and an exciting revitalization under Mez’s leadership.

The service could have been copied and pasted from my own Grace Fellowship Church where I worshipped last week or from Redeemer Church of Dubai where I worshipped last fall. They sang, they read, they prayed, they preached and they went their way. There was nothing fancy about it.

There is no great trick to Mez’s ministry and no secret to the church’s successful impact in the neighborhood over the past few years. The people have moved into the scheme, they have built relationships, and they have preached the gospel. They’ve left the results in the Lord’s hands and he has done amazing things. There are people here like Ricky (who is tracking toward church leadership) and Paul (who is doing his first paid work in 17 years and scrubbing toilets for the Lord) and Natasha (who has taken such good care of us over the past few days). Each of them testifies to the Lord’s work in their life and each of them shows clear evidences of his grace.

We joined in the church’s fellowship lunch and then went on our way.

The evening took us to Grangemouth, a sprawling scheme about 45 minutes away, on the outskirts of the city of Glasgow. This is a church whose best days are in the past. Six seniors gather on a Sunday evening to sing songs and to hear a sermon from one of elders of Niddrie Community Church. The sanctuary with seating for well over 100 people sits empty and they meet in a tiny little room off to the side in order to save money on heating. Our little group tripled the attendance and added more than a little volume to the singing.

September 08, 2013

I mentioned on Friday that I had arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland and am here to look into the work of a ministry called 20schemes. 20schemes is dedicated to providing gospel churches for Scotland’s poorest people and these are, almost by definition, people who live in schemes.

“What is a scheme?” you may ask. It is a good question. It is also a little bit difficult to answer, even though I have spent a few days in one and have heard several explanations. Part of the difficulty comes in that there is no direct comparison between a Scottish scheme and something that exists in North America.

In most of the United Kingdom a scheme is referred to as “council housing.” In the United States you might know something similar as a “project” or in Canada (or Ontario, at least) as “Ontario housing” or “welfare housing.”

Schemes began as housing developments for the working class and factory laborers. Beginning between the two world wars, the government wanted to tear down inner-city slums and tenement buildings and in their place developed schemes outside the city centers. The government owned these homes, managed them, and rented them to the workers. This was the socialist utopia, the place where the working class could live in ideal conditions. These were desirable homes and there was some pride in moving to these new neighborhoods.

Over time, as the nation became increasingly socialized, the schemes were reassigned as subsidized housing for the poor or free housing for the destitute. Through the 60’s and all the way to the present, urban blight set in and the schemes were left to decay. Soon they were overtaken by gangs, violence and drugs. Today they house many of the “benefits class” of people who exist entirely on social security handouts and who may have done so for generations. Many of the schemes have decayed to such a degree that they are now little more than slums, though there are also revitalization programs underway to replace some of the worst of the housing.

To complicate things further, Margaret Thatcher introduced a program in the 1980’s that allowed residents to purchase their homes at subsidized rates, so that today some homes in the schemes are owned privately while others are owned by the government. Additionally, with real estate prices rising, homes in the schemes have become an affordable entry-level option for those wanting to begin to climb the real estate ladder. As this middle class contingent has moved in, they have brought a very different worldview and a whole new set of complications. In most schemes, then, you have an eclectic mixture of people: social climbers, lifelong welfare recipients, drug addicts, released criminals, elderly residents who bought their homes years ago but no longer have the funds to maintain them, and more besides.

Each scheme has its own identity, heritage and local culture so that residents will acknowledge they are from this scheme or that scheme and perhaps even feel a bit territorial. Many schemes span a whole neighborhood with defined boundaries and thousands or even ten or twenty thousand residents living within it. Many families have been there for several generations.

September 08, 2013

Thomas Boston might not technically count as a Puritan in the minds of some, either because he was Scottish or because he lived the majority of his life in the eighteenth century. J. I. Packer, however, includes him in his book Puritan Portraits and describes him as one who, alongside Jonathan Edwards in America, “represents most brilliantly the prolonging into the eighteenth century of pure Puritanism” (106). He was an “inheritor and champion of Puritan theology and of the Reformational rethinking that preceded it.”

Boston was born in Duns, Scotland in 1676, the son of good Presbyterian parents. Once as a child he even accompanied his father to jail because of his father’s lack of conformity to the established church. Boston’s own conversion to Christ came at the young age of 11 as he sat under the preaching ministry of Henry Erskine.

By the age of 22 he was a licensed preacher in the Church of Scotland and already writing books. In 1707 he took up the pastorate in the southern Scottish town of Ettrick, where he would remain up to the point of his death in 1732 at age 56.

Unique Contribution

What is most remarkable about Boston is the unique combination of so many graces in one man. Packer again helps us understand his significance by describing him as one who had

… a dazzling mastery of the text and teaching of the Bible; a profound knowledge of the human heart; great thoroughness and clarity in exposition; great skill in applicatory searching of the conscience; and a pervasive sense of the wonder and glory of God’s grace in Christ to such perverse sinners as ourselves. (117)

Elsewhere he writes that, “as Boston had a sensitive spirit, so he had a first-class mind, a retentive memory, and a way with words.” Jonathan Edwards also regarded him highly, calling him “a truly great divine.”

Most Important Works

The Art of Man-Fishing - Remarkably written when Boston was just 22, this book represents well the Puritan understanding of evangelism—what Christ meant when he spoke of fishing for men, and how we can follow him in that work.

The Crook in the Lot - Derived from seven sermons which he preached during a period of great pain in his own life, this book contains Boston’s meditations on God’s sovereignty and wisdom in placing thorns in your side (or, as the title says, crooks in the lot of your life).

Repentance - In this book Boston “links together expositions … on the necessity, nature and urgency of repentance, and the folly of ignoring or postponing this life-and-death issue.”

September 06, 2013

I am writing today from Edinburgh, Scotland. Aileen and I boarded a flight last night and arrived first thing this morning. It has been twenty three years since I was last in Scotland; Aileen has never been. We are here with a small collection of pastors and church leaders who have traveled from all over the United States or Canada. We are here to visit 20Schemes, a ministry hard at work in a unique mission field—Scotland’s schemes. I will be telling you more about schemes in the days ahead.

Each person who made the journey paid their own way over. Most are here to consider partnering with 20Schemes or even to consider moving to Scotland to lead a church plant or revitalization. I came because I want to see the ministry first-hand and because I’d like to introduce you to it. I’ve met the leaders, I’ve heard of their work, and now I get to see it close-up.

Scotland and Christianity have a long history together. At one time this country was one of the strongholds of the Christian faith. It was once considered a Christian nation. But no longer. Christianity is now an afterthought for the majority of people here. Churches are empty. This is true especially in the schemes, those large areas of the cities given over to government housing and welfare support.

And yet this ministry is in the schemes doing two simple things: getting involved in the community and telling people about Jesus. And the Lord is at work. I plan to go looking for evidence of that work over the next few days, and as I see it, I am going to tell you about it.

(For now, would you pray for me? I’m feeling a little bit under the weather. It might be the jetlag, it might be the big ol’ plate of haggis I ordered as soon as I got here. Either way, I could use the prayer.)

September 05, 2013

Satan bears many names. Satan has many schemes. Satan wears many hats. Satan comes in many disguises. And through it all, one of his favorite tactics and one of his most successful tactics is to be an accuser. The book of Revelation assures us that night and day he stands as our accuser.

accuser (noun)

1: one that charges with a fault or offense
2: one that charges with an offense judicially or by a public process

Satan is an Accuser and you know his accusations. You have heard him charge you with a fault, you have heard him proclaim your guilt. You have heard it in the courtroom of your heart and mind and conscience.

You commit a sin. You fall into that same old sin you’ve been battling, that sin you swore you wouldn’t commit again. You discover a new sin and for a time revel in it. And then you hear the accusation. “You are guilty. You have committed an offense and need to be punished. You have offended God and he wants nothing to do with you. You have sinned beyond his grace. Give up.”

Satan stands between you, the offender, and God, the offended, and cries out that you are guilty, he cries out that you must be punished, he cries out that you deserve to have the consequences of this crime heaped upon you.

There is an Accuser.

There is also an Advocate.

John, who wrote the words of Revelation, also wrote these words (1 John 2:1-2): “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

September 01, 2013

Stephen Charnock was born in London in 1628. He went to Cambridge University at age 14, and it was there that he came to faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1655 he was sent to Dublin to be a chaplain to Oliver Cromwell’s son, Henry, who was then governor of Ireland. At this post, Charnock gained the reputation of being a great preacher.

In 1660, when the monarchy was restored in England, Charnock returned to London. He is reported to have made a living practicing medicine for the next 15 years, until he and Thomas Watson began co-pastoring a nonconforming congregation. He served in this role until his death five years later.

Charnock was apparently a lifelong bachelor. Perhaps this helps explain his reputation of being a passionate and dedicated student. He is said to have had a very strong command of the original languages of Scripture and to spend 60 hours each week in study.

He wrote out much of what he studied and taught in the form of discourses that were much like extended sermons, each structured to focus on three things: a particular doctrine, the reasons for believing it, and its practical use.

Unique Contribution

Charnock had an analytical gift that enabled him to take great amounts of theological information and condense it down into clear, concise sentences. J. I. Packer writes that Charnock “of all the Puritans is the most brisk and businesslike when it comes to saying things straight.” Unfortunately, this gift came with a weakness on the other side. As Packer goes on to say, “Charnock is as strong as any in clearing heads, but is less able than some to stir the imagination and touch the heart.”

Most Important Works

Here, courtesy of Meet the Puritans, are brief descriptions of his two most important works.

The Existence and Attributes of God - “This is the work on the character and attributes of God. It should be read by every serious Christian. The twelfth discourse on the goodness of God … is unsurpassed in all of English literature.”

Christ Crucified: The Once-For-All Sacrifice - “Linking the Old and New Testaments, Charnock explains how Christ’s sacrifice fulfills the Old Testament requirements.”

August 29, 2013

In 2012 Stevenson University, located on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland, entered into an important partnership with the Maryland Bible Society. The Society had an extensive collection of rare and antique Bibles and related documents but no place to properly store and display them. Stevenson University offered space in its library and today houses the collection. The jewel of this collection is a rare first edition King James Bible, the next of the 25 objects through which we can trace the history of Christianity.

KJBThe Protestant Reformation was inseparable from a new and heightened commitment to the Word of God. The Bible in the people’s common tongue was the key to the growth and the influence of Protestant theology. In 1525 William Tyndale produced his great English translation of the New Testament and once it got into the hands of the general population, England would never be the same. In the decades that followed, many other translations would appear, none so prominent and none so important as the King James Bible of 1611.

In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died without an heir and Scotland’s James VI acceded to the throne of England where he was crowned James I. The following year he convened the Hampton Court Conference to enter into discussions with leaders of the Church of England, including several Puritans. Not surprisingly, the conference turned out to be something of a farce. James had a lofty view of his own intellect and was dismissive of others, especially the Puritans. However, he did give in on one crucial matter important: the commissioning of a new, authorized translation of the Bible.

The early English translations of the Bible had been the work of individuals. However, this new translation was to be the work of committees. Fifty four eminent scholars were chosen to take up the work and they were divided into six teams, each of which would translate a selection of books. Though guided by the original Hebrew and Greek text, the translators worked primarily from existing English translations. The Bishops’ Bible of 1568 would be the foundational text, but, when the translators lacked clarity, they were authorized to consult the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible. Before their work began, Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London, drafted fifteen translations principles that would govern their work.

It was not until 1607 that the labor began in earnest. Work continued until 1611 when the first editions were finally published by Robert Barker, a printer officially licensed by the king.

August 28, 2013

A music studio in Peoria, Illinois recently launched a singer-songwriter contest and asked local musicians to upload their original songs to YouTube. The studio got one song that did not quite meet the requirements, but it was a song that told a story too good to ignore.

Fred Stobaugh had been married to Lorraine for 73 years before she passed away last year. Now 96 years old, Fred penned a tribute to his wife and titled it, “Oh Sweet Lorraine.” He wrote the lyrics, but was no musician, so simply forwarded the song to the studio in the hope that they might do something with it.

The studio responded by making a professional recording of the song. They released a video that immediately went viral and has already surpassed a million views on YouTube. In the video Fred tells about meeting his wife when she was a car hop at the local A&W, about their 2 years of dating and their 73 years of marriage. “She gave me 75 years of her life.” And then the video transitions to the song:

Oh Sweet Lorraine,
I wish we could do
The Good Times
All over again
Oh Sweet Lorraine
Life only goes around
But never again
Oh Sweet Lorraine,
I wish we could do
The Good Times all over again
The Good Times all over
The memories will always
Linger on
Oh Sweet Lorraine

The memories will
Always Linger on

Go ahead and watch it. (Skip to 5:53 if you’d like to hear only the song.)

The song hits hard; it is difficult to watch the video without tears, to hear the music, to watch Fred’s reaction as he listens to it for the first time. It calls to that part of us that longs for love, that longs for loyal love, that honors the kind of love that lasts a lifetime. Fred has been loved and he has loved the one who loved him. Now that love has been lost and he longs for it to return, he wishes he could go back, that he could relive those days, that he could experience those good times again and again and again after that.

I love Fred’s story and I love Fred’s song. I am grateful to Green Shoe Studio for recording it and giving it to us. Yet I couldn’t help but see that Fred’s love only reaches back. He looks back in time to precious memories, but does not look forward. He expresses wishes, but not hope.

August 25, 2013

Richard Baxter was born in Rowton, England in 1615, the only son of Beatrice and Richard Baxter, Sr. His father was converted when Baxter was about 10 years old, which he says God used to prepare his own heart to believe. Eventually, “a prolonged illness and various books—William Perkins’s Works in particularwere the means God used” to confirm Baxter’s conversion.

For his education, Baxter attended Wroxeter grammar school under John Owen. In lieu of going on to study at a university, he continued his learning through private study. 

In 1638 Baxter entered into the ministry as a deacon, and in the years that followed he would go on to hold offices of curate, lecturer (paid preacher), army chaplain, and vicar.

Baxter’s most sustained role was at Kidderminster, where he labored for nearly 20 years. His work was so effective that nearly the whole town was converted. The ministry philosophy behind his work here became the basis for his classic book The Reformed Pastor.

The great religious and political upheavals in 17th century England had their effect on Baxter as they did for so many of his fellow Puritans. The Act of Uniformity removed him from the Church of England when he was nearly 50 years old, and he never again entered the pastorate. He was also jailed on at least two occasions for nonconformist teaching.

Shortly after the Act of Uniformity, Baxter married one of his converts, Margaret Charlton, who at the time was about half his age. Their disparity in years was somewhat controversial, but the evident goodness of their marriage soon put the issue to rest. They lived privately in or near London for the 29 years of their marriage.

In the remaining years of his life, Baxter would preach occasionally, but he devoted the majority of his time to writing, leaving behind, in total, a library of over 150 treatises and countless letters and papers.

He died December 8, 1691 at the age of 76.

Unique Contribution

Perhaps the most unique feature of Baxter’s ministry is the sheer volume and scope of what he wrote. J. I. Packer notes that he was “the most voluminous English theologian of all time”:

In addition to the approximately four million words of pastoral, apologetic, devotional and homiletic writing that are reprinted in his Practical Works he produced about six million more on aspects of the doctrine of grace and salvation, church unity and nonconformity, the sacraments, Roman Catholicism, antinomianism, millenarianism, Quakerism, politics and history, not to mention a systematic theology in Latin…

But he was able to do more than just write a lot. Packer also remarks on the quality of his work:

Whether or not one finally agrees with Baxter’s positions, one finds oneself confronted with the mature judgment of a clear, sharp, well-stocked, wise mind, as distinguished for intellectual integrity as for spiritual alertness. I do not think Baxter was always right, but I see him … as one of the most impressive of Christian thinkers.

This combination in Baxter of broad learning, sound thinking, and spiritual sensibility has led Packer to dub him “a man for all ministries.”

Most Important Works

The Saint’s Everlasting Rest - “An all-time devotional classic on how thoughts of God and heaven can renew the heart for service here below” (Packer).

The Reformed Pastor - A detailed look at the kind of oversight Baxter believes pastors should have over themselves and their flocks.

The Practical Works of Richard Baxter - a compilation of Baxter’s most popular Christian writings. It contains the two titles above, A Christian Directory, A Call to the Unconverted, Dying Thoughts and many more.