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Calvin Coolidge remarked that, Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

When Jesus calls us to follow Him, it is to finish the race. He said that, “s/he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13) Hebrews 12:1-3 has a similar exhortation.

Modern people are not very good at persevering! Hugh MacKay, Australian social commentator described the ‘lucky generation’ as those who experienced the depression and World War II. Lucky, because hardships left them with a legacy…of frugality, appreciation of needs met and resilience.
– it is increasingly difficult to staff beach missions, sunday school and other regular ministries.
– S.T.A.B.O. (Subject To A Better Offer) has become endemic in our community and churches.

The consequences are disastrous in every aspect of our lives. Just three areas – marriage, church life and self-esteem – illustrate the need and value for perseverance.

In marriage perseverance plays a central role. Modern expectations can be hopelessly unrealistic given there will always be differences that must be worked through – and by two sinners to boot. See the notes for a wonderful analogy of new car/used car model. Training for perseverance (whether in marriage or life in general) should start early in our life. Our whole culture with its obsession with immediacy and variety makes this difficult but doubly necessary.

In churches perseverance is essential for building congregations that witness to the faithful perseverance of God toward us.

Our self-esteem is enhanced when we persevere.

Habits of Persevering (all of these padded out helpfully in the notes):

•    Obey your purposes, not your feelings.
•    Practice makes permanent.
•    Enlist a close friend to help you keep accountable. (Proverbs 27:6).
•    Those with children will do well to limit the range of a child’s activities and insist that if they sign up for a new activity, they stick with it for a season/course.
•    Do something in the way of Christian service. (Don’t wait to be asked – look around. Ephesians 2:10)
•    Don’t be put off by others’ criticism or coolness.
•    Keep looking to the final product – the establishment of God’s eternal Kingdom.
•    Never underestimate the value of turning up at church! Galatians 6:9-10
•    Turn off the T.V.
•    Pray and read.
•    Establish personal rules of discipline. Train yourself to be godly. (1 Timothy 4:7)
•    Prayer is essential.

Three passages that speak of perseverance (u(πομονή – hupomonē) and its consequences are  discussed in length in the notes: Romans 5:4-5, James 1:4 and 2 Peter 1:6.

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

James 1:2-8
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

2 Peter 1:3-9
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

All of this is grounded in ‘saving faith’ – a faith received (1:1 and cf. Romans 5:1 and James 1:18). We persevere because we are saved, not in order to be justified. One of the signs of saving, justifying faith is sanctifying, persevering faith. We take seriously our Lord’s words that “the person who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Don’t forget to check out the St Pete’s website for downloads of Bishop Peter Brain’s Summer School: Four Attitudes that can Transform Your Life.

My summaries all in one place

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But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-8.)

Life is full of pleasures and troubles. These can give us grief or joy. The difference between how we live with our troubles and pleasures is what Paul calls the “secret of being content.”

The talks I am summarising detail God’s faithfulness and the responses we must make to live a life of Godliness in Christ. We need to be content. (nice word isn’t it?)

Reasons for discontent:
– Focus on what we don’t have. Satan’s successful strategy with Eve (Genesis 3:1-6), was that he managed to shift her focus from everything she *could* enjoy to the one thing *forbidden* her by God.
– things happen to disturb our peace; trouble or misfortune.

Godliness and contentment are so clearly linked. Numbers of scriptures speak of this either explicitly or implicitly: 1 Timothy 6:8, Luke 3:14, Philippians 4:11-13, Deuteronomy 31:6, Proverbs 19:23.

Our contentment does not see us untouched by troubles, but untouched by faithlessness and its attendant griefs of uncertainty, hopelessness and hardened independence toward God that can result when our peaceful existence is shattered.

Contentment is not an attitude we conjure up with self-effort, but rather the outworking of a living relationship with the loving God whose mind and ways are revealed to his children. The notes detail hymns, prayers and bible verses which speak of the reality of contentment (even during difficult times) when one has an understanding of God’s nature and his promises. They give examples to encourage us to stand against the pressures of the world and the flesh which would speak to us of discontent; Hebrews 13:4-6 speak of sex, money and contentment, Philippians 4:11-12 mentions varying circumstances which test us, Luke 3:14 records John the Baptist’s advice to the soldiers that they “produce fruits in keeping with repentance” (3:7-8), and they not “extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay”, 1 Timothy 6:6-10 reminds us that God is sovereign and that we are frail. See the notes for more detail.

Application:

1.    Contentment is not simply a disposition that we are born with.  Paul tells us that he learned it through circumstances (Philippians 4:12), but this learning was not isolated from –
i.    practiced rejoicing in the Lord (4:4);
ii.    prayer and thanksgiving (4:5-7);
iii.    a mind focussed or what is good, true, pure and right (4:8-9);
iv.    a life lived in consistent obedience (4:9).

2.    Since contentment and godliness go together (1 Timothy 6:6), we will need to be Bible readers who pray if our contentment is to grow.

3.    Learned and practiced contentment will keep us from overspending covetousness, pride and greed.

4.    The implications for us in raising children and in our example to each other in the church are significant.

Summaries all in one place

We all know the relief of being forgiven by someone we have wronged, and the trials and burdens of bearing a grudge because we refuse to ask forgiveness, or experience the sadness when our request for forgiveness is rejected.

[A note from me: There are two purposes for these summaries. Primarily, for my own benefit; I always get more when I revise. Secondly, I wanted to give a taste so that others would be inspired to download and dig further. I feel I am failing in the second objective. I want to keep my blog posts short, but as there is so much wonderful stuff in the originals, my summaries appear superficial and dull. Please see this as a weakness of my presentation, rather than a lack in the talks themselves. They are both encouraging and meaty! So off I go:]

Forgiveness begins in the heart of God and once accepted by us (by repenting and receiving Christ) it must be repeated in our relationships (strength is given by the Holy Spirit). Peter then goes on to show systematically how forgiveness ties in with other themes in the bible.

The Lord’s prayer teaches us to say: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We can ask for pardon! Yet, it is challenging, since we must also forgive those who have wronged us. This challenge is further amplified by Jesus in Matthew 6:14-15, “for if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Forgiveness has a vertical and horizontal dimension; both are vital. The latter, forgiving others, brings its own blessings but not to the same extent that forgiveness from God can bring.

All sin is against God: – against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (51:4). When David wrote this he was not implying that he had not sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, his other wives, their children and the nation. He had, and although forgiven, his family and nation never recovered. But he had to come clean, he had to throw himself upon God’s mercy first and foremost.

Knowing this is life transforming for us: we experience His merciful hand in the future (hence 51:9-12), God hears our prayer (Psalm 66:18), we can deal with guilt (Hebrews 10:19-24), we can avoid both self-righteousness and despair [I say ‘Hallelujah’, God has proved this in my life…guilt just makes you either pretend you are together, or just lose heart and spiral into hopelessness. Forgiveness brings hope.]

Listed are some wonderful metaphors for our cleansed lives. See: Psalm 32:1-2, Psalm 103:12, Isaiah 1:18, Micah 7:19, Acts 3:19-20, Romans 5:1

Our response to God’s forgiveness is to forgive others. This challenge is memorably etched in our minds by the parable of the merciful servant in 18:22-35. Forgiveness, like thanksgiving, is a command not an optional extra for Christians.

The art of forgiving is nurtured as we obey Jesus and pray for our enemies. Quote: It is psychologically impossible to hate the people we are praying for.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 The notes include wonderful teaching on the purpose of the Ephesian verses, the benefits to ourselves and our fellowships and families, the effects of unresolved anger and strategies to overcome bitterness.

Forgiveness received from God is liberating, and from others, life-giving. Its display is stunning. We are given boundless opportunities to emulate God’s mercy thereby proving our own forgiveness in Christ and giving others an earthly glimpse of Divine grace.

Recommended Book: Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

All the Summer School summaries in one place

Read and be encouraged by a summary of the Bishop’s notes. (Then download them and read them at length):

We aren’t naturally thankful. Dostoyevsky said, “I believe the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped!” The fact that we must invest a considerable amount of energy in training our children (and let’s be honest, ourselves) to be thankful confirms the accuracy of his observation.

Thankfulness is a response to God. Unthankfulness is sin: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1: 21

Unthankfulness plays a major part in the downward spiral of sin so chillingly (yet realistically) tracked in Romans 1:18-32. (HINT: read it) Thankfulness however, plays an important and powerful role in our growth in obedience and Christlikeness.

Giving thanks to God for both His temporal and spiritual blessings in our lives is not just a nice thing to do – it is the moral will of God. Failure to give Him the thanks due Him is sin. It may seem like a benign sin to us because it doesn’t harm anyone else, but it is an affront and insult to the One who created and sustains us every second of our lives. And if, as Jesus so clearly stated, loving God with all our heart, soul and mind is the great and first commandment, then failure to give thanks to God as a habit of life is a violation of the greatest commandment. (Respectable Sins pp. 81-82)

Many scriptures speak of thankfulness: 1 Chron 16:8, Ps 95:1-2, Eph 5:19-20, 1Thess 5:18 are just some! Music, singing and prayer are good ways to encourage thankfulness. The more we do it, the better we become at it. (Peter’s saying ‘Practice makes permanent’ applies here) Each day we can find many reasons to be thankful to God. Being thankful was very important for the Samaritan leper in Luke 17:11-19. It was the means by which he received the greatest blessing: salvation.

The notes then go through several of Paul’s prayers and words which demonstrate the how and why of being thankful. There are many blessings which come to us when we learn this. Some are: we will be less likely to be thrown off balance by good circumstances, or led into bitterness by tough circumstances; thankfulness will serve as the means of overcoming crippling doubts (because we are focussing on the trustworthiness of our Father). Thankfulness plays a pivotal role in Christian ethics and church life (Col 3:1-16) and in family and work and community relationships (3:17-4:6).

Here are some practical suggestions:
a.    Practice turning a verse or truth from your daily Bible reading into a prayer of thanksgiving.
b.    Every Sunday, look for a reason to thank God. It may be a fellow Christian’s faithfulness, it may be the words of a hymn, a truth from Scripture or the sermon. Remember, practice makes permanent.
c.    Every Sunday, look for a reason to thank someone you met with – you might do this personally, by phone or by (e)mail (better if it is handwritten).
d.    Each day, morning and evening, actively thank God for –
•    What He has done to bring you to Himself
•    What you have seen in creation, experienced in dealings with others, or enjoyed in His daily provision.
e.    Collect the words of songs and prayers of thanksgiving that you could use from time to time, especially if the way is lonely or tough for you. Remember, God uses and blesses our initiative, planning and means to help us grow.

This summary is bare bones; if this is speaking to you please bother to get the notes or download and listen to the talk by Peter Brain!

Recommended book:

Jerry Bridges: Respectable Sins – confronting the sins we tolerate (Navpress 2007)

All the Summer School summaries in one place

Armidale is a different place in the holidays. It’s quiet. Until uni goes back it will maintain that laidback air. I like.

One of the treats of hanging around during January is the Bishop’s Summer School which he’s run each year now for 4 or 5 years. The title for this year’s school was “Four Attitudes that can Transform Your Life”. Peter’s gift is as an encourager but he doesn’t neglect truth in order to make you feel good.

Here is the introduction. I intend to post a summary of the talks over the next couple of days. (the audio and notes are available on the St Pete’s website)

It has often been said that ‘all truth is God’s truth’, and this should not surprise us, since God has given us two books by which we can discover the best ways to live. The books of Creation and Scripture, whilst not being equal, are complementary. The Bible will always be the final authority and arbiter for Christians, since it is the revelation of God’s mind (Deut 29:29; Psalm 19, 119; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Yet, the creation around us bears eloquent testimony to God’s ordered handiwork (Psalm 19; Romans 1:18-20) and commends (in fact commands – Genesis 1:26) the exercise of our minds in understanding the creation. This will, of course, include how we tick as men and women both physically and psychologically. How we rejoice in the discovery of penicillin and antibiotics, surgery, optometry, palliative care etc. These discoveries are not found from the special revelation of the Bible, but from the general revelation of creation (in the discovery of antibiotics) and the human body (in the development of surgical treatments).

In the matter of the mind the same is true. During the past decade, the ‘positive psychology’ movement, emanating from Dr. Martin Seligmann in the USA, attitudes once neglected and sometimes denigrated, that had their roots in a Biblical world view, have not only been rediscovered, but taught and encouraged in the field of psychology and public mental health and well-being.

Four of these are thanksgiving, forgiveness, contentment and perseverance – the focus of our Summer School during this week.

Part 1: Thankfulness

Part 2: Forgiveness

Part 3: Contentment

Part 4: Perseverance

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