Author: Stephen McDonald

Broadcaster, teacher, bibliophile, armchair political commentator, theologue, Christian (still in beta)

Courage to Bear Witness (Acts 22:22-23:11)

How do we bear witness to Jesus when our beliefs are unacceptable to the people around us?

Here in Acts 22 & 23, Paul finds himself in a similar position to us. He lives in a world where you can worship anyone or anything you want, as long as you don’t insist that people only worship what you worship. And he finds that his beliefs are intolerable, even to many of the Jews in Jerusalem.

How can we live for Jesus and speak about Jesus when Christian teaching about sin, and hell, and sexual ethics is totally unacceptable?

There are three things we need to know, and one encouragement we need always to remember:

  1. It’s Not Wrong to Assert Your Rights (22:22-29)
  2. It’s Not Wrong to Admit You Are Wrong (22:30-23:5)
  3. It’s Not Wrong to Be Shrewd (23:6-10)
  4. An Unsurprising Exhortation from God (23:11)

Sunday 20th October 2019

Review questions:

  • The crowd didn’t know what Paul had ____ but wanted him _____ (21:33-35)
  • Jesus forbids ____________ (Matthew 5:39)
  • Can Christians insist on their legal rights (22:25)? Yes/No
  • We live before ________________ (23:1)
  • ‘Whitewashed wall’ means someone is ____________________________ (23:3)
  • When Paul admits his sin, he shows he still upholds the ___________ (23:5)
  • Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or spirits, or the _________________ (23:8)
  • They put their own _________________ above God’s revelation (Matthew 22:29).
  • What did Jesus promise (23:11)?
  • Jesus promises __________________ in the world, but also _________ because He has _________ the world (John 16:33)
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I will change:

“If You Will Go With Me…” (Judges 4:1-24)

The book of Judges has many stories of victory against the odds. In chapter 3, there’s Ehud, who bluffed his way into a king’s palace and stuck a sword into his massive belly. Or Shamgar who killed 600 Philistines with a stick.

How could they risk it all? Are there are still people like that today? Can weak, fearful people like you and me learn anything from these brave men?

In Judges 4, we find the story of Barak, who Hebrews 11 calls a man of faith. But although he wins a great victory, he doesn’t seem very confident at all. He seems very much like you and me. What did God want to teach us by choosing Barak?

God chose Barak to show that He uses weak people to achieve His purposes and glorify Himself. And because He uses fail people like Barak, you and I should follow His commands in faith whatever the odds.

And we see that not only in the life of Barak, but in many ways in Judges 4:

  1. God Glorified in Punishment (v1-5)
  2. God Glorified in Faith (v6-16)
  3. God Glorified Unawares (v11-13, 17-22)
  4. God Glorified in Destruction (v23-24)
  5. So Have Faith Whatever the Odds (v6-7)

Sunday 13th October 2019

Review questions:

  • Judges happens when the Israelites are living in ____________________ (Judges 1-2)
  • Why was Israel punished (v1-2)?
  • God saves by giving His ____________________ (v5)
  • What did God promise (v7)?
  • Was it good for Barak to take Deborah (v8-9, 14)? Yes/No/Maybe
  • What does Judges 5:20-21 add?
  • Jael’s husband was an _________________ of King Jabin (v17)
  • Sisera’s death was ____________________ful (9:54)
  • How strong are God’s enemies (v23-24)?
  • When should we obey God (v6)?
  • Which king do we need (Judges 21:25, Hebrews 12:1-2)?
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live:

An Unshakeable Kingdom (Hebrews 12:18-29)

Has your life ever been shaken up?

Have you experienced what the writer of Psalm 46 describes: the earth is removed, the mountains carried into the midst of the sea?

Has what you relied on been taken away?

When your world turns upside down, you find out what you really value. So we ask, what can I rely on? What will last?

In Hebrews 12, we are told that everything in the world is going to be shaken: every possession, every achievement, every relationship. And everything that is made will not last; everything that cannot be shaken will remain.

So, how can we live if every created thing is going to be shaken? Can we survive the shaking? And what will be left?

Hebrews 12:18-29 gives us three directions:

  1. Approach a Better Mountain (v18-24)
  2. Heed a Greater Warning (v25-27)
  3. Worship the Consuming God (v28-29)

That’s how we can survive when the world is shaken to bits.

Sunday 29th September 2019

Review questions:

  • Hebrews is about what is God gave the 10 Commandments at Mount ___________ (v18, Exodus 19:1)
  • How does it feel to hear God speak directly (v19)?
  • I can come to God without fear if Jesus is my ______________________ (v24)
  • What does a mediator do (v24)?
  • Why didn’t many Israelites enter the Promised Land (3:11, 19)?
  • What won’t be shaken (v28, Lk 6:46-49)?
  • How can I receive God’s kingdom (v28, Mk 10:15)?
  • How should we worship (v28, Jn 4:22-24)?
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live:

The Westminster Confession of Faith

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It’s shocking to hear that for many years, you couldn’t buy a copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith, even from the Presbyterian Bookshop at 156 Collins Street. I remember Rev. John Mercer telling me that said some of his classmates took their ordination vow “I own the Westminster Confession of Faith” very literally. As long as it was on their shelf, they were okay. One didn’t even go that far, asking if he could borrow a copy of the Confession because he ‘should probably have a read of it’ before his ordination later that day.

Sure, ministers and elders have to agree with the Confession, but why should anyone else bother with it? It’s not like it’s the Bible!

Well, you should read a confession of faith if you want help to see how the Bible’s teaching fits together. That’s what any statement of systematic theology does: it gathers up what the Bible teaches, examines the developments, and states it succinctly.

As Carl Trueman writes, “Ask any Christian what they believe, and, if they are at all thoughtful, they will not simply recite Bible texts to you; they will rather offer a summary account of what they see to be the Bible’s teaching in a form of words which are, to a greater or lesser extent, extra-biblical.”

You should read a confession to check your interpretation of the Bible. As church history teaches us, a new discovery in Biblical interpretation is often an old heresy with a new name.

We are always in danger of what C.S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery’ because of the inherent blind spots and cultural pressures of our own time. But confessions help us to evaluate and build on the understanding of believers before us, as well as our own.

And if none of that is convincing enough, confessions help us to focus on what is most important. If we emphasize only the aspects of Christian doctrine which matter to us, we risk transmitting an unbalanced, incomplete, and unbiblical Gospel. Confessions provide a ‘form of sound words’ (2 Timothy 1:13), a comprehensive statement of the Christian faith to pass on (2 Timothy 2:2).

You probably won’t be surprised that I think the Westminster Confession of Faith really is the best confession you’ll find. In 12,500 words (or about 45 pages without the Scripture proofs), the Westminster Assembly has given us a hard-fought, carefully drafted, and pastorally helpful statement of the essential doctrines of Christianity, which is valued by Christians well beyond the bubble of Western Evangelicalism.

If you have time to read 2 chapters of Packer’s Knowing God, Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom, or Sproul’s The Holiness of God, then you have time to read this helpful summary from start to finish.

So, read a paragraph or two as part of your daily devotions, or set aside time on Sunday afternoon to study a chapter and follow the Scripture references. You might prefer to use a booklet of the Confession on its own, download it from reformed.org, or get one of the many apps like Christian Creeds & Reformed Confessions.

You’ll also be helped by the many commentaries on the Confession. I prefer Chad Van Dixhoorn’s excellent and accessible Confessing the Faith (Banner of Truth: 2014), which includes a modern English version in parallel to the original. The elders and I will be working through this helpful work together.

We should learn from the best of current practice without losing the best of the past. Our personal devotions, discipleship, family worship, corporate worship, and church government would all be enriched if we thoughtfully applied the Scripture-soaked wisdom in the Westminster documents to our present situation.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Stephen McDonald

Run Christian, Run! (Hebrews 12:1-3)

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

  1. Our Duty
  2. Our Encouragement
  3. Our Strategy

Sunday 22nd September 2019

Misunderstanding & Defence (Acts 21:27-22:22)

One of the biggest challenges facing the Christian faith today is this: people misunderstand it. Sure, in some places, people haven’t heard of Jesus; that’s a big issue. But often, even where people know about Christianity, they don’t know what it really is. So people think that Christianity is a list of rules that stop people from having fun. Or it’s a bunch of myths that science has disproved.

So, when people misunderstand your faith, where do you start? That’s the issue at the heart of this passage in Acts 21-22. And they teach us three principles for when people misunderstand your faith:

  1. Expect to be Misunderstood (21:27-36)
  2. Be Prepared to Give a Defence (21:37-22:2)
  3. Use the Opportunity to Proclaim Jesus (22:3-22)

Sunday 15th September 2019

Review Questions:

  • Who caused the riot (21:27)?
  • What did they disagree with Paul about (21:28)?
  • What do people today disagree about with Christian teaching?
  • Why does Paul want to speak (22:1)?
  • How does Paul defend himself (22:1-18)?
  • What changed Paul (22:7-8)?
  • How can I be forgiven (22:16)?
  • Who sent Paul to the Gentiles (22:14-15, 18, 21)?
  • We can say, ‘I am one of you, but I met _______________________________’
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live:

When the Hard Way is the Best Way (Acts 21:1-26)

The end of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey may seem irrelevant to us. ‘What do these voyages and prophecies and vows have to do with us?’ But the question behind them is one we often have to answer: ‘How do you make difficult decisions, especially when the future is uncertain?’

What is ahead for you? Can you expect good days or hardship? Exciting opportunities, work, study, and success? Or sadness, sickness, death?

What is ahead for us? Growth? Struggle? Change or closure?

‘Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”’ (James 4:13-15).

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So, how do you decide what to do? Here in Acts 21, we see Paul wrestling with this question. And he lives out three principles, which should guide us too:

  1. Give Up Your Life (v1-14)
  2. Give Up Your Rights (v15-26)
  3. Prioritise the Gospel (v14, 25)

Sunday 8th September 2019

Review questions:

  • Who hosted Paul in Caesarea (v8; 6:5)?
  • How does this show the Gospel (8:1)?
  • What did Agabus say (v11)?
  • What did the believers urge (v12)?
  • Why did Paul go (v13; 19:21; 20:22-23)?
  • What should I want when I make decisions (v14)?
  • Do Christians always agree? Yes/No
  • Why did the elders want Paul to take a vow (v20-22)?
  • Is the hard way always the more Christian way? Yes/No
  • What is 1st priority (1:8)?
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live: