Thursday, 23 July 2009

Quote of the day: be afraid

'Sometimes people ask us if we're scared, living in the inner city,' say Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. 'We usually reply with something like, "We're more afraid of shopping malls." The Scriptures say we should not fear those things which can destroy the body, but we are to fear that which can destroy the soul (Matthew 10.28).'
Paul Tripp says: 'Jesus demands everything, not just so we would submit to his control, but to free us from the control of things that were never designed to control us.'
Someone mentioned on the phone to me recently the death from cancer of a prominent Christian leader in his fifties. She described it as a tragedy. But his death wasn't a tragedy. It was certainly a loss to his family, friends and the wider church. But it wasn't a tragedy. It was gain. Let me tell you what is a tragedy: Someone who gets a good education, secures a well-paid job, buys a house in a nice area, marries and has children, and ensures his children get a good education, so the cycle can begin again. Someone who treats Christ as a hobby or an insurance against hell. Someone who leaves behind and rusting car and children who've been trained to be self-indulgent. Someone with no gospel legacy. That's the tragedy.

  • What did you do yesterday for your present comfort or security? What did you do yesterday for God's future?
  • What did you do last week because you saw an advert or you saw something someone else had? What did you do last week because of your confidence in God's promises?
  • What will you do tomorrow to store up treasure on earth? What will you do tomorrow to store up treasure in heaven?
  • When did you last take a risk for God? What did you risk?
  • Hebrews 11.25 says the pleasures of sin last only for a short time. Psalm 16.11 says that at God's right hand 'are eternal pleasures'. What gives you pleasure? Is that pleasure fleeting or forever?
  • Death separates us from every source of happiness except Jesus. Can you say with Paul that 'to die is gain' (Philippians 1.21) because Jesus is your ultimate joy?
  • What about big life decisions you've made? Your job? Your home? Your relationships? Did you make them on the basis of God's promises for the future?
  • What about the decisions you're facing now? What would it mean to make them on the basis of God's promise for the future?
[Tim Chester, in The Ordinary Hero - living the cross and the resurrection.]

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

All in Jesus

"The Name of Jesus" (From The Valley of Vision)

All-Searching God,
Thou readest the heart,
viewest principles and motives of actions,
seest more defilement in my duties than I ever saw in any of my sins.
The heavens are not clean in thy sight,
and thou chargest the angels with folly;
I am ready to flee from myself because of my abominations;
Yet thou dost not abhor me
but hast devised means for my return to thee,
and that, by thy Son who died to give me life.

Thine honour is secured and displayed even in my escape from thy threats,
and that, by means of Jesus
in whom mercy and truth meet together,
and righteousness and peace kiss each other.

In Him the enslaved find redemption,
the guilty pardon,
the unholy renovation;
In Him are everlasting strength for the weak,
unsearchable riches for the needy,
treasures of wisdom and knowledge for the ignorant,
fullness for the empty.
At thy gracious call I hear, take, come, apply, receive his grace,
not only submit to his mercy but acquiesce in it,
not only glory in the cross but in him crucified and slain,
not only joy in forgiveness but in the one through whom atonement comes.

Thy blessings are as secure as they are glorious;
Thou hast provided for my safety and my prosperity,
and hast promised that I shall stand firm and grow stronger.
O Lord God, without the pardon of my sin I cannot rest satisfied
without the renovation of my nature by grace I can never rest easy,
without the hopes of heaven I can never be at peace.
All this I have in thy Son Jesus; blessed be his name.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Reasonable or wise?

You would think we needed a reasonable leader. Sensible. Wise. But being wise is quite different to being reasonable. Saul was a reasonable leader - he did what was expedient and he had an explanation for everything. He even listened to the people, to see what they wanted. And he 'did God,' unlike some of our politicians:
“When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” (ch.13) of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint.
Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” (ch.14)

"I have obeyed the voice of the
Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal." (ch.15)
It all seemed so reasonable, and duly religious, at the time. But Samuel said, "You have done foolishly." It seemed reasonable, but it wasn't wisdom. Why? Because Saul forgot whose servant he was. He forgot the LORD was God. He behaved as if there was a god of mere religion - you should make him happy before a war with a sacrifice, or during a war win him over by fasting, or after a war make up for compromise by sacrifice. Samuel said, "To obey is better than sacrifice." This reasonable leader knew how to do religion, but in fact, he acted as if God wasn't really there and hadn't really spoken.

The people had asked for a man to be king over them like the other nations, and that's what they got. The other nations had kings who believed the gods could be disobeyed or ignored - the king was the real sovereign - and then appeased by sacrifice and fasting. Gods who could be swayed, who served the king. So that was how Saul acted. As if YHWH had been surplanted by him. As if YHWH had never spoken.

That can seem like the reasonable thing, today, too: everyone around us acts as if God isn't really there and hasn't really spoken. We can even do it while being religious, while saying we're on God's mission! But how easily we're foolish, forgetting his word, his prerogative. We imagine we're passionately about his work, while shutting out his rule.

Saul realised his foolishness to his cost:

" have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel." (ch.15)
[...] Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. (Ch.18)
The Lord was the One who led the people, whom they followed in and out. That was what they would do for a King: he commands, and you willingly follow him in and out. (See also Numbers 27.15-23) But as YHWH left Saul, and was with David, His annointed King (Messiah), in effect, he was their leader, their King. The difference? David acted on the assumption that YHWH was living and had spoken:
And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
No matter how reasonable it can seem to be like people around us, wisdom is to act on the truth that the LORD lives, and has spoken.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Bless the Lord, my soul - in Christ

Making chicken creole this morning before church, singing:

O Thou my soul, bless God the Lord;
And all that in me is
Be stirrèd up his holy name
To magnify and bless.

Bless, O my soul, the Lord thy God,
And not forgetful be
Of all his gracious benefits
He hath bestowed on thee.
All thine iniquities who doth
Most graciously forgive:
Who thy diseases all and pains
Doth heal, and thee relieve.
Who doth redeem thy life, that thou
To death mayeset not go down;
Who thee with loving-kindness doth
And tender mercies crown:

Who with abundance of good things
Doth satisfy thy mouth;
So that, even as the eagle's age,
Renewèd is thy youth.

God righteous judgement executes
For all oppressèd ones.
His ways to Moses he made known,
His acts to Israel's sons.

The Lord our God is merciful
And he is gracious,
Long-suffering, and slow to wrath,
In mercy plenteous.
He will not chide continually,
Nor keep his anger still.
With us he dealt not as we sinned,
Nor did requite our ill.

For as the heaven in its height
The earth surmounteth far,
So great to those that do him fear
His tender mercies are:
As far as east is distant from
The west, so far hath he
From us removèd in his love,
All our iniquity.

Such pity as father hath
Unto his children dear,
Like pity shows the Lord to such
As worship him in fear.
For he remembers we are dust,
And he our frame well knows.
Frail man, his days are like the grass,
As flower in field he grows:
For over it the wind doth pass,
And it away is gone;
And of the place where once it was
It shall no more be known.

But unto them that do him fear
God's mercy never ends;
And to their children's children still
His righteousness extends:
To such as keep his covenant,
And mindful are alway
Of his commandments just and good,
That they may them obey.

The Lord preparèd hath his throne
In heavens firm to stand;
And every thing that being hath
His kingdom doth command.

O ye his angels, that excel
In strength, bless ye the Lord;
Ye who obey what he commands,
And hearken to his word.
O bless and magnify the Lord,
Ye glorious hosts of his;
Ye ministers that do fulfil
Whate'er his pleasure is.

O bless the Lord, all ye his works,
Wherewith the world is stored
In his dominions every where.
My soul, bless thou the Lord.

[Psalm 103, from the Revised Scottish Metrical psalter]

And bless the Lord, my soul, that vv.17-18 was true of the Messiah Jesus:
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,

and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
And we, in Him, are bound up in his covenant-keeping, his obedience, and his righteousness - my soul, bless thou the Lord!

Friday, 17 July 2009

1 Samuel 1-liners

I've been listening to chunks of 1 Samuel recently, and several one-liners have stood out to follow what's going on.

chs.3-4: The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.
ch.6: "Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?"
ch.7: The Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. [...]
"Till now the Lord has helped us."
ch.8: "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."
ch.9-10: But some worthless fellows said, "How can this man save us?"
ch.11-12: And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

In one-liner thinking this morning, I'm left thinking,
- They need God to be King!
- They need a man who can save them, a man who forever won't do wickedly but righteously, so that they won't be swept away for their sins.

But how can they have a righteous man to save them, and God to be their King?
How will God do this righteousness - this honouring of His name? He has so bound himself to his people in covenant, in promise, that to not do so would dishonour his name and thus be unrighteous! They must have God as king and, now, a man who will rule in righteousness.

So God spoke, later:
"I will save my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken." (Ezekiel 34)

But David failed to live righteously, so who is this King to come who would mean that actually, God was King?

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" (Malachi 3)

And Jesus came.

Monday, 13 July 2009

A global people

Jesus, with global authority, gave us a global commission to be carried by a global people. The church in one country can never be self-sufficient, without need of the church in other countries in its mission. It is in that framework that the following press release is important:

"At its biennial leadership meeting in Korea in June, The Lausanne Movement named the expositors for Cape Town 2010. This Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, held in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance, will take place 16-25 October 2010.

"The Revd Doug Birdsall, Chairman of the Lausanne Movement, stated that the six Bible expositors will reflect the demographic, theological and cultural composition of Cape Town 2010.

"‘The Congress will be truly global while at the same time being distinctly African in nuance and feel. Two hundred years ago, William Carey proposed a congress of similar scope for Cape Town, South Africa. In a very real sense, Cape Town 2010 will be the fulfilment of his dream. Each day, the Congress programme will begin with expositions from the book of Ephesians. The six Bible teachers we have invited to Cape Town 2010 come from six different regions of the world and represent some of the finest Bible expositors of our generation.’

"The expositors have been named as Ajith Fernando, Director of Sri Lanka Youth for Christ; Calisto Odede, Associate Pastor of Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Kenya; John Piper , senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis , US; Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK; Ruth Padilla DeBorst, General Secretary of the Latin American Theological Fellowship (Costa Rica); and Ramez Atallah, Director of the Egyptian Bible Society, and his wife, Rebecca, who has a grassroots ministry among children and Sudanese refugees in the ‘garbage village’ in Cairo.

"Lindsay Brown, Lausanne Movement International Director, spoke of his hopes for the Congress:

"‘We are hoping for clarity on the nature of evangelism; for clear-sightedness on the critical issues to be faced by the Church in the next 20 years; for many new international partnerships and initiatives such as characterise The Lausanne Movement; and for decisive action as the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth, by which we mean both the geographical ends of the earth, and every area of society.’

"The Congress will draw 4,000 participants onsite, from 200 nations. In addition, capacity is being built for virtual participation by churches and theological colleges around the world, through the Cape Town GlobaLink. From October this year, the Church on each continent is invited to join The Global Conversation at, the first of its kind to draw the world’s evangelicals together in engaging critical issues in world evangelization. Peter Brierley, founder of the UK body ‘Christian Research’ said, ‘I suspect this will be the best-planned, technologically-led global conference ever.’"

In the UK and the USA, undoubtedly we have celebrated various conferences and movements which have sprung up in recent years around the gospel. A friend rightly asked whether this isn't just one more conference for those who live off conference highs rather than in the real world and real, daily, weekly, church. But I'd suggest that is far too UK/USA-focussed. We do have excellent conferences which equip us for daily ministry and life focussed on Christ. We have churches, colleges, inter-church organisations and books which help prepare us for evangelism and world mission. But what of getting together from across the world, as hearers and do-ers of our Father's word? Weren't the ancient councils to address how to preach Christ for us and for our salvation, sharing together across the known world with its pressures of Greek cults, high philosophy, Islam, politics, and internal heresy? I look forward to hearing of the congress, and its subsequent influence in the world. The Lausanne Covenant, drafted by John Stott as an outcome of the 1975 conference, can be read here. You can see within it how they addressed key issues in evangelism in various parts of the world at the time.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Quote of the day: participation in God

Calvin, seeming (in my estimation) to answer the Pelagian question, "May we not, like Adam, establish ourselves as good by doing good actions?"
[Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Ch.2]
"At the time when man was distinguished with the noblest marks of honour through God's beneficence, not even then was he permitted to boast about himself. How much more ought he now to humble himself, cast down as he has been - due to his own ungratefulness - from the loftiest glory into extreme disgrace! At that time, I say, when he had been advanced to the highest degree of honour, Scripture attributed nothing else to him than that he had been created in the image of God [Gen. 1:27], thus suggesting that man was blessed, not because of his own good actions, but by participation in God.

"What, therefore, now remains for man, bare and destitute of all glory, but to recognise God for whose beneficence he could not be grateful when he abounded with the riches of his grace; and at least, by confessing his own poverty, to glorify him in whom he did not previously glory in recognition of his own blessings?"