Sunday, 17 May 2020

Apostolic Fathers

The Mission (1986) - Mendoza's penance.

I rediscovered this wonderful hymn this afternoon. The hymn beautifully balances the devotional life with that of the life of service. The devil of course would have us go to one extreme to the neglect of the other. This hymn amazingly just popped into my head as I sat down. I used to sing it alone when I was a teenager but forgot about it until just now. I think I only heard it sung once in church. It blessed me today, perhaps it will bless you too.
1. Stay, Master, stay, upon this heavenly hill;
A little longer, let us linger still;
With all the mighty ones of old beside,
Near to God’s holy presence still abide;
Before the throne of light we trembling stand,
And catch a glimpse into the spirit land.
2. Stay, Master, stay! we breathe a purer air;
This life is not the life that waits us there;
Thoughts, feelings, flashes, glimpses come and go;
We cannot speak them—nay, we do not know;
Wrapped in this cloud of light we seem to be
The thing we fain would grow—eternally.
3. No! saith the Lord, the hour is past, we go;
Our home, our life, our duties lie below.
While here we kneel upon the mount of prayer,
The plough lies waiting in the furrow there!
Here we sought God that we might know His will;
There we must do it, serve Him, seek Him still.
4. If man aspires to reach the throne of God,
O’er the dull plains of earth must lie the road;
He who best does his lowly duty here,
Shall mount the highest in a nobler sphere:
At God’s own feet our spirits seek their rest,
And he is dearest Him who serves Him best.

How to Have Fellowship with God: Fenelon

How to Have Fellowship with God
Tell God all that is in your heart,
As one unloads one’s heart,
Its pleasures and its pains,
To a dear friend.
Tell Him your troubles,
That He may comfort you;
Tell Him your joys,
That He may sober them;
Tell Him your longings,
That He may purify them;
Tell Him your dislikes,
That He may help you to conquer them;
Talk to Him of your temptations,
That He may shield you from them;
Show Him the wounds of your heart,
That He may heal them;
Lay bare your indifference to good,
Your depraved tastes for evil,
Your instability.
Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others,
How vanity tempts you to be insincere, How pride disguises you to yourself as to others.
If you thus pour out all your
Weaknesses,
Needs,
Troubles,
there will be no lack of what to say.
You will never exhaust the subject.
It is continually being renewed.
People who have no secrets from each other never want for subjects of conversation.
They do not weigh their words,
For there is nothing to be held back; Neither do they seek for something to say.
They talk out of the abundance of the heart,
Without consideration,
Just what they think.
Blessed are they who attain to such familiar,
Unreserved
Intercourse
With
God!
–Fenelon

Remembering John Stott: A Video Tribute

Doing Personal Evangelism During the Coronavirus Crisis. Andrew Kenny

Doing Personal Evangelism During the Coronavirus Crisis.
Following on from Dave Bennett's last post where he asks the group how we are doing evangelism at the present time- along with giving some of his experiences and ideas.
For myself, I've always maintained that unless we desire or are motivated to witness, no matter how good we are at talking to people, or no matter how many opportunities come across our way, we will not evangelise. The reverse of that is also true: if we are motivated to evangelise and witness, no matter what the situation, if we are proactively waiting and listening to the Lord, God will open up the doors of opportunity for us to witness. I speak from experience and know that at times when I have NOT actively sought to evangelise, as a result, no opportunity opened up for me - and vice versa.
Our 'old man' is lazy and is quite content to stay in its little comfort zone, especially when it involves God's work. As believers we should be I.C.E. Christians, as opposed to NICE Christians- though of course, we should be both. By an I.C.E. Christian I mean that we should wake up in the morning and first of all know that we are called to INTIMACY (I.) with God. That we are in Him and He is in us. 'If you love me and obey my commands my Father and I will come and make our abode in you.' that Jesus wants us to abide in him and him in us. Wow!
Secondly, not only are we called to intimacy, but also we have been (C.) COMMISSIONED to serve. Christ said to his disciples 'As the father has sent me, so I send you'- what joy is that.
Thirdly, we are also (E.) EMPOWERED by the Holy Spirit.' You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses. This takes the pressure off us to minister and witness in our own strength- a most important lesson to learn.
If we open our eyes we will then begin to see people coming across our path, whether we are walking the dog, going shopping, making a phone call, using Facebook, etc. For instance, I had a 'suggested friend' on FB the other night. I had not spoken to the gentleman in 24 years. I sent him a friend request which he accepted. It resulted in quite a long personal conversation about what we had done in the past years and what we were doing now. Did he become a Christian as a result of the conversation? I would doubt it because I never made an appeal or gave him a challenge- at that time. I would have done so if the door had opened at that time. He did ask me what I worked at, so I was able to tell him that I do men's ministry for a church. Which then said I suited to it! Do I desire that he will become a Christian? Of course, I do. Will I seek opportunities to develop our friendship. Of course, I will.
The truth is: personal evangelism takes a lot of time. The Engel Scale ( see diagram) is a useful tool, in that, as we reach out to people, it shows that we are hopefully bringing them closer to making a commitment to Christ. We may meet them when they are at -10, but through our friendship, we may bring them to -4. When reaching out to people we very much need the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as well as the illuminating power of the Spirit to open up the eyes of the spiritually blind. We don't need to see them converted at the first conversation, though sometimes it may happen. If we can' get a conversion, let's aim to keep the conversation going- maybe during the 30th conversation, the penny will drop and the scales will fall from their eyes!
One further important point worth mentioning. If we have failed in evangelism- do not let it prevent us from taking a stand for Christ again. All the great saints failed at one time or another, including the great apostle Peter. Satan would love us to just give up-don't let Satan get the better of you, don't let Satan steal the ministry God wants you to have!

Your Life is a Living House: C.S.Lewis

“Imagine yourself as a living house.
God comes in to rebuild that house.
At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.
He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense.
What on earth is He up to?
The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -
Throwing out a new wing here,
Putting on an extra floor there, running up towers,
Making courtyards.
You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage:
But He is building a palace.
He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

'Ten Of The Best' : Christian Book Reviews by Andrew Kenny

Ten Of The Best Christian Books : 2. 'Mere Christianity' By C.S.Lewis

Motives for Mission -Andrew Kenny

MOTIVES FOR MISSION-The mission of the Church may be defined as “what God has sent the Church into the world to do.” This includes both evangelistic and social responsibilities. Many speak of our mission, but what about our motivations for mission? Scripture has much to say about not only our actions, but also about the reasons and motives behind these actions. It is God who tries (Jeremiah 12:3), knows (Psalm 44:21) and searches (Jeremiah 17:10) the heart. He does not judge by outward appearance. Indeed, even in our worship he discerns whether we are worshipping with both our hearts and our lips (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:8). In 2 Corinthians 13:3, Paul declares, “If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” In Philippians 1:15-17, he acknowledges that the gospel can be preached from motives of goodwill and love as well as from envy, rivalry, selfish ambition and insincerity.
The Love of GodIt should be understood that the Church’s mission is more than a good or even a great activity that the Church does. Christian mission springs from the very heart of the Godhead. Both the Old and the New Testament have much to say regarding the missio dei and both reveal God’s love for humankind in its spiritual and physical dimensions. The “love of God,” as a motive for mission, contains at least three elements significant for mission:
(1) God’s love for us,
(2) our love for God, which is proved by our obedience to God (John 14:15) and
(3) God’s love working through us to reach others.
The love of the missionary God is seen in the act of the Father giving up his only begotten Son in the incarnation, and his Son being willing to live a life of self-sacrifice and ultimately to die on the cross for humankind (John 3:16; Romans 8:32; Matthew 20:28). In 1 John 4:19 we are also reminded that “we love because he first loved us.” If our response is to truly love Christ in return for what he has done for us, we must obey his commands. God expects his disciples to be motivated by his love. We can do this because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Jesus, who commanded us to love one another, also promised that if we obeyed him, the world would know that we were his (John 13:34-35).
This love is more than just a fleeting emotional feeling; it is an act of the will and a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:1). This love also compelled Paul in his mission (2 Corinthians 5:14). Jesus Christ said to his disciples “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). As disciples, we are obliged to follow his example. Our love for God must be shown in “incarnational mission.” We are to identify with those we seek to reach, entering their worlds, their pains and their sorrows.
Many Christians list obedience as being a primary motive for fulfilling the missionary task. I would agree; however, obedience should necessarily flow from our love for God. John R. W. Stott once said that “loving obedience to God and his Christ is the first evangelistic incentive” as obedience is “the fruit and proof of love.”1 If obedience does not come from a heart motivated by the love of God, there is a danger of the missionary task becoming legalistic and lacking God’s blessing.
The Fear of GodIt is sometimes perceived that the “fear of the Lord” (meaning, to be concerned with a God of judgment) is not relevant for those living since the New Testament era. It is true that the fear of the Lord seems more prominent in the Old Testament than the New Testament. Nevertheless, the New Testament still concerns itself with this important subject. God is still holy (Hebrews 12:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1) and there is still a final judgment (Matthew 25:41).
The fear of the Lord means living our lives to please the Lord. While on earth, Jesus sought to please his Father. Christians must also seek to please God and live a life worthy of him (Colossians 1:10). In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul writes that it was his goal to please God. Why was he motivated as he was? Verse 10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” As a result, Paul encouraged his readers to “persuade men” (v.11).
Michael Green notes, “This fear of which he speaks is not the craven fear of the underdog, but the loving fear of the friend and trusted servant who dreads disappointing his beloved Master.”2 He goes on to write, “This fear was a contributory factor in the ceaseless evangelistic activity of the apostle Paul.”3 In seeking to persuade men, we can begin to understand Paul’s concern for those who were not in Christ. Paul saw himself as similar to the prophet Ezekiel, who had been called to be God’s watchman. Similar to Ezekiel, Paul declared to the Ephesian elders, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26). He believed he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (2 Timothy 1), a herald and teacher (1 Timothy 1:11) and an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
He was like Isaiah, who having seen God in his awesome majesty, could not refuse his invitation to “go and tell this people” (Isaiah 6:9). Like Jeremiah, Paul could not hold in God’s Word. This holy compulsion was a combination of both the love of God for the people and a grave concern that the trust committed to Paul should be discharged (1 Corinthians 9:17). The Church’s mission should still be motivated by a healthy appreciation of the fear of God, which will give to the Church a sense of its own holy calling to reach the lost. The Church will then become fearless in the midst of fierce opposition. Paul the great missionary had to endure great sufferings in order to fulfill the ministry to which God had called him.
The Glory of GodPerhaps the greatest motive for mission and evangelism is for the glory of God. As with the love of God, the glory of God can have more than one dimension. The first is that we evangelize in order that God would be glorified. The second is that we evangelize in order to receive glory and praise from God (as opposed to man). Both motives are important and biblical. First, we will look at evangelizing to receive glory or praise from God.
John said of the Pharisees that “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Jesus himself declared that he did not receive glory from men (John 5:41); rather, he was approved by his Father at his baptism (Mark 1:11) and exalted because of his obedience on earth (Philippians 2:9-11). The idea that we should not strive for a reward from God is unbiblical. The Bible is clear that all will be judged by Christ (Daniel 12:3; Romans 14:10,12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12,15). Though there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), it would appear that judgment for believers is for reward instead of punishment. Luke 19:17 implies there may be different degrees of rewards for believers for service rendered. Paul in his ministry was careful to build with quality material so he would not be put to shame when God put his work to the test (1 Corinthians 3:15). Whatever our reward may be, it should be a strong incentive for evangelism and mission.
We will now look at what I believe to be the purest motive for mission: that God himself would be glorified and honored. God the Father “exalted (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9-10). Paul instructed the Corinthians that even ordinary things should be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 3:1). How much more should we seek to honor and glorify the name of Jesus Christ in the work of evangelism! The Church also seeks to win over those under the control of Satan, that they may serve and honor the true and living God. As Elijah declared himself to be “very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts” (1 Kings 19:14), so Paul also claimed that his own ministry was “for (Christ’s) name’s sake” (Romans 1:5). Likewise, the missional Church as the bride of Christ must be spurred on with a holy jealousy to bring honor to his name. M. Thomas Thangaraj rightly points out that “an adoration of God leads to a profound sense of love and gratitude to God, which in turn motivates us for engagement with others in mission.”4
ConclusionThe prophet Jeremiah warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure”(Jeremiah 17:9). It is not surprising that an assessment of motivations for mission should prove to have a sobering effect on the Church. The Church should therefore be prepared to listen to both the Word and the world in its criticisms of it, so as not to become self-deceived (Hebrews 4:12; Proverbs 18:13). The three positive motives for assessing mission listed above naturally intertwine like a threefold cord (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Mission and the motivation for mission should be seen as originating from God and should result in the Church following the example of Jesus, who in holy obedience, love and seeking to glorify the Father, came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Endnotes
1. Stott, John. 1967. Our Guilty Silence. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 18.
2. Green, Michael. 1995. Evangelism in the Early Church. Guildford: Eagle. 29.
3. Ibid. 297.
4. Thangaraj, M. Thomas. 1999. The Common Task. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 149.-The mission of the Church may be defined as “what God has sent the Church into the world to do.” This includes both evangelistic and social responsibilities. Many speak of our mission, but what about our motivations for mission? Scripture has much to say about not only our actions, but also about the reasons and motives behind these actions. It is God who tries (Jeremiah 12:3), knows (Psalm 44:21) and searches (Jeremiah 17:10) the heart. He does not judge by outward appearance. Indeed, even in our worship he discerns whether we are worshipping with both our hearts and our lips (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:8). In 2 Corinthians 13:3, Paul declares, “If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” In Philippians 1:15-17, he acknowledges that the gospel can be preached from motives of goodwill and love as well as from envy, rivalry, selfish ambition and insincerity.
The Love of GodIt should be understood that the Church’s mission is more than a good or even a great activity that the Church does. Christian mission springs from the very heart of the Godhead. Both the Old and the New Testament have much to say regarding the missio dei and both reveal God’s love for humankind in its spiritual and physical dimensions. The “love of God,” as a motive for mission, contains at least three elements significant for mission:
(1) God’s love for us,
(2) our love for God, which is proved by our obedience to God (John 14:15) and
(3) God’s love working through us to reach others.
The love of the missionary God is seen in the act of the Father giving up his only begotten Son in the incarnation, and his Son being willing to live a life of self-sacrifice and ultimately to die on the cross for humankind (John 3:16; Romans 8:32; Matthew 20:28). In 1 John 4:19 we are also reminded that “we love because he first loved us.” If our response is to truly love Christ in return for what he has done for us, we must obey his commands. God expects his disciples to be motivated by his love. We can do this because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Jesus, who commanded us to love one another, also promised that if we obeyed him, the world would know that we were his (John 13:34-35).
This love is more than just a fleeting emotional feeling; it is an act of the will and a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:1). This love also compelled Paul in his mission (2 Corinthians 5:14). Jesus Christ said to his disciples “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). As disciples, we are obliged to follow his example. Our love for God must be shown in “incarnational mission.” We are to identify with those we seek to reach, entering their worlds, their pains and their sorrows.
Many Christians list obedience as being a primary motive for fulfilling the missionary task. I would agree; however, obedience should necessarily flow from our love for God. John R. W. Stott once said that “loving obedience to God and his Christ is the first evangelistic incentive” as obedience is “the fruit and proof of love.”1 If obedience does not come from a heart motivated by the love of God, there is a danger of the missionary task becoming legalistic and lacking God’s blessing.
The Fear of GodIt is sometimes perceived that the “fear of the Lord” (meaning, to be concerned with a God of judgment) is not relevant for those living since the New Testament era. It is true that the fear of the Lord seems more prominent in the Old Testament than the New Testament. Nevertheless, the New Testament still concerns itself with this important subject. God is still holy (Hebrews 12:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1) and there is still a final judgment (Matthew 25:41).
The fear of the Lord means living our lives to please the Lord. While on earth, Jesus sought to please his Father. Christians must also seek to please God and live a life worthy of him (Colossians 1:10). In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul writes that it was his goal to please God. Why was he motivated as he was? Verse 10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” As a result, Paul encouraged his readers to “persuade men” (v.11).
Michael Green notes, “This fear of which he speaks is not the craven fear of the underdog, but the loving fear of the friend and trusted servant who dreads disappointing his beloved Master.”2 He goes on to write, “This fear was a contributory factor in the ceaseless evangelistic activity of the apostle Paul.”3 In seeking to persuade men, we can begin to understand Paul’s concern for those who were not in Christ. Paul saw himself as similar to the prophet Ezekiel, who had been called to be God’s watchman. Similar to Ezekiel, Paul declared to the Ephesian elders, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26). He believed he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (2 Timothy 1), a herald and teacher (1 Timothy 1:11) and an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
He was like Isaiah, who having seen God in his awesome majesty, could not refuse his invitation to “go and tell this people” (Isaiah 6:9). Like Jeremiah, Paul could not hold in God’s Word. This holy compulsion was a combination of both the love of God for the people and a grave concern that the trust committed to Paul should be discharged (1 Corinthians 9:17). The Church’s mission should still be motivated by a healthy appreciation of the fear of God, which will give to the Church a sense of its own holy calling to reach the lost. The Church will then become fearless in the midst of fierce opposition. Paul the great missionary had to endure great sufferings in order to fulfill the ministry to which God had called him.
The Glory of GodPerhaps the greatest motive for mission and evangelism is for the glory of God. As with the love of God, the glory of God can have more than one dimension. The first is that we evangelize in order that God would be glorified. The second is that we evangelize in order to receive glory and praise from God (as opposed to man). Both motives are important and biblical. First, we will look at evangelizing to receive glory or praise from God.
John said of the Pharisees that “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Jesus himself declared that he did not receive glory from men (John 5:41); rather, he was approved by his Father at his baptism (Mark 1:11) and exalted because of his obedience on earth (Philippians 2:9-11). The idea that we should not strive for a reward from God is unbiblical. The Bible is clear that all will be judged by Christ (Daniel 12:3; Romans 14:10,12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12,15). Though there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), it would appear that judgment for believers is for reward instead of punishment. Luke 19:17 implies there may be different degrees of rewards for believers for service rendered. Paul in his ministry was careful to build with quality material so he would not be put to shame when God put his work to the test (1 Corinthians 3:15). Whatever our reward may be, it should be a strong incentive for evangelism and mission.
We will now look at what I believe to be the purest motive for mission: that God himself would be glorified and honored. God the Father “exalted (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9-10). Paul instructed the Corinthians that even ordinary things should be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 3:1). How much more should we seek to honor and glorify the name of Jesus Christ in the work of evangelism! The Church also seeks to win over those under the control of Satan, that they may serve and honor the true and living God. As Elijah declared himself to be “very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts” (1 Kings 19:14), so Paul also claimed that his own ministry was “for (Christ’s) name’s sake” (Romans 1:5). Likewise, the missional Church as the bride of Christ must be spurred on with a holy jealousy to bring honor to his name. M. Thomas Thangaraj rightly points out that “an adoration of God leads to a profound sense of love and gratitude to God, which in turn motivates us for engagement with others in mission.”4
ConclusionThe prophet Jeremiah warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure”(Jeremiah 17:9). It is not surprising that an assessment of motivations for mission should prove to have a sobering effect on the Church. The Church should therefore be prepared to listen to both the Word and the world in its criticisms of it, so as not to become self-deceived (Hebrews 4:12; Proverbs 18:13). The three positive motives for assessing mission listed above naturally intertwine like a threefold cord (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Mission and the motivation for mission should be seen as originating from God and should result in the Church following the example of Jesus, who in holy obedience, love and seeking to glorify the Father, came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Endnotes
1. Stott, John. 1967. Our Guilty Silence. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 18.
2. Green, Michael. 1995. Evangelism in the Early Church. Guildford: Eagle. 29.
3. Ibid. 297.
4. Thangaraj, M. Thomas. 1999. The Common Task. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 149.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Regarding this present crisis around the world.



Regarding the present crisis around the world, I had some thoughts on the wonderful hymn of faith which was written to encourage the believer in the midst of difficulty: 'My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness'.
We WILL go through difficult times in our Christian walk. In fact, Paul writes: 'No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.' 1Cor 10.13.
Now that temptation or trial may be any number of things. It could be the sickness or death of a loved one, or the loss of a job, it could be a financial disaster, it could be having lies spoken about you, or the spiritual downfall of someone you had set on a pedestal, or deep anxiety, depression, or sorrow so great, that life, it is felt, is not worth living. It could also be doubting that God actually exists or that he is a caring God, or that our sins have been forgiven.
For the Christian, Christ alone is the foundation of what our life is built upon. It is certainly not based on our own righteousness. Many Christians, I'm convinced, do not, deep in their heart, really believe that God really loves them. The reason for this is that they do not believe they deserve God's love. The truth is that none of us do deserve God's love- it has been freely given to us through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. In my experience, if a Catholic is asked whether they believe they will go to heaven when they die, they will reply, 99% of the time, with the words: 'I hope so'. In other words, they are basing God's decision to accept them into heaven on their own good works. Many Protestants are not sure either. Many believe that Christ died for them with their heads but often do not believe it in their hearts.
John Wesley was 35 years old and a Church of England minister for many years before he believed in his heart that the Lord had forgiven him. In describing his heartwarming experience on 24th May 1738 he wrote in his journal:
'In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.'
Though after this experience Wesley had many ups and downs, this was a real turning point in his life and it resulted in the Methodist Revival of the 18th century.
Likewise for us, in times of trial, let us use our experience to trust in Christ alone, our sure foundation. Let all the others go- our reputation, our qualifications, our righteousness, our riches, our possessions, our spirituality, our connections- all these things are sinking sand and not a sure foundation. By letting everything else go it will give us the freedom to trust in Christ alone and bring to us an intimacy that we will never have experienced before.
An added blessing is that, as we rely on Christ alone as our foundation in the midst of trouble, people may notice that we are not frantic like those who are without Christ. In that case, we may shine Christ's light for them and be used as a lighthouse- not just to warn of the danger of the rocks, which a lighthouse does, but be a light on the path for the weary traveler, with a view to leading them to safety.
Andrew

1 My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
:On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.


2 When darkness seems to veil his face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in ev'ry high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.

3 His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.

4 When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne. [Refrain]

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Our Brokenness - through which the love of God can best manifest itself:Henri Nouwen

'What moves me most in reflecting
on these opportunities
is that they lead us
to the heart of
ministry and
mission.
The more I think about
the meaning of living and
acting in the name of Christ,
the more I realize
that what I have
to offer to others
is not my
intelligence,
skill,
power,
influence, or
connections,
but
my own human
brokenness
through which the
love of God
can manifest itself."

THREE GIFTS JESUS GAVE HIS DISCIPLES AFTER HIS RESURRECTION.


Jesus got three gifts when he was born - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Before he left the earth, after his death and resurrection, he also gave his disciples three wonderful gifts.
First of all, he gave his disciples peace- A priceless gift. He said to his disciples: ' Peace be with you'.Through faith in Christ and in his death and resurrection, we have peace with God. We are 'good' with God. He is not angry with us, in fact, we have, through Christ, become the apple of his eye! We can, therefore, go out and serve God with a peaceful mind, not with a stressed or anxious one worrying whether we are pleasing to him. We are at peace with him- the fear has gone! Wonderful indeed.
Secondly, he also commissioned the disciples to do the most significant vocation possible: 'As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' Wow, what a calling, what a charge, what a commission! He wants us to be his representatives- little Christs, little anointed ones. In fact, this commission is so wonderful it is impossible to do without his third gift to us!
The third gift is the empowerment to fulfill the commission- the Holy Spirit- God dwelling within us. Now if we had half a million pounds in our wallet we would feel special and blessed. But being indwelt by the maker of the universe? Could we be more blessed? Of course not, never in a million years.
What great gifts- it's like Christmas every day. Receive them today.
'Again Jesus said, “PEACE BE WITH YOU! AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, I AM SENDING YOU' And with that he breathed on them and said, “RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT.'

The Marks of a true Apostle- Private Jet or Crowded Prison Cell?




The Marks of a true Apostle- Private Jet or Crowded Prison Cell?
'It seems to me that God has put us
who bear his Message
on stage in a theater
in which no one wants to
buy a ticket.


We’re something everyone
stands around and stares at,
like an accident in the street.
We’re the Messiah’s misfits.
You might be sure of yourselves,
but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties.
You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around.
Much of the time
we don’t have enough to eat,
we wear patched
and threadbare clothes,
we get doors slammed in our faces,
and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living.
When they call us names, we say,
“God bless you.”
When they spread rumors about us,
we put in a good word for them.
We’re treated like garbage,
And it’s not
getting any better.'
Paul to the Corinthians

Friday, 11 October 2019

Our God Reigns (But How?): Roger Olson

*This is a sermon I preached recently. I think I posted it here once before, so if it sounds familiar, that’s why. However I have a good reason to post it here again.*
One of our favorite truths is that “our God reigns.” The Bible clearly tells us and our experience confirms—that God is the ruler over all. I whole heartedly affirm that great truth—but with one reservation, qualification. It has to do with another biblical theme: that God has adversaries. What I mean is that, according to the biblical witness God does not always yet get his way in everything.
The Bible confronts us with two equally important truths that may seem to conflict. Let’s look at two examples using two pairs of passages: Jeremiah 29:11 and Joshua 14:15… Then, 2 Peter 3:9 and Matthew 7:21-22.
These two biblical themes often appear in Christian hymns such as This Is My Father’s World and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.
Now I’m going to drop a heavy claim on you. Please bear with me as I explain it throughout my sermon this morning: Right now God is in charge but not in control.
Stay with me, please…

Equally God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians disagree about God’s sovereignty right now
  1. Everett Koop and Nicholas Wolterstorff…
(Here I simply tell about their radically different responses to the deaths of their sons in mountain climbing accidents as recounted in their books Sometimes Mountains Move [Koop] and Lament for a Son [Wolterstorff]. Koop attributed his son’s death to God while Wolterstorff did not.)
These two men and their stories and testimononies illustrate an old problem—understanding “God reigns”…in face of evil and innocent suffering. What should we think? How can we reconcile the two biblical themes? How to answer our own and others’ questions about God’s power and goodness…?
Because there is the problem: How can God reign, be the ruler over all things, and there be such evil and suffering in his world? Inquiring minds want to know. Probably no question about God is more urgent and pressing. Some have called evil and innocent suffering the “Rock of Atheism.”
The eighteenth century Enlightenment deist Voltaire read essayist Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man” in which Pope attempted to justify God’s ways. In a marginal note of his copy Voltaire wrote that “God should his ways to man explain.”
On the one hand, we Christians want to say that God does not owe us explanation; God’s ways and thoughts are not the same as ours—according to Isaiah.
On the other hand, when most of us face a tragedy we really want to know “Where is God in this?”
Over the centuries equally devout, Bible-believing Christians like Koop and Wolterstorff have come up with two opposite explanations and both of these still carry great influence among Christians.
First, many Christians like Koop believe that God right now and always controls everything; everything that happens, without exception, is designed, ordained, and rendered certain by God. (Hymn: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”)
Second, many Christians like Wolterstorff believe that God will eventually control everything but that right now all the evil and much of the suffering in the world is not God’s will.
Both views exist side-by-side in many churches; both views sometimes exist side-by-side within a single human breast. But they cannot both be true.
So why these two views? Why have they always existed throughout church history?
Possibly because the Bible is not always as clear as we wish it were. But also possibly because although the Bible is clear our minds are not clear as we struggle to understand it.
Is there a way to reconcile the two seemingly conflicting themes of Scripture? Is there a way to confess that God reigns but evil and innocent suffering are not his will?
Yes, I believe there is a way. It may not satisfy everyone, but I have found it satisfying biblically and experientially. I want to share it with you this morning.
First, “our God reigns” means that God has a “big plan” and is almighty and nothing any creature can do can thwart God’s big plan. God will without fail bring about his promised union of heaven and earth in which his will will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Second, “our God reigns” means that right now, before that future glorious day when God unites heaven and earth, much that happens is not God’s will even though God allows it.
Third, God is sovereign over his own sovereignty; he does not have to control everything to be sovereign; he gives creatures free will to resist and oppose him. And that is actually a sign of his great power and sovereignty, his rulership.
Fourth, God gave creatures—angels and humans—freedom to resist and oppose him because God is love and love cannot be coerced.
Fifth, all of the evil and innocent suffering in God’s world is the result of creatures’ defection from God, our disobedience and open rebellion against God—told in Genesis 3 and Romans 1.
Sixth, the Bible tells us that a consequence of creatures’ defection from and rebellion against God is a curse upon the ground and bondage to decay. Nature itself is broken because of creatures’ sin.
Seventh, God is so good and so powerful that he can always bring good out of evil and innocent suffering—Romans 8:28.
All of that is pretty standard Christian belief and wholly consistent with the Bible (even though many Christians prefer to believe that everything that happens is God’s will and controlled by God).
But there is one more “side to this story.” Something many good Christians today have trouble wrapping their minds around.
The Bible tells us that we are right now living in enemy-occupied territory and that God calls us, his people, to join the resistance and fight for his cause. Some call this “spiritual warfare.”
Let’s back up a moment.
Talk about Satan and his minions, fallen angels, demons, makes us uncomfortable. Especially when we go beyond saying that Satan is a defeated enemy to saying, with the Bible, that even though he was defeated on the cross of Jesus Christ and by Jesus’s resurrection he is still kicking around causing a lot of evil and innocent suffering.
Four times in the New Testament Jesus and Paul refer to this reality and even call Satan “the god of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air.” Jesus told his disciples that he saw Satan “fall like lightening from heaven,” but scholars disagree much about what he meant. Any way you interpret it, though, there’s no escaping the fact that the New Testament, including Jesus, talks much about Satan as a living and powerful enemy of God and God’s people.
This very important biblical theme does make us uncomfortable. It’s hard for Americans to believe there’s an invisible war going on “in heavenly places,” in an unseen spiritual reality, between God and his allies and Satan and his minions. But I don’t see any other way to read the Bible faithfully.
The way I read the Bible, and the only way I can see it being read faithfully and seriously, is that it says we are living in enemy occupied territory and we are called by God to help him defeat the enemy.
Perhaps rather than calling natural disasters “acts of God,” as insurance companies did, we should call them “acts of Satan.” But, in fact, we don’t always know what is causing tragedies and calamities. All we know is that this present world is not the way God intended it to be.
Let me offer a homely illustration. During World War 2 several nations occupied by Germany had monarchs who fled to England and there set up governments in exile. The king of Norway and the queen of the Netherlands are two examples. Their subjects formed resistance groups to sabotage and undermine the occupying powers in their countries. And most of the subjects of those kingdoms proclaimed their monarchs in exile as their true rulers.
No analogy is perfect. But the Bible seems to be telling us that God, although not in exile, very present with us, is not in control of everything. The enemy of God is strong and we must choose sides—either with and for God or with and for the enemy.
When I was growing up in a very evangelical church we sang many songs about this biblical theme: Keep on the Firing LineAm I a Soldier of the Cross?, I Am On the Battlefield for My Lord, Onward, Christian Soldiers, and Who Is On the Lord’s Side?
I don’t hear this biblical theme expressed as much today—in songs or sermons or lessons or Christian books. I think we have confused the “battle language” of the hymns with physical violence and therefore shied away from it. But it’s still there—in the Bible.
My students from Africa and Asia tell me this biblical theme is alive and well and a daily reality in Christians’ lives in their home countries. They tell me it is so crucial to their Christianity that they are profoundly confused and even dismayed when they don’t hear it talked about here.
In closing, let me return to a hymn I mentioned near the beginning of this sermon: This Is My Father’s World. What beautiful words! But there’s a difficult sentence in the third verse that many hymnals now exclude:
“This is my Father’s world; the battle is not done. Jesus who died shall be satisfied and heaven and earth be one.”
The exclusion of that verse or the change of those words to other ones makes me think we evangelical Christians in America are even consciously downplaying this biblical theme of spiritual war.
I confess, however, that I know of no other way to explain to myself or others some of the things I see and hear about in the news and in the world around me.
Now don’t get me wrong; Satan has no power other than what people give him—except the power to tempt. But he is a “roaring lion stalking around seeking whom he may devour” because we are not vigilant and protective against him with “weapons of spiritual war” such as prayer.
So, really finally, back to the main question. What do I mean when I say that God is in charge but not in control?
Let me end with a page from a great Christian classic—A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy (p. 118)… [Tozer gives an illustration of a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean toward a predestined port while passengers freely do all kinds of things on the ship.]
*

Saturday, 7 September 2019

My Testimony by Raymond John

Thanks to  Raymond John who sent me his wonderful testimony.
    Part 1
Raymond John, product of a broken home, son of an alcoholic father and ex- soldier from the Welsh Fusiliers who escaped the mines of the Rhonda valleys in Wales for the trenches of the 2nd World War.  Eldest son, with a sister and two athletic and skilful soccer player brothers, so different from his studious disposition, who found his outlet and solace often times, in the nearest local library.  A little lost soul, carrying the weight of his father's inebriated nightmares as he, like a drowning man would restlessly hit the surface of  his fractured sleep, often reliving the horrors of those bygone days so  graphically depicted in DUNKIRK.  Today we are aware of P.T.S.D., unrecognised then, but certainly beyond the ken of this primary school child. who wrestled with his own pain at having to live with it.
John 16:8  And when He (Holy Spirit) is come, He....

1ST VISIT (though I knew it not): 10 Years of Age.  Alone in my bed in the dark, I recounted all my family and those I loved and faced (or was led to) face the fact that one day and one by one each of them would die. The tears streamed down my face.
CONFIRMATION: (14 ½ Years of Age) Sunday School and Church of Ireland.  I recited The Apostles Creed and, ”renounced the devil and all his works and ALL the sinful lusts of the flesh”.  If only it were that simple.

2ND VISIT GRANDMOTHER'S DEATH: (16)  This was the first death in the family and I was her blue-eyed favourite grandson.  We were very close.  I was devastated. I observed her in the coffin but knew beyond any shadow of doubt that that was not my granny.  The body was there but the person I had known and loved was somewhere else.  More frightening to me, was when the minister read from The Book of Common Prayer ,“for you brought nothing into this world and it is certain you will take nothing out”.
John 16:8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement;

THE EVANGELIST: 16 1/2 -
Promoted to another section of a large City Centre  firm overlooking The city Hall.  There were three of us in the office.  I sat adjacent to the bosses son. He was a believer.  A language I did not understand then but someone who was going through his own crises of faith, having just left a very exclusive  Christian sect.  Again a world of which I was completely ignorant.  In the further Providence of God, the third person in the office had to leave from time to time to pursue his sales agenda.  Conversations would then take place between Norman and me, the self righteous little prig from the Church of Ireland. who thought he was good enough. He'd never done any harm to anyone?  He prayed and went to church.  He believed Jesus was a great man even a prophet (The son of God bit he wondered about ), couldn't believe that, but anyway it didn't matter.  He believed in a God of Mercy Who would never send anyone to hell and certainly not him, who after all was miles better than his own alcoholic, drunken, father.   For 18 months, as opportunity permitted in the office, a verbal sword fight waged between us.  Many a time (unknown to him) as I left the office I could have have strangled him.  The 'clever' arguments I amassed were never answered to my satisfaction but again and again his being SURE of his salvation really irked me.  It was to me  unfathomable, (a very pale reflection of the preparatory work of The Holy Spirit in the conversion of Saul (later Paul) as he witnessed the full assurance of Stephen, even in the midst of death).  Acts 6: 54 – 58.


Part 2
He passed on a book to me: “Who Moved The Stone”.  Frank Morison was a lawyer.  Every Sunday in church they recited The Apostles Creed,  just like in the Church of Ireland.  I learned it together with my confirmation vows.  But he always clenched his teeth when they came to repeat,“I believe in the resurrection of the dead”.  Cause he didn't believe it.  Later when he drove past church goers he vowed that one day, when he got time he would disprove the “myth” and set people free from that delusion.
As a lawyer he eventually brought his mind to bear on examining the evidence.  Taking (largely) the 4 Gospel stories, he proceeded to cross examine (as he would in a court room) those eyewitness accounts that were recorded, surrounding the final days of JESUS, including the events after the crucifixion and around the garden tomb into which His body was led to rest. The conclusion of his examination. He was persuaded of the truth of the resurrection!!!
Subsequently he had no qualms joining in wholeheartedly with all the faithful, whom he had once considered deluded, in the repetition of The Apostles Creed including that bit -  “I believe in the resurrection of the dead”.


Part 3
Meanwhile what of that other septic?  Recently I picked up a copy of that book in a 2nd hand book shop.  I'm sure it's now out of print.  It's a small book.  It contains 192 pages,  but small enough print to fit into an overcoat pocket.  Well, I read that book through. I can't say that anything particularly struck me in all his neatly put together case for the “jury” to rest upon.  When I got to the last page, I wasn't his case history, but his little imaginative conclusion, that struck a chord somewhere.
He writes - “I have an impression...that as dawn approached in that quiet garden, something happened which caused one of the watchers to awaken his companions and proceed to a closer inspection of the tomb.  It may have been only the stirring of the trees or the clanging of a gate in the night breeze.  It may have been something more definite and disquieting...(so that) the disciples were so immovably convinced that the Resurrection itself took place in the early hours of Sunday morning”.
3RD VISIT “ WHO MOVED THE STONE”
As I read these simple words a fear came over me and I was suddenly transported to that garden.  It wasn't a vision or anything as obvious as that but I was momentarily there in that garden in the gloom of that Easter morning.  His imagination and my own imagination had me there, but it was as real as the bedroom in which I was reading it.
Recently I came across a description of what I experienced.  Otto refers to “the numinous” : (Latin numen, “spirit”) in which the Other, (i.e., the transcendent) appears as a mysterium tremendum - that is, a mystery before which man both trembles and is fascinated, is both repelled and attracted”.  In my own case - I was not repelled.  It was definitely another visit of the Blessed Holy Spirit carrying out the preparatory work promised by Jesus.
There was to be one final conversation not long after when Norman confronted me with bible prophecy.  As a“last-ditch effort”, (He told me later he had said to The Lord that he had run out of things to say) to persuade this really questioning, skeptical, fellow.  He had written a text on a tract, which I promised I would read (not the tract but a bible prophecy.) He didn't know that I had a totally unreasonable hatred of gospel tracts), ditching them if I was ever given one, and crossing to the other side of the street to avoid open-air meetings if I ever encountered one.  (the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be). Rom. 8:7. I read the portion of Scripture because I promised I would.  I might as well have been reading the Belfast Telegraph.  Nothing registered.  About a fortnight later, it was a Friday night.  I was in bed early enough but at a loss for something to read – my usual practice, if not my ear glued to my little transistor and Radio Luxembourg.  There was nothing, especially on my mind.  No search for God.  No wrestling with conscience. No conviction of sin.  My old, largely unopened B B Bible was still sitting on the bedside locker. I was not in the habit of reading it and only had it out to read the bit I'd promised.
I once was a stranger to grace and to God,  I knew not my danger and felt not my load;
….. Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.
The marker was in the same place.  I opened it and began to read.  EVERY verse, one-by-one, of the first half of the chapter found a target.
4TH VISIT  ISA 53: 1 - 7
I recognised - the arm of The Lord was REVEALED. The One with no form nor comeliness and with no beauty that we should desire Him, growing up as a tender plant and as a root out of dry ground - was JESUS.
When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,... I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see - Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.
HE was, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, from whom I had hid my face.  It was Him I despised and esteemed not.  Yet: surely He had borne MY griefs and carried MY sorrows yet I had esteemed Him smitten of God and afflicted.  He was wounded for MY transgressions.  He was bruised for MY iniquities and by His stripes, I was healed.
“My terrors all vanished before the sweet name; My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free - Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me”.
I was the sheep gone astray.  I had turned to my own way.  And The Lord had laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted yet He opened not His mouth.   Just as I had been in the garden on the resurrection morning, now I was at the foot of the cross - the old rugged cross.  But in body I was at the foot of my bed, the tears tripping me “mourning for Him as one mourns for his only son”.  Zech 12:10 I have no problem believing this is yet to happen to the nation Israel because of the covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob if they continue not in unbelief, (just like me).

Fascinating to discover later that multitudes over the centuries have “found” Christ through this passage of Scripture.  Equally fascinating to find it in the book of the birth of the early church.  This time not in a major city but in the middle of the desert.  Philip the Evangelist was specifically directed there by that same Holy Spirit of Whom I have been speaking.   The man, not a humble Bookkeeper this time, but the equivalent of Chancellor of the Exchequer to the queen of the Ethiopians, was sitting in his chariot and reading aloud this very passage.  When the guy asked of whom was the prophet speaking, “Philip opened his mouth and preached unto him JESUS”.  That accountant then asked to be baptised.  Philip replied “If you believe with all your heart” to which the man replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”.  Acts 8:26 - 38  There is a long Christian tradition to this very day in Ethiopia.
Part 4
The little tract also had on it a passage from John's Gospel.  I am the door of the sheep if any man enters in he shall be saved.  “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray - woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
When I told my rector days later that I was now SAVED he told me that he didn't like that word.  I was so ignorant of these matters that I could only reply that neither did I but that's what they called it in the office.  But the little lost boy from the back streets of Belfast had found The Saviour or rather The Saviour had found him.   Interestingly enough he told me that an older guy in the same parish had told him the same story weeks before.  He didn't understand so he sent him to my house thinking he could help me.  He didn't have to. When Sandy introduced himself to me, he and I, that same night (he had to drop something into an office. I think he was a trade union shop steward), walked all the length of the Ballygomartin Road to the bottom of the Shankill Road in deep conversation.  Just like Christian and Hopeful, we discovered he too had begun the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  He had lifted this poor boy from the dunghill and set him among princes”. 1 Sam.2:8 The rest of my life would testify to this.
And so “THROUGH MANY DANGERS, TOILS AND SNARES I HAVE ALREADY COME”- the earliest, grave one, walking unscathed from the home of the last Catholic family in a Protestant Estate, a short enough distance from our outreach centre which The Lord enabled us to operate.  Within a stone's throw of, (then) Castlereagh R U C Station, I was visiting one of the Catholic young people with whom we had successfully shared the Good News.  He hadn't appeared for follow up meetings for a fortnight.  Unusually (but providently) he kept me in the hall and we sat on the stairs.  It was Saturday night and his youngest brother was watching Match of the Day.  20 minutes later and rat - a - tat - tat  - the sound of gunfire and the house shook.  In broad daylight on a summers evening, someone had crept to the front window and pumped in a hail of machine-gun bullets, all along up the wall ahead.  It pierced right through to the boiler in the kitchen, spurting water all over the place.  In the ensuing silence, young Eamon opened the door into the hall and came crawling towards us dragging his leg. A bullet had pierced his thigh.  But he would have had it in the head, indeed all three of us probably fatally wounded if we had been sitting on that sofa.  The young guy had been sprawling on it with his leg in the air absorbed in the match.  Obviously, the house was being watched and I mistook for an older brother returning home.  Even more awful.  Normally the mother would be doing her weekly ironing in that same room.  Just that very day her daughter had persuaded her to go out with her for the evening, having been under enormous pressure with visits to the hospital.  Her husband was lying there dying of cancer.  The hazards of reaching out to the other community 40 years ago!  “'TWAS GRACE THAT BROUGHT ME SAFE THUS FAR.  AND GRACE SHALL LEAD ME HOME”.