Can the Ungodly or Atheist be ‘Nice’?

On a BBC Radio 5 Live broadcast yesterday, the discussion (phone in) was to do with the dismissal of Sarah Kuteh by the NHS for offering to pray for a patient. Let me set that aside for a moment. But a rather strident Atheist called in and said he would be apoplectic if someone offered to pray for him or his loved one when they were at their lowest. I have some sympathy with that. But what struck me was his claim that believers, Christians in this case, didn’t think Atheists are capable of doing ‘good’. I was glad that another caller attempted to correct him, but the guy was so wound up it probably fell on ears that were at that time unable to hear it. I have heard this claim before. It certainly isn’t something I believe and I’m not aware of ever being taught it either. Let me say now: If Christians say Atheists are incapable of doing good or being nice, those Christians are quite frankly, wrong.

This morning I read the following in Acts. Before I briefly comment on it here’s the passage;

Act 28:1-10
(1) After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta.
(2) The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.
(3) When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand.
(4) When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”
(5) He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
(6) They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
(7) Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.
(8) It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him.
(9) And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.
(10) They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

Notice in verse 2 that Paul records how ‘the native people showed us unusual kindness’. The people of Malta welcomed them all. The people on Malta did not believe in the God of Paul, that is, the ONLY True God, the Christian God. Either way you look at it, from the perspective of Paul these people were at best pagans. And yet he describes them as having shown unusual kindness. Also, notice in verse 7 how ‘Publius… received us and entertained us hospitably for three days’. It seems the people of Malta were kind and hospitable. And Paul records the fact of it. So, I have no idea where people like the ‘phone-in’ Atheist get the idea from that Atheists cannot perform acts of kindness, but it isn’t from the Bible. The fact is, God in His kindness has poured Common Grace into our world and into the lives of the people who live in the world. So much so that I can recognise that there are many many kind people out there that aren’t Christians and can even be full-blown antagonistic Atheists that are hospitable, kind and welcoming. I have experienced kindness from many an Atheist and I’m thankful for it and for them.

What the Atheist cannot do is explain their acts of kindness. Where does this kindness come from? As a Christian, I can explain it. I see works of art, I hear incredible music, read amazing stories, see films that are masterpieces of art and I can explain where it all comes from. And many of these things come from the creative genius of Atheists. Where from? Who decides good and bad in an impersonal uncaring universe? Vlad the impaler? Hitler? Stalin? Polpot? No. There’s a standard. And my dear Atheist friends cannot live in an impersonal uncaring world, and truth be told they wouldn’t want to either. And because of the Common Grace of God; most of the time we don’t live in an uncaring world. And we should all be thankful for that.

I do take the point that dealing with people at their lowest requires great sensitivity. And we can all fail at that. But as for the apoplexy of our Atheist friend at the offer of prayer. What would he rather have? I suppose silence and a gentle squeeze of the arm can do a lot of good. Nothing can stop us praying for people. We don’t always have to tell them we are praying for them as if God needs some psychology to help. But in an Atheist world, the approaching death of a loved one, or a serious illness can honestly be met with a, so what. But who would want that? No one. Only the cruelest of people would say that. And yet, we hear that very thing argued by Atheists. They might argue it, but they can’t live it.

Contrary to what I said above, I do have an idea where the notion comes from. That Atheists can do no good. What has happened is a category error (If I have that right). When it comes to Salvation and doing good to impress God enough to let us into heaven; there isn’t one of that can do that. And I mean No One. The fact that none of us can perform anything, including acts of kindness, meant God Himself had to intervene. We daily see and experience acts of kindness. Atheists can be kind just like anyone else. But their kindness will not get them into heaven. And neither will mine. There’s the category error right there.

So just how did God intervene? Well, this is what Christmas is all about. It’s about God sending a Saviour. I’m sure many an Atheist will be singing about it over Christmas. And some will be glad to sing of God being made incomprehensibly man. Of Jesus being born that man no more may die, of the Incarnate Deity. God entered into history. These things were not done in a corner. They didn’t happen secretly. The Gospels in the New Testament record these events. It’s astonishing, but all we are required to do is place our trust in what God has done – especially in the Cross. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. This Christmas, may you believe and be saved. AMEN.

Diary of a grieving Christian – 1 Year Milestone

Copy of 2012-03-31 11.59.261 year ago today (1.30 PM) Sue passed into eternity to be with Christ which is far better. Frankly, I try to avoid the word died because if the Christian faith means anything at all, in a very real sense she hasn’t died. Yes, her body, her earthly remains are dead and in the ground. I know that only too well. I will be visiting the cemetery today. I still balk at the word loss or lost as she is neither. I do admit it is difficult to avoid using them. When I sing hymns that speak of heaven or being with The Lord Jesus I still well-up because in my minds’ eye I see her there in that happy and holy throng. It’s with a sense of great thankfulness to God mixed with the gut-wrenching desire for her to be here with me. I miss her so.

It’s a remarkable thing marriage. If we try to do it right and truly become ‘one flesh’ as Jesus tells us to, we invest everything into it. (That includes the Bank account. We only had one account and our salaries were paid into that one account.) It’s a physical thing. It was that. Of course it was, otherwise, we wouldn’t have our three wonderful children. But it’s so much more that as well. Our wife or husband sees us in our vulnerability, at our worst, sees our body get old and flabby, sees us in our sin, in our failures, in our weakness and yet learns to love and care all the same. And, what a blessing it is to enjoy one another’s company, to like being with each other. And so often, to say so much, without saying anything. She used to wear my sweatshirts especially when decorating.

Given the oneness of marriage, please don’t think I’m over it because a year has gone by. I was recently speaking with a widow. She still has those times when the grief is raw after many years. I have to tell myself and realise the sadness isn’t going to be over anytime soon. I am learning to have part of me missing.

A lot of our marriage investment is done unconsciously at a deep deep level. It has to be so if the marriage vows are taken seriously. When we enter into that covenant; I don’t think we fully realise quite what that means. I wonder that in some supernatural way God fuses us together even deeper than the atomic level. God does this at the spiritual level. Something unseen that cannot be probed. Something that can’t be touched. We mess with marriage as our society is doing, and we mess at a level where the consequences are huge. And we are seeing the consequences. Marriage is for one man and one woman – that’s it. ‘Gay’ marriage is deeply sinful and rebellious. (I’ll have to do a separate post on this)

More than one person has told me I was punching above my weight with Sue. She was stunningly beautiful to the end, she was wise, nearly always right, ok, always right and incredibly capable. She loved me and the kids more than life itself. Above all, she was a Godly woman of prayer. Yet so disparaging of herself. She wasn’t perfect. I hope where she lacked I took up the slack as it were and the other way round too. We often said to each that we were a team. So despite her being way above my pay-grade, God had other ideas. I have heard it said that as long as your betrothed ticks the relevant boxes the person you marry could be anyone. We didn’t believe that for one moment. We believed and I still believe God brought us together. (Though I guess the means could be different) She could have done a lot lot better than marrying me. And when I told her that she would tell me off. We used to say to each other, we would do it again. We wouldn’t swap each other. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. God kept us together too. And however long I have on this earth I will have to deal with the parting every day. I’m told over time you do learn to live with it. But it never goes away.

Today, Wednesday is when she left for heaven. Friday would have been her birthday, then it will be my birthday, then the first funeral anniversary (7th Dec), then Christmas. It’s been quite a year. I left work, moved to another part of the country, left several friends, left Church, sold the house, put most of our stuff in storage, started attending another Church, moved into rented accommodation, brought some stuff out of storage, searched for and looked at loads of houses and I’m now in the process of buying a house. So there will be the move, then getting all our stuff out of storage, sorting (again) through the things we shared together, settling into the new house, and breathe (that’s for you Jilly. Thank you).

I have a lot I would like to write about. Please pray I would get on and do it and that it would be helpful and profitable to others. I am reading a few books that I will comment on. Some very helpful stuff out there. But in the end, all praise is to God and our Lord Jesus for keeping us from falling. Where would we be if it were not for the Grace of God! We daily raise our Ebenezer and say Hitherto has the Lord helped us. I do anyway. And I know many of you do as well.

Speaking of investing all, isn’t this exactly what Jesus did for us! We don’t really invest everything do we, but Jesus did and does. His providential dealings are remarkable. There are many many references to marriage in the Bible. It’s no accident the Church is called the Bride of Christ. Jesus invested His blood into us poor faltering failing sinners. He doesn’t cast us off. No. He has vowed to keep us, to forgive us and cleanse us. Sue liked me holding her, she felt safe. O how much much more are we His people safe in His mighty arms. My dear non-Christian friend, how I long that you might be safe and know the love of Christ, that He is mighty to save and mighty to keep. O call upon Him for Salvation and safety, and love, and forgiveness, and then eternal joy with Christ which is far better.

Thank you for bearing with me.

A Grief Continued

I was told the Christian Bookshop (Michael Keen) had ordered several copies of a book on grieving by Al Martin, a well-known preacher in Reformed Baptist circles. Michael very kindly handed me a copy yesterday morning after the service. Opening the book on the way back to the car I began to read.

The very first paragraph is gripping and took me immediately to the bedside of Sue as she breathed her last. To say I began to hyperventilate is a slight exaggeration but it’s a moment I have relived over and over and over again. It’s not nice. After nearly 11 months the emotions still come back with great vividness and force. The agony and the grief that wells up in the depths of my being are there in that first paragraph of  the book. It’s very obvious to me that Pastor Martin is reliving that moment. I know he has experienced this and I’m gripped, wanting to read what this man has to say.

As I walked racing through my mind was the thought to ‘isolate, isolate, isolate’. I felt the need to get away from people. The reality is this is not a good thing. Isolation is different from solitude. I like the solitude of staring out to sea. We all need solitude from time to time. It’s when our emotions run away from us like a freight train that we are to ‘take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ’. It isn’t easy when our emotions are SCREAMING to us one thing, but then seek to do the very opposite. Staying away from Church and people is understandable and sometimes can be helpful, but long-term is destructive and unhelpful. The thought of isolation needs to be brought into obedience. I often fail miserably.

Back to the book. I dipped into future chapters so I ‘might’ Blog through the book. There is one particular chapter in which he will deal with some very heavy theology that I too have had to work through. Pastor Martin wrote it for his own understanding and to help others. I’ll be blogging (if I do), as before, for the same reasons. So I trust even this brief post will have been helpful.

Just one further note. His book is for Christians when their loved ones have died ‘in Christ’. Like me, the loved one for Al Martin was his dear wife. However, should any non-believers come across the book they will be pointed to the God of all comfort and to The Lord Jesus Christ ‘whom to know is life eternal’. The Gospel is here.

I have only just started to read this book, but already, I have read enough to highly recommend it.


A Response to a Painful Referendum Result

A young mother has written a Blog Post about the Referendum result and has asked for a response from a Christian that voted Leave. I know very little about her so I hope she will forgive me for being impersonal. Here’s my attempt at an answer. You can read her post HERE.

It’s been a week or so now but I have thought a lot about a particular Blog post and just what to say because it deserves a response. A response I notice is still forthcoming. I’m qualified to answer her because I voted to leave. I hope what follows will help. Whilst I would not go as far as to compare it with bereavement, it does give an indication of how badly she feels about it now (it may pass). It’s a passionate truly heartfelt piece of writing. What’s particularly good about it is that she is having to face up to some harsh realities. If she does want to compare it to bereavement she needs to realise those feelings aren’t going to go away any time soon. In fact they may get worse. And, no matter how she feels about it, it will not alter the fact of the situation. And another thing to consider is the situation may never ever improve. And, she is truly powerless to change it. Forget voting and all that nonsense, if people truly believe they are in control of their destiny they are delusional. They aren’t. We aren’t. You aren’t.

She speaks of coming out the other side with grace and love. That begs the question, does she know she will come out of the other side? She doesn’t. It’s finding grace and love in it.

As she indicates, people say things to the bereaved that aren’t always helpful even though they do mean well. In the main people don’t quite know how to deal with it so can appear unhelpful while trying to say something positive. Mostly, they just don’t know what to say. But wish they did.

We don’t know if God cares deeply about our membership (or not) of the EU as an organisation. I’d need some scriptures to back that up. We know He cares about His people. He cares about His Church. He cares about people. He also cares about His Glory. He cares about the Gospel. The Bible tells us that. It also tells us He sent the Chaldeans to take His people captive. And He brought judgement upon them. It tells us He disciplines us as well. And even if God does care deeply about the EU, you won’t find anywhere in the Bible which was the right way to vote.

I responded with some quick-fire responses on Facebook – a couple of hymns. And a post on my Blog.

That’s my general reply. Here’s a brief comment on her 5 points. I’ll finish with a comment on her conclusion. Finally, I’ll write what I think she needs to know because she is talking about something quite profound. And something I too have to come to terms with.

  1. I agree. We only need to read the Psalms to see the truth of this. Her feelings are legitimate.
  2. Nothing much to say here except that she will need to understand where they (Leave) are coming from as well. Some of the ‘remain’ responses have been quite vile. I agree though, it isn’t helpful either way and we do need to be compassionate.
  3. She says we won’t understand. I beg to differ. She has used the term grief and bereavement. I know only too well what that feels like. We live in no less an uncertain world now than we did before the Referendum. The difference is she understands a little of that now.
  4. I’m talking. But Leave or Remain isn’t the issue. I am deeply flawed as well. I struggle to be gracious about anything. I’m glad for her it’s only politics. Winning or losing isn’t the issue either.
  5. I am bothered about politics. But it isn’t my whole life. I like to know what’s going on and try to be informed. But I accept the challenge; maybe I should be more involved. For me, joining a political party is not an option!

Most of my writing is a scramble of stuff, but her scrambling is a lot better than mine. I’m not one of her friends so I can’t say much about the last paragraph other than try to be gracious both ways.

And yet. And yet, I totally believe with my heart and my head that God is in control; yes, indeed, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). I know my citizenship is not of this earth; I know that God is sovereign; I know that my primary concern is the spread of the Gospel and his Kingdom, not earthly principalities. (From her Blog Post)

That is a key paragraph it seems to me. It’s trying to bring together what you feel and what you know. I feel all sorts of things. God gave us feelings. It’s the way He made us. Sometimes though our feelings don’t square with what we believe but we feel it anyway. Or, it can ‘simply’ be tough to deal with traumatic events in our lives. It can be devastating. And it can be just as devastating when what you feel is what you believe. (You would need to read my posts on grieving to get that) And those around us aren’t always going to understand. And that’s hard as well. So the article, I think, is trying to honestly deal with these things from a Christian perspective. It’s when our expectations or what we thought would happen are crossed with a catastrophic event. And who’s to say what that event will be. To her, at this time, it’s leaving the EU.

I’ve considered how things can feel for quite some time. So I do understand that she feels how she does. In a sense it’s not for me to understand why she feels that way (her politics maybe) but to understand that she feels it at all.

The Sovereignty of God can be understood as something ‘out there’ as it were. Like the Government. They make laws and we react to them. The Sovereignty of God isn’t like that at all. Yes, He is in control of the whole of creation. And yet He is in control of my circumstances in such a minute way that Government couldn’t even begin to understand. Through the later stages of Sue’s illness, and even from the terminal diagnosis, we talked a lot about God’s Sovereignty. Soon after Sue died, it was something I had to face in a new way.

Soon after Sue died I read about the death of John the Baptist. Now that raises some important issues. Tough issues. John was cousin to Jesus. Do you think Jesus cared for him? He knew John would die. He could have prevented the axe from falling – but He didn’t. He could have given Herod a bit of resolve to refuse the hateful request – but He didn’t. However, it isn’t just that God passively watches events and the circumstances of our lives as a hapless bystander. Not at all! He actually willed the death of John the Baptist and He actually willed the death of my wife. And it isn’t just wishful thinking, as it were, on the part of God; His omnipotence is able to carry it out. His omnipotence also delivered a Leave verdict. But there’s more.

He knew the effect it would have on the writer of the Blog post. He could have moved circumstances in a way that she would be much more sympathetic to the Leave vote. He could have moved the hearts of more people to vote Remain. He could have ensured a different result. Just a few adjustments here and there by God and there would have been a different result. He could even have moved her to vote Leave. In doing so she would not be experiencing ‘an overwhelming sense of sadness, anger, bewilderment, betrayal, desperation, and powerlessness’. But none of that happened. Back to Matthew 14 and the death of John the Baptist. Mat 14:13  ‘Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.’ It seems to me Jesus was grieving for His friend, cousin and forerunner. Even though it was something He could have prevented! Isn’t that amazing? Is it possible Jesus brings us into the sphere of suffering that we might be like Him and have compassion on the people? She has asked for understanding. She has it. Can she have compassion on those that voted Leave? Is it possible The Lord of All brought in a Leave verdict for her good though so painful?

We do not know what the Lord will bring about politically through the result of the Referendum. Maybe the doom-mongers will be right. Maybe it would have been even worse had it gone the other way. One thing I do know, or at least I have observed; there is little calling upon the Lord for mercy. There is little compassion shown either way. There is much recrimination and blame. Where is kindness? We see it in our suffering. We were never promised a life of ease. But Jesus is with us in our suffering and though we may feel on the verge of despair – by the Grace of God it is enough.

I have said enough. I hope it’s of some help.

The EU Referendum – A Choice to be made.

It won’t be long now before millions of British citizens will be voting to Leave or Remain in the European Union. The Referendum has been described as the biggest political event in our lifetimes. Maybe , I don’t know. Leaving, we are told is too risky. It’s a leap into the unknown. It’s too uncertain. But Staying in is also not so straightforward. This too is risky. It too is a leap into the unknown. Both sides in the debate have marshalled their arguments, held their rallies and shouted their sound bites. The debates have been at times quite vitriolic and included personal attacks on the main protagonists. But this blog is called Exercised to Discern for a reason.

Every single day we take, from our perspective, a leap into the unknown. The day Jo Cox got up and went to her constituency meeting was a leap into her unknown. Sadly she did not know that day would be her last day on this earth. And just because we have lived through this day, there is no guarantee any of us will be here tomorrow evening. Although every moment before us is unknown to us, there is one to whom it is not unknown. We take every breath at the behest of another. We live each day by the grace of God. We often in our arrogance think we are the masters of our own destiny. The reality is we are beholden to so many unintended consequences that to think we are our own masters is not just arrogance, it is complete foolishness. But our God is a God of detail. He does know our lives in intricate detail. He knew the day of my wife’s death. He knows the day of my death.

I find it extraordinary that people in the EU Referendeum are so unwilling to take a risk or so unwilling to take a leap into the unknown. And yet are quite willing it seems to leap into the uncertainty of death. There is one problem with this. Unlike the Referendum where there is an uncertainty whichever way the vote goes, there is great certainty where we go at our death. Unless you repent and believe the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ you will certainly leap into Judgement without mercy and without end. On the other hand, if by the grace of God you have come to trust in The Lord Jesus Christ and are resting in the work He did by dying and rising from the dead, then you will be leaping into an Eternity where there will be no more crying or pain or sadness. A place where Christ Himself will wipe away every tear.

Both sides in the Referendum have spent a great deal of money on their campaigns and the work of Salvation was also costly. Far far more costly. The Salvation that Christ has accomplished for Those that will trust Him was paid for in blood. The Son of Gods sacrifice was of such immense value that no matter what our sin His blood is able to pay the price.

Tomorrow the UK will face a choice. Today you face a choice. By God’s Grace it may be a choice you will be given many times. We make our plans. Jesus told a story of a man that made plans but rejected God. Jesus said of that man ‘you fool, this very night your soul will be demanded of you’. Jesus doesn’t used the word fool to describe a persons lack of intellectual capacity but of their rejection of God. Don’t be a fool! Seek The Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near, to our God who will abundantly pardon. As my friend Andrew King says, ‘The kingdom of God is [far] more important than the EU’.

Series on Ecclesiastes – A Reccomendation

IMG_2896This series on the Book of Ecclesiastes is by Pr Jeremy Rhode. Pr Rhode is a Lutheran minister of Faith Lutheran Church, Capistrano Beach, California. I am not a Lutheran but am finding this series to not only be extremely helpful and challenging but actually quite enthralling. He’s a good speaker. The series are made up of teaching sessions to his church. He says this book is about Solomon – via the Holy Spirit – gripping us by the neck and forcing us to look into the Abyss. You may remember the famous courtroom scene in ‘A Few Good Men’ where Tom Cruise asks for the truth and Jack Nicholson shouts back at him – ‘You can’t handle The Truth’. Well, can you? Christian, you would benefit from hearing this. And if you aren’t a Christian you really really need to hear this!

If there was ever a book needed for our time – the Book of Ecclesiastes is it. It is hard-hitting and does not shy away from telling us how it really is. Ultimately life without Christ is meaningless. Disagree? You need to hear him out.

Some listeners may balk at some of his doctrinal emphases. And you may wish he phrased things a little differently or in the way he makes some of his points. But that aside, I commend this series to anyone that has the courage to face up to reality. There’s a challenge for you! At the time of writing, I am at Lesson 9 of 24.

Follow This Link and see the feeds at the top of the page or download individual lectures.

HT. I came across this series via a recommendation from Chris Roseborough of Fighting for the Faith. Check his stuff out as well. Chris is also a Lutheran minister.

Diary of a Grieving Christian – 8 (Six Month Update)

2012-03-31 11.55.12I have written some brief book reviews on bereavement and a few other posts but this is the first ‘Grieving Update’ since 21st December 2015. Has it really been that long? Quite a bit has happened and I got heavily sidetracked into Facebooking.

Today is 6 months since Sue departed for Glory. The ‘literature’ suggests 6 months is significant. Because of that ‘suggestion’ I’ve no idea if it really is significant or whether society has encouraged me to think that way. But either way, I believe it might be appropriate to bring some thoughts to you.

I don’t write with any sense of triumphalism. As a friend said when I told him of Sue’s departure ‘Sue has triumphed, for her the battle is over, but we are still in the battle’. We do triumph for sure, but I’m not triumphalistic. I think even in our Reformed circles there’s a desire to be triumphalistic. We cover it up better. Being scared of dying as a believer doesn’t sell in the heartland. It doesn’t preach so well does it? And the unsaid expected triumphal death irritated me. I’m thankful for a Saviour that understands so well. Sue can now bless the hand that guided and the heart that planned. Dear Sue. It wasn’t easy for her to die and to leave us. We talked one-on-one as you do. She knew it wasn’t easy for me to watch her go. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy for me to live without her either. She really did know me so well.

Six months down the line, it’s unbelievably hard. Harder than I could ever have imagined! Everyone is so different, and those differences give rise to a myriad of variables. So don’t expect your situation to be a ‘carbon copy’ of mine, or of anyone else’s either. I was recently over in Northern Ireland to hear Dr James White speak and we sang a hymn that spoke of raising our Ebenezer. He gave a brief explanation of what raising an Ebenezer meant. I said to myself, ‘O yes, Dr White, I know what an Ebenezer is’. I’ve been raising one regularly for the last year or so.

I’ve learnt a lot. I don’t try and help get God off the hook by using some Biblical hocus pocus. God is Sovereign or He is no God at all. That means He knew Sue would die on that very day. He knew about me too and how I would respond – not always very well in my private moments. More than that, He decreed it.

To understand The Cross and suffering I think in some way you need to understand marriage and what it represents. I often find my emotions are on the edge. I have discovered an empathy with people that have suffered that rarely exists with others that can only sympathise. As a society, we marginalise death. That’s what we are told from many a pulpit anyway. But you know, our churches don’t deal with it very well either. I believe this needs to be addressed.

Three challenges for me.

1. I need to concentrate more on Sue’s gain rather than my pain. At the same time acknowledging that the pain I feel is also from God. And for a good reason. The Sovereignty of God and doctrine isn’t theoretical, it’s immensely practical.

2. I need to realise my all in all comes from God alone. This is hard to learn. In death, there is only one that saves. His name is Jesus Christ. I know the theory. Now I’m having to learn the practice.

3. Will I be able to comfort and help others with the comfort and help I have received. It’s all very well saying this and that, but will I be able to minister to others in similarly straitened circumstances. That’s the question.

Sorry if it came out all garbled. More to follow.


Bildad is Alive & Well

Job's_Comforters_Butts_setThis passage stood out from Job chapter 8.

Job 8:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
Job 8:2 “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Job 8:3 Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
Job 8:4 If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
Job 8:5 If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
Job 8:6 if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.
Job 8:7 And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.

Then this passage from Zophar:

Job 11:2 “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right?
Job 11:3 Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
Job 11:4 For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’
Job 11:5 But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you,
Job 11:6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves‘.

Bildad and his two friends Zophar & Eliphaz are as much in the dark as poor Job but they make the assumption that it is because Job has sinned that calamity has fallen upon him. Of course, everything we do and all we are falls short of the Glory of God, so in that sense, we have all sinned. But here, there was no particular sin that brought judgement upon the head of Job. On the contrary, we are introduced in the very first verse of the book to Job as a man that ‘… was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil‘. We further read in chapter 1 ‘And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”. That is the testimony of God about His servant Job. Apart from the book of his name Job is only mentioned in three other places in the Bible, twice in Ezekiel and once in James. Here they are.

Eze 14:14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.
Eze 14:20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.

Jas 5:11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness (patience AV, endurance NASB) of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The three verses testify to the character of Job. On fast forwarding to the last chapter, we read the following.

Job 42:7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job 42:8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

That is pretty serious stuff to have God say his anger burns towards the three friends. Why? Because they have not spoken what is right, unlike Job. Job is told to pray for his friends. Were the three friends included in verse 11 of the final chapter? I think so. The two things they had sought to do when silent are mentioned again at the end – to show sympathy and to comfort. Job still has to live with the death of his children even though blessed with further children. There is restoration but he still needs sympathy and comfort. Maybe Bildad and his friends learnt something as well. And Job had to pray for the ones that had cut him down with words. Something for us to learn.

Job 42:11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

So, returning to the passage in Job 8: 1-7, I thought, ‘I know this man’. Anyone sitting under a graceless and judgmental ministry, that batters instead of builds, that pours judgement instead of the Balm of Gilead will know him too. Bildad (and his friends) is alive and well.

It’s very simple, and simplistic, to think because this, that. Job’s friends were doing the best for him when they wept and sat with him in silence because they could see his suffering was very great. I’m sure Job was grateful that his friends sat with him. Until they opened their mouths that is. Here’s how they are introduced:

Job 2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.
Job 2:12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.
Job 2:13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

If only they had kept quiet. Instead, they add to his suffering by getting it all wrong. Job is a righteous man. He has Gospel Righteousness. And by that I mean he had a righteousness that wasn’t his own. It is from another, given, gifted to Job through faith. Even though Job is a righteous man he says some dumb things like we all do and repents in dust and ashes before God.

May we learn to weep with those that weep. I am reminded again of the ministry of Andrew Davies some years ago at the Aberystwyth Conference. He preached four sessions through the book of Job. Now there was a lot of good things said. But a point Andrew made was this; ‘Don’t beat people with the truth!‘ Not only did they beat Job with the truth, they were wrong. Let us not be like that. Let us, so far as we are able, pour in the Balm of Gilead – the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ. Let us not batter our brothers and sisters in Christ with the law but pour in the oil and the wine of forgiveness and mercy, truth and love, the covenant mercy of a gracious God!

‘Grieving: Your path back to Peace’ by James R. White – A Recommendation

IMG_0594I had the book ‘Grieving’ by James White for a few months but didn’t read it. No idea why but I decided to start reading it on the Sunday (22/11/2015). I finished it on Monday morning, the day Sue died.

Why this book? The reason for buying this particular book is twofold. I knew from listening to The Dividing Line that Dr White had been a Hospital Chaplin so I figured he would know what he’s talking about. I didn’t realise he had been a grief counsellor until I started reading but it made perfect sense. The other reason was that I didn’t want to read a book and be either disagreeing with the author or wonder quite what perspective they were coming from. I knew his theology and was prepared to learn. In my grieving I didn’t want the additional grief of reading bad or soppy theology.

As I read the book my reasons were justified. It is an excellent little book. And that’s a plus – it’s a little book. I didn’t want to read some massive tome on grieving. Nevertheless, unlike the previous reviews it is a book that is laid out well and the type is easy to read. By the time I write this review I will have read it again. As pointed out in the book – and I knew this would be the case – while Sue was alive the grieving couldn’t truly start. There’s a massive difference! And nothing prepares you for it. I am now truly on the grieving pathway and it isn’t pleasant!


  1. Autumn’s Grandpa Mike
  2. Am I The Only One That Feels This Way?
  3. The Patterns of Grief
  4. The Work of Grieving
  5. Avoiding the Pitfalls
  6. The Tough Questions
  7. Getting Through

The chapters are short and straight to the point. There’s very little verbiage, if any (Unlike my writing). He offers advice on practical issues like dealing with the clothes and not creating a shrine for your loved one. There is definitely a pull to do exactly that! So, it was helpful to flag that up. He doesn’t dodge the issue of the Sovereignty of God – this is the will of God. After reading it for the first time it was obvious – to me anyway – that I will need to come back to it or sections of it as I work through the grief over and over again. I don’t believe the book will be anywhere near as helpful unless I continue my habit of regularly reading The Scriptures. The book is written primarily for the Christian even though as Dr White points out much of the grieving process is common to humanity as we are all made in the image of God.

It has actually been a few weeks now since Sue died and even though I wasn’t at the time of the first reading on the grieving pathway I have refered to the book several times. I’m actually glad I read it just before Sue died. Dr White, as far as I know, hasn’t gone down the path I am on, but he really does understand and it comes through in the writing.

I would like to thank Dr White for this book. I am glad to have read it and found it extremely helpful both spiritually and practically. It isn’t a panacea, and it isn’t meant to be, but it is honest and makes no unrealistic promises that all will soon be well because they probably won’t be. I would say out of the three, so far, get this one first. I don’t know if it would have helped to have read it much sooner, maybe weeks or even months before Sue died, but I do believe Pastors / Ministers / Elders should read it and have copies readily to hand.

The book is available in The US & The UK


The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin – Foreword by Michael Reeves

IMG_0593The other day I was given a copy of Thomas Goodwin’s book The Heart of Christ, from the Puritan Paperback series from Banner of Truth.

The foreword by Michael Reeves was so moving I wanted to share it. The full title is: The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth.

How can Thomas Goodwin be so forgotten? Once ranked as a theologian alongside Augustine and Athanasius, even hailed as ‘the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that has ever lived’, he should be a household name. His writings, while not easy, always pay back the reader, for in Goodwin a simply awesome theological intellect was wielded by the tender heart of a pastor.

As it is, Goodwin needs a little re-introduction. He was born in 1600 in the small village of Rollesby in Norfolk. His parents were God-fearing, and at the time the Norfolk Broads were well-soaked in Puritanism, so unsurprisingly he grew up somewhat religious. That all wore off, though, when he went up to Cambridge as a student. There he divided his time between ‘making merry’ and setting out to become a celebrity preacher. He wanted, he later said, to be known as one of ‘the great wits’ of the pulpit, for his ‘master-lust’ was the love of applause.

Then in 1620 – having just been appointed a fellow of Katharine Hall – he heard a funeral sermon that actually moved him, making him deeply concerned for his spiritual state. It started seven grim years of moody introspection as he grubbed around inside himself for signs of grace. Only when he was told to look outwards – not to trust to anything in himself, but to rest on Christ alone – only then was he free. ‘I am come to this pass now,’ he said, ‘that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much to habitual grace for assurance of justification; I tell you Christ is worth all.’

Soon afterwards he took over from Richard Sibbes’ preaching at Holy Trinity Church. It was an appropriate transition, for while in his navel-gazing days his preaching had been mostly about battering consciences, his appreciation of Christ’s free grace now made him a Christ-centred preacher like Sibbes. Sibbes once told him ‘Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus’ – and that is just what Goodwin now did. And, like Sibbes, he became an affable preacher. He wouldn’t use his intellectual abilities to patronise his listeners, but to help them. Still today, reading his sermons, it is as if he takes you by the shoulder and walks with you like a brother.

All the while, Archbishop Laud was pressing clergy towards his own ‘high church’ practices. By 1634, Goodwin had had enough: he resigned his post and left Cambridge to become a Separatist preacher. By the end of the decade he was with other nonconformist exiles in Holland. Then, in 1641, Parliament invited all such nonconformists to return, and soon Goodwin was leading the ‘dissenting brethren’ at the Westminster Assembly. ‘Dissenting’, ‘Separatist’: it would be easy to see Goodwin as prickly and quarrelsome. In actual fact, though, while he was definite in his views on the church, he was quite extraordinarily charitable to those he disagreed with, and managed to command widespread respect across the theological spectrum of the church. Almost uniquely, in an age of constant and often bitter debate, nobody seems to have spoken ill of Goodwin.

If there was a contemporary Goodwin overlapped with more than any other, it was John Owen. In the Puritan heyday of the 1650s, when Owen was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Goodwin was President of Magdalen College. For years they shared a Sunday afternoon pulpit, both were chaplains to Cromwell, together they would co-author the Savoy Declaration. And both had their own sartorial whimsies: Owen was known for his dandy day-wear, his snake-bands and fancy boots; Goodwin, it was giggled, had such a fondness for nightcaps that he is said to have worn whole collections on his head at once.

First and foremost, Goodwin was a pastor at heart. Students at Magdalen College soon found that, should they bump into Goodwin or his nightcaps, they could expect to be asked when they were converted or how they stood with the Lord. And when Charles II returned in 1660 and Goodwin was deprived of his post, it was to pastor a church in London that he went.

The last twenty years of his life he spent pastoring, writing treatises and studying in London (the study sadly interrupted in 1666 when the Great Fire burned more than half of his voluminous library). Then, at eighty years old, he was gripped by a fatal fever. With his dying words he captured what had always been his chief concerns: ‘I am going’, he said,

‘to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion… My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness; I am found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God… Now I shall be ever with the Lord’.

The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth was, almost immediately, Goodwin’s most popular work. It is also exemplary of his overall Christ-centredness and his mix of theological rigour and pastoral concern. Published in 1651 alongside Christ Set Forth, the two were written for reasons dear to Goodwin: that is, he felt that many Christians (like himself once) ‘have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself’. Indeed, he wrote, ‘the minds of many are so wholly taken up with their own hearts, that (as the Psalmist says of God) Christ “is scarce in all their thoughts.”’ Goodwin wanted us ‘first to look wholly out of our selves unto Christ’, and believed that the reason we don’t is, quite simply, because of the ‘barrenness’ of our knowledge of him. Thus Goodwin would set forth Christ to draw our gaze to him.

Of the two pieces, Christ Set Forth and The Heart of Christ in Heaven, the latter was the cream, he believed, for through it he would present to the church the heart of her great Husband, thus wooing her afresh. His specific aim in this essay is to show through Scripture that in all his heavenly majesty, Christ is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned, but has the strongest affections for them. And knowing this, he said, may

‘hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart, though he is now in his glory, is inclined towards them’.

Goodwin starts with Christ on earth and the beautiful assurances he gave his disciples. In John 13, for example, knowing that he was shortly to return to his Father, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a token of how he would always be towards them; he told them of how he would go like a loving bridegroom to prepare a place for his bride; after the resurrection, the first thing he calls them is ‘my brothers’; and the last thing they see as he ascends to heaven is his hands raised in blessing.

It is as if he had said, The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that so we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it… Poor sinners, who are full of the thoughts of their own sins, know not how they shall be able at the latter day to look Christ in the face when they shall first meet with him. But they may relieve their spirits against their care and fear, by Christ’s carriage now towards his disciples, who had so sinned against him. Be not afraid, ‘your sins will he remember no more.’ … And doth he talk thus lovingly of us? Whose heart would not this overcome?

It is moving stuff, and it is strong stuff. In fact, Goodwin presents the kindness and compassion of Christ so strikingly that, when reading him, I find myself continually asking ‘Is Goodwin serious? Can this really be true?’ He argues, for example, that in Christ’s resurrection appearances, because he had dealt with the sin of his disciples on the cross, ‘No sin of theirs troubled him but their unbelief.’ And yet Goodwin is so carefully scriptural that one is forced to conclude that Christ really is more tender and loving than we would otherwise dare to imagine.

Then Goodwin takes us to the heart of his argument: his exposition of Hebrews 4:15, which

‘doth, as it were, take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory – the very scope of these words being manifestly to encourage believers against all that may discourage them, from the consideration of Christ’s heart towards them now in heaven’.

Goodwin shows that in all his glorious holiness in heaven, Christ is not sour towards his people; if anything, his capacious heart beats more strongly than ever with tender love for them. And in particular, two things stir his compassion: our afflictions and – almost unbelievably – our sins.

Having experienced on earth the utmost load of pain, rejection and sorrow, ‘in all points tempted like as we are’ Christ in heaven empathises with our sufferings more fully than the most loving friend. And more: he has compassion on those who are ‘out of the way’ (that is, sinning; Hebrews 5:2). Indeed, says Goodwin,

‘your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’

The focus is upon Christ, but Goodwin was ardently Trinitarian and could not abide the thought of his readers imagining a compassionate Christ appeasing a heartless Father. No, he said, ‘Christ adds not one drop of love to God’s heart’.11 All Christ’s tenderness comes in fact from the Spirit, who stirs him with the very love of the Father. The heart of Christ in heaven is the express image of the heart of his Father.

How we need Goodwin and his message today! If we are to be drawn from jaded, anxious thoughts of God and a love of sin, we need such a knowledge of Christ. If preachers today could change like Goodwin to preach like Goodwin, who knows what might happen? Surely many more would then say as he said ‘Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do’.

Michael Reeves
August 2011