The Gospel plainly stated.

Here’s another one from ‘Voices From The Past Vol 1‘ edited by Richard Rushing (BoT). This is from 14th May and taken from the works of John Flavel (Works, 1:176 – 187). If I’m reading it right he’s distilled eleven pages down to one. The result is a beautiful summary of The Gospel that plainly states the terrible situation of the one outside of Christ but the wonderful security to the one in Christ.

‘The curse of the law is the most dreadful thing imaginable…. Nothing can free the soul but Christ’.

And yet the dead sinner cannot see his predicament. Such is the blindness of man in sin. If you brush it of as mere religious dogma and are completely unaffected, please consider your situation. Call upon The Lord that He May have mercy on you.

The Deceitful Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Another translation says the heart is not only deceitful but wicked.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (KJV)

In today’s reading (29th April) from ‘Voices From The Past‘ (Banner of Truth, Edited by Richard Rushing) we are treated to the writing of Thomas Manton (Works, 1:138-144) on the deceitful heart. I’ll probably post more from this book because it’s really excellent. Thanks to The Banner of Truth and Richard Rushing for editing it. There is a ‘Voices From The Past’ Volume 2 but that will have to wait.

If you are someone who isn’t a Christian then read this (below) and understand the dire predicament you are in. If God doesn’t do the work of Conversion in your heart you are without hope (Eph 2:12). The Lord Jesus Christ has said ‘… whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (John 6:37). If you want to know what’s really wrong with the world then look no further than your own heart. Yes, systems and governments and laws limit its wicked out working to some extent but as Manton says ‘What a miserable, wretched creature man is!’. Even the Apostle Paul cried out ‘O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) But Paul was then able to exclaim from where deliverance comes:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) Can You?

 

Chance Events: Luck, Molecules or God

My bunch of keys sometimes get quite tangled. Maybe you have a set that does the same. The other day they got into such a tangle that it seemed like the only way to sort them out was to take the whole bunch apart. I didn’t have time just then so I put them in my coat pocket to sort another time.

The next day I reached into my pocket, pulled out the bunch of keys and you guessed it, they were completely untangled. I was so stunned by it – they were really tangled – that it got me thinking how this could be. Did the molecules of that bunch of keys just happen to perfectly align as they were before – untangled? I have absolutely no idea.

Was it luck then? Some would call it that. It certainly saved me some time, frustration and maybe a broken nail or two. To some, that explanation makes perfect sense. Not luck you say, that’s just how it is. We simply live in an uncaring impersonal world and my bunch of keys just untangled themselves. Who cares about your keys! But think for a moment and apply the same principle to a cancer diagnosis. It’s still an impersonal uncaring world and the molecules just happened to align into a death sentence or months of treatment. Suddenly it matters. Or what if the molecules uncaringly aligned in the shape of a car and ran you over. Suddenly it’s personal and your impersonal uncaring world is important. The way you see the world changed. It’s personal and it matters.

It’s funny and ‘hip’ (perhaps as a student) to have a poster that says ‘Shit Happens’ Except no one lives like that. Not really. Posters like that are a distraction at best and at worst a terrible lie.  But your attitude to something simple like an untangled set of keys or similar ‘unimportant’ event will speak volumes. One of my sociology lecturers would say, and did say when I briefly discussed ‘meaning’ with him – ‘but what if it doesn’t matter and there is no meaning’. Which is what he seemed to think. Well, what if it doesn’t matter. It’s ok (it isn’t really) to think like that in an academic high tower: but if I had randomly decided to smash his kneecap with a hammer I’m guessing that would matter an awful lot! If nothing else, the pain would communicate meaning.

But instead of it being luck, or a random favourable – or unfavourable – alignment of molecules; what if it were an intervention of God. What we call a Providence of God – good and bad. If we put it down to God that introduces meaning and purpose into even the most unimportant things like my set of keys. It changes everything. No ‘random’ lining up of molecules here.

Just to be clear I am uninterested in suggesting some random deity to hang every occurrence on, good or bad, but rather the Christian God, the God of The Bible, The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Years ago a man I used to work with said ‘The trouble with you Christians is that if anything good happens you put it down to God but if anything bad happens you conveniently blame the devil’. As if God needs excusing. That may be a popular misconception and if it is it could be our fault as Christians for miscommunicating. But I had to explain that both good and bad come from God. In fact, if you’re familiar with the book of Job you might recall the following exchange;

Job 2:9  Then his (Job’s) wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Job 2:10  But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job’s wife foolishly urges him to curse God because of the disaster that had happened. And let’s not call it something it isn’t. When things like this happen it is disastrous. Plastic Christian smiles will do no good in the face of tragedy. We need something substantial. I have observed, as you must have, that wishing someone ‘Good luck’ or ‘All the best’ or even ‘We’re thinking of you’ just doesn’t cut it. It’s good that people wish us well and it may lift our spirits momentarily. And, it might be you will breeze through life without a care in the world and tragedy and heartache will pass you by. It happens. But eventually, there is a God to face. You know this. Which is why I’m linking to a message that lays out the Gospel of Christ briefly but simply and truthfully. Follow this link to a message ‘Why I am a Christian’ by James White.


Since starting this article I bought a copy of Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centred Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress. I’m not a mathematician, and there’s a lot of maths in the book! But there’s enough theology and plain sense for me to understand what I’ve read so far. The book is available free as an e-book here.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book introduction:

THE ISSUE OF CHANCE
[He described an incident where his family escaped from a serious ‘accident’]

What do we say about this incident? Some people would say we were “lucky.” We escaped “by chance.” It just happened to be the case that the oncoming cars found room to our left and to our right. Or was it the hand of God’s providence? We felt afterwards as if an angel had pushed the cars to this side and to that. God had sent an angel to protect us. But we did not actually see an angel. Nor did we see a hand reaching down from heaven to move the cars. Was it just our imagination? Was our escape a “miracle,” or was it just an “accidental” result of driver reactions and physical processes?

We escaped. But not everyone does. For every story of a narrow escape, someone else can tell a distressing story of not escaping. Someone tells of being in a horrible auto accident, nearly dying from the injuries, losing an arm or a leg, and spending months recovering. And the accident could have been avoided, if only the oncoming car had swerved a little earlier or a little later. Was the accident “by chance”? Was God in control? If I am ready to acknowledge God’s control when my family escapes an accident, should I also acknowledge that God is in control when someone else suffers from an unpredictable tragedy? Or do tragic cases involve pure chance, beyond God’s control? And if God is in control, did he actually plan the events beforehand, or did he just react to the unfolding events at the last moment?

Big accidents and near accidents have drama to them. But what about the small things? Yesterday I could not find my checkbook. Today I found it in a pocket of my briefcase where it did not belong. Accidentally, it must have fallen into the wrong pocket when I dropped it into my partially opened briefcase. It got misplaced “by chance,” someone might say.

What about totally unpredictable events, like the flip of a coin or the roll of dice? Every time we flip a coin, the result is unpredictable. It comes up heads or tails “by chance.” What do we mean by the word chance? What is it?

 

The Prayer Meeting

It’s probably true – though I can’t prove it – that every Church Prayer Meeting will have people in attendance that do not pray. We all know what it’s like to be in a meeting with those ‘awkward silences’. Not only that, it’s probably every Minister’s goal to get everyone praying. It’s the Ministerial equivalent of bringing peace to the Middle East. Many have tried; all have failed.

Believe me, none of the following is meant to be in a critical spirit. I too, attend the prayer meeting. I too want to see God moving. I want to be blessed. I want the local Church to be blessed. I want God’s people to be blessed. I too would like the experience of the early church:

Act 4:31  And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

What a thing that would be! I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years and my experience tells me not everyone prays. I know this because I can easily be the one that doesn’t pray. I’ve sat under countless pleas from Ministers to get their people praying in public. It doesn’t seem to make a lasting difference no matter what’s done or said. Something isn’t working.

This is my rambling take on the problem, if it is a problem, and some comments that will hopefully help both the meeting and Minister.

Audible & Silent Prayer

We all need to realise that because a person does not pray audibly it does not necessarily mean they are not praying. They may not be. But isn’t it more charitable to assume they are? And when someone is praying audibly the others are following (one would hope) the prayer and saying a silent Amen (if not an audible one) to the prayer.

I recently read an article about ladies praying in the prayer meeting. More specifically, that they should be praying. I know ladies that would never ever ever pray audibly in a prayer meeting. This is because it is their honest Biblical conviction they should remain silent. I’m thinking especially of some elderly Godly ladies. Forcing them to go against their conscience I believe is unhelpful. There are then differing views on women praying in public. Personally, I have no objection to women praying in the prayer meeting if that is their conviction. Though to be honest after looking into this there’s a strong case against the practice. And it has nothing to do with male superiority but everything to do with how God has ordered differing roles for men and women.

Men not praying in the prayer meeting is another thing altogether. And I must address myself in this regard. Though even here there should be room for charity given differing abilities, self-consciousness, immaturity and so on. But as a general rule, the men ought to be praying.  If they are not praying, how should this be remedied? That is the question. Strong arm tactics I don’t believe are effective. Pummelling non-praying men with guilt is also not effective. But there may be a case for the Minister to lovingly draw alongside to counsel and encourage the brother.

The ‘Awkward Silence’

The ‘awkward silences’ are only a problem if we make them a problem. Let’s assume, for the sake of charity, the people are praying, just not audibly. Ok, it is a church prayer meeting where people, God’s people, gather to pray, aloud. But people will pray. People do pray. Just not everyone. Just not continuous non-stop prayer throughout the meeting. Perhaps accepting this as the norm is just giving in to the ‘problem’. But maybe it would take the pressure off and more would pray.

The Vicissitudes of Life & Warfare

The condition of the people is very varied. Some come almost straight from work, some with great burdens, some struggling with sin, lack of assurance, worries, illness, caring for loved ones, debt and many other conditions. Some are simply terrified at hearing the sound of their own voice or speaking in public. We definitely need encouraging. What I believe is needed most is preaching. Mini-sermons if you will. Not a Bible study. No hobby horses. Preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Preach the Majesty of God and His Grace to us His people. Preach His Kindness to undeserving sinners. Preach the Word and let The Spirit of God do the work that only He can do.

‘Inspirer and Hearer of prayer
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine’ (Augustus Toplady)

And,

‘Great Shepherd of Thy people hear;
Thy presence now display;
As Thou hast given a place for prayer,
So give us hearts to pray’ (John Newton)

There’s’ no doubt we are in a warfare as soon as we enter the prayer meeting. It will give the enemy of our souls great delight to see us not praying. On the other hand

‘…. Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.’

And it’s true! But then I’ve heard that verse quoted many times in a prayer meeting and it has to be said, to little effect. One of the problems is the belief that if there’s a free flow of prayer that’s a good meeting. But if it’s hard work and a struggle it’s a bad meeting. The one makes us feel good, the other not so much. It’s good to have a sense of The Lord with us – of course it is – but we can so easily come to wrong conclusions. The reality is not always what it appears to be. Unless there’s a supernatural empowerment to pray engagement in warfare is going to be tough going.

Priorities in the Prayer Meeting

In our prayer meetings we all too easily start praying for stuff. It’s so easy to make it all about ourselves. We need to make a conscious effort to not do that. Even when urged to give God praise and thanks we so quickly and easily fall into making it all about ourselves. We need to cultivate a different attitude – this takes time. We need to be patient with ourselves and with one another. But cultivate the attitude we must.

What is wanted is something to ‘fix’ the meeting. I don’t believe that is possible. We can’t ‘fix’ anything. We need the Spirit of God to lead and guide us in our prayers. What does God want us to pray for, to thank Him for or to confess? With the best will in the world there will always be needs in the local, national and worldwide church and there will always be needs that suddenly arise so these could be mentioned at the meeting. But what if we had a list in our Bibles (perhaps inside the Church Bible as well) or on our phones that we can always bring to the meeting.

Here are a few suggestions:

To thank God for His being. Who He is. He is entirely self-sufficient in need of nothing and creator of all that exists..

The person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ. His Cross, His Blood, His resurrection, His intercession.

The person of The Holy Spirit. Pray that He would reveal The Lord Jesus to us and guide and help us as we pray.

To thank Him for the Holy Scriptures and the preservation of them for us.

To know God’s will.

His providence’s and the grace to persevere.

That the Triune God would be glorified in our church

Thank God that He has purchased a Church and those in it. Thank Him for our Salvation and that He keeps us by His Grace.

Thank Him for forgiveness, sanctification, justification and Glory.

To pray for the Pastor, Elders, Deacons. Pray they would be kept faithful and kept from falling.

To pray for the Word as it is proclaimed. That it might have the unction of God upon it.

To pray for the advance of the Gospel in our lives, church, locality, nation and world. Pray the Lord Jesus would see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

Pray for our persecuted brethren around the world.

Many many more could be added to this list. It isn’t exhaustive but these are the sorts of things that should be on our minds (and in our Bibles I suggest) already. But then add to this more specific needs (in the local church) as they arise. But keep these to a minimum. Perhaps communicate the needs of the church through other means as well (email, text etc.) so we arrive at the meeting ready to bring our requests before the Throne of Grace. If there’s a need you know about. Pray about it.

Be Challenged & Encouraged

I hope this has been of some help. It has challenged me to think in the way I’ve suggested. It also challenges me to put what I can into practice.

I’m not naive enough to think any of this will ‘fix’ the prayer meeting, and certainly not a quick fix, but I do pray both people and our Ministers will be encouraged. God is with us! Christ is our Advocate! We are indwelt by His Spirit!

Come Down LORD!

Isa 64:1  Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,

I’m reminded often of a passage in ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams translated by Bethan Lloyd-Jones. I’m paraphrasing but – ‘One brother began to pray in his usual lifeless and boring manner and as he continued praying in this way his prayer began to have life. As he then continued others were moved and The Spirit of God fell upon them – and Revival broke out.’

If I find the book I’ll correct it, but that’s the gist anyway. Isn’t that what we all want? But it’s not usually like that and it wasn’t for them either. But may it be so for His Glory – AMEN!

 

Don’t be a ‘lost’ celebrity

A recent news feed came through with a heading that said something like ‘Year in Review 2017: Remembering those we lost this year’. Roger Moore and Hugh Hefner were mentioned specifically. It’s always surprising how many celebrities have died each year and how many I’ve not heard of and also how many I didn’t realise had died. It struck me that they used the word lost. It made me think.

I’ve written previously that I’m unhappy about using the phrase ‘lost’ for those that have died in Christ. I’m not happy about those that have died outside of Christ either. But the terrible reality for those that have died without Christ is they are truly lost in every sense of that word. How many of those celebrities are truly lost I have no idea. I’m glad I don’t know but with some (as with non-celebrities) we fear the worst.

There’s a lovely verse in the Bible that says ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10 ESV). We don’t need Christmas to remind us, that Jesus came, and that He came to seek and to save the lost. There is no specific season to remember the grace of God – we can remember that every day.

Death and sin are the great levelers. The great and the good as well as the poor and the not so good will know these realities. It doesn’t matter how large or small a person’s ‘send-off’ is. Or whether in poor simplicity or with great pomp; they are equally dead just the same. The real question isn’t whether they are lost or not as we simply do not know. The real question is whether you are lost or not. If everyone were to be saved there would be no need for the Son of God to do any seeking. But He came, not only to seek, but to save. The wonder is by the Holy Spirit He is still seeking and saving. That doesn’t sit very well with our modern ‘can do’ independent sensibilities. But it’s something we are familiar with. Recruitment agencies ‘Headhunt’ the best candidates, usually for high-end positions. The Son of God is seeking sinners. That’s the only qualification He’s looking for – a realisation of sinfulness and of lostness.

Thankfully our lostness can be turned into foundness by the saving power of The Lord Christ. Many will know the first verse of John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. But if not, here it is:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

One of the most well known stories Jesus told is the Prodigal (wasteful) son and how this son went into the far country. But his father looked for his son and eventually embraced him exclaiming, ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate’ (Luke 15:24).

The theme of being lost and being found is a wonderful redemptive theme. Its wonder is found in the reality of what The Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners. The Prodigal son was aware of his great unworthiness as he fell at the feet of his Father. It’s a great picture of poor lost unworthy sinners coming to Christ for salvation. And it’s to Him, and only to Him, we must come. As the Bible says ‘… there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). No one else has done what Christ has done to redeem sinners, and no one else is mighty to save.

It’s unlikely a celebrity will be reading this, but if you are one, then you too along with the poorest most unlikely sinners may and must flee to Christ. Then trusting only in His great Redeeming work upon the Cross like John Newton, and every other Christian through the ages, you may also be found instead of being lost.

Is this Christmas? Extracting The Legal Pain!

Extracted is the legal pain. These five words in verse two form a single line in this remarkable hymn by Charles Wesley. This is Wesley at his best as someone said. These hymns are not inspired in the same authoritative sense that the Bible is but they can convey profound truth in a wonderful way. Inspired perhaps with a little i. These five words convey two very important Bible truths. Truths that need to be constantly stated because man in sin always assumes and seeks to state the opposite and to deny the truth. So what are these two truths?

1. ‘Extracted is the legal pain’ tells us of a problem. Any punishment is unpleasant and we all recognise that it’s the result of doing something wrong. Overstay in a car park and a demand for payment will arrive in the post. Get caught speeding and you’ll get a fine. These are trite examples but you get the idea. If you get caught breaking the law of God – and make no mistake we have all been caught – payment is required. The Bible calls it sin. And as we continue sinning, that is, as we continue breaking the law of God we are, as it were, earning a wage. The Bible says very plainly that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reason we continue to sin is because there’s a deeper problem. The problem is that there’s a something wrong with our nature. But we seek to deny it or play it down. What problem? There’s nothing wrong with me, you might say, even though you know full well there is a problem. There’s a deep-seated problem that’s impervious to mere outward reformation. What’s required is a reformation that goes far beyond any outward change. Changes of habit or lifestyle are definitely in vogue and even make good viewing. But these changes will do nothing for us legally before God. In the court of God who can make representation for us when on every hand we are found guilty in thought word and deed. Any earthly representative has the same problem. It’s no accident The Lord Jesus Christ is called our Advocate (1 John 2:1). The problem for us is that we need a nature that is beyond the law. There isn’t one! The law of God condemns all. It slays all! All are guilty and found wanting before a Holy and Righteous God.

2. Although the words speak of punishment in an excruciating manner the legal pain is being extracted from an innocent party. The fact is, the legal pain should really be extracted from me, the guilty sinner, but it’s been extracted from another! Secondly then, to ‘Extract the legal pain’ speaks of Substitutionary Atonement. And this is the heart of The Gospel and why The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world. And it’s why at Christmas we realise why The Christ came. It’s not really about stars, stables and shepherds but about a bloody cross, about agony of soul and of body, about punishment and death. It’s about the cost of Redemption! A cost we sinners cannot ever possibly pay. Not even an eternity will extract the legal pain from us! We need another to do it for us. One that is suitably qualified for the awful task. Although Wesley has captured the horror of breaking the law of God putting the frighteners on you is not necessarily a good evangelistic strategy. But on the other hand, you are a fool if you ignore it because you don’t like being threatened or dislike ‘hellfire preaching’. The truth is, there is a Hell. And there’s only one way to escape it (Heb 2:3). That way is The Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Being ‘right with God’ is a legal declaration that God makes. This is the Justification by faith that is celebrated this 500th Reformation year – and every year. Because of what Christ has accomplished on the Cross, God is able to be just and to justify those that have faith in The Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 3:23-26).

So it’s no wonder the Wise men and the Shepherds rejoiced when the Salvation of God appeared. We Christians ought to be amazed at what God did in sending His Son. And we are amazed at what Christ has done by coming to us when we could not and would not go to Him (Heb 10:5). Salvation truly is of The Lord. Will you trust Him? Is your faith in The Christ? Please have a happy Christmas. But don’t ignore or neglect what it’s really all about.

Grieving – Two-Year Milestone

Thirty-Two years we were married and two years ago today my dear Sue passed peacefully into Eternal Glory and into the presence of her Saviour, The Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m thankful over these two years for the support of family and friends, and for the Church where I’m now a member.

The Lord has been very wonderful to me and by His marvellous Grace I raise my Ebenezer and say ‘Hitherto has The Lord helped me’. Doctrine, and by that I mean theology, can often seem dry and aloof. As A. W. Tozer said ‘Doctrine is the highway that leads to God’. My experience, especially over these last two years, is that doctrine is not only alive and vibrant but does indeed lead to God. When I read a Confession of Faith it’s full of God and overflowing with His majesty and grace to sinners. I’ve also found that God brings us through trials in order for us to see that. I thought I knew stuff about God and The Lord Jesus but I realise now I was only scratching the surface.

Agnostics and atheists may well think we are delusional and might even feel a bit sorry for us Christians. The reality is they are the ones that are deluded. Often deluded into worshipping themselves and what could be more delusional than that! While all the time The Lord says ‘look unto me all the ends of the earth and be saved’. What an offer!! Only a fool would turn that down.

Holding someone’s hand while they slip away into eternity isn’t something to be taken lightly. But I knew exactly to where Sue gently slipped away. I don’t know the when or where or means by which I shall enter eternity. But enter it I will. And so will you. Sue entered eternity with a Saviour who is Mighty to Save, as will I, no matter the details. You will enter eternity, but will you die with a Saviour. Will Jesus, the only Saviour for sinners, be your Saviour. O I pray He will be.

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.

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.

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!