Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Gospel on Display

I watched the Royal Wedding yesterday a wonderful event, on BBC the presenters were from every part of the UK, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Also the presenters represented modern Britain with people from various ethnic groups celebrating a very British event. It was also wonderful to see people from all over the Commonwealth and elsewhere in the world all celebrating together. This reminds me of the beautiful picture we see in Revelation 6 people from every tribe, tongue and people group.  The event itself reminded me very much of the Gospel, firstly we know that the bride Meghan Markle (now Windsor) was a divorcee and that had been living with her boyfriend the Prince for several months. Yet she was dressed in a beautiful spotless white dress, rather than wearing cream or off white of some sort, and she looked absolutely stunning.  It reminded me of the fact that in the Gospel we have a past but that it is done away because as Ephesians 5 says, Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, (dying on the cross, to save us from our sins) so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, to present her spotless and without blemish to Himself.

I was reminded of the Gospel in that she as an American is a citizen of a different country, also her ancestor was put to death for treason by Harry's ancestor Henry the 8th. At the start of the walk down the aisle she was an outsider but the heir to the throne son of the Monarch went and collected her to deliver her to her spouse, no longer an outsider, and she becomes more than a citizen as she joins the Royal family going from an outsider to a member of the establishment. Col 1:13 says that the Father takes us and transfers us from the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of his beloved Son. 

Then the words that Henry, 5th in line for the throne said to his bride, all that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you  also reminded of the Gospel, for as Paul says in v 12 of that same chapter, God the Father has qualified us to share in an inheritance of the saints in light. To share in His holiness- that's what saints means. Our inheritance as Christians is to be made holy and to dwell with God in His Kingdom as His family. 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Holiness- Steven Lawson at the Scottish Reformed Conference -part 1

I had the privilege of hearing Steven Lawson today in Hamilton, he was one of the speakers for the Scottish Reformed Conference 2018 . His subject was the Holiness of God and he walked us through some of the passages in the Old Testament in the morning and in the afternoon he unpacked holiness in parts of the New Testament. 
 He started with an A W Tozer quote, 'The most important thing about you is what you think about God'. Lawson went on to say we cannot have too high a view of God, and His holiness is the most important aspect of who and what God is. The radiance of His perfection is made manifest not in that He is love (though He is love) not in his power (though He is omnipotent) but in his absolute holiness. The holy Seraphim cry not love, love, love but Holy, Holy, Holy, every revival begins with a fresh awareness of God's holiness.  We need to be gripped by it, we cannot enter into His presence casually, or laid back we need a reverential fear of God.  
What does the holiness of God mean- He is not on our level, He is wholly other, He is High and exalted, far above anyone and anything else- distinct  from everything.
But He is also morally pure, perfect in thought, in word, in deed, motive, flawless and sinless, completely separate from sin. He judges and condemns all that doesn't square with His Holiness and He must- for His own Righteousness sake. 
When Moses meets with God, we hear of holiness for the first time, Moses is commanded not to come near- for the ground is holy- consecrated by God's holiness and Moses is not. He encounters God and he experiences, soul crushing, jaw dropping, knee bowing holiness. 
Exodus 15- God is greater than all the so called gods, carnal minds cannot create a God like this one, The Holy One.

God called Israel to be a nation to be distinct from all those around them. in Exodus 19 v 9 God urges them to cleanse themselves before they could come remotely near to Mount Sinai before giving them the Ten Commandments which not only reveal how God wants His covenant people to live but reveals His own Holiness.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

One Blood

Acts 17:26 tells us that God made all the nations- (or ethnic groups) from one blood. I love that verse, it tells me that everyone I walk by in the street is a relation, no matter what skin colour they have. I often naively think this is the opinion of every Christian so it always pains me to see otherwise. Yet I know that I have my own prejudices too, when I discover these I am horrified and desire to do something about it.
One of the most beautiful things I ever saw was three Indian men singing a Gospel song in Hindi. They were the same shade of brown- if you didn't know their background you would think there was nothing special about this moment, but it was divine moment, a glimpse into heaven. You see despite their common shade of melanin one was from a Hindu background, one from a Christian background and the other from a Sikh background, they were naturally enemies but in the Gospel these one enemies were now brothers, they were able to sing a song that means in English, 'Salvation comes in Jesus Name'.

David Platt in his Together For the Gospel 2018 conference address pointed out that in Amos, God says to His covenant people that they shouldn't look to the Day of the LORD as a good thing because though they are doing the outward forms of worship they are neglecting justice- Amos 5: 24 'But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream'. Platt rightly identified the positive changes that have happened in America with regard to racism but he also rightly pointed out there is much to be done.  He was preaching in the States to an American issue, I have seen it's been widely criticized on social media but I have no idea why. It's both faithful to the text and crosses the bridge nicely into a culturally relevant equivalent. In using the text that Martin Luther King used and even citing him he isn't affirming King's theology but his campaign for social justice, King was right to fight this, Platt was right to raise it as issue today. I again naively thought Britain is different to that, certainly we didn't have segregation in the C20th. Yet I was visiting a church a few months ago that was beautifully diverse to a newcomer like me but the minister dismissed the black families within his flock as 'cultural Christians who don't stay long' (I wonder why they don't stay????) . He also pointed out a street you wouldn't like to go down because 'it's full of immigrants and the underclass'. Though this is an extreme example I still often see racist things coming from Christian friends on social media, especially people just reposting stuff from Britain First a racist organisation. Their inner most thoughts laid bare and they are not pretty, and not part of God's plan- remember when Abraham was called out from among the Nations to enter into a covenant with the living God he was called out from the Nations to be a blessing to the nations. This we see fulfilled in Revelation when gathered around the throne of God are an untold number from every tribe, every tongue and every people group. Brothers and sisters of all shades worshipping their God together. I believe the Gospel is powerful to change lives, I've seen it in my own life and as I said above I could see it worked out in a multi-ethnic church where former enemies become not only friends but brothers. 

May God extend His Grace to You.


Saturday, 5 May 2018

The Devil's Delusion

I recently heard Ravi Zacharias on youtube quoting from this book, it was an excellent quote and from the Dust Sleeve. I ordered a copy on that basis, however it was the paperback and didn't have the quote in its pages. 

Nonetheless this is an excellent book, written by a secular Jewish man who tells us early on he tried religion but it wouldn't take. It's surprising then that this book should even be written by such a man. It's clear from the end chapter that he hasn't thrown his hat in any ring regarding any world religion, yet he clearly understands that the new Atheist have built their house on a stack of cards that will blow over in the wind and doesn't stand up to scrutiny. 

Here a couple of my favourites from the book.

'If the laws of nature are neither necessary or simple, why, then, are they true?
Questions about the parameters and laws of physics form a single insistent question in thought: Why are things as they are when what they are seems anything but arbitrary?
One answer is obvious. It is the one that theologians have always offered: The universe looks like a put-up job because it is a put-up job. That this answer is obvious is no reason to think it false. nonetheless, the answer that common sense might suggest is deficient in one respect: It is emotionally unacceptable because a universe that looks like a put-up job puts off a great many physicists.
They have thus made every effort to find an alternative.
Did you imagine that science was a disinterested pursuit of the truth?
Well, you were wrong'  p112
See even this secular guy recognises what Paul says, they surpress the truth in unrighteousness. 

He quotes the new atheists at length when they dismiss the idea of the soul or mind. Here is his conclusion at the end of that section. 

We do not have a serious scientific theory explaining the powers and properties of the human mind.
The claim that the human mind is the product of evolution is not unassailable fact. It is barely coherent.
The idea that main is created in the image of God remains what is has always been: and that is the instinctive default position of the human race.'

I would commend this book to you.


Tuesday, 3 April 2018

R.Scott Pace- Preaching By the Book

I received a review copy of this book from B and H Academic I don't have to give a positive review. 

Dr Pace's aim is set out on the front cover, Developing and Delivering Text Driven Sermons, it's a very short book. It's shorter than I imagined it to be, some of the reviews suggest it is a useful book for beginning preachers and for seasoned preachers. I agree it is useful for the beginner with many handy tips and as someone in between I definitely found lots of useful tips. Not sure how useful this will be to the seasoned preacher though. 

One of the first ones I liked was Dr Pace urges us to ditch our  'familiar outline'  instead of following the pattern set out in the text itself . He rightly says, 'the structure of the sermon should mirror the literary structure of the passage.' p11 Similarly he reminds us 'The Bible includes a variety of literary genres that require the reader to identify the type of writing in order to interpret it accurately.' p.26 We must be prepared to let the genre of the text dictate the structure of the sermon. 

Like John Stott, Dr Pace argues that preaching is dialogue rather than monologue, 'our preaching should be characterized by a conversational style that is clear and personal. This acknowledges the spiritual reality of the ongoing dialogue between God and his people as his Spirit speaks to hearts through the Scriptures.' 

Another useful reminder Dr Pace offers us that we need to be careful when presenting our own vulnerabilities that we don't over do this, 'while this may be helpful and our openness can help facilitate transparency in our congregations, frequent examples of our failures can begin to erode our credibility as God's spokesman.' Going on to say, 'it can begin to undermine the gospel if our frequent and familiar failures unintentionally call into question' The Gospel's 'effectiveness to redeem, renew and restore our brokenness.' I thought this was such an excellent point and something to be aware of.

Dr Pace says as we prepare we should causally read the text completely. I'd use a different term, but I know what he means but we should never read the Scriptures causally. I'd agree with each step he offers in preparation.

The bit that I thought was disappointing was the final chapter, which I thought was going to be about the sermon conclusion but was actually about appeals. I've never seen appeals done well, to me they seem we are doing the Spirit's work for Him. These don't come out of the text itself. 

That said this is a useful introduction to preaching and worth the couple of hour investment to read it.

God Bless
Stephen <><

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Resurrection not mildly important

To Shamelessly borrow and alter a phrase from C. S Lewis (he wouldn't mind at all) The resurrection if false is of no importance, and if true of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is mildly important. On this the whole of Christianity stands or falls but even more than that, if true then we have a hope beyond our wildest dreams if we trust in Christ.

In John's Gospel we are told that before it was light Mary Magdalene was at the tomb, ready to dress it some more. Mary is still following, not at a distance but as close as she possibly can. Early in the morning in her grief and bewilderment she comes to the tomb and she has some expectations of finding the tomb exactly as it should be with a corpse and the stone rolled in place. That is the way it is for all of us, our tomb could say, no exit. Death up until this point had always been very final. Even when Jesus raised people from the dead- it wasn't expected they had beaten the grave, just delayed the inevitable.   Did Mary expect to meet an armed guard? We don’t know but they have seemed to have fled the scene already. We know that she and the other women are wondering how they are going to get access to the tomb if they cannot roll away the stone. Yet when she gets there she finds the stone rolled away and she flees the scene not in worship at the empty tomb but in horror. Now I have probably watched all of the Jesus movies from the 50’s up until the 70’s. The one that best conveys the empty tomb is Franco Zepherilli’s Jesus of Nazareth. In the movie in one of the final scenes one of the leading Jewish scribes rushes to the empty tomb on hearing that Jesus body has gone and we see what he sees. An empty tomb with grave clothes on  a stone bench we with him look in closer and close but all we see is the empty bench and the linen clothes, he is a fictional character but he looks at the empty tomb and says, ‘now it all begins’ but that is not enough for Mary, Mary already grief stricken is dumbfounded , bewildered and heartbroken by the empty tomb. The resurrection in not on her radar, how much she had heard Jesus talk about his death and resurrection we don’t know, but she was around she must have heard something. Yet even his closest followers who had heard everything missed it. She flees the scene to find Peter and the beloved disciple two of Jesus inner circle. In her grief the empty tomb is not enough to convince her of the resurrection!  Sunday has arrived but Mary doesn't know! 

v.11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two Angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Mary ran away from the tomb to the Apostles and she follows them back at some point. When the disciples looked in there were no Angels for them to see. Mary sees the Angels, the Greek is very clear she looked intently and yet it seems like she doesn’t see them at all. They ask her why she is crying and one commentator said, ‘Yes why is she crying, if she finds what she is looking for. The corpse of Jesus, we are all lost for eternity.’ In Scripture any time an Angel appears the first words it says are  ‘Do not be afraid’ and the reason they say this is because people are usually so afraid they are about to die of fright. Mary in her grief is almost oblivious to their presence. She replies again the same thing, they have taken away the body of my lord and I do not know where they have laid him. There is no more words from the Angels and Mary turns around immediately maybe they point behind her, or maybe she hears a sound that distracts her although this seems unlikely in her grief as she is distracted enough to miss the presence of the Angels even when she is talking to them. Its Sunday and Mary doesn’t know.
She turns around and sees Jesus, We are back to irony now, John tells us that now she sees Jesus which is true but even though it is the risen Jesus in front of her, her grief is so big she cannot see that it is him. Maybe there is something different about his appearance, Luke especially seems to suggest that. Maybe its just that it is early in the morning. Maybe her eyes are watery from all the tears and her head is in a mess. Or maybe Jesus looks so different, but she is kept from recognising Him. It’s Sunday and Mary doesn’t know. Seeing Jesus she is unaware that there is no need for tears. Jesus speaks to her, Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? She supposes him to be the gardener and proceeds to ask the Risen Jesus if he has moved the body and then very tenderly he says, ‘ Mary’ throughout the text John has used the word Maria for Mary now Jesus speaks with the word Miriam. She speaks so very tenderly using her name. This woman who loved Jesus immensely is given the privilege of being the first person to witness the resurrection. Jesus didn’t go to the elite, not even the elite in the Apostolic band but a woman in grief, a woman who had loved Jesus to the uttermost. The reason for Mary being the first witness to the resurrection was because she was the one in the most need. She was grieving more, hence while the Apostles were hid away in locked rooms she was out in the dark weeping and seeking the body of Jesus.   She replies Rabboni, Some commentators say this word is used only of God as teacher and that this is a theological confession. However John tells his Gentile audience that this word means teacher. We don’t need to find confessions to Jesus as God as John is full of them. In deed when he appears to Thomas that is his confession, My LORD and MY God, of better, the God of me and the LORD of me. It is an intimate moment when this grieving woman finds that her grief is ill founded, Jesus is alive. 
He is Risen! It’s Sunday and finally Mary knows. The text suggest that she grabs hold of Jesus, she gives him the biggest hug in the history of humanity! She thought  she had lost him that He was gone she had been looking for the living amongst the dead. She didn’t know that the grave could not keep hold of him as death had no power over Him. That he is the LORD of live and that he laid down his life only to take it up again.
She is given an amazing privilege to be the first witness to the resurrection, yet she cannot cling to him. She cannot keep it to herself, and be the last witness- it's vitally important for all our sakes that we share what we have witnessed. When I was 15 I met the risen Jesus, not bodily but nonetheless it was very real. He changed her life, He changed my life- we need to be sharing this glorious good news. The resurrection is vitally important. 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Good Friday- Resurrection Sunday but what about Saturday

Isaiah 53 tells us of the Messiah v.8 'He was cut off from the land of the living- the living one, in the abode of the dead. Though he died with the wicked, including the thief on the cross, Jesus was given a 'rich man's tomb at his death v.9. We are told in the Gospel that this tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, the King of Kings, who as the Son of Man (another divine title) had nowhere to lay His head even in death lay in a borrowed tomb, Just a borrowed tomb for the King of Kings and creator of the whole universe. This is the true Sabbath, God resting on the Jewish Sabbath, laid in State. 

The aroma in the tomb would be filled with the smell of the spices that the women had wrapped Jesus in. This speaks of two things, firstly, their devotion to Him, though the men had fled and were in hiding these women took time to wrap his body in burial clothes and spices, they were devoted to him. Giving of their time and money to serve Him in death. Yet it also speaks of their lack of faith, some of the women had seen Jesus raise Lazarus and had heard Him repeatedly say that after three days he would rise again- they are preparing His body so that it doesn't decay. 

Where was His Spirit? While His body lay in state where was His Spirit? The Faith teachers are on record as saying Jesus went into Hell and suffered punishment from the demons. You may have read in some versions of the creeds that He descended into hell- this is a mistake-he descended into death is what the creed means.  You'll not find the idea of Jesus descending into hell Scripture. As I mentioned yesterday the cry of the cross was a victory cry, "it is finished" or it is "accomplished" Also you'll that Jesus tells us the thief on the Cross that He would join in Him in paradise that very day. He went home but without His body, it's the intermediate state for Him. 

One final thought, the disciples. 
The disciples seem to have missed that Jesus said He would rise after 3 days but remember that the Religious leaders heard Him say that He would rise, they didn't believe him of course but they put His body on guard just in case.  Judas  who was instrumental in Jesus death was one of the twelve just a few days before, now in remorse (not repentance) had taken his own life and a Christ-less eternity. Peter perhaps filled with remorse as well, after all he too betrayed his best friend, denying he even knew him. All of them who a couple of nights before we prepared to die with Him now hidden away in great fear. Yet if we are to enter into their grief we must realise they didn't have ears to hear. They hadn't heard him when He told them He would rise. So they are grief stricken thinking that despite all they had seen and heard Jesus was a Messianic pretender. If only they had listened, they would be waiting with baited breath for Sunday Morning it seems to them that death has conquered and is therefore Lord. They unlike us were in a state of complete hopelessness. Believing Jesus would have made them hopeful and expectant. For His Church waiting for His return we too should be waiting full of hope and expectation. 

May God Bless You this Saturday!

Stephen <><