Thursday, 24 December 2009

Joy to the World the Lord has Come

"Joy to the world the Lord has come!" What a line! Christmas is a message of JOY! Joy that is sourced in God alone, through Christ alone.

It is the joy of being loved when we didn't, and don't, and never will deserve it.

It is the joy of God being made flesh for us.

It is the joy of Emmanuel - God with us.

It is the joy of a totally sufficient Saviour.

It is the joy of his forgiveness.

It is the joy of being reconciled to him.

It is the joy of cleansing from every guilty stain that mars that relationship.

It is the joy of knowing him as our Father in heaven.

It is the joy of knowing he cares.

It is the joy of the hope he gives for all our tomorrows.

It is the joy of eternal life.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Sovereign Grace

Reading, studying and reflecting on the Christmas story I am reminded that salvation is a sovereign act of God, we neither looked for it, asked for it, or wanted it, or for that matter could bring it about if we had. It all starts in the heart of God and is worked out by God himself without human agency.

"For God so loved the world that he gave ..." John 3:16, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God." Luke 2:35.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Pure Grace

"God so loved the world" - not an abstract world, but the world of people, a world of rebellious, fallen humanity. A world running away from God. A world cut off from God. A world that doesn't want to know God - and if it did, wants to make its own more convenient God.

"That he gave his only Son." This is nothing but pure unsolicited grace! Nothing on our part, everything on his. Nothing from us, everything from him.

Think of it that way, pure unsolicited grace towards you, towards me - undeserved, unearned, never was, never will be. No wonder this was, and still is, good news of great joy! O JOY! JOY! JOY!

May you know the fulness of the joy of the Christmas message this season.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Veiled in Flesh

The hymnwriter Charles Wesley says in his carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see." Veiled, that's a reference to the mystery of the incarnation. The human mind cannot get it's head around that. We look and see a baby, and if it wasn't for the angels and the star, I don't suppose that either the shepherds or the wisemen would have known any different either.

"Hail the Incarnate Deity!" God in flesh? How? Simply "of the Holy Spirit." But how? We aren't told any more than that, and because we aren't told any more than that, many are stumbled. The fact is that many at the time didn't get it either - a God who was human/a human who was God? Family, friends etc. did not recognise him so human was he. The Word was made flesh.

Its not so much the how that's important, as the WHY? Why would God do this? The answer is it was the only way he could save us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." He had to come to us, as there was no way we could get to him. He had to be one with us, in order to make us one with him. He had to live our life, and die our death.

BECAUSE HE LOVES US, and he wants us to dwell within the circle of his life and love.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Staggering Truth

The Christmas story never ceases to amaze me.

God the Eternal, God the Creator, God the Sustainer, God the Most Holy One, takes on human flesh, enters our fractured, mortal, created, dependant humanity in order to redeem it and present it back to God.

As Charles Wesley expressed it, "God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man."

No wonder sects and cults find it difficult to accept .. but God's truth it is. Staggering truth. Essential truth.

An as the writer to the Hebrews says "He had to be made like his brothers in every respect."

Sunday, 6 December 2009

How to Interpret the Bible?

How to interpret the Bible is a big question.

In an article on the situation in the Episcopal Church in the USA this morning, it was stated that the liberals believe that the Bible should be re-interpreted in the light of contempory wisdom (culture).

On another subject, an evangelical I was reading recently said that God has spoken in the world, and the church needs to catch up with what God has said and is doing.

I found myself thinking is there really any difference between those two statements?

It seems to me that they are no more than the two sides of the same coin, except that one is the liberal way of expressing it, the other the neo evangelical. At the end of the day neither is willing to accept what has been the normal understanding and application of Scripture down though the centuries.

This means really that everything is up for grabs, and begs the question who is the arbiter of these things, and by what, and whose authority can such decisions be made.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Meaning of Life

Anyone, believer or atheist can add meaning to life, but it's another thing altogether to know the meaning of life.

Adding meaning to life in the various ways that we do can only last as long as we are able to do those things.

Knowing the meaning of life means that whatever or whichever way life turns - whether healthy or strong, young or old, in plenty or in need (you get the idea) it cannot be robbed of its meaning.

The meaning of life cannot be found in what we give it, but rather outside of ourselves in something, or rather, Someone, Somebody bigger than you and I.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Persecution and the Gospel

In preparation for a focus on the suffering/persecuted church I spent some time in Acts looking at the connection between persecution and the spread of the gospel.

In the process I spent some time in Acts 6 and 7. My, what a story. The religious people didn't like the good news of Jesus Christ with all its ramifications for the temple and the priesthood.

Stephen (a bit player with a huge role)shares with them in answer to their question "Are these things so?" how God has worked in history outside of the boundaries of the nation and the temple to accomplish his purposes.

> God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia
> The covenant was instituted in a foreign place
> God was with Joseph in Egypt
> God was with his people in Egypt;
> God was with Moses in Egypt and Midian
> God gave the commandments at Sinai
> God was with his people in the wilderness
> Then Solomon built the Temple for God to dwell in ....

'Yet' or 'however,' says Stephen,(he's about to drive home the point) "God does not dwell in houses made by hands!" (7:48)

God is bigger than the temple and priesthood ...

Some answer, some sermon! He pulls the rug from under their feet.

And to round it off he then says they are stiff necked, they just don't get it, in fact they are unwilling to get it! In fact they are just like their fathers who persecuted the prophets before them ...

They are furious ... they don't want to hear this ... they can't bear the truth ... and Stephen is stoned to death.

But as Tertullian said "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

Stephens answer provided the basis for worldwide mission.

The believers were scattered ...

The gospel was proclaimed ...

The believers multiply ...

And Saul who was there listening to and consenting to Stephens death and persecuting the church is apprehended by none other than the Lord Jesus himself, and told he is God's chosen instrument to carry his name to the Gentiles!!!!


Monday, 30 November 2009

Political Correctness

For to long we have been living under the threat of political correctness - the new totalitarianism. It not only seeks to control our speech, but our thoughts and actions. It purports to be the expression of freedom but is just another kind of bondage - another one of Satan's schemes to blind and bind.

Its time for us to speak up, to raise our voice to stand and be counted.

The Manhattan Declaration

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A Controversial Anniversary

Yesterday (Tuesday 24th November) was the anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's, The Origin of Species.
Charles Lyell, who came up with the idea of geology’s millions-of-years and was Darwin’s mentor, wrote that he was motivated by the desire to, “free [the] science from Moses.” In other words, the creation account in Genesis. Science you see is not the problem, creation is. Creation has always stuck in the throat of humanity, because it begs the question of a Superior Being, and therefore the fact that we are not free, but have been given life and are accountable for the way that we live it. If we can get rid of God we are the master of our own destiny, answerable to no one, we can make the rules and sing with Sinatra "I did it my way."
The general theory of evolution has no scientific base, it is a philosophy. It starts with its presuppositions (a supposed idea about the way things are) and works the data accordingly. Sadly many evangelicals are being taken in by the pseudo-science that parades itself as true science, preferring to believe the pseudo-science and adapt the Bibles story to fit it.
In theistic evolution (the Christian version of evolutionary theory) man is still considered to be descended/evolved from the 'apes,' yet the Bible unequivocally says that God created man in his own image from the dust of the earth.
In danger of over simplification let me put it this way: The theistic evolutionist gets around this by saying that's the origin, after all God created the dust (or even the explosion that led to the dust), but humanity came further down the line when God selected a pair of more developed 'apes' and breathed into them the breath of life (literally, God was still creating and working to get to this point)!!! Now, if you can do that with the text anything goes, and the Bible can mean anything anywhere!
The fact of the matter is, the theory of general evolution is anti-God, it cuts at the very foundations of the Christian faith and the West today is beginning to reap the results of it.

Being made in the image of God gives humanity DIGNITY (think of all the effort to discover self-image; to be somebody) and correspondingly RESPECT for one another (think of the lack of respect for peoples lives, its cheapness, especially among the younger generations). It provides the basis for all human RELATIONSHIPS, husband and wife, parents and children (think of all the dysfunction and breakdown that goes on today), which in turn builds the basis of a stable SOCIETY. And because we live as those who are accountable to God it provides the basis for true JUSTICE for all people.
Above all it deals with mans real problem, his REBELLION, his sin, his alienation from God the true LIFE-GIVER. It cuts people off from the real SOLUTION, the GOSPEL - JESUS, the only one who is able to rescue us and renew our lives.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Spirit-Filled? What does it Mean?

Jesus promised his people the gift of the Spirit. On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-38). What a promise! Nothing less than a mighty life giving river, yet sadly for many it seems like a stream, or even just a trickle and some wonder whether he's there at all.

The promise did not die out with Jesus or the apostles, but continues to this day - Peter said it was for “everyone who the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:39. The Bible teaches continuationism not cessationism. The idea that it all ended with the apostles or the completion of the canon of Scripture has to be read into it, and when it is it is frequently from our lack of experience and a seeking to justify it. The fact of the matter is we need all that God gave to the early church in the way of the out-poured Spirit and His gifts in every part of our personal and church life today.

Paul says in Ephesians that we should “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (5:18). This is not an option, the Bible commands it. It's as essential to the Christian life as fuel in the tank of a car, but more so! Much of Paul's teaching is about the place of the Spirit in the Christian's life and that you can't live the life without knowing his presence.

The question is what is it, and does it look like?  And do we, do you, know it? And is there enough evidence to convict you/me/us of that?

Now it's not unusual to hear the question/statement, ‘if God were to withdraw his Holy Spirit from the church, would we notice the difference?’ or put to another way,‘if God withdrew his Holy Spirit everything would just carry one as before,’ the implication of both being that we don’t have the Holy Spirit or he is little involved in what we do. The question is, is that true?

I'm not sure it is.

The fact is that if the Spirit was not among us we would be in deep, deep trouble, personally and corporately - I would be and so would you, so would the church, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all we do is inspired and empowered by the Spirit, and it doesn’t necessarily mean we have the fullness of the Spirit. The fact of the matter is that Scripture (e.g. Acts 6:3; Eph. 5:18) and experience tells us that we are not all as Spirit-filled as we should be, but that doesn’t mean we do not posses the Spirit, it just means we are not as ‘filled up’ with the Spirit as we could be or should be.

The Bible speaks about receiving, or being baptised in the Spirit. This normally happens at conversion, (Acts 2:38), but by no means always, sometimes it comes later (see Acts). The baptism though is a one off experience. You do not need to receive or be baptised in the Spirit again and again.

On the other hand the Scriptures do talk about being filled with the Spirit as an ongoing activity (Eph 5:18),  something that is commanded and should be expected.

In trying to understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit it might be good to ask, what does it look like?

Here are five evidences that you can find in Scripture and in the lives who have been and are:
• Passionate – the early Christians were passionate about God, worship, prayer, the Word, the gospel.
• Power – there was a divine enabling that took them outside of or beyond themselves to speak and act for God.
• Purity – they were changed, he is the Holy Spirit, and produces his fruit in our lives.
• Purpose – there was a strong sense of purpose, it's not a self-serving end, but the blessing of others.
• Prophetic - a present experience of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit.

I want to suggest that we make a mistake when we focus on the idea of quantity, as if we can have more or less of the Holy Spirit (of God), when the reality is we either have him or we don’t! As I said earlier, Paul says if we don't have the Spirit we are not his (Rom. 8). Thinking in terms of quantity begs the question 'does the baptism run out?' or, 'how long does a filling last?' This leads some to say that ‘The Baptism that you had ten years ago is no more use to you than the dinner you had ten years ago.’ That I'm afraid is nonsense, the Baptism and a dinner are two totally different things - one is a consumable, the other the person of the Holy Spirit! It helps to get our thinking straight.

Thinking and experience go hand in hand, the one impacting the other, so for example our experience is not helped when we sing songs that are Biblically incorrect, i.e. “O for a new anointing ...” which immediately suggests the one we had is past it's sell by date, or we've lost the one we had! Or Charles Wesley's hymn, Love Divine All Loves Excelling, which says, "never more thy temples leave." This suggests a coming and going, a possessing and a losing, whereas the Bible says that the anointing we have abides (1 John 2:20,27). And Jesus himself said that the Holy Spirit would abide with us forever (John 14:16).

The problem then is not the River! It’s there! "Out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water..." said Jesus. He does not run out! Or to put it another way, the Gift does not melt away. The question then is not one of presence or quantity, but rather more one of flow, or his possession of us. This begs the question of grieving or quenching the Spirit, two things that are very important, but not very often talked about when it comes to the Spirit-filled life.

To return to Ephesians 5:18 the focus is not on our having more of the Holy Spirit but on him filling our lives and relationships, especially 'church.'  The problem in the West is reading these texts through individualistic eyes, thereby making it all about me and my experience, whereas this is is not Paul's focus. His focus is the church, a body of people, and so we could easily read it as "Be filled together with/by the Holy Spirit..."

The abuse of alcohol leads to abuse and disfunctional relationships. The Spirit's presence and fulness leads to unity, blessing and praise as he 'oils' our relationships, and so we experience the reality of the church becoming the dwelling place of God by the Spirit, and God revealing himself, walking in it and speaking to it - church was never meant to be a round of rituals but one of dynamic encounter.

So it’s not about receiving more of what we have already got, but discovering how he might more fully possess us and how we might live in what we have, and in doing so we will know more of his fulness.