Saturday 2 March 2024

Essential?

What do each one of us as individuals see the purpose of the bible as being, because this will steer our reading and approach to “God’s Word”

thedailyapologist.com
A young man that I met this week got me wondering. He is someone who came to faith through the internet. His coming to Jesus has profoundly changed his life and he has assimilated an encyclopaedic knowledge of the bible, significantly influenced by internet sources. In the group that we were in he was asserting that several scriptures teach us that the earth was originally flat.

In support of this the scriptures quoted included the use of expressions like “the four corners of the earth” (e.g. Isaiah 11:12) “He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” and “the ends of the earth” (e.g. Job 37:3) “Hear attentively the thunder of His voice, and the rumbling that comes from His mouth. He sends it forth under the whole heaven, His lightning to the ends of the earth”. Spheres of course don’t have corners or ends and so, if taken literally, the earth would have to have edges. There are other bible passages which may be used to argue this way.

Of course, most bible believers and bible scholars will recognise that these passages are not intended to be taken literally. They are by and large figures of speech which indicate something else. In this example the passages are referring to reaching across the whole earth; or the extent / size of the earth; or going deeper, perhaps a Hebrew term relating to the extension of a bird’s wing that is used to suggest the extremity of anything stretched out.

I am not mentioning this discussion though, to go into “flat earth theology”, merely as a starting point, because the conversation that I have described made me think some more about the purpose of the bible and what it means to the world generally and followers of Jesus today. Every follower of Jesus will be aware that there are some areas of scripture where their interpretation will be different from someone else’s. There may be straight-forward reasons for this. From personal experience, sometimes I have discovered that even after years of reading the bible, I have just not read a passage properly. I read it again and well, it just doesn’t say what I thought it said. Sometimes I will look something up and find that I have taken a word out of context or not understood its full meaning. Sometimes a brother or sister will have pointed out something I have missed. Sometimes it will be a sermon, someone sharing or “teaching” which changes my view. Some scripture is still completely hidden from view.

Does it matter that I have not got it right first time? At one time in my life, I was really concerned about getting everything as “right” as possible (and of course failed)! Now I am not so worried… The passage of time has taken me from a point in my 30s when I “knew everything” (not!) to a point now where I realise that I know practically nothing at all. (Of course, I may have learned a few useful things in the course of life’s journey that might be worth passing on to younger generations - but by and large they are too busy learning the same things, by making the same mistakes for themselves to listen).

I am still trying to work it out, but I think that it is important to understand why God gave us the bible? In a favourite quote John Wesley said:

“I have thought I am creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till a few moments hence I am no more seen. I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven--how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].”

biblehub.com
Here John Wesley points to a purpose for the bible – to show us the way to heaven. Of course, Jesus is the way (John 14:7: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me")  and Jesus Himself said (John 17:3) “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”. What do each one of us as individuals see the purpose of the bible as being, because this will steer our reading and approach to “God’s Word”?

There is another quote commonly attributed to St Augustine but more recently tracked down to a 16th Century believer which says concerning unity amongst Christians and interpretation of scripture:

“…If we preserve unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love in all things, our affairs will be in the best position…”

In other words there are some things that all followers of Jesus believe, that all followers of Jesus must allow liberty for others to explore non-essentials, and then there are “my pet ideas and theories”… This is a useful quote perhaps except we are then left with distinguishing between what is essential and non-essential?

There is a diagram above showing the three areas of belief. What would you put in the circles? Perhaps relabelling them “Core truths for Followers of Jesus”, “Things where its OK for Followers of Jesus to differ in interpretation” and “Things that I know are strictly my own beliefs about what’s going on”? Or – choose your own labels to help decide.

I think that having a clear view of the purpose of the bible is useful in helping to decide what interpretations and beliefs go in which circle – or “everything else”. With an honest approach we might be surprised at what goes where – and it may affect the way that we see and relate to others. For example, my fellowship with my young friend will not be harmed by his current belief in the shape of the world but it does have an impact.

Neither the Lord nor I might not mind at all that at this stage my friend has a perhaps ill-informed belief that at some point the world was flat. But was it wise for him to share it in a study group? He thought so because to him it was “essential” that we were not deceived by the world. I thought not because it offered unnecessary difficulties for others in the group over something that I saw as “everything else”. You might think that this is an obvious example, but I wonder how many times we have wandered from the true essentials onto “our particular convictions” with the result of discouraging others, or if they are still young in the faith, giving them unnecessary confusion?

Many have pointed to disagreements about “non-essentials” as the cause of church splits; such disagreements have even led to congregations being torn apart in the middle of great revivals / moves of the Holy Spirit. In this we might include attempts to label “non-essentials” and even personal favourite “anything elses” as part of the “essential core” for the fellowships in question. No wonder in his struggle with the problems in the Corinthian Church Paul took this stand: 1 Corinthians 2:2: “When I came to you, my friends, to preach God's truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2 For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and his death on the cross” – essential ground indeed!



Author: Chris Pearson

May God bless and enrich your life

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and others.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Working Out Our Own Salvation

Sanctification is a once and for all act but also an ongoing one

christfellowshipnc.org
‘Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV)

Recently I was listening to a short podcast by Sinclair Ferguson on sanctification and holiness. He is a gifted and very learned biblical teacher amongst many other things. It immediately drew my attention as I had previously written a blog on believers ‘walking worthy’. This caused me, again, to meditate on this essential component of the Christian life – sanctification. 

To sanctify something, simply explained, means ‘to set apart’. Its biblical meaning is that something is set apart for God’s special use and purpose. Most of the time when we as Christians use the term sanctification, we mean the progressive work of God in making a believer more Christ like – more holy. 

Sanctification, however, is also a position where we are placed as believers at conversion. As the apostle Paul wrote, ‘To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints …’ (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV); ‘…’you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:11). Note the past tense usage, therefore sanctification has already occurred by grace through faith in Jesus. Sanctification is a once and for all act but also an ongoing one.  

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Westminster divines, in answer to question 35: What is Sanctification? states [it] ‘is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness’.  

Part of the progressive process of sanctification believers are commanded to: ‘…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (Colossians 1:10, ESV)

‘I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called… (Ephesians 4:1, ESV). 

Walking is not passive; it requires effort and determination and we as individuals are responsible for ‘walking’. It may be baby steps to begin with. The timing and distance travelled is certainly variable between individuals but with the help of the Holy Spirit, that indwells all Christians and His grace, progress is not only achievable but also mandatory. Paul issues the command to ‘work out your own salvation’ (Philippians 2:12). Here he is referring to the ongoing work, required of every believer, in exercising faith and obedience in actively pursuing progressive sanctification in their daily walk with the Lord – enabled, of course, by God working in them and this of course for His good pleasure.

dailyverse.knowing-jesus.org
Every Christian is expected to grow into full maturity. Jesus’ standard for us is to ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48) - an arguably unobtainable goal for us, until Glory, but one we should keep our eyes firmly fixed upon.   

In Peter’s first letter, chapter 1:15-16, he instructs believers to be …’obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, …’ in doing so we are being made more Christ like, becoming more like Him, more holy and in pursuing growing in godliness we more clearly reflect Jesus in our lives and bring honour to Him.

We grow in our Christian life, first and fore mostly by what God through His Spirit is doing in us, but we are not passive in this process, we are called to respond and work in harmony – to abide in Him (John 15: 4-5). We have been granted the means of helping us achieve and be successful in this by the word of God, prayer, the sacraments, and the meeting together for fellowship with fellow believers.

Evidence of new birth is a progressive change in the believer. The Holy Spirit is the agent of sanctification working in us and enabling the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’, (Galatians 5:22). All these attributes need to be developed in the believer. As we have been told, in so many sermons, it is one fruit with nine flavours. There is no ‘pick & mix’. If there is no evidence, no alteration in conduct, behaviour, attitude, if we don’t become more ‘set apart’ as we journey with Christ damming results are the consequence. The writer to the Hebrews says we must ‘strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’. (12:14). 'This verse does not make holiness a prerequisite for salvation, but it recognises it as the certain result. Sanctification is a characteristic of all who are redeemed, not a condition’ (MacArthur J. The Gospel According to Jesus, pp 211 2008).

Yes, we get things wrong, yes, we make mistakes, yes, we stumble and fall in our Christian walk and yes, the enemy seeks to destroy. We must not trivialise this source, indeed the word says: ‘submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7, ESV). However, for most Christians it is the world around us and the flesh within us that causes us the most trouble with wrongdoing! Nevertheless, let us remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

Hallelujah! What assurance.  

‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20, ESV).

--------------------------------------------

Going back to that podcast. Sinclair Ferguson told a story about bonsai trees – with application to sanctification! He clearly stated that he knew nothing about these miniature trees. Nonetheless, what he heard tell by a Japanese bonsai expert was that all bonsai trees are shaped in the form of a triangle, all perfectly proportioned miniatures. All carefully, and no doubt, lovingly tended throughout their lives. The interesting ‘thing’, however, is that every triangle on a bonsai tree is not necessarily at the same angle on every tree. Using this natural observation, Sinclair thought this picture was a great metaphor for our sanctification. ‘Holiness, Christ likeness becomes evident in our lives when the fruit of the Spirit in increasingly well proportioned in us and has a Christ like shape BUT, the angle that shape takes in each person’s life will be slightly different from every other Christian’. An interesting comment to think about! ‘We are all being re-shaped in the image of Christ but in a slightly different way.’ (Sinclair Ferguson (25.8.23)  Principles for Holiness: Things Unseen Podcast



Author: Irene Cherrill

May God bless and enrich your life

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and others.

Saturday 17 February 2024

"Wait on the Lord”

Above all, let us wait in patience, the Lord will respond, He will give us our answer.


Focus Magazine
We have heard and spoken a great deal about the need to Wait on the Lord in these last few months. We are bombarded by so many streams of information and disinformation that it would be easy and, let’s face it, has been easy, for us to make the wrong decision.

It may seem an easy thing to wait, but we have to learn how. We live in a society that encourages us to; “just do it,” to; “never put off to tomorrow what you can do today,” that lives by the motto; “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day.” We are conditioned by our upbringing, by our education and increasingly, by social media, to “get on with it,” that it is better to recklessly embark on something and get it wrong than to do nothing.

But I would argue, along with many commentators that to Wait on the Lord is not to do nothing. I accept that it could be seen as an excuse for not acting but to Wait on the Lord is an active, not a passive activity;

If we desire, with all our hearts to serve the Lord but don’t know how to best do so, what do we do?

* Lapse into despair and despondency and give up?

* Seek help from those of our acquaintances who are willing to listen but may not be in tune with us spiritually?

* Listen to the urging of “self” and rush into a course of action which may not be in the Lord’s will and could ultimately damage our relationship with Him? 

No, we are called upon to simply wait; but to wait actively.

Pinterest
Wait for the LORD;

    be strong and take heart

    and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27 :14)

* Wait in prayer, plead our case, explain our difficulty and ask for the Lord’s  help, as He has promised.

* Wait in humility and what has been described as “simplicity of soul.” We can be sure of a successful outcome if we are aware of our own inadequacy and are earnestly and sincerely seeking God’s will.

* Wait in faith, show our unwavering confidence in the Lord. The devil will try to shake that confidence but without trust our prayers become an insult to the Lord rather than a blessing.

* Above all, let us wait in patience, the Lord will respond, He will give us our answer. Let us not be tempted to complain, no matter how long we have to wait but praise and bless God for His grace and mercy. Accept things as they are and put the situation, as it stands, simply and with our whole heart, without any self-will, into the hands of our loving God. 

And we can pray the essence of the following prayer;

"Now, Lord, not my will, but Thine be done. I know not what to do; I am brought to extremities, but I will wait until Thou shalt cleave the floods or drive back my foes. I will wait, if Thou keep me many a day, for my heart is fixed upon thee alone, O God, and my spirit waiteth for Thee in the full conviction that Thou wilt yet be my joy and my salvation, my refuge and my strong tower."

Have a blessed week and may God reward you with His presence as you Wait on Him.

Author: Alan Cameron

May God bless and enrich your life

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and others.


Alan Cameron


Sunday 11 February 2024

Are we prepared for a Crisis

While preparing yourselves for the big crisis`s in your life don’t neglect preparing yourself for the small ones that sneak in unnoticed, and yet prove deadly

gospelimages.com
In our fellowship recently, there have been a few references to the parable of the 10 virgins, there have also been a posting on the church WhatsApp page about this parable which received a few acknowledgments amongst the fellowship. But as for me I have in the main ignored this parable and whatever points have been raised from it, because there is a lot of other stuff going on in my life and I did not find the time or the head space to read them. However, in preparing to write this blog the Lord again drew me to the truths and warnings of this parable. 

It is found in Matthew 25:1-13 and is a story told by Jesus to illustrate how we should be prepared for his return and how we should guard against complacency.  And with all that is going on in the World at the moment and the tension and crisis everywhere it is a timely reminder that we need our lives (lamps) topped up with the oil of the Holy Spirit so we will not be found wanting and floundering when the Lord returns. But I was also challenged when reading a commentary about the parable by a new-testament scholar I had never heard of: Dan O. Via.  He `considers the story of the bridesmaids as an example of a tragic parable with a U-shaped plot. The rising action of the parable is the preparation for the coming of the bridegroom, but a crisis occurs when the bridegroom is delayed. This is the turning point that leads to disaster` (Wikipedia reference). This really got me thinking about the things in life that come out of nowhere and throw us completely off course. Resulting in us finding ourselves feeling alone and separated from others, out of sync with the Lord`s plan and running around trying to work out what happened! In other words, we often plan and prepare for the big crisis`s in life (like the coming of the bridegroom (the Lord), but get thrown off course by a mini crisis (running out of oil) and find ourselves running around looking for answers in all the wrong places, and totally losing our peace and trust in the Lord. 

I was talking to someone recently about one of my favourite Bible Characters Elijah. He called all the people together on mount Carmel, built an altar, called down fire from Heaven to burn up the sacrifice and killed all the prophets of Baal. He then told King Ahab to prepare for rain after a 3 year drought. (1 Kings 18) But after seeing the most amazing miracle from the Lord and knowing what it felt like to be in the centre of the Lord's plan for his own life and for calling the children of Israel back to the Lord, he was taken apart by the words of a Godless woman  (1 Kings 19:2-3 NLT`So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you have killed them”.  Elijah was afraid and fled for his life`. Elijah has been prepared for the big crisis facing him, the calling of the people back to God by facilitating a miracle from the Lord and destroying the false teachings (prophets) in the land, but had allowed himself to be fearful and defeated by a simple threat. 

woundedministries.org
This is the warning to me and us all, from the account of Elijah and from the parable of the 10 virgins. While preparing yourselves for the big crisis`s in your life don’t neglect preparing yourself for the small ones that sneak in unnoticed, and yet prove deadly. For each of us they come in different forms, tiredness, illness, disappointment, fear, someone criticising us, stress and worry robbing us of our peace, these are only some but for each one of us the list is different but just as devastating. The crisis has come and we have no oil in our lamps so we get distracted, discouraged and finally we feel defeated.  

We can find the solutions from the Word of God, we always can. Firstly, stop running around trying to find answers from lots of places, instead centre our attention on the Lord. In the case of Elijah, he had to stop bemoaning his lot and blaming everyone for his situation (1 kings 19:10 & 14 NLT) `I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars and killed everyone of your prophets. I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me`. And was the Lord’s answer: - Oh so sorry Elijah, you poor man you have had so many bad things happen to you no wonder you feel so bad sob! Sob! No! it was a very practical caring answer: - Go back to where you started deviating from the path, and then do what I tell you to. Oh, and by the way you are not on your own as you thought, there are another 7000 people who are experiencing the same pressures you are and are serving me. So be encouraged. 

In the case of the Virgins, there was a preparatory warning. They had to stop running around begging oil from other people, being distracted and fearful that they would not have enough for the nights wait and then sleeping through the time they should have been buying oil. The word of the Lord to them was don’t become complacent. Never think you have enough, be constantly coming to me for enough oil (Spirit and Word) for the duration of the nights wait. Sometimes the answer you seek (in this case the coming of the bridegroom) will be delayed, so be prepared beforehand. When they first became aware they may not have enough oil, (or when we see problems start to arise) we should seek oil (Spirit, Word Guidance) from the oil supplier, draw close to the Lord. Don’t sleep hoping it all goes away, be proactive.

I am grateful to the Lord that he never leaves us without guidance or direction. That His word is never too early or too late. In the need to prepare a blog (without a single idea in my head when I sat down to write it) He has shouted the guidance He has been trying to whisper to me over the last few weeks, if only I would have listened.

Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and for your grace that is always sufficient for all my needs. Today Lord help me to keep my lamp topped up both for the big crisis`s that face the world and maybe even our country and way of life, but also for the little crisis`s that slay me every day. Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning, trusting, serving, till the break of day. 


Author: Jan Pearson

May God bless and enrich your life

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and others.

Saturday 3 February 2024

Love covers all

The disciple and apostle, Peter, knew what forgiveness meant, the joy of having the worst sins covered over.


A few years ago I was helping a friend to change some halogen ceiling light bulbs in her mum’s kitchen. In the day these lights were very popular, but they were very hot as well as bright, and some bulbs / fittings didn’t have great longevity.  So we were in her mum’s kitchen, which had only been installed for a few months, I was on the stepladder. Warning; for readers who are very sensitive about their kitchens, this incident may cause some distress. I removed the light fitting from the ceiling to check it over and replaced the bulb. Finding that it was on a long flex, I lowered it down onto the work surface and asked Thelma to switch on the lights to test it. What happened next is tragic but true. The lights were working but not only giving light, there was acrid smoke rising from the suspended light. Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring. As I lifted up the offending item it revealed a black circle, in the middle of a pristine worktop. 

Amazon UK
We called Mum into the kitchen. I would describe Thelma’s Mum was a fine ‘straight speaking ‘lady who, ‘said what she meant and meant what she said’. While we waited, I remember admiring  the worktop which ran the length of the kitchen, all neatly finished with tiles.  After we had briefly explained the incident, she simply slid over a fruit bowl to cover the black circle. That was it. Mum declared that the bowl would live there, and that was the end of the matter. I  made some weak protestation about how I could rectify the situation, but inwardly knowing that I would only make it worse. And, true to her word, there was never a word about the incident. 

The psalmist declares in Psalm 32: Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

I could barely believe that my mistake had been dealt with so graciously. It’s true that I had not set out to cause malicious damage, but being thoughtless or careless has consequences as we all know. Some may be familiar with the prayer of general confession:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against you and against our neighbours, in thought and word and deed, in the bad we have done and in the good we have not done, through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault….

As I write this blog, I have been prompted to reflect, would I have been so gracious? The answer is no. Even if I had tried to brush it under the carpet (or the fruit bowl) then I certainly would have inspected it soon afterwards and probably told a few unfortunate souls about the careless DIYer who just lived around the corner - mentioning no names of course.

The disciple and apostle, Peter, knew what forgiveness meant, the joy of having the worst sins covered over. He experienced it first hand from His master, his Lord and friend. He had caused the deepest hurt to his best friend, in the notorious triple denial, during our Lord’s darkest hour. Yet Peter’s example of sin and restitution has been the healing for countless believers and fellowships through the centuries. And so Peter exhorts us all in his timeless letter. 

(1 Peter 4:8) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins

Author: Richard Windridge

May God bless and enrich your life

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and others.