Godly Extravagance

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (Jn 12:1–11).

The Apostle John gives us a glimpse of the dynamic of faith and love in action when he recorded this notable occasion, this a very dramatic insight into how Mary was willing to give sacrificially for her Lord. Mary shows that she is willing to part with a very expensive product for the sake of Jesus. Nard cost about six months wages and, was often purchased by a family and used sparingly each time there was a burial. Nard was an expensive perfume and  certainly was not normally poured out copiously upon a person. Mary in her devotion to Jesus was breaking all the conventional rules. Judas is such a contrast to Mary here we see someone who is dishonest, trying to argue that the money should have been given to the poor, if that had been the case the money would have passed through his hands and he would have taken what he wanted. The question is wether the poor would have received anything, judas was on the lookout for himself. Mary’s actions are all Christ centered, here she displays her love in a way that is costly for her because she sees the importance of Jesus and what he is doing. She probably did not realise the full significance of what she was doing. We don’t know how much she believed about the future for Jesus. However, she wanted to express her love for Jesus in the most extravagant way possible to her. Jesus at once realises the significance of this act, he knows what is before him and he knows that he needs to be prepared for his coming death and burial, Mary’s act is seen by him as one of those preparatory acts.

This story gives us some insights into the nature of a truly vibrant yet humble faith, all that Mary does is Christ centered, she takes the place of humility at his feet. She makes no claim on Jesusbut she acknowledges who he he is and her need of him.  This story of course is part of the preparation for the culmination of the gospel story, the death and resurrection of Jesus. It shows to us that willingness that early Christians had to give everything for the cause of their Saviour.

The references to the poor puzzle some people because they feel that surely Jesus cared for the poor, yes he did and still does. Moreoverministry to the poor is most effective when it comes from hearts consecrated to God. The history of revivals shows this time and again as do present day charities such as Christians Against Poverty and Tearfund, These two British charities have very different missions but both are guided by their desire to follow Christ and put him first in all that they do. The example of Mary calls us to give up all and follow Jesus wherever he calls us to go.

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Jesus exalted in heaven for us

Our Lord Jesus is the exalted Lord and King and at the same time he is the great high priest in heaven. Interestingly the writer of the book of Hebrews sees the priesthood of Jesus as something that should draw us close to God. This priesthood is not just something Jesus has because he is God, but rather because as the incarnate son of God he lived on this earth and experienced temptation as we do. Of course we know that Jesus was sinless, and we sometimes assume that he had an easier time than the rest of us, this is not the case because as we can see from the gospels Satan attacked the Lord with temptations and just because he was sinless Satan threw everything he had at Jesus. If we realise this we begin to see that Jesus really understands what we are going through when we are tempted. Jesus the high priest because he has sacrificed for our sins is able to supply all that we need, he has abundant grace and mercy to pour out upon us. His priestly intercession for us is not limited to our sins, but he also asks the Father to give us all we need for the Christian life. Take time to read the account of Jesus as high priest in the book of Hebrews and also read his high priestly prayer in John 17. Both os these sections of scripture show to us the depths of the Lord’s care for us. Ultimately that love and care is shown to us in His death and resurrection. His death shows us how far he was willing to go.

This is along way from a name it and claim it form of the gospel because it acknowledges that our high priest seeks those things that we need not what we want, some of the things we want are not good for us, and he withholds them from us but he does  provide us with all that we need. We can come to our Lord knowing that he will give us those things we need, he cares intimately for us and therefore sometimes he gives us grace to endure a particular situation knowing that it will cause us to grow, at other times he delivers us from the situation and brings his healing grace to bear upon our lives. Whatever situation we are in we can come to him with boldness (see Hebrews 4:14-16).Therefore, we need to come to him day by day and seek his grace so that we can live to his glory.

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Jesus the King who cares.

We confess that Jesus is Lord and King but our conception of his kingship is very often not shaped by his own life. We tend to see Lordship in terms of an authority who wields power over others, but is this what Jesus models. In the gospels he is the King who cares and shares, his king is typified by love not power. At every step of his life we see this because he came to give not take, most kings raise taxes but Jesus gave himself for the sinner as a saving sacrifice. When he teaches it is to impart knowledge that gives wisdom for living the godly life, surely he is so different from those who want to impose their own law on others. Jesus did not undermine the law of God, but he did undermine legalism and a narrow minded fundamentalism. Jesus lived in obedience to God’s law, but he utterly repudiated the additions to it made by the Scribes and Pharisees. He came to lift the burden of sin and provide the way so that people could live the life God wants them to in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We see Jesus healing the sick, delivering those afflicted by the demonic and most of all providing a way of salvation for sinners. The secular model of kingship thinks of the King as taking his enemies captive whereas the gospel shows that Jesus came to set the captives free. Indeed it is through his resurrection that the victory of Christ is manifested, but the cry of victory came when Jesus was on the cross, and he cried out “it is finished” , he knew he had come to save his people from their sins, and he knew that salvation had been accomplished upon the cross. Jesus delivers from the curse of sin and now imparts the Holy Spirit to us so that we may live in holiness before him. He cares for his people, and he supplies their every need, the hymn writer was correct when he described Jesus as the king of love. When we follow our Lord we also need to have our hearts transformed to be like his and when they are we will care for others in a very deep and meaningful way. Let us remember that Jesus loves us and gave himself for us, now he calls us to live lives that show that same love to a broken and needy world. Read the gospels again, and you will have much to inspire you as you prayerfully ask him,how can I be more like You?

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Thinking Christianly

When we are confronted with issues we are often tempted to use proof texts from the bible to present a Biblical view. Proof texting can be dangerous especially as it often means that we rip a verse out of context to support our views. In a complex world this is tempting because we want to find a quick solution. But such a method ignores both the culture of the bible and our own culture, but perhaps more dangerously it avoids the complexities of the world and of the biblical revelation. Moral issues need to be seen in the context of today’s culture but tested against the background of the whole Biblical story. So often in discussions today we start with wanting to present our own perspective but thinking Christianly starts not with issues but with worship. Worship means that our approach will be God centred and not man centered. We will want to know not only what the bible says about moral issues but who is the God of the Bible? what is his character ? and what are his purposes for mankind? It is only when we start here that we have any hope of progress. This is because many of our modern issues are not met head on in the Scripture, scientific and technological advance has meant that we need to understand the principles contained in scripture more urgently. I have found that there are three themes of biblical revelation that help me to think clearly they are, creation, fall and redemption. Let me look at these individually, to help unlock the key to Biblical thinking.

Creation: All that is before is created by the Sovereign Lord of the universe and his intention for creation can be found in Genesis 1 and 2 and repeated again after the flood in Genesis 9, here we find that life is precious to God, that each individual is made in the image of God and therefore made to relate to him. This amazing fact means that all human beings are to be treated with dignity. These passages also show that because we are made in the image of God, we are to be his stewards of the created world. This means that we do not exploit the world but rather we take care of it. Concern for the created order is part and parcel of what it means to be truly human. As stewards of creation we are answerable to the Creator and we are called to bring our minds into line with his.

The Fall: If it were not for the fall we would not have the problems we have to day, the problems that we face are a result of the brokeness of the world because it has tried to walk independently of the creator. Our world is in an abnormal condition from a Christian perspective because the world was not designed to function under the curse of sin but rather in relationship with a loving God. The big issues of our day all stem from the brokeness of the world caused by the fall. We can look at the big political, moral and religious issues and in each we can see the results of mans rebellion against God. Even in discussing the fall we are saying that everything relates back to God and his character. Our biggest question must always be what accords with the character of a holy God? Thankfully we are not left to brokeness and the fall as the final solution but rather the loving purposes of our creator God.

Redemption; The work of Christ upon the cross is more comprehensive that just our individual salvation rather it is the redemption of the whole created universe. Redemption demonstrates clearly that god wants to restore his people and the world he created into a loving relationship with himself. This means that we must ask of any moral issue what does God want to restore his creation. We will acknowledge that we should be seeking God’s redemptive purposes for this world. This leads us to ask some tough questions about some important questions. It also means that having a clear framework of what the main themes of scripture are we can search the scriptures for answers to our problems. this does not mean that we will come up with proof texts for each situation but rather that we wrestle with the biblical revelation seeking to know the mind of Christ. In so doing we acknowledge that God’s ways are better than ours. We can wrestle with the Scriptures sometimes in a rationalistic sense, we are called to use all the power of our minds but they must be in subjection to the Lord. In other words we come back to the fact that to be good Christian thinkers our primary aim in life will be to worship and serve our Creator

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Jesus Christ: Creator, Redeemer and Revealer

In many parts of the New Testament we see the glory of who Jesus is, but in this post I just want to look briefly at Hebrew chapter 1. In this chapter we find a description of Jesus in his majestic and awesome nature and yet we find that this same one is the Saviour of sinners. Consistently throughout the Biblical revelation we find that the majestic God is the one who works salvation for his people. the writer of the book of Hebrews packs a lot of truth into a small space, and we can miss the wonder of the truth if we read the book too quickly.

      In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2       but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb 1:1–2).

In these amazing words the writer starts this letter, We are to realise that Jesus is the very pinnacle of revelation, in him we can clearly see who God is, a God of holy love, the awesome one and yet the friend of the poor and needy. This revelation is made to us by the one who created the universe. The Lord Jesus is both God and Man and as God he is the creator of all that has been made. When we look at the sea , the rolling hills, mountains, rivers and wonderful landscapes we see the artistry of our God and Saviour. God has spoken to us through the Lord Jesus and we need to hear that voice both in Scripture and through the witness of the Holy Spirit working within us.

         The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4       So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

5       For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
Or again,
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?
6       And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
7       In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”
8       But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
9       You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
10       He also says,
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11       They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12       You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”
13       To which of the angels did God ever say,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet”?
14       Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?  (Heb 1:3–14).

These words show to us the exalted nature of Jesus he is above the angels because he is God, and yet he is also the one who came into this world to make a sacrifice for our sins. The writer states clearly that after the work of atonement is completed Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. He has completed the work he came to do, and the rest of the book shows us many implications of his finished work. He is the one who is addressed by God the Father as his son, the one the angels should worship. One day all of the enemies of Jesus will be defeated, and they include sin and death. The work of Christ has overcome all the obstacles to salvation and indeed the renewal of the universe. The angels are ministering spirits sent to those who will inherit salvation, somehow this puts the role of angels in perspective. We tend to think of angels as being more exalted beings than ourselves but this passage has a different message, it shows clearly that they are sent to serve the purposes of God’s salvation of humankind.

      We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2       For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3       how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4       God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  (Heb 2:1–4).

We are called to pay careful attention to the gospel message, so that we will not drift away. we must ignore the message of this great salvation. this message of salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself but God also testified and still testifies to it through the work of the Holy Spirit. Still today we hear of credible reports of signs and wonders. We see the gifts of the Holy Spirit being used to extend the kingdom of God. Let us revel in the truth of the gospel and may we depend upon the Holy Spirit to empower us to witness to his great name.

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Is Reformed Theology A Grand Vision Or Just A Tulip?

We very often hear discussions of the Five Points of Calvinism as though they amounted to the totality of Reformed thinking,John Calvin himself would have been horrified that his theology had been reduced to just five points. Of course historically speaking the five points are really the five points of the Cannons of Dordt, which in turn were a response to the five points of the Remonstrants. Calvin’s theology and indeed the theology of those who wrote the Cannons of Dordt, let alone the Westminster Divines and those who wrote the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. At this point I should state that I believe in what the five points state but they are not the totality of my theology. When the five points are isolated from the rest of Reformed theology, it is like taking five bones from a body and claiming that it is the body. The five points by themselves can appear ugly but when they are placed in the broader framework of Reformed thought they function as an important part of the body.

The Grand Vision: John Calvin started his The Institutes of the Christian Religion with dealing with the subject of our knowledge of God, Calvin believed that the Christian faith is God centred. He and Reformed thought at its best have always affirmed that the  whole of creation is dependent upon God. It has therefore always proclaimed that Christ is Lord of all. When as a young Christian I read Abraham Kuyper’s lectures On Calvinism I was expecting something about TULIP instead I encountered a Christian world view. The more I studied the great Reformed thinkers I began to realise that they were pointing to God as the centre of everything. I began to understand that in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”. In Calvin, Bavinck, Kuyper, and other Reformed theologies I was introduced to the glorious triune God of the bible. The Sovereign God who has all things in his hands. In this wider and deeper view of the Reformed faith I find a God centred view not only of Salvation but of the whole universe. It is interesting to look at how the early reformed writers ordered their theology, for instance Calvin does not deal with election until book 3 of The Institutes. Ironically if we narrow our theology down to just the five points we secede in impoverishing ourselves of much of  Divine truth and therefore a real understanding of what the five points mean in the completeness of God’s truth. When we understand the tragedy of the fall and its implications for  this world, we see much more that Total depravity but see also the brokeness of creation as a result of God’s curse upon the world when humankind rebelled against him. It is this knowledge of the whole counsel of God which makes the Reformed faith a vibrant force for good in this world. I cannot hope to communicate the Richness of Reformed Theology in a few paragraphs, but I do think if we really read Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck,Francis Schaeffer,Berckouwer, Hermann Dooyeweerd and other reformed writers we will begin to realise the true riches of our heritage. Most of all let us get back to the book of books, because in the Bible we find God’s infallible revelation of himself .

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A Christmas Communion Service

We are gathered here today to celebrate the birth of our Saviour The Lord Jesus Christ. Who came from heaven to save us from our sins. Our hearts response of love is to worship him,let us do just that and then we will come to the Family table of the Lord.

Invitation. As we come to the Lords Table let us hear the Word of God,

   The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. (Is 9:2)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7   Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14).

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17   For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
(Jn 1:16–17).

6   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17   For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18   Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  (Jn 3:16–18).

I invite you to come to this table if you have received Jesus as Lord and Saviour and are in fellowship with his Church. Come to this table remembering that you have received the gift of salvation through the life and death of the Lord Jesus. Come remembering that your heavenly Father loves you so much that he has given his only Son for your salvation. The bread before you reminds you not only that Jesus died, but he also lived for your salvation. The Wine poured out before you reminds us that he shared our humanity and that he also came to save us from our sins. Come then and praise the Lord for all that he has done, look up and receive afresh tonight His grace and look forward to that day when he will come again in glory.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father we thank you for the great gift of our saviour the Lord Jesus. We thank you that you did not condemn us but instead in your grace you made a way of salvation.

Lord Jesus we thank you for your willingness to leave the glory of heaven to come and work out salvation for us. We thank you that you humbled yourself so that we might be lifted up, that you died so that we might live and that your resurrection shows to us that sin and death are destroyed.

Holy Spirit, we thank you for making Jesus real to us, we thank you that just as you produced a new work in Mary,  that you can and do  work in new ways in us, and we ask you to impart to us all the gifts and grace that we need to live a life to the glory of Jesus.

We ask all these things for the glory of your great name Amen.

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The Light has Shone in the Darkness; The Saviour is here

One of the most impressive facts about the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of Christ is that they all show up the darkness of sin and the light of God’s salvation. Isaiah 9 is one such passage, it is set against the backdrop of the nation of Israels’s rebellion against God. There are prophecies of the coming exile, and yet the situation is not hopeless because God has a plan. When we look at the context of this chapter in its surrounding setting we realise even more forcefully the tragedy of sin and the amazing character of the love of God. Earlier in chapter 7 Isaiah has already prophesied that one would come who could be called Immananuel which means God is with us. So we must realise that the prophet is continuing to speak about the promised messiah when he speak thee magnificent words,

   9:1  Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2  The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3  You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4  For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5  Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6  For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7  Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.  (Is 9:1–7). .

Notice that the prophet describes those who receive Christ as those who have been walking in darkness and living in deep darkness, the Saviour has come to save his people from their sins. Sometimes people ask the question whether God will save a sinner from the worst of sin and the answer must be that no one is beyond the reach of the grace of God in this life. It is therefore important to see that the majestic words of the prophet apply to ourselves, we are those who have seen how great the Lord is in his holy love towards us. It is to rebellious sinful men that the child is given, yet he is also the one who having rescued us from sin becomes our King. the prophet said the government would be upon his shoulders, this one who has come into the darkness to rescue us can do so because he is King of kings and Lord of Lords. It is easy at Christmas time to get taken up with the fact of the human birth of Christ and forget that he too is the creator of the world.

He is the wonderful counsellor the one who can guide us and show his plans so that we might be able to live for his glory, it has been said that this expression could also be translated as wonder-planner.His plans stretch back into eternity past and stretch forward into the eternal future, no wonder he understands what is best for us now.

This child is also Mighty God we need to remember this as we come up to Christmas, this child is different from all others because he is God, however we understand it, it remains a fact the child in the manger is also the ruler of the universe. As mighty God he will accomplish his purposes, even if that involves becoming a man and dying on a cross to save mankind from its sinfulness. The grace of God is shown to be powerful as it delivers people from the bondage of sin.

He is also called, everlasting Father, this does not mean that he is God the Father but rather he shows a fatherly care to his people, another way of looking at this is he is the good Shepherd who cares for his sheep.

He is the Prince of Peace, peace in the Hebrew conception of the word is the place of wholeness and blessing not just the absence of strife. So he will reign eternally as the prince of peace, the one who brings wholeness and healing to broken people.

This passage tells us that Jesus will reign eternally and thus reminds us that we have a living hope for the future. As will celebrate his first coming let us remember that he will come again in glory and then he will complete his work of a new creation. So as we celebrate the coming we do so looking back with thankfulness for what he has done, receiving those blessing for us today, and we look forward with expectation to what he will achieve in the future.

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Worship,Faith and Doubt in the Nativity Story

One of the fascinating aspects of the Nativity story is the important place of worship within it, worship features both in formal settings and in everyday life. It is almost as if the paradigm for worship is given in an overview. The Biblical view of worship covers the whole of life not only the formal meeting of God’s people to worship him. The first two chapters of Luke give us many insights into the life of worship. We find the very humanness of some of its characters very revealing for us today. It is easy to look at the story and at some points be critical and at others envious of the amount of faith possessed by an individual. As we look at a few of these characters we will see that we have something to learn from them all.

Zechariah: Zechariah is a priest serving in the temple of the Lord but like many believers before and since he had his struggles, he felt that God had not answered his prayers as he and his wife had prayed for a child. It seems that that he had given up hope of this prayer being answered. He was one who loved and served the Lord and by his very service as a priest interceded with God for others. The scripture speaks very highly of his character, and we must therefore accept this evaluation. When Gabriel appears to Zechariah, he tells Zechariah that his prayers are now going to be answered, Zechariah just could not believe what he was hearing, how could this possibly happen at this age, surely he and Elizabeth were too old. Gabriel gives him a sign that his prayers will be answered and that sign was that Zechariah would be dumb until John was born. To not be able to communicate what has happened is one of the most frustrating experiences ever. I remember as a small boy being dumb for a time and the tremendous frustration of not being able to speak, this was the frustration that Zechariah was to have, ironically this whole situation speaks both of his belief and his doubt. He was in this situation because he and Elizabeth had prayed in faith for a child but when the answer is given through the Angel Gabriel, Zechariah expresses his doubts. Notice that this all takes place in the Holy of Holies, as Zechariah serves as priest, he is leading the people in worship and praying for them. Surely if we look honestly at this account we can see how we too can have faith and doubt almost at the same time, sometimes we can believe strongly that others will receive from God but doubt that he will bless us in the same way. Notice that when he had gone through all of this he comes out, and he cannot speak to the gathered worshipers. the next time he was to speak would be after his son was born. Then he is fill with the Holy Spirit so that he can prophesy. This story is exciting because it shows that God does not only deal with the people of great faith, but he also honours the prayers of those going through rough times. We can look at this story and realise that the God we worship is still the same as when Zechariah worshiped him, a God of grace and mercy.

Mary: Mary does not appear to have been doing anything spiritual or special, she seems to have been just going around her daily life when Gabriel turns up. Mary show a quiet and gentle faith, but she needs an answer to her question. Her question shows no sign of unbelief, rather she needs to know how this can happen to her. Gabriel gives her the answer that she needs, Mary’s question is utterly reasonable after all virgins do not normally get pregnant whilst still remaining a virgin. Mary hears the answer and knows that she is going to be the mother of the Christ of God. She submits herself entirely to God and his ways. Her song of worship comes out in the context of a talk with her cousin Elizabeth who has discerned the significance of this pregnancy. Mary breaks into song praising God her saviour. It is is in the very context of sharing in family life that worship bubbles up. Mary praises God with her whole heart, we tend to forget that only one or two people heard these words originally. Mart demonstrates that amidst all the ordinariness of life God can be worshipped.

The Shepherds: The shepherds were at work when they had an angelic visitation, They were not expecting anything different to happen on that night, it was just another work day. suddenly they find that that angels have revealed themselves and are telling them the best news they have ever heard about the saviour who just been born in Bethlehem. they hear the news and are wondering what to do about it when the angelic choir appears praising and worshipping God. At this sign they knew that they had to go to Bethlehem and see Jesus. The shepherds saw and believed and spread the news about the Messiah, they just could not contain themselves. Their lives had been changed forever by the grace of God.

At The Temple: when Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus to the temple all they are expecting to do is offer the sacrifice, giving thanks for the arrival of this new life and dedicating him to the Lord. Yet here they were to meet two old saints who enjoyed close fellowship with the Lord and his people. Simeon comes along and seeing this baby recognises the Saviour, and he now knows that God has kept his promise, therefore he can trust the Lord for the outcome and Simeon can die full of faith. Mary and Joseph must have been taken aback by this and then Anna comes along and adds her words of prayer. Anna was someone who spent her whole life worshipping the Lord. She had been a widow for many years, but she had turned her sorrow into a life of worship and prayer.

Right at the centre of the nativity story we see the centrality of worship and how it affected the lives of those who received the promise of God in Christ as we enter this advent season let us also seek to worship the Lord.

Posted in almighty God, Anointing, faith, Faithfulness, filled with the Spirit, God, God's love, grace, Jesus, love | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Theological Journey: From Hyper-Calvinist to Reformed Charismatic.

In the autumn of 1969 I became a Christian, I was raised in a Christian home and attended the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist Chapel. At the time I became a Christian I had been involved in left wing politics for some time, and I was considering stopping going to chapel but one day I was forced to listen to the sermon (I used to take a book to chapel to read but was unable to read it, on this occasion) and as I listened I realised that the preacher had something that I did not have. I began to attend every service I could and before long I was seeking an assurance that I was amongst god’s elect. This was because in the circles I was raised in evangelism was taught to be a denial of the sovereignty of God, we were taught that we needed god to reveal himself to us. Sermons were largely of an experiential nature, and they tended to be very introspective and sobering. The view of God as exalted and sovereign was distorted because of an almost fatalistic view of predestination. Salvation is wholly of God’s grace, and the whole initiative of salvation comes from God facts which I still agree with but this was distorted in such a way that evangelism was not allowed and consequently the invitation to believe was never extended. The preaching of the apostles was not to serve as an example for today’s ministry. The result was an emphasis on experience and the plight of man that lead many into spiritual depression because the marks of election were all thought to be found in spiritual experience. The doctrine of election became a sombre reality and something you wished to know whether you were included in. The way election was preached fostered doubt whereas the biblical teaching about predestination fosters belief, assurance and joy.
Soon after my baptism a few of the other young people at the chapel questioned me about how I could accept the articles of faith,surrounding evangelism and the free offer of the gospel. I began to think more deeply and the more I thought the more uncomfortable I became with what I had been taught. At the same time I began to read non-strict baptist authors like C.H.Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, J I Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John stott and Francis Schaeffer. As I became acquainted with a more Biblical Reformed position I began to see the problems with what I had believed. I began to realise that a lot of what I had accepted was based on spiritual experience and not the word of God.

In 1974 I left the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists and went to be a helper at the English branch of L’abri in Greatham, Hants., here I was able to get my theology and worldview clarified. But it was also here that my very negative view of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement was to be challenged. I had developed a fear of experience in spirituality in case I was mislead again. This made me very harsh in my criticisms of Pentecostals and charismatics, this was challenged by one of the staff workers, who challenged me to be gain more knowledge of what these movements were really saying. This person himself was opposed to charismatic teaching but felt I went too far. I remember that on my next day off, I caught the train into Guildford and went to the Christian bookshop to purchase some books by Pentecostal/Charismatic authors. When I started to read these books the first thing that struck me was how orthodox in their theology they were. I still did not know how to handle their teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the use of the gifts of the Spirit for today.
In 1975 I moved to France to help lead the work of French L’Abri, here I was to encounter an Australian lady who was a very good thinker she told me that if the intellectual concepts that I believed were coupled with the empowering of the Holy Spirit and the use of spiritual gifts the church would be enriched. I could not comprehend at the time what she was saying. but I continued to think about these things. Then on one of my vacations I went to spend a couple of days with a Christian Philosopher friend and his Christian artist wife, while I was there they had a homegroup from their church meet in their home. it was at this homegroup meeting that I first encountered the gift of tongues. This gave me a lot to think about because in every other setting I had been able to question how intellectually able people were but here I was in a situation where I found that those leading this group had taught me so much over a period of years. soon after this one of my colleagues at Swiss L’Abri mentioned to me that he had been reading a book by Michael Green called “I believe in the Holy Spirit” he asked me to read it because it challenged our understanding of spiritual gifts for today. as I read this book I began to realise that my cessationist theology had been wrong. Now I began to move gently towards a more charismatic position. What I need to emphasise at his point is that I was checking out everything against the word of God. The more I looked at scripture i realised that my cessationism was very similar to my hyper- Calvinism both rejected the current working of God in the same way today as he had worked in New testament days, and both theologies had imported categories that were foreign to the scriptures. This made me begin to think through very carefully my theological position.
In 1980 I started studying at London Bible College (London School of Theology) and became the student pastor of Stanmore Baptist Church, both college and the church forced me to think more deeply about the issues of the gifts of the Spirit. Both at church and college we had people ranging from strongly non-charismatic to those who were quite extreme in their charismatic ideas. This forced me more and more into seeing what the Bible has to say. It was not long before I realised that my former cessationist views had been based on a false interpretation of Scrip[ture. I now moved to an acceptance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit because of the authority of the Word of God in Scripture. Since then I have tried to articulate a theology of Word and Spirit. Both as a Pastor and an elder I have firmly stood on the word of God in regard to the work of the Holy Spirit.
I have wrestled with a number of theological issues but have never been satisfied with anything less than a biblically based Reformed Theology and worldview, which does justice to the teaching of the whole of scripture. I have ben tempted by some Arminian theologies, but I always come back to the fact that God is Sovereign over all things. When I studied for my masters degree at Nazarene Theological College I wrote my dissertation on the development of the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the title of which is “from Purity to Power”   that is also online on my blog.
Currently I am working on several issues concerning the development of a theology of word and Spirit. Although Francis Schaeffer would not have agreed with all that I have said in this short essay, one of his book titles sums it all up for me, He(God) is there, and He is not silent.

Posted in Charismatic, Church, evangelism, filled with the Spirit, J I Packer, Jonathan Edwards, Nazarene Theological College, Reformed Charismatic, Reformed Theology, sovereignty of God, worldview, worship | 1 Comment