The Message of Liberation and Restoration: some thoughts from Isaiah 61

Isaiah the prophet declared many great things and was used of God to communicate so much of the gospel message to us. Isaiah 61 is particularly significant as Jesus declared that these words had been fulfilled in him. It is important to see that this message covers a very broad theme of liberation from bondage. The passage reminds us of the year of Jubilee and thus the restoration of people to their land and freedom from slavery. We tend to rush to the spiritual implications and they certainly are present but the Prophet is talking not only spiritually but physically. He is talking about the captives taken into exile and those who are in debt to man. He knows that an oppressed nation needs to hear the good news of Yahweh’s salvation, a salvation that has implications for society and not only the individual. We tend in our individualistic culture to ignore the Bible’s call to justice and the implications of Scripture for society. It ios for that reason that we need to be active in helping people in our communities to real freedom.

Yet the temptation can be to go to the other extreme and ignore the spiritual implications of this message. We must not do this because it is the spiritual state of human beings that is fundamental to their being. Bondage to sin is the cause of all the injustice in the world and therefore dealing with sin leads to liberation in other areas. With these introductory comments in mind I want to look at the words of Isaiah.

 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

We see here that good news is to be proclaimed to the poor and I believe that Isaiah was speaking here of the people who were impoverished by their society as well as those who know their spiritual poverty. The proclamation of the year of Jubilee would have meant the restoration of the family heritage, a cancelling of debt and thus a freedom to live a more fulfilling life. Now obviously we can also see the spiritual implications of this passage as well and we need to be constantly reminded of our spiritual poverty outside of Christ. We need to remember that salvation is purely an act of God’s grace and we see the spiritual and psychological implications spelt out as the prophet speaks of binding up the broken hearted and comforting those who mourn. The Spirit of God is the one who can bring healing into the deepest parts of our being.  He knows how to heal the scars of disappointment, frustration, worry and a multitude of other things that afflict our spirit. It is God’s will to give us a garment of praise and to do this he needs to heal all the hurt and guilt of sin. God works at a very deep level in our being to bring about this healing. We are told that God will give us a garment of praise to replace the spirit of despair. But not only that God will transform us from being weak to being oaks of righteousness, incredible transformation is promised here. The believer who was scarred and ruined by sin is turned into an oak that displays the splendour of God.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours. (Isaiah 61:4-7)

These words expand on the promises given above, God’s people will be empowered to serve him and to see His kingdom be established. The theme also occurs that disgrace will be removed from them and they will rejoice in their inheritance, for the ancient Israelite that was the land but for us it is our inheritance in Christ. But notice how God lavishes his grace on his people, God is not mean and stingy, he is generous and loving.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:8-9)

Notice how the prophet reminds God’s people that God loves justice, and his children we also should pursue justice. We are reminded of this in the negative statement that God hates robbery and injustice. There is no way that we can spiritualize this statement away, God is concerned about the state of our society and wants to see justice upheld in every way.

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11)

When we know that God has richly poured out his grace upon us, we will want to praise him. We will rejoice in our God and his greatness. We will want to give him all the glory for our salvation. This does not mean that we disappear from the sene and God only sees Jesus, notice that the robes of righteousness beautify the recipient, just as bride-groom or a bride are beautified on their wedding day. So often when people speak of the robe of righteousness they say  that God only sees Jesus and not us. This is not true this passage shows that we are clothed in his righteousness so that we are transformed to become beautiful in God’s sight.

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The Christian Mind and growing in our faith

For many Christians the mind is not something they really think about because the emphasis is on the spiritual  and the experiential. There seems to be a fear of using the mind, this probably comes from seeing a dead orthodoxy that says all the right things but has no life to it. Some impose such a system on Christians that you would think that we all need theological degrees to get into heaven!! The fact that some abuse the mind should not cause us to avoid thinking and using our mind in submission to God. For the Apostle Paul there was no dichotomy between spirituality and deep thinking rather the two go hand in hand. Romans 12 shows this very clearly,

12 Therefore I exhort you, brothers, through the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may approve what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God.

. The Lexham English Bible (Rom 12:1–2).

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The New International Version. (2011). (Rom 12:1–2)

Here we see that true worship is reasonable it is connected to the reality of who God is, this leads to the renewal of the mind as it is submitted to God. True worship includes the use of the mind it stimulates to think about who our God is, the wonder of his grace and the wisdom of his commands. True worship transforms our thinking about the world, God and ourselves. As we allow our minds to be transformed by God’s word, we will humbled by the glory and grace of God. Godly thinking has no place for pride because it sees the sinful state of mankind and the holiness of God. Godly thinking knows that salvation is all of grace,and wants to glorify the giver of that grace. The Bible gives us so much to think about if we spent more time thinking God’s thoughts after him our lives would be transformed. This passage reminds us that as we allow our minds to be transformed we will be able to know what god’s will is for us. So often in the matter of guidance we want God to give us a sign so we don’t have to think things through. Sometimes he gives us a sign to make us think things through. God wants us to use our minds not switch them off.

We need to see that as we allow our minds to be transformed by God, this will cause us to grow in our faith. This is the path to knowing more about the Lord and his will for us. We need to understand more clearly what Christ did when gave himself for us, but this comes through carefully studying the word of God. We say, at times that we want to be led by the Holy Spirit, if this is true why do we not seek to understand the book he inspired?  And to see that this book is able to equip us to lead a godly life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So often we do not grow in our faith because we will not use our minds, this leads to superficiality and immaturity. I know people who have been Christians for many years and yet have not progressed beyond the basics.There does seem to be a fear of using the mind, because people don’t want the subject matter to get too heavy. This is used to dismiss any discussion that goes a little more deeply into God’s word. I believe that this fear of going more deeply into God’s word causes many Christians to be malnourished in their faith. What we need are people that will disciple others to lead them into the riches of God’s word so that they will grow in their faith.

The Word of God is the means to seeing that our minds get transformed and there are so many wonderful tools available to us, that enable us to dig more deeply into it.

Will you allow your mind to be transformed and to use it for the glory of God?

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Praying for peace in a warring world.

We have been reminded in many ways during the past year of the tragedy of war. We have seen pictures of the poppies at the Tower of London reminding us in a vivid way of the loss of life. Sometimes war even seems to be made less appalling than it really is. War must at all times be seen as a result of the fall into sin and therefore as an evil. I know some wars may have been just wars, but that does not take away from the fact that war itself is evil. War if at all justified must be seen as a necessary evil. As Christians we are called to pray for those in authority over us, The Apostle Paul make this very clear when he says,

2:1  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. (1 Ti 2:1–6).

Notice this is not a nationalistic prayer, there is no place in our praying for a narrow focus on our own nation but rather we are called to pray for all people. Too often we pray as if our nation is the most important one not only to ourselves but to God. This idea subtly betrays itself in comments like “so you have come to visit God’s own country have you?” I know this is a friendly teasing comment but all the same it portrays God as having a favourite country, he does not.

What is interesting is that we are called to pray that we might lead peaceful and holy lives, it is quite obvious from the context that the gospel will spread when there is peace. Most importantly because Christ is the saviour of the world we are to seek the good of all. This means that we are kingdom people before we are citizens of whatever country we live in. If we have to make a choice between kingdom priorities, we must always choose the kingdom of God over that of earthly kingdoms.  The mission of the Church is to reach the world with the message of the gospel therefore we should pray for peace.  It is because of this that we should pray for those in authority over us.  We need to remember that as we pray for these people we need to watch our own heart attitude because it is very easy to take our own political preferences into our prayer lives. Indeeed we must watch that we do not pray from a position of holding a person in contempt, however much we disagree with someone, that person is made in the image of God.

As we pray for peace lets not forget that to the biblical writers the concept of peace i not only the abscence of conflict but rather the presence of blessing and wholeness. So let us pray for our leaders that might be given God’s wisdom and that they might know the grace of God in a real way in their own lives.

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Salvation,Revelation and Life in the Spirit: some thoughts from Ephesians

The Apostle Paul in writing his letter to the Ephesians shows that salvation is an act of God’s amazing grace, firstly he looks at the the plan of salvation, he then turns to prayer. Paul’s prayers tell us a great deal about what he wanted for Christian people. I want first of all to look at the prayer in chapter 1.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.  (Eph 1:17–2:1).

Firstly Paul prays that the believers might be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation. He wants these believers, and indeed all Christians to be open to the Holy Spirit, so that he might open their spiritual eyes. It is so important that we realise that is meant for all Christians. Look at the way he describes the power that is given to us it is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. He describes the Church here as the body of Christ, the people of God not isolated individuals. He describes something of the greatness of Christ as the one who fills everything in every way.

In Chapter2 he outlines for us the wonder of our salvation,

2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Eph 2:1–11).

In this passage we see what we are delivered from and the richness of God’s grace toward us. He stresses that salvation is a gift of God but he also teaches that salvation is meant to transform lives. We are called to do good woks for the glory of God and out of gratitude for his grace. But even here we see that he has prepared these things for us. Thank God that he provides all that we need to live the life that is pleasing to him.

In chapters 3 and 4 he shows more of the richness of God’s grace and he calls us to be united in Christ and once again he prays one of his amazing prayers.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:14–4:1).

Once again we see the desires of the Apostle being expressed as he prays for the Church, which is God’s family. He wants believers to be rooted and established in love so that we might have power with all the saints. Notice here his emphasis that the power is given to the Church so that they might understand the richness of salvation. He tries to describe the power of God for his people. He then goes on in Chapter 4 to describe the Spirit filled life. He calls us to live a life worthy of our Lord, a life of unity in the church and because of that an openness to the gifting of God.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Eph 4:30–5:2)

Paul shows in many practical ways how the Christian should live the Spirit filled life but let me stress once again how he applies that to our church life. We are to be people who forgive and do not harbour resentment in our hearts. We are called to walk in the way of love. In Chapter 5 he continues his description of the Christian life.

17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ(Eph 5:17–21)

His call for us to be filled with the Spirit is followed by practical guidance about marriage and family life. Sometimes we divorce the two but Paul never does, he stresses over and over again the need to see the relationship between them. In chapter 6 he continues this theme but applies it to spiritual warfare as well.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Eph 6:10–18).

We are called here to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power and he shows us how to do this by putting on the spiritual armour prayerfully.

This last passage remind us once again that we are saved to serve and in that service we need God’s power and prptection. We need to use each part of the armour wisely. Paul ends this letter in the same way he started by reminding them of God’s grace,

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (Eph 6:24).

Paul has emphasised throughout this letter that God’s grace is one that transforms the believer and leads them into a life of receiving God’s revelation as they pursue their calling. And throughout he is aware of the spiritual war that is going on. As we live this life may we reflect the glory of the risen Christ to a needy world.

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The Gifts of the Holy Spirit: The call for unity and love

Every time the Apostle Paul gives any extended teaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit he also teaches about love and preserving unity in the fellowship. We can see this in extended teaching in 1Corinthians 12-14, as well as in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. Paul is passionate about the fact that gifts are given to build up the body of Christ, they are not a matter of pride but rather they call for humility and love. As we are open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit we will find ourselves tempted to be proud of our gift but we must acknowledge that a gift in no way makes us superior to others. The emphasis in the New Testament is on the fact that any gift that we have received is a gift of God’s grace. Gits are given to show how gracious God is not how good we are. Even the gifts that some look at as superior  such as the apostle,prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are given to equip the body not to inflate the ego of those who are gifted. let look at some of the passages that I have mentioned, starting with Ephesians 4.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:1–16).

We often concentrate on the gifts,but the apostle Paul is looking here at the importance of unity in the body of Christ. Paul shows that every gift is given so that God’s people will be equipped to serve him, they will show at the same time their love to each other. TheChurch will not grow all the time there is disunity and a lack of seeking the gifts that God wants to use in his church. notice that the ministry gifts are given to equip people to serve the Lord, the ministry gifts are not given so that someone else does all the work but rather to equip God’s people to grow. Paul therefore starts the chapter with calling us to have the right attitude to one another. We are to be humble, loving people who realise that God’s church is united in Christ, but we are a diverse bunch of people who show forth the grace of God. Anyone reading this letter will know how important prayer is for Paul. Chapter 3 closes with one of his prayers and this shows us once again that we need to lead a life of dependence upon God, realising that we need God to empower us by His Holy Spirit. Talking about love, humility and patience reminds us that we are meant to be bearing the fruit of the Spirit as well as using the gifts of the Spirit. Romans 12 illustrates this clearly to us.

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Rom 12)

Notice the sequence of this chapter first of all we are called to be living sacrifices dedicated to God, we are then called to use our gifts for the benefit of the church.

Paul then moves into a section teaching about the importance of love and not only are we to love one another, but we are to love our enemies as well. This links in with the teaching Paul gives when he is writing to the Church at Corinth. We often read 1Corinthians 13 out of context as a wonderful description of love (which it is) but fail to connect it to chapter 12 and 14.  We need to see that in the context it functions to show us how our gifts should be used. We need to read this chapter carefully and prayerfully.

The purpose of the gifts is to see that the church of Christ is built up, to show forth the unity of the body. And also to exhibit before a watching world the glory of the grace that is given to us through Jesus Christ.

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When theSpirit comes, so does the opposition

So often when we see God working powerfully we expect everything to go well. Although we would not adhere to the prosperity gospel we expect to find blessing and constant victory and we shout and scream when it does not work out well. Yet the Biblical record and Church History show us that w God works in a special manner opposition arrives. We wonder why things go wrong just as are about to do something we are sure that the Lord has called us to. Sometimes we speak of spiritual warfare but very often we forget how mundane spiritual warfare is, Satan will use anything to distract us from God’s purposes. We see this pattern constantly in the Gospels and the book of Acts, when Jesus performed aa miracle, there was always opposition. Jesus was forever being found fault with, it was not plain sailing for him and as we follow him it will not be for us.  This is why in the letters we find so much teaching about trials, troubles , persecution and the need to persevere. We need to remember that the letters were written to help people going through difficult times, each of the letters shows that the church was under pressure in varied ways. Books as different as Galatians and Hebrews were written to keep God’s people being gospel people. The pressure on the early believers to conform to their culture was immense. Family pressure would have been a great problem for many believers both from Jewish and Pagan backgrounds, the pressure to just compromise a little was always there. But the same things that motivated them to keep on keeping on can motivate us too.

They were motivated by the truth of the Gospel, they knew that Jesus had won the ultimate victory on the cross which had been proven by the resurrection. They also knew the presence of the risen Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. They not only knew about God they knew him in a dynamic way. We believe that same gospel, we know the same Lord and the Spirit indwells us. When we see the pattern of the scripture we will realise that although opposition is to be expected, we serve the Lord of heaven and earth who will gain the ultimate victory. We sometimes think that because we are opposed we must have done something wrong but the Word of God tells us time and time again, that opposition comes when we have done something right.

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Celebrating the faithfulness of God the creator.

So often when we speak of God’s faithfulness we speak in terms of salvation and spirituality but our God is the one who created all things and sustains all things by his word of power. We need at times to stop and wonder at the diversity and artistic design of our creator.  When we look at the sea, rivers,hills, mountains, animals and birds do we not see much to praise God for. Then when we contemplate the individuality of each human being we see again the richness of God’s creative nature. It is interesting that that in OT te people of Israel were commanded to celebrate the harvest and they were to do it at the beginning of harvest and at its conclusion, these commands remind us that God cares about the world he has created but also that he wants us to enjoy the world. Sometimes because we concentrate on our salvation we forget that our Saviour is also our creator.

Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

13 Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you. (Dt 16:9–18).

This passage from Deuteronomy gives us a glimpse of what god wants from us, he wants us to rejoice in his presence celebrating his goodness. No one is to be left out of this celebration and we know that the harvest laws provided for the poor and the needy as well as for the landowner. It is something of this that we need to regain, because we need to realise that our creator God is the sovereign Lord over all things and he should be honoured and worshiped because he is such a great God.

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Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament: some thoughts

Marriage is seen as a lifelong commitment throughout the Bible and divorce is seen as a sinful necessity in some situations. Modern divorce laws and indeed the attitude to divorce in our culture are alien to Biblical thinking. It is at this point that we have to wrestle with many difficult situations in a spirit of love. We must never compromise the biblical standard but on the other hand we cannot erect a wall around ourselves that would prevent us loving the sinner. We find ourselves facing many difficult situations pastorally and we need to respond in grace and love. One added problem is that at times it is difficult to understand the full implications of what is written in Scripture. Biblical Scholars differ among themselves on this issue and we cannot claim that we are sure that we 100% right.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”(Mt 19:3–12).

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mk 10:2–12). .

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Lk 16:18).

In these gospel accounts Jesus in Matthews gospel alone speaks of a reason for divorce and this is given in the context of the call to faithfulness, the one flesh relationship is meant to be lifelong. Mark and Luke do not speak of the reason for divorce but rather spell out the consequence of divorce and remarriage is seen as committing adultery.

The teaching of Jesus should make us reluctant to accept easy divorce and indeed we should be promoting the biblical view of marriage as a covenant of love. Pastors often wrestle with the issue of whether they should remarry divorced people and there are complex questions that need to be answered. Some believe that it is better for those repenting of past failures to marry and try to live out by God’s grace faithfulness in marriage. Other people feel in good conscience that they cannot support any remarriage under any circumstance.

There are pastoral issues like spousal abuse which call into question whether the marriage vows are being kept, in these situations restoration of the marriage relationship should be the priority, but at times that proves impossible and I would personally lean in favour of divorce in these circumstances. The problem comes when considering remarriage because we do not want to disobey the Lord and I find myself unable at this time to provide a coherent answer to the question.

The Apostle Paul also speaks to the problem of divorce in 1 Corinthians 7.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.(1 Co 7:10–17).

Paul again makes divorce a hard option but he allows that a person who has been married to an unbeliever will be free if the unbeliever divorces the believer. In the missionary situation sometimes one partner would become a Christian and the other reject the faith, even in that situation the believer is called to maintain the marriage if at all possible, but if it the unbeliever leaves the believer is free. I take this to mean that the believer is free to remarry, but believers should only marry other believers which can be seen from the clear teaching on this throughout the Bible.

This summarises the difficult problem that faces us when considering marriage and divorce, Jesus calls us to faithfulness in marriage, to uphold his high standards but there are situations when marriage is destroyed by one party committing adultery, in this case divorce is permitted. Divorced people who are divorced by an unbeliever because of their faith are also permitted to remarry. But the majority of divorced people in our culture do not fill either of these requirements and this leaves us with some knotty problems that at present I don’t know the answer to.


Posted in Discipleship, divorce, God's love, grace, moral decline, Pastor | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Discipleship:Following the Lord Wherever he leads

When we talk of discipleship we often think of discipleship courses and gaining knowledge and although that is important that is not the heart of discipleship, a disciple is a follower of the Lord. When we start to look at this way we realise that we are talking about a personal relationship with the living God, this means that we are not talking about abstract ideas but living in the real world in the presence of God. Here I believe is the link between a living relationship with the Lord and knowledge about him, when we enter any relationship we want to get to know that person better and this should apply to our relationship with the Lord. The early believers in the book of Acts were people who were committed to the Lord in every way possible, listen to how Luke describes that in Acts 2;42ff,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The disciples showed their commitment by devoting themselves to 4 key marks of a disciple, 1st The Apostles teaching,2nd The Fellowship,3rd the breaking of bread and 4th prayer. Very often we think of discipleship in terms of just the first being devoted to the apostles teaching, this indeed is important but the teaching is not just about abstract things but rather lays the foundation and the direction of the Christian life. It is vital that we see the wonder of salvation by grace alone, but knowing about it is useless without a relationship to the living God. We need to know more about the God we worship so that we might honour him and enter more fully into all that he for us. We need to be passionate about truth not just as a system of thought but by pursuing truth we can serve God better. The authority of the Scriptures must never be displaced and we must submit our lives to its teaching. This is where the second point comes in discipleship is never solitary but rather takes place within the fellowship of the people of God, we need our fellow believers to stimulate us as we follow the Lord. We can learn so much from Christians who have more experience of the Christian life than we do. When I was a young Christian an elderly couple invited me to their home most Sunday evenings, we shared about our life experiences, we read the word of God and we prayed together. I am sure that those two lovely Christian people helped me to grow in my knowledge of God. As long as we live we need the fellowship of others to encourage us and at times to correct us.

The Disciples were also devoted to the breaking of bread, in the communion service we realise the presence of the risen Christ as he applies to us his finished work, we set before us the bread and wine, these elements remind us of the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation and godliness. We need to remember that Christ is at the centre, we follow him and we belong to his body the Church. It is in the context of the church that our lives are lived out when we put Christ at the centre.

The 4th thing they were devoted to was prayer, this is absolutely vital as this is the way we manifest our dependence upon God. The Lord’s prayer is a pattern of prayer that honours God and seeks first his kingdom. Without prayer discipleship is a farce, an outward show that has not the reality of godliness within. But a life that depends upon God and seeks his face in prayer will be a life that is transformed from one degree of glory to another.

So then when we think of discipleship we must think in terms of following Christ being in fellowship with him and his people and by our prayerful dependence upon him we will grow more and more into the image of Christ.


Posted in body of Christ, Church, Discipleship, faith, God, grace, holiness, Holy communion, Jesus Christ, love, the body of Christ., Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Honouring God in our Worship

I believe most Christians would affirm that worship should be God centred but in practice we often evaluate our worship time by how much we enjoyed it. subtly self creeps to the centre. We know that this is not how it should be but somehow we find ourselves asking the question “was the worship time a blessing to me?”. The central question in our worship time should be “do I honour and glorify God?” It is interesting how this can affect our worship, many years ago I was at a conference designed to bring evangelicals from different backgrounds together, when the worship started it was obvious that we were divided. The Chairman of the conference had the wisdom to stop the worship and remind us that we were worshipping the Lord and he asked us to allow one another to worship our God in the style that we felt comfortable with. When the worship leader resumed leading it was as if a burden had been lifted from our shoulders, as we concentrated on the Lord we were able to allow others the freedom to express their worship in different manners. all the time we were concentrating on ourselves we were divided. When we all concentrated on the Lord we had a great freedom in worship which established a spirit of unity.

It is strange how we allow ourselves to be moved from honouring God to wanting something for ourselves. Now I don’t want to appear to be saying that we will never receive anything but rather that our concentration should be on honouring our God. Indeed I believe that we will find that as we worship God giving him the glory and honour due his holy name we will taste real joy and know great blessing. Indeed if we were to follow thje pattern of the Lord’s prayer we will be putting God first and this will naturally lead us to ask him for things that are in accordance with his will. The Lord’s prayer honours God in every clause and gives us a model as to how we can honour God, this prayer gives us an example of how to pray and God is honoured  explicitly at the beginning, but he is also honoured when we confess our dependence upon for our daily needs.

When we realise the greatness of our God, we will have great joy as we worship him, our Puritan forefathers got it right when they said “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”, when we glorify God and see the wonder of who he is, we will enjoy his presence.

Worship is also to recognise the glory of the Triune God, We come to the Father through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must come to worship knowing that we can only worship the Father as we realise his grace to us in Christ Jesus and to be able to do that we need the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of worship is our God, it is not about styles of worship as such but rather honouring our great and glorious God with our whole being.

Posted in almighty God, Charismatic, Church, faith, Faithfulness, filled with the Spirit, God, grace, Greatness of god, Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, praise, THE CHURCH, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment