The Surprising Words and Actions of Jesus:Some thoughts from Mark 7


We can get too used to the gospel stories and thereby loose their radical teaching, in Mark 7 we have several accounts which we are so used to that we miss the point. We have to remember that the world of Jesus time was very different than our own. The jews since the return from the exile had been determined to maintain their national and religious purity. To be a good Jew you had to follow the law but they had tended to codify the law so that it became a restricting and legal framework.  This was far from the original purpose of the law which was  a charter for the life of God’s people, The Psalmist in Psalm 119 shows what a true attitude to the law should be but the Pharisees had built structures around the law to make sure they got it right. Jesus saw that at the heart of keeping the law was  the love of God and neighbour, and that is why he reacts to the legalism of his day. it is very easy to criticize the Pharisees, yet at the same time we erect legalistic walls ourselves. Jesus did not invalidate the law but fulfilled its real intentions by His true love of God and neighbour.

The first section of Mark 7 Illustrates how different Jesus the attitude of Jesus is compared to the expected standards of his day.

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c] your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [16] [f]

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Jesus confronts here the emphasis on certain actions rather than the internal state of the person. It is the attitudes of the person and their thinking which ultimately drive them. They maybe able to cover up a multitude of sins by their outward behaviour but inwardly they are morally bankrupt. Jesus  addresses the need to deal with evil thoughts because it is these that defile a person more than eating with unwashed hands. Seeing Jesus list of things that come from within is sobering. If we look within what do we see? and when we look at the world around us, we see many of these attitudes and thought patterns justified or even stimulated by our culture. When we realise the attitudes of our own hearts, and we see others struggling we will extend a gracious helping hand. Jesus was perfect and yet he met people in their own state of need and brought the grace of God into many situations. This is illustrated clearly in the next section.

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

At first glance Jesus seems to push this lady away, but he is testing her faith when he uses this statement about “dogs” in ironic way. The lady picks up the challenge as she appeals to the way a household pet dog would be treated. She does not attempt to contradict Jesus but rather she puts herself in the place of a pet dog receiving food from her masters table.Jesus on seeing the response of her faith grants her desire to see her child freed from demonization. She returns home to find her child completely delivered. But Jesus demonstrates his love and grace in another rather strange story.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[h] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Notice that Jesus uses different methods to bring about his healing, he does not use one technique and indeed I can’t imagine a modern ministry team using this methodology. The whole procedure is strange and yet for some reason Jesus knows this is the way to bring healing to this man. He certainly transformed this mans life by his actions. To have hearing and speech restored is not a small matter and would have led to a very different life for this poor man.

Jesus shows in this chapter that observance of the law is not to be reduced to a legalistic performance but rather he demonstrates the real fulfilling of the law is in loving God and loving one’s neighbour.

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Holy Communion Service based on John 6.


Bible Reading John 6:32-59.

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank you that you sent Jesus to be the true bread of life, We praise you for the greatness of your love for those who deserved your judgement but instead of judgement you lavished your grace upon us.

Lord Jesus we thank you for your willingness to come into this world as our Lord and Saviour. We can not grasp what you went through for us in your life and death but wat we know you to be the true bread of life. Help us to live for your glory.

Holy Spirit we thank you for opening our eyes to our need of a Saviour and drawing us to Him. We pray that as we come to this table you would reveal more of the wonder of what has been done for us.

We pray in the victorious and glorious name of our Lord Jesus Christ

As we come to this Sacred Table, we come as those who hunger for the true bread of life. We come to commune with our Saviour. Jesus the bread of life has called us out of darkness into his light and welcomes his children to this table.

Consider 3 things.

1 We have tasted the bread of life and Jesus is our Saviour, we look back to his life and death and know that he has achieved salvation for us. When He cried out  “it is Finished” upon the cross, we know that our salvation was guaranteed.

2 We need to daily eat of the bread of life, and this table shows to us that our Lord is willing to give us all the blessings of his salvation, he says to us “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” We are reminded here that our Saviour is always with us.

3. The One who is the bread of life will raise us up on the last day, he will then receive us to himself and we will dwell in his presence for ever.

Prayer:

Almighty and gracious God we thank you that we can come to this table knowing that our sins have been forgiven through the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you for the new Life that you have given us and we pray that we may grow in grace and our love for you our God.

We pray that our fellowship with one another will be deepened in the days to come, so that you may be glorified in our lives.

We lift this lost,suffering and sinful world to you and pray that our victorious Lord Jesus would gather a multitude that no man can number to be partakers of the bread of life.

Amen

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Systematic Theology: A Select Bibliography


This bibliography only contains some of the texts that I have in my personal library, but all of these volumes have stimulated my thinking. They also represent various theological streams of thought, I have found it helpful to read widely and thus to be enriched by traditions  other than my own. Some of the volumes I will make comments about, others I will not this should not be interpreted as a statement that I prefer the ones I comment on.

Introductory Texts

Stanley J Grenz. Created for Community (Baker , Grand Rapids 1998) Links doctrine to the Christian life and therefore makes an excellent discipleship resource.

Alister McGrath. Christian Theology, An Introduction (Blackwell, Oxford 1994)

Bruce Milne. Know the Truth (IVP, Nottingham 1998)

Guides and Handbook

Colin E Gunton (editor) The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1997)

Timothy Larsen and Daniel J Treier ( editors) The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology ( Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007)

John Webster,Kathryn Tanner and Iain Torrance (editors) The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007)

One Volume Systematic Theology .

Michael F Bird  Evangelical Theology (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2013) A gospel shaped theology.

H Ray Dunning Grace,Faith and Holiness  (Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, 1988 ) A Theological statement from one of the leading Nazarene theologians

Thomas N Finger, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology ( IVP, Downers Grove 2004)

Stanley J Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Broadman and Holman, 1994) Because of the Trinitarian Shape of his theology, he helpfully locates the doctrine of Scripture in the section dealing with the work of the Holy Spirit.

Larry Hart, Truth Aflame,Theology for the Church in Renewal. (Zondrvan, Grand Rapids,2005)

Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology ( Zondervan , Grand Rapids 2011) A clear exposition of Reformed Theology

Frank D Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit ( Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2006) A Systematic Theology from a Pentecostal perspective.

Daniel L Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding ( Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1991)

Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity. ( T and T clark, Edinburgh 2001) This brief Systematic theology is well worth reading.

J.Rodman Williams, Renewal  Theology; Systematic Theology from a Charismatic perspective. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1996)

Multi-volume Systematic Theology

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics  (Baker Academic Grand Rapids) These 4 volumes show a depth of knowledge and a deep love of God, I highly recommend the careful study of these volumes.

Donald Bloesch, Christian Foundations (Paternoster Press, Carlisle) These 7 volumes are full of insights, I gained a lot from reading these volumes as they were published.

John M Frame. A Theology of Lordship. (Presbyterian and Reformed, Phillipsburg) 4 volumes of mind stretching theology, The volume on the Christian Life is especially helpful.

Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology. (Oxford University Press, Oxford) Two volumes from a Lutheran and ecumenical perspective.

James Wm McClendon, Systematic Theolgy. (Abingdon Press, Nashville) 3 volumes from a baptistic perspective.

Thomas C Oden, Systematic Theology (Prince Press, Peabody) £ volumes of Theology that draw heavily on the Church Fathers, These volumes gave me a desire to read more of the church fathers.

Related Volumes.

G.C Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics, this series of book tackles various doctrines in a helpful way.

Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking (SPCK,London 1995)

Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1993)

Kevin J Vanhoozer, First Theology (IVP, Downers Grove 2002)

Thomas F Torrance,The Christian Doctrine of God ((Tand T Clark, Edinburgh 1996) not an easy read but well worth the effort also see his book on The Incarnation and on the Atonement

John Webster, Word and Church (Tand T Clark 2001) anything by Webster is worth reading.

The best way to keep up to date in Systematic Theology is to subscribe to the International Journal of Systematic Theology.

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Have we forgotten the real Spirit of Christmas


As we listen to the Christmas story the major players that we fix our attention on are Jesus,Mary,Joseph, the shepherds, the angels and the wise men. We make mention of the fact that Jesus is the Father’s gift to humanity and this is so true. We need to rejoice in this great story but as I re-read the Christmas story in Lukes gospel I notice that he mentions the Holy Spirit quite a bit but he is largely absent from our reflections on that same story. When did you last hear someone speak on the Holy Spirit’s role in the events surrounding Christmas?
Firstly let us take a look at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke chapter 1.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:8–20).

Here we see that John the Baptist was to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth and the instructions given to Zechariah are based upon this fact. John’s ministry is one that will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and because of this his parents were responsible to raise him in a certain way. John is never to be served alcoholic beverages but rather he is to be kept sober so that he is a clean vessel for God to use. John’s powerful ministry depends upon the fact that he is filled with Spirit. Without the presence of the Spirit of God John could not achieve what God had called him to. So it is vital for his parents to have this information right from the beginning. So even in the prophecy about the forerunner for Jesus we find an emphasis upon the Holy Spirit.

As the narrative continues we find more references to the work of the Holy Spirit, including the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the conception of Jesus, Luke says

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26–39).

Mary is astonished at the news that the angel declares to her, but she cannot understand how this is all to come about, it is in this context that she is told “The Holy Spirit will on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” These words to Mary reassure her and she is willing to a vessel for God’s glory. I do not pretend to understand how this all worked out in practice, but all we need to know is that the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb took place by the Power of the Holy Spirit.
here we see the Holy Spirit working to bring about the incarnation of the Eternal Son of God. It is therefore important that we see the role of the Holy Spirit at this point of salvation history.

But the narrative continues to show the Holy Spirits role, when Elizabeth and Mary meet, we see a truly charismatic event taking place.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”  (Luke 1:39–55).

It is important for us to notice that the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth when her son leapt in her womb, it seems that at even at this stage of the pregnancy that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit, it is his reaction that seems to be trigger for Elizabeth to be filled with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit reveals to Elizabeth something of the nature of the unborn Lord Jesus. Elizabeth acknowledges the lordship of Jesus even before he is born, this comes about because of the fact that the Holy Spirit is revealing the truth to her. Mary responds to this in a way that shows her own deep spirituality and in the Magnificat she reveals how much the Holy Spirit has shown to her.
We must for a moment return to John the baptist and his birth and naming because once again we see the Holy Spirit is at work.

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit;and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. (Lk 1:57–79).

This account is full of the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the Holy Spirit who brings about healing and we can see evidence of the fact of his presence in the fact that Zechariah starts to praise God, it is only after this that we are told that he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Zechariah then gives this amazing prophecy. He is enabled to see something of the significance of his son’s ministry as that which would prepare the way for the Lord.
We need to see also how the Holy Spirt was present at the time Mary and Joseph presented him at the temple.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
(Luke 2:25–38).

Here we find firstly the account of Simeon, Luke emphasises to us the presence of the Holy Spirit in Simeons life, here is someone who is looking for the salvation of Israel in a way that depends upon god. The Holy Sprit is clearly the one who guides Simeon and it is because of this guidance that he enters the temple, and when he speaks his words are amazing, he can see that this little baby is the Saviour of the world because of this he can now die in peace. Simeon saw into the future and prophesies to Mary about her child and sees that Mary would be facing a great trial, that can only be described as her soul being pierced by a sword. Mary was to live out this prediction over 30 years later as she stood at the Cross of her son. After this Anna a worshipper of God comes up and she too gives thanks and speaks of the child to those who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Although the text does not explicitly say she was filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke shows by the fact that she was a true worshipper, a person of prayer and a witness to others that she to is filled with the Holy Spirit.
What difference should this knowledge make to our Christmas celebrations, I believe it underlines the vital role of the Holy Spirit for our worship and our witness. It reminds us that to celebrate Christmas rightly we too need to be filled with the Holy Spirit

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The Great God Who Comforts His People.


We often think of God bringing comfort to people but so often we imply that all their problems are solved whereas the word of God brings comfort to people in the midst of their problems. Isaiah chapter 40 is an example of this. The people of Israel are in exile, everything has gone terribly wrong. Jerusalem has been invaded and the Temple of the living God has been destroyed. Into this bleak situation comes the words of Isaiah. These are not just nice words but rather the words of the living God to a desolate and despairing people.

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

The Lord knows and recognises the distress of his people, and speaks words of comfort to them. it is interesting to note that that the words speak tenderly, literally mean speak to the heart. These are not superficial words but something that is meant to speak to the core of our being. These are words of hope which when received bring assurance and rejoicing to the soul. These people knew their guilt and they also knew that there was no way to atone for their sins. They felt alone and desperate, the exile made them feel that they had been cast out from the presence of God. Into this situation came the word of God assuring them of forgiveness and restoration. For these people to know that the price has been paid for their forgiveness this is good news indeed. The same can be said for anyone returning to the Lord. This good news is made clearer through the gospel message, which spells out what Jesus has done to redeem his people from their sins. The gospel message is made clear through all that Jesus did in his incarnate life and ministry. All though we rightly concentrate upon his death we must also realise that hjis whole life was one of active obedience to God. Indeed we need to realise that from his birth until his  ascension everything is part of our salvation history.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.[b]
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

These verses show that by his saving grace God has chosen to overcome everything that is in the way of his saving purposes. Nothing can stop the glory of the Lord being revealed to His people. Problems may seem has high as mountains and he will deal with them. There is to be a pathway in the desert, a highway for God. God overcomes the obstacles by really dealing with them. Notice that God has spoken and therefore his promise will be kept.

A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

These verses declare to us the frailty of humankind, everything about us is weak and we are compared to the grass in the field. But the word of God endures forever our comfort and strength is found in the word of God. When we feel our own weakness, we know that our God is almighty and loving and will keep his word to us. When we trust the word of God, we soon realise that our God is a God of amazing grace.At the same time as being an awesome, almighty God and because of this we can trust God with everything.

You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[c]
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

When we proclaim the good news, we are to proclaim the sovereignty and power of our God, the God who rules with a mighty arm is also the one who tenderly shepherds his sheep. This is tremendously comforting. Our God deals with us gently and holds us in His almighty arms. If this were not good enough we are told that he carries his people close to his heart.  Is this a reality for you?

Posted in AWESOME GOD, DIFFICULT TIMES, Discipleship, faith, Faithfulness | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living with Epilepsy: Reflections on 60 years of battle


In this post I want to share with you in a very honest way some of the problems facing a person who has epilepsy. Even today one finds that having epilepsy seems to be a condition which carries a stigma. I realise that some of the things I will share will be hard for those who don’t have epilepsy to understand but I will try to make it as clear as possible. I want to record my story and I hope that by reading this you will be encouraged.

It all started suddenly when I was 4 years old, one day I was a normal 4 year old, the next I started having seizures. The seizures soon led to be admitted to hospital. It was hard for anybody to control these seizures and they came one on top of another. The doctors warned my parents that I was likely to die and if I did survive that I would be permanently brain damaged. This was one of the most scary periods of my life, I lost all coordination between hand and brain and was dumb for a short period of time. I remember vividly trying to speak and only grunts would come out of my mouth. This was a frustrating and confusing experience. I did not understand what was happening to me and I had no way to communicate my fears and frustrations to others. The doctors and nurses did their best for me but I was not responding to treatment. Then one Sunday a visiting preacher to our chapel called Mr Foster, having spoken to my parents at the service.Came and visited me in the hospital and prayed for me. from that moment I started to slowly recover. My speech returned, my mother told me that the first sentence she heard me say was “I can talk again mummy” but it took me 30 minutes to say those few words. I was released from hospital and became an out patient for about 6 years.

The long struggle to regain the coordination between hand and brain begun. I could not write and when I did start writing it was in block capitals which was the only way I could write until I was 12 years old. But that is to jump ahead a bit and I will return to that later.

Shortly after I was released from athe hospital I had an outpatient appointment with the consultant, he asked me “what made you get better David? I answered by saying “Jesus made me better” to which the consultant said “who knows the boy might be right we certainly didn’t do anything”. In the sixty years since I have not changed my mind I believe with all my heart that it was the Lord who healed me.

When I was well enough to return to school another battle was to begin not only was I struggling to do things I had done before but my fellow pupils thought that I was odd and stupid. They made sure that I knew that by cutting me out of some conversations. I was consistently bottom of the class in every subject except for history. My writing did not help matters. As I grew I became more and more aware that I was different.  I never knew when I was going to have a seizure, the onset of a grand mal seizure is frightening as you for a few seconds realise that you have no control of your body and you try to gain it back. And although they were now reasonably well controlled, I was told that I must not get over excited, my parents would assign somebody at a party to make sure that I did not get too excited. The result being that I still don’t know how to enjoy a party.

At first I resigned myself to the fact that I would never make much of myself but, then I had a new teacher at school called Mrs Leader and one day she said to me “David if the two of us work together I am sure we can get you writing” this was when I was 12 years old. Suddenly there seemed hope for some improvement and we worked together and I learnt to write. This was a major step forward and I began to think more positively but my fellow pupils still looked down on me. I was told on numerous occasions when I tried to join in a discussion ” you wont understand”. I felt that I wanted to achieve something and I felt that I would have to follow my father into the menswear shop that he ran.

While I was at school I started working for Dad at his menswear shop, I worked 15 hours a week. It had been decided at school that it was useless for me to st any exams because I would fail them. My headmaster said to my mother, “David has the knowledge inside himself but I can’t find away to get it out of him”. I felt a growing desire to prove to people that I could achieve in some area, so I went to Luton Library and read up on various subjects. When I about 14 years old, I started to get interested in politics.  I remember reading books like “The Case for the Conservative Party” and “The Case for the Labour Party” but I was still not satisfied but I continued to read around the subject. On the eve of the 1966 general election I read “The Liberal Party” by Jorgen Scott Rasmussen, this book made we want to get involved with the Liberal Party. I joined the Liberal Party at the begining of the election campaign and they soon had me stuffing envelopes and going dooor to door canvassing. I felt that at last I had found something that set me apart as different and something which I could try to excel in. In the autumn of 1966 I was asked to join the committee of Luton Liberal Association, I was the youngest person to ever have a seat on that committee. Soon my life was full of politics.  wWe started up a branch of the Young Liberals in town and I was their first, Political Vice Chairman, as such it was my responsibility to engage in debates with members of other parties and to keep my own members informed of political developments and try to inspire them to action. In the Political sphere I found I was accepted for who I was and for the first time in my life my epilepsy was not a major issue for them. The Young Liberals were on the left wing of the Liberal Party and indeed in the “New Left Mayday Manifesto” published in 1968 we were considered an integral part of the new left. My political views were becoming more and more radical and my Christian background was receding. During this time of political activity I tried to live within the bounds of my limitations but I did not always succeed and the result was that I had another seizure. This happened on several occasions even though for the most part my seizures were well controlled.

During this period of time I saw both my elder and younger brother learn to drive, I found that very hard because in those days there was a lifetime ban on people with epilepsy driving. I became quite depressed about it all.  One of the things that helped me the most at this time, was when my younger brother bought his first car. He would not allow anyone else to see it until he had taken me for a drive in it. I felt privileged to be the first one to go out with him and it was a healing experience.

In the Autumn of 1969 I became a Christian and I realised that I needed to resign my political posts so that I could consider everything biblically. When I resigned from my Liberal Party position.  I was contacted by members of the Liberal Party,The Conservative Party, The Labour Party and the Communist Party. They said that if I wanted to be involved in politics again I would be warmly welcomed into their ranks. One party even tried offering me a safe council seat but although tempted I declined the offer.

This next period of my life was to be very challenging I had become a Christian in a hyper-Calvinist denomination that forbade evangelism because God is sovereign. I started reading more widely and began to realise that the denomination I was in was unbiblical  in its theology. At the same time I came across the writing of Francis and Edith Schaeffer which had and still do have a great impact on my life. As I began to struggle with my denominational background I became aware that L’Abri Fellowship had a work in London.

I contacted Dick Keyes who was then heading up that work, he advised me in conversation to spend some time at the L’Abri branch in Greatham.  I spent all of my work vacation time at Greatham from 1972-1974. During which time I began to see the issues very clearly and knew that I had to leave the denomination I was in. To cut a long story short in the summer of 1974 I moved to Greatham to be a helper in the work there. It was here that I was to experience some highs and a very deep low. In October 1974 I had been asked to give a lecture on the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, the day I gave this lecture was also the day of the second general election. I stayed up late listening to the results as a result the next day I had a very bad seizure. This completely deflated me physically and emotionally. The good side was I went away for a few days to convalesce at Sylvester and Janet Jacobs home. On returning I was still feeling very depressed, I started struggling with the facts that I could not drive or drink alcohol, I seemed to see all the problems and none of the blessings. One day one of the students who had just become a Christian said to me “David this illness and depression has made you more honest than you were before”. God used these words to help the light come flooding back in. I realised that I had to live within my limitations. I also argued with God, as to why he had not completely healed me, when I was young; he powerfully said “my grace is sufficient for your weakness”.  He has been true to this promise, I have not had a daytime seizure since this one.

In 1975 I found myself travelling to Switzerland to work for L’Abri, I thought I would be working in Switzerland but on arrival I was told that I would be working in France. I spent four and half wonderful years in France, I loved the work and I enjoyed living in Thollon-les -Memises. This was to be a formative time for my thinking and was to alter my whole life. I found myself giving lectures at Swiss L’Abri and leading the discussions some Thursday mornings. Strangely it was at L’Abri where thinking and education was encouraged that I was allowed to teach even though I had no accademic qualifications. Here I was accepted and affirmed for who I was. The crowning blessing of my time there was the arrival of Judy Baumgart as a student. Little did either of us realise that the Lord had placed us together, so that we might get to know one another and eventually in March 1979 we were married.

Judy and I left L’Abri for England in 1979, Judy being an American had to learn to live within the English culture thankfully she did not find this too difficult. She has been a great support to me throughout our married years. Soon after returning to England I started applying to Bible Colleges and one by one they turned me down because of my lack of academic qualifications. I had written to a friend telling him that I had been turned down by all the Colleges including London Bible College. My friend without telling me wrote to Derek Tidball the director of studies asking if he felt that he had done justice to my application. Derek graciously responded by inviting me to an interview, that interview being as it was for a mature student had four or five faculty members present. I remember Leslie Allen challenged me, as to whether I could handle different viewpoints than my own.  I  responded by saying that I had given a seris of lectures on Liberation theology at L’Abri before anything had been published on the subject by evangelical scholars and therefore I had worked from the primary sources. This seemed to be the turning point in the interview.

Life at London Bible College (now London School of Theology) was difficult to begin with. I suddenly found myself writing essays, something I had never done before and the first exams that I ever sat were for my BA. With Judy’s support and keeping my eyes on my limitations, I was able to accomplish a lot in that first year. I will never forget the joy I felt in seeing that I had passed my first year exams. As we were looking at the notice, I noticed that Dr Harry Rowden was lingering around, as soon as I had seen my result he came up to me and congratulated me on securing such good results. He then told me that he had predicted that I would fail my exams and that he was so pleased that he was wrong!

During the time at college I found that I received pastoral support from a number of the lecturers but I will just mention two. Firstly Derek Tidball, I was in his fellowship group throughout college and he was to encourage and support the students. The other one was Donald Guthrie, he knew that my college placement was not an easy one, the church was struggling with huge problems. Donald knew the Church and its members well and very often after a difficult Sunday he would call me into his office on a Monday morning and speak words of encouragement to me. As a result when I was ordained I asked Donald to lead in the ordination prayer which he did.

After college I pastored a church for nearly six years until I had to resign on a matter of biblical principal. This was a very stressful time but one where the Lord gave me strength and wisdom. Obviously the dizziness and other symptoms increased but I did not have a seizure,

After the pastorate I was preaching at a variety of churches but eventually in 1993 we became involved in Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist church and I have been an elder there for the past twenty years.

In 1994 I also started to study for my Masters degree by distance learning at Nazarene Theological College,Manchester. I travelled up to Manchester once a year for  two weeks of residential study. This was a time when I really felt affirmed in my gifting to study theology and to produce new work. There I found the fellowship and the seminars to be truly beneficial. I perhaps spent more time in my room resting than the others as I needed to pace myself and make sure that I was working within the limitations that epilepsy has imposed on me.

One of my great joys every year is to attend the Tndale Fellowship Christian Doctrine Study Group, the conference is always intense and I have learnt that I need to rest in the free period. I try to share fellowship as much as possible with my fellow delegates but sometimes I feeel frustrated by the limitations my health puts on me..

This biography has mentioned many things but perhaps you ar e thinking what has happened to the subject of epilepsy, the answer is that epilepsy is something that is with me every day of my life. There is not a day that goes by without feeling some effect of epilepsy.

I still occasionally loose coordination between hand and brain, sometimes I go dizzy and other times I find that I am trembling for no explicable reason. The medication makes on feel perpetually drowsy, the result is that if I ever I feel really alert, I realise that I have not taken my medication. Sometimes I have to say to Judy,I am going to have rest today and that is what I have to do. An example of coordination going is sometimes I can not get a cup of tea to my mouth, if I am in company I find this most embarrassing.

For the most part I live an active and fulfilled life but I am always conscious of the limitations my epilepsy imposes on me. Living within those limitations and taking my medication has allowed me to do far more than I ever imagined possible when I was young.

(I am publishing this now but I may come back and add some things, so this is probably not the final version.)

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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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