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.

 

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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.

 

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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

God’s Omnipresence: Some insights from the nineteenth century


I am currently carrying out research into the whole area of what we call divine immanence and divine transcendence. I found that the way most nineteenth century evangelical theologians spoke on these issues gave a slightly different perspective and below I share a few examples of this.

Omnipresence and immensity.
When the idea of immanence was advanced many writers said it was an improvement on the old doctrine of omnipresence, immanence was perceived as articulating a more intimate connection between God and his creation. In 1930 W H Griffith Thomas made this rather tantalizing statement,

So that the Divine attributes are Omnipotence, Omniscience, Transcendence, and Immanence, the last named being perhaps somewhat more than the old Omnipresence.

This statement by Thomas shows that by his time there was still an acknowledgement of the old omnipresence, but the new categories are seen as a better way to explain things. This statement is typical of others that I have read by other authors who do not explain why they think it is an improvement on the old language, other than the reasons noted above. It will be helpful to see how a number of theologians used the old category. What is striking is that in the Evangelical Systematic Theologies from the nineteenth century that I have consulted both Reformed and Arminian Scholars speak in terms of omnipresence and in some cases are aware of work done by those they normally oppose on other issues.
Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Hodge was one of the most influential Reformed theologians in the nineteenth century and His Systematic Theology was published towards the end of his life, the three volumes were published from 1871-1873. The way Hodge articulated the doctrine of omnipresence was affirmed not only by reformed Scholars but also by A M Hills the Wesleyan Theologian. It should be noted that Hodge articulated his view of omnipresence in the period when more and more were speaking in terms of immanence. Hodge was very carefully in the way he articulated his theology and was highly respected in his day. It is also important to look at Hodge because of the lasting impact that his theology has had on Reformed theology up until today. Hodge says in volume 1 of his Systematic Theology,

The Bible teaches the infinitude of God, as involving his immensity and his omnipresence, in the clearest terms. He is said to fill all in all, i.e., the universe in all its parts. (Eph 1.23) “Am I a God at hand saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord (Jerxxiii.23.24) “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or wither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm cxxxix.7-12) It is “in Him we (i.e all creatures) live, and move, and have our being.” (Actsxvii.28) everywhere in the Old and New Testaments, god is represented as a spiritual being, without form, invisible, whom no man has seen or can see; dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, and full of glory; as not only the creator, and preserver, but as the governor of all things; as everywhere present, and everywhere imparting life, and securing order, present in every blade of grass, yet guiding Areturus in his course , marshalling the stars in a host, calling them by their names; present also in every human soul, giving it understanding, endowing it with gifts, working in it both to will and to do. The human heart is in his hands; and He turneth it even as the rivers of water are turned. Wherever, throughout the universe, there is evidence of mind in material causes, there, according to the Scriptures, is God controlling and guiding those causes to the accomplishment of his wise designs. He is in all, and over all things; yet essentially different from all, being over all independent, and infinitely exalted. This immensity and omnipresence of God, is the ubiquity of the divine essence, and consequently of the divine power, wisdom, and goodness. As the birds in the air and the fish in the sea, so also are we always surrounded and sustained by God. It is thus that He is infinite in his being, without absorbing, all created beings into his own essence, but sustaining all in their individual subsistence, and in the exercise of their own powers.  ( Systematic Theology, Volume 1, pages 884-885)

Hodge here clearly shows how he and most earlier nineteenth century theologians believed about the omnipresence of God and yet he seems to able to clearly define his subject because he sees both immensity and omnipresence as being aspects of the infinity of God as a result he does not speak of paradox or being balanced as people often do with the immanent/transcendent terminology. His view articulates closeness to creation by the creator yet always maintaining the creator/creation distinctive. I think that those who speak of radical transcendence would have or should have fewer problems with the way Hodge articulates the subject.

J L Dagg (1794-1884). J L Dagg was an influential Baptist theologian; he published his “Manual of Theology” in 1857 which was to have a great influence in Southern Baptist Circles. His comments on God’s omnipresence are helpful and constructive, yet Dagg is quick to remind us of the limitations of our own understanding. He is very aware of the greatness of God and he wants to honour that, at the same time he tries to make his teaching as clear as possible, the following quotation illustrates this.

When we deny a material omnipresence of God, as if his essence were divided and diffused; and when we maintain that the whole deity is everywhere present by his energy and operation, it is not to be understood that we deny the essential omnipresence of God. In whatever manner his essence is present anywhere it is present everywhere. What the mode of that presence is, we know not. We know not the essence of the human mind, nor the mode of its presence in the body; much less can we comprehend the essence of the infinite God, or the mode of his omnipresence. To that incomprehensible property of his nature, by which he is capable of being wholly present at the same moment, with every one of his creatures, without division of his essence, and without removal fromplace to place, the name immensity has been given. The essence of god is immense or unmeasured, because it is unmeasurable. It is unmeasurable because it is spiritual, and therefore, without such dimensions as be measured by feet and inches; and because in whatever sense dimensions may be ascribed to it, these dimensions are boundless.(A Manual of Theology pages 61-62 (Gano Books, Virginia 1982)

What is striking about the way Dagg presents the doctrine of omnipresence, is the way he sees omnipresence as demonstrating the immensity of God, God is omnipresent because of his immensity. Here there is no talk of a paradox as in the immanence and transcendence languagebut rather he clearly sees the relationship between the two. Omnipresence for Dagg is an aspect of God’s immensity. If Dagg is right at this point perhaps we need to revise our way of articulating any aspects of divine transcendence and divine immanence or perhaps we should abandon that terminology.

 

Miner Raymond (1811-1897): Raymond was the first American Methodist to write a systematic theology, it is interesting to see the continuity of thought between this Wesleyan theologian and his Reformed contemporaries. Here we see an insistence upon immensity and omnipresence being one aspect of that immensity. Once again we see a clear distinction between God and his creation. This is just a part of his stament of the doctrine of divine omnipresence,

It is useless to say that the infinite is incomprehensible; all know this, and clearly recognize it in thought. No one but God himself has an exhaustive conception of unlimited presence; no one has apprehension of the mode or manner of the divine existence—how it is, or how it is possible that a person should be every-where, no finite being can tell. To the finite the infinite is past finding out; and yet it is not to be conceded for a moment that the confidence and trust of piety in the ubiquity of God is unfounded, or that the apprehensions men have of the divine omnipresence are mere negations or nullities; as far as they go they are truthful concepts of a well-known reality. Such assumptions as are inconsistent with the Bible representations and the common apprehensions must be rejected. For example, if it be affirmed that God is every-where present by extension or diffusion, so that it may be said that a part of God is here and a part of God there; or if it be said that God is present every-where solely by his knowledge and his power, such views are to be rejected, since truth requires us to conceive that the divine essence is unlimited as fully and as perfectly as are the divine attributes. God, as to all that is God, is every-where always; the infinite essence is incapable of division and separation; essence and attribute, immutably inseparable, fill immensity; all of God every-where, is a truth cognized both by piety and sound philosophy.( Systematic Theology, Volume I (325–328). Cincinnati; New York: Hitchcock & Walden; Nelson and Phillips.)

Raymond clearly teaches that God is everywhere present and yet this does not in any way distract from the Greatness of God, rather it affirms that greatness in the strongest possible terms.

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Pentecost: Church Tradition or a Lived Reality?


On Pentecost Sunday millions of Christians will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the early church. we gather and we pray,hear the word read and preached from and we sing our hymns and songs,but what does it all mean? Are we just celebrating a historical occasion that was very important for the foundation of the apostolic Church?

Perhaps we say that we are celebrating the empowering of the church for mission, in practical terms what does that mean?

But perhaps the biggest question is, does Pentecost have any relevance to my daily living?

It might help us to look at one or two of the hymns and songs associated with Pentecost to answer my questions.Look at Charles Wesley’s prayer in this great hymn,

O Thou who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
Upon the mean altar of my heart.

There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
[or, Unquenched, undimmed, in darkest days,]
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for Thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
Till death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.

Here we see that Wesley really expected something to happen, he was looking to God the Holy spirit to work in his life, you can sing this hymn just as a religious act or you can sing it in a prayerful manner, expecting God to work in your life. I use this hymn because it is one that God has used to help me express my heart’s desire. If no other song is associated with my life, I hope this one will be. To sing this hymn is to make ourselves vulnerable before a loving and gracious God, being open to all that he has for us.

In Charismatic circles we may sing words like these,

Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.

But what do we expect? we say that we are open to the Holy Spirit but are we really open?

The Holy Spirit is often feared by Christians because they fear that he will make them weird, the bible clearly shows us that the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to make us more like Jesus. Jesus as a man shows to us what a Spirit filled life can be like, a life of love and fruitfulness and a life that knows the presence and direction of Father God. When we look at Jesus, we see a wholesome life, the Holy Spirit wants to impart that same life to us. The Holy Spirit gives us both his fruit and his gifts to carry on the ministry of Jesus. Jesus himself taught this in John chapters 14 -16, read these chapters prayerfully and you will see that when we receive the Spirit, we will be equipped,changed and empowered to live a life for the glory of God. When we search the Scriptures with an open heart we will realise that we should welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, to do what he wants to do.

Sometimes we pray for Revival, we want to see large numbers coming into the kingdom but are we prepared to seek the empowering of the Holy Spirit and to walk in his ways. Revival will never come to a church that observes Pentecost in a religious way, it will come to those who are prepared to be open to him. Our hearts desire should be to see God glorified in the Church,this will only happen as we open ourselves to the Holy spirit and all he has for us.

Posted in Baptism of the Holy Spirit, body of Christ, faith, filled with the Spirit, gifts of the Holy Spirit., holiness, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, Pentecostal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Conforming to the World or Maintaining God’s Purpose For Us


There is a temptation that is common to all Christians and that is the temptation to conform to the world and its mindset. This has been a problem since mankind fell into sin. The world calls on us to be more compassionate and not so old fashioned. Paul told the Roman Christians,

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.(Rom 12:1–2).

Much earlier in the history of God’s people, we see this same problem raising its head when the leaders of Israel asked Samuel for a king, they wanted Israel to be like the other nations, rather than being distinct as God’s people, under God’s government. We can learn quite a lot from the way Samuel handled this whole Situation. We might have some sympathy with the Israelite leaders as they describe the problem, but their solution only makes things worse because they left God out of the solution. Let us look at ho the Bible describes the situation.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sa 8:1–5).

Samuel’s sons were not at all like him and they had turned after ungodly ways but the solution proposed by the leaders of Israel  was one that meant turning its back on giving God the highest place in government instead they had their own solution that meant a revolution in the way they thought and acted because they wanted to deny their uniqueness as God’s people and become like the other nations. At that time the notion of having a powerful king to lead the nation was a popular one, but for Israel this should not have been an option because the Lord was their king. They should have found a way forward by seeking God’s will but instead they went their own way. Samuel’s response is instructive for us,

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. (1 Sa 8:6).

Samuel was displeased, but he didn’t go to his friends for advice or to any other person, the first thing he did was pray. He needed to know what the Lord had to say in the midst of his own feelings of rejection. When the Lord speaks he shows Samuel that it was not Samuel that the nation had rejected but himself. We could avoid many problems in the Church and in Christian organisations if we were to follow Samuel’s example.  We so often go to other people and rally support for our perspective without seeking the Lord in prayer. Samuel knew that he needed clear guidance from the Lord as to what to do and how to do it, In Baptist circles we often say that the church meeting is to seek the mind of the Lord, but in reality it often is reduced to seeking the mind of the majority. Democracy does not come into the matter when considering the work of God, the question should always be what does God want? Samuel knew this and therefore in his displeasure he turns to the Lord for his guidance. Samuel receives very clear guidance as to what to do and this is not going to be an easy task.

And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”(1 Sa 8:7–9).

The Lord clearly shows that the root of the problem is not rejection of /Samuelbut rathe that they have rejected the Lord. And this is only to be expected because of their continued rebellion since the days of the Exodus, the very action of appointing a king shows distrust in the Lord and an inclination to follow after other God’s. Samuel is also to show them the consequence of this decision and the injustice that it will herald. A move away from the Lord is also a move away from his standards. The nation had been founded in such a way that there was to be a measure of economic justice incorporated into law, but this would bring an end to all of that. The next part of the chapter shows very clearly the consequences of having a king.

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”(1 Sa 8:10–18).

This is not a pleasant picture but despite this clear warning the people decided to go against the warnings, they are even told that when they find the oppression too much they will cry to the Lord but he will not answer them. The Lord’s warnings are not taken seriously because the people want to go their own way.

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”(1 Sa 8:19–22).

The people refuse to listen to Samuel and are determined to have their own way, they want to keep up with the other nations, they want a strong leader who will lead them into battle. But Samuel takes all of this back to the Lord in prayer, The Lord sees the peoples desires and he grants them the desire to have a king but he has already warned them of the consequences so they would not have any reason to complain when this was fulfilled.

Samuel boldly stands for truth and God’s purposes in the midst of a generation that did not want to hear the word of God, will we do the same?

 

 

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Should A Christian Be Patriotic?


The rise of nationalism throughout the world makes this an important question to ask. Many people assume that patriotism is being loyal to one’s own country whatever happens. Sometimes we are expected to sing patriotic songs which glorify our nation, for instance here in the UK, one of the patriotic songs is “Rule Brittania, Brittania rules the waves, Britons never,never, will be slaves”, What absolute nonsense that shamefully glorifies our colonial past, perhaps more popular still is “Land of hope and glory, mother of the free”. We can get taken up with the fervour of these songs and almost believe the silly things we are singing. TheBiblical picture is very different, the prophets for instance were often critical of Israel and some ended up being imprisoned for the offence. They loved their country enough to tell the truth about it, even when the truth was unpopular. Jeremiah and Amos both faced fierce criticism and they were told to stop speaking and accused of not respecting those in authority. But they stood firm on the truth of Biblical standards in every area of life. Amos for instance time and time calls injustice sin and uses rather politically incorrect language to speak of the rich women who were exploiting others, referring to them as cows of Bashan. The prophet were never on the side of popular patriotism but rather had a deeper love for their nation than the normal patriotism. I call the prophetic form of patriotism, critical patriotism and I believe we need this at this hour. I am frightened by the growing nationalism in my own country, a nationalism that is very selfish and would cut foreign aid to needy nations so that our lifestyle can be preserved. This nationalism has its milder forms in parties like the United Kingdom Independence Party and its extreme form in the British National Party, but both buy into a false sense of patriotism which looks back to the past and does not see the opportunities for the future. Both the milder and most extreme forms of nationalism would herald a more unjust society by taking away many of the protections that exist in law at the moment. Much of current employment law would be abolished and the employee subject to greater exploitation. But perhaps what worries me even more is their mean mindset displayed in such things as their attitude to the poor and needy of our world.

Christians are called to work for justice,peace and righteousness and this can only be achieved if we don’t jump on the nationalist bandwagon. Let us instead follow the example of the prophets.

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The Resurrected Lord Imparts Peace through the Holy Spirit


19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 20:19–23).

In this passage we find that Jesus when he appears to his disciples says “Peace be with you”, when we read these words we tend to think in terms of an absence of conflict and feeling peaceful, but Jesus meant much more by these words. Peace in the bible is seen as a positive state of blessing, peace is a state of bounty,having the provision one needs. Jesus is granting his disciples all the blessing they will need to continue his mission. He has died for a lost world and is now the resurrected king of kings, he has conquered all the powers of evil, death and hell but people need to come to know the resurrected Lord for themselves. and this is the essence of the commission that Jesus gives his disciples. Jesus knows that His disciples can not carry out this mission without the impartation of the Holy Spirit, the responsibility to proclaim the gospel is not something they can do in their own power.

Some people say that they cannot understand this impartation of the Holy spirit as they feel it conflicts with Luke’s account, but this is not the case, the disciples needed the Spirit to prepare them for ministry. We can not account for Luke’s account if we do not acknowledge the power of the Spirit working in the disciples prior to Pentecost, how else can we account for the spirit of prayer that led to Pentecost. also the disciples would need to be assured of the presence of the Spirit if they were to be able to proclaim the gospel. Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel, he said that the Holy Spirit would convict of sin, righteousness and judgement, surely this is the essence of the commission given here. The disciples were to proclaim that in Christ alone was to be found salvation. It is through receiving the finished work of Christ that people become Christians, to be willing to receive Christ shows an acknowledgement of our own sinfulness and our need of a Saviour. Here we find the impartation of peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit are intrinsically linked together, it is through the presence of the risen Lord that mission can be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples need to know that the power of the Spirit is within them so that they can carry out this awesome commission, without this they would feel powerless and helpless. so Jesus imparts his Holy Spirit to his disciple so that they may know the presence of his blessing and in this they will realise that what to the flesh seems impossible is in fact possible through the spirit of the Risen and Exalted Lord.

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The Grace of the Risen Lord Shown to Doubting Thomas


24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.(Jn 20:24–31).

Jesus here shows his gentleness and grace to doubting Thomas, the way of Jesus is in contrast to the way we often deal with unbelief or lack of faith. We often condemn where Jesus models bringing people who doubt to a point of belief.

Thomas not believing the other Apostles is in one sense quite understandable if we put ourselves in Thomas shoes we will realise that it is very difficult to believe that a dead man is now alive.  Jesus was crucified the most violent execution known to men, Thomas probably regarded the other disciples as believing in the resurrection as wishful thinking. It just seemed so impossible, Yes Thomas should have believed but we can understand why he did not.  Thomas should have known that the other disciples were credible witnesses they were not gullible people. He tells the other disciples that he will not believe until he can handle the Lord Jesus body, he insists that he must see if he is going to believe.

The risen Jesus sees clearly the state of Thomas mind , he understand exactly where he is at and in his grace he appears to Thomas and invites him to do what he said he what he wanted to do. But when Thomas saw Jesus he confessed his faith confessing Jesus as “My Lord and my God” he moves from unbelief to one of the profoundest statements about Jesus recorded in the gospels. He realises at once that Jesus is not just the Messiah, but he is indeed God. It is this belief that turned Thomas into a great missionary, we know that he took the gospel to India and many believe he went to China. He travelled long distances proclaiming his faith and seeing many put their faith in the Lord they had not seen. By our Lord’s gracious approach doubting Thomas was turned into a mighty servant of God. When we meet with those who are doubting we too must graciously answer their questions knowing that the Lord who revealed himself to Thomas is able to reveal himself to any doubting person. Jesus by his gentle and gracious approach showed Thomas firstly the glory of who he was and only after that did he rebuke him for his unbelief. Our role is to point people to the Lord not condemn them for their doubts and fears. As we look at this story we will not minimise the sin of unbelief but we will maximise the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us confess with Thomas that Jesus is our Lord and our God and then like Thomas we will bring glory to the name of Jesus.

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