Friday, November 05, 2010

Casting Crowns Live, Stoke, November 2010

I was greatly blessed to have seen Casting Crowns for a second time last night at the Queens Theatre in Burslem, Stoke, UK.

Although being on my own this time I enjoyed this gig better than two years ago when I saw them in the same location (Review here). This time it was just CC playing without major support so it was pretty much over two hours of the band which was great.

What I like about CC is that they are not just musicians that are Christians. They are first and foremost youth pastors, youth workers and the music comes from that experience of dealing with people. This gives the lyrics a raw, earthy reality while at the same time being 100% rooted in scripture. Few bands music can reduce me to tears but CC’s music can do it to me with uncomfortable regularity because what Mark Hall sings is so heart felt and speaks to God from where we are at.

The song that particularly gets me every time is ‘Praise you in this Storm’. It has particular meaning recently given what happened in my life earlier in the year. Last night Mark had not even sung the first line and tears were streaming down my face. I sobbed through most of it glad for the relative darkness of the theatre.
Here is that song with an explanation of why it was written. I have posted this many times and I doubt it will be the last time either:


Another thing I really liked about CC and Mark Hall is his clear communication of the Gospel at each gig. Cleverly woven in between the songs. I had to smile as his explanation of how we come to know Christ was thoroughly Reformed. God calls us to Him and it is nothing in us that makes it happen, it is all by Grace, nice! I wonder if this riled any non reformed Christians in the audience?

The audience were very impressive last night with the heartfelt singing and worship of God. Most importantly God was Glorified in that place.

It is a shame they seem to only manage to tour Europe every two years as more people should see them live and appreciate the ministry God has given them. Also would be nice if they did a gig a little nearer the south Winking smile.

Please go and see them if you ever get the chance and be blessed.


One negative thing to note and nothing in any way connected to Casting Crowns was this. NXT ministries who organised the evening, as well as two years ago, have an event coming up in 2011 where Brian McLaren is speaking. From what I understand he preaches a very wooly Gospel at best and unscriptural at worst. Best avoided!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thought for the Day: How much do you desire to rest in Gods Arms?

I was praying earlier on today sitting on my bed with the bedroom door shut. The reason the door was shut was to keep my cat out of the room. He was in one of those soppy moods where he was desperate for cuddles and attention from me and was being very persistent in pursuing me to get it. Whilst I was in the bedroom he sat outside, occasionally crying pathetically and scratching at the door.

When I had finished praying I opened the door and he enthusiastically greeted me, purring his head off and batting my leg until I picked him up (yes he is a very pampered cat). Once in my arms he just flopped and sat contented there, feeling safe and secure.

Why am I telling you this? Well while praying I asked God if there was anything to learn from his persistence etc…

Then later it occurred to me, how often am I that desperate to get to God and rest in His arms, safe and secure? How often will I stop at nothing until I get to my heavenly Father to find rest and contentment?

Psalm 40:1 and Psalm 130:5-6

My prayer time is far too much about things to pray for rather than focussing on the one who answers!

Hmm a spiritual lesson from my Cat, who’d have thought?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Monday, August 09, 2010

When Biblical Truth and Experience clash!

Ok, I know that is a provocative Title and of course it is intended to be ;-). Last week I attended an evening where a well-ish known Christian was speaking, who has a ‘Healing Ministry’. This was the second of Two evenings put on by a local church.

Firstly this Blog post is not meant in any way to personally criticise a fellow brother in Christ. This is simply me trying to work my faith out and when I come up against something that I find a contradiction I need to get my head round it.

The evening consisted of a singing time of Worship. Then a ‘talk’ followed eventually by what I am going to call ‘doing the stuff’. Sadly just as the ‘doing the stuff’ started I had to leave, as it was 9:40 and the car park I was in shuts at 10:00, but I digress. The ‘talk’ consisted of stories where this person had been used by God in various situations for miraculous healing of others, interspersed with ‘teaching’ from the Bible. Herein lies the issue. It is good to hear stories of God healing people as this builds faith and that is not where I had a problem. It was the ‘teaching’ that was brought that I was, to put it mildly, astonished to hear.

There was one important thing that the person said that I totally agreed with. That when praying for healing you don’t have to tell God what to heal and you don’t need to convince God to do so by many words. A simple ‘be healed in the name of Jesus’ is all that is needed, the rest is up to God. This is largely what Jesus did and what the Bible records the Apostles doing. Great we can agree on that! The whole issue of how ones faith interacts with God’s sovereignty and the resulting healing or lack thereof is another issue entirely. I am not going to go into that here as I don’t have any semblance of a coherent understanding of it theologically.

However apart from that one point, what was taught as being from scripture seemed to me wrong on so many levels and I have not heard a mangling of scripture like that in quite a while. However what is clear is that after I left there were several medically verifiable miraculous healings that I am certainly not going to credit to any power apart from God Himself.

So what do you do with that? Clearly incorrect biblical interpretation yet God powerfully using this person in the area of healing. My approach to these things is always to measure anything I see by the plumb line of scripture. Or be a Berean (Acts 17:10-11). For me if I don’t see it in scripture at least in principal then I do not accept it. I absolutely, 100% believe that God can and does heal today miraculously, I have seen it.

My theological view point is most definitely Reformed and I truly believe it most accurately reflects what scripture teaches. But clinging so close to the importance of right doctrine can have the effect of quenching the spirit. This is possibly why churches that hold to reformed doctrine tend to be very conservative and not actively move in the power of the spirit. New Frontiers churches seem to be fairly unique in this area. NFI is rooted in Reformed doctrine yet is clearly charismatic in its expression of the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit.

I totally believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. I totally believe that the gifts through the Holy Spirit seen in the New Testament are for today's church in whatever measure God sees fit to pour out and on whomever He desires. I would even go as far to say that holding a reformed view of scripture does not contradict or stand against the active gifts of Holy Spirit in healing, prophecy, tongues etc.. and actually supports it. It is the holding to certain traditions, viewpoints or teachings of the Reformed Giants of the faith so tight that possibly quenches the spirit.

Therefore whilst I may disagree with much of the teaching and emphasis that comes out of the likes of Bill Johnsons ministry at Bethel Church who this person speaking was certainly related, God is clearly using the ministry to perform amazingly miraculous healings. So I give God the Glory for that!

So where does this leave us? Someone wiser than myself offered these points:

  • Miracles only endorse the power of God not the man.
  • Miracles only endorse the power of God not the mans teaching.
  • Miracles only endorse the power of God not the mans life or lifestyle.

All I can say again is that God is sovereign and who am I to question who He chooses to use as part of His divine redemptive plan. I will continue to hold to the closed handed issues that the Bible is very clear on and I will endeavour to passionately seek and treasure God alone as my ultimate and only source of true joy and only way to salvation. I most definitely want to have a far deeper experience of knowing God more intimately and being open to the working of the Holy Spirit in as yet unimaginable ways, but without throwing my intellect and brain out the window. I repeat we must always measure any and all spiritual experience we may have against the unmoveable benchmark of Gods word. Let none of us, whatever doctrinal position or tradition we hail from, just believe what we have seen or heard without testing the spirits (1 John 4:1-3) and examining the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).

I know I have only scratched the surface of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and I pray we never become satisfied with where we are in all God has for us and all He wants to do through us. Let us remain humble, bearing with one another in Love (Ephesians 4:2) while we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Christians and Anti-Semitism

I have recently been studying the issue of how Israel and the Old Testament covenants relates to the New Covenant in Christ. The paper LINKED HERE is the focus of that study. This is for a discussion group I am part of. However I am not going to comment on the actual paper or the issues is raises, nor on my ‘current’ thinking on what the Bible says.

What I wanted to simply comment on was one point raised in the paper. That of the historical Churches partaking in what can only be described as vicious Anti-Semitism. The likes of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther having quite unbelievable views about Jews. Over the course of History the Church or individual believers have either directly or indirectly been responsible for all manner of persecution and suffering brought upon Jewish people.

Of course my knowledge of history is very limited and I do not know the cultural pressures and influences of the time but I simply cannot grasp or understand how a person who follows Christ can hold the entire Jewish nation as accountable for crucifying Him. My brain simply cannot get round the concept of that thinking. Even a cursory reading of Romans 9-11 demonstrates Jesus was a Jew, the Apostles were Jews, the Jewish Messiah, that anyone who becomes a Christian has effectively become part of the ‘true Israel’.

For Christians to blame the Jews for killing Christ is ridiculous. If Christ had not died then we would all perish in the final Judgement. No one would be saved, period! Yes sin was committed by those that called for and carried out Jesus’ execution. Yes this was under God’s sovereign rule and plan. No I can’t explain how the two are true at the same time but they are! Those individual people who were responsible will either face righteous and just judgement or are covered by the sacrifice of Christ if they later repented and followed Him. You can’t blame an entire nation for the actions of a handful of people. It is like hating Germans or Austrians because one Evil Nutter called Hitler was responsible for killing millions.

So yes we should be ashamed of our fellow brothers and sisters throughout history who misguidedly treated the Jewish people the way they did. Distance oursleves massively from any hint of anti Jewish feeling.

We should humbly love, reach out to and be ready to die for serving and bringing the Gospel to the Jewish people as we should to any other nation of the earth. Now I know some would say it is anti-Semitic to evangelise Jews but I say surely it is anti-Semitic not to.

It is staggeringly unloving to refuse to share the Gospel with anyone because of any prejudice you have. A Christian has no excuse as one utterly under the Free Grace of God, saved by no merit, no work, nothing you could ever possibly do to earn your salvation. Grace, Grace, Grace and for those that think us Reformed types add Grace as an afterthought more Grace!!!!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

When Should/Shouldn’t we leave a Church!

ChurchBuilding I have been pondering this thought a lot recently and have been meaning, for some time, to write some of my thoughts down about it. It probably would have been a very controversial post for a number of reasons that I will not go into on a public space (but I linked to a nicely balanced viewpoint on the subject below, instead of getting myself in trouble ;-) ). People come and go in a Church congregation for many reasons, it is just the way it is. We cannot force people to stay though the reverse may occasionally be necessary. However recent events have made me think about what are ‘legitimate’ or positive reasons for leaving a church and what should be considered ‘insufficient’ or negative reasons.

There are two broad ‘categories’ of people who leave churches. Those that leave and do move on to another church and those that leave, effectively never to return. I think very broadly speaking those that move on to another church would be considered true believers and those that leave and don’t return to the body of Christ ‘could’ (emphasis on could) be considered to not have been true believers. They partook in Christian stuff for a while but were never truly submitted and regenerate.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying. I want to make clear it is only for God to know who are His unto salvation, sheep, and who are not, goats, to use a biblical terminology. We are not to go through our churches looking to route out goats in the congregation. However it is clear from scripture that there should be fruit in a persons life if they are saved and it ‘may’ be a sign of a persons not surrendering their life to God if they show no long term fruit (but by no means the only reason). There is much more that could be said about that but that is not the point of this post (No doubt I will be accused of being judgemental etc….). But where do I get the distinction and my line of reasoning from? Well the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. More on that below to give insight into why people may leave the body of Christ for all intents and purposes permanently.

Reasons to Leave a Church

  • Category 1 – Those that move on to another Church. This has been written HERE far clearer and probably less controversially than I may have written it. So that link is really the answer to the question posed in the heading.

    leaving-arrivingWhat is clear from this is that there are actually few ‘good’ reasons to leave a church that you have committed to in membership and much of the time leaving has more to do with your own wrong heart attitude and pride than any actual perceived ‘good’ reason. Harsh I know but the list given under ‘Insufficient Reasons’ are all basically wrong attitudes of the heart and pride fuelled.

    That being said God is Sovereign and if a person decides to move on whatever the reason then they should go with blessing in the hope that God will use them and bless them wherever they end up. We also must examine our hearts to make sure pride and self righteousness is not causing us to think negatively towards that person. They are still our brother or sister in Christ irrelevant of church choice.
  • Category 2 – Those that ultimately fall away/leave never to return.

    Looking at this second group of people is really a deviation away from the question in the heading which is mainly in regard to those that move churches.

    However it is a sad truth that over the now 21 years of being a Christian I have seen so many friends, who, for all intents and purposes appeared to be saved, turn their backs on God and His church. People that when I became a Christian and joined the youth group, seemed to be so on fire for God. Some even going on mission trips to foreign lands etc… People who I looked up to and who taught me much about God as a new believer. They Challenged me where I had incorrect thinking or actions and seemed to worship God far more enthusiastically than I did. Many of these are now living lives with no participation in the Body of Christ and with no active spiritual relationship with God. Some are even hostile to the church, full of criticism and accusation.

    Much of the criticism may in fact be true. It is true that often the late teen early twenty something age group is not catered for well in many churches. The transition from youth to adult in a church is often a difficult one. When the temptations of the World are suddenly opened up in all their life sucking glory. Suddenly the young person is no longer closely shepherded by the youth leader and can be cast adrift a bit if there is nothing in place to help the transition into the main adult congregation.

    However is it equally true that much of what is given for reasons to walk away from God are simply thinly veiled excuses to go and do your own thing. A heart truly submitted to Christ, yes can and does rebel and can live that way for a time, but will ultimately realise that living this way is foolishness and totally unsatisfying if you have truly tasted the Life Christ offers.

    It has always saddened me deeply seeing this, especially people I considered good friends. I of course don’t know their position before God. But I do know God is the father of the prodigal and will always welcome stray children home. I pray that they return and surrender to God again and that God reaches into their lives and brings them face to face with His awe inspiring majesty and beauty.

    Going back to the Parable of the sower. Where could these folks fit in with Jesus’ teaching. They seemed to respond to the Gospel so they are not the seed falling on the path, Matthew 13:4. So they must be either the Rocky Ground or thorny ground.

    [5] Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, [6] but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. [7] Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
    (Matthew 13:5-7 ESV)


    But what does that mean. Who are the Rocky ground people and who are the thorny ground people? Jesus interprets this parable for His disciples.

    [20] As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, [21] yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. [22] As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
    (Matthew 13:20-22 ESV)


    My understanding of these two is that the rocky ground people are those that give a response to the Gospel upon hearing it but that it is only a head/heart response. There is no spiritual soul regeneration within the person by God. Therefore they appear to be saved and do all the Christian stuff but having no root turn their backs when either pain and sorrow and hardship strike or simply find the shiny temptations of the world apparently more satisfying than Christ because they never truly saw Him to start with.

    The Thorny ground people I think are actually saved and have their soul made alive in Christ but ultimately bear no fruit because they never get much further than being saved and settle there because they are deceived  into being satisfied with the things of this world rather than with God. We all are to a point in this category and all go through our lives making idols of things other than God. I think it is a warning from Jesus to not be satisfied with trivial Christianity but in order to bear fruit we must be buried in and stand on the deep roots of the word and be nourished and empowered by the Holy Spirit as we are gradually Sanctified.

    Now the above two may look quite similar and only God knows the difference. They may leave the church for any number of reasons. Be it hardship in life or the hot potato of suffering, a relationship, sex, money, career but all ultimately because they have never truly been captivated and fallen in love with the beauty of Christ.

As I have said already ultimately only God knows the state of a persons heart towards Him and we must not go around making judgements about the actions and heart of our fellow brothers and sisters wondering if they are really saved. Be FAR MORE concerned with our own hearts and work to removing the huge planks in our own lives before judging the speck in someone else's.

So there you have a brief look at why people leave a church and may or may not return or go elsewhere. Hopefully I haven’t said anything too out of line or controversial here!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

iPhone iOS4 on iPhone 3G Brief Review

This is just a quick review of my experience with the new iPhone operating system, iOS4, released on Monday. I have installed it on my iPhone 3G 16GB.

The update took a long, long, long time. Mainly because of the backup taking hours for some reason. My iPhone was nearly full so that may explain something but, wow it was a long time. The actual update and restore took less time thank goodness though I left it running at 1am on Monday night.

First Impression was ‘uh why is this taking ages to respond to anything I do?’. Yes the new OS running on an iPhone 3G has reduced overall performance significantly. No wonder they stripped out some of the new functions when running on a 3G like multi tasking and wallpapers. All stuff that takes memory which the 3G has so little of remaining once the normal tasks are running. I have had to make sure Safari is always closed properly and not just exited. (Hold standby button down until the Power Off prompt appears, then hold home until the app closes).

Also battery life sucks under the new OS. The drainage time has increased noticeably on a device not great in the first place.

Features I like:

  • IMG_0079Unified Mail Box: This shows all your mail accounts in one unified location, hence the name. It is useful to see all in one go and not have to constantly switch back and forth. also useful when deleting mail.










  • IMG_0076Application Folders: The ability to organise your apps in folders by simply dragging one on top of another is really great. It means you can reduce the number of screens you have to flick through to find apps. As long as you remember which folder the apps is in. Folder naming is important to get right.









  • IMG_0077 iBooks: This is a new, free download from the App store. It enables you to download and read books. This is a nice addition though reading on an iPhone screen can be straining on the eyes. This may be much better on the iPhone 4 with its fancy new screen or on an iPad.









  • IMG_0078 Calendar Control: A small but neat new feature is the ability to just turn off displaying calendars you don’t want to see. This may sound counter intuitive. Surely you want to see your calendars. However I use Google Calendar synced from the internet as well as seeing my Wife's Google Calendar that she syncs from her Blackberry. This new feature means I can just turn off the standard local calendar and not have to switch again.







  • IMG_0080 Open Attachments in Other Apps: Now this is a useful feature and has been long on the desired list. When you receive an email with an attachment like a word doc of PDF the email app will open it in the standard iPhone reader. However you now have a new option of ‘Open In’. If you have other compatible Apps that can read those docs you get the option to open it in them. I use ‘Documents to Go’ and the option to open and then save to my synced store is a welcome feature. Finally we can transfer between apps.





  • Other new features that I haven’t yet worked out the usefulness of yet are the Notes syncing to each email account. I sync my notes to my local Outlook account when I do a sync with iTunes. Syncing to a Notes feature of Google mail is vaguely cool but fairly useless.

    The spell check feature that underlines misspelled words is sort of useful.

Overall I like the new update but the lag on doing anything is starting to get annoying. There is only one thing for it. I will have to get an iPhone 4!

New Foetus Pain Evidence is Irrelevant to Debate

There is much in the news today around ‘evidence’ from the Royal College of Obstetricians. Link on BBC HERE.

Firstly I am not sure I entirely believe the report as there are many research folks who would disagree with this reports findings.

Secondly it states that a foetus does not feel pain before 24 weeks and is naturally sedated in the womb as well. The assumption therefore is that it is ok to abort/kill the foetus/Baby (interchange words depending on what helps you dehumanise the act) before 24 weeks and there is no medical/scientific reason to lower the limit.

However this entirely misses the point of the pro-life debate anyway and all it will do is reinforce the pro-choice lobby’s views getting us no where fast. The logic goes along the lines of ‘it is ok to tear a baby apart in the womb because they won’t feel it’. So if you follow that logic it is ok to kill a dying person as long as they are filled up with pain killers. Or it is ok to kill a person who is paralysed from the neck down and can’t feel their body. Or as long as the death is painless frankly anyone……..

You cannot separate science from ethics and morality, you simply can’t. I understand scientists just stating medical ‘facts’ but that is not the be all and end all of being human.

It is irrelevant if a baby can or can’t actually feel the pain of itself being killed in the womb. It is a human child and deserves every protection that a person who has been born deserves, period!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jesus Ultrasound Poster and Subliminal Pro-Lifers

society_26080_1

WARNING: This is a very blunt and personal view on the issues discussed and are entirely my own views and not those of any organisation I may be associated with!

Just saw this poster that is going to be used I gather by Churches across the nation in the run up to Christmas 2010. It is an interesting concept and design and I think I get where it is coming from.

A design to show that Jesus started as a real baby and it is an image that everyone, or at least most people, can relate to. The lower caption pointing out that ‘Christmas’ starts with ‘Christ’ etc….

I could take issue with the main caption in pointing out that Christ was born 2000 years ago and therefore has already arrived etc… but that would indeed be petty.

What I found interesting was an article on Christian Today that says secularists have got all hot under the collar about it. This following quote being classic secularist nonsense:

“It gives the impression that it was politically motivated, that they are trying to put across some sort of subliminal message,” said Terry Sanderson, director of the National Secular Society, according to The Guardian.

“The image is too specifically associated with pro-lifers to be seen in a benign context.”

Sanderson added, “They should go back to angels and cribs.”

The last sentence showing his true colours and renders everything he said previously as not worth listening to. So as usual with these types as long as Christians stay silent and not dare speak up we can carry on in our freakish weird world of believing in God. But we must not under any circumstance have our faith say anything to rampant secularism and go poking our noses into society with our ‘moral convictions’ about truth and justice.

Sanderson is of course referring to the Channel 4 Marie Stopes adverts that ‘subliminally’ advertises abortion services.

Well Mr Terry Sanderson how is this for a non subliminal pro-life message: Abortion is the murder of the unborn!

Of course I don’t take lightly the horrendous emotional and psychological issues surrounding abortion and unwanted pregnancy. I have heard all the arguments about what about rape, what about babies with some sort of illness or disability, a woman's right to chose etc…. But the bottom line is that for a large majority of Abortions in this country the reason comes down to inconvenience and selfishness on the part of the couple. They simply don’t want the responsibility of looking after a child at that point. There are possibly some very very few instances where there may be some grey area but rarely. How can inconvenience, timing, cost, even disability or pregnancy due to rape (extremely rare by the way) trump the right of a child to have a chance in life? No one can decide that the child's circumstances once born would be too hard and not be fair to bring them into. Who are you to make that decision?

The issue in part comes down to the devaluing of corporate human life in the western world today. For so many different reasons but two being Darwinian evolutionary thinking and the Western idol of self. Where does an Embryo/Foetus become a human life. In UK law it is at 24 weeks! After that the medical profession and Government has deemed that you are now worthy of some protection in law! Despite much evidence to the contrary and babies being born before that time and surviving.

Again I state that I do not say any of this lightly and fully take into account the awful circumstances people find themselves in and the financial, practical and counselling help that they need and that is often not available to them. Yes it can be heart breaking and painful and mind bogglingly difficult to raise a child under, well any circumstances actually.

But this is a human being we are talking about and once conceived has every right to existence as any other human being. It is made in the image of God, knit together in its mothers womb (Psalm 139). Oh no, there I go with that God talk again.

oasisFor a great organisation called The Oasis Crisis Pregnancy Centre click on the link. They offer support services for women with unplanned pregnancy or women coming to terms with abortion. A Wonderfully caring counselling service they provide.

MUSE - Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever) [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Love Muse and okay I admin it the Twilight films as well!!



and my Favourite track:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Grotivate your Church - Funny Spoof!

This is a brilliant send up of 'contemporary' church culture! Short video will have you chuckling for ages. If you get it!

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What does Toleration Actually mean today?

I thought I would write this brief article on Toleration. Mainly I will quote something I read in a much bigger article that can be found here. The quote I want to look at is below.

The new toleration

The definition of "toleration" has been inverted in recent years. Historically, toleration implied disagreement. The powerful would tolerate ideas that they disagreed with or found unpleasant; they might argue against them or condemn them, but they did not suppress the ideas through violence or the courts.

Today, toleration means agreeing that selected categories—typically race, gender, and sexual orientation—are value-neutral, that is, that they have no significant bearing on human worth, moral standing, etc. To suggest otherwise is to commit the one unforgivable sin of being intolerant, judgmental or bigoted.

In other words, toleration has changed from referring to ideas to referring to people, and from learning to live with disagreement to agreeing that [specific] differences don't matter.

In my previous post on why we should vote in the election I mentioned the issue of ‘Toleration’ and quoted a book title by D.A Carson called The Intolerance of Tolerance. I think that title sums up the current view of what Toleration actually means. When you strictly narrow the categories by which you define what tolerance means it inherently becomes intolerant of anything outside of it. Now for those inside those categories this is not seen as an issue and seems entirely reasonable. However for those pushed to the boundaries or who are fully excluded this becomes a major concern and problem.

The outrageous witch hunt against the Conservative candidate for Sutton, Philippa Stroud, is a prime example of this inversion of what society defines as Toleration (click HERE for good article on Christians in the media spotlight and Adrian Warnock’s take on it). The recent court case for Gary McFarlane is another example that highlights the shift on the way society views what is in or out of that category. Excellent article by Former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali shows that Religious conviction is no longer viewed on a level playing field with such things as Sexual orientation or Gender identity. Therefore one set of beliefs/values subjugates another in the name of equality and tolerance in the law.

That effective inequality is the main problem with all this legislation that the Labour government and lobby groups have pushed through. In the attempt to stop discrimination against people on the grounds of Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation, Age and Religion they have inadvertently (or purposefully if you want to be cynical) created a clash between those categories. In this post-modern, post-Christian, secular, humanistic society we call Britain, Religious conviction is trumped by all the other categories.

I had a debate with someone on Twitter around if Philippa Stroud was a bigot and what that actually meant. The tactic most anti-Christian or Atheist people use is to simply dismiss the Bible completely and thus to try and prevent a Christian from arguing from that point of view. A Christians whole frame of reference is Biblical so it can be effective, especially over such things as Social Media as there is so little space to actually engage and debate a person.

The main contention I have is that by a person saying ‘your view is bigoted or Intolerant’ they are effectively saying my belief trumps your belief. I am right and you are wrong. So by the Oxford English Dictionary definition of Bigot are in fact being exactly that and are being Intolerant themselves.

Bigot: a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others

We all bring our beliefs and world view to the table and to say one person is being Intolerant is simply to impose your worldview as the correct one and exclude another's. The very definition of Intolerance in the old definition above.

However generally the person is unwilling or unable to see or accept this. To do so would open debate and allow alternative viewpoints. As far as the person I debated with on twitter was concerned I was a homophobic hateful bigot simply because I was a Christian and held to Biblical authority and they could not accept they were being Intolerant or bigoted themselves. Because of the difference of interpretation of what it means to Tolerate or be Intolerant of something.

I truly believe this will only get worse in Britain in the coming years. It has already happened on more than one occasion that a person has been arrested under hate laws or breach of peace laws for simply repeating what the Bible says, specifically on the subject of Homosexuality. In a recent incident because the Police officer was themselves gay. It can be seen that Christians in public are targeted specifically on this subject because it will get them in trouble in Britain. Even if the laws were not instigated to do this the end result is that they are being used to suppress free speech by those that will not tolerate a moral world view that differs or clashes with their own.

Sadly these stories tend to misrepresent the Biblical world view and focus them solely on the Homosexuality issue making it more of a focus than the Bible actually places on it. Making Christians ‘sound’ like homophobes when in fact a true Christian is nothing of the sort in reality, though may be seen as one by the new definitions.

In my view Bigot, Intolerance or phobe has fear and hate fuelling it. Religious, self righteous types can be bigots and intolerant as much as Atheist humanistic types can be. A true Christian however will not, as they recognise that every one of us on this planet is justly heading for an eternity in hell unless God plucks them from the precipice. Thanks to Jesus Christ's supreme act Love and sacrifice the way is open for just that to happen. A Christian knows that it is only by Grace they are saved through no merit in them at all. Therefore they have no grounds to be self righteous towards anyone and are free to Love and serve others. Christianity defines what it is to have true equality and treat all people with love and respect.

But this does not mean it will agree with your world view. If you are not a Christian I cannot tell you that you are living in immoral life and expect you to change. I can only point you to Christ and if you give your life to Him then change will inevitably be the result as he changes your heart from the inside. But I can tell you that God has a better way to live, that if you live outside of that framework then things will not be as good as they could be and may in fact cause you harm. I cannot expect you to change or agree but I can point the way and this is not Bigoted or Intolerant or hateful because it disagrees with how you currently choose to live. A Christian is motivated by the Love of God for them which naturally wants the best for you.

But don’t expect Christians to be perfect and get it right all the time. We don’t and are on a journey ourselves of being changed. Take the time to understand who it is you are labelling and what they actually stand for before you judge them, you may be surprised by what you find.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Election and Why we should Vote!

Ok so everyone has been talking, blogging, tweeting and generally being opinionated over the last few weeks about the UK General Election. So why care what I think? In short, it matters not a jot what I think.

Unlike in the US where party allegiance seems to be very split down religious and ideological lines this is less so in the UK. I think broadly there are three categories of potential voters:

  1. Those so disillusioned with MP’s and politics who just don’t care or think it matters enough and likely won’t vote.
  2. Those so entrenched in their historic political allegiance that it would not matter what the party said or did they would still vote for them.
  3. Those that have been affected in one way or another directly or indirectly over the past few years in ways that the Government have some measure of input into. eg: the Economy, Education, immigration and overseas policy. These are people that are willing to change their party according to the one that may most help them in the future in the area closest to them.

I have to admit over the past few election I have been in category 1. Yes I know that is not a good place to be, especially for a Christian. But I really couldn’t decided who I could vote for so chose to not vote at all. I have fairly recently seen that this, for me is not acceptable for two reasons. Firstly that I have no right to moan and complain about the current Government if I did nothing to say who that Government is. Secondly I realised that as a Christian that I should vote because it is too important to ignore. Christians have a right and responsibility to influence the world around them and that includes in the political realm.

Now I have moved to category 3. Many who know me will probably think I am really just category 2 because my Parents are staunch Conservatives and to nail my colours to the mast, yes they will be Blue! However that is not why I am voting that way. I guess due to moving into middle age over the past 5-6 years I have grown up a bit and see the impact more on society of the decisions made my local and national government. They seem to have more of an impact on me directly.

So why category three for me? For some losing your job due to the recession will impact what message you listen to. For others being a teacher or having children in education will influence the message you are looking for. For me it is the issue of Civil Liberty and Moral Values. Adrian Warnock, an influential UK Christian leader summed it up well in this article.

Labours record on law making in the name of creating a ‘Tolerant’ Britain is frankly horrendous. A book by D.A Carson sums this up in its title The Intolerance of Tolerance. The laws designed to create a society of Tolerance and diversity have done the opposite. Britain has become a most intolerant society especially towards those of faith and even more specifically those of the Christian faith. You see the idea of Tolerance only works when it is applied evenly to everyone. Unfortunately that is simply not the case in the UK. One persons rights now trump another's with religious belief at the bottom of the pile. We have become a society that is scared to offend or at the least disagree with another persons viewpoint in case they accuse us of being a bigot or of being a whateverphobe and hurting their feelings. This effectively stifles real open honest debate and makes one group wary and suspicious of the motives of another group. You are not a bigot just because you disagree with someone!

Now I certainly don’t agree with all the policies or moral convictions of the Conservatives but they do tend to be less intrusive into the day to day lives of their citizens unlike Labour who want to control every facet of our existence and will fine or imprison you if you dare to speak out on moral issues (Ok that is a bit of an exaggeration but seems to be broadly the direction we are heading). If you want to come down to real personal convictions as to why I could not in all conscience vote for Labour I could sum it up in one person, Harriet Harmon! She has systematically pursued a humanistic amoral liberal agenda within the labour party and would be the first to condemn you for being intolerant for disagreeing with her! Click HERE to see how she has voted on all the moral issues over the last few years to get my point!

Whatever the result of next Thursday I know that God is sovereign and I trust Him fully. I may personally be disappointed with anything other than a Conservative majority but God is in ultimate control and will achieve His good purposes whatever happens in my small timeframe of existence.

Happy and thoughtful Voting to you all!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Humility from the Heart and The search for Pride!

I have been pondering the meaning of humility in the Christian life recently. Partly due to an increasing awareness of the gaping distance between what I see in my own heart and where I think God would want me to be. Also because of the recent announcement by John Piper that he is stepping away from all and every ministry for 8 months to work on his soul and his marriage. (If you listen to THIS sermon 21:10 minutes in, John Explains his reasoning for this!)

Piper_ResourceLibrary_8One of his reasons for this is because he sees in his heart what he calls ‘several species of pride in my soul that, even though they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me.’ (The Full text is here, scroll to the bottom)

When I heard about this and the reasons for it I was frankly stunned. For someone of such a high profile, who is so passionate about the ministry of preaching and teaching, to walk away from it all demonstrates a level of self awareness and humility that is so rare among leaders. To step away on the grounds of, in his words ‘What will happen in my soul and in my marriage when, to use the phrase of one precious brother on staff, there will be no “prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety”?’

Wow! To go to that length on order to search his heart to weed out any hint of pride, idolatry etc… I pray many leaders, even in the tiniest of churches take note and examine their hearts likewise. Now everyone can’t just step away from their jobs for 8 months to do this. John Piper is in a privileged position to be able to do so. However the principle is still there. Whatever area of ministry you are involved with what is your motivation for doing so?

So what does the Bible say about Humility?

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

1 Peter 5:5 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

and its Opposite, Pride?

Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

and one of the most misquoted scriptures of all:

Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Isaiah 2:17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

Pride

The bible has huge amounts to say about Humility and Pride. Now in our culture the value of the two seems to have become reversed. Pride in oneself, ones job, ones possessions, abilities etc is seen as good and humility is seen as weak and undesirable. Yet God requires humility and is squarely against pride that places anything else in Gods own rightful place. Requiring that we submit to God as sovereign and ruler over every aspect of our life and lay down our own desires and pursue His Agenda not our own. That is the call on the Christian that God makes. This is what it means when Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23

However pride is not just seen in external actions. Mostly it is buried in the heart. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18 “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart”. What he is saying is that it is the heart that determines what you say, think and do. I have recently become aware of a staggering Pharisaical pride in my own heart that I find hideous and abhorrent. Anyone who really knows me will tell you that I do not like to be wrong and even less admit it when I am. I am opinionated and there is nothing wrong with that per se. However when pride dictates that you have to win the argument at any cost, that you are right and everyone else is wrong, that your way is the best if not only way, then you are a Pharisee plain and simple. As I said I see this in my own heart and I hate it. I think if I met me there are occasions when I would punch me for being an arrogant idiotic know it all. Taken to its ultimate conclusion you can even start to think that God saved you because of some value in you, that Gods Kingdom would somehow not be quite as good without you in it. That you are so special that you can get away with some things and God lets it go ‘cause you are a special case’. Lies, evil lies, and more lies!!!!

But Pride shows itself in so many subtle ways it is staggering. This is not surprising since the root of sin is pride. Sin is basically putting something or someone in the place of God. Pride says God cannot be trusted! Pride says I know better than God how to run my life. Pride says I am better than that person because I don’t …… (fill in your judgemental attitude here). Or how dare that person judge me. Pride says there is no God. I won’t apologise to my spouse. I wish those parents would shut their children up, I would never let my kids do that. Pride says you cannot come anywhere near my heart. I will not surrender my heart and soul to God. Pride is the loud extrovert who controls the conversation and the self deprecating quiet ‘meek’ person who won’t speak up and give an opinion.

The worst kind of pride is the kind of religious pride I see in myself and in the church (in general not mine in particular) so often. The judgemental attitude towards non Christians, the way the service is run, that we are free and dance about or that we are respectful and quiet. My theology is correct theirs is not. It can be seen in leadership that won’t admit mistakes and hurts the flock as a consequence. I could go on but I hope you get the idea. Pride is everywhere in the human heart.

James 4:6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

God opposes the proud. Now that is a scary place to be!!! You really do not want the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe to oppose you.

So how do we combat this cancer of prideful sin?

Humility and Good News

Humility is pretty much the opposite of pride, but how do we become less full of pride and more humble? The answer lies in the cross and what it achieved and why it was necessary.

Basically we have committed treason against a Holy and righteous God. We have contradicted every moral directive He has laid out and first and foremost we have put created things in the place of the creator. We have taken God away from His rightful position as Sovereign Ruler and put ourselves in His place. Now because of this God has every right to wipe us from the face of the earth. There is not one innocent person on this planet who has any claim against God’s just right to send any one of us to an eternity in hell. There is no case to plead, no appeal, no witness we can bring that will stand before a Holy and Just God and not wither into nothing. If you think that is unfair then would you consider justice to have been done if a High Court judge simply let off a murderer, rapist, thief, any law breaker? No you wouldn’t! If a Judge said to a rapist, you were caught and are undeniably guilty of this crime, but I’ll just let you go, that would be the most wrong and unjust action. But the crimes each of us has committed against God are simply on a scale many times greater than any crime that can be done on earth. If you sin against an infinitely Holy God then the judgement and punishment must match that infinite crime.

So what hope is there?

If Justice cannot be served without the punishment fitting the crime then how can we ever be saved? God is not just an Infinitely Holy and Just God. He is also an infinitely loving, merciful and gracious God. God had a plan from before the universe came into existence. A glorious plan that wonderfully highlights and points to His amazing, loving Grace. Jesus, fully God, humbled himself and entered our fallen world as fully man. A perfect sinless man. He never once broke God’s moral directives/law. He died on the cross, an unimaginably tortured and gruesome death. But that wasn’t the worst part. On that cross for those few hours God turned away from Jesus, and poured out the eternal punishment due to us, onto His son. The marvel of the cross is not just in the physical nature of the act but in the spiritual nature. Jesus became sin, who knew no sin, for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took our due punishment and not only that imputed, clothed us in, wrapped us in, his righteousness. The great exchange as it is known. When God looks upon one of his Children He sees a clean, holy, pure, righteous child, without stain or blemish. But the rub is that it applies only if you believe, trust in and surrender your life to Him. God desires every one to be saved and his arms are outstretched to you with the invitation. The invitation of new life. Jesus also rose from the dead and through that resurrection gives us spiritually dead people new life for eternity.

So what has this to do with Humility. Well on the grounds that there is absolutely nothing in me that deserves anything other than an eternity in hell and that I am only saved by what Christ did on the cross I have nothing to boast in except Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 and Galatians 2:20) My pride has no say in my being saved. I did nothing, God did it all. When you grasp the magnitude of this truth and let it sink into your soul then Pride is revealed and diminished and Humility takes its place. The wonderful, glorious, freeing truth that the Sovereign, infinitely Holy, infinitely Righteous, infinitely Loving and Gracious God reached down and saved me for no reason except by His sovereign Grace extended towards me. Justice is still served and I go free. How awesome and amazing is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am free and adopted into the family of God. I get to worship Him forever. Not out of Duty but out of love and thankfulness.

That is the antidote to Pride in the heart. It takes a lifelong journey to let this truth sink in and transform you. But there is no greater Joy in the Universe that knowing your heart being satisfied in worshipping the beautiful creator of the Universe and my heavenly Father.

(Edited to Correct the dodgy spelling. Teacher told me off!!!)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

My First Sermon - Suffering, Sovereignty and Security in Christ

This is a sermon I gave at a cell cluster meeting. It is a very personal story and written as someone in it rather than looking in. It is as much aimed at me as anyone who reads it. It is a heart laid bare and vulnerable. Yes it is quite dark and probably depressing but hey, it’s real life. Enjoy is probably the wrong word!!

Introduction

Good evening everyone. Before I start please open Romans 8.

Tonight the title of my talk is Suffering, Sovereignty and Security in Christ. In order to give you an understanding of why I chose to talk on this difficult topic I would like to share some events that happened in my life that are relevant to my journey with suffering.

To balance what I am about to share there have been wonderfully joyful and blessed times as well. It isn’t all doom and gloom.

  • My dad left when I was 12 years old to live with another woman.
  • At secondary school I suffered 3 years of persistent emotional bullying up to and including my O level year.
  • At age 16 I developed severe acne which meant I had open weeping sores on my face and back for over a year.
  • By the time I was 17 I was depressed, face down and alone with the feeling no one, apart from one or two very good friends, cared.
  • Two weeks before my 18th Birthday God sovereignly stepped into my life and saved me.(Click here for that Story).
  • (Edit from Original) The intervening 21 years filled with various trials and personal struggles. Some too recent and personal to share on a public forum such as this.

I say none of this for sympathy or to claim I have a monopoly on suffering. I don’t! There are people who have gone through far deeper suffering than I have and I am sure some of you are in this room tonight. I tell you this simply to say I have grappled with the question of why suffering exists and what is its purpose?

This is such a huge topic and I cannot hope to tackle the subject in any depth and I don’t have all the answers. What I offer is where I stand today in my walk with God and the questions I have wrestled with in the past few weeks.

The heart of the issue is this:

Do I believe that God is good and just and that I can trust him with my heart in the face of what life throws at me or am I better off on my own protecting myself?

It’s a question everyone asks at some point. It is at the heart of the fall and at the heart of the very core of sin.... Pride!!

But let’s step back and take a few minutes to look at why there is suffering in this world. I then want to look briefly at the Sovereignty of God in suffering and finally to approach that question and look at how we can be Secure in our hope in Christ during times of trial. All in 25 minutes, or maybe 3 hours!

Why is there Suffering in this World?

When faced with a world filled with the horror of both Natural and Moral evil, we need a firm foundation on which to stand or when suffering hits us, which it will, we will choose that latter option in the question and decide God can’t be trusted.

Turn on the news to hear stories of Natural disasters and the death and suffering that ensues, like the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti recently. Then there is the Staggering evil that humans are capable of doing to one another and on and on it goes. Is it any wonder that you so often hear the cry ‘If God is good, why is there all this suffering in the world?’ You may have asked that?

So let’s bring some biblical context to the existence of suffering.

Romans 8:18-25 gives us an idea of why suffering exists.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.

There are a few things to point out here:

· The whole of Creation, not just man, is in bondage to corruption and is subjected to futility and this covers the majority of History.

· There was a point when it wasn’t like it. In Genesis 1-2 creation was called Very Good by God. No death, suffering etc... So something happened to change Very Good to death, decay, disease, global disasters and suffering etc...

· v20 says that creation was subjected to futility by someone, it didn’t just happen by itself. It was good then it wasn’t. Who did that? God did it, God subjected. God is the ‘him’ of verse 20.
You see, Adam and Eve had committed an act of Cosmic Treason against God and as Sovereign Judge and creator He had to pass sentence.

The sentence passed could seem like a staggering overreaction and totally unfair.
But if you take an infinitely Holy, Glorious and Just God in one hand and the Sin of Adam and Eve let alone the entire world in the other, the scales of justice balance towards Him. God was right and appropriate in His sentence.

We are called to Love God 100%, with all our heart (Matthew 22:37). First Commandment! I’ve failed in that every minute of this day let alone my whole life, a sin no less grievous than eating the apple which brought down the entire universe. Every one of us stands in rebellion to God. No one is innocent and it is only by Gods Grace that there is any good in the world.

Romans 6:23 states the punishment for sin is death. Everyone will die! With the when and how decided by God!

All Suffering, not just ours is designed to point us to the Horror, outrage and seriousness of moral evil before an infinitely Holy God. We should be broken in repentance when we see suffering and staggered by Gods unmerited Grace.

In Luke 13 Jesus is asked, if the people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them were more sinful than others. He indicated that WE should have been under that tower. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

All suffering in the world has its ultimate root as a direct result of Sin.
That gives a brief overview of the Global Picture of Suffering from a Biblical perspective. It gives us a framework within which to shape our view suffering. Now I want to zoom in on God’s Sovereignty in and over our suffering.

Gods Sovereignty in and over Suffering

So what do I mean by God’s Sovereignty. There are various views on this in the Christian church. Ranging from a liberal fairly powerless ‘Sovereignty’ to Sovereign authority deferring to mans absolute Free Will. My working definition is this:

· God is absolute Sovereign over the entire Universe and nothing, Nothing happens in the Universe without God’s ultimate permission.

Each view, whichever you have, creates a whole host of theological questions if you follow their respective logic. I’ll briefly detail two biblical examples to lend some support to my view.

Take the story of Job! He was a man of great wealth, with 7 sons, 3 daughters, many servants and livestock. In one day Job lost all his children and property in 2 natural and 2 man made disasters.

Two reactions from Job point to God’s sovereignty. Job 1:20-22 reads:

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

And Job 2:10: Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job held to God’s absolute providential will as primary cause and worshiped God.

Job never finds out why these things happened, but we do. Satan approached God and twice asked for permission to challenge Job’s Godly obedience. God first gives Satan permission to take Job’s wealth and family and then to take Job’s health, but not his life. It is hard teaching but we’ll see some of God’s providential purposes in it later.

I have three points to make about Gods sovereignty over suffering:

1. God is Sovereign over all things including Life & death, Natural and moral evil and over Satan. Things would be far worse without God graciously limiting Satan’s ferocious appetite for evil.

2. Satan clearly has a hand in all manner of suffering but is a secondary cause. He is the one that actually carries out and is therefore accountable for many evil acts and intends them for our harm, but God has a primary purpose in all things and uses what Satan means for evil for our Good and His Glory.

Another example is Joseph’s story! In Genesis 50:20 he says to his brothers “what you meant for harm God meant for good”

Here it can be said that Joseph’s brothers carried out an evil act and are entirely to be held accountable for it, yet at the same time, God had a plan in it to bring about a greater good through it.

God cannot be held responsible for Evil but does use and permit evil acts for his redeeming purposes and ultimately for His Glory! See James 1:13-14

Scripture clearly teaches that on the one hand God causes all things to happen but he does so in a way that somehow preserves our ability to make real choices that have real results and that we are fully accountable for. How God does this is not clear in scripture but the overwhelming evidence in scripture is that both are somehow true.

The ultimate demonstration of this sovereignty is the death and resurrection of Christ. Planned from the beginning of time. Not as plan B in response to the Fall but the centrepiece to the demonstration of Gods Glory, Justice, Love, Grace and Mercy and absolute ruling authority over all of history.

3. This brings me to my final point about Sovereignty. If we are not careful we could end up viewing God in His sovereignty one the one hand as being like an uncaring capricious father who does what he wants for no rhyme or reason or on the other as mere robotic Fatalism? But they both totally miss the meaning of Gods Sovereignty.

Spurgeon commented:

What is fate? Fate is this – whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, whatever God ordains must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that.... There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with a good eye and a blind man.

God works all things according to the counsel of his will! Ephesians 1:11

We can take great comfort in Gods sovereign purposes even when we cannot see the whole picture.

Eternal Security and our Sanctification in Christ

So Suffering is in the world on account of Sin and all things are governed by Gods Sovereign Providence, including our suffering.

So what do we do with all of this? How does it help when the storm strikes?

The logical conclusion of my expressed view is that it was God’s will that my Dad left home, that I was bullied and had acne; and God has some great purpose in it. On the one hand those things are abhorrent to God from his revealed word yet at the same time in God’s providence He willed they should happen. As much as that is a hugely difficult concept to grasp I believe it absolutely biblical.

How you deal with suffering entirely depends on your view of God. To go back to my original question:

Do I believe that God is good and just and that I can trust him with my heart in the face of what life throws at me or am I better off on my own protecting myself?

I have five observations I would like to make about coping with the storms of life, in order to help answer that question?

1. It is ok to feel pain. If we take Job 1:20, which we often overlook for verses 21 and 22:
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 “Naked I came etc...”

There is deep pain in that verse; he mourned his loss to the core. His 10 children were dead, what deeper pain can there be than that for a dad? For seven days he sat silent as did his friends with him. The only thing they got right. Yet in his pain he acknowledged and found security in Gods sovereignty and gave God glory. Not singing a happy clappy praise song or quoting “greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world”.

Trusting God doesn’t anaesthetize pain. It is true we should never despair as we are not without hope but don’t ever pretend that God desires some stoic self resolve to carry on as normal. Pain is meant to disrupt and be felt.

Western Christianity seems to avoid the problem of pain. Some even claiming that it is never God’s will for us to feel pain or suffer if we are saved. They’ve clearly never read Paul. We’re uncomfortable around those who are in pain. Maybe it’s just me but we instinctively feel that we shouldn’t feel pain as joy filled evangelicals. We can feel we’re somehow failing God because we don’t feel better and aren’t full of joy. We’re allowed a week maybe, but then we feel we should be better and it’s back on with the mask of: “How are you?”, “I’m fine”! Afraid to reveal our weakness.

The song stained Glass Masquerade by Casting Crowns, sums that up perfectly:

With walls around our weakness, And smiles to hide our pain. The performance is convincing, And we know every line by heart, Only when no one is watching, Can we really fall apart. But would it set me free, If I dared to let you see, The truth behind the person That you imagine me to be? Would your arms be open? Or would you walk away? Would the love of Jesus Be enough to make you stay? ((c) Casting Crowns, Written by Mark Hall)

Please don’t go paddling up that river in Egypt! Denial is dangerous to the heart and body. Repressed Pain will work its way out in other ways. Addictions, compulsive disorders, cynicism, angry outbursts from nowhere, bitterness to others, or escapist pursuits designed to anaesthetise painful emotions. Ultimately long term denial of pain leads to a dead heart unable to feel Joy, happiness even Love. Repressing –ve emotions leads to ALL emotions being taken down and ultimately depression. Trust me!

But Read Psalm 88! It is a psalm that is so dark and desperate and uniquely has no happy ending. It is there to tell us it is ok to feel pain. To cry out to God when we don’t feel He is there.
There is a time to weep and mourn. You must work it through and let God bring Grace in it and eventually healing. If not now, fully in heaven.

We will groan inwardly in this life as Paul says in Romans 8:23, and outwardly because we are only sojourners in this world, it is not our home. This is only temporary. This leads me to the second point.

2. We do Have Glorious HOPE! Hope deferred makes the heart sick, Proverbs 13:12. God knows we need hope to survive. In Jesus’ resurrection we find our ultimate hope for new life. But that’s another sermon!

Going back to Romans 8:18-25, it is full of glorious hope:

V18 Jesus will return and we will see a beauty so Glorious and all satisfying, finally seeing Him as He really is.

V19 & 23 We will be transformed. These bodies of ours, with all their disease, sin, suffering will be changed into His likeness, fully redeemed. Glorified bodies, able to enjoy God and creation the way we were meant to. No more tears or suffering!

But not only our bodies the entirety of creation is transformed, like nothing we have ever imagined.

Suffering and death holds out no hope for a non Christian but for those who are in Christ it is no longer a curse. Death has lost its sting and is redeemed. It is a passageway to Glory. We have hope!

But if our heart is not set on Jesus and this future hope, we will set our hope in what we can see and control. In an endless list of idols like TV, sex, drugs, comfort, Church, family, house, job, spouse, holidays. See Jeremiah 2:13

Do we Settle for muddy cess pits now, or look to our future all satisfying eternal hope in Christ.
Future hope helps us see our suffering in the perspective of Gods eternal plans.

3. Three Observations about the purpose of Suffering for a Christian.

a. Firstly Suffering is never futile for a Christian.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

No amount of good theology is able to take the pain out of suffering. However it does give hope and enable us to suffer well and persevere.

We sometimes do not know the purpose for our suffering and we will wrestle with questions like: Why me? Why now? What’s the point? How does this help? But we must remember we don’t have the whole picture, as Job didn’t.

Asking why is not wrong but the truth is, we may never see what the purpose was this side of heaven.

Corrie ten Boom, who suffered much during World War II when she was imprisoned for helping Jews said:

‘the suffering of the world is like looking at the bottom of a tapestry. God is weaving it from the top down, and he sees the picture developing. We're looking at it from the bottom up, and we're seeing all of these tangled threads. It doesn't look like it's making any sense at all, but it's the same tapestry’.

b. Secondly Suffering is for our Sanctification

In the absolute darkest moments we cling to God because there isn’t anything else to cling to. We know nothing else brings us any true hope at all. Ultimately that is Gods good purpose. Suffering is permitted and used by God to graciously wean us off of dependence on ourselves and onto trusting fully in Him. Away from idolatry to true worship. It’s all about sanctification.

This was God’s purpose with Job. Satan’s goal was to show that Job would disown God if he didn’t have his wealth, family and health. That Job only loved God because of the blessings he had received and if he lost it all he would disown God. It was a challenge to God’s goodness and infinite worth.

This is always Satan’s goal in blessing or suffering. To challenge our need of God in plenty or our faith that God is good and trustworthy in suffering.

Either way, in suffering or blessing, to draw us away from holding God as the highest treasure in our lives and to take away our Joy in Him.

God’s purposes are the exact opposite. (James 5:11. Romans 5:3-4)

In losing his health and prosperity God demonstrated both that Job held God as all sufficient and also revealed the lurking pride in his heart.

When things go wrong God is not punishing you if you are a believer, it is not punitive. It may be discipline if you are suffering because of your own sin. But either way it’s the Grace of a loving father going to any length to restore his children to wholeness!

To reiterate, God’s purposes when times of suffering come are to graciously reveal sinful pride in our own hearts and draw us to dependence on Him.

But in order to understand what God would teach us we need to examine our heart and souls response to suffering. How does your heart respond to suffering? Ask yourself that question when things go wrong. It is a great gauge to how much you trust God with your heart.

1 Peter 1:6-7: In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When faced with suffering we have a choice! Get angry with God, wave our fist and choose option two of my question; ‘If that’s the way you treat me I’m better off alone!’ or engage with your heart and realise that what God is doing in our suffering is to refine and purify us. To remove the dross in the furnace of suffering like a surgeon targeting and cutting out the disease; yes it hurts, but the result is greater wholeness and ability to draw near to God.

Let us not be afraid of searching our hearts, scared that we are becoming too self preoccupied. There is a big difference between looking inward, being brutally honest and wrestling with God about how you feel than to navel gazing for self pity’s sake. One is self centred the other is for the sake of learning what God would teach you about Him and about yourself in the midst of suffering. It requires humility and results in repentance.

Don’t waste the opportunity trials bring for you to learn and be further transformed into the likeness of Christ.

c. Thirdly Suffering for the purpose of Helping others and to Glorify God

2 Corinthians 1:4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The final thing I want to say about the purpose of suffering is that when we are suffering and if/when we are through it we are enabled to help others and Glorify God in the process. I can testify to God using my story to enable me to come alongside those with similar history.

James Tiberius Kirk once said ‘How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life’. (Yes that is a Star Trek reference)

How we approach suffering and ultimately death says much about who it is we place our hope and trust in. When the world sees us honestly wrestling with suffering of any sort and not losing hope that is one of the greatest pointers to our Saviour we can make.

4. We must never take Grace for Granted or put God on Trial.

When things go wrong, I think it fair to say, we tend to presume upon His Grace instead of being amazed by it and we forget he is Just in everything He does.

We put God in the dock when things go wrong; we put Him on Trial as Job did! I look back over my Christian life and can see several times when I have set myself as Judge over what God has allowed to happen, even small things. “What are you doing God? That’s not the way to deal with that person. That will just turn them away from you, if you just did this and that”.

Or we wave a fist shouting “That’s not fare!” demanding that God give an account of himself to explain his treatment of us. Stamping our feet like spoilt children. Can you hear the arrogance in that? This highlights the core of what God wants to reveal and remove in our Sanctification, Pride!

We are not the centre of the universe. God is not a Genie to be called upon to make us comfortable.

Romans 11:33-34 says: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

Go back to what I said about the correlation with Suffering and Sin. When we see or experience suffering we must remember the outrageousness of sin not the injustice of God.

Eternity in hell is fair. Death is fair. Jesus nailed to a cross..... that’s undeserved Grace.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!

5. God is not indifferent to our suffering. We are fully Secure in Him!

1 Peter 4:19 - Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Hebrews 4:15-16 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus went through more suffering than we can ever imagine. Take the enormity and outrage of the Sin committed against God that I have tried to communicate and remember that on the cross Jesus took the punishment that was deservedly ours upon Himself.

Multiply the sin of Adam and Eve by the thousands that we have committed then by the whole number of the human race and know, that Jesus’ suffering and death matched every one of those universe crushing sins, demonstrating His infinite love and worth in the process.

Though God may seem so silent and so distant in our darkest times He is 100% for us. The Cross shouts that to us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? ...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword...

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord
. Romans 8:31-39

Conclusion

Hopefully I haven’t depressed you all. I pray that you hear God’s heart for you. We all have seasons of plenty and blessing as well as seasons of sorrow, sometimes all mixed up. How we respond and let God shape and change our hearts in both seasons is of equal importance. It is all part of the journey of Sanctification we are all on. Your willingness to engage with that determines how much God is glorified and you are sanctified.

So Do I believe that God is good and just and that I can trust him with my heart in the face of what life throws at me?

In all honesty, Yes... and No. We have fickle hearts. Just a few years ago I would have reacted very differently, “It’s so unfair” would have been my cry! But because of how I now view God’s sovereignty and because last year in my search for understanding what Joy in God meant I was challenged by and took to heart Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

God is the ultimate Treasure in the universe and source of Joy! It is Him we must cling to when the storms come. If I reject God there is nothing else. There is no one who truly understands us, enters our suffering and who will never leave or forsake us.

Who will walk through the valley of the shadow of death and give us hope and a future, Jesus will. God is in absolute sovereign control of all things. We can trust Him with our hearts! We can trust in his perfect justice! We can trust in His glorious undeserved Grace and Mercy. He sent Jesus. He IS Good!

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

Thank you for listening!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sam Storms and Adrian Warnock on being a Reformed Charismatic

Great interview and Wisdom from a couple of wise men of God on bringing together two camps of Christianity that haven’t always seen eye to eye.

Or put it more simply, seeing what the Bible sais about it!!!

Sam Storms On Pastoring As A Reformed Charismatic from Adrian Warnock on Vimeo.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Hope in Loss

I just came across this on the Internet. In 2005 the daughter in law of Wayne Grudem, who is a wonderful bible scholar (Wayne that is), was killed instantly in a car crash after just 3 months of marriage to Alex Grudem, Wayne’s son. The link below is a recording of the funeral service. Now this may seem awful that they published this but having just listened to three of the small MP3’s it is not. Listen first to Wayne Grudems message, then to Alex Grudems Thoughts and finally John Pipers message.

It is painful to hear it, especially if you have suffered loss yourself that is not yet worked through. It will break into your heart and outpour in tears or you don’t have a heart. But the hope in the midst of grief and sorrow in these messages is staggering. This is real Christians working out their salvation in a fallen world and holding fast to the promises of God in scripture. Clinging to the Hope to which we are called as followers of Jesus Christ.

Link HERE

May God be your strength in the depth of your sorrow and lift your eyes to see the glorious future that is available for those that Love Christ.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Praise you in This Storm - Now I really understand this song!


I cannot say why at the moment apart from now I understand this song in a much more profound way. This has always been my favourite and most powerful of Casting Crowns' songs.

I have posted this song before but needed to post it again.

Listen to the testimony at the beginning and then the words. May it bless and challenge as to what it really means to know God in the midst of pain.

Lyrics below, song at bottom of post:

I was sure by now,God, that You would have reached down
and wiped our tears away,
stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
and it's still raining
as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away.

Chorus:
And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to You
and raised me up again
my strength is almost gone how can I carry on
if I can't find You
and as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away

Chorus

I lift my eyes onto the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes onto the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth

Chorus

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A no Nonsense Sermon you must hear to start 2010!

On Sunday we had a visiting speaker by the name of Simon Guillebaud. I have rarely heard a sermon that is so no nonsense and absolutely direct about how our comfortable western Christianity is so safe. I don’t mean safe in a good way. I mean it in a nice ‘come to Jesus and everything will be fine’ message way.

The message that so many Western Churches give out is that if you come to Jesus then all your problems will be sorted is so unbiblical. Simon clearly shows how this is just wrong. He worked in Burundi for several years which is possibly the worst place on earth to see all the horrors that Humans are capable of where the western Gospel message as above would seem like a cruel joke. He brings out what the message should truly be about Jesus. That suffering goes hand in hand with the true Gospel.

Oh and his rather direct explanation for why Big Brother is such junk for Christians to watch is something else.

This sermon is powerful stuff and a good kick up the backside at the start of 2010.

Click HERE for the MP3 download and be challenged to live a radical Christian life.