David's Blog

Let’s look at Luke together this Advent - Midweek Message 25th November 2020

 

Dear Friends,

‘Welcome to the joyful opening chapters of Luke's gospel. They have always seemed to me to glow, and not only through their association with the Christmas lights that sparkle in the darkness of December. Luke presents Jesus’ entry into the world as the radiant dawn of an eternal day. There's music as well as light.  Jesus entered this world accompanied by songs of celebration. Since then I'm sure these two chapters have inspired more music than any other section of the Bible. Glowing with light and ringing with music, Luke’s nativity account invites us to experience the joy Jesus’ birth still gives’

Thus begins the introduction to The Radiant Dawn, Tom Parsons’ booklet of Advent readings which we are sending to every household associated in one way or another with Inshes Church. We’re so aware of not being able to meet together as we would like this Christmas but that inability does not have to mean  we cannot share together in some manner in the abiding truth, hope and joy wrapped up in the story of Jesus coming into our world. So we’re encouraging everyone, from the first day of December to take a few moments each day to look at Luke, that with God’s help we may be led, as the shepherds were, to find the one whose birth remains good news of great joy for all people.(2.10)

Jesus IS for everyone. That is something that Luke wanted everyone to know as he wrote his carefully researched account of Jesus. If you feel yourself to be insignificant, always on the margins never in the centre, Luke is for you because he wants you to know that Jesus is for you. The one for whom Bethlehem had no room, who was born in an outhouse, has plenty of room in his heart, in his ministry for all who feel themselves excluded. If you like reversals, where those who are down and out  are lifted up and those who are up and proud of it are brought down, then again Luke is for you because he wants you to know that Jesus brings about such reversals. As Mary, the seemingly insignificant teenager chosen to be Jesus’ natural mother, both illustrates and sings, through Jesus God brings down rulers from their thrones but lifts up the humble, fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty (1.52,53)

So let me encourage you to use Tom Parsons book to help you read, think and pray – indeed to do as Mary herself did with all the events surrounding Jesus birth – to treasure these things and ponder them in your heart (2.19). As you do that look out for some of the major themes and concerns of Luke’s gospel which are anticipated in these opening two chapters:

  • ·         The links with the Old Testament promises
  • ·         The Davidic kingly role of Jesus
  • ·         The restoration of Israel
  • ·      The inclusion of Gentiles (most people think Luke was                 himself a Gentile a Non-Jew and if so the only non-                     Jewish author of any of the New Testament books)
  • ·         God’s concern for the poor
  • ·         The role of the Holy Spirit
  • ·         The anticipated opposition
  • ·         The joy caused by the good news about Jesus*

But above all look out for Jesus, the one who brings light into dark places, causes young and old to sing and generates unexpected joy in unlikely people.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has this prayer to commemorate Luke in his writing of his gospel and also the Book of Acts:

Almighty God who calledst Luke the physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist and Physician of the soul: may it please thee that by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord

Or perhaps even better the prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus, with which Tom Parsons concludes his brief introduction:

O Radiant Dawn,

Splendour of eternal Light,

Sun of Justice:

Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness

and the shadow of death.

Yours in seeking to bathe in that Light

David

 

PS There are extra copies of the Radiant Dawn, which you are welcome to take and give to others, as there are of the Christmas Hope in a Covid World tract which we hope you might have opportunity to pass on to others who might benefit from it

* as identified in the introduction to Luke in How to read the Bible Book by Book – A guided tour  by Gordon D Fee & Douglas Stuart, Zondervan p287

 

 

Someone not to forget - Midweek Message 18th November 2020


Dear Friends,

One of the benefits of taking part in another Christianity Explored course is it affords the opportunity to  read through the Gospel of Mark again and though you may have read it countless times before, as I have, there are always new things to see or old things which strike you with new force. For me, this time round it has been the reality of the spiritual forces of evil.  

Imagine someone who has never before read either the Bible or Mark and who is totally unfamiliar with a biblical worldview, submerged as they have been all their lives with our contemporary 21st century secular culture. You wonder what they make of the fact within a few verses of the opening of Mark you meet Jesus in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan (1.13). Then a few verses later (vs23-27) in the synagogue in Capernaum he confronts a man with an unclean spirit  which Jesus casts out of him. Next, outside the home of Simon Peter, as the sun sets on a busy day of ministry, we’re told he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak (v34)  Finally v39 sums up the thrust of Jesus ministry at this early stage: And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. That’s all within the first chapter and the new reader with their secular 21st worldview must be wondering what kind of world they have entered in Mark. Yet the answer that Jesus and the Bible gives back is – the real world! Jesus, the New Testament and the Bible as a whole would want to say to us that we will never understand our world, or indeed our lives, if we don’t take seriously the reality of evil and the spiritual forces of evil.  

I’m reminded of CS Lewis’ words in his Preface to The Screwtape Letters: ’There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.’1  However apart from what Lewis calls the materialist (disbelieving in the spiritual forces of evil) and the magician (over-preoccupied with them) I wonder if there is not a third category into which the Christian believer can readily fall, namely, the amnesiac. That is the person whom if you asked, Do you believe in the devil and the spiritual forces of evil? would answer’ Yes’ but then in their daily life and witness  fail to take account of his hidden but real power and influence.

Let me simply focus on one area of life: the role of the devil in people’s rejection of Jesus and the gospel. Paul alludes to this, for example, in 2 Corinthians 4 where he speaks about those who responded sceptically and negatively to his ministry of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. He describes their case and condition in this way: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor 4.4). The god of this world  is a reference to the devil. It is not just Paul who sees the devil as active in this manner. To return to Mark,  Jesus likens his own preaching ministry to a famer sowing seed and the responses his word meets being similar to that of the seed as it falls in a variety of soils. In the first place, there are those  who are like the seed that  fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mk 4.4) Later to his disciples he explains what he means: Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. (Mk 4.15) Or later in Mark consider what Jesus says to Peter when having confessed Jesus as the Christ, he then fails to see why Jesus could possibly have to go to the cross and suffer and die and tries to dissuade him from it:  “Get behind me, Satan!" he (Jesus) said You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Mk 8.33) Again, Jesus sees through human unbelief to the malevolent influence of the devil.

These verses are an important reminder that when it comes to witnessing to Jesus and his Gospel as in seeking to live true to Jesus and his gospel  we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6.12 ESV)  We, therefore, need to be constantly praying for ourselves and for others in the manner Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer: Deliver us from evil or the evil one  (as Matthew 6.13 can be translated).

At the same time, as his ministry in Mark  reminds us and as his death and resurrection secured, we need to be assured that all that is required to liberate us and others  from the grip of the evil one has been done for us by the Lord  Jesus. Our calling is therefore to appropriate and apply that victory  to ourselves and on behalf of others through faith and prayer. There is of course an ongoing struggle involved in that appropriation and application, but the ultimate  outcome is secure.

In memorable fashion, a couple of verses from an older hymn expresses the enduring victory that Jesus in his life and death  has won over the evil one on behalf of all his people:

O wisest love! That flesh and blood

which did in Adam fail

should strive afresh against the foe

should strive and should prevail

 

O generous love! That He who smote

in Man, for man, the foe,

the double agony in Man,

for man should undergo.2

 

Yours in Him,

David

 

1   CS Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, Collins 1965  p9

2  from Praise to the Holiest in the height – John Henry Newman 

Battling Unbelief - Midweek Message 28th October 2020

 

Jesus said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

Dear Friends,

What do you do when you are struggling with doubt? When the flame of your faith, your trust in God, in Christ, is burning low and indeed you feel is in danger of being extinguished? When your commitment to core truths of the Christian faith begins to waver? What do you do? Where do you go, when you find yourself battling unbelief?

There is no more core truth than the bodily resurrection of Jesus – as Paul makes plain in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4   For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  Christianity stands or falls on this truth, as he confirms in v14, if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  

In relation to that truth, one of the most noticeable aspects of the gospel accounts of the reaction of Jesus disciples to his resurrection is their initial scepticism and unbelief. They struggled with doubt but what is equally noticeable is Jesus response to that scepticism and unbelief. As well as presenting them with evidence that it is him, risen and alive, (as for example in Luke 24.39-43 when he encourages them to look at his hands and his feet and then asks for something to eat and is given a piece of broiled fish which he eats in their presence), he also keeps referring them back to the Bible, the Old Testament Scriptures. We see that in the verses quoted at the top of the page where the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus are downcast in relation to the brutal reality of Jesus death and doubting about rumours of his resurrection. Jesus rebukes their reluctance to believe and then reminds them of the necessity of Messiah’s death and victory over death in resurrection, as he  takes them on a guided tour of these Old Testament Scriptures as they predicted, prepared for and pointed to all that Messiah (himself) would do. He does something similar in the concluding section of Luke that we looked at last Sunday morning : He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day… (24:44-46) . He keeps bringing them back to Scripture, that they might feed and ground their faith there. Paul in effect does the same thing with those who were questioning the truth of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, when he affirms (most likely quoting an early creed) Jesus being raised on the third day was according to the Scriptures (v4)

Here then is Paul sending people battling unbelief back to the Scriptures. Before him, here is Jesus, the living Word of God sending doubting disciples to the written Word of God (the Scriptures). Here, according to Jesus and his apostles is the antidote to doubt and unbelief, grasping and holding on to what God has said in his Word and never letting go. It can be a battle, a real battle. It always has been from the very beginning, for there is one who  loves to cast aspersion, sow doubt and fuel scepticism in relation to God and his Word – one who is constantly whispering in our ear, ‘ Did God really say…?’  (Genesis 3.1)  Yet when the battle is fiercest, remember that the Lord Jesus not only pointed his disciples in their doubts, their unbelief to Scripture,  Scripture was where he himself went in the darkest moments of his life. There was no darker moment in all of human experience than that between the sixth and ninth hour of his time on the cross and what did he do? He cried out from the depths of his being in the words of Psalm 22.1 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (see Matthew 27.45-46) In his bewilderment he was still holding on to the word of God. And what were his final words as he breathed his last and gave himself up to death?  The written Word of God. Scripture. As he addressed his Father in the words of Psalm 31.5 “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”  He went down into death with the written Word of God on his lips to await the further fulfilment of that Word and the vindication of his faith in God and that Word, in his resurrection on the third day.

Whatever happens, however dark or deep the doubt, keep holding on to the Word of God for as Isaiah said and Jesus affirmed in principle and practice: The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever (Isaiah 40:8)

Yours in Him

David  

The love and power of Jesus and his cross - Midweek Message 14th October 2020

 

 

Dear Friends,

Since we returned to the church building for our Sunday morning gatherings, we have been considering selective passages from Luke’s gospel seeking to gain or recover insight and understanding of the person and work of Jesus. For me, the thing that has stood out has been his love for and commitment to those whom others had written off or rejected. The parables in Luke 15 illustrated it so clearly, told as they were to those who were critical of Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them (15.2) When there was further criticism of his going to the house of Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector, they clearly had misunderstood what he was all about and so he summed up his mission for them and us -  the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost ( 19.10) Last Sunday, we had another wonderful example of that when with almost his last breath, he turned to the penitent and believing criminal crucified beside him, who had asked to be remembered by him as he came into his kingdom, and assured him I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. (23:43)

These stories are surely meant to be of particular encouragement to anyone beginning to consider Jesus and the Christian faith but wondering, perhaps given their past, if he could possibly have any time for or interest in them. Luke is reminding us again and again there is in Jesus a love that reaches so broadly that none are excluded except those who, in their self-righteousness and self-sufficiency, exclude themselves, and with that  ‘a love that reaches deeper than the depths of self-despair’ 1 No one can stray so far or sink so deep that Christ in his grace cannot retrieve and rescue them. 

However, I’m also conscious that those who have been on the path of trusting and following Jesus for some time and have a lingering, even crippling, sense of guilt and failure over their lack of progress in their battle with besetting sins, often need similar encouragement. That’s why I wanted to share something from Matthew’s gospel which also reveals Jesus love for his disciples who had been on that path of following him for some time and had often shown themselves capable of getting things wrong in their relationship to him and were about to do so again in major fashion. The scene is the Upper Room and the last meal Jesus will share with his them.  He has just predicted Judas’ betrayal. The agony of Gethsemane is an hour or so away. Speedily after that, will come his arrest, trial and death and Matthew tells us:           

 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." 

 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "`I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." (Matthew 26:26-32)

Hebrews 12. 2 tells us it was for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame. Have you ever wondered what that joy which sustained him through the pain and shame of the cross was? Certainly, a substantial part must have been the prospect of returning to his Father in heaven following his resurrection and ascension, having completed the work he had been given.  However, here, Jesus gives us further indication as to what else he was looking forward. He was anticipating renewed fellowship with his disciples. Having given his disciples the bread and the wine which spoke of his death and the forgiveness of sins it would secure for them and all who would trust him, he then says:  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom.  That’s what he is looking forward to, that is part of the joy that is sustaining him – the prospect of renewed fellowship, eating and drinking, with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom. And indeed even before that heavenly reunion, in v32  he looks forward to an earthly reunion with them which will take place in a matter of days following his resurrection: after I have risen I will go ahead of you into Galilee.

What strikes me as amazing about that is that he is speaking to disciples who are about to sleep while he grapples alone with the agonising prospect of his death and then deny and abandon him at the time of his trial. He knows that, and yet it does not shake his commitment to them, nor his love for them nor his desire for their eternal company.  He really wants them, and all who will trust him, to be his forever. Therefore, out of his and his Father’s love for them, even in their repeated sin and failure, he will provide in his death on the cross a sacrifice which will more than cover the guilt and the shame of all their sin and which will also one day cure them fully and finally of its power and presence in their lives.  Such is his love; such is his grace; such is the power of his cross.

That’s why John Newton could write of the preciousness of Christ’s grace the hour he first believed but then go on to write:

Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;

‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

 Let the love and grace of the Lord Jesus to his people  keep us following, keep us battling with sin, keep us trusting and going back to him and his cross for all we require to live for him here until that day wen he calls us to eat and drink with him in his Father’s kingdom,

 

Yours in Him

 

David

 

Madness & Sadness - Midweek Message 30th September 2020

 

Dear Friends,

I mentioned at the beginning of Sunday’s sermon on the parable of the prodigal Son1 that people have preached a whole series of sermons on this parable and therefore I would have to be selective in terms of what we considered. In the light of that I ended up focussing on two main themes 1) the self-centred nature of human sin & rebellion and 2) the lavish and joyful nature of God’s mercy.

My original heading for the first point in the sermon had been: the self-centred and insane nature of human sin & rebellion but I realised I wasn’t going to have time to deal with the ‘insane’ part!! However, one of the benefits of these Midweek messages is they provide an opportunity to follow up on or add to what may have been said previously.  So, I thought I might reflect a little further from the parable on the madness and sadness of going our own way instead of God’s.

In relation to the madness, it’s implicit in the way in which Jesus describes the great turning point for the younger brother when he’s far from home with nothing left: his wealth has gone, his fair-weather friends have gone; famine has come and food has gone;  he’s left feeding pigs and longing for the pods the pigs were eating. Given that pigs were unclean animals, this was, for a Jew, to reach rock-bottom and then Jesus says this: When he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father…’  (Luke 15:17-18a)  

He came to his senses. Literally  that reads he came to himself,  but it’s interesting that all the modern versions and paraphrases of this verse follow the NIV and talk about his coming to his senses, which implies that he had not been in his right mind when he had been running away from his father and rebelling. In other words, it suggests the insanity, the madness of sin. There is a verse in Ecclesiastes which speaks in similar fashion: The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live (Ecclesiastes 9.3)

Sin (going our own way, doing our own thing as opposed to God our Maker’s) makes no sense. It is irrational. It is madness. Now of course that is not how it seemed, how it felt, to the younger son (nor so often to us) when he got his inheritance and left his father to live life on his own terms. It seemed anything but madness. It seemed marvellous, liberating, intoxicating. I’m sure he could have happily sung along with Elsa in the movie Frozen when she left her home to set out on her own:

No right, no wrong

No rules for me

I’m free!

 But for this younger son such a life did not ultimately prove liberating. As he lived out his self-centred dream, it turned into a nightmare – until eventually he woke up to reality of what he had left and lost, until he came to his senses and recognised what he had done for the madness it was.  I’m sure that this younger son could better understand that heartfelt call and question from God issued through the prophet Isaiah to all who have embraced such madness and  fallen  for the deception of sin: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?

And with that madness of sin we can also discern a sadness. It is there in the picture of the younger son in rags in the pig sty, alienated from family and friends. Jesus is surely trying to say to us that whatever ‘My way’ as opposed to ‘God’s way’ offers at the beginning – it always ends in tears. That lesson is reinforced as you observe the experience of the elder son. Though outwardly he presented as respectable and obedient to his father, in fact he proved equally self-centred, as alienated from his father in his obedience at home as the younger brother was in his disobedience in the distant country.  His self-righteous anger at his father and his younger brother over the reconciliation and restoration that had taken place between them as his sibling came home humble and penitent, displayed just how deep and wide that alienation was. The madness of his sin is  seen that he can’t recognise or rejoice in the value of what he actually had as his father gently and truly reminds him "`My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. (Luke 15:31)  At the end of the parable he cuts a lonely and bitter figure -  stubbornly standing outside the party, alienated from his father, his brother and indeed the community that had gathered to celebrate his brother’s return and his father’s delight.  The madness and the sadness of sin.

Sin never reveals its true colours.  It always dresses to deceive.  Among many other things in this parable, Jesus is warning us, ‘Don’t be taken in!’

Yours in Him,

David

 

1 Traditionally, it has been called the parable of the prodigal son, but it might be more accurate to call it the parable of two lost sons or indeed the parable of the waiting father

What I realised I missed about meeting together on a Sunday & more.... -Midweek Message 23rd September 2020

 

Dear Friends,

I wanted to write about 2 things which came out of last Sunday morning’s gathering, both as a result of a brief (masked) conversation at the door.

Firstly, I realised (not for the first time but it struck me forcibly again) how much I have missed meeting and speaking in person face to face (or at least mask to mask) at a Sunday gathering. If you were there or you saw it online, you’ll know we had been thinking about the wonder of forgiveness, the amazing nature of God’s grace, as illustrated in Jesus encounter with the sinful woman in Luke 7, who loved much because she knew she had been forgiven much.  In the wake of that, someone asked me : When you have been a Christian for 40 plus years how do you keep alive that sense of wonder? What a great question! – and one to which I’ll turn in a moment. However, just the opportunity to talk further, to think further, even if only for a few moments, with someone else was something I had been missing.  It reminded me why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews exhorts his fellow Christians: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10.25). It is that in-person, mutual encouragement of one another, that iron sharpening iron,  which we all need and which is given by God as one of the primary reasons for his calling his people to gather together.

I am both grateful and grieved reflecting on that – grateful that some of us have had the chance to meet again in the building but grieved that because of the ongoing restrictions so many of us are denied the opportunity. Let’s cry to God that He would open up the way for more of us to gather while at the same time continue to look for creative ways in encouraging one another while we remain apart.

Secondly, then, to the question – how do you keep alive the sense of wonder over God’s forgiveness of us in Christ his grace towards us in Christ – perhaps especially if you have been on the Christian path for a long time?  It’s an important question because it is  easy to sing the words, for example, of Amazing grace and yet not be amazed, simply take Jesus and his gospel for granted.  So perhaps you find yourself questioning yourself in the manner William Cowper once did in his hymn O for a closer walk with God

                Where is the blessedness I knew 

                when first I saw the Lord?

                Where is that soul-refreshing view

         of Jesus and his Word?

 You think back to your early days of being a Christian and remember a joy, an enthusiasm, a gratitude that somehow has faded over the years. Or perhaps for others of us, one of the problems is we don’t feel we have what we would consider a great testimony. There is no before-and-after story. We can hardly recall a time when we didn’t believe in Jesus. We’ve maybe never been aware of being forgiven much. How do you revive or nurture a sense of wonder?

Let me suggest one or two things:

1) for those who can remember life before coming to faith in Christ it is a good to deliberately recall the difference that He has made and give thanks. The great evangelist George Whitfield used to return regularly to the exact location in Oxford where he first came to faith saying of it:  ‘I know the place: it may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to that place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me, and gave me the new birth.’  John Newton of course wrote Amazing grace as a means of expressing his gratitude to God for his conversion. Newton is also helpful when we are conscious that we haven’t made the progress we think we should have in the Christian life when he said of himself: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am”

2) for those who can’t remember life without Christ it is good to ponder passages which describe all humanity (ourselves included) by nature – for example Ephesians 2:1-3  As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. No matter how early in life we were brought to faith in Jesus, it was in that basic condition which Paul describes there that God found us and it required the same grace to raise us to new life in Christ. We all in that sense have a very real before-and-after story.

 In that regard it is worth also pondering that little parable Jesus told to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7 of the two men who were in debt by different amounts but yet shared the same essential condition Luke 7:42   Neither of them had the money to pay him back. They were both totally at the mercy of the one to whom they owed the money. When  he cancelled the debts of both, they both received such mercy. They both could sing ‘A debtor to mercy alone’. That’s true of all of us but we can forget it

3) As well as looking back in time, it is good, though sobering and not very popular, to travel forward in our minds to the end and the day of judgement. Read some of the warning parables Jesus tells (e.g. of the wise and foolish virgins; the talents and the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) in which he speaks of the separation that will take place among humanity that day, of the fearful reality of hell. To realise that all that stands between myself and such a reality is the grace of God in Christ is surely a prompt for praise.  On that day, for every Christian believer there will be no lack of gratitude for and wonder at what Jesus has done for them.

4) There’s a lot more that could be said but maybe I can add one more: in your own reading of the Bible look for examples of God’s grace to his people in Jesus. I saw one the other day that I had never noticed before. It was in the words of Jesus recorded in his resurrection appearance to the women in Matthew 28 when he says to them Matthew 28:10  "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."  He calls his disciples his brothers. He owns them as family. Why is that so amazing?  Because the last time he had seen them just before and during his trial, they were all disowning and denying him! That’s grace! That’s the wonder of the forgiveness that he purchased for them on the cross and that he extends and offers to all who will come to him and  trust their lives to him

Yours in Him by such amazing grace,

David

 

Can I trust what I read in the Bible about Jesus? - Midweek Message 16th September 2020

 The reliability of Luke and the New Testament writers

Dear Friends,

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 4.1-4)

The way in which Luke opens his gospel is hugely significant and again following on from Sunday past, I wanted to take the opportunity this Midweek Message affords to say a little more about that significance especially with any in mind who sometimes ask themselves or are asked by others: ‘Can I really trust what I am reading about Jesus in the gospels and the New Testament? How can I be sure that Jesus and all that he said and did is real and not just a figment of someone’s vivid imagination?’

In his introduction Luke is revealing his mindset and his methods in the writing of his gospel.  He had not personally been present in Palestine during the time of Jesus’ public ministry. He had neither seen nor heard Jesus, but he was well aware of the accounts of Jesus life that were in circulation and he decided it would be good if he too wrote an orderly account. Therefore, to that end, he went to those who were eye-witnesses of these events – interviewed them, recorded their testimony and put it together in orderly fashion. In his own words he says he carefully investigated everything from the beginning.   He had played the role of the investigative journalist, the self-conscious historian. He was not fabricating truth but recording it.  In that regard the work of academics such as Sir William Ramsey as well as the discoveries of archaeology have confirmed the historical accuracy of Luke, in the face of much scepticism, including that of Ramsay himself before he began his research.

Furthermore in terms of corroborating  evidence external to the New Testament, it’s worth listening to John Dickson, whom among other things is Visiting Academic at the Faculty of Classics at Oxford University & between 2003-17 was a Fellow of Macquarie University, Sydney’s Department of Ancient History. He wrote particularly for anyone who was tempted to consider the life of Jesus ‘a well-documented fairy-tale’:

The broad outline of Jesus life is confirmed by several passing references to him in non-Christian writings of the period: three from Roman authors (once each in Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny) and four from Jewish pens (twice each in Josephus and the Talmud) If one pieces together all the information contained in those statements one learns when Jesus lived, where he lived, that his mother was named Mary and that his conception was irregular, that he was a renowned teacher, that he did things which both friends and foes thought to be supernatural, that he was given the title Messiah, that he was executed, how, and by whom, that he had a brother who was also executed, that people claimed he was raised from the dead, and that his followers continued to worship him after he was gone. All this without opening a Bible.

Let me also add something further, especially in relation to the supernatural or miraculous things that Luke and the other gospel writers record Jesus as doing or happening to him.  People can be particularly sceptical about these. Can we take seriously stories like Jesus’ healing of the paralysed man we looked at last Sunday (Luke 5.17ff) or his feeding of a crowd of more than 5000 with just five loaves and two (9.12ff)?  Are these credible?

 Many scholars believe Luke wrote his gospel in the AD 60’s and the majority of all scholars believe Luke made use of material from Mark’s gospel which can be dated as early as the mid to late 50’s AD. In that case both these gospels were written within or around 30 or so years of the events they are recording, which is not a long time. I’m sure we can all clearly remember events that took place in our lives 30 years ago. In relation to Mark and Luke that would mean as they published their gospels about Jesus there would still be people who were alive at the time of the events they were recording.  That is particularly significant when it comes to the most miraculous and supernatural event of all concerning Jesus, namely his resurrection, to which of course all the Gospel and New Testament writers testify. Indeed, that reality of living witnesses is something Paul alludes to in what is probably the earliest written testimony to Jesus resurrection from the dead in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15.3-8. There he speaks of the resurrected Jesus appearing to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15.6). It would make no sense at all to write down spurious and fabricated claims of supernatural events in Jesus life and death and ministry  in the lifetime of people who were around to deny them if they had not in fact taken place. That last point is further reinforced when you remember that to be a Christian, to profess Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord, could seriously damage your health (cf Acts 7.54-60 & 12.2; 2 Corinthians 11.22ff) Why again would you make these things up when to trust and follow Jesus was so costly?

So then for those who are not yet Christians, there are good historical and rational grounds for giving  careful consideration to Luke’s (and the rest of the New Testament’s) recorded testimony to Jesus and for those who are Christians there are equally good grounds for being confident in  the certainty of the things you have been taught

Yours in that confidence,

David

 

A further word for the worried and anxious - Midweek Message 9th September 2020

 

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday we were thinking about Jesus’ word to his disciples in Matthew 6.25-34 – Do not worry and I wanted to add to what was said then by summarising the main points of a short and helpful video clip by David Powlison that Crossway put up on YouTube entitled ‘3 things to remember when you are feeling anxious’  Until he died in 2019, Powlison served as Executive Director of the Christian Counselling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). He’s someone whose writing and speaking I have come to value greatly in recent years.

He begins by pointing out that we have, as human beings, good reasons for feeling anxious.  There is so much in life in relation to ourselves and those closest to us which is not in our control. We are mortal and vulnerable.  On that basis we are not ‘nuts’ to experience anxiety or worry rather it is part of our human condition.

Then he reminds us that the most repeated command in the Bible is Do not fear or Do not be afraid. Time and time again God says this to his people and when he does, he invariably accompanies it with a promise. For example, God through Moses speaking to the Israelites standing on the verge of entering the land of Canaan and wondering what lies ahead of them and saying to them: Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you."  (Deuteronomy 31:6) Or think of Jesus coming across the water to his terrified disciples struggling with the oars in a storm on the Sea of Galilee and saying to them:  It is I; do not be afraid. Or ponder those familiar words of Paul to the Christians in Philippi: The Lord is near.Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:5-7 ) In all the different examples the tone of the command not to be anxious or afraid  is of equal importance. It is never spoken in a stern voice but rather with tenderness and understanding of our condition.

In the light of all that, David Powlison believes encounters with worry and anxiety can in fact become doors of opportunity for growth in our Christian lives as we hear God’s call to us not to be anxious not to be afraid; as we remember that he is present with us; as with honesty in prayer, we tell him what is on our hearts and what is causing our fear our anxiety; and as we listen to, and by faith, take to heart his promises. Personally speaking, I find that perspective on worry and anxiety as an opportunity to grow a very helpful thought.

Yours in Christ,

David

 

PS if you would like to listen to the clip itself you can find it here

 

Dealing with Doubt - Midweek Message 2nd September 2020

 In the course of the discussion at the Men's breakfast last Saturday, the subject of 'Doubt' came up. In that connection I'm therefore posting below a very helpful article which I first saw & read  here on the Gospel Coalition Website back in 2016 and which gives some wise advice in relation to dealing with doubt, whether our own or someone else's. 

Its author, Michael Patton is the president of Credo House Ministries and the article itself is an adapted excerpt from the ESV Men's Devotional Bible.

*****

Do you ever struggle with doubt? You do if you’re honest. 

Doubt affects the lives of many believers. The reality is that no one’s faith is ever perfect in this life. That includes you. And if your faith is not perfect, then it can grow and become stronger today than it was yesterday.

I like to think of doubt as the gap between our current faith and perfect faith. If this is the case, we all doubt.

Not only this, but there is nothing Christians cannot doubt. Sometimes we doubt our salvation; other times we doubt God’s love. Many times we will even doubt the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, or the identity of Christ. Even John the Baptist, whom Christ called the greatest man ever born (Matt. 11.11), once expressed doubt about the very identity of Christ (Matt. 11.3).

Here are seven principles to consider when dealing with doubt.

1. Have mercy on those who doubt.

Jude 22 tells us to “have mercy on those who doubt.” It is easy to judge, condemn, and look down on doubters as if they are second-rate Christians. But to have mercy on those who doubt is to be there for them, comforting and building them up.

Many times, this isn’t just an overnight bout with doubt that ends after a good night’s sleep. Some are doubters for a lifetime. It’s just in their nature. You need to learn to have mercy on them (and on yourself). You may have to answer the same questions over and over again. That’s all right. And it’s an opportunity for you to learn patience.

2. Realise doubt is often the birth pangs of deepened faith. 

Many of us became believers at an early age, with a faith mediated through our parents whom we trusted implicitly. As we become older, our faith is tested though trials, temptations, and suffering (Job; Luke 8:5-15;Rom. 5.3-4; James 1:3).

This is why our most significant doubt often comes during our 20s and 30s. But this is not a bad thing. We all need to consider that the truths we espouse might be wrong, in order to embrace our faith more deeply. Such doubt often results in stronger faith.

3. Be ready to live with mystery.

Sometimes we want all the answers. We want complete understanding before we commit to God.

While God has revealed so much to us, and there is much we can understand, there are the “secret” things that belong to him alone (Deut 29:29). We will never be able to comprehend the Trinity, or how God created everything out of nothing. But what we can comprehend is enough for us to rest in God when mystery arises.

4. Make the main things the main things.

Paul told the Corinthians he delivered to them things “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). He goes on to talk about the atoning death and vindicating resurrection of Christ as being most central to the faith.

So many of us doubt secondary issues such as how and when God created the world or the details of Christ’s return. There are many issues in the Christian faith about which there has been legitimate disagreement for centuries. All of orthodox Christianity, however, has always been in unity about who Christ is and what he did. 

So when you begin doubting what you were taught about secondary issues, don’t get too bent out of shape. A lot of us are still working through these matters.

5. Live according to the faith you still have.

Doubt is not unbelief. Again, doubt is the bridge that connects current faith to perfect faith. And that bridge will stand until our death or Christ’s return. When we go through a faith crisis, though, we don’t naturally see things this way. Once doubt enters and infects our lives on a conscious level, we may interpret it as outright unbelief. We simply don’t know how else to process it. We think we’re on an inevitable road to complete unbelief.

Unfortunately, since we think this way, and since others may treat us as if we have the plague, we begin to live as unbelievers. If sin were not the instigating problem before, it becomes the chronic problem now. It’s important for those struggling with doubt to not let their doubt influence their lives such that they start living like unbelievers. Encourage doubters to continue to live as Christians, repenting and believing the gospel, even if they don’t always feel like Christians.

6. Doubt your doubts.

Why give your doubt a courtesy you don’t give your faith? Is your doubt so compelling that it can’t be questioned?

When we go through times of doubt, we need to make sure we are critical of our doubts as well. Doubt usually doesn’t offer a better solution; it just nags at the one we already have. For Christians, we can be sure that the central truths of our faith will never be outweighed by our doubt. Pestered, yes. But never, when we learn to doubt our doubts, should our faith be overthrown.

7. Work through the sin in your life.

I intentionally saved this one for last. Often this is the first place Christians go with a loved one in the crisis of doubt, in large part because it helps us put doubt into a discernible box. It also helps us to find a quick solution. “Oh, you’re doubting your faith? Okay, quit sinning! Next?” Obviously, doubt is often more complicated.

But we must recognise that personal sin is a faith-drainer. Disobedience to God will take a significant toll on your faith.

We’re all sinners, but some sins take a unique toll on our mind and worldview—especially if we attempt to justify them. For example, struggling with same-sex attraction is one thing; actively embracing homosexuality and trying to justify it biblically is another thing altogether. The toll here is not only moral, social, and physical; it also corrupts the mind. The effort to reinterpret the Bible in a way more friendly to homosexuality won’t remain isolated to this one category; sooner or later, the mental paradigm you constructed to make your sin acceptable will corrupt everything else.

In short, if there is something you know you’re supposed to be doing, and you’re not doing it, doubt will soon spread, and your crisis of faith will be hard to overcome. We need to gently ask these types of questions when the time is right. But simply accusing people of some deep-rooted personal sin right from the gun can be judgmental and embarrassing. Ask if there’s any sin that might be causing the person’s doubt. If the answer is no and you cannot readily identify anything as the cause, don’t push the issue.

Land and Country

I’ve found that there are primarily two types of doubters. The first are walking away from God and believe they’re finding freedom. The second feel they’re walking away from their faith and are deeply disturbed about it. The difference with the second is that they are always facing God, crying out with arms outstretched for him to help. Thankfully, in most cases, these doubters eventually return to the faith.

You may always, to some degree, live in the land of doubt. But it’s possible your particular land of doubt is still within the country of faith. Doubting your faith does not mean you don’t have faith. Jude 22 says we should have mercy on those who doubt, whether that doubt is in ourselves or in others. Let us do so. 

How to handle the gifts of God.....not least money - Midweek Message 26th August 2020

 


Dear Friends,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6.17-19)

There are so many warnings on the lips of Jesus and in the writings of his apostles about the dangers of money and wealth. As we saw last Sunday, Jesus warned his disciples against seeking treasure on earth which does not and cannot last, but rather encouraged them to seek lasting treasure in heaven. Yet that raises the question of how here on earth, a Christian is to handle their money, their wealth. It’s relevant question given that though we may not regard ourselves as particularly wealthy or rich as we compare ourselves with our immediate neighbours, yet relative to our global neighbours, we all undoubtedly belong to the richest section of the world’s population.  

In these words to Timothy above, Paul echoes much of what Jesus says in Matthew 6.19-21 as he warns Christians from putting their hope, their trust in money  (i.e. giving their heart to money) and encourages them rather  to foster an outward looking  and open-handed lifestyle which doesn’t store up treasure on earth for selfish purposes but rather seeks to give of itself and its wealth for the sake of others and by so doing lays up treasure…for the coming age. Yet that doesn’t mean despising or feeling guilty about the wealth, the money we have, for notice Paul also speaks of the character of the God in whom we are to put our hope as one who richly provides everything for our enjoyment. Earlier in the letter, he also warned Timothy of an unhealthy and unholy ascetic spirit which refused the gifts for example of food or marriage and reminded him everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving  (1 Timothy 4:4)  

So how do we handle good things, created things, God given things that come to us in this life, including money and wealth? In answer to that I hope a further look this coming Sunday at Matthew 6.19-24 will shed some light on this but in the meantime I wanted to complete the quote from CS Lewis, which I included Sunday past, for I think he strikes the right balance:

'Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing’…..and then he continues:

‘If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.’

Yours in seeking that balance,

David

 

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