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Faith With Wisdom
17 minutes | Nov 22, 2020
James and Paul: Are They At Odds With Each Other?
Since the Reformation in the 16th Century the teachings of the Apostle Paul and the Elder James have often been portrayed as being at odds with each other. Much time is spent by theologians and New Testament scholars trying to conclude whether there is a real conflict between the writings of these leaders or not. It seems to me that there is not really a conflict present, but the topic of faith is approached from a different perspective. This is probably because the supposedly contradictory pieces of writing are addressing different audience needs at the time of their writing. Meaning that the focus of the authors’ messages shift in order to highlight the needs they are addressing. This happens even within Paul’s own New Testament writings, so it is not really surprising that this happens between two different New Testament authors. We should acknowledge that there is much more of Paul’s writing recorded in the New Testament and so we hear his perspective on many more issues than we do that of James. This is part of the reason why it seems a bit impetuous to judge James and Paul’s writings as being at odds when there is so little of James’ writing to be able to compare with Paul’s. Certainly there seems adequate other examples within Paul’s work of his being in agreement with James on the importance of good works by professing Christians, even if he does not use always these labels. Paul then, unlike James, has much more opportunity to address the fact that salvation is not through works simply because of the volume of his writings available to us. Because of this we are able to see that Paul’s own good works are his way of expressing gratitude to God for the graceful salvation provided through Jesus Christ. Paul’s works, like the traditions of his Jewish heritage, are a response to God’s grace. James also saw good works as a way of living out God’s grace, and as such he concludes that these grace inspired works are the evidence that a person is living in Christ. The problem seems to arise though in the assumption that James is addressing salvation when he discusses works. It is true that our modern English translations record him using the phrase, “Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14b). The NIV’s wording here is important, because it uses the word ‘such’. It refers back to what James as described previously, that is a person who claims to know Jesus Christ, but does not act like it at all. To James, and Paul is very likely to agree with James on this: this was not the mark of genuine salvation. So a careful reading of the context shows that this then is likely a remark which is almost sarcastic, and is possibly even a comment made in exasperation with people who are not serious at all about the sacrifice Jesus Christ had made for them yet they are quite happy to pretend they are. If this comment had been written in English when first recorded we would probably have put the word ‘faith’ in parentheses to show that James is not referring to genuine faith, but instead to the person’s own imitation ‘faith’. “…such faith…” then is not the same as the faith that James and Paul are both so passionate about people receiving and both James and Paul show a real lack of tolerance for people who display this imitation ‘faith’. And so James’ letter is most likely not discussing works as a way to salvation, but is instead addressing how Christians should live as representatives of Christ after their salvation experience. Historical studies show us that James was probably writing his letter before Paul’s work was recorded. James, who was more than likely the brother of Jesus Christ was older than Paul and they may not have met till after James had written this letter. They were addressing different congregations, however, both authors may have had reason to believe their letters would be read widely by early believers. While the initial audiences’ locations and circumstances likely differed they would also have have had some similarities, such as general persecution and unsettlement. James’ introduction to his letter makes it clear that his audience had been scattered in different directions. It is most likely that they had been forced to leave their homes because of religious persecution. Both writers themselves had lived through persecution of the early church as ministers of the Gospel, and so they were personally aware of the problems their audiences were facing. Paul seems to have more geographical spread to his personal experience through his itinerant ministry, while James is more likely to be centred in Jerusalem at the time of his writing and possibly was not so well travelled as Paul. Both leaders though would have reacted to the circumstances each other was speaking to, and probably would have understood each others’ message even better than we give them credit for now. Certainly they appear to have arrived at a unity of message in the small number of meetings alluded to by Paul in the New Testament record. This doesn’t guarantee us that they would have agreed with each others’ arguments completely, but it does suggest that their differences are not so dividing as history sometimes declares. Douglas Moo points out there is a possibility that if James had written his letter after talking with Paul he may have been more specific about the salvation issue than he is, but then he also may not have been, because that was likely not the purpose or focus of his letter (2000, The Letter of James). Either way it is an interesting thought and should remind us to approach any apparent differences between Paul and James with humility on our part in recognition that we are unlikely to be fully correct about this matter when looking from our present day perspective. Paul is famous for declaring that our salvation is through faith in Christ; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:4-10). James, on the other hand, is famous for declaring that faith without works is dead; “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:14-19). We have already noted above that James’ phrase asking if “…such faith…” can save a person is very likely sarcastic and said with more than a little exasperation on the author’s part regarding what we could call an imitation faith. We have also noted that James’ is more focused on what Christian living looks like after salvation, however we will see that he is also providing his readers with a criteria for making a judgement of what genuine faith looks like. The question for us here then is , ‘Are these two New Testament writers’ statements really in conflict with each other?’ Well, first lets acknowledge that Paul in the verse above, and other related verses, is very directly discussing the issue of salvation from sin. He is pointing out that no matter how many good works you or I do, they are not how we get into Heaven. Jesus Christ is the only way to eternity and so believing in him is the essence of salvation. Paul is at pains to stress the unequivocal nature of this, there is no other requirement for entry into eternity with the Father than to submit to, and accept, the grace of God shown through his only son Jesus Christ. This process is what Paul refers to as faith in Christ. I understand that theological discussions get very heavy around the difference between terms such as justification, sanctification, works of the law vs. deeds of action, etc. at this point, but ultimately we are talking here about entry into the kingdom of God. James on the other hand is urging that the evidence of this salvation is the way a believer lives their life after entering into the Christian faith. He sees a Christian’s life as full of good works which bring glory to God by serving the needs of others. To see a conflict here is perhaps to read too much into what James is saying in these short paragraphs of what are also relatively short writings, and to not read enough into what Paul demonstrates for us through the entire course of the ministry which followed his conversion to Christianity. In fact it is someways to miss the last part of the quote from Paul above, which says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). There is also a verse in James which is often overlooked as well, which could be the hinge between James’ theology and Paul’s when it comes to works. This verse says, “…do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” (James 4:5). The correct interpretation of the word πνεῦμα (pneuma) in this verse is debated by scholars. The primary options are: God, the Holy Spirit, or the spirit of the person themselves. If πνεῦμα is indeed referring to either God, or his Holy Spirit than, in this verse at least, it seems more than likely that James is referring to people who already have the Spirit of God living within them. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is something that occurs after the accepting of Christ as Saviour. If this is the correct translation then James is not arguing our salvation, he is instead telling us how we should live as the blessed and grateful recipients of that salvation. On the other hand, if the word πνεῦμα is referring to the spirit of the person themselves, there would be a logical case for the longing of God, expressed through his grace, being the reason people can return to him. This jealousy would not wait for us to perform works in order to accept us, it would take its opportunity the moment a person’s heart turned towards the divine nature of God. Remember God so jealousy longed for our return to him that he was prepared to utilise the drastic means of sending his only Son to the cross to provide a way for that to happen. If this line of thinking is correct it also adds more weight to the argument that James does not believe that works are how people are saved, instead they are saved by the grace that was itself propelled by the powerful longing of God. These options rely on a specific translation and therefore are not strongly evidenced, but neither is any argument that James see salvation as being work based, because these arguments are drawn from inference and potential translations of ancient writings into a modern context and this process can be misleading. Much clearer though is how Paul thinks that those who have received salvation should live. Remember, we are talking about after receiving salvation through faith. Well, the evidence from Paul own’s writing is that he appears to agree with James on how a Christian should live. In fact it is Paul himself who lists for us the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter 5 that he suggests believers seek to display in our lives. And it is Paul who says, “Do not work only for your own good. Think of what you can do for others” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Even more conclusively Paul passionately says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:7-10). This is indeed how Paul lived his own life, laying it down, facing persecution, and all manner of hardships in order to declare the Gospel of Christ to the ancient world. The fact is that Paul, by his very ministry, lives out the message James is trying to give us. James, does not at any point disagree that salvation is not by faith in Christ, but he does want Christians to behave like followers of Christ. Interestingly, outside of the Gospels the book of James more closely reflects Jesus’ own teachings than any other book of the Bible. James, as Jesus brother, knew what the evidence of Jesus’ impact was in people’s lives, when they had been genuinely touched by the Messiah, and so he encourages them to let that evidence be clear to all. In their writings both James and Paul discuss what the life of a Christ follower looks like in practice and what the evidence of being a Christian is. Neither author discusses this in an attempt to void anyone’s salvation, but they both discuss it so that people can judge for themselves how they should live. And, they also, though we may not like to hear it, discuss it so that people can have some idea of whether the people around them are in fact Christ followers. This point may be alien to us today, but it was hugely important for the ancient church to whom James and Paul wrote. Facing persecution of all sorts for their faith the church needed to be able to tell who was genuinely of their number and who wasn’t. Seekers for the truth were accepted, but those who claimed to be Christian already, yet did not have evidence of this could be spies or worse, sent to harm the church and its people. I am sure the underground church today in many countries can relate to this. Another situation that both James and Paul were aware they needed to collectively avoid, as leaders in the early church, was the polytheistic religions of the day consuming the young Christ faith by simply adding Jesus Christ to their lists of acceptable gods. If this was to happen the truth of Christianity would be lost. Instead of Jesus being recognised as the Son of God and the only way to return to the Father who created humanity, the Messiah would become just another religious icon among many. The most precious gift the world had ever received would become yet another excuse for bad behaviour, like so many of the ancient gods of Greece and Rome were. Ultimately it was dangerous to humanity for Christ’s name to be added to the ancient pantheon of false gods because it would enforce the belief that the end result of salvation (that of life beyond death) was taken care of for the polytheist by simply adding Jesus to the list of gods they already worshipped. Both Paul and James were equally at pains to avoid this, because they knew that our Lord was not like the other gods of the ancient world, he didn’t come to condone sin and provide fulfilment of wicked desires. Christ came to provide a way to conquer the penalty of sin. He was far more than the temporary reprieves that temple sacrifices brought from sin, he was the complete answer to the problem of overcoming sin eternally. Seeing the agreement between James and Paul requires of us some humility, for we must admit that while we have been saved by our faith in Christ we are not yet perfected, because perfection is only found in the eternal presence of the Father. Even though the Holy Spirit lives within us and is prepared to guide us, we have to acknowledge his presence and accept his guidance for it to change our earthly lives and benefit those around us. We are on the way to eternity, we have been assured of entry into the Father’s presence by our acceptance of the grace found at the cross. But we are of little benefit to those around us if we are not humble enough to acknowledge that, “We are allowed to do anything, but not everything is good for us to do. We are allowed to do anything, but not all things help us grow strong as Christians” (1 Corinthians 10:23, New Living Translation). Paul wrote those words, but James would certainly agree with them. References: Bauckham, R. James, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Eds. James D.G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.) Bruce, F.F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984). Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC-13. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982). Davids, P.H. The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC-13. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.) Fee, G. D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014). Fung, R.Y.K. The Epistle to the Galatians, NICNT. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988). Lincoln, A.T. Ephesians, WBC 42. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990). Longenecker, R.N. Galatians, WBC 41. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990). Marshall, I.H. Ephesians, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Eds. James D.G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003). Martin, R.P. James, WBC 48. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.) Moo, D.J. The Letter of James, PNTC. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.)
8 minutes | Oct 15, 2020
Beware the Pre-Christmas Sale Season
We are entering one of the most dangerous times of the year for families. Christmas is approaching and unfortunately the reason for the season gets lost as retail marketing ramps up. Christmas is an important holiday, it is the day we mark the birth of Jesus Christ. There is no greater cause for celebration than the entry of the Son of God into the world. Without Christ’s birth there would be no death on the cross and no resurrection, which would mean no salvation for us, no eternity to look forward to, no future hope for humanity. Christmas is therefore a good season to give gifts, but only because it is in remembrance of the greatest gift of all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). For businesses it is a time of hope also, as many small retailers finally look to get out of the red and enter the black. On a financial balance sheet red represents running at a loss, not selling enough to meet all the costs associated with running a business and hence failing to break-even. It represents stress, worry and oppression because businesses can’t survive by being constantly in the red, especially small businesses. So “giving seasons”, of which Christmas is the greatest, represent an opportunity to get back into the black, that is to go beyond break-even and start to record profits in their earnings. Some retailers only make a profit over the Christmas season and so have to make enough to survive for the rest of the year on the seasonal profits ahead. It is becoming even harder for small retailers as we all go to the big stores to get our shopping done all at once, or logon to the online giants to avoid risking catching the pandemic at the local mall. Some of this is the reality of life, not everything we want to buy is available locally, however, lets face it, some of it is, if we take the time to look. Moving from business to people though this is a season of great danger to families. Futures and destinies are affected by what people do with their money as we enter this season of sales. This is because debt-based poverty is a form of enslavement, if you have ever been truely poor you will know that poverty places restrictions on people’s abilities to make choices and live their life to the full. Debt-based poverty increases this to even more severe levels. “…the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). One of the ways that poverty and especially debt-based poverty enslaves people is by taking away their hope. As an extreme example of this: for the person earning less than the repayments on their loans the mountain is only growing, and their ability to climb it is decreasing by the day. At which point will they decide it is better to simply jump off the edge into the abyss? Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 12:12), and for many the marketing season of Christmas is the living out of this process: ads create false hope of a longing being fulfilled, but the resulting debt is a deferral of the real longing, and as scripture warned us, this makes the heart sick. You see hope is stirred in this time of intense advertising and serious bargain bashing, which seems to start earlier every year! We see the messages portrayed to us in the flashy brochures, the screen ads, the highway billboards and we start to believe we can have all the material possessions we want! We can even give them away to others! It is in this time that our eyes take over from our God-given common sense. Our personal finances move from the positive black to the negative red, debt climbs higher as our desires grow greater. Even our generosity becomes a stumbling block as our use of credit well exceeds our bank balance. We want to get the best gifts, and we want to give the best gifts. Our motivation isn’t purely selfish, after all we want to make sure our loved ones get the best so they know we care about them. Parents overspend on their children and lovers lavish unneeded luxury items on each other. We find ourselves entrapped by the world and its material riches which we simply cannot afford. Giving gifts is a good thing, its a way of showing love, its a representation of God the Father in our lives and his own character of giving gifts (James 1:17). However, modern marketing campaigns entice us to buy more and more, to buy bigger and better, to upgrade our already adequate vehicles and devices. Today that splurge of spending is larger than it ever was, driven by an abundance of temporarily low, and even interest free, credit options. In our excitement the default fees and time limits written in the small print are ignored as it suddenly dawns on us that we can buy our spouse that diamond ring which is worth many times what someone with our income would have spent a few years ago. Reality is shut in the wardrobe as we ignore the practicalities of our purchase. We might not all be buying diamond rings, but what are we buying and how far is it from what we can really afford? What is the long term impact of our purchasing? Are we buying a gift that blesses someone, or are we trapping ourselves in debt to impress someone? This is the time of year for us to be wise as a serpent (Matthew 10:16), because if we don’t the serpent of marketing will catch us out instead. You see just as easy money brings the heaviest burden, and rewards un-earned bring the hardest punishments, so the debt beyond our means brings the strongest enslavement. When the hubbub of the season is over and the bills start arriving we read how much in the red we are and we suddenly realise too late that we cannot afford all the debt we have accumulated over the Christmas season. The hope we felt before our purchase turns sour and in its place a wash of hopelessness comes over us, and a sickness of the heart sets in. Poverty is one of the worst pandemics of our time, it may be overshadowed by the recent health pandemic, it may be partially hidden away by government relief packages, but it still stands prominent on the street corners of our society. And we need to be aware that at this time of year it dresses up in gold leaf, buffs itself up with computer generated polish, and it calls out convincingly to all who pass by. Poverty encourages us to come and spend what we haven’t got so that we can enjoy the grandeurs of empty gestures, and gain material possessions which are destined to rust and decay. Just like its friend folly (Proverbs 9:13-18), poverty invites us to leave the way of wisdom. And, when we do turn into spend money with it that we do not have, it has its way with us, and then it leaves us hungry, cold, disillusioned, and weighed down in the entrapment of debt. What is wisdom for this coming season? It is to review what God has given us, look at what others need around us and find the balance we can afford. Prepare for the onslaught of advertising and material possessiveness by budgeting now for any Christmas presents you will be purchasing for others. Encourage others not to spend more than they can afford on presents for you. Avoid taking out loans, credit, or any other sort of debt for presents. Give because that is appropriate on the birth of our Lord, but give from what you have, not from what you do not have. And, finally determine that you are going to be fully present with those around you on Christmas Day. So that you can share together the celebration of the birth of our Saviour, to whom we already owe our all.
5 minutes | Sep 7, 2020
A Father’s Role in Passing on the Christian Faith
“There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” Deuteronomy 1:31 Father’s Day has just been, here in New Zealand. Yesterday, thousands of fathers like myself received gifts, and much treasured homemade cards and pictures, from our children and spouses. It is a day when people are thankful for the people God has put around them. For myself I am very blessed and grateful for my family. Thankful for the unexpected “Happy Father’s Day!” text from my eldest son who was on a camping trip, for the colourful picture of the family drawn by my daughter, and for the clever flag and boat gift wrapping my younger son made for the cup he gave me. We started the day with a delicious breakfast of pancakes made by the children with help from my lovely wife, and its not just my generation we celebrate on Father’s Day, my brothers and sisters and their families came for lunch, along with my parents, so that we could celebrate Grandpa on this day as well. Father’s Day this year was a great time with family, but it had some sad moments too, as I remembered my children who have already passed on into glory. Tears came to my eyes as I heard the song about the dad whose daughter is getting married today. This songs always makes me think about what it would be like if my other little girl (who went home to Heaven many years ago now) was here. And, then the tears become a flood as I see the picture of my teenage son (who passed just over a year ago now) on the sideboard. There is sadness, yes, but there is also hope, because I know for certain that we will be reunited with these two loved ones beyond the veil. It is the separation of waiting that is hard. Looking ahead to the future awakens a longing to see loved ones again, but I know the present time needs me now. As a father, my children who are here in this world with me need guidance, they need encouragement, they need an example – even an imperfect one. As parents, both fathers and mothers, we don’t need to be perfect to fill the vital role we play in the lives of our children, whether they are related by blood to us or not. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” When we read this proverb from the start we see that it is the moral education of the children which is being referred to here, and that this is the responsibility of parents. Some children don’t have their own parents to teach them about life and doing the right thing, these children need someone to step in and pick up that mantel for them. Maybe this is something you can do for a child near you? God is gracious and he provides opportunities for people to come into his presence throughout their life, but the initial and primary way that God intends for children to learn about him is through the parents he gives them. Parents have the God-given role of passing on the knowledge of eternity to their children. The parents of a child set the first, and potentially most lasting and powerful example, of what Christian faith is. We can show our children how living for God is the ultimate purpose of every person on this earth, regardless of what that life looks like as a unique individual. Sometime ago I was listening to a speaker called Jeff Benner and he pointed out that the Hebrew word for Father (אָב), originally meant “strength of the tent,” which in practical terms describes the “tent pole” holding the shelter up. Within this word the Hebrew letter א (aleph) represented an ox and the letter ב (vet) a tent. The resulting term “strength of the tent,” is a visual picture of the role of a parent. Tough times come to every family, and the job of a father is to help the family through it, sheltering them from the elements as best he can. Of course, I am not suggesting that a parent, whether father or mother, has to do this alone. In fact, here we return to the words of Moses, who reminded the Israelites that, when times were tough for them, God carried them through. Interestingly Moses illustrated God’s support for them, by comparing God’s actions to those of a father: “There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” Deuteronomy 1:31 References: Benner, Jeff A. Father, “Ancient Hebrew Research Centre.” https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/definition/father.htm Accessed 7th September, 2020. Christensen, Duane L. Deuteronomy 1:1–21:9, WBC 6A; 2d; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001. (p. 31.) Craigie, Peter C. The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976. (p. 103.) Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, NICOT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. (p. 180.)
4 minutes | Jul 24, 2020
Wait For The Lord
If you have ever been through sustained turmoil, whether it be the loss of those you love, poverty, lengthy sickness, consuming fear, or any other of life’s troubles, you will understand the sense of hopelessness that people experience in these times. The overwhelming shadow of oppression is like a net that traps its victim, it tangles them up and hems them in restricting their every attempt to believe that things can once again be better than they are now. The authors of a number of Psalms write of circumstances similar to these, but perhaps even through their writing, they are able to encourage themselves and convince themselves again of God’s goodness. It is a process we see repeated several times in the Psalms, where the author of a passage begins to describe their situation and show how vulnerable they are to the dangers around them. Yet, through the process of reflection, time and again we see that they are able to remind themselves of God’s graceful sovereignty and his willingness to bless them. Reflecting on their knowledge of God, and his scriptures they are able to calm their mind and see the eternal reality of their situation. This is often a very different view from the one their sight, hearing, touch and emotions are showing them. This knowledge, that God is for them, becomes both a comfort and a shield to them. Their mind and their resolve is strengthened as they place their trust again in the hand of our living God. For this reason the writer of Psalm 27 is able to say, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:13-14). Sometimes the sheer pressure of being in a difficult situation can cause us to act impulsively, but sometimes the opposite happens; we become so burdened and trapped that it seems we cannot do anything. The sense of hopelessness suffocates us into immobility. The psalmist addresses both these reactions with the advice to, “Wait for the LORD…” and, while waiting, “…be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” This is what the psalmists do, they wait on the LORD. They do this by honestly detailing the situation, acknowledging that they cannot deal with the situation themselves, asking God for help and then allowing him to act in whatever way he chooses. Voicing this process, whether it be on paper, in silent communion with God, or out loud does not matter as much as doing it. For this process gives them the chance to be encouraged; for their deep feelings of oppression to start to turn to hope. It also allows God himself to intervene perhaps mostly poignantly by ministering to the heart of the person. Acting to get oneself out of difficulty is not always possible, but waiting on the LORD is, even when we don’t feel like it. Waiting on Him is a very worthwhile and wise thing to do. Trusting God may be the last thing you feel like doing in these most challenging of situations, but if you will allow him, God will help give you the strength to trust him. Sometimes we simply have to allow ourselves to wait for the LORD, so that he himself can help us get to the point where we are able to say, ““I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” So today I recommend taking the time to prepare for the difficult times in your life by tucking away in your mind the simple process for trusting God, and that is recorded in the verse: “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:13).
5 minutes | Jul 21, 2020
Christ’s Gift of Peace Through The Holy Spirit
As Christ is preparing to die on the cross he leaves his disciples with a number of encouraging statements. These are recorded in John chapter 14. One of them is, “…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:26-27. You may have noticed that the dove is the symbol of both the Holy Spirit and of peace, but have you ever wondered why they both have the same image? The answer is found in the passage above, and here we see that the Holy Spirit, and peace, are both intricacy linked together. In these verses John relates to us how Jesus told his disciples that not only was the Father sending the Holy Spirit to guide them as believers, but Christ also gave his own gift of peace to his followers. This peace was given through collaboration of the triune Godhead, that is; God the Father sent the Holy Spirit, who in turn became the conduit of the peace that flows from Christ, the Son of God, to those who believe in him. When this happened Jesus Christ was preparing to go to the cross in humanity’s place. The only begotten Son of God was about to take upon himself the penalty of sin which was weighing on us as fallen people. When this was completed Christ rose again. Then, after appearing to many of his followers, he ascended to Heaven. The third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, then continued Jesus’ ministry on earth and is still doing so today. The Holy Spirit took up the roles of advocate and teacher that Christ had fulfilled in his earthly days. And, one of the most potent realities of the presence of the Holy Spirit with us is the peace that is given in direct fulfilment of Christ’s gift to us. This peace is a gift. It is a constant that remains for us to receive as often as necessary whenever we acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus knew that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), and his response to that was complete. He has gone ahead to prepare a better place for us in the presence of the God the Father (John 14:3), but he has also given us the gift of peace in the present through divine collaboration with the Father and the Holy Spirit. God is taking care of the future and He is looking after us in the present. The question is whether we are prepared to accept the presence of the Holy Spirit and the peace he can bring into our daily lives?
1 minutes | May 22, 2020
The Cure is More Than Just A Vaccine
Lots of money and effort is being spent on trying to find a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. A vaccine would certainly be beneficial and physically save lives. The vaccine alone though is not the cure for the crises we face both now and on the road ahead. Crises of health, hunger, poverty, loneliness, and depression abound around the world. The true cure for this and future crises to come also involves compassionate acts on our part. Intentionally reaching out to help others in their time of need and loneliness. Until we care, feed, give, befriend, and encourage those in need, a vaccine for many will simply be a way of prolonging life’s miseries. But a vaccine delivered alongside the practical meeting of people’s needs will change lives for good. Bringing hope and blessings to all creation by the uplifting of humanity around us. This is being God’s children in the world, and to those who do this, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40
6 minutes | Apr 23, 2020
Accepting the Seasons
Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in Summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8 Instructed here to look to the ant for wisdom, we are given an important lesson through the tiny creature’s diligence. The ant works hard to store up food for its colony. The formations of ants we see marching up our walls and across our table tops are on a mission to bring back as many supplies to their colony as they can. What has stood out to me this last week though is that the author places the ants activity timewise in the Summer and in the harvest. Is this a picture of a forgotten way of life? The natural order of things is to work to prepare for the coming of Winter. Planting in Spring, Harvesting in Summer, Storing in Autumn and Resting in Winter. Hang on? Resting, in Winter? Yes, that’s right. If we have prepared well, Winter, with its shorter days, and colder weather is the natural time to hole up inside and keep warm and well fed. This isn’t possible though if we have not prepared, if we have not gathered in the harvest and stored up supplies like firewood in advance. In today’s world we have a leisure and entertainment focus which is, to say the least, unnatural. The natural order is disturbed as we spend our Summers relaxing and seeking out fun activities. So when Winter comes we are unprepared for the shorter days and the wetter, colder weather. Even though we know it is going to happen every year at the same time every year we are distracted and we end up spending the Winter trying to find supplies in the worst time of year to be doing it! Ok, now I know life is different in today’s modern world, I understand that for many people Summer is the best time to take their holidays, in fact many workplaces expect people to take their holidays then. Life is different, getting food for some is as easy as calling the delivery person, heating is as easy as remembering to pay the electricity and gas bills. The truth in the developed world at least, is that today’s modern world cocoons us from the natural patterns of the seasons. However, then… there is the spiritual realm and the spiritual seasons of our lives. Being cocooned from seasons in the natural, we fail to understand the nature of seasons altogether. We neglect the fact that there is going to be Winter and Summer, Spring and Autumn. The comforts of modern life, might be able to spare us experiencing the elemental aspects of a natural Winter, but they cannot spare us from experiencing the elemental aspects of a spiritual Winter. In a spiritual Summer, things feel like they are coming together, there is a sense of easiness to things, church is good, friends are close and maybe even actively encouraging us. We feel like and appear to be prospering. In a spiritual Winter, things feel more difficult, sometimes even foreboding, weariness is present and, for many a sense of isolation kicks in. Just as in the natural the Winter season is the time to rest, in the spiritual Winter season it is the time to rest, the time to stay in one place, avoid major life decisions, review the encouragements of Summer, and simply let God minister to you. In your spiritual Winter read the Bible, walk with God, listen to the Spirit and allow your heart to mourn for the sad things in life so that the Son has an opportunity to uplift you. Our Lord Jesus Christ understands sorrow, he is acquainted with grief and as such he is able to connect with those who mourn (Isaiah 53:3). In these times he can encourage us gently as one who shares our experiences and emotions, and as one who has suffered much. This process of resting and healing in God through a spiritual Winter will be a lot more successful if you have prepared for it. Preparing for a spiritual Winter, is often the hardest part, it involves strategically using the other spiritual seasons appropriately. In your spiritual Springtime, sow seeds by reading the Word of God and praying about the things God showed you in the preceding Winter. Start the projects the Lord has laid on your heart, dig into and research those interest areas that make you a unique child of God. In your spiritual Summer, take time to be with others, share what the Lord has laid on your heart. But, continue to dig deeper into the Word, this is when you will find yourself unearthing the fruit of those seeds you sowed in your spiritual Springtime! Pray, read the word and seek out genuine prophecies and reports of God’s activity around the globe. Allow yourself to be encouraged with the many testimonies of what God is doing in this world. In your spiritual Autumn, start to store up the things God has shown you, prepare your heart for time alone with God. Allow the Lord to have his way, this is the natural progression into your spiritual Winter. Often spiritual Autumn is about accepting that there are things that you cannot change, there are things that happen that are painful, there are things that God allows which we cannot understand. These are the precursors announcing that your spiritual Winter is coming, that it is time for God to draw you in and minister to you, if you will let him.
3 minutes | Apr 16, 2020
The Value of a Talent
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! Matthew 25:24-26a. In the parable of the talents a wealthy man gives three servants specific amounts of money to looked after while he is gone. The servants who are given five and two talents both used the money in such a way that they were able to double their master’s money. The master is pleased with this and on his return rewards the two diligent servants. The other servant however, took the single talent he was given and buried it, confessing a fear of losing it and facing his master’s wrath. The master is displeased with this approach, he expected this servant to use the money in such a way that it would bring increase in value, just like the former two servants did. So the third servant is instead rebuked and loses the money he has been given to look after. There is much that can be learnt from this story, but in this brief thought I want to point out that one of the most interesting aspects of this parable of the talents is often missed. That is; the fact that the value of a talent in Jesus day was 6000 drachma, and the value of a drachma was one days wage for a labourer. This means that the average working class person would have to work for 6000 days to earn one single talent. That is more than 16 years worth of work! In reality though in order to save this much they would have work many years more, as it would almost all be eaten up by the daily cost of living. Knowing this helps to understand the level of responsibility given to the servants while the master was gone. It also explains why the servant’s action of hiding the talent in the ground was not an unnatural thing to do. The risk of losing the money entirely or of reducing the amount through bad investments was very real. The master’s expectation though is that the risk be taken anyway, that the servant attempt to use the very substantial amount of money given to him to increase the master’s holdings. God has given us all specific talents, resources, and other gifting. Using them does involve risk, but God’s expectation is that we find a way to use them which builds his kingdom and his family. Perhaps we have an advantage over the servant in the parable though, because Christ is willing to lead us in this through the leading of his Holy Spirit and we have the Word of God to guide us. The risk though remains and so we if we are to use our God-given talents and resources we must exercise our faith in the God who entrusted us with them. Knowing that, just as the parable says in verse fifteen, God has given to each of us according to our ability. He knows us, he knows what he has entrusted to us. His expectations are in line with what he has given us, for on this earth all we have is Gods, and in the light of eternity God is all we have.
4 minutes | Apr 12, 2020
Christ as the Rosetta Stone
…therefore thus says the Lord GOD, See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation… Isaiah 28:16 Until, 1799 archaeologists and historians had struggled to understand Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics as they had no comparison with known languages. However, in that year a piece of Granodiorite was discovered which changed everything. The stone is called the Rosetta Stone and it had a text carved in three different languages on it: Ancient Egyptian, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. All of sudden archaeologists had a core of representative texts from which they were able to unlock the mystery of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. History came alive because of the discovery of the now legendary Rosetta Stone. Before Christ came there was a lot of misunderstanding around the law, the prophets and the coming Messiah. When Jesus Christ’s ministry began to become public, the people of Israel’s hope was stirred and gradually many came to believe that this could finally be the Messiah. There was one major problem though… Jesus did not fulfil the expectations of the people. The followers of Christ expected something quite different than what he actually did. They expected him to liberate them by force from the overlordship of the Roman Empire, and they were bitterly disappointed when he didn’t. They hadn’t understood the true meaning of the scriptures or the historical events that pointed the way to the Son of God’s life on earth. Christ’s life, didn’t work out the way the people of the age thought it should. Even John the Baptist became confused about the true nature of Christ’s mission and needed confirmation because things were not going the way he thought they would. However, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were all necessary for the ultimate reveal of the love and forgiveness of God the Father at the cross. The scriptures of the Old Testament did not change, with the birth of Christ, rather his life presented a new lens through which they could be viewed. Jesus Christ was the Rosetta Stone through which all former scripture now became clear. The former scriptures also become more relevant and their application made more practical sense than it ever had been before, as the grace of God was revealed in the life of his only begotten Son. In the same way that the life of Christ brought understanding to the reading of the Old Testament scriptures, so the scriptures that were written after Christ’s death are illuminated by Christ’s ongoing life after his resurrection. The Old and New Testament scriptures are brought into unity through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord the Son of God. The Spirit of Christ, that is the Holy Spirit, was sent to guide us into a knowledge of the Father and ultimately into all truth through aiding us in the understanding and insight of the entire Word of God contained within the scriptures. Just like an encoded message that needs a key phrase to decipher it the message of the Old Testament scriptures became clear only with the life of Christ and the continuation of understanding needed for reading the New Testament is also made clear by the ongoing presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit with us today. Without the recognition of the pivotal role of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the ongoing guidance of his Holy Spirit, the Word of the Father will remain an undecipherable mystery to us. So if you are struggling today to understand the Word of God and its relevance to your life, allow the life of our Lord Jesus Christ to be the Rosetta Stone which unlocks your understanding of the scripture through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the careful, close study of the Biblical text.
9 minutes | Apr 8, 2020
Giving Freedom to Others
But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again. Jeremiah 34:11 In the thirty-fourth chapter of Jeremiah we find the tragic story of how many among the Israelites went back on their word and re-enslaved their fellow Israelites who they had set free from bondage. This entirely selfish action on the part of so many grieved the heart of God so much that he proclaimed the ruin of the guilty parties. I will deliver [the leaders of the Israelites] into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals. Jeremiah 34:20 Now how does this apply to us today, surely Christians are not doing this, are they? Well, firstly we have to understand the place of the basic virtues being emphasised in this story. There are quite a few of these, but today I want to focus on three. The first is the concept of freedom. Before the Israelites repented of their actions they were enslaving their own people, something which Moses, as God’s spokesperson, had allowed them to do on a sort of revolving temporary basis as indeed it states in this same chapter: ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you six years, you must let them go free.’ Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. Jeremiah 34:14 Now, we know from Jesus statement in Matthew 19:8 regarding divorce that simply because Moses allowed something does not mean it was God’s original intention. We won’t get sidetracked on that now though, because what this passage makes clear is that God was not happy that the Israelites were not releasing their own brethren who were their slaves when each seventh year rolled around. Now this is important, because God’s intention here was not to reinstate the seven year cycle of temporary servitude that the law of Moses allowed, no, now he had had enough. The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. Everyone was to free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Hebrew in bondage. Jeremiah 34:8-9 His instruction then was for all Israelites to be released from this burden. He wanted his people to be set completely free. He had freed them from Pharaoh years before, now he wanted to free them from themselves. If we look closely though God was bringing not just freedom but also another important state back to his people… he was in fact moving them towards equality. The Israelites were immediately convicted of the wrong they had done and so they set their fellow Israelites free (Jeremiah 34:10), but for some reason, later on, they changed their minds. Maybe this freeing of their slaves had made life hard for them, because they now had a lack of labour to carry out the jobs they needed, or even just wanted, done. There may have even been other reasons, maybe the sudden system of equality made people feel threatened regarding their status and maybe they didn’t like not being able to tell their brothers and sisters what to do? For whatever reason though they went back and got their fellow Israelites and forced them back into slavery – what a terrible thing to do! This teaches us that it is possible to repent of good and turn back to evil, but doing this not only wounds the ones who are hurt by this, it enslaves our own soul, as we find ourselves in enslavement to sin and to the wiles of the devil. Just like Cain, who gave into sin we find ourselves under a curse (Genesis 4:11) and this is what happened to the slave-keepers in Israel. God had convicted these slave-keepers of the wrong they had done, he had convinced them that they should use what they had to bring freedom, equality and… here is another related concept God is passionate about… relief from suffering to their brothers and sisters. In the process families were reunited and human dignity had been restored, but now the faithless many had turned and despised both God and their fellow Israelites. They had re-elevated themselves and in the process turned a blind eye to the suffering of others. They put their own desires above that of fellow humans. afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again. Jeremiah 34:11 So how does this relate to today? Well, do you really want to know? Because the truth is not always easy to hear. It wasn’t for the Israelites who took up their slave owners’ rods again, to them he said: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the LORD—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. Jeremiah 34:17 Sadly, sometimes we do not realise the destruction that is allowed to come against us and what is ours simply because we have unjustly allowed destruction to come on others and what is theirs. The truth is we as Christians are tasked with bearing each others burdens, we as followers of Christ are joined in unity, not just with God, but with our brethren who also believe and follow Christ. The Apostle Paul places this at the centre of our duty to our Lord Jesus Christ when he says, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 Just as God expected the Israelites to bring freedom, equality and relief from suffering to their fellow Israelites so he expects that of us. The many suffering and persecuted Christians around the world need to receive these things from those of us that are blessed by God with the potential to give, the potential to intervene, and the potential to compassionately serve our brethren in the ways we are able to, no matter how small that assistance may be. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Proverbs 3:27 In practical terms this means praying, but it also means going further, it means putting our money where our mouth is, it means walking the talk. We might have faith that God can help our suffering brethren, but we must take the Elder James advice and couple that faith with action because, What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17 Much of the world suffers today because of inequality, much of the world is held captive to economic systems that exclude them. Today the world dumps perfectly good food by the truckload and countries and corporations refuse to redistribute wealth in a practical way, in order to protect lucrative trade agreements, which continue to decimate the poor’s chance of a bright future. The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger and it is increasingly being left to the super rich to live out everyone else dreams. WE… THE CHURCH… YES… US… the followers of Jesus Christ have the opportunity to change everything by our collective intervention. If only we would take the time as individuals and families to look for those small, but overwhelmingly significant opportunities to bring freedom, equality and relief from suffering to our brothers and sisters around the world. Because the Apostle Paul was right when he said, Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10 Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God our Father and Creator, lay down his own life, position and inheritance and took up death, suffering and pain for the sake of his earthly family. He did this so that people of all nations, ethnicities, genders, and languages could come home to the Father. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 Its time for us to start being the compassionate and practical hand of Christ on earth, and that sometimes means giving up something, even something little, so that others can have a little more. All scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV), unless otherwise stated.
4 minutes | Mar 23, 2020
Second and Third Generation Believers
Children growing up in a Christian home and being part of the Church is a wonderful thing, but sometimes for
1 minutes | Feb 9, 2020
Fire for New Frontiers – Lana Vawser
“Those words shook me deeply. The commissioning of the eagles will take place from the upper room. He will send
1 minutes | Feb 5, 2020
Chiefs Win! – Johnny Enlow
There have been a number of prophetic messages following the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl. Especially in regards
7 minutes | Jan 23, 2020
Jeremiah’s Public Act of Faith
Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come
6 minutes | Jan 22, 2020
The Shared Knowledge of the Early Church
In their book, Introducing the New Testament, Achtemeier, Green and Thompson state that, “…only a small portion of the meaning
8 minutes | Oct 16, 2019
I thought it would be helpful to clarify the difference between the biblical use of the term “deliverance” and the
7 minutes | Jun 18, 2018
On Chopin and Temperament
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and
4 minutes | May 19, 2018
Preparing For When He Would Be Gone
“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.” John 16:1 Here Jesus is referring to
2 minutes | Jan 17, 2018
Healthy Rose Bushes Don’t Bloom All the Time
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 As I write this
2 minutes | Jul 21, 2017
The Nature of Winter
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1. It is winter here
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