Thursday, 31 January 2008

The mind of Christ

For "Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2v16

I like to know stuff. I like to know what is going on and I don’t like when I am involved in a discussion I know nothing about. I had a discussion with a fellow church planting pastor yesterday about why God does some of the things He does and why he appears, some times, to our minds at least to be unfair and inconsistent. As always the discussion stirred my own heart and mind.

As part of the discussion this verse came up, “If we have the mind of Christ shouldn’t God make sense to us?” This verse says, as clear as it can, that we have the mind of Christ. Yet later, Paul tells the church at Philippi to “let this mind be in you which was all so in Christ Jesus.” There is clearly some aspect where we have to apply the mind of Christ that He has given us.

I see a couple of things come to mind here. First, it is obvious that “having the mind of Christ” does not mean that we are omniscient. If that were the case we would be God ourselves and would never have to seek His wisdom and would have no need of study, prayer, or Bible study. Having the mind of Christ cannot mean that we are even going to understand God completely.

I think that ties into the second thought. The problem is, as Paul is preparing to point out, that though we have the mind of Christ. As long as we live in this flesh we are never going to fully have the mind of Christ. We are not going to know everything.

One thing we do know is this – what the world calls foolishness we know is wisdom and strength. I don’t know everything, but I do know the power of the cross.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Eye has not seen

But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." - 1 Corinthians 2v9

I love this verse. There is some debate about whether “the things God has prepared” is for here, or heaven, or both. To be a little bit plain this morning, I really don’t care when this is going to be fulfilled, for me it is enough to give me hope that that God has prepared something for us that our eyes haven’t seen, our ears haven’t heard, and our hearts haven’t understood.

How do we make it through those dark and troublesome days? What do we do when we can’t see the glimmer? It is passages like this that should always encourage us. We look beyond the present things that we can see the things that God has prepared for us in this life and beyond.

God has so much in store for us that we can’t even “get it.” These are thoughts that strengthen us in the midst of the “foolishness of the world” all around us.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Nothing but Jesus, and Him crucified

“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” - 1Corinthians 2v2

Yesterday I had the chance to be involved in a rather spirited and lively iron sharpening session on a couple of issues facing the church today. Anyone on the outside listening in might have called it an argument. At the end of the day though we ended the session with hugs and “I love you’s” and meant them sincerely. We enjoyed it and I don’t think there is anything wrong with an occasional time of fellowship like that.

When we preach and teach we are to proclaim the whole counsel of God. No doubt about that, we are instructed to do so. We are to preach on the great doctrines of the Bible, on the nature and character of God, on holy living, on the family, on relationships, on how to be a witness for Christ, and so on. If we fail in this we fail in our task.

Yet, in both of these situations there is one thing that we must never forget. As Paul wrote to Corinth he said, “I am determined not to know anything among you but Jesus and Him crucified.” Of course he did not mean that he would speak of nothing but Jesus and the cross as is evidenced by the amazing epistle of 1 Corinthians. He did mean this though, at the centre of all of his thoughts, at the focal point of his words, and at the very core of his belief system was this – “Jesus and His cross.”

Oh that we never forget Jesus and His cross no matter where we are or what we are doing. At work, at play, at home, in those “iron sharpening” session, in our classrooms, and behind our pulpits we must have a focal point – Jesus on the cross.

How could men have a “heated discussion” and leave with hugs and genuine love? How could they depart without a grudge and hurt feelings? Only one way – we have a common focal point. We have the cross.

Is the cross always before us? Is my every thought, every action, and every word I speak cross reliant?

Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend have written an amazing hymn that is an excellent reminder of Jesus, and Him crucified. The chorus goes like this:

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

What else do we need folks? May Jesus and Him crucified be at the centre of all we say and do.

Monday, 28 January 2008

The foolish things of the world

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;” – 1 Corinthians 1v27

At first glance we may find God’s way of restoring man to Him as ironic. Does it not seem that the way to do it today world be perhaps some of kind of massive spiritual computer hack that flashed




Maybe He could emblazon the message across the night sky like some kind of spiritual aurora borealis. If not by some kind of direct divine message perhaps He could use the richest, the most powerful, and he most influential people alive to share the gospel. Surely their influence would turn many to Him.

But no. God has used what the world sees as a foolish message. So “foolish” in fact that one modern, supposedly evangelical writer, as called it “cosmic child abuse.” What message is that? We saw it yesterday; it is the message of the cross.

But not only is the message “foolish” in the world’s eyes, but the tools God uses are also foolish. Instead of using the wise, the mighty, and the noble God has chosen to use the foolish, the weak, the base, the useless, the unknowns, the nobodies. Why would God do that? Why would He use everyday people like you and me? I have been saved almost 34 years. In all that time I have not met any spiritual superstars. Sadly, most of those who appeared to be such have since fallen by the wayside. Who have I seen God use? It almost seems like the more base, the more foolish, and the weaker the servant the more they accomplish. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Well, not any more sense in our eyes than the “foolishness of the cross.” But in God’s eyes it makes perfect sense. If I were tall, dark and handsome, an excellent orator, a noted author, had a beautiful singing voice, skilled with people, loaded with money and possession, from a fine background, able to move crowds with my persuasiveness, and had the wisdom of Solomon and succeeded for the Lord who would I credit with my success? I think the answer is clear – I could take the credit.

But what happens when God uses a short, chubby, balding, middle aged chap who can’t play an instrument or sing his way out of a paper bag? What happens when God uses a man whose flesh rages inside him? What happens when God uses that man who is not eloquent in his speech, who blows it over and over, who makes mistakes and sometimes knowingly and willingly acts in the flesh? What happens when that kind of foolish, base, and weak individual even see one person come to repentance? What happens when that man is allowed to see God work? In that case there is no doubt Who gets the glory.

I praise God that He uses foolish tools to present His “foolish” message to the world. Otherwise, what hope would the vast majority of us have?

Sunday, 27 January 2008

The foolishness of God

“but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”. - 1Corinthians 1v23-25

It almost sounds sacrilegious to speak of God’s foolishness doesn’t it? But, from the very beginning, long before the printing press, radio, television, or the internet provided vehicles for opposition the world has considered our message foolish. When we preach on good living, on the Sermon on the Mount, or on the family the world might pay attention, but when we preach Christ crucified how do we think they are going to take it.

“Come on, get real. You mean to tell me that God, the One who supposedly created everything, somehow was born to a teenage virgin, worked in a carpenter shop, and eventually became a great teacher and spiritual leader. Then, at the peak of His popularity He was betrayed by a follower, arrested, forced to face a couple of kangaroo courts, and convicted on trumped up charges. As if that wasn’t enough, He was beaten, spat on, had his beard plucked out, was stripped, mocked, and hung naked on a cross to die. You have got to be kidding me? That doesn’t sound like much of a god to me.”

At the end of the day, from that perspective, it does sound kid of foolish doesn’t it? Christ crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews who were looking for Messiah. To the Greeks, who looked to great philosophy, it was just plain crazy. Surely, dying on a cross is a sign of weakness, not strength.

Paul wrote something that seemingly flies in the face of everything that would work. His message was not seeker sensitive, it was not searching for cultural relevance, it did not fit into a political agenda, and it certainly did not try to make its hearers feel good about themselves. Today it might very well be seen as psychology damaging.

What is this simple foolish message? “We preach Christ crucified.” Simple, plain, unadorned, foolish.

Yet, for those who trust in this foolishness by faith and believe the message is power of God and the wisdom of God. Think about the message from the believer’s perspective. Jesus Christ, God Himself, the divine Creator and Sustainer of the universe willingly chose to come to His world to pay a debt that I could never pay. He willingly submitted to all that was mentioned above to pay the debt for my sin and offer me the gift of eternal life. He defeated death and the grave to give me the chance for eternal life.

Foolishness? Perhaps; from one perspective.

Wisdom and strength? Most certainly for those who know it for themselves.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Is Christ divided?

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment…Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”- 1Corinthians 1v10,13

I have spent a good part of my Christian life convinced that if there was one key word for the body of Christ it was separation. I have no doubt that separation is a Bible truth and that we must be willing to take a stand against false teaching and the promulgation of error. The word of God is clear that His word must be defended, purity and holiness are vital to the proper functioning of the body.

One thing I did not hear much about through the years has been the importance of unity. If I did hear it of unity it was unity under man’s ideas or teachings. It was unity based on peer pressure to conform to standards or be excluded from the “crowd.” I was once asked, when looking for a deputation meeting, “Whose camp are you in?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Are you in the Sword of the Lord camp? Are you in Bob Jones camp? The Tennessee Temple camp?” I didn’t know what to say.

Sadly, in some circles, those “camps” still exist built around schools, men, or pet doctrines of doubtful biblicity. As I read through Paul’s epistles I do read plenty about separation. I read plenty about opposing false teachers and heresy. However, a theme that runs throughout the letters is that of unity. “I plead with you,” Paul writes, “…speak the same thing…no divisions among you… be perfectly joined together…the same mind…the same judgment.” He then goes on to drive it home, “Is Christ divided?” Was anyone baptised in Paul’s name?”

Where does this come from? When did the emphasis switch from unity to separation? There is a balance? Why can’t we seem to find it?

Friday, 25 January 2008

The preaching of Jesus

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” - Romans 16v25-27

I just couldn’t skip over this beautiful doxology and summary of the amazing book of Romans. There is so much there that I don’t really know where to focus, but I do think there is one vital phrase that a vital application for us. “To him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…”

I want to centre on the phrase, my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” It is God alone Who is able to establish us, Him and Him alone. He does that one way, through personalising the gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ. For the gospel to be efficacious it must become “my gospel” and for it to go forth we must preach of Jesus Christ. Everything else is sinking sand. Today there is such a focus on relevance that Jesus is too often forgotten or His message is adapted to make it fit our society. There are some today who say that we really can’t know all the truth and meaning behind the gospel. There are others who cloud the gospel with man-made rules and regulations.

Later, after explaining the history of the gospel he uses the phrase “according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith of God.”

We need to worry less about trying to adapt the gospel to our culture. Our culture needs to be adapted to the gospel. We need to stop trying to making the preaching of Jesus relevant somehow to society and show society that it must become relevant to Jesus. We need to stop trying to figure out how the message of faith suits the 21st century and teach the 21st century society that it needs to walk in obedience to the faith.

Preach of Jesus, teach obedience to the faith. Its that simple, it is as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Naiveté: The forgotten Christian trait

“For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” - Romans 16v19

I remember well the birth of the Internet. The “Information Superhighway” was coming and many of us were quick to jump on board. Within milliseconds we can find out anything about anything today. I still love the Internet all the knowledge and resources it provides.

With all that knowledge available to us though, how do we decide what knowledge to seek? Paul gave the church at Rome some advice that is especially applicable today. After he praised them for their proven track record on obedience he told them, “I want you to wise it what is good, but simple, or naïve about what is evil.”

I got to thinking this morning about this concept of naiveté. How would I feel if someone referred to me as naïve? My gut response would be that I had just been insulted. We somehow have a notion that we need to know everything about everything. Men especially, I think, find being considered naïve to be a bad thing. “I am not naïve, I am a real man.” How have we learned to connect naiveté with a lack of manliness?

I can remember far too many conversations with brothers in Christ where we almost get into a competition to prove which of us is more worldly minded. If I don’t know as much about even evil things as the next guy I can feel like I am not as “tough” as he is. I even have to say that have been involved in conversations where naiveté about evil things has been replaced with braggadocio.

We are, of course going to encounter evil in our every day lives. We cannot afford to be ignorant of the dangers of evil. We need to know the warning signs so that we are not caught off guard. Paul need not say to be ignorant, but simple regarding evil. Studying evil can be exciting and titillating. I think most of us know what I am talking about here. Just going that little bit farther in our research so that we can be better prepared. Is that always the case, or might we at times got that little bit father to gratify our flesh?

Be wise about good and naïve about evil. Does that really describe my attitude to life? Oh for the days when naiveté was not something to be embarrassed about.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Avoid them

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” - Romans 16v17

After a letter which focuses so much on holy unity, on setting aside petty differences, and of being like-minded it is interesting to note that God puts something of a disclaimer on the letter.

Of all the sins and errors he could have dealt with, the one group that Paul says to avoid is “those who cause divisions and offences.” He then uses what we might think are very harsh words for those who cause divisions – “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”

What is the sin of these people? They are divisive men, who bring schisms to the body of Christ. They don’t serve Christ, the serve their own belly, and they deceive people with their “smooth” words.

This is not as easy as it might appear on the surface. The problem is that when a contentious issue arises it is always the other guy who is being divisive. I am the one standing for truth, he is dividing the body.

As I type this I must consider my own heart. There is an issue which is staying at the forefront of my mind. I am convinced that one side errs, that “they” have created a false teaching that is dividing the body of Christ. I am convinced that they have no Bible basis for their belief. I am convinced that they are deceiving people with their smooth words.

Fine, but if I choose to “avoid them” does that mean that I join in exacerbating the situation by adopting an agenda? Can I avoid them without ripping the seams even further? Is it my pride, and feeding my own belly that prompts me? How far do I go in confronting false teaching? Is it sometimes better to confront them only when their divisiveness affects me personally?

I don’t know. These are serious thoughts on which I need to dwell.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Greet one another

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.” - Romans 16v16

Epaenetus, Andronicus and Junia, Amplias, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion. Who are these people? Hardly headline names are they? I doubt there has ever been a biography written about any of them. They certainly don’t have the impact of Peter. James, and John. Yet these, and several others are all mentioned by Paul in his letter to Rome.

Who were these people and the rest in the list? They were Paul’s beloved. They were friends, so-workers, fellow prisoners, people saved under his ministry, people who were like brothers and sisters, one who was like a mother. In other words they were just every day people.

Paul thought it important enough to share greetings with each of them. Friends were important to Paul. As believers we need all the encouragement that we can get from each other. Paul didn’t have telephone, instant messaging, or email. Communication was nearly as easy then as it is today, and yet we know from these verse how important it was too Paul.

Doesn’t it seem clear that we should place a high priority on greeting the Epaenetus’s, Andronicus’s, and Junias in our own lives?

Monday, 21 January 2008

Greet Mary

“Greet Mary, who labored much for us.” - Romans 16v6

You will indulge me, I am sure, for one day of very personal reflection today. On the 21st January, 1978, in a little church called Jump Off Baptist Church on a snowy mountaintop in rural Tennessee God gave me an amazing, wonderful, precious gift which ranks second only to my eternal salvation. He gave me a gift called Mary.

I don’t know who the Mary is that Paul wrote about in Rome, as far as I know no one does. We do know one thing, Paul made sure to send greetings to her for she “laboured much” for him and his team. I have a feeling though that the Mary Paul sent greetings to and the Mary God gave me were a lot alike.

The Mary in Rome was a servant, of that we are certain. When I think of “my Mary” I can certainly understand what it means to labour much. For the last thirty years she has prepared my meals, washed my clothes, and cared for my home. She has borne my children, changed their nappies, cared for them when they were ill, been there when they needed an ear, educated them, and recently been the perfect grandmother to their children. She has been my helpmeet, my co-worker, my counsellor, my lover, and my friend. She faithfully served God as a school teacher, which is her passion, but gave that up when she left kith and kin to move thousands of miles away to serve God with me in a foreign land. In the early days of the church here she opened her home for church three times a week, for Kids Klub, and Teen Time, and any other function that needed to take place, with all its inherent preparation and clean-up. She has prepared thousands of snacks and treats for the various church activities through the years. This, and so much more, describes my own Mary.

To be honest, like I said, I don’t know much about the Mary who laboured much for Paul and his team, but I do know my Mary and her labours.

Praise our amazing heavenly Father for my own Mary, who has, like that Mary in Rome, laboured much for me and for so many others.

Happy 30th anniversary, my love, my helpmeet, and my friend.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Abounding in hope

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” - Romans 15v13

Can you imagine a life without hope? Can you imagine if there was no joy in the morning, no light at the end of the tunnel? Can you imagine if there was nothing to look forward to?

Sadly, for some folks, there are situations that don’t get better. Paralysed limbs do not begin to function, marriages break down, ministries never do grow, and the finances never do get better. How do you rejoice when it doesn’t get better?

Sometimes our hope has to come from remembering that our God is a God of hope. It is part of His character; it is part of Who He is. There are many people, as evidenced in a previous post on this platform who live in what most of us would consider unbearable situations. Yet they seem to have the ability to abound in hope. How? Perhaps because they know the God of hope better than most of us do.

At the end of the day there really isn’t much hope in this world today. But we have a special privilege – we have the God of all Hope as our God. If we keep that in focus we can indeed abound in His hope.

Men are going to fail us, there is no hope in elections, churches are going to disappoint us, men are going to fall, and our bodies are going to let us down. But praise God that there is a God of hope.

And praise Him that we can abound in that hope!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

With one mind and one mouth

“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” - Romans 15v5-6

On Monday Mary and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage. God has stepped in and somehow given my wonderful wife the ability to bear with and tolerate me for three decades.

Seriously, one of the keys to a long and successful marriage is what is considered by many to be a “bad” word. It is a word used that I once heard a noted preacher say to cut out of our dictionary. This horrible word? Compromise.

When Mary and I were married all those years ago we chose a verse for the day and for our marriage. “That you may with one mind and one mouth glorify God.” We have often failed to do so. We have not been perfect, but through the years we have learned that compromise is a vital part of any relationship. Through the years we have learned to let the non-essentials go for the purpose of unity.

Paul has been addressing the issue of unity and the danger of non-essentials in the body of Christ. His stress is on unity, “May God grant you to be like-minded, according to Christ, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify God.”

Glorifying God comes with unity, not division. Separation has its place. Sometimes it must be exercised. However, far too often that has become the norm instead of the exception.

What would happen to a marriage if we chose to divide over every little difference? What if we had to stick to every one of our preferences? How long would that marriage last? Praise God for allowing Mary and I thirty years of striving to glorify God with our home. May God give us, the church, the wisdom to lay aside our petty squabbles and be like minded according to Christ, with one mind and one mouth glorifying God with the time He has given us. .

Friday, 18 January 2008

The source of hope

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” - Romans 15v4

When we first came to Naas and looked at staring a church here we were looking at advertising, logos, and publicity. We wanted people to know our basic philosophy right up front. At the very beginning we called ourselves the Naas Baptist Bible Centre to emphasis our foundation on the Word of God. It was during that time that we decided to apply the phase, “That through patience and comfort of the Scriptures you might have hope.”

No, obviously, when Paul wrote these words he was writing about the Old Testament scriptures. He was saying that we can’t abandon the Old Testament. It is there that the foundation is laid and we learn about God. It is there that we have the Law to point out our own inadequacy. It is there that we see God’s holiness, His justice, His mercy, His righteousness, His grace, and His love. Yet, at the same time Paul lays down a principle. If the things in the Old Testament were written for our learning, would that not include the New Testament when it was completed?

The principle is this, that we find hope, true hope, a perfect and assured hope, only though the patience and comfort of the Scriptures. I find it interesting that the word patience is used here. It seems to imply that there is not a quick fix, that the hope will only one day be realised. In the meantime we find the comfort we need to carry on in the Word of God.

How do we find hope in troublesome days? We find that hope through patience, we find it through the day to day comfort of the Scriptures. We must never take our eyes off these things that we written before, the precious word of God.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit

“Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.” - Romans 14v16-18

As I read the rest of Romans 14 yesterday I realised that I was, albeit partly, off base with the comments I made about stumbling blocks. That verse appears to tie together two concepts. On the one hand, I should never cause a brother to stumble by taking a judgemental attitude in non-biblical areas. On the other hand I can’t afford to take an “in your face” attitude with my liberty in those areas. Galatians reminds us that we can’t use our liberty as an occasion to serve our flesh, but to choose to love each other.

At the end of the day, serving God in His kingdom is not about all this extra “stuff.” It is not about eating, drinking, observing certain days, dress standards, music styles, Bible version, education choices, etc, etc. It is all about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

How simple can it be, and yet how hard to put into practice at times. It looks like it comes down to heart issues. Am I walking in His righteousness? Am I striving for His peace? Am I seeking His joy? If I am doing all of these things than the “stuff” is going to fall by the wayside. There are people out there who are going to ignore the first half of this chapter and criticise everything we do. It is impossible to placate them in everything. On the other hand there are people who will develop an attitude which seeks confrontation in these things; an attitude which really serves the flesh. Sadly, I have to say that I have been guilty of both of these sins.

Oh for the day when I learn to walk in “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” for then my service to Christ will be acceptable to God. But lets not miss the last part of the verse, it will also be approved by men.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A stumbling block

“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.” - Romans 14v13

Here, to me at least, is one of the great conundrums that I am having a hard time finding an answer to. The Lord has been revealing to me for years the importance of a Bible balance in our Christian walk. Here, Paul has just been talking about our liberty in our Christian walk. He has been telling us how important is not to judge others based on their choices that are not dealt with in the Bible. There is great freedom in what He is saying.

The, at then end, he says this, “But resolve not to put a stumbling block in our brother’s path. Don’t do anything that will cause him to fall.” I have always seen this as contradictory. “We have freedom, but our freedom is limited by not doing anything that is going to cause offence.”

I wonder if I have been seeing this wrongly. Looking at the context, I wonder, and I certainly don’t know if this is the answer, if the stumbling block, and the cause for falling, is a harsh, judgemental attitude towards others. How many have stumbled and turned away from church and God have done so because of the judgemental attitude toward non-Biblical issues that Paul has just talked about?

I am reading a book by Philip Yancey. He grew up in a church which was full of rules and conditions. It was impossible to meet all the rules. When you broke the rules you were shamed into compliance. He and his brother went two ways. Philip evaluated his walk with God and turned to Him, while not the way He was portrayed by that church. His brother ran from God and never returned. Both stumbled, one fell. Could this be the stumbling block Paul talks about?

An image comes to mind as a type this. I am also reading “Watership Down” again. I don’t remember the book well enough to know the result, but I am picturing a rabbit named Blackavar who did not fit in and tried to leave Woundwort’s warren. When caught he was beaten and attacked by the warren. His ears were nearly chewed off and then he was put on public display to warn others. He was now compliant, but defeated; compliant, but fallen.

Could this be the result of what Paul warns about in Romans 14v13?

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Let every man be fully convinced

“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” - Romans 14v5

(Apologies, I inadvertently jumped over chapter 14 yesterday)

In the classic novel "Watership Down" there is a scene where one of General Woundwort’s officers, Chervil, is explaining policy to a possible new officer. Woundwort’s warren is a very tightly run community where everyone feels safe and secure, but liberties are a bit wanting. While he is describing the rules for burying hraka he makes a very telling statement, “You can nearly always find someone to punish if you look hard enough.”

As Romans 14 opens Paul is still addressing the issue of judging and unity which he has been referring to through the entire epistle. He starts with words to this effect. “Receive the person who is weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of questionable debates. Some people eat only vegetables, some eat meat. Don’t be so quick to judge those who differ from you. How can you judge another man’s servant? He is responsible to his own master. Each man is going to answer to God for his choices. Just make sure that you are fully convinced in your own mind”

Obviously Paul is not taking about Biblical principles; he is discussing those extra-biblical or abiblical issues. God’s people have taken to questioning, judging, and even punishing over these issues. I am amazed at the things we fight over; silly, ridiculous, and trite non-issues have become primary. They are some who seem to have Chervil’s philosophy towards others in the body, “You can nearly always find someone to punish if you look hard enough.”

Why is it that our focus is so often on “doubtful disputations” instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep? Why is it that we are out on patrol looking for someone to punish instead of edifying the body and reaching the lost?

When it comes to the extras, isn’t it time that we “let every man be fully convinced in his own mind,” instead of trying to fully convince him of our minds?

Monday, 14 January 2008

Sharing weakness

“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” - Romans 15v1

Somehow, in many parts of the church we have developed an attitude where we have little time for weakness. I think that we men tend to have a really hard time with this especially. When someone is struggling with a weakness we want to say things like, “Suck it up man,” “Get over it,” “Deal with it.” Toughness has almost become some kind of mark of spirituality. Christian men in some circles can strive for a “Rambo for Jesus” mentality.

As we come to Romans 15 we see a challenge, at least it was a challenge to my heart. What do I do when I see someone struggling with a weakness? Do I attack them, tell them to “get over it,” or condemn them? Not according to this passage. Those who have a level of spiritual maturity and strength, according to this passage, are to come alongside those who struggle with weakness and help them to carry that load. In their weakness we are to forget about pleasing ourselves and bear that weakness with them.

Taking it a step further we are to strive to please others, not ourselves. Most of what I do sadly is to please me. When that happens I get it totally backwards. My thought should always be for them, not what is “fair” for me.

How far do we take it? Verse three tells us, Jesus did not please Himself when He went to the cross. He bore our sins on His shoulders. He forsook His own pleasure to die on the cross.

How far am I willing to go to help bear the weaknesses of the weak? Praise God that Jesus was willing to carry my weakness to the cross. How can I measure up to that standard? I can’t. obviously, but I can strive to please others instead of myself.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

No provision

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” - Romans 13v14

Here we go again, that awful reality called sin. We already know that we are new creatures living in the old flesh. The power of sin is dead, but the flesh itself is not. It still cries out for attention and feeding.

There may be times, I can’t think of any at the moment, when a sin might just “jump up and bite us.” However, at least for me personally I know that when I sin, it is because I have made provision to do so. I have dwelt on certain thoughts and certain situations. I have exposed myself to, as Paul puts it, “revelry, drunkenness (not this one in quite a while, thankfully), lewdness, lust, strife, or envy.” How can I hope to walk in victory when I make provision for these things?

God has the alternative laid out for us; ‘Wake up, put off the works of darkness, put on the armour of light, put on Christ, make no provision for the flesh.”

I think we all know the power of the flesh in our lives. It would only make sense that we not aid and abet our enemy. Yet, day after day and time after time we make provision for it. We dwell on anger, bitterness, lusts, hurt feelings, perceived injustices, and such.

Isn’t it time that we stopped aiding and abetting the enemy?

Saturday, 12 January 2008

One debt

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” - Romans 13v8

I am beginning to think that there is no way to over emphasis the importance of love. For a long time in my Christian life love was something we thought about, read about, and paid lip service to. For most of my Christian life “earnestly contending for the faith” was far more important than some ethereal concept of love. Love was for the liberals, and besides if we get too lovey-dovey we might let some sin slide or some liberal might not be exposed.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for contending for the faith, there is a place for exposing false teaching,. These things are not to be taken lightly. Our faith does at times require taking a stand, being separate from the world, and even reproving and rebuking others.

But as we read through the entire word of God the concept of love permeates its pages. Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and love our neighbour. Here Paul lays it out in words so simple that it cannot be missed. Please excuse a parrowphrase with editorial comment. “Don’t owe anyone anything but this – love one another. He who loves has fulfilled the law. Remember all the commandments? They are all summed up with one thing, love one another. Love does no harm to anyone, ANYONE! And in case you missed it the first time, The one who has figured out how to love has fulfilled the entire law.”

It si almost like Paul has laid it out for the most simple of us. Love, love, love. God, after all, is love. Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote a song several years ago with these words.

What the world needs now
is love, sweet love
it's the only thing
that there's just too little of
What the world needs now
is love, sweet love,
no, not just for some
but for everyone.

Excuse one more liberty please. Might we do well too make a slight adaptation?

What the church needs now
is love, sweet love
it's the only thing
that there's just too little of
What the church needs now
is love, sweet love,
no, not just for some
but for everyone.

Friday, 11 January 2008

The authorities that exist

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” - Romans 13v1

There are some portions of scripture that really require a step of faith. I love history and politics. I really, really, enjoy how nations work and how governments rule. My whole desire growing up, even up to college was to go into politics.

One problem when you do that is that you see just how rotten and corrupt human government. Even the “best” of human governments are rotten to the core. Politicians are politicians. Men are men, sinners are sinners. Some governments are better than others. Some have been downright cruel and vicious.

Yet here we have a simple command from God – “Let every soul be subject to governing authorities.” Then God says that “the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” How can that be, with all this wickedness? After all my study and research, I still don’t know, but I do know this, God says that we are to be subject to the governing bodies.

There is a tendency among some to think the church is godly and state secular. From what we read here I don’t thing we can make that differentiation. God established the home, He established the state, He established the church. All are of Him. Sometimes we “wink” at getting around the state. We take traffic laws lightly. We are less than honest when it comes to our taxes. We skirt what we consider “trivial” laws.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

How do you fight fire?

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” - Romans 12v21

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was a scene in an old American television. The Andy Griffith Show has made in appearance in these pages. In this episode the bumbling deputy sheriff, Barney, is trying to convince the sheriff to take some kind of drastic action in response to a situation. Andy, the sheriff, was much more laid back and tried to convince Barney not to act. Barney asked Andy, “How do you fight fire?” Andy replied, “With a hose?” A frustrated Barney said, “No, with fire.”

There is a sense where a backfire is a way to fight a fire, but normally you fight a fire with something that is going to put out the fire. It seems to be human nature, at least for most of, that the best way to fight a fire is with fire. We someone treats us with evil we think the best thing to do is fight back with more evil. We all know the end result of that, fire feeds fire and a conflagration results.

God of course has the answer. The best way to stop evil is to confront it with good. Proverbs tells us, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” We are not to try to overcome evil with evil, but good.

“How do you fight fire?” I think Andy had it right, “With a hose.”

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

I am a rock?

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” - Romans 12v15-18

I think we err when we as Christians ignore popular culture. I think we make a big mistake when we are so fearful of being contaminated by the world that we won’t even listen to what they have to say.

I was a teenager in the 60s and 70s. There are things that still stick in my mind from those days; there are tunes that still run through my head. As I read this passage this morning two conflicting world views came to mind. One is that of Paul Simon who penned these words, “I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.” The other words, a totally contrasting point of view, were penned by Joan Baez, as inspired by philosopher John Donne. “No man is an island, No man stands alone, Each man's joy is joy to me, Each man's grief is my own.”

I am tempted to copy all the words for both songs, for they are powerful contrasting philosophies. Simon’s mindset is a tragic thought that “I don’t need anyone.” Baez expresses the opposite view; we really do need each other. “No man is an island.”

These few verses clearly expresse God’s point of view. While we may desire to be a rock, standing alone, God’s word tells us the only Jesus is the Rock and these verse tell us that we really do need to focus on each other instead of focusing on ourselves.

Rejoice and weep with others. Be of the same mind with each other. Associate with the humble. Don’t be so concerned with your own opinion. Don’t pay back evil with evil. Think about good things with all men in view. As much as possible live at peace with all men.

I would not recommend following the lifestyles and philosophies of either Paul Simon or Joan Baez. I don’t know about their eternal fate. I have never heard of either professing faith in Christ. But the first stanza of her song rings true for us:

No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man's joy is joy to me,
Each man's grief is my own.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Bless them

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” - Romans 12v14

A few days ago I mentioned Christian discussion boards. One of the things that is most troublesome about to me about these sites is the way Christians treat each other. There, as I real life, it takes the slightest thing to set someone off. Then there is retaliation and then a mean spirited response. The next thing you know you can’t even tell that these are Christians discussing an issue.

Sadly the church far too often has the same revenge mindset that the world does. “He can’t treat me that way!” So we respond in anger and with a vengeance. There are reasons why we are reminded not to “bite and devour one another”

God’s way is totally different. He goes far beyond someone who disagrees with us or does something mean to us and says, “Bless those who persecute you.” Even when people are purposefully attacking us we are to respond with a blessing. We have no right to respond to their attacks and provocation. Except with a blessing.

“Bless and do not cure.” That’s tough, I would rather retaliate, but that is not God’s way.

When we are attacked for who we are and what we are doing, may we examine our hearts to make sure that we are right with God, then bless our accusers.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Plugging away

“not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; …” - Romans 12v11-13

Immediately following on his instruction on pure, undefiled love Paul moves on to describe how that applies to ministry in general. As I read these words today one thing stuck out – they all deal with constancy and simply continuing on.

It would be wonderful if serving the Lord were all bells and whistles. It would be great if it were all excitement and successes. Sad thing is, in reality it most often is not.

Look at Paul’s ministry verbs:

  • Not lagging in your diligence
  • Fervent in your spirit
  • Serving the Lord
  • Rejoicing in hope
  • Patient in the tribulations
  • Continuing steadfast in prayer

Every one of these has a spiritual focus on the things that we cannot see. None of them are conditional on the results of what we are doing. Our rejoicing comes not from what we see happening, but in the hope of what God is doing. Tribulations are going to happen – be patient. Don’t lag, be fervent, serve, and at the end of the day – continue steadfast in prayer.

I think it all hinges on the last one – if we are not continue in prayer than our focus becomes earthly, not eternal and we can’t do any of the rest.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Pure love

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another;” - Romans 12v9-10

I wonder if any of us really know what love is all about. We certainly are not going to get any kind of instruction from the world on what love really is. The pornos version of love has come to dominate out society. Love is all about sex and satisfaction. Some look at love as a touchy feely emotion that gives us a cosy sense of satisfaction. I think that even Christians can miss the boat when it comes to love. If we are honest I think a lot of our love is given with what is does for us, or even expecting something in return.

Constructed around the marvellous instruction on living, “Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good,” are some love tests.

  • Love must be without hypocrisy. The King James used the word “dissimulation.” Love must be pure, sincere, undefiled, not two-faced or double handed.
  • Love must be kindly affectionate
  • Love must be brotherly
  • Love must honour each other
  • Love must give preference to each other

When I look at that list I have to ask myself if I have ever really loved properly. How often have I loved with that kind of purity? How much of my love is given expecting something in return?

How much of my love is pure?

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Having gifts, use them

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” – Romans 12v6

I remember way back when I was in Bible college there was a chapel service where the speaker said something like the following: “I want everyone who is called to be a Christian school teacher stand up. Okay, now everyone who is called to be a missionary. An evangelist. Last, please stand if God has called you to be a pastor or pastor’s wife. Look around you everyone; these are God’s choice servants of the future. Lets give them a big hand. Thank God for each and every one of you.”

Although I have rarely seen it that blatant, I have seen that mindset perpetuated through the years. We have developed our own clergy/laity mindset. If one is the the “full time ministry” he is somehow better. We judge men by how many of their children enter this “full time ministry.” We have certainly swallowed this dichotomy of service in modern conservative evangelicalism.

Paul presents a whole different viewpoint, which he will develop in another place. It is pretty simple: we all have different gifts and we should use the gifts God gives us. No gift is greater and lesser than the other. A missionary or pastor is no more “God’s choice servant” than the office worker who faithfully serves the Lord or the mother and wife who tends her home.

As we grow in the Lord and study His word we find what gifts God has given us, teacher, proclaimer, exhorter, giver, or host; these are God’s choice servants.

All service for the Lord is full time. Maybe its time to give a big hand to those who have been forgotten. May we never forget “God’s choice servant” whether they use their gifts behind the pulpit, behind their desk, behind the wheel of their cars, or at the kitchen sink.

Friday, 4 January 2008

More highly than he ought

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” - Romans 12v3

For a long time I enjoyed posting on Christian internet forums. I posted on, Fighting Fundamentalists, Online Baptist, Baptist Times, and the Baptist Board. Although there is some fun and good fellowship there I began to see after a while that when it came time for discussions that these platforms gave people a chance to show how highly they think of themselves. Hidden at their computers behind the screen of cyberspace people can say whatever they want and soon their true nature shows. Discussions soon became personal battles and exchanges of insults.

Sadly that kind of thing is not limited to the internet. When our views, ideas, thoughts, and opinions are challenged we often respond the same way. We get angry because someone has the cheek to disagree with us. We carry this even further when we find ourselves thinking that we do it right and any one who does it differently is wrong. We develop a “my way or the highway” kind of attitude that reflects a root problem – we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. That is a nice sounding phrase for one thing – it is still called pride.

Romans 12v3 brings it back to earth, instead of this proud arrogance we ought to think soberly. Faith here refers to what is called in other places “The Faith,” or the body of belief, or what became known as Christianity. Our faith is a gift if God, He is the One Who measured it out. God gave it to each one of us. None of us should ever exalt ourselves over others because we all have the same standard, the faith that God gave us. If we see that standard than there is no way that we ever have to worry about thinking too highly about ourselves.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

More than meets the eye

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” - Romans 12v2

I am stubborn. Anybody who reads this and knows me knows that it is true. When I read Romans 12v2 my own personal response is that I don’t want to either conform or be transformed. I have it pretty much figured out, I don’t want to change either way.

For some reason God doesn’t leave me that option. Change is going to happen and God says it goes one of two ways. Either I am going to be conformed to the world, or I am going to be transformed with a new mind as I understand God’s will. The natural thing is conformity. It is so easy to just slide into the mould and conform. If we are not careful that is what is going to happen because the world acts according to the flesh and my flesh still yearns for my attention. Unless something happens conformity will be the result.

Sadly, there are those Christians out there who have adopted a “If you can’t beat them join them mentality” and have chosen to adapt the ways of the world in order to “make it” or succeed. Now I realise that most of my life has been spent with an overreaction to this manifested in pharaseeism and galatianism, but the word of God is still clear. Conformity to the world in our own lives and in our churches is still wrong and still flies in the face of God’s will.

What do we do the? I think, believe it or not, and children’s toy provides an illustration. I think all of us have seen the toys called Transformers. They were popular when my children were growing up and have even recently made it to Hollywood. Looking like cars, trucks, or other vehicles, with just a few twists and turns they become mighty warriors able to take on anything. They look nothing like the vehicle they started out as. An old ad said, “Transformers – More than meets the eye.”

I think this is just a picture of the potential we have if we allow ourselves to be transformed by having our minds renewed by God’s word. In every believer is “more than meets the eye.” Small groups of believers all over the world have amazing potential if, instead of seeing how much like the world we can be we decided to be transformed.

From the ads I have seen of the film the Transformers when they change they have a massive impact on the world. It looks like it is all negative, but think about the impact we could have if we would be transformed to know and do the will of God.

In fact, my mind just went to a film I saw recently about a true transformer. William Wilberforce was an MP in the late 18th and early 19th century. When he got saved he was transformed and saw the injustice of human slavery. Almost single handily he changed the world by seeing slave trade outlawed in the British Empire. There was far more than meets the eye to William Wilberforce. He was indeed a Transformer.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A living sacrifice

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

- Romans 12v1

How can a sacrifice be a alive? At first appearance it almost looks like a total contradiction. Sacrifices conjure up images of animals on an altar and a priest with a knife, or humans being tossed into a big fire.

Yet Paul, as chapter 12 opens is begging his readers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. I think that the main idea here is that as we stay alive and serve, we sacrifice our earthly plans, desires, goals, wishes, programmes, agendas, possessions, finances and every other thing that may stop us from following Him with all our hearts.

It reminds me of the Old Testament passage that says the Lord requires obedience more than sacrifice, for isn’t that what a living sacrifice is? Is that not simple willingness to obey God no matter what?

It is this kind of sacrifice that God says is holy. It is the kind of sacrifice that truly pleases God. And it is that kind of sacrifice that is truly not exceptional, but reasonable.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Of Him, to Him, and through Him

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” - Romans 11v36

This is a great passage on which to start 2008. Paul has just finished another deeply theological section of this letter when he returns to a practical and God focused reminder.

We may not always get everything about theology. We may never understand all the mysteries of prophecy and election, but no matter what there are some things we simply need to cop on to.

What a year 2008 will be if I can remember some basic truths. Everything I do is to be done of him, in God’s power. Everything I do should be through Him, and everything need to done as to Him. If I do that than 2008 will be a year where He will receive the glory.

And what is my purpose after all? Is it not to glorify Him?

Remind me Father in 2008 that all I encounter is of You, through You, and should be done to You so that You alone will receive the glory.