Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kindred Spirits

I’ve been studying church history lately and I surprised to say it is a lot more interesting than it first appeared. (See here).

Perhaps because along the way I have found some kindred spirits. Luther, for example, never wanted to leave the monastery – I totally get that. Instead he was thrust into a teaching position and birthed the reformation.

Then when I was on holidays earlier this year I bought a bag, photo here. The bag has a quote on each side. One of the quotes was: When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. The quote is by Erasmus. I have recently discovered that Erasmus was a Christian, a writer, and a scholar during the time of the reformation.

And then the other day I read this: Years later, looking back over his career, Calvin observed, “Being by nature a bit antisocial and shy, I always loved retirement and peace…But God has so whirled me around by various events that he has never let me rest anywhere, but in spite of my natural inclination, has thrust me into the limelight and made me ‘get into the game’ as they say.” *

Likewise God has made me ‘get into the game’ despite my natural inclinations.

*Shelley, B. Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008: 256-257

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20

The reason men are without excuse is explained further in the next chapter: "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law… show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness…" (Romans 2:14-15).

I read the testimony of an atheistic scientist who believed in evolution. The thing that brought him to faith was that, as he studied animals and people, he saw that people had an innate sense of right and wrong irrespective of their culture. He saw the "moral law" was written on people’s hearts and it brought him to faith because he could not explain this scientifically. He knew it had to be a God-thing. Likewise God has given everyone the opportunity of coming to faith. He has revealed himself through creation and through the "moral law".

However not everyone responds which causes us grief and even more so, causes God grief. Such was God’s desire for a restored relationship with us that He sent his own son, to take the punishment of our sins. He left nothing undone in his attempts to draw us back to himself. He longs to be gracious to us (Isaiah 30:18).

Yet he will not override our free will. So He woos us, not overwhelming us with His power—never manipulating or domineering us, never using coercion or bribery. Consequently it is not only easy for non-Christians to ignore Jesus, but sometimes it is easy for us as Christians to ignore Jesus continuing desire to be in close relationship with us.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

What I've been reading...

"You will be graced with the disaster your soul requires to find its way home" by Tim Farrington in A Hell of Mercy.

This is a similiar thought to Hannah Hurnard in her book Hind’s Feet on High Places where she describes God’s love as "beautiful but it is also terrible—terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved."

God is more interested in our sanctification than we are. But God knows we can't be really happy until He has made us holy.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 13:11

Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

These are some of Paul's final instructions to the Corinthians. He sums up with these four things: Aim, Listen, Be, Live.

Aim for perfection: In other versions perfection is translated strengthened, mature, or made what you ought to be. So we are aiming to grow and be all that God intends us to be.

Listen to my appeal: It is not enough to simply aim for maturity. Paul gives good advice through these two letters to the Corinthians but it needs to be more than just words on a page. It is as we take the Word of God and apply it to our lives that we will become spiritually mature.

Be of one mind: Also translated as, be agreeable. There was a sign hung in my home as I was growing up which said, “Why be disagreeable when we just a little effort you can be a real stinker!” Instead, why not make the effort to be agreeable? We don’t always need to have our own way. We can compromise and know that in God this is not weakness or loss but maturity.

Live in peace: This is a choice we need to make, to live in peace and not be agitated by circumstances. Our circumstances may not be peaceful but we can choose to have peace in them by holding onto God’s peace.

Paul concludes his letter by urging us to on to maturity. It has been said the real test of maturity is how well we get on with others. So let’s prove our maturity by aiming for perfection, listening to God’s Word, being agreeable, and living in peace.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

My new computer

This blog is onto its third computer. My old computer is still alive and well, though it has slowed down somewhat (I’ve heard that 1 year in computer years is equivalent to 30 human years!). My old computer is going to a new owner (my husband) so it is not leaving home. So I get the joy (or not) of learning Windows 7 and one day, when I have it all figured out, I’m guessing I’ll get the joy of teaching my husband – so he may have ulterior motives in getting me a new computer!

So where is everything?! Fortunately I’m still using my old software so not everything has changed. Still it does remind me of going to a supermarket when they have rearranged the shelves and you can’t find anything – I wish they wouldn’t do that.

I have a lot of favourite programs for updating my website, fixing my photos, scanning, so I’m still in the process of uploading all of these, which is a real pain. But on the upside I can now watch things on YouTube – well, I think that is an upside…

Another new thing I’ve learnt this week is how to type a fish:

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Martin Luther

Last night I watched a documentary about Martin Luther. I would not have liked to have met Luther. He was very intense and "in your face." I would have found him quite overwhelming. I'm sure it was his ambition "to live a quiet life" (1 Thessalonians 4:11) however God had other ideas. Whilst living as a monk those in authority over him decided he was being too introspective so they gave him a teaching appointment. Luther, like everything he did, threw himself into it with 100% effort, which meant he spend a lot of time studying Scripture in order to teach it. Of course, in time, he realized "the just will live by faith" (Romans 1:17) not by obeying church rules or performing rites. The reformation was born.

Still Luther carried a lot of baggage from a strict upbringing and an anti-Sematic culture. Some say it was the seeds of his ideas that led Hitler to abuse the Jews in the Second World War. So in some areas his teaching was quite unbiblical, which makes me wonder how much baggage am I carrying? If Luther for all his good teaching could still be very wrong in some areas then how many of my ideas about God, the church, the Christian life, are cultural, rather than Scriptural?

Fortunately God isn't finished with us yet and we are all a work in process. We are constantly being transformed by the renewing of our minds as we allow God to challenge our ideas. This happens as we exposed ourselves to the Word of God, to prayer, and to listening to other Christians (present and past).

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 12:19

…and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 2 Corinthians 12:19

Strengthening sounds like something that you would do at the gym. When we lift weights at the gym we are strengthening our physical muscles. Here Paul speaks about strengthening our spiritual muscles.

Several times in the book of Acts we read statements like: He (Paul) went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 15:41) and in Corinthians: But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26). And in the above passage Paul is explaining that he is not preaching for his own benefit but for theirs, because he wants them to be strengthened.

We are strengthened when we engage in spiritual practices, and like going to the gym there is variety. Sometimes there is a need to focus on a particular practice for a season. Other times we just need to be consistent. Other times we may need to look at fresh ways to connect with God and consider a spiritual practice that we have never tried before.

Richard Foster lists 12 spiritual practices in his book, The Celebration of Discipline, which are: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Other people add things like: sharing in community, sacred meals, observing the Sabbath, liturgy.

The practice that Paul focuses on here is the strengthening that comes from listening to God’s word being proclaimed. It encourages us and builds us up in the faith. Like going to the gym we don’t always see immediate results, it is a process. Yet in time, as we integrate God’s word into our lives, we can expect to see growth.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are you envious because I am generous?

This is part of what I preached last Sunday:

Let’s take an example from church history. You are probably aware that in the early centuries of the church there was quite of lot of persecution of Christians. Not all of the persecution lead to martyrdom. One particular emperor only wanted to discredit Christians and not make them into heroes. So he arrested them, sent them into exile, confiscated their property, threatened them, tortured them and generally made their lives very uncomfortable.

Many Christians refused to deny Christ even under severe torture but some did deny him. These Christians were excommunicated from the church and considered to be lapsed Christians. During the persecution church membership had become very rigid because they didn’t want people joining the church to spy on them and then reporting them to the authorities.

In about 260AD a new emperor came to power and under his reign the church enjoyed freedom from persecution. Now many of these lapsed Christians wanted to be readmitted into the church.

This created a major problem. Should these lapsed Christians who had denied Christ be readmitted or not? Should they be allowed to participate in communion? Should they have to prove their commitment to Christ in some way? Should they be re-baptized? How would you feel? Supposing you had held out under torture and you were at a church meeting in 260AD Would you vote for them to be to be readmitted and be on equal standing? These people were not wanting to be leaders or anything they just wanted to come to church and take communion. So would you welcome them back with open arms?

Many of the bishops at the time felt these people could only be readmitted into the church and receive communion after performing a series of acts of penance. So the church created a graded system of penance. So depending of how easily you gave in while being tortured depend how long you were excluded from communion. Then the lapsed Christians also would have to prove their sorrow by coming before the congregation in sackcloth with ashes on their head. This practice pretty much continued in various forms until 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the church door.

Do we see Jesus treating Peter this way? Peter denied Jesus three times and although death was a possibility, he wasn’t actually being tortured at the time. I wonder how long the bishops would have made Peter wait until they allowed him to take communion again? Are we envious because God is generous with his grace, with his forgiveness, with his favour? God doesn’t make us wait until we have shown ourselves to be sufficiently sorrowful. God says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Of droughts and flooding rains

In 1904 Dorothea Mackellar wrote a poem called, My Country. In it she compares England with Australia. She describes Australia as a land "Of droughts and flooding rains"; not much has changed in 100 years! It is a poem that resonates with me because I was born in England and understand the comparison.

On the weekend we experienced flooding rains after being in drought for many years. There had been quite a lot of rain in the last couple of weeks so the ground was already damp which created the ideal conditions for a flood.

For me it created an interesting set of circumstances. My pastor husband was away conducting a wedding and had asked me to preach, just preach, nothing else. I’m not an experienced speaker so I had prepared well in advance and was all set to go. Then it rained, big time. Many of the people who attend our church live on the other side of a major river. The river flooded (see photo, that's the road in the foreground). On Sunday morning about an hour or so before church I learnt that about half our congregation would not be able to make it so there would be no musicians, no sound person, no communion leader, no Bible reader, no Kids church, no helpers…

I sensed God was asking me "to step up to the plate." So I did. I asked for a few volunteers but did quite a few things myself; including some things I've never done before. The congregation was about half its normal size and they were very gracious. It will be a Sunday I’ll remember for a long time.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 11:19-20

You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 2 Corinthians 11:19-20

The tone of Paul's writing in this passage, tells us that Christians don't need to put up with this sort of behaviour. Christians are not to be door mats!

When the Jews accused Paul of being a troublemaker and stirring up riots, he was brought before Festus. It appeared that Festus was going to give in to the Jews demands and send Paul back to Jerusalem. The Jews were planning to assassinate Paul on the way. So Paul did the only thing left to do:

Paul answered: "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!" (Acts 25:10-11).

As a Roman citizen who believed his civil rights were being violated, Paul had the right to appeal to Caesar and Paul did not back down from doing so. There is "a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7). There is a time "to turn the other cheek" and there is a time to "appeal to Caesar". It requires godly wisdom to know which is best in any given situation. It is always right to love and forgive our enemies, yet this does not turn us into door mats who cave into everyone’s demands.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Is Jesus God?

I believe Jesus was fully God and fully man, two natures in one person. The Nicene Creed expresses Jesus' divinity like this: "being of one substance with the Father" (in Greek – homoousios) and his humanity like this: "who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." So I believe Jesus was God in the flesh. Kevin Connor quoting Herbert Lockyer in All the Doctrines of the Bible puts it this way: "At His incarnation, Christ added to His already existing divine nature a human nature and became the God-Man. At our regeneration, there was added to our already existing human nature, a divine nature and we thus become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4)*. This tells us that Jesus was, and is always, God, even during his time on earth.

However I often come across people who hold a view where they see Jesus as possessing righteousness and wisdom but otherwise an ordinary man, perhaps divinely appointed by God but certainly not divine. They say that Jesus never says, "I am God."

I would encourage such people to read the Gospels in context. The reason Jesus hid his identity for much of his life is because of the incorrect preconceived ideas the Jews had of the Messiah. Jesus lived in a Jewish culture and therefore addressed his comments to a Jewish audience. To fully understand what Jesus was saying we need to look at how his audience understood him. For example in John 8:58-59 we read: "'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham as born, I am!' At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself…" The reason they picked up stones was because Jesus was claiming to be God and the penalty for blaspheme was stoning. Again in John 10:30-33 we find a similar claim and a similar response from the audience: "'I and the Father are one.' Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?' 'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.'" Ultimately the Jewish authorities pressurized the Romans to crucify Jesus because of his claims to deity. (See Matthew 26:64-66 Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered.)

This is an important issue because John tells us in 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 1:7 that anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God. Our very salvation depends on us believing in Jesus’ divinity. Yet I don’t find this hard to believe when I read the Gospels and see Jesus; when I read the Old Testament and read the Messianic prophesies; and when I read the epistles and see the teachings which are there.

*Conner, K. The Foundations of Christian Doctrine. Sovereign Word: Melbourne, 1980: 163

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Two things that stand out to me: Firstly we are in a “fight” and secondly our weapons have divine power. The “fight” is about arguments, knowledge, and thoughts so it is a battle that takes place in our minds. The divine power of our weapons tells us that we can win this fight.

What goes on in our mind is very important in spiritual terms. Our thoughts, our focus, our attitudes significantly impact how we live. If we are focused on all that is wrong in the world we will be weighed down and discouraged. However if we focus on God’s mighty power, his purposes and plans for the world, we will have hope.

This verse tells us that we don’t win the battle in our minds by our own efforts. We need the divine power that is available to us through Christ. God has made sure we are fully equipped to handle every situation. Yet we need to draw on his resources by faith, believing that God will supply all our needs. Often we don’t feel able to control our thoughts. They seem to bombard us and overwhelm us. But God’s promise is: God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

As we believe God has equipped us, despite how we feel, we will learn to focus our mind on: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… (Philippians 4:8).

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