Palm Sunday questions

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday — I shall be preaching at a local church. As part of my preparations I wrote out a few simple questions based upon my reading of Mark 11:1-11 to try to help me understand, and identify with, the scene we shall be remembering.

  1. The Israelites hoped for a political, physical deliverer, and only saw Jesus through that filter: Do you have a sectarian approach to Christianity — your church, your denomination, your country — all seen as really important to God without seeing the bigger picture — God sent his son to save the world, are you small minded?
  2. By the end of the week even the most ardent of Jesus disciples will be running away from him: Do you abandon Jesus if things seem difficult, when things go wrong do your prayers and actions reflect a mentality that says it is God’s fault? Is your understanding of the cross and suffering in need of correction?
  3. The disciples knew what salvation should look like, some might argue that Judas deserted Jesus because he did not fit this ideal: Are your expectations of God, Jesus, salvation, the action of the Holy Spirit, and blessing based upon a false Gospel? Are you sure what you do and say is balanced by the truth of the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit?
  4. Jesus is going to die, there is no turning back: Have you lost your life for Jesus and the sake of the Gospel? At the end of the week we celebrate the death (and subsequent resurrection) of Jesus — is your life being lived for your pleasure, do you use time, money, and energy in a Jesus focussed, self sacrificial way?

Faith?

hands-free-cockpit-umbrellaI read this joke (in a book left in our bathroom), and wondered what should faith look like in my (and your) life today?

One summer, a drought threatened a small town’s annual crop. One especially hot Sunday, the village pastor announced to his congregation, “Nothing can save our crops now except to pray for rain. Go home, pray, believe. Then return here next Sunday prepared to thank God for sending us life-giving rains.”

The people did as they were instructed throughout the week and returned to church the following Sunday. Upon seeing his congregation, the pastor became furious with them.

“We cannot worship today.” he roared, “You do not believe.”

“But,” they protested, “we prayed, and we do believe.”

“Believe?” responded the pastor. “You believe? Then where are your umbrellas?

If you think you’re standing firm…

I imagine most people don’t have a high opinion of the church at Corinth — we remember Paul responding to reports of poor practice during the Lord’s Supper, regarding the practice of spiritual gifts, sectarianism, and a lack of love highlighted in 1 Cor. 13.

However things had not always been bad in the church at Corinth. I got a totally different impression of them as I read the opening chapters of the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthian church — Clement was Bishop of Rome and the Corinthians appear to have asked for some help (in case you don’t own your own copy it is available here and here to read online). The church was undoubtedly in a bad way but it had not always been so, in fact their demise appears to have been sudden and severe — surely there is a warning to all of us in such comments.

Below are the first two chapters that Clement wrote to them — I hope you, asI did, feel the joy, the vigorous faith and the love that had undoubtedly been a hallmark of this church in recent times. This was a place that surely lived out the name of their Lord and Saviour and on that I imagine most of us would experience His presence within.

Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us; and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-confident persons have kindled to such a pitch of frenzy, that your venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be universally loved, has suffered grievous injury. For who ever dwelt even for a short time among you, and did not find your faith to be as fruitful of virtue as it was firmly established? Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ? Who did not proclaim the magnificence of your habitual hospitality? And who did not rejoice over your perfect and well-grounded knowledge? For ye did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the command-merits of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you. Ye enjoined young men to be of a sober and serious mind; ye instructed your wives to do all things with a blameless, becoming, and pure conscience, loving their husbands as in duty bound; and ye taught them that, living in the rule of obedience, they should manage their household affairs becomingly, and be in every respect marked by discretion.

Moreover, ye were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive? Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, ye were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes. Thus a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and ye had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all. Full of holy designs, ye did, with true earnestness of mind and a godly confidence, stretch forth your hands to God Almighty, beseeching Him to be merciful unto you, if ye had been guilty of any involuntary transgression. Day and night ye were anxious for the whole brotherhood, that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience. Ye were sincere and uncorrupted, and forgetful of injuries between one another. Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. Ye mourned over the transgressions of your neighhours: their deficiencies you deemed your own. Ye never grudged any act of kindness, being “ready to every good work.” Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, ye did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts.

Disciple making ambivalence

I imagine that if David Hayward and I met we might have a range of subjects upon which we both passionately agree and disagree. For that reason I always try to read his blog posts, in my opinion there can be few things as stimulating as being made to think about the preconceptions you hold so dearly. For that reason I am thankful for his ministry.

The cartoon below is one of David’s recent offerings – and as usual I found myself ambivalent in my thinking about it.

Undoubtedly the call of Christ is clear, “Go and make disciples…teaching them…” Matt 20:18-20. Our command is to help those who commit to Christ to understand and apply his teaching in their lives, and in turn to see the lost confronted with the salvation Jesus offers.

Yet the conformity of some approaches to “disciple making” does horrify me – it seems to offer nothing more than a head stuffed full of knowledge. Surely being a disciple of Christ is a life changing, glorious, heart pounding revelation of God, his love, grace, mercy and peace, not a programme which brings about conformity in thought and action? Whilst I agree we need foundations, good roots in the gospel, I think we also need liberating from a “one size fits all” approach to making disciples. To paraphrase Moses, “Let my people think”.

So I treasure the challenge: How do I love God in such a way that as I teach foundations, they will then will launch into a life full of grace and love, delighting daily in the continued revelation of our great and glorious Lord and Saviour?

It is a beautiful and stimulating challenge.

make-disciples

Who should you listen to?

Simon Smailus recently reminded me of the following A. W. Tozer quote, it is worth pondering as a preacher or listener.

“Listen to no man who fails to listen to God.”

The quote in context is shown below. It comes from the book, The Root of the Righteous, which is available here as a free pdf download.

If while hearing a sermon we can fix on but one real jewel of truth we may consider ourselves well rewarded for the time we have spent. One such gem was uncovered during a sermon which I heard some time ago. From the sermon I got one worthy sentence and no more, but it was so good that I regret that I cannot remember who the preacher was, that I might give him credit. Here is what he said, “Listen to no man who fails to listen to God.”

Miserable Commercial Self-Interest

Yesterdays reading in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, included this paragraph,

Beware of an abandonment which has the commercial spirit in it—‘I am going to give myself to God because I want to be delivered from sin, because I want to be made holy.’ All that is the result of being right with God, but that spirit is not of the essential nature of Christianity. Abandonment is not for anything at all. We have got so commercialized that we only go to God for something from Him, and not for Himself. It is like saying—‘No, Lord, I don’t want Thee, I want myself; but I want myself clean and filled with the Holy Ghost; I want to be put in Thy showroom and be able to say—“This is what God has done for me.” ‘If we only give up something to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable commercial self-interest…Beware of stopping short of abandonment to God. Most of us know abandonment in vision only.

It brought this scripture to my mind,
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31
And whilst you are thinking about what you do maybe it is a good time to ask if you eat or drink to the glory of God?

Miserable Commercial Self-Interest

Yesterdays reading in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, included this paragraph,

Beware of an abandonment which has the commercial spirit in it—‘I am going to give myself to God because I want to be delivered from sin, because I want to be made holy.’ All that is the result of being right with God, but that spirit is not of the essential nature of Christianity. Abandonment is not for anything at all. We have got so commercialized that we only go to God for something from Him, and not for Himself. It is like saying—‘No, Lord, I don’t want Thee, I want myself; but I want myself clean and filled with the Holy Ghost; I want to be put in Thy showroom and be able to say—“This is what God has done for me.” ‘If we only give up something to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable commercial self-interest…Beware of stopping short of abandonment to God. Most of us know abandonment in vision only.

It brought this scripture to my mind,
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31
And whilst you are thinking about what you do maybe it is a good time to ask if you eat or drink to the glory of God?