Category Archives: Ramblings

Missing God’s time of visitation

In Luke 19:41-44 Jesus berates Jerusalem (and arguably the Jewish leaders of his day) for not recognising the day of God’s visitation with them,

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you andsurround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. Andthey will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (ESV)

I only looked up the passage above because I was speaking about the birth of Samson (Judges 15) and my attention was drawn to the fact that Manoah (Samson’s father) didn’t recognise God when he was face-to-face with him.

I suggested to my students that Manoah was not alone:

  • Herod was just a few miles away from the birth of the Saviour of the World but chose not to go and see
  • The Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus did not recognise and rejected him
  • Jonathan remained loyal to his father (Saul) even though he knew that David was God’s chosen leader for the future of the nation
  • Eli missed God because he was so busy honouring his sons that he lost the ability to see and hear the voice of God, who in turn then used a young child to save his people.

In fact there are potentially many biblical examples, I imagine you might think of a few for yourself. In the midst of examining the Bible, I wondered about my ability to miss God’s visitation which in turn led me to wonder about historical examples. A quick internet search surprisingly revealed the name of Andrew Murray. Murray’s father had been a minister who had for many years prayed for revival, and it appears Andrew Murray Jr was a man of the same passionate desire. Yet it appears that when revival fist came to his locality he did not recognise the Hand of God within it. I read this account by Nigel Tomes,

In 1860, the Lord brought Murray into a new stage when he moved to Worcester (S. Africa) to begin a new sphere of service. His first message coincided with a conference of ministers from congregations throughout South Africa. Before hundreds of delegates, Andrew Murray preached a powerful message on 2 Corinthians 3:8. His subject was, “How shall not the ministry of the Spirit be more glorious?”

Soon after the conference, 60 young people gathered at the meeting hall. They sang several hymns and offered prayers. Then a 15-year-old black servant-girl stood up in the back row. She asked the predominantly white group if she could pray. The youth leader hesitated at this breach of social norms, then gave his assent. The young black sister read a hymn stanza and then began to pray a heartfelt prayer. The youth leader recalled, “While she was praying, we heard, as it were, a sound in the distance, which came nearer and nearer, until the hall was shaken; with one or two exceptions, the whole meeting began to pray, the majority in audible voice, but some in whispers. Nevertheless, the noise…was deafening” (Choy, 84). The Spirit’s outpouring was manifested in fervent, spontaneous, and simultaneous prayer.

While the young people knelt in earnest prayer, one of the church elders passed by. Hearing the noise, he ran to fetch the new pastor. When Andrew Murray entered wearing his clerical robes, he found the room alive with spontaneous prayer. The young minister was clearly agitated. He paced the room, calling loudly, “People, silence!” But the prayer did not stop. Murray shouted again, “People, I am your minister, sent from God! Silence!” It was as if no one heard him. Everyone continued praying and calling on God. Murray directed the leader to call a hymn. No one sang the song. The young people, traditionally obedient and respectful, could not be silenced. Prayer continued unabated. Andrew Murray then proclaimed, “God is a God of order, and here everything is confusion!” With that, he left the room.

The good news is that Murray was soon led to see this as a move of God, embraced it as such, and was greatly used in its furtherance.

There appears to be much that is spuriously talked about in terms of modern day revival. I don’t wish to comment on that. I do want to be ready and willing, eyes open, ears peeled, heart unencumbered and pure, for any time that God chooses to come and move in glory.

Come Lord Jesus.

What does Post-Christian mean?

I live in a part of the world where many people have yet to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a tragedy (a real one not the sort we hear spoken of by people when referring to a minor aspect of life that doesn’t go well) that we have so many very rich Christians who are not using their money to spread the Gospel around the world through real day-to-day projects to touch the hearts and minds of people who have never heard the name of Jesus properly proclaimed.

Living in a non-Christian culture makes it interesting to read reports of what is happening to Christianity in the USA which has had the Christian message preached to it for many years, and which has reached the point where vast swathes of society are now rejecting that message.

Barna in their latest report gives a picture of the Post-Christian USA and offers some definition of what it means to be “Post-Christian”.

The obvious, and not too surprising, fact, is that many of the ideas of Post-Christian and Pre-Christian are identical (or at least very similar). I imagine many of the Pre-Christian would like to hear what Post-Christian USA has to rapidly rejected.

Anyhow here’s Barna’s list:

Post-Christian Metrics

To qualify as “post-Christian,” individuals had to meet 60% or more of the following factors (nine or more). “Highly post-Christian” individuals meet 80% or more of the factors (12 or more of these 15 criteria).

Do not believe in God
Identify as atheist or agnostic
Disagree that faith is important in their lives
Have not prayed to God (in the last year)
Have never made a commitment to Jesus
Disagree the Bible is accurate
Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
Have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
Agree that Jesus committed sins
Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
Do not participate in a house church (in the last year)

For Christians, thinking is part of believing

I am not an intelligent man. I am not an academic. I am a simple guy who believes the Bible.

When I became a Christian I had lots of questions. Foolishly I thought all believers would be the same, thinking about their faith, pondering things, asking questions. I confess to being disappointed to find out that I was wrong.

Matthew 22:37,38;

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.

How can we love God with our mind without thinking? Surely our obligation is to weigh, to reason, to consider what the Bible says in order that we might fully love God with our minds?

In The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide by David S. Dockery and Timothy George, Robert Louis Wilken is quoted saying this in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought:

“Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices, it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history. For Christians, thinking is part of believing.”

Church, small group, discipleship programme, fellowship dinner, men’s and women’s programmes, you name it, they all should be involved in helping men and women who love the Gospel of Jesus Christ to think more and love God with their mind.

When the World Rebukes the Church

Matthew Parris, blogging in The Spectator, has been quoted by a number of Christian sources for his recent comments regarding the Same Sex Marriage referendum result in Ireland. His words are brilliant and challenging. Although they might be seen primarily as directed towards the Roman Catholic Church, I think they are also a stinging rebuke to modern day evangelics such as Tony Campolo (see below) who are tempted to compromise in a day of increasing pressure from secularisation of society.

Whilst I would not claim to agree with all that he says, I shall quote a few lines from Parris below (follow the link and read the whole article, it is interesting). After parodying the remarks of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martina he says this,

Even as a (gay) atheist, I wince to see the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case. Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change? Time was — even in my time — when there were quiet, understated, sometimes quite severe men of the cloth, often wearing bifocal spectacles, who could show us moral relativists a decent fight in that eternal debate. Now there’s only the emotional witness of the ranting evangelicals, most of them pretty dim. How I miss the fine minds of bishops like Joseph Butler, who remarked drily to John Wesley: ‘Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, is an horrid thing, a very horrid thing.’

So, wearily and with a reluctance born of not even supporting the argument’s conclusion, let me restate the conservative Catholic’s only proper response to news such as that from Dublin last weekend. It is that 62 per cent in a referendum does not cause a sin in the eyes of God to cease to be a sin.

Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? What has the Irish referendum shown us? It is that a majority of people in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 do not agree with their church’s centuries-old doctrine that sexual relationships between two people of the same gender are a sin. Fine: we cannot doubt that finding. But can a preponderance of public opinion reverse the polarity between virtue and vice? Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do?

It must surely be implicit in the claim of any of the world’s great religions that on questions of morality, a majority may be wrong; but this should be vividly evident to Christians in particular: they need only consider the fate of their Messiah, and the persecution of adherents to the Early Church. ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you,’ says Paul. What does the Archbishop of Dublin now have to say to the 743,300 people who voted to uphold what their priests taught them was God’s will? These, and not the gays, are now the reviled ones. Popular revulsion cannot make them wrong.

For those of you who don’t know, yesterday, Tony Campolo, a hero of mine in the Evangelical wing of Christianity, decided that God now approves of homosexuality. I was surprised and disappointed by his statements. Though I am sure I do not understand all that he has gone through in coming to this decision, I do sincerely believe he is wrong.

It seems that at times the church needs the world to challenge us regarding our real convictions. Thank you Matthew Parris.

Remember Jesus Christ, nailed to a cross and crucified, before you decide to compromise your faith.

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.

The text – the idol of modern day evangelicals

I read an interesting article on the IX Marks website. I like much of the article and found it useful. However:

The claim was made that the greatest danger in the church today is well meaning pastors who…

“…because, in spite of their confession, their words and actions treat Christianity as nothing more than the best form of therapy. They treat it as self-help. They treat it as the path to better marriages, better parent-child relationships, better attitudes and performance at work, and on and on.”

I agree with some of the issues the author has with such therapeutic Christianity. I also disagree, what of the people who just came to Jesus to be healed and set free, in my Bible he didn’t send them away but the power and presence of God shone into their lives regardless of their response.

Later on in the article is a section on questions you should ask of a preacher / pastor in an attempt to avoid such therapeutic sermons.

Based on what you have heard of his preaching, ask yourself…

Was the main point of the text he was preaching the main point of his sermon? (If he did not preach a text, remove his name from consideration.)

And there we meet the great idol of modern evangelicalism – preaching a text. In my reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John I rarely see Jesus doing that – only occasionally does he “preach” from the OT scriptures. He uses lots of parables and illustrations from daily life – I have no doubt he knew the OT very well, he simply wasn’t constrained by it.

Ask my students and they would tell you that I love the Bible, but I do not think I have to worship it to the extent of I can only deliver a God-glorifying sermon if it is based upon expositional preaching of a Bible text. At that point I get off the bus.