Charles’s quotes


"It is surely ours to combine these elements of mourning for sin and joy in our salvation in one complex and composite experience which keeps us perpetually humble and yet perpetually joyful too."— Rev William Still

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Daily Devotional Readings: Year One - April

1st April: Genesis 25:19-34
Esau was a fool. He chose his own way rather than the Lord's way. Jacob was a 'heel'! 'Born with his hand holding on to Esau's heel..., he was named Jacob (Heel)' (26). A crafty twister, a manipulating cheat, there was nothing about him that merited God's blessing. He was not superior to Esau. Like Esau, Jacob was a sinner. Esau was not inferior to Jacob. Both were guilty before God. Why, then - in God's purpose - does 'the elder' (Esau) 'serve the younger' (Jacob) (23)? The answer is grace, the 'amazing grace' of God. Grace lifted Jacob. The glory belongs to God. Grace could have lifted Esau. By grace Jacob valued the birthright (God's blessing). His way of seeking God's blessing was devious. Nevertheless, he was seeking for God - and God, in His grace, found him and made him a new man (32:28). 'Wonderful grace of Jesus, Greater than all my sin'!
2nd April: Genesis 26:1-35
'History repeats itself'. Sin has a 'like father, like son' quality about it - Isaac is like Abraham (7; 12:13, 20:2, 12-13), Jacob is like Isaac (7; 25:31,27:19). Grace repeats itself. God is faithful. He gives forgiveness and victory over temptation (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13). He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Deceived by 'the father of lies' (the devil), 'man' denies the truth (John 8: 44). 'Let God be true, and every man a liar' (Romans 3:4). In verses 19-22, there's 'the story of the three wells' - 'Dispute', 'Opposition', 'Room'. Things went from bad to worse, then there was progress. There is room for both, when there is no more quarrelling. Isaac worshipped God, and was recognised as God's man (25,28). We are to be recognised as God's people, but remember - verse 34 - even the Lord's people can make mistakes!
3rd April: Genesis 27:1-40
The deception of Isaac by Jacob (prompted by Rebekah) is a sad episode, yet God - in grace - really bestows His blessing on Jacob. Beneath Jacob's deceit, there was a real desire to be blessed by God. To Esau (the late arrival), Isaac says, 'I have blessed him - yes, and he shall be blessed. I blessed him, and blessed he will remain' (33). Once the blessing had been given, it could not be recalled. The blessing could not be undone. Power bestowed by God could not be removed. This had nothing to do with 'Jacob's righteousness'. It had everything to do with God's faithfulness. The good work begun by God, will be completed by Him (Philippians 1:6). This was true for Jacob (28:15). It is true for us - 'All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ'. To this, we say 'Amen' and 'To God be the Glory' (2 Corinthians 1:20)!
4th April: Genesis 27:41-28:9
What a tangled web! Jacob has cheated Esau. Now, Esau is saying, 'I will kill my brother Jacob' (41). What are we to make of all this? We must look beyond the human scene. Behind it all, there is 'God Almighty' (3). God will fulfil His promises. Nothing will distract Him from His ultimate purpose of salvation. We look at the complex series of events involving Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau. God looks beyond all of that to Jesus Christ. He looks beyond the nation of Israel. His purpose concerns 'the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8). 'The blessing of Abraham' refers not only to the 'land' (4). There is also 'the promise of the Spirit' (Galatians 3:14). We are to live 'by the power of the Spirit', and not 'according to the flesh' as Esau did when 'he went to Ishmael (the child of Abraham's unbelief...)' (9; Galatians 4:29).
5th April: Genesis 28:10-22
Just another night (11)? No! - this was a night to remember, a night Jacob would never forget. God came to him with His wonderful promise of love: 'I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you' (15). At Bethel ('the house of God'), powerfully transformed by the presence of God - 'Surely the Lord is in this place' (16) - , Jacob consecrated himself to the Lord. 'If' (20) means 'Since'. See Romans 8:31, 'If (Since) God is for us, who can be against us?'. Giving the tenth (22) - this is not legalism, a kind of repayment scheme. There can be no 'salvation by works'. We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our giving must always be a heartfelt expression of thanksgiving to the God of grace: 'Loving Him who first loved me'. We are saved 'to do good works' (Ephesians 2:10) - not because we do good works!
6th April: Matthew 16:5-23
What a contrast there is between Jesus Christ and the religious leaders of His day. Three times, we are told to 'guard against...the Pharisees and Sadducees' (6,11-12). These men had religion without salvation. They claimed to have faith in God, yet they despised Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of sinners. We are to guard against the 'Pharisees and Sadducees'. We are to glory in Christ, God's Son, our Saviour. In Christ, 'the Son of the living God' (16), we have a Saviour against whom 'the gates of hell shall not prevail' (18). Our faith is like Peter's - sometimes strong (16-17), often weak (22-23). Our Saviour is always strong. We 'are weak, but He is strong' - may we never 'outgrow' this simple testimony, as we confess our sin and glory in our Saviour who forgives sin.
7th April: Matthew 16:24-17:13
There will come a time when the glory of God will be fully revealed - 'the Son of man is going to come in His Father's glory' (27). Here on earth, there are 'foretastes of glory divine': verse 28 may be understood in connection with the transfiguration (2) - the divine glory of heaven breaking through into our human life on earth. Revelations of glory prepared these men for discipleship. They turned their eyes upon Jesus (8). They looked full in His wonderful face (2). The things of earth grew strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace (Mission Praise, 59,712) - 'Lord, it is good for us to be here' (4). The 'mountain top' experience could not be preserved - no 'three shelters' (4)! We can continue to worship, hear Jesus' words and look to Him (6-8), rejoicing in His suffering for us (12) and awaiting His return to 'restore all things' (11).
8th April: Matthew 17:14-27
Epilepsy is an illness. In this case, there was something more - demonic involvement (18). The disciples failed and were called to greater faith (16, 20). They were 'greatly distressed'. Troubled by talk of His death, they failed to hear this: 'He will be raised on the third day' (23). Jesus paid the annual temple 'tax' (24-27). His first allegiance was to God, yet He did not ignore His other responsibilities. There is a lesson for today's Church here. We are to be one body of Christ - not two groups, 'spiritual' and 'social', each looking down on the other: 'too earthly-minded to be any heavenly good', 'too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good'. We need the high spiritual principles: 'we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word' (Acts 6:4), but we must not forget the ordinary things that need to be done!
9th April: Matthew 18:1-14
From Jesus' reply to the question: 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' (1), we learn much about the valued place children are to have among us. Our attitude to children is to be marked by humility, respect, responsibility and - above all - love. (a) humility: We teach the children. We can learn from them (2-4). (b) respect: Physically, we may look down on them. Spiritually, we must 'not look down' on them (10). They are to be highly valued. (c) responsibility: What kind of influence do we have on the children? - This is a question of the greatest importance (6). (d) love: Our 'Father in heaven' loves the children (14). The kind of welcome we give to children shows the kind of welcome we give to 'Jesus' who 'loves the little children' (5). May God help us not to fail the rising generation.
10th April: Matthew 18:15-19:2
Discipline and forgiveness are not opposites. They belong together. Discipline is to be part of our caring. If it is not carried out in a caring way, it is not the discipline of the Lord. It is the expression of human arrogance. Where there is a genuine desire to honour God and do His will, we have more than some human beings imposing their own will upon others. We have God at work, purifying His Church. The link between discipline (15-17) and forgiveness (21-35) is prayer (18-20). Without prayer, we will never achieve a true balance between discipline and forgiveness. We must avoid a harsh legalism which knows nothing of God's love. We dare not soft-pedal the moral demands of discipleship. God is holy. God is love. We need both holiness and love - for the sake of the 'large crowds' who need the Saviour (2).
11th April: Psalm 5:1-12
This is a morning prayer: 'morning by morning', we are to come before the Lord 'in expectation' of His blessing (3). The Psalmist prays with great earnestness. His prayer is a 'sighing' before God, a 'cry for help' (1-2). He acknowledges the holiness of God: 'You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil, with you the wicked cannot dwell' (4). The words of verse 9 apply to every one of us. Paul quotes this verse in support of the conclusion that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:13, 23). There is, however, a way of coming to God. It is 'by His mercy' (7). Each of us has been declared guilty by God (10; Romans 3:19-20). For the fallen, God has provided a way of forgiveness. For the guilty, He has provided a way to gladness (11; Luke 2:10-11). 'Hallelujah! What a Saviour!' (Church Hymnary, 380).
12th April: Genesis: 29:1-30
The tables are turned on Jacob. The trickster is tricked! The 'trick' was according to the 'custom' that the elder daughter should be given in marriage before the younger one (23, 25-26). Seven years became fourteen years (18-20,27,30). Jacob did receive his heart's desire, but there was a lesson to be learned: Going God's way is better than getting your own way. 'All things work together for good to those who love God' (Romans 8:28) - this doesn't mean that we always get what we want. We must learn to 'let go and let God have His wonderful way', and to say, 'This God - His way is perfect' (Psalm 18:30). Out of love for Rachel (18,20), Jacob served Laban for an extra seven years. We would serve Christ better if we loved Him more. Jesus still asks the question, 'Do you love Me?' (John 21:15-17).
13th April: Genesis 29:31-30:24
Leah progressed beyond her own concerns (32-34) to the most important thing: 'This time I will praise the Lord' (35). Of the many children, the most significant, in terms of God's purpose of redemption, was Joseph (22-24). An answer to prayer, it was the work of divine grace (22). 'Rachel was barren' (31) yet the Lord gave her this testimony: 'God has taken away my disgrace' (23). We move from one Joseph to another - the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We see an even greater work of grace: the birth of our Saviour. Rachel was to have a second son, Benjamin (24). Through Christ, God has many sons and daughters (Galatians 4:4-5). Rachel rejoiced in the gift of a son, her son. We rejoice in the gift of the Son, God's Son. Through the Spirit of God's Son living in our hearts, we are God's children and He is our Father (Galatians 4:6).
14th April: Genesis 30:25-31:21
Jacob was still a complex character, trying to arrange his own prosperity (37-43). There is, however, another, better reason for his prosperity - God had promised to bless him, and God did bless him (28:15). Inner desire, favourable circumstances, the divine Word - all three were present in Jacob's decision to leave Laban and 'go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan' (18). (a) Inner desire - Jacob had been badly treated by Laban, and he did not want to work for him any longer (2); (b) Favourable circumstances - Jacob had grown 'exceedingly prosperous' (43). He didn't need to keep on working for Laban; (c) The divine Word - Inner desire and circumstances were not enough to confirm God's guidance to Jacob. He needed God's command and promise (3). Let God 'guide' by His 'light and truth' (Psalm 48:14; 43:3).
15th April: Genesis 31:22-42
As we try to unravel the complexities of Jacob's dealings with Laban, we must remember this one thing: 'If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac (the God before whom Isaac bowed in reverence) had not been with me...' (42). This is the spiritual dimension. We must not lose sight of this. Life can be complicated at times, but we must not forget this: God is with us. Jacob, who was renamed 'Israel' (32:28), confessed his faith: God is with me. Later on, the nation of Israel confessed its faith in God: 'If it had not been the Lord who was on our side...', it would have been disaster. 'Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth'. The Lord is with us still. With the Psalmist, we say, 'Blessed be the Lord'. He is the God of our salvation (Psalm 124).
16th April: Genesis 31:43--32:21
Jacob and Laban were not exactly the best of friends. Nevertheless, they came to an agreement that they would not continue feuding with each other (52). Jacob prepares to meet Esau (1-21). From verses 9-12, we learn some important spiritual lessons - (a) Make sure that God is your God, and not only the God of your father and grandfather (9). (b) Confess your unworthiness of 'all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness' of God (10). (c) Pray to God for salvation - 'Save me I pray...' (11). (d) Stand on the promises of God - 'You have said...' (12). Jacob, soon to be renamed Israel (32:28), was preparing to meet Esau. There is, in his prayer, the way of being prepared for a more important meeting: 'Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!' (Amos 4:12). Confess your sin, pray for salvation, stand on God's Word - make it personal!
17th April: Matthew 19:3-30
Even though 'large crowds followed Him' still 'the Pharisees' opposed Jesus (2-3). Jesus' teaching regarding marriage has perfect balance. Marriage is God's purpose for 'male and female' (4-5). 'Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven' (12). There is no compulsion in these matters. Each one must seek God's will. Celibacy should not be viewed with suspicion. This way can also be chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. It must not be suggested that celibacy is the only truly 'spiritual' way. Jesus calls for humility (14,30). What we cannot do for ourselves, God does for us (23-26). The Gospel humbles us and exalts God. Before we can be exalted by God and with Him, we must be humbled by God and before Him. 'Eternal life' (16) begins when, conscious of our sin - 'Who then can be saved?' (25) - we look to Christ alone for salvation.
18th April: Matthew 20:1-28
The workers served for different lengths of time (1-7). They received equal payment (8-16). This a parable of grace. Some have served the Lord a long time. Some have served Him a short time. The length of time is not the most important thing. More important is this: each one of us has been saved by grace. We owe it all to the Lord, the Giver of salvation. In verses 17-19, Jesus speaks of His death and resurrection. These are the great events upon which our salvation rests (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). If we are to follow Christ, we must walk the way of the Cross (22). He suffered for us. We must be ready to suffer for Him. His glory did not come without suffering. Our glory will not come without suffering. Do not seek 'greatness'. Go the way of the Cross (26-28).
19th April: Matthew 20:29-21:17
Four times, Jesus is called 'the Son of David' (30-31, 9,15). Christ is greater than David. He is David's 'Lord' (22:41-46). Christ is not only 'the Son of David'. He is also the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4). We rejoice with the Psalms of David. We rejoice even more in the Gospel of Christ. Our response to Christ is to be marked by discipleship, depth and devotion. Discipleship - The blind men 'received their sight and followed Him' (34). They did not receive their sight and then forget about Him. Grace is to be followed by gratitude. Those who have received grace are to give themselves to the Lord in gratitude. Depth - The crowds were enthusiastic (8-9) but superficial (27:20-23). Pray for depth, a true and lasting response to Christ. Devotion - Pray that the spirit of praise will overcome the spirit of pride (15).
20th April: Matthew 21:18-46
Jesus entered the city (10). He entered the temple (12). He went 'back to the city' (18). He entered the temple (23). Here, we have the pattern for Christian living - in the place of worship, out into the world, back to the place of worship...Worship, witness, worship... The two go hand in hand throughout the Christian life. We will encounter unbelief - even in the place of worship (23). God's servants - the prophets - were rejected (35-36). God's Son - Jesus - was rejected (37-39). We live in a situation where the threat of judgment is very real (19). Nevertheless, there is hope. Christ is 'the Church's one Foundation' (Church Hymnary, 420). Through Him, we will bear fruit which will bring glory to God (42-43). We have been slow to believe, but God is 'swift to bless'. No more 'I will not' - let there be repentance, entering God's Kingdom and doing His will (29- 31).
21st April: Proverbs 2:16-34
We read the warning about 'the adulteress': 'her house leads down to death' (16-18). We also hear the warning of the Gospel: 'the wages of sin is death' (Romans 6:23). We are told that 'none who go to her return or attain the paths of life' (19). Left to ourselves, none of us would return to God, none of us would find the way to life (Romans 3:10-12). Some seek 'prosperity' (1). They seek 'a good name in the sight of...men' (4). We must not, however, make these things the be-all and end-all. There is more to life than material possessions, more than high ratings in the popularity stakes. There is eternal life - 'the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23) - and the forgiveness of sins - 'justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ' (Romans 5:1).
22nd April: Genesis 32:22-32
At the place called Peniel, Jacob 'saw God face to face' (30). We see 'the glory of God in the face of Christ' (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jacob wrestled with God and became an overcomer (28). Christ wrestled with the powers of evil, and has won a mighty victory for us. When He cried out from the Cross, 'It is finished' (John 19:30), this was not an admission of defeat. It was the declaration of victory - the victory has been won, the victory is complete. 'Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Corinthians 15:57). For Jacob, crossing the Jabbok involved a spiritual 'crossing over'. Jacob became Israel, a new man (28). After he had been 'touched' by God, Jacob was 'limping' (31-32). This was a reminder of his own weakness. His true strength was in the Lord. Wait on the Lord, and renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31).
23rd April: Genesis 33:1-20
From Jacob's meeting with God, we come to his meeting with Esau. Before we start thinking of this as a big 'come down', we should note Jacob's word to Esau: 'truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God' (10). Jacob is describing his meeting with Esau in terms of his encounter with God at Peniel: 'I have seen God face to face (32:30). Before we dismiss Jacob's words as 'a bit over the top', we should remember Jesus' words: 'as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me' (Matthew 25:40). We are not to choose between loving God and loving our neighbour. We are to love both (Matthew 22:37-38). We honour God. We are to honour other people. The two go together - reverence for God our Creator and respect for people, created in God's image (1 John 4:20-21).
24th April: Genesis 34:1-31
This chapter is about sin - the name of God is not even mentioned! We might well say of this chapter: 'the less said the better'. We should, however, notice that Jacob is still turning out to be a big disappointment. Despite all Jacob's potential (28:15-17,20-22; 32:28-30), there is still, in him, a great deal of self and not very much of the Lord. We see this in verse 30: 'You have brought trouble on me by making me odious...my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household'. Where is God in all this? It seems that Jacob has become so preoccupied with himself and his own interests that he has forgotten all about God. Amazingly, the next chapter begins, 'God said to Jacob, "Arise..."'. God was still calling him to higher things. What love! God doesn't give up on us. He keeps on calling us back to Himself.
25th April: Genesis 35:1-15
'God appeared to Jacob again ...and blessed him' (9). The Lord's blessing does not come only once. Again and again, He blesses His people, leading us on to a closer walk with Him. God knows what we have been - 'Your name is Jacob' (10). He knows how often we have failed Him, yet still, He loves us. Still, He holds out before us a new and better future - 'Israel shall be your name' (10). God is inviting us to enter into a future of fruitfulness (11): 'I choose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that you fruit should abide' (John 15:16). Special mention is made of 'the place where God had spoken with him' - 'Bethel' (the house of God) (15). We cannot expect to be fruitful witnesses if we are not faithful worshippers. Listen for God's Word. Take His Word with you - and share it with others.
26th April: Genesis 35:16-36:43
Two prisoners looked out from the same cell. One saw the sunshine and the other saw mud! - two ways of looking at every situation: 'Benoni' (son of my sorrow), 'Benjamin' (son of the right hand) (35:18). Spot the missing name in chapter 36? - God. Many never think of God (Psalm 10:4). Esau's hardness of heart was more than personal. It has continued for generations - 'two nations...two peoples...' (25:23). He has 'spiritual' descendants too - God's Word warns us: 'See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God...like Esau' (Hebrews 12:15-17). Salvation does not come to us because of our good works (Romans 9:10-13). Every attempt to save ourselves meets with the divine condemnation (Malachi 1:1-4; Romans 3:19-20). Thank God for your own salvation. Never feel superior because of it. Pray that hard hearts will be brought to Christ (1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Romans 1:16).
27th April: Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus speaks in parables. Some hear, understand and believe. Others miss the point altogether. One man was 'not wearing wedding clothes' (11). He was dressed in the 'filthy rags' of his own 'righteous acts' (Isaiah 64:6). He was not clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 21:1-2, 7:9-14). Without Christ's righteousness we are naked and ashamed. Sin brings shame. Before sin, there was nakedness without shame (Genesis 2:25). After sin, 'they realized they were naked...and made coverings for themselves' (Genesis 3:7). Spiritually we are naked before the all-seeing eye of God (Hebrews 4:13). Christ says, 'buy from me...white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness' (Revelation 3:18). God says, 'Come, buy ...without money...Seek the Lord...call on Him... He will have mercy...He will freely pardon...' (Isaiah 55: 1, 6-8). Do you want to enter God's Kingdom? Make sure you are clothed in Christ's righteousness.
28th April: Matthew 22: 15-33
The Pharisees were subtle - just like the 'ancient serpent who is the devil' (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 20:2). They tried 'to entangle Jesus in His talk' (15). They wanted to trap Him and bring a charge against Him. They asked Jesus about payment of taxes to Caesar (17). Jesus moved beyond this question to our greatest responsibility: 'Render ...to God the things that are God's' (21). If we must speak words of political significance - 'Render.. to Caesar the things that are Caesar's' (21) - , let them arise out of this: Giving God His rightful place in His Church, the nation and the wider world. Jesus' words to the Sadducees, in verse 29, were not simply a protest against the religion of the Sadducees. They were a protest for the Scriptures and the power of God. A positive faith is much more helpful than a purely negative reaction!
29th April: Matthew 22:34-46
The Pharisees had failed. The Sadducees had failed. Now, 'they come together' (34). There were differences between them, yet they were prepared to lay aside their differences and join forces in their common opposition to Jesus. They were trying to get Him to set one commandment above all the others. They would then say that He had insufficient respect for the other commandments. Jesus answered them wisely: Love - for God and our neighbour - embraces all the commandments. They have fired questions at Jesus. Now, He puts a question to them (42). He seeks to raise their thinking beyond the human level - Jesus is not merely 'the son of David' (42). He is the Son of God. Greater than all of the great men, He is 'our Lord and our God' (John 20:28). No more trick questions. Give the answer of faith: 'You are...the Son of the living God' (16: 16).
30th April: Psalm 6:1-10
What a pitiful picture: 'languishing ... troubled ... sorely troubled ... moaning ... tears ... weeping ... grief ... weak' (1-7). Transformation - Overwhelmed by evil becomes overcoming evil. 'O Lord - how long?' becomes 'The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication' (3, 8-9). We look at our circumstances. We ask, 'How long must this continue?'. We look at Christ's Cross. We say, 'He has won the victory'. His victory becomes ours, as we say, in faith, 'the Lord accepts my prayer' (9). We look beyond our present circumstances to Christ's Second Coming. When He returns, the tables will be turned. In a moment, there will be complete shame for His enemies (10; 1 Corinthians 15:25) and complete salvation for 'those who are eagerly waiting for Him' (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Hebrews 9:28).

Friday, 18 March 2016

From Pride To Praise

2 Samuel 24:1-25
Here, we see the spirit of pride. David wanted to ‘know the number of the people’ (2). Why? He wanted to feel important - ‘the big man’. He was not giving the glory to the Lord. He was taking it for himself. Did God give up on David - ‘a hopeless case, too full of himself and his own importance’? Of course not! The Lord, whose ‘mercy is great’, drew David back to Himself. David confessed his sin - ‘I have sinned greatly… I have done very foolishly… I have sinned and I have done wickedly’(10,17). David was accepted by the Lord - ‘The Lord your God accepts you’. He was brought from pride to praise (23,25). This is what God has done for us. We are ‘accepted in the Beloved’- ‘to the praise of His glorious grace’ (Ephesians 1:6).

Guide us, Lord, by Your light and Your truth.

Genesis 30:25-31:21
Guide us, Lord, by Your light and Your truth (Psalm 48:14; Psalm 43:3). Let Your light shine into our darkness. Let Your truth lift us out of the way that leads away from You and into the way that leads to You. Lead us to Jesus - He is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).

A Vision - For Daniel

"I, Daniel, alone saw the vision ... the men who were with me did not see the vision" (Daniel 10:7).
Here, we have a vision that was intended for Daniel. The vision was not given to the men who were with him. While this was, for Daniel, a unique experience of divine revelation, it raises for us a more general question: Why is it that some people receive blessing from the Lord, while others miss out on the blessing?
What are we to say about those who miss out on God's blessing? They may be present when the Lord's people are gathered together for worship - but they have no real sense of the Lord's presence. The power of the Lord is at work in the lives of others, but nothing happens to them. The Word goes on one ear and out the other. Others are being transformed. They remain unchanged. Are we simply to say, "Some are blessed by the Lord. They give thanks for His blessing. Sadly others miss out on His blessing - and we can say no more about this"?
In Romans 9:13, we read these awesome words: "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated." Here, Paul is writing about "the purpose of God according to election." He emphasizes that salvation is "not of works but of Him who calls" (Romans 9:11).
If we are to enter into the blessing of God's salvation, we must honour the principle upon which His salvation is based - "not of works but of Him who calls."
- "Not of works" - In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul emphasizes this point: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
- "Of Him who calls" - In 1 Corinthians 1:21, Paul emphasizes that "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." In Romans 10:17, he writes, "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ."
When we come to hear the Word of God, we must come to God, seeking His glory. His glory is much more important than our blessing.
If we are preoccupied with getting a blessing for ourselves, we will find that His blessing is like the elusive butterfly - so close yet so far. We are so close to the blessing. It's all around us. Other people are being blessed. We may ask, "Why them? Why not me?"
There is a problem with the "Why not me?" question. It's centred on ourselves. It's asking about what I can get. It's more concerned with getting blessing for ourselves than giving glory to God.
When we gather together for worship, let's not get stuck at the self-centred level of "I hope there's a blessing there for me." Let's pray that God will lift us up to His God-centred level: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory, for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness!" (Psalm 115:1).
Let's return to the tragic story of Esau: "Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:34); "Afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears" (Hebrews 12;17).
The tragedy of Esau is this: everything centred around Esau - what Esau wanted. He showed his true colours when he "despised his birthright." Later on, he wanted to get the blessing for himself. He wanted to be 'one up' on his brother, Jacob. What did all this have to do with the glory of God? There were "tears" - but what was he crying about? There were "tears" - but they weren't tears of "repentance." Esau was feeling sorry for himself. Jacob had been blessed - and he hadn't.
Feeling sorry for ourselves because other people have been blessed and we haven't - This is very different from seeking the glory of God. God wants to bless us. We must never doubt that - but we must never forget this: He does not bless us because we want to get blessing for ourselves.
God looks at what's going on in our hearts. Are we filled with envy? - We see others being blessed and we become obsessed with one thing: "Why am I not being blessed as much as he is? I deserve blessing every bit as much as he does."
What does God say about this? - "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:9); "not of works but of Him who calls" (Romans 9:11).
Let us pray that God will give us a heart which seeks its glory - and let's leave the blessing to Him. He will send His blessing to those who seek His glory: "the vision ... will surely come", "Though it tarries, wait for it" (Habakkuk 2:3).

Thursday, 17 March 2016

There is work to be done.

What will the future hold for us? One thing we can say is this: there is work to be done – God’s work. God is calling us to do His work and He will give us the strength that we need (Ezra 1:2,5). ‘At such a time is this’, a time when many are turning away from the Lord, showing little or no interest in worshipping and serving Him, a time when many are living according to the world’s standards with no real desire to please God and do His will, God is looking for people who will make a whole-hearted commitment to a life of serving Him. He is looking for people who will say, ‘Serving the Lord – this must be the great priority of my life, the most important thing’ (Esther 4:14,16).

Serving the Lord will not be easy. There will be many times when we will feel like giving up. We will be tempted to follow the crowd rather than following our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. When it seems that we are in danger of being overwhelmed by such temptations, we must say, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’. We must remember that Jesus went to the Cross for us and we must say, ‘There will be “no turning back”’. We must not by put off by those who have no real love for the Lord: ‘Though none go with me, I still will follow’. We must make our choice: ‘The world behind me, the Cross before me. No turning back’ (Mission Praise, 272).

Sometimes, as we serve the Lord, we may wonder, ‘What’s this all about? Where is the Lord in all of this?’ When such thoughts fill our minds, we must take encouragement from God’s Word: ‘He knows the way that I take’ (Job 23:10). We must remember God’s great faithfulness (Lamentations 3:23). In the Lord our God, we find ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’ (Songs Of God’s People, 37). As we look to the Lord, we will catch a glimpse of His eternal purpose for us (Ecclesiastes 3:11) – He is ‘fitting us for heaven to live with Him there’ (Church Hymnary. 195).
My prayer for each of you is that you will learn to ‘turn your eyes upon Jesus’. I pray that you will ‘look full in His wonderful face’ and find that He is ‘altogether lovely’. As you learn to love Jesus more, you will discover that ‘the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace’ (Mission Praise, 712; Song of Solomon 5:16). Through the great love of Jesus Christ our Saviour, may we all grow stronger in our commitment to worshipping and serving the Lord our God.

Some Thoughts On Mission And Evangelism

Teaching Evangelism

In the preface to his book, The Evangelism of the Early Church, Michael Green states a personal reason for writing the book:
“Most evangelists are not very interested in theology: most theologians are not very interested in evangelism. I am deeply committed to both. So the study of this subject was particularly congenial to me” (p.7).
Green’s book contains a brief but helpful section on “Teaching Evangelism” (pp.204-206).
Green’s emphasis on the unbreakable connection between theology and evangelism encourages us to develop an evangelistic theology.
A theology which does not lead to evangelism remains remote from both the Gospel of God and the need of human beings.
An evangelism which shows little interest in theological reflection tends to become rather superficial, lacking the depth and range of “teaching evangelism”.

Looking up to God and looking out to our community

Here are some more thoughts from Local Church Evangelism, edited by David Wright and Alastair Gray.
Worship comes first.
“”Praise is the primary form of the communication, the sheer enjoyment of the grace of God in our lives - all other communication is an overflow of this, the spread of its scent, affirming in appropriate ways, in various situations, the content and delight of praising God” (p. 49).
Worship leads to Witness.
“the church should be united in love and purpose, wide open to the Spirit of Jesus in prayer and with the outward look of openness to others in love” (p. 28).
Come to Christ and Go for Christ.
“Jesus says both ‘I am the light of the world’ … and ‘You are the light of the world’” (p. 43).

Service, Prayer, Love and Witness

“It is the total ministry of service, prayer, love and witness, throughout the year, which is used to bring new life to the parish” (Local Church Evangelism, edited by David Wright and Alastair Gray, p. 85).
To be reminded of our calling to be faithful in service, prayer, love and witness is to be reminded of our failure.
When, however, we look beyond the inadequacies of our service, prayer, love and witness, we catch a a glimpse of the faithfulness of God - “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).
In the presence of the God of “great faithfulness”, we are reminded that we have “received this ministry by the mercy of God” (Lamentations 3:22; 2 Corinthians 4:1).
We have “received mercy” so that “we might proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
“Shine, Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory; blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire … “. These are not only words to be sung. It’s a life to be lived. They are not only words for the mountain-top experience - the exuberance of praise. It’s an all-year round life, a life of service, prayer, love and witness. Let’s live the life and see the difference it makes!

Local Church Evangelism

Here are some thoughts from the “Introduction” to Local Church Evangelism, edited by David Wright and Alastair Gray.
A Definition

“Evangelism may be defined briefly as the God-given task of presenting the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in order that men and women and children may come to trust in God through him, accept him as their Saviour and serve him as their King in the fellowship of his Church in the world. It is concerned with communicating a specific message - a message that is not only about Jesus Christ but is Jesus Christ - with the aim of winning those who receive it to his allegiance” (p. 9).
A Reminder
“The congregation renewed for mission is God’s primary evangelistic agency” (p. 10).
A Question
“Are our services of worship welcoming, open in spirit and ethos to the outsider, the visitor, the wider community?” (pp. 10-11).
A Challenge
“We need to be more self-critical, not only about the ‘message’, more often implicit than explicit, that our worship conveys to the stranger and the uncommitted, but also about its impact on the congregation itself” (p. 11).

Sharing our Faith Effectively

Philemon, Verse 6 - “that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus”.
These words bring to mind several other verses of Scripture.
* “acknowledging every good thing … ” indicates that we are to share our faith in the spirit of thanksgiving, giving thanks to the Lord for all that He has done for us, all that He is doing for us and all that He will do for us.
When we find it difficult to share our faith, we must learn to stand upon God’s Word: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
* “every good thing in you” brings to mind the wonderfully encouraging words of 2 Timothy 1:7 - “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”.
What a great encouragement it is to know that we can exchange our weakness - “fear” - for the Lord’s strength - “power … love … a sound mind”.
This is the fulfilment of God’s promise in Isaiah 40:31 - “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength”.
The combination of “power” and “love” is important.
We might say that it is the power of love. It is the love of God at work. It is the power of God at work.
His love motivates us to reach out for Him. His power makes our witness effective for Him.
As well as power and love, there is also the blessing of “a sound mind”.
There are times when we have the opportunity to prepare a message from God’s Word.
We use our minds to think through what the Lord is saying to us and what He wants us to say to the people.
There are other times when we must think on our feet.
We must “always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks for a reason for a hope that is in us”. We must do this “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
When we have to think on our feet, we must stand upon the Lord’s Word: “do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
God’s promise will be fulfilled as we learn in our study of God’s Word, to pray for “the renewal of our mind” (Romans 12:2) - “May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day, by His love and power controlling all I do or say”.
We must never forget that the “power” and “love” come from the Lord and not from ourselves.
When there is an effective sharing of our faith, we must always remember this: “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23). This must be our testimony: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give glory, because of of Your mercy and Your truth” (Psalm 115:1).
* “every good thing” - Here, we are reminded of the great words of Paul in Ephesians 1:3 - “every spiritual blessing”.
Paul speaks here in a spirit of worship - “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
He gives thanks to the Lord who “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing”.
“Every spiritual blessing” is to be found “in Christ”.
* “in Christ Jesus” - The final words of Philemon 6 remind us that any good things “in us” have come from Christ.
Paul tells us that, in ourselves, “there is no good thing” (Romans 7:18).
The good things are “in Christ Jesus”.
He gives them to us as He gives Himself to us.
If we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, we must learn to “abide in Christ”. We must never forget this: “without Him we can do nothing”. Abiding in Christ - this is the way of “bearing much fruit” - “May the Word of God dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour, so that all may see I triumph only through His power”.
* There will be times when we must share our faith with those who are going through a time of great suffering. If our words are to be helpful to them, we must pray for the strengthening of our own faith so that we are able to share the Lord’s strength with them: “May the peace of God my Father rule my heart in everything, that I may be calm to comfort sick and sorrowing”.
* An effective sharing of our faith is a sharing of the love of Jesus. We must pray that His love will shine through as we witness for Him: “May the love of Jesus fill me, as the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory”.
* Persevering in the way of faith is not easy. We must take care that we do not lose “our first love” (Revelation 2:4). We must keep our eyes on Jesus. He will give us the strength to continue in the way of faithful obedience: “May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, looking unto Jesus as I onward go”.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Shining!

“The skin of Moses’ face shone” (Exodus 34:35).
What glory there is in the presence of the Lord! The glory of the Lord was shining upon Moses. The glory of the Lord was shining out from Moses. In the Lord’s presence, there is light. When we come into His presence, we come out of the darkness, and we come into the light. It is the light of His glory. It is the light of His love. It is the glory of His love. This is what changes us. This is what makes us new men and women. How can we remain the same when we have been in the presence of the Lord? Was there something special about Moses? No! There was something special about God. Is there something special about us? No! There’s something special about God. In His presence, everything changes. The things that seemed so important to us are seen in a new light – the light of eternity. They are seen for what they really are. Do these things really matter as much as we thought they did? or Have we been shaped too much by the world’s way of thinking? In the Lord’s presence, everything seems so different. Light is shining upon us. It is the light of God’s Word. It is the light of the Gospel. His light is a great light. It shines brightly. It will not be overcome by the darkness. Often, we feel that the darkness is so powerful. It seems like we’re struggling to get into the light – and the darkness keeps on pulling us back in. What do we learn when we come into the Lord’s presence? What do we learn when we read His Word? What do we learn when His Gospel reaches us? We learn that it’s not all about us – our struggle to break free from the darkness. It’s all about Him – His power to set us free. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Links to "Evangel" Articles



Charles M. Cameron, “The Building and Dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 5-8),” Evangel 11:3 (1993): 66-68 (There isn't an online version of this article).









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These two articles were published in The Evangelical Quarterly.

Be An "Andrew". You May Win A "Peter" For Jesus.

In John 1:40-42, we see Andrew bringing his brother, Peter, to Jesus. In Acts 2:37-42, we see Peter bringing three thousand people to Jesus.
When we lead someone to Jesus, we have no idea of what a remarkable future may lie ahead of that person.
Note the immediacy of Andrew's response.
He was a man who had been waiting for the Messiah. He had been waiting with active and living faith. When Jesus appeared, Andrew was ready to become His follower.
Praise God for people like this, people who make an immediate response to Jesus. As soon as they hear the Gospel, they receive its message with joyful faith. It's so important that we bring Christ to such people so that, when they hear the Gospel, they will come, in faith, to the Saviour.
Andrew was a convert of the Lamb of God.
*There is such a difference between the preacher's converts and the Saviour's converts. Sometimes, people say, "Are you trying to convert me?" The answer to this question is, "No. I could never do that." We must never forget that the only real converts are the Lord's converts. Conversion is the Lord's doing. This is why prayer is so important. We must pray that the Lord will open the hearts of men, women and children.
  • Jesus is the Lamb of God. He's more than our Teacher, Example or Friend. We rejoice in the words, "What a Friend we have in Jesus", but we must take care that these words are not sentimentalized and stripped of their Gospel meaning. Jesus is our Friend because He is our Saviour. Behind, Jesus the Teacher and Example, there is Jesus the Saviour. Jesus Christ is the perfect sacrifice for sin. The death of Christ - this is the centre of the Gospel. This is why Paul said, "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified"(1 Corinthians 2:2) and "God forbid that I should glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).
    • We have noted the importance of both prayer for the Gospel's advance and preaching the Gospel message. We now note an important way in which the Gospel reaches others: "Come and see" (John 1:39). You can say, "Come and hear." You can "gossip the Gospel."
    • Let's return to our starting-point. Andrew was eclipsed in gifts and position, but this did not make the first disciple (what an honour!) envious. He knew what God had given him to do, and he did it well ("There's a work for Jesus none but you can do. 'Tis a task the Master just for you has planned.").
Witness at home. What a mission-field your home can be! Peter became a greater apostle, but without Andrew's simple testimony, there would have been no Apostle Peter. Who knows what might happen when we speak, simply and truly, for Jesus?

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

We think of all that Jesus Christ has done for us, and we say, “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”

Psalms 22:19-23:4
We thank You, Lord, for Jesus Christ, our great Saviour. He died for us. He was raised from the dead for us. He is coming again for us. We think of all that He has done for us, and we say, “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”

A Biblical Approach to Theodicy

This article was published in ”Evangel", 10.2 (Summer 1992): 25-29.
[p.25]

Introduction

We approach theodicy from two angles: the authority of Scripture and the need for contemporary relevance. These two approaches should not be set over against each other. They are to be held together. If we believe that Scripture is ‘the living and abiding word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23), this will influence the way in which we seek to attain contemporary relevance. If we are inclined to lightly set aside the Scriptures with a view to being relevant, our procedure carries with it the implied denial of the ‘living and abiding’ character of Scripture. If, on the other hand, we are firmly convinced that the Bible is ‘the living and abiding word of God’, we will not view the Bible as an obstacle to contemporary relevance. Rather, we will see this ‘living and abiding word of God’ as the foundation of relevance.

Normative Scripture and Apologetics
A real commitment to the normativity of Scripture does not require us to opt out of the apologetic task of presenting a reasonable faith to a sceptical and unbelieving world. It does, however, affect the way in which we will approach the problem of evil. We will not rest content with any suggestion of a dichotomy between a theoretical theodicy and a practical theodicy. A theodicy which is purely theoretical belongs to the scholar’s ivory tower. The real test of a theodicy’s value is practical: Does it help real people to cope with the problem of evil which they face in their own lives? The problem with the distinction between theoretical theodicy and practical theodicy is that it suggests that the problem of evil can be discussed theoretically without our being involved practically. No matter how much we may try to think about the problem of evil with detached objectivity, there remains the unsettling awareness that the problem is much more than a theoretical matter. A theoretical theodicy concerns itself with the question of self-contradiction: Do we contradict ourselves when we ‘assert … that there is an infinitely good God … an all-powerful Creator … and that there are evils in this universe.’1 While this is a crucial issue, we must not lose sight of the fact that the problem of evil is man’s problem. Man faces the problem of evil existentially and practically, since man is evil. The problem of evil is a thoroughly existential problem which confronts man at the very centre of his being. The problem of evil confronts man by the very fact of who he is ― man the sinner. The problem of evil is far more serious and comprehensive than the intellectual debate between theism and atheism tends to suggest. Whether or not one is involved in such intellectual debate, one must still face the problem by virtue of one’s being a man. Regardless of one’s leanings towards theism or atheism, one must still face the problem of evil, for it is a problem from which man cannot escape. Man’s problem concerns not merely explaining evil but overcoming it. The problem of evil is no mere theoretical dispute. Man is ‘engaged, intimately and personally, in … the problem of sin’s guilt’ (G. C. Berkouwer, Sin, p. 14). If we are to take seriously ‘The Biblical A Priori’2 ― God is not the Author of mans sin― this will mean confessing our own involvement in evil. A biblical approach to the problem of evil affirms both the goodness of God and the sinfulness of man. If, in approaching the problem of evil biblically, we are to use the term ‘theodicy’ at all, we must be quite clear that the word ‘theodicy’ is being understood in a particular way. We must take care not to make an overestimation of man’s reason, his capacity to fully ‘justify the ways of God to men’. Where reason is given a central place, there is always the danger of seeking to justify man’s actions to God. If our thinking is to be governed by the gospel proclaimed to us in Scripture, we must use ‘not an autonomous reason but an obedient reason … reason in obedience to revelation’3.
Obedient Reason

An obedient reason seeks to ‘take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This involves more than the use of our minds. It calls also for the obedience of our lives. In both our thinking and our living, we are constantly faced with the temptation of allowing ourselves to ‘be squeezed into the mould of this world’ (Romans 12:2). Generally speaking, ‘the world’ will be quite happy to allow us to continue speaking about ‘God’ so long as we don’t take Him too seriously, so long as He is kept at a distance, so long as this ‘God’ doesn’t present secularized man
[p.26]
with a fundamental challenge to change his way of living. If, however, we are prepared to settle for the ‘God’ of natural theology, we are no longer speaking of the living God. This, however, is to remove God to the periphery of human existence, making the matter of His existence a matter of considerable indifference. Such a ‘God’ is rightly treated as a puzzle in an intellectual game. Obedient reason will not, however, rest content with reducing the living God of the Bible to a rather contentless concept. We cannot simply settle for an affirmative answer to the question, ‘Does God exist?’ without asking the further question, ‘Who is God?’. When faced with a rather characterless Supreme Being, who might aptly be described as the ‘unknown God’ (cf. Acts 17:23), we must boldly proclaim the gospel of the God who has made Himself known. An obedient reason will not proceed on the basis of arguments based on mans unaided reason. Arguments that leave us with the kind of vague God-concept expressed in the common statement, ‘There must be something somewhere’ must be clearly distinguished from the apostolic ‘argu(ing) …
from the scriptures’ (Acts 17:2). When a man protests, ‘I’m not an unbeliever’ in an attempt to avoid being drawn more deeply into conversation concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ, we may rightly say that this vague God-concept has innoculated him against receiving the fuller and richer teaching of the Scriptures. His protest is an expression of a p
roud unwillingness to receive instruction from the Scriptures and thus be led into a real knowledge of the living God. Although such a man has no ‘God’ but the ‘unknown God’, he speaks as though he was ‘wise and understanding’ (Matthew 11:25). Trying to give the impression that he ‘knows it all’, he refuses to become a ‘babe’ who comes to Jesus Christ and learns from Him (Matthew 11:25, 28-29). In the face of this kind of thing, obedient reason must, on the basis of the Scriptures, ‘destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). If we are over-impressed by a man’s appeal to a vague God-concept, we are not doing him any service. If, on the other hand, we see through his superficiality and, as ‘ambassadors for Christ’, we proclaim to him ‘the message of reconciliation and call him to ‘be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:19-20), we are doing him a real service.
Reconciliation and Theodicy

The message of reconciliation must he at the heart of any biblical approach to theodicy. Man is not described in Scripture as essentially ignorant and in need of a series of arguments which, once he has grasped them, will enable him to say, ‘Now, I know’. The basic biblical picture of man is one of man the sinner who stands in desperate need of reconciliation to the holy God. The God who meets man’s need for reconciliation is not a ‘God’ who keeps His distance and keeps His silence. Rather, He is the God who has come near to us in Jesus Christ, the God who, in Scripture, has declared His love to us. If we are to speak of a ‘biblical theodicy’, the emphasis must be on the word ‘biblical’ if we are to avoid the impressions generally associated with the word ‘theodicy’: a ‘God’ who is remote rather than near through the incarnation, a God who remains distant rather than actively revealing Himself through the Scriptures. When we put the question ‘Who is God?’ to an exponent of natural theodicy, intent on ‘justifying the ways of God to man’, we are generally presented with an empty, abstract God-concept which says nothing of ‘the great love of God … revealed in the Son’
4. When, however, we address this question to the Scriptures, we receive warm testimony to the love of God: ‘Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression…’ (Micah 7:18). The God of Scripture is the God of our salvation. He is the God who ‘delights in steadfast love’, the God who has ‘compassion upon us’, the God who ‘tread(s) our iniquities under foot’, the God who ‘cast(s) all our sins into the depths of the sea’ (Micah 7:18-19). If we are to think biblically about theodicy, Jesus Christ must be at the forefront of our attention. As we turn our attention to Jesus Christ, we discover that divine redemption is the foundation of a truly biblical ‘theodicy’. In Jesus Christ, we discover that the usual method of theodicy is reversed. The justification of God by man is found in the justification of men by God. The gospel is the Christians ‘theodicy’. The gospel provides the proper context for affirming that God is good in His dealings with sinful man. We make this affirmation of God’s goodness to sinners not on the basis of an argument addressed to our minds. Our basis is the gospel which addresses the whole of our life, calling for the confession of our sins. We do not affirm our faith in the divine love for sinners on the basis of a theoretical argument. The foundation of our faith is a historical event ― the Cross: ‘while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). The gospel may, then, be viewed as the ‘Divine Theodicy’, God’s defence of Himself through His mighty work of salvation. This use of the term ‘theodicy’ is a complete reversal of every human theodicy in which we have man’s defence of God through his reason. Focusing our attention on our Saviour Jesus Christ, we find ourselves compelled to ask not ‘How can God permit evil in the world?’ but ‘How can God have such love for a sinner like me?’.
Divine and human theodicies
In emphasizing the ‘Divine Theodicy’ is a complete reversal of every human theodicy, we observed that the justification of God by man is found in the justification of man by God. We may go on from here to note that, in Scripture, the doctrine of justification is characterized as justification by faith. In view of the repeated emphasis in Scripture on the necessity of faith for salvation, we must be wary of any tendency toward a theodicy built around the speculative notion of universal redemption. In reacting against universalism, however, we must take care not to lose sight of the true universality of the gospel. The gospel is addressed to all. The invitation to come to Jesus Christ is extended to all. The offer of salvation is proclaimed to all. The call to faith is preached to all. This is, nevertheless, a very different thing from the idea of universal redemption. G. C. Berkouwer
[p.27]
makes this point well: ‘this universality is nowhere made into an objective state of affairs . . . this universality of the gospel is like an arrow directed at a target, and no one is excluded, not even the worst of sinners’
5. Kerygmatic universality does not make the response of faith redundant. Rather, it calls for the response of faith from all. The gospel’s call for faith must be stressed over against a doctrine of universal reconciliation in which the gospel becomes ‘the positive announcement of an unassailable end, upon which the human decision of faith or unbelief has no bearing’
6.
Universalism

The doctrine of universalism is often presented in the form of a ‘purgatory’ doctrine. William Barclay, who described himself as ‘a convinced universalist’
7, defended his universalist position thus: ‘God has eternity to work in … an eternity of persuasion and appeal until the hardest heart breaks down and the most stubborn sinner repents. As I see it, nothing less than a world is enough for the love of God’ (p. 61). Critical of this purgatory’ notion, S. H. Travis points out that it is ‘quite different from Jesus’ message of present salvation to be received or lost in immediate response to his preaching’.8 When faced with such speculative notions, it is important that we ‘learn … not to go beyond what is written’ (1 Corinthians 4:6) in Scripture. Whatever the precise formulation of his doctrine, the universalist will emphasize that universalism offers hope and comfort to the bereaved. While this argument may hold a certain emotional appeal for those who are frequently called upon to counsel the bereaved, we must be quite clear about this: this hope and comfort for the bereaved is only gained at the expense of seriously distorting the biblical teaching. Emphasizing that ‘the biblical witness to the love of God … never announces it as … a static eschatological fact’, and issuing the apt warning that ‘it is extremely dangerous to think and talk about “the love of God” and what “follows” from it outside of the gospel’, G. C. Berkouwer exhorts us to resist the ‘persistent and almost irresistible inclination to go outside the proclamation of the gospel’9. There is no universalist ‘necessity’. There is ‘only one “necessity” - the necessity that confronted Paul as he faced the future: “Necessity … is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)’10.
Preaching and the Problem of Evil
The faithful preaching of the gospel is really the most appropriate and most effective Christian response to the problem of evil. The gospel is God’s own response to the problem of evil. If our preaching of the gospel is to be modelled on God’s own response to sin, it must have a whole history behind it and a whole theology undergirding it. Christian theology and the history underlying it has always had its fair share of ‘cultured despisers’. The history of divine redemption recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures is, for them, something of an embarrassment. The doctrines of incarnation and atonement meet with their scorn. Seeking an alternative to the living God of the Bible, they construct a theodicy based on a deistic notion of God. This approach, it is claimed, is more philosophical, more in line with reason. This type of theodicy is less convincing than its exponents would lead us to believe. Their ‘God’ has not involved Himself with the history of mankind. He has not taken upon Himself the full burden of human rebellion against Him. The question that keeps pressing itself upon a theodicy with no history of redemption, no incarnation, no atonement is this: Has such a ‘God’ taken the problem of evil seriously at all? No matter what the theological reductionists may say, we must say with Paul: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith’ (Romans 1:16). If, in our preaching, we are to echo the concerns of the unashamed Apostle, we must be unashamed to preach the
saving power of God and the call for faith. If we are to share the apostolic foundations for faith, our preaching must be grounded in ‘the holy sciptures’ (Romans 1:2). A biblical approach to theodicy must have an irreducible content which we dare not devalue for the sake of contemporary relevance. Where relevance becomes our major concern, we will end up with irrelevance because we have modified the Christian message so that it no longer treats the problem with the seriousness of a fully-orbed biblical faith. Emphasizing the inseparable connection between christology and theodicy, G. C. Berkouwer stresses that ‘the abstract questions of theodicy fall away in the shadow of the event of the cross’11. At the cross, we find God’s answer to the problem of evil. It is not a theoretical answer. It is the answer of His saving power. Nobody who has come to appreciate God’s response to evil in the cross of Jesus Christ can ever think of God in terms of ‘an “uninvolved heavenly holiness” ’ (p. 254). No matter what the modern equivalent of ‘Jews demanding signs and Greeks seeking wisdom’ may say, we will continue to ‘preach Christ crucified’ in the firm conviction that it still pleases God ‘through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe’ (1 Corinthians 1:21-23). It is important that the connection between christology and theodicy finds expression in preaching which refuses to separate the saving power of God from the call to faith. Critical of ‘Barth’s christological theodicy’, which is ‘closely related to his universalistic doctrine of election’, G. C. Berkouwer points out that this view could lead to a proclamation lacking in urgency: ‘The Scriptures … do not know of such an objectivized notion of the world in Christ. The gospel of redemption is proclaimed in the world as an appeal to faith. It is never a mere informing about a new state of affairs … It must not be objectivized into a proclamation that all is now right with the world’12. By emphasizing that the gospel of redemption is proclaimed as an appeal to faith, Berkouwer insists that an experiential knowledge of God’s salvation provides the proper context for the Christian response to the problem of evil:
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‘Having received forgiveness, man cannot possibly speak of God and the world in abstract categories. Theodicy has usually run around in the shallowness of the human endeavor to find an explanation where only justification and forgiveness can provide a perspective’
13.
A theodicy which treats the problem of evil with genuine seriousness will concern itself with bringing man into a real experience of the divine grace and mercy by which sin is forgiven and the sinner is restored to fellowship with God.
The Problem of Evil and the Experience of Salvation

We must emphasize the importance of an experiential knowledge of God’s salvation. We must, however, take care not to give the impression that the Christian response to the problem of evil is experience-based in the sense that nothing can be said to those who have not had the experience except, ‘You’ll understand once you’ve had the experience’. The gospel comes to us in our experience and is to be worked out in our experience. We must, however, never lose sight of the fact that the gospel is not derived from our experience. It comes to us from outside of our experience, from above, as a Word from the Lord. A right emphasis on experience will keep us from becoming content with an abstract theodicy which does little or nothing to lead us into an everdeepening and truly satisfying experience of the grace of God. On the other hand, we must be wary of an unhealthy emphasis on experience which focuses more attention on the experience than it does upon the Saviour. We must seek the right balance if there is to be genuine growth in ‘the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). Where there is
such spiritual growth, the problem of evil is really being dealt with by God in the most important place of all ― the spiritual battlefield of our lives. A right emphasis on a real experience of God’s salvation is most important if discussions concerning the problem of evil are to adequately stress the existential character of the problem. The deepest question in theodicy is not merely a theoretical inquiring about God’s existence. It is a question which arises out of the anxiety of the human heart ― Does God care? A real gospel theodicy is an affirmation of the goodness of God to sinful man. The attempt to discredit God by blaming him for the world’s evil is not overcome by vague statements such as ‘There’s more good in the world than evil’ but by the knowledge that comes through faith in the God who ‘did not spare his Son but gave him up for us all’ (Romans 8:32). This emphasis on knowledge of God through faith in Christ is essential if theodicy is not to get bogged down in shallow superficialities. As we seek to take seriously modern man’s questions concerning the problem of evil, we must take care not to be drawn into a superficial distinction between an ‘answering theology’ and a ‘kerygmatic theology’. The kerygma is God’s answer to the problem of evil. We dare not imagine that we can lay aside our commitment to the gospel and discuss the problem of evil with philosophical detachment. We need not deny the need to face the issues honestly, allowing our faith to be tested as we do so. Nonetheless, we must speak as Christians, as those who have found Christ to be the answer to our own personal problem of evil, as those who approach the problem of evil with the kind of moral and spiritual seriousness which is intent on winning others for Christ. This unashamed apologetic intent must be maintained in view of the evangelistic character of God’s response to evil. He is not content to provide man with a theoretical argument designed to answer the question, ‘Does God exist?’. He calls for our total response to His mighty act of salvation by which He answered ― once and for all ― man’s questions regarding the problem of evil by disarming the principalities and powers and making a public example of them, triumphing over them in Christ’s death on the cross (Colossians 2:15). This way of seeking to lead people in the entirety of their existence to faith in Christ is not a popular way. Modern man, with his preference for questions rather than answers, would prefer to go round in circles, looking at the problem from all sorts of different angles, rather than take seriously the possibility that there is a God-given answer to the problem of evil. It may be easier to go with the mood of the day. We will, however, be more faithful to our Christian commitment if we never lose sight of the fact that God-the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ-is tltie living God. He is not merely one option among others, which we can take or leave as we choose. He is not merely a concept with which we can do what we like, picking and choosing those aspects of His character which we like and dismissing the rest. While we dare not compromise our Christian faith, we should not hide behind it, refusing to take seriously the questions people are asking. If we compromise our faith, we will have no Gospel answer to give. If, on the other hand, we do not listen to people’s questions, our testimony, though sound, may be sadly missing the point.

Concluding Applications

In the market-place of ideas, we must frankly acknowledge that no theodicy, whether biblical or deistic, is particularly popular. The world of today seems to be characterized by complacency
rather than anxiety. The question raised by life in modern society would appear to be not so much ‘Does God care enough to take man seriously?’ but ‘Does man care enough to take God seriously?’. When complacent modern man hears of the problem of evil, he tends to shrug his shoulders apathetically ― ‘So what. I’m getting on well enough’. Many people dismiss the problem of evil as a problem for Christianity with its doctrine of God. They meet a Christian and confront him with the statement, ‘You mean to say you believe in God. Look at the state of the world’. They leave the Christian and complacently set about acquiring a comfortable lifestyle with little further thought about the state of the world. If such people, however they were to define their own personal outlook, were to think a bit more deeply, they might be forced to
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realize that the problem of evil is not merely a problem to cast in the face of a poor unsuspecting Christian in order to dampen his evangelistic zeal. The humanist who tries to establish a moral code must face the problem of evil. The moment he wishes the world or his own life was morally better than it is, he confronts the problem of evil. Similarly, the existentialist who seeks to lead people into authentic living faces the problem of evil the moment he accepts the idea that one way of life is morally more authentic than another way of living. In short, the problem of evil is a problem for everyone who refuses to accept a nihilistic outlook on life. Ultimately, this means it is a problem for everyone for there is no-one who lives as though nothing matters. However vague and undefined, everybody lives according to some kind of ideal. Many people do not speak in terms of the problem of evil yet they face precisely this problem the moment they recognize a gap between their own ideals (whether or not they are viewed as God-given) and their own failure to live up to those ideals. It is in this situation that the critic of religion, scornful of any and every kind of theodicy, must be forced to face the question of the validity of making any kind of moral judgements on the basis of an atheistic world-view. Perhaps, as the critic faces this issue, he may begin to see that the problem of morality for atheism may well be a greater problem than the problem of evil for religion. As such reflection creates an openness for religion, we must take care not simply to replace a vague distaste for religion with a vague preference for a religious outlook ― ‘Belief in God makes most sense of the universe’. Rather, we must point clearly to the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s Answer to the problem of evil. As we involve ourselves with the world’s questionings, there will undoubtedly be times when our faith is under severe threat. In such times as these, we must recall the words of Peter when Jesus asked the twelve: ‘Do you also wish to go away?’. Peter said, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ (John 6:67-68). The words of Jesus are the words which make sense of our painful experience when nothing seems to make sense. The question, ‘Does God care?’ is a question that many people rarely think about when things are going their way. When things go wrong, the question arises from their hearts, ‘Does God care?’. A. J. Gossip, in the first sermon following his wife’s death, said, ‘You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else’. This is not to suggest that faith is our crutch. It is, however, to emphasize the reality of the living God, the God who meets us in our need. When we are most conscious of our need, the Lord is most powerfully present to meet us in our need. Whether we are speaking to the comfortable or the distressed, the educated or the uneducated, we must ask God that our words will truly be an echo of Jesus’ words, words of eternal life.
1 A. Flew, God and Philosophy, p. 48.
2 cf. G. C. Berkouwer, Sin, pp. 27-66.
3 D. G. Bloesch, The Ground of Certainty: Tozoard an Evangelical Theology Of Revelation, pp. 7-8.
4 Church Hymnary, 3rd Edition No. 415.
5 Divine Election, p. 240.
6 G. C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ, p. 411.
7 cf. Testament of Faith, pp. 58-61.
8 I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, p. 204.
9 The Return of Christ, pp. 412, 422-123.
10 The Return of Christ, p. 423.
11 A Half Century of Theology, p. 255.
12 The Providence of God , p. 265.
13 The Providence of God, p. 260, emphasis original.
© 1992, Evangel. Reproduced by permission. Rev. Dr. Charles M. Cameron is a Church of Scotland minister and a regular contributor to
Evangel. Prepared for the Web in October 2006 by Robert I. Bradshaw. http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/

A Soothing Aroma To The Lord

Leviticus 1:1-3:17
We may note the frequent recurrence of the phrase, “a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9,13,17: Leviticus 2:2,9,12; Leviticus 3:5,16). The presence of the Lord is “like a fragrance that fills the air.” Not all people welcome the presence of the Lord. To some, it is “the aroma of Christ”, ” a life-giving fragrance.” To others, it is “a deadly fragrance” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). We are to pray that our life – in every part – will be pleasing to the Lord, bringing glory to Him. This will involve our worship in the holy place. It will also involve our living for the Lord in the many and varied situations of everyday life.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Jesus Is The Bread Of Life (John 6:35-40).

John 6:35
Have you ever been really hungry or thirsty? – Find food. Find drink. Eat it. Drink it.
Are you spiritually hungry and thirsty? Find the Bread Of Life, come to Him and be fed.
John 6:36
Some do not believe. They will not believe. They refuse to believe.
John 6:37
What is God’s purpose for you? What does He want to do in your life?
He wants to bring you, lovingly, to the position where you will come, in faith, to Jesus Christ, in the full assurance that you are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s death for you.
He does not call on you to wait until you’ve improved yourself.
He calls you to come to Him now, as you are.
John 6:38-40
God’s purpose for you is that, recognizing Jesus Christ as your Saviour, you should receive eternal life as a free gift, which, once received, can never be taken away from you.

What are we to do, Lord, when we think that You're against us?

Job 9:20-10:22 What are we to do, Lord, when, like Job, we think that You are “against” us (Job 10:2)? Where do such negative thoughts ...