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God Judges [insert latest tragedy here]

Every time there is a tragedy in the news, it seems that someone feels the need to pronounce the judgment of God on the people who are already suffering.

Several times in the gospels Jesus warns against drawing a line from suffering to judgment.  Jesus warned His disciples about coming to this very same conclusion in Luke 13,  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?”

Can we blame God?

No.

I John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (ESV)  The word propitiation “properly signifies the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift.”1  So if all God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus, how much is now left for us?  (Hint: try the word ‘none’ on for size).

Yes, there is a “day of judgment” coming for people (notice how it is a day, not days or a season).  However, today we have been given our mission which can be found nicely summed up in II Corinthians 5; that Christ “gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (NIV)  We are living in an age of grace in which God is reconciling the world to Himself.  The message we have been given is not one of judgment against people but of reconciliation with God.

God clearly told us what His judgments look like. In II Peter 2, God tells us that His judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah would be “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly”.

You can find the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 & 19. When God told Abraham that he was going to destroy the cities, Abraham asked, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” After some negotiation, God agreed that if He could find 10 righteous people in the cities, He would not destroy them. However, God could only find one righteous man, Lot. So did God sweep away the righteous with the wicked? No, He sent two angels to rescue Lot before He sent judgment.

Also, II Peter 2 also says that God’s judgment is seen when He judged the earth with a flood. God “brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness”.

When God sends His judgment, He does not “sweep away the righteous with the unrighteous”. God’s judgment is the execution of His divine justice, that satisfies the wrath of God. However, I Thessalonians 5:9 says, “God has not destined us for wrath”. Believers may very well suffer during this life, but they will not suffer as the result of God’s judgment.

So, is God judging today?

Yes.

And John 16 tells us exactly who is being judged during this age.  “And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:… concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (ESV)  It is Satan and his demons that are now being judged.  Before Jesus came, they had a kingdom and authority over the nations of the earth.  Jesus triumphed over them in the cross (Colossians 2:15).  Jesus said that all authority in heaven and on earth was His.  If Jesus has all authority, is there any left for Satan?

So now the enemy is being judged through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as Satan watches powerless to stop God’s people dismantling his old kingdom piece by piece, person by person until “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

image ‘Fire! Fire!’ by Dave Hog at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davehogg/74341943

1. The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.), 1962.

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Facing Giants

How do you respond when encounter a giant in life? When life goes wrong, when bad news comes your way, when sickness grief or loss rise up against you?

Some people tell you that the way you respond to a giant in your life is to do what King David in the Bible did, run right at it in the power of the Most High God and chop its head off. Generally I’d say that is good advice. But what do you do when it feels like you can barely get out of bed, let alone face a giant?

Again, David’s life gives us some good advice. Read the account in I Samuel 30. David and his men had returned home only to find it burned to the ground and their families taken into slavery. They were so overcome with grief that they wept until they had no strength left. What’s more, the men were upset; some even spoke of killing David. But, David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

There is a place in the Spirit of God where the life and strength of God gives life and strength to you (see Romans 8:11). There is a place in the Spirit of God where you swap your heaviness for His rest (see Matthew 11:28-30).

There are two versions of reality vying for your attention. One is grounded in the circumstances you experience in this world, the other is grounded in the truth of what Jesus speaks. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Matthew 24:35. You get to choose which one you are going to believe and pursue. I choose to pursue that which is eternal.

Strengthen yourself in God by spending time in His Word. Spend time intentionally connecting with Him in worship. Strengthen yourself in meeting together with each other. Discipline your thoughts to rest on what Jesus Christ is speaking to you, not the intimidation of the giant of your circumstances.

After David had strengthened himself in the LORD, he pursued his enemy and “Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all.” (I Samuel 30:19)

image ‘A Prism of Shadows: Self-portrait in Front of A Brick Wall’ by Derrick Tyson at https://www.flickr.com/photos/derricksphotos/81557089/

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Saint or Sinner?

Only a sinner, saved by grace!
Only a sinner, saved by grace!
This is my story, to God be the glory—
I’m only a sinner, saved by grace!
(Only a sinner, saved by grace: James M. Gray)

or are you…..?

If you have trusted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour you are so much more than that. Yes, you were a sinner, but when grace came you became a saint (See Romans 1:7).

Your old sinful nature is now dead and in its place you have been given a new life in Christ. You are free from sin, you no longer have a sin nature. You are now (not becoming) – you really are right now a saint with the tendency toward good and holiness.

1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:1-11, New King James Version)

Here are some more wonderful things that the Bible says about you now that you are a saint.

image ‘chairs’ by piotr mamnaimie at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mamnaimie/2913892669/

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Why the Bible is broken

I confess. I tricked you with the title of this article. There is nothing wrong with our Bible. There is, however, a whole lot of broken with how we read our Bible. Frankly, we need to rescue our Bible back from the fundamentalism that has framed the conversation about the truth of Christianity and the Scriptures for far too long.

For example, Henry M. Morris, the “father of modern creation science” once said, “If the Bible can’t be trusted on scientific and historical matters, then it can’t be trusted on matters of salvation and spirituality.” I heard this kind of message countless times growing up in my fundamentalist church. They say that if you cannot take every verse as being literalistically true, you do not have any foundation for believing Jesus Christ for your salvation. We don’t hold this standard of trust for any other source of truth. We don’t throw out our encyclopedia if we find an error in it. Such a standard would mean that if your parents ever told you one thing wrong, you couldn’t trust them ever again.

The word fundamentalist evokes images of a dwindling group of old men in suits clutching their KJV Bibles. However a new brand of neo-fundamentalism is alive and thriving today, still seeking to hijack our Bible and turn it into some kind of textbook for their own peculiar brand of Christianity.

The problem with such a view is that the Bible is not the foundation for our faith, Jesus Christ is. I do not believe in Jesus because I trust the Bible. I trust the Bible because I believe in Jesus.

My faith in God does not stand or fall on some difficult verses in the Old Testament.   I’m reminded of the Pharisees at the time of Christ. They were the most qualified, in their knowledge of the Scriptures, for the coming Messiah – yet they missed the whole point of the Scriptures, Jesus Himself. The crowning pinnacle of the unveiling of God to mankind is in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the perfect revelation of God’s nature, “the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the author of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is our foundation (I Corinthians 3:11), and the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1), the perfect communication of God to mankind. The fundamentalists have elevated the Scriptures above Jesus Christ in an idolatrous Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Bible.

Now, as an Evangelical Christian, I hold to the divine ‘God-breathed’ inspiration of the Scriptures and that they are the supreme authority for faith and practice. However fundamentalism has bent this high view of scripture to include an emphasis on verbal inspiration in which the technical inerrancy of every word in the Bible is necessary for being truly Christian. This treats the Bible as a technical history and theology textbook and not as what it truly is, the unfolding story of God unveiled in a divine collection of historical narrative, poetry, law, visions, dreams and personal letters.

Instead, I prefer Roger Olson’s description of the value of Scripture; “The Bible never fails in its main purpose which is to identify God for us, to communicate his love and his will to us, and to lead us into salvation and a right relationship with our Creator, Savior and Lord.” In other words the Bible is inerrant and perfect with respect to purpose. To insist on a fundamentalist approach to the Bible is the same as attempting to study the poems of Siegfried Sassoon to understand the history of World War I. Where Sassoon’s poem Counter-Attack fails as a historical text it most certainly succeeds in revealing a confrontational and haunting glimpse into the horrors of war.

Not only is the Bible inspired, it is inspiring. It is not a collection of truths waiting to be systematised and assented to. Where the Bible is not accurate in every minute detail of history and scientific fact, it is perfect in its purpose as the story of God’s dealing with mankind through history that invites us into an encounter with that very same God.

photo credit: Doug1021 via photopin cc

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What is the Church good for?

The Church is the community of believers who confess to follow Jesus Christ. They are organised with qualified leadership (elders and five-fold ministers) who prepare God’s people for- and release them into- ministry. They gather regularly for fellowship, the corporate expression of worship (including preaching from the Bible), and participation in the ordinances (or sacraments) of Baptism and Communion. The also scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as ministers of reconciliation to the world.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, summarises the use of the word Church in the New Testament[1]:

A “house church” is called a “church” in Romans 16:5 (“greet also the church in their house“), 1 Corinthians 16:19 (“Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord”). The church in an entire city is also called “a church” (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; and 1 Thess. 1:1). The church is a region is referred to as a “church” in Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up.” Finally, the church throughout the entire world can be referred to as “the church.” Paul says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25) and says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers …” (1 Cor. 12:28) … We may conclude that the group of God’s people considered at any level from local to universal may rightly be called “a church.”

Although the Bible is clear as to what the Church is, it is very unclear on how the Church is organised. This is why we have some churches organised in Episcopacy, ruled by Bishops in some form of hierarchical structure. We have Presbyterianism, where the Church is ruled by a group of elders (or presbyters). We also have Congregational churches that are run independently and self-supported by her members. Each type of church organisation can be argued from Scripture. However, if you are honest with yourself, you come to the conclusion that the Bible is not all that clear on how we do Church.

This is because the Church is not primarily an organisation. The Church is a nexus of Word, Spirit and Community. Even though the Word remains constant, to keep in step with what the Spirit is doing and how the Community is currently formed, the Church must constantly adapt for each new generation of believers.

Jesus did not establish the Church to serve her own internal politics or growth strategies. The Church is to embody Christ to the world for its restoration, development and destiny. Furthermore, the organised (or institutional) Church does not cover everything that is Christian. Instead it is a light to the world shining into every other sphere of society.

Every believer needs to participate in this sphere and follow God’s call as a member of the church. Yet at the same time you must live your whole life as a minister of God, not only in the church, but also in your personal, family, social, and political life.

[1] Wayne A. Grudem – Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine – Grand Rapids, MI – Zondervan – 2000, p.857

 

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Marriage and Family

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv.

—Impressive Clergyman, The Princess Bride, 1987

Marriage, and by extension the family, is the fundamental building block of society. “As the ultimate foundation of every civilization known to history, the family is the proven bulwark of liberty and the key to development, prosperity, and peace”.[1]

Successful marriages and families are built on the ideal of Biblical self-government and in turn form the basis of a successful Church and Society.

Marriage

Marriage was instituted by God and is therefore defined by Him. If, for instance, our government were to redefine marriage in its legislation, it would cease to be ‘marriage’ whether or not people continued to label it as such. Just because I call an apple a pear, doesn’t make it one. Marriage is not merely a human agreement between two consenting adults. Neither does a sexual relationship alone constitute a marriage. Feelings of love do not form the basis for marriage.  Marriage is not achieved through some official recognition by the Church or by the State. Instead, marriage is the covenantal commitment between one man and one woman, for life.

Genesis 2:24 (ESV), “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Marriage is the covenantal commitment that is made when you leave your parents and cling to your spouse. This commitment is so comprehensive that all other earthly loyalties are permanently surpassed. It is this publicly declared covenant, committing yourselves to each other exclusively for life, that constitutes a marriage. Although the State, Church and community can all provide support, guidance and protection for marriage, they cannot compel nor prevent two people of the opposite gender covenanting themselves together in marriage.

Family

In Genesis we discover that marriage is a God-ordained union of one man to one woman. It is based on God’s intent in creating mankind male and female, different and complementary. Marriage is based on the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman. Marriage safeguards the vital relationship of mother, father and child against fragmentation and all the brokenness that comes of it. Marriage is the only relationship that legitimately connects sex with love, and connects children to a mother and father.

The husband and wife working together in a mutually submissive partnership lead the family. Men and women, while not identical, are yet equal in their place of authority in the family. These complementary differences do not form the basis for any kind of hierarchical authority or order in marriage, no matter what your favourite author may say.

It is to the mother and father that the privilege and authority of raising and educating children is given. The Church community can help by providing resources and programs such as Sunday School and Youth Ministry, but these cannot take the place of your commitment to raising your children into godly adults. The State may assist in providing structures and support to help you in educating your children, but it must not be allowed to usurp your leadership role. Your choice of how you engage in educating your children is a God-given responsibility that cannot be left to someone else nor be taken away from you. You choose how to engage in the various options for education, whether it is within the public school system, private Christian education or homeschooling.

The family is vital to healthy churches and a healthy society.  It is within the security that the family relationships provide that we are able to best pursue a life of freedom that seeks to bring all things into the light of the goodness of God.

 

[1] World Family Declaration. http://www.worldfamilydeclaration.org/

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Control Yourself

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.
—Robert C. Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions, 1835-1851

Biblical self-government is the fundamental level of government in society. Every other sphere of government is shaped by how successfully individuals govern themselves.

In a nutshell, Biblical self-government is “the desire and the ability to willingly submit to God-given authority without being forced, coerced, or constantly reminded to do so.”[1] Throughout the Bible there runs a theme of government; of God, society and self. It tells the story of our rejection of God’s government through sin, how man’s rule over others tends to abuse and of how we need to govern ourselves well. It is a story of deliverance from our (old) selves; of faith, hope and love and how this is vital to how we respond to and use government.

Robert Winthrop was an American philanthropist, congressman from Massachusetts and one-time Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He had a remarkably clear insight into the role of self-government in society.

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely of private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.[2]

When God created mankind and placed them in the Garden they were to be self-governed. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:15-17, ESV). In this good place God gave mankind a poor choice. There were no guards set around the tree forcing them to stay away. God didn’t hide it in the middle of a prickle bush or place it on the top of Mt Everest, completely inaccessible to the ‘naked people’ in the garden[3]. Mankind had God-given boundaries and they were expected to exercise self-government to keep them. Only where there is genuine choice is there genuine freedom. Only where there is genuine freedom can there be genuine love. The mark of a free people, created to love and be loved, is the ability of self-government.

However, when Adam and Eve sinned “He [God] drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24). One of the awful results of the fall was since they could not govern themselves internally they had to be governed externally. Sin had made them slaves. Sin had corrupted their will to the extent that they were now unable choose love, choose God and choose freedom. In fact, even Israel, the people of God, needed to be externally controlled by the Law of Moses. An external relationship governed by an external law with external boundaries and sanctions.

Jesus Christ reversed all of this at the Cross. He completely and finally made an end to sin. As a result all who now trust Him have been made new, spiritually resurrected into a new life, free from sin and free to successfully govern themselves once again. No longer do we relate to God externally via the Law. This life is now one of internal relationship to God where God has written His nature and law on our hearts. There is only one valid form of control in the New Covenant and that is self-control.

The story of redemption shows us that only believers – those saved by God – are truly free and so truly free to govern themselves well. This is why the idea of Biblical self-government is foundational to all other aspects of government. As saints, with a new nature that tends toward holiness, we are able to govern ourselves well without requiring an external force to make us act righteously.

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[1]Watson, S.J. Biblical Self-Government, Chalcedon Foundation (http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/biblical-self-government/)

[2] Robert C. Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions: 1835-1851 (http://books.google.com.au/books?id=tKohAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA172)

[3] Paraphrased from Danny Silk’s Loving Our Kids On Purpose DVDs