To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Struggling In Prayers

We read of Epaphras in Colossians 4:12b that he is always struggling on your behalf in his prayers. This was the manner of Epaphras’ prayers for the Colossian believers. I have written here previously about the example that Epaphras provides for us as regards to our prayers.

What particularly struck me this morning though, as I read through Colossians 4, was his struggling in his prayers. The word is agonizomai in the Greek which immediately conveys something of the depth of passion as Epaphras agonized in his prayers. And I am left wondering how much do I struggle and agonize in prayers.

People who agonize in their prayers are desperate to see God work through their prayers. They see the need for God to move in a situation and thus passionately long before Him for His intervention. Epaphras was desperate that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (Col. 4:12b). Quite simply Epaphras was desperate for the spiritual welfare of the Colossians.

And so am I desperate for the spiritual welfare of the people here at Feltham Evangelical Church? If so it will be reflected in my prayers. People who have a heart for the welfare of the people of God pray passionately for them. They realise that the flesh, the world and the devil can soon invade the life of a believer and wreck their life for God. So as we see the vulnerability of our fellow believers we long for them in prayer that God would keep them and be their help and strength.

Oh and how are your prayers for the people of God?

Many have investigated and sought to reach a conclusion of who was responsible for Pharaoh’s heart being hardened in Exodus 1-14. Some have concluded that God holds sole responsibility and therefore is a tyrannical ogre who should not only be rejected, but also despised. But are they right? So let’s look at the evidence and then you conclude “whodunnit”; who did harden Pharaoh’s heart?

Biblical Context. Genesis 3:1-6 casts a gloomy shadow over the whole of the Bible and the whole of history. As a result of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the whole of their descendants are part of a cursed race. We falsely presume that we are nice people deserving that God should do us lots of favours. However, the reality is we are all wayward like Pharaoh and we all deserve to have hardened hearts (and far worse) because of our rebellion.

Egyptian Context. The Pharaoh of the hardened heart, is never specifically named. This is in order to show that it is not necessarily the individual Pharaoh that is the focus, but the whole Pharaoh system which treated the Pharaoh as a god. In Exodus 1-14 we have the clash between the LORD, who God of the universe, and Pharaoh who was seen as a divine figure. Which of these is sovereign? That’s the big question. The clash is all the more graphic as “the god” of Egypt seeks to trap the people who own the LORD as God. If Pharaoh is proven to be divine and in control then everything is different.

Different use of heart hardening There are four different phrases used in Exodus 1-14:

  • The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart(see Ex. 10:27); The Lord is responsible.
  • The heart of Pharaoh was hardened (see Ex. 9:35; responsibility is uncertain.
  • Pharaoh hardened his heart (see Ex. 8:32); Pharaoh is responsible
  • Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened (see Ex. 7:22); responsibility is uncertain

God’s Sovereignty For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:36). This is Paul’s observation concerning God’s control. We must notice that it says all, not 50% or even 99.99%; “all”. God was responsible for hardening Pharaoh’s heart as He is for everything in this universe.

Man’s responsibility. Humans are always portrayed in the Bible as being personally responsible for their sin and thereby for every judgment that comes therefrom. Never can anyone say that they sinned because God made them to.

God is gracious. In giving the nine plagues between Exodus 7:14 and 9:29 the Lord was shaking Pharaoh’s kingdom; He was giving Pharaoh opportunity to turn back to Him. Each plague was a powerful visual aid to show the impotence of the Egyptian gods because each plague hit a sphere in which one of their gods was supposed to be in control. The plages showed that their gods were not in control Thereby each plague was pointing Pharaoh to come to the true LORD, who is in control, in repentance. The plagues were a gift.

Order The whole order of the universe flows harmoniously from the LORD and to the LORD. Sin always disrupts this order. When God is honoured for whom He is, then all is well with us, the planet and all creation. Sin messes everything up very badly. Our welfare, everyone’s welfare, every being’s welfare comes to flourish when God is honoured and magnified and glorified. Each of the plagues was a message to Pharaoh, and us us that blessing only comes when in repentance and faith we trust in the Lord. Otherwise it is darkness and disaster.

The pattern. At the beginning of the plagues Pharaoh is seen to be hardening his heart. In the first five plagues Pharaoh either hardened his heart (see 8:15 and 32) or the Word says his heart was hardened (see 7:22, 8:19 and 9:7). Whereas in the latter five plagues God does the hardening (see (9:12, 10:1, 20 and 27 and 11:10), or once Pharaoh hardened his heart (9:34). Here is something of the outworking of Romans 1:24,26 and 28 of God giving Pharaoh what he wanted. Pharaoh did not want God’s way and God, thereupon, gave him what he wanted.

God is ultimate in everything. There is nothing that happens that happens outside of God’s ordained plan. However, there are a multitude of happenings that come together to determine various happenings and activities. God is the ultimate cause of every sin, but He is never the immediate cause. We read in James 1:13-15 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

The blame. From this teaching by James we further learn, that humans can never say that God made them to sin. The responsibility is with every individual person. Pharaoh could never say that He sinned because God hardened His heart.

The Honouring of God. In Romans 9:14-18 we have the New Testament’s view on what happened with Pharaoh. What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. God was working through the exodus events including the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to honour His Name and we should rejoice in that.

So who did harden Pharaoh’s heart? You decide. And remember in making your decision that we are all part of a culture that boasts in making much of ourselves and belittles God. But God’s order is not that way and we should not be either. God is ultimate in all things. God is in control.

(Taken from the September 2019 newsletter of Feltham Evangelical Church)

Learning To Obey

In Ephesians 6:1-3 we read: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” A pattern is set in these verse which is strengthened by the promise of God. So we learn that obedience to, and honouring of, your parents, leads to a life which goes well and is long in the place blessed by God.

This pattern begs the question why is it so? Why does our attitude to our parents have such a determinative impact upon our lives? The answer must be that in this attitude we have the essence of the attitude which will prosper ourselves into the whole of our lives. A child that learns to obey and honour the ones who are the first authority figures in their lives, will live to honour all other authority figures and therefore will live well.

Someone who grows out of childhood into adulthood as disobedient and dishonouring to authority is likely to be a disruptive employee, insubordinate wife, restless citizen and poor team player. The way a child is as a child determines the way that that child emerges into adulthood. And the individual who is disruptive, insubordinate, restless and generally rebellious to authority is set for a most unsatisfactory life.

At the heart of healthy living is a willingness to submit to those in authority. Such being the case means that we are fitting in with the way things are ordered. When we are happy to accept that having those over us is a wholesome way to have things operate then all functions well. The person who is always quarrelling with those over them or seeking to resist the way things operate does themselves (and those around them) no favours.

Moreover, I would say that those who lead well are those who know how to submit well. One of the most noble people that the Lord meets in His ministry was the Roman Centurion of Luke 7:1-10. He knew what it was to be under authority and therefore he could exercise his own authority well (see v8).

Moreover this led this man on to discern how things operate in the spiritual realm. So he could conclude that the Lord Jesus was the One, who being God, has God flowing through Him to bring good to others. Therefore He was happy to submit under that rule of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a man thence moves into the blessed life with his son restored to Him.

This leads us back to a significant adjunct to the statement in Ephesians 6:1-3 that those who learn to submit are being educated in the truth that there’s is an ultimate authority they need to submit to, namely God Himself. And when someone has understood this they are well on their way to understanding how they need to obey the gospel and submit to God and acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

To be converted to Christ out of a childhood of disobeying and dishonouring parents is a beautiful thing. It does means though, that you need to learn the necessity of what it means to submit to proper authority. And as I write this I came across a meme that said “resentment is corrosive”; and so it is. The one who has never learnt to obey and honour authority will be resentful of authority and therefore have a corrosive life. Corroding their own hearts and influencing others for ill.

And finally those who are willing to submit are generally the best learners. They happily accept information and teaching from those who are their superiors. And as people learn, they grow to be effective in their communicates and most partially effective for God.

Church Newsletter

Here is our church newsletter for May 2022. It includes an article on the marriage of our Lord to us as the Bride of Christ.

Why Fast?

Indeed why fast? What is the reason for us giving up food for a time? Muslims are in their fasting time, Ramadam, at the moment. But what of us Christians, should we fast and if we do what should be our goal?

Let us be clear fasting is found in the Bible in both Old and New Testaments. Our Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says And when you fast, (Matt. 6:16a). The clear implication is that fasting is part of our normal Christian living. But what is the purpose of fasting?

In Matthew 9:14-15 we read: Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. I suggest that when our Lord Jesus speaks in this way we get to the heart of why we are called to fast. A present Lord Jesus is to be enjoyed; an absent Lord Jesus is to be longed for. We reflect this passionate longing by fasting. We fast because we want to know the Lord with us. We have such a longing that we will give up our necessary food so as to devote ourselves to that end.

What is at the heart of our experience as human beings. What is to be fully human? It is to know God. We were created for relationship with God; we were redeemed to restore our relationship with God. We function properly when we are enjoying this. As the Lord’s people we should have an ongoing passion to know our God and be with Him through the Christ who is His Son.

The only command to fast in the whole Bible involves an engagement with the saving purposes of God. Whilst the activities of the Day of Atonement were being undertaken by the High Priest in Leviticus 16, the people are called to fast. They are not allowed to just carry on with all of their normal activities; they are called to “afflict themselves”, which necessarily included fasting (see Lev. 16:29b). As the people fasted they were beneficially being forced to consider what the High Priest was doing in the Holy of Holies that day. Their relationship with their God was being secured for another year by the atoning sacrifice. Fasting reflected their overwhelming desire to be alive to this and enter into all that it meant for them knowing their God.

In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the spiritual activities of the church in Antioch:

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Here is a church that was passionate to know God. They reflected their passion in giving themselves to worship and fasting. It is as they engaged in such spiritual devotion that the Lord spoke to them about the releasing of men into further ministry. What I want to emphasise here is that the people did not fast so as to get from God; rather they fasted so that they would know God and have a fuller experience of Him. Yet as they expressed such devotion they knew the Holy Spirit speaking into their situation about progressing the Work of the Lord. They fasted so as to know God better. They did not fast to get from God. But as they fasted the Lord came to reveal His mind to them.

We tend to think that we fast when we are facing a big issue and need to know the Lord’s mind on that issue. Now I do not want to deny that that can be appropriate, but our primary reason to fast is so as to enter into a fuller and deeper experience of knowing our God. It is NOT getting from God that drives us to fast. It is our passionate desire to know Him that drives us.

This leads us on to a key problem. Most of us have no awareness that there is a greater knowledge of the living God that is available to us. We do not think of fasting because we do not expect more. Paul expressed his longing in Philippians 3:10-11 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Dare I say, when we have Paul’s desire then we will have more of a tendency to engage in fasting.

So let us be considering giving ourselves to fasting so as to grow in our knowledge of God. The fasting may involve the literal abstaining from food or the working out of the fasting principle so as to withdraw from TV or sport or entertainment. In all our fasting though let us be passionately longing for our God. And who knows what might happen should that happen to us and our churches.

The Danger of Strength.

We read this of King Uzziah But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and………… (2 Chron. 26:16a). And the rest panned out as a disaster ending with King Uzziah being a leper until his death.

This all reminds us that there is more danger in success than failure and in strength than weakness. When we are strong we tend to forget God; we start to think that we can achieve by ourselves. We trust ourselves rather than God. And so the Word of God fades out of our thinking. Rather we are driven by the schemes of man. And the end is never happy.

We need to know that when all is going well we are at our most vulnerable. Complacency and self-reliance can creep (or surge) into our lives and the ending is never good,

We don’t like to be afflicted and humbled. However, circumstances and afflictions that bring us down should in many ways be greeted as welcome invaders of our lives. Paul learned something of this through his thorn in the flesh experience. After the the experiences of 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 a thorn in the flesh came to him. Initially he prayed for the imposter to be removed, but then he came to realise how much good came from this gift from the Lord. And so we read: Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

In view of this I must continually evaluate my life and not forget King Uzziah’s experience. Success and strength, although applauded in the world around us (and very often in the church), might in reality be the harbingers of dangerous times ahead for my soul.

Let us be careful about wishing away the sufferings of life for myself and others. They might actually be the gifts of God to bring forth the prospering of our souls.

Church Newsletter

Here is our church newsletter for April 2022. I hope you find it of interest. It contains an article on us being servants.

Prime Ministers Questions yesterday was notable for the comments prefixed to the initial statements by the Prime Minister and The Leader of the Opposition. They relate to Jamie Wallis MP for Bridgend, the details of whose situation are here. Mr Wallis has come out as “trans” and parliament was supporting him in his journey. The mood was typified in the Prime Minister’s comment: “the House stands with you and will give you the support you need to live freely as yourself”.

What I find odd about this is that Mr Wallis’s situation was given such prominence. I certainly do not want to underestimate the distress caused by struggles with gender dysphoria. However, to profile Mr Wallis’s announcement of his so-called “gender change” in this way seems to be a gratuitous promoting of the the LGBT+ cause. No doubt, the relevant lobbyists inveigled their way in to make sure that the situation was mentioned so prominently.

What is curious to me is that there must have been a whole range of issues facing the MP’s gathered in Westminster yesterday. Some perhaps grieving; some with health problems; some with new arrivals in their family, but this was the one situation that had to be mentioned. When parliament is so spell-bound by the whole LGBT+ project then there should be significant foreboding among those of us who are not persuaded. From being a minority lobby group even some twenty years ago, LGBT+ism has carried all before it. It is now in a position whereby it is celebrated in the corridors of power. And to speak against this prevailing zeitgeist is to expose yourself to vilification.

But the Lord is not persuaded and I say that on the authority of His Word. Our Lord Jesus said when issues of marriage and divorce were raised with Him:  “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6).

Church leaders face the challenge to make their position and the position of their churches clear. Christian churches should be the places where those suffering gender dysphoria and same sex attraction are given the warmest of welcomes. They need to hear the life-changing message of the gospel and experience the love of God’s people as much as anyone. However, we must stand firm on the truth that:

  • God made us male and female.
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • Sexual relations are just for marriage.

Such a stand will not make us popular. But then we serve a Master who never courted popularity so why should we.

Last Sunday, I specifically preached for a response; that was really the opening gambit of my message. The message is here. But what has haunted me since is whether I expected a response. A couple of people asked me after the message about whether anyone had come to me to indicate their response to the message. These two enquiries made me to think about my expectancy or lack of it. It also dragged from the recesses of my mind Spurgeon’s thoughts on expectancy; Here they are:

You must also believe in the power of that message to save people. You may have heard the story of one of our first students, who came to me, and said, “I have been preaching now for some months, and I do not think I have had a single conversion.” I said to him, “And do you expect that the Lord is going to bless you and save souls every time you open your mouth?” “No, sir,” he replied. “Well, then,” I said, “that is why you do not get souls saved. If you had believed, the Lord would have given the blessing.” I had caught him very nicely; but many others would have answered me in just the same way as he did. They tremblingly believe that it is possible, by some strange mysterious method, that once in a hundred sermons God might win a quarter of a soul. They have hardly enough faith to keep them standing upright in their boots; how can they expect God to bless them? I like to go to the pulpit feeling, “This is God’s Word that I am going to deliver in His name; it cannot return to Him void; I have asked His blessing upon it, and He is bound to give it, and His purposes will be answered, whether my message is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death to those who hear it.”

Now, if this is how you feel, what will be the result if souls are not saved? Why, you will call special prayer-meetings, to seek to know why the people do not come to Christ; you will have enquirers’ meetings for the anxious; you will meet the people with a joyful countenance, so that they may see that you are expecting a blessing, but, at the same time, you will let them know that you will be grievously disappointed unless the Lord gives you conversions. Yet, how is it in many places? Nobody prays much about the matter, there are no meetings for crying to God for a blessing, the minister never encourages the people to come and tell him about the work of grace in their souls; verily, verily, I say unto you, he has his reward; he gets what he asked for, he receives what he expected, his Master gives him his penny, but nothing else. The command is, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it;” and here we sit, with closed lips, waiting for the blessing. Open your mouth, brother, with a full expectation, a firm belief, and according to your faith so shall it be unto you.

[Spurgeon, C. H. (1895). The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour (52–53). New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell.]

So there is Mr Spurgeon challenging me in respect of my expectation as I fulfil my calling to preach the Word. Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs has given his response on these matters here. And so I must be address my attitudes before God. Do I see myself as a mere retailer of sermons to make sure that the church has sermons as part of its happenings? Or do I see myself as a servant of the Lord who brings His life giving Word with the knowledge that that Word, is by the Spirit of the Lord active and effective in changing lives? How I respond to these questions will affect how I prepare to preach, how I pray about my preaching and what expectation (or lack of them) I engender in the church as we gather to hear God’s Word.

In our society and generation you often hear phrases like “this should not happen in a civilized society” or “these views are not appropriate in the twenty-first century” or “I thought we were beyond that kind of thing now”. Such statements reveal a tendency to expect that things should be getting better with humanity. And underlying that thinking is the thought that mankind is essentially good. We have a few blemishes which need to be erased but overall we are progressing in a good direction.

Such thinking is a nonsense from a biblical point of view. Mankind is a wrecked project. Of and in ourselves we are beyond redemption. The Pauline argument in Romans 1:18 to 3:20 is compelling and realistic. Why not have a read of it? We all stand condemned even the nicest of us.

But praise God we are not beyond God’s redemption. In Jesus we can have redemption by His blood. “Ransomed, healed, restored forgiven; who like us His praise should sing.”

The thinking about the essential goodness of humanity has taken a severe knock over the last month. War in Europe has graphically displayed to us the foulness of the conduct of human beings towards one another. The toll in terms of human life and suffering makes for grim observing. And what is the cause? It is the human heart.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
(Jer. 17:9)

The same capacity to destroy and harm is in my own heart. I need help. I am foolish to look to myself or other humans for salvation. As Psalm 146:3-5 read

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,

Let us put our faith in the One who is the only hope.

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