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

Hebrews Who’s Who

The book of Hebrews focuses on those who are ethnically Hebrew and thereby brought up in the faith of Judaism. When studying the book it is good to have in mind that there are five groups who are involved;

  1. Those who have been converted by God to faith in the Messiah and are going on strong in the faith. The call to them is to keep going.
  2. Those who have professed faith in Christ, but are considering leaving the church and the cleaving to Christ. The call to them is to keep cleaving to Christ and not leave.
  3. Those who are considering leaving Judaism in order to embrace Christ as Lord and Saviour. The call to them is to go and embrace Christ and live for Him.
  4. Those who were once professing believers and in the church. They have now returned to Judaism. The call to the church is that those who do such prove that they had never come to faith. So don’t follow them.
  5. Those who have never left Judaism and all its accoutrements. They are loudly and verbosely with intimidation (some of a physical kind), telling those who have gone on to follow Christ and join the church that they are idiots and should come back to Judaism straightaway. The true believers are called to reject this teaching and persevere through the intimidation.

Hyperbole And Shock

The use of hyperbolic language is a legitimate tool in seeking to minister into the lives of others. Similarly, speaking with an intention to shock people has a proper place in the aresnal of artillery that can be used in seeking to get people to consider their situation before God. However, I suggest that they need to be used sparingly.

A passage which is filled with hyperbole and shock is Matthew 23. Here our Lord is seeking to get the self-righteous religious Pharisees to think about the perilous position they are in. They have been so self-affirming about their ways and self-confident in their position before God that shock tactics are needed.

This approach by our Lord is not used regularly. It is only used in specific contexts when it is necessary to get people, who are steeped in their ways and traditions, to examine the full implication of their position. The normal ministry of our Lord is to listen, converse, persuade, exhort and generally walk with people so as to bring them into line with God’s will and thinking.

We should take heed to this. To be using shock tactics and emotive, even incendiary, language too often means that it loses it’s effect. Shocking people too often means that they become inured against the shock.

Let us look at a further example if the use of shock tactics. Let us look at the ministry of the Lord to Peter in Matthew 16:21-23:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

It is interesting here that the Lord from initially speaking to the disciples as one group takes Peter aside. He then rebukes him apparently on his own. It is as if Peter alone needs to be shocked here by the content of his response to the Lord’s declaration of His mission. Addressing a group to shock one person is not necessarily a good approach; there may be a lot of collateral damage from disturbed souls. Taking the person aside who needs speaking to is likely the best approach.

This reminds me of the need for much wisdom in pastoral ministry. There are times when the power of the Word needs to come to the gathered group; there are other times when a person needs to be spoken with individually.

Further, sometimes we need to intervene quickly in a situation, like with the Lord and Peter, and give a message to startle someone because that person is starting on a disastrous road. We need so much wisdom in these things, but let us be careful in our use of language in ministering to one another.

 

The fundamental issue for the Christians as we face the future is that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In Romans 8:1 Paul would tell us this: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Further in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 we read  For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

All the punishment due to a Christian was borne at Calvary’s cross by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the truth of propitiation. He took all our wrath and now we glory in all his blessings. We stand as those accepted in the beloved One. As we look ahead then, we see that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:31-39). This is all God’s amazing grace. Praise Him!

As regards to the future though the Christian does anticipate a day when there will be an assessment of our lives at the judgement seat of Christ. That is not a day when we will face punishment. It is a day, though, when we could well face loss of reward on account of our lack of devotion and faithfulness in this life.

In 1 Corinthians 3:15 we read: If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Here are the wood, hay and straw works (see 1 Cor. 3:12).Salvation is not lost, but eternal reward is.

The onslaught upon us to embrace the LGBT+ agenda as the new norm for our society continues apace during lockdown.  And the BBC seems very much in the vanguard of this as one of the agencies leading the assault upon our hearts and minds.

Some recent examples on the BBC website are here:

  • Here we have the Richardson-Walsh’s settling down to parenthood.
  • Here we have the continued suffering of LGBT+ people during lockdown. It is interesting in this article that there is just the one-sided presented of the parent-child conflict. No mention is made of what the parent might have gone through.

Should we be bothered by this? Should I as a Christian just say “c’est la vie, live-and-let-live”? I think there is a key “love your neighbour” principle here.

I want to be aware of sensitive  to the struggles some people have with gender dysphoria and same sex attraction which are real and we should have great compassion for. However, the fact remains that human beings thrive when they conform to God’s order. Genesis 1 establishes that we are designed to be male and female. Genesis 2 establishes that we are designed to be married as male and female to the exclusion of all others for life.

In the Old Testament Sodom is the epitome of a wrecked society and it is characterised by homosexual licentious acts. As also is the degenerate society present in the New Testament in Romans 1:21-32.  It never ends well for a society that celebrates LGBT+ pursuits. We should mourn when we observe the BBC propaganda.

But what is our response? It is NOT to pursue moral rectification and see all with homosexual and transgender activity eradicated so as to introduce a brave pure world. No, no, no. It is the gospel that is our response. The embrace of LGBT+ ideology reveals a society in breakdown, the bringing of the gospel into that society indicates a church which is wise and can bring hope. Cleaned up sinners are still sinners; let us never forget that. The gospel is the only message which is the power of God to salvation.

Oh let us rise to the challenge today and declare repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Pharisaical lectures and pompous do-gooding are not the answer. The gospel is.

Praying For Others

Margaret Lee who passed away last month (see the tribute for her here) was a dear sister in Christ. He husband pre-deceased her in 2009. He suffered with mental frailty. She once recounted to me how on one occasion when he was suffering they set themselves to pray for all the pregnant ladies in the church. The thinking being that to switch attention to others can help offset the malaise to our own soul caused by such mental onslaughts.

This prompts me to think of the general principle that we can so often start to get a right perspective in life when we focus on the welfare of others. One most helpful way is to pray for others and their needs and situations. But more generally when we start to focus on the needs and others we can be helped by switching our attention from ourselves to others.

If you are suffering a degree of self-pity and dismay about your own situation why not get on and show interest in other people? Why not get praying and giving thanks to God for others?

Blameless

This is a word used to express the character that should be displayed by believers in Jesus Christ. So in Philippians 2:15 we read that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. This idea behind the word blameless is that the christian is to be without reproach. There is nothing in our lives which blemishes our reputation. It speaks of reasonableness and honesty.

It is especially to be so of those who are called to eldership in the church that they are blameless. When the qualifications for eldership are examined in 1 Timothy 3 we see that they start with:  an overseer must be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2a). This is the headline quality that an elder should have. In the church and in the community he should be known for the quality and consistency of his godliness. The rest of the qualifications stated in 1 timothy 3:2b-7 really explain what it is to be without reproach.

There are many good things to aspire to in life. However, for a Christian this must take priority. We need to aspire to being blameless. This is not a glamorous quality in the world and often it is not appreciated in the church. But with God it is well-approved of.

And may we be seeing many many rising up to shine out with their blamelessness so that they can be elders who can shepherd the flock of God.

When we see this attribute emerging we will be seeing more of our Lord Jesus in the church through the characters of His people. He is after all the ultimate blameless one. And as Robert Murray McCheybe said:  It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.

Funerals Now?!

The coronavirus outbreak has affected the way funerals are conducted. The main specific impact is that the number of attendees is restricted in number. In our area it is to ten people.

The question I want to confront in the light of this is: how do we deal with helping people to mourn? In the process of grieving the funeral marks an important closure point. The initial period of overwhelming sadness between the death and the funeral is brought to an end. Moreover, there is a sense of having done everything well by appropriately and reverently undertaking the funeral. In doing so you have honoured the memory of the deceased. It’s from then on the mourners can move forward in their lives. They no doubt continue to grieve, but they do not have to face another event to reopen the mourning process.

The conundrum at this time is whether memorial services at some point down the line are an appropriate way to include more people in the mourning and give due public tribute to the deceased. Alternatively, is it better to seek to embrace more people more closer to the time of decease through an online funeral?

Each would be lacking in certain way and are not ideal. With a memorial service there is opportunity to share grief with others in the flesh. However, the main problem concerns  the wait; there is the continuous hanging on for the memorial service. At this time with all the uncertainty concerning the lifting of lockdown there is really no date that can be fixed for a service. And then there is the further ingredient of uncertainty engendered by the perpetuating of social distancing after the lifting of lockdown.  This leads to so much uncertainty. And the waiting for that service can lead to an open-question about the closure that the initial funeral should have brought.

The importance for allowing for proper mourning was brought home to me in reading this article. In it we read:

Petty’s problems with anorexia and bulimia started when she was in her late teens, after her grandfather died.

“I didn’t really mourn,” she says. “I just got on with my life. I went to the gym every single day. At lunch and after school. I think that was my way of coping.

Hence the issues appertaining to the proper use of a funeral are not just speculative. They can be a key means for granting the opportunity to mourn and the healthily to move forward. The funeral cannot guarantee this, but it can be of great assistance.

As I write this I do not fully know what is best. Probably on balance I would feel that an online funeral service is wholesome. This can also providentially give opportunity for many to participate who through distance or infirmity would not be able to attend a building based service.  provides the necessary closure element. We did this as a church with the funeral of Margaret Lee last month. Here is the recording of the funeral. We also produced an online memorial for her which is here.

Should the route of a memorial service be chosen I suggest that the mourning family should be counselled to consider the burial or  funeral service to be the time of closure. The memorial service can then be viewed as a time to be encouraged by the presence of others who held the deceased in high esteem.

The uncertainty of when such a memorial service can take place needs to be borne in mind in any helping and counselling of the family and friends of the deceased through the time between the funeral and memorial service.

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