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

Archive for the ‘Christian Life’ Category

Walk With Them.

The general principle of conduct displayed by our Lord in His ministry on earth was that of walking with people. His general modus operandi was to move into lives not to confront, but to walk alongside of. This meant spending time with people, talking to them and listening to them. His dealings with the twelve disciples was a realm in which this was specifically displayed. Confrontation was the exception in His dealing with people.

There were times of confrontation particularly when He came face to face with false teaching, hypocritical living or satanic action. We can remember how, when Peter sought to dissuade Him from the cross, He said Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ (Matt. 16:23).

This makes us to think about the conduct of our lives. Whether it be as parents, employers or church elders, if we are always confronting, then there does seem to be something wrong with our approach to ministering into the lives of others. The general tenor of all our parenting, managing and pastoring should be to walk alongside people, taking an interest in them, seeking to help them with their problems.

What Am I Putting Into The Church?

“If every church member was like me what sort of church would our church be?” This is the translation of a notice which is displayed in an Italian church building. It is striking in how it directly challenges the quality of our lives and commitment to “our church”. So how is it with our commitment to Feltham Evangelical Church?

Why is it, though, that we should bother about church? The main reason is that God is interested in the church. In Old Testament times God chose to give Himself a special place on earth at Jerusalem. It was the place He delighted in. Today, God’s special place is not Jerusalem (nor any other place or building), but it is the local church. Paul affirms this when in 1 Tim 3:15 he refers to the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. Remember,also, the words of Jesus: I will build my church and the gates of hades will not overcome it (Matt 16:18b).

In considering our attitude to church it is interesting to remember that of Nehemiah. When Hanani and other men from Judah reported about Jerusalem that Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Neh. 1:3-4). In similar vein the state of the local church should affect us. Note also that Nehemiah did not just respond to the matter with feelings, fasting and prayer, he got on and acted. He showed his commitment to Jerusalem by going and seeking to rebuild the walls. And in getting the re-building going he influenced others to get involved in this mighty work for God.

So how is it with us? So many of us see all the defects of “our church” and complain that this and that is not right. But where is the fasting / prayer and where is the action. Are we willing to put ourselves out to aid the cause of Christ in “our church” or do we just lob destructive missiles from our cozy bunkers where we talk about the poor preaching, the lack of zeal of others, the fact that others are not friendly etc etc.. And whilst criticising “this, that and the other” we do nothing to help. To a greater or lesser extent we are all either contributing to the building up of the church or the destruction of the church. We so easily think about what we are getting out of the church. However our focus should rather be upon what we are putting into the church.

Remember as well the great truth of human experience is that we are all influencing one another for good or ill. Our life, our demeanour, our words, our conduct they all influence other people in the church. Paul speaks of Hymaneus and Philetus as having a message which spreads like cancer (2 Tim. 2:16). Will we have a cancerous effect on the church? Remember cancer, unless checked, always spreads and destroys life. Rather we should seek to heed the exhortation of Paul to Timothy to “but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

The truth of scripture then informs us that we should each be committed to a local church fellowship. We should then support that church through prayer and involvement in its life and work. Re-enforcement for how important this is comes in 1 Cor 3.

Paul is speaking to the Corinthians as local church. In vv10-11 he speaks of how he was involved in laying the foundation of the church at Corinth and that foundation is Jesus Christ. We note that every true church is built on Jesus Christ. A foundation must be built on though and Paul says that each one take heed how he builds on it. There is a day yet to come when, like the Corinthians, we will be examined for what we have put in to the local church; that is the day when we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Are we building into the church that which will endure for God (gold, silver or precious stones) or are we building in that which will be burnt up and be destroyed (wood, hay and stubble)? In that day of judgment those faithful in their commitment to the local church will receive a reward (see 1 Cor 3:14). However, those who have used the church for selfish ends will retain their salvation (which can never be taken away), but they will be saved through fire; the builder will suffer loss (1 Cor 3:15b)

How is it then with us? We should be acting now in anticipation of that day. Remember in all this that God is interested in motives. Matt 6:1-18 speaks about those who have engaged in spiritual activity (giving, praying and fasting), but that has all been for show. Such people have their reward now and have nothing left for the future. God knows the heart.

Let us then be thoughtful about our attitude to Feltham Evangelical Church. Our commitment (or lack thereof) does not just have consequences now, it has consequences for the future judgment!

(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter of December 2006)

 

The Glory Of Christianity.

What makes Christianity so glorious? If we are looking for evidence to show the majesty of Christianity where should we look? These are intriguing questions and the answers that we give reveal much about our thinking regarding what a Christian is.

For many, their answer would focus on the dramatic. In order to prove that Christianity is a glorious thing they look for outward evidences of power to justify their position. So they look for mighty healings. They look for masses of people collapsing in the, so-called, “presence of God”. They look for prophecies that come to pass and visions that are experienced. These are all brought forward as evidence that Christianity is a glorious thing. But is it right to be concentrating on the dramatic to establish how wonderful Christianity is?

Alternatively others, when they see great personal success and comfort in someone’s life, assert that this is the glory of Christianity. When through faith in God, church attendance and seeking to follow the LORD, people have comfortable circumstances it is observed that Christianity must be wonderful because it brings this to pass. If God is giving someone good health and plenty of money then people think Christianity must be great. But does this really show that Christianity is a glorious thing?

In many ways, when we are looking in the aforementioned directions, that of the dramatic and that of the comfortable, we are following the spirit of the world. This is because the world tends to glory in outward display. John says of the world, everything in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life comes not from the Father but from the world (1 John 2:16). Looking for the outward to justify Christianity is falling into the trap of seeking to justify ourselves according to the world’s agenda.

With this in mind, we have to be careful of looking for the glory of Christianity in times when there are vast numbers being converted. Now this is a glorious thing, but this is only the introductory phase of what is actually the true glory of Christianity. This glory is found in transformed lives. A changed life proves the reality of a person’s conversion. The emergence of a life with different desires from before conversion is a glorious thing to behold.

This transformation is derived from God’s Spirit entering into lives through the revelation of Jesus Christ. When the Spirit of the Lord comes into our lives He comes with the purpose of forming our characters after the image of Christ. In Romans 8:29a Paul says, ‘for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son’. This is supernatural. This is the invasion of another world into the life of a person. This is the glorious work of the Holy Spirit and for every true Christian it is taking place now.

Moreover, the glory of the Christian experience is proven in the enduring transformation of lives. The greatest glory is seen, for example, in a housebound person in their nineties who enduringly greets you with warmth and sweetness. Such a person was Miss Breen whose life graced Feltham Evangelical Church until the Lord took her home in 2007. She relentlessly testified to the goodness of God in the midst of all her weakness. The essential glory of Christianity is not in seeing a person like Miss Breen healed. Healing from the Lord could happen and we would thank God thereby, but God is most interested in character transformation. All our bodily health or non-health is very much a secondary issue, in comparison to the Lord’s desire that we be found perfect in Christ Jesus.

Our God is interested in the glories of Christ being formed in His people. And where are those glories? They are manifested in the fruit of the Spirit being produced in a child of God by the Spirit of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23) is what Paul tells us.

Moreover, the “marching orders” of the church are to produce disciples of Christ; not super-humans. Our Saviour said to the eleven gathered to meet Him in resurrection, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…‘ (Matt.: 28-18-19a) His universal authority means not that He wants to conquer all by dramatic powerful interventions. It means, rather, that he wants to conquer people through His power mightily working inside them to produce disciples. Such disciples, we remember, follow a master who did not come with “pomp and circumstance”. Rather he came in lowliness; He came in true godliness. And the disciple is not greater than his master, but his greatness is found in being like his master.

So ultimately and most profoundly the glory of Christianity is found in the forming of character in the likeness of Christ. And when we see that, we look on and say “This is the Lord’s doing and marvellous in our eyes.”

(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church newsletter of July 2014)

The Danger Of The Martyr Principle.

One of the great dilemmas of life is knowing when to speak and when to be silent. This is particularly manifest when we are in a situation where people are being hostile to us and speaking falsely against us. When is it right to speak up and when is it right to keep silent?

There are many issues that can bear upon us and need to be considered when we face the hostilities of others or are mis-represented. What I am writing about here though is the issue of unnecessarily becoming a martyr. People say something which is incorrect, and we say “I am going to be like Christ.  I will perform as He performed in fulfilment of Isaiah 53:7

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.”

This approach is appropriate in certain circumstances. Two particular considerations come to mind:

  1. When people convict themselves out of their own mouths then it does not require us to speak to bring that conviction.
  2. We do not speak to defend ourselves. The primary issue is not our reputation; the primary issue is the glory of God.

The conduct of our Saviour at His trial would be when these would be displayed and hence we see the fulfilment of Isaiah 53:7

But there are times to speak.

It is helpful to look at the conduct of the apostle Paul as he faced false accusations from his enemies. He did not just accept these and “play the martyr.” He did not just accept it so as to end up in difficult circumstances and say “I am suffering for Christ”. Rather he spoke up. See. for example, what he said in Acts 24:12-13 when he was accused before Felix:

My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city.  And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.

He effectively said that the accusations were not true. This all reminds us that there is a time to speak up. To play “being the martyr” in this situation is placing us in a situation of facing self-inflicted problems. There are times when we simply should speak up.

(Originally posted at Venabling on 17/11/2014)

The Complicated Me.

Here Neville Southall describes himself in one word as “complicated”. But what of me? I put it to you that I, likewise, am a complicated being! (My wife would endorse that comment straightaway!!) But what I am particularly thinking of here, is the fact that we are constituted in different parts. If I could give my break-down of my being it would be that I am physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. There is that which is related to my physicality, my feelings, my thinking and my consciousness of God. All these aspects are meshed together to form me.

Since the first major nadir of the mental / emotional realm of my being in October 2002 I have never understood how each part of who I am functions together. Can I be spiritually strong whilst being mentally and emotionally weak? There is so much I do not understand.

But let me make some observations:

  1. Every part of the quartet that makes up our being affects every other part. So if I am physically afflicted by an illness, very likely, every other aspect will be affected.
  2. However, (1) can only be seen as a general principle, not a universal one. So by way of exception, for example, everything else in our being may be falling apart, but we can be strong in knowing God.
  3. We can excuse our lack of spiritual vigour because of mental / emotional depression. But this is only excusing our lack of vigour towards God. Rather, we should seek to know God in and through our inner darkness.
  4. We can so easily blame ourselves for lack of spiritual vigour when, the reality is, that weakness in our soulish (mental and emotional) area has disabled us in the spiritual realm.  This happens because when our faculties are limited by weakness in our inner beings then our ability to seek God is diminished.
  5. (2) and (3) above are inherently contradictory! However, I reckon there are times when both apply. We need to seek to know ourselves so that we are neither too easy nor too hard on ourselves.
  6. When I am feeling low is it a mental / emotional issue or a spiritual issue? I don’t know so very often.
  7. The psalms become so real in times of mental/emotional/spiritual difficulty.
  8. And where does Satan fit in all this? He is ever on the rampage, with his demons, seeking to exploit the Achilles heal in our beings, so that we are knocked off course.

So I am a complicated me. I don’t understand myself. But when I don’t understand, I can trust the Lord. When I do not feel I can trust, I can know. Even though I do not fathom myself the reality of these words:

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deut 33:27a)

And in such a God and in such a provision I will trust and will rejoice.

(Original posted at Venabling 26/09/2014 and perhaps appropriately reposted today given it is my birthday)

Do Not Presume.

What I want to consider here is the presumption that certain things will happen in our lives. At the heart of such an attitude is a perspective that I am in control of my life. James says Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.  (James 4:15-16).

Making our plans is right Solomon says,  In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Prov.16:9). But all such plans should be subject to the Lord’s will. 

I am not saying that we should always be verbalising “if the Lord will”, but I do believe such a sentiment should be continually on our hearts. This is the godly attitude to life.

I remember a couple sending out address cards for their potential new home upon them getting married. Alas the property purchase fell through.

We need to be careful how we act as regards the anticipation of events.

A Society Without Principles.

As we observe the UK at the present time what is the most urgent need of the country? In order to begin to answer that question let us consider where we are. One of the most disturbing developments over the last fifty years has been the demolition of absolute moral principles. These principles, upon which our society was historically founded, were derived from biblical teachings. Today, we live in a situation where the standards adopted by most people are dependent upon the prevailing majority viewpoint. So, people reason that if the majority do it then it is fine for me to do it. And likewise if the majority believe it, I will believe it. This is particularly observable in respect of the change in attitude to homosexual relationships. We have gone from a situation where homosexual activity was considered abhorrent, which was only some fifty years ago to one where today such activity is celebrated.

Since the Reformation in the 1500’s, the UK has had its principles based on the Bible. Christianity is a faith which is rooted in absolute principles. God is a God of standards – absolute standards – and He has revealed them in His Word. Most particularly, we see His standards revealed and encoded in the Ten Commandments (see Ex. 20:1-17). When a society is based on standards which flow from the Bible then there is a solid basis to that society. This is because God, who gave these standards, is good and desires the best for His creation. When biblical standards are adopted, even though everyone may not be a Christian, at least the moral framework with which people operate in society is good and beneficial to people. These principles also guard society against strange initiatives which would be destructive to the welfare of people. Accordingly, it can be said that when a society is Christianised through the influence of Christianity then that is good for the country.

As a general principle, when a society has detached itself from the moorings of fixed principles that society is filled with many uncertainties and dangers. In the UK, the heritage of Christian belief has underpinned the development of the values in our society. When these started to be rejected in the 1950’s and 60’s then the immediate consequences were negligible. This was because the majority of people still held to a world-view which had wholesome moral principles at the core. Moreover, they were used to and comfortable with the lifestyle connected to the principles. Therefore, very little changed as to the way people conduct themselves.

However, over time, when there has been an increasing rejection of those standards and accordingly things have become very concerning. In the UK generations have grown up who ignore or even reject biblical morality. As long as things are well in society, then the tendency is for people to generally be kind to each other and uphold law and order. However, because there are no moral principles underpinning the consensus, the situation can change and change very rapidly when there is a certain trigger.

The riots of August 2011 were an occasion when some of these dangers were manifest. For a brief period of time the accepted consensus changed. It suddenly became acceptable for people to take property that was not their own as was demonstrated in the looting of shops. People had no moral undergirding to prevent them doing this. And as an atmosphere of lawlessness took hold, people just flowed with it. Normal decent law abiding citizens suddenly became looters and thieves.

This phenomenon is one of the most frightening issues in the UK at this time. Moral principles are not the basis upon which people determine their conduct. Rather, people operate according to standards which are deemed to be acceptable to the majority of people. Accordingly, if there is a trigger, which normally is in the way of some catastrophe, then a vast swathe of the population can be swayed to follow a new abiding consensus without any thought of the dangers involved.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that there is a lack of a moral framework which prevents people from adopting destructive behaviour. The Ten commandments provided such a framework through being a strong moral code. Alas, such a standard is now considered out-of-date.

Two further factors enhance the cause for concern.

  • The majority of the population have never known the cost of having to literally fight in a war to uphold vital principles.
  • The “Sitting-at-Screens” generation, of which we are all to some degree part, have grown up experiencing life as something that happens to them. Through spending lots of time just watching TV and looking at computers there is an inclination to allow life just to happen to us.

These two things add to the tendency towards a “make-it-up-as-you-go-along” morality.

However, as Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes 1:9b there is nothing new under the sun. Similar situations have happened before, such as in the days of the Judges. In those days everyone did as they saw fit (Jud. 21:25b). Thankfully, though, during those times of collapse God was seen to be active in raising up Judges, like Gideon and Samson, to call people back to Himself and His ways.

So what do we need most as a country at the end of 2014? We desperately need people of principle and “back-bone” who will be able to resist the moral volatility which is likely to be displayed in days ahead. We need characters who are like the aforementioned judges. Men and women who call us back to God. What is the hope for our land? It stands in many returning to the Lord God. It will be seen in many hearing the call of the One who is the fulfillment of all that the previous Judges prefigure. He is Jesus and He still calls out as He did when he started His ministry ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15b) May many be converted to God and find a way of life which is solidly established because it is based on scripture. Then principles would start to determine our ways again.

(Taken and adapted from the Feltham Evangelical Church newsletter of December 2014)                                                                                                                

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