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

The Bible Is Shocking

A common response to encountering the material of the Bible is to resent, even be outraged, by the judgement passages. The accounts about peoples and nations being wiped out (see the book of Joshua for example) and how God uses His people to fight and war against other nations and vice versa are shocking to people. As a result, people say that they do not want the God of the Bible because of what they perceive to be this shocking material.

The “judgement” parts of the Bible tend to cause this aversion whereas those passages on love are welcomed and appreciated. Is this a reasonable response? I suggest that it is not. It is the love passages that should shock us and not the judgement passages!

If we properly appreciate what happened in Genesis 1-3 we will start to have a different appreciation of these things. Genesis 1 and 2 is about how the God of perfect harmony and unity worked to create that which was beautiful so as to display and share this harmony and unity, which was and is eternally His. Most specially mankind was created so that he (Adam), being in the image of God, could enter into a glorious experience of knowing and living with His God and creator.

Adam had around him palpable evidence of the goodness of the Lord. Yet in Genesis chapter 3 we see how man chose to rebel against the God who had done nothing but good for him. Adam walked out on God giving him a V sign and so much more. This was defiance and rebellion of the highest order.

Given these facts, judgement should be seem as normal and catastrophe, war and misery should be anticipated as the disastrous judgemental outcomes of such a rebellious stance by mankind. For it to be otherwise would be for God to give the impression that life is better without Him, which it never is.

The outrageous thing in this context is that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). It is absolutely breathtaking that God should take such an initiative to bring people bask into His fullness of life. It is shocking that God could be so generous that in Jesus He could work  so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26b).

The problem we have in grasping this understanding hinges on the issue of how we appreciate our humans condition. Our deceitful hearts, and the propaganda of the world, all cultivate the idea that we are pretty decent people and, if there is a God, He really should be nice to us.

This is a gross misrepresentation of the reality, which is that we, as the descendants of Adam, are those who have acted heinously. When we get this truth into our heads and are honest about what we have done to God, then we start to see things properly. And the outcome is that we have no difficulty with the understanding the judgement passages, it is the grace passages which shock us and we feel unable to get our heads around!

Oh praise Him for his grace; truly amazing grace.

Evangelism In The Darkness

I wrote here about how Christmas may not be the big time for evangelism that some assert. I am left wondering though, whether now we are entering the time of year when we have the most fertile opportunities to engage in evangelism.

January is recognised as the month of year when our moods are at their lowest. Many things combine. We are on the leeward side of the Christmas and New Year party season. There is the gnawing feeling that those parties just did not deliver the satisfaction that they promised. Moreover the excess associated with the holiday season has left us deflated about our appearances. And then there were those fractured relationships which were once again evidenced in the family gatherings over Christmas. Oh and don’t forget the debt-ridden bank accounts from all the necessary (and unnecessary) expenditure at Christmas. Then there is simply the process of putting away the Christmas decorations and realising how we put them up in much excitement for the holiday season and now it is all over; the parties and the holiday were not that great either.

Furthermore, there is the higher level of illnesses such as cold and flu. The weather often being dark and dreary does not help.

Put into this cocktail the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and there is much feeling that everything is not right, SAD is the condition that results from the reduced level of sunlight at this time of year. In passing I note, that the third Monday of January is  generally known to be the saddest day of the year.

So what does all that mean? It means that January is the time of year when it is most detectable that all is not well.  People are thinking, more than at other times, “there has got to be more than this.”

All this sits up as a free hit for evangelism. So there seems something wrong, in my observation, in the church going into something of a stupor at this time of year. We give it our best go over Christmas; now we will have our January sabbatical and get on with preparing for Easter in February.

I caricature, of a measure, but I feel there is more then a grain of truth in this. Are we just missing a great importunity through not being more sensitive to the emotional flow of our neighbours and our society more generally? Is it the case that the fields are ripest for harvest in January and the church is hibernating? How about re-thinking some of our strategies?

Oh and of course don’t forget this has everything to do with the eternal welfare of those around us. We love our neighbours most when we are willing to intervene to help introduce them to the Saviour. Right outside your door (and mine) there might be many who are more open to hearing the hope of the gospel than at any other time. So why don’t we get praying and get going and sharing our Saviour.

Faith Brightens Everything

In the Book of Ruth Naomi is a key figure. It she that Ruth returns with from Moab in ch1. Naomi’s demeanour initially is very negative. She can only speak of God being against her as she says: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me (Ruth 1:20).

When she and Ruth do start to settle, she is of little help to Ruth who seems to have some initiative about getting things sorted out for them (see Ruth 2:2). Alas, Naomi does not seem to advise or assist.

Everything changes though, in Ruth 2:20 when we read And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” Previously she had been speaking negatively of the Lord, now she is positive. Previously she was negative and miserable. Suddenly she is transformed into a bright and active lady.

So we see the lady who previously had been of no help to Ruth is making plans to secure Ruth’s future. Ruth 3:1-4 reveal an active mind presenting plans to Ruth for the rescuing of their case.

The problem for Naomi and Ruth had been their destitute condition. They were both widows and were looking at a life of penury. However, there had been a deeper problem in Naomi; there was absolutely no faith in the living God. She had lost all sense that the Lord had a good purpose for them. So the early part of the book sees Ruth wallowing in faithless misery.

But suddenly in 2:20 faith arises. She sees that in Boaz there is a kinsman-redeemer who is fully equipped and suitably placed to rescue their situation. Suddenly she sees what could be, rather than what was not. Faith transforms the whole situation.

Eventually we see Ruth cradling in her arms the One who would be the forbear of Messiah. We read these beautiful words in Ruth 4:14-17:

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. 

Oh what a difference faith makes. So have faith in the God of good purpose in 2020.

Heroes Of 2019

I want to mention who are my hero and heroine of 2019. They would be Andy Stock and Olguta Ghimici. They have both experienced cancer this year and they have both been not just steadfast in the Lord, but delighting in the Lord.

To have observed them, and had the privilege of knowing them, has been such a great encouragement for my faith. There is nothing really impressive about believing in the Lord when something goes in our favour. A promotion at work, a receipt of certain monies, a healing of the body; all these and many others are great blessings from the Lord and should lead us to be grateful to the Lord for His goodness. But everybody and anybody can quite easily “have faith in God” when they perceive that they are receiving good gifts from Him.

However, it is so very different when we experience things that are not favourable to us. It is in such situations when we find out how genuine our faith in God. is. A sifting takes place which proves whether we trust God for what we get from Him or because of who He is. James (in James 1:2-4) puts it like this:  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The true Christian knows through the love of Christ expressed most fully at the cross that God is good. This means that when the tough stuff of life appears, and life can be exceptionally tough, we can believe in a good God who has a good purpose, even when we don’t understand.

So to return to Olguta and Andy, they are my heroes because of how they have responded under great trial. They are living proof that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is true. Paul says of the Philippians that I thank my God in all my remembrance of you (Phil. 1:3). That is something of my experience when I think of Olguta and Andy.

I want to emphasise through, that they are not just bearing their difficulty with teeth gritted grimness. Rather, there is a delight in the Lord and sense of them growing and developing in Him. It is so encouraging to be aware of this.

I also do not want to minimise the physical and mental struggles that have come to Olguta and Andy. They have suffered real pain. But through it all the life of Christ and the reality of being in Him and living for Him have shone through.

Andy is due to speak at our “Home” event on January 25th. I look forward to that. See details here

I conclude by mentioning this article (see here ).  It is about Jon Tilson who died in 2018. Jon’s life was rescued from drift into a vibrant last few months for the Lord. Read it and be encouraged.

Christmas Every Day

Roy Wood and Wizzard first opined back in 1973 that “I wish it could be Christmas every day”. The sentiment underlying the song was that Christmas was too good to be restricted to one day, or one part, of the year. I want to assert to my own soul, and to all other fellow believers, that this is a theme we should embrace ourselves as well.

It’s three days after Christmas Day now and in a sense Christmas is over. As a result we can be inclined to start to pack away all of the reminders about the incarnation. And weren’t they really just for unbelievers anyway, because it is they who need to know about one who came to save. But no surely this is all wrong.

It should be Christmas every day for us as Christians. We should be marvelling day by day about the reality of Christ our Lord being incarnate in the womb of Mary. It is a key ingredient of the faith once delivered to the saints that Mary was found with child by the Holy Spirit.

Having Christmas is good because it makes us once a year trip over the immense realities of Jesus coming into the world. However, it is a problem because it can mean that we “park” the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the major implications of that doctrine for most of the year.

This is so very much wrong and we should make sure that we aver that we see this as a trap that we do not want to fall into. We do want it to be Christmas everyday. In a sense we need it to be Christmas everyday.  So as we move our of 2019 and into 2020 let us determiner to celebrate Christmas every day. We will be much benefited in understanding our faith and living out our faith, if that is the case.

I have written more fully about these matters here.

Leadership and Communication

Our God is a communicating God. His revelation to us today is a sure word; it is the Bible. He is also a God of love who always acts to work good for His people. If you are a leader among God’s people you are called to represent this God to His people. In our lives as elders, people should see that we are people who communicate well and therein show our love for the people in the church.

So many churches degenerate into confusion as a result of bad communication. Often this takes the form of no communication; people refuse to interact. As a general rule we should be labouring as leaders so that people are interacting well in the church which we shepherd. We need to set an example with this.

We should respond to enquiries and requests for information promptly and courteously. We should seek to not confuse anyone or mess anyone around. If we have various communication platforms such as email, messenger etc., we should make sure that they are regularly checked so that we do not miss anything.

Failure to communicate in a healthy way leads to frustration among the people. They wonder why there has been no response. They are perhaps left to fester on an issue or wonder if they have done anything wrong. Through these means Satan can come in among the people of God and cause disruption.

With a little good organisation, care and attention we can make sure that we do allow the devil any inroads into the fellowship of God’s people.

In Ephesians 4:25-27 we read these words. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Here is a passage which most certainly has direct application to how we communicate together.

So fellow elders let us set a good example here. Let us be diligent in engaging with communicating with the people in our care whether that be personally or through the various electronic channels that we have nowadays.

Who Is First?

Paul says to the Corinthians   Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbour (1 Cor. 10:24). This is an explosive verse as regards to our priorities in life. it occurs in the context of Christian freedom. Such freedom means that we are free to take of food offered to idols because the idols are nothing. However, Christian responsibility and love determines that if it causes harm to my brother then I will most certainly not take that food.

We live in a self-seeking world. So much of the ethical air that we breathe is pushing us to take care of ourselves, indulge ourselves and generally put ourselves first. But when we read a scripture like this we are accosted by its abrupt precision. It cuts deep into out self-prioritising beings. Through this word, the Lord says: “re-align your life. Make sure that the good of your neighbour is your priority.”

In making this assertion we need to be aware that there are certain personal priorities that have to be undertaken in order that I make sure that we are of maximum blessing to others. At a very practical level if I am unkempt and have very poor personal hygiene people may be repulsed by me and not and me in their presence. Cleanliness and decency of appearance are therefore important.

On a spiritual level if i am not taking time to be built up in the Lord then my usefulness to others is prejudiced. So our time with the Lord is not a time of self-indulgence, but an essentials pre-requisite to the prioritisation my neighbour.

 

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