God the Woman?

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) will be familiar to the majority of us, as will the use of it’s imagery to portray God as a loving, providing, merciful Father.

The three verses preceding the story read:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
(Luke 15:8-10 ESV)

I must have heard this story countless times and again heard the emphasis on a God who seeks the beloved. But never, not once, have I heard any discussion around the fact that here a woman is portraying God. A woman.

Another example might be that of Jesus description of the Kingdom of Heaven. One of his best known analogies is that of a mustard seed which a man plants and it becomes a huge tree (Matthew 13:31-32). The passage continues:

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
(Matthew 13:33 ESV)

A woman kneads yeast into three loaves of bread until it all rises. A woman.

Somewhere in Christian history we latched on to one idea of the nature of God and neglected the other. Were we right to do so? How different would our faith story look if the prodigal son had returned home to his mother? Is it possible to hold the images in tension? 

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Law and Wisdom

A very interesting article was posted over at Desiring God yesterday.

Confessions of a Conflicted Complimentarian by Wendy Alsup, I suspect, voices the feelings of many women in the Church today, particularly those in the more conservative end.

In the churches where submission of women is emphasised, where the highest “rank” that they can rise to is Sunday School teacher, and the “biblical” model of womenhood which is taught is that of a good mother and wife, it can be incredibly difficult and frustrating for those women who aren’t wives or mothers or called to teach Sunday School.

What are we supposed to do?

I love Proverbs 31

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”  Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:25-30 ESV)

I want to be that woman!

And there’s a lot of pressure to find that husband, be the perfect wife and raise little angels as children.

But, as Alsup points out, this wisdom is not the law.

She writes:

Scripture’s ideals haunted me. They hung over my head, and I felt condemned by the way they were presented to me by well meaning teachers.

Apart from the gospel.

Christ paid my debt to God, but he didn’t just bring my spiritual bank account to zero. Christ’s righteous life was then credited to my account. I went from being a prisoner with a sentence against them they could never pay off to a child of the king with all the resources that come with that position in God’s household.

. . .

In Christ, instead of feeling condemned by the law’s standard, I can lift my head. I can look at Scripture’s words to women, even the annoying Proverbs 31 wife, not with condemnation, but with hope and inspiration. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Yes, that is a great ideal. No, I can’t make it happen myself. Instead of hiding from God in condemnation or despising her as an unattainable standard, I turn to God in my need and find grace and mercy. In Christ, I can boldly access my Father in heaven and avail myself of his resources

We needn’t fear or resent this wisdom. It is not the standard. And it needs to stop being taught as such. Women can be all that God calls them to be, all that the woman in Proverbs 31 is, without a husband and kids because Christ has paid the debt and credited our account so that we can be filled with hope and fulfilled in our blessings.

Alsup puts this wisdom/law problem in brilliant contrast in a follow-up post on her blog (Practical Theology for Women):

Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations. You can’t read Proverbs the same as the 10 Commandments, yet in our fight against moral relativism, conservative Christians fear situational wisdom. The result is silly, one-dimensional conclusions.

Through our fear of diminishing the value or importance of Scripture we’re attempting to apply all of it in the same manner we would apply the 10 Commandments. But that is not the purpose of the proverbs, which are clearly written for certain situations. This doesn’t lessen their significance or usefulness for application when those situations arise but it should make us wary of setting ourselves standards that God Himself did not intend.

She finishes her post with an exhortation to listen to Paul’s words in Galatians to “walk by the Spirit” (5:16). Only by pressing into the Holy Spirit Himself can we ever hope to be able to “apply wisdom in wise ways without fear”.

I would like to get married and have children one day but I might not. And I have to be okay with that. I have to be certain of who I am in Christ regardless of that. I have to know that He is on my side and will provide me with all my needs and all kinds of adventures if wife-ness isn’t His plan. And I need to know that there is a church that will have my back if I don’t fit in to their vision of the ideal woman. That they will enable me, equip me, release me to be who I am, and not who they think I should be.

What’s in a sermon?

Back home in Aberdeen, sermons were always about “consecutive expository preaching” – we’d work through one book of the Bible, beginning to end, over a number of weeks or months.

Here in Edinburgh, we have two series running concurrently, generally one working through a bible book/section, and one on a broader theme. Actually, we’re now on our third year of the sermon on the mount – each section becomes its own mini-series and, due to the nature of the sermon on the mount, more thematically based as well.

However, last month, we had three weeks with no bible basis for the sermon. In fact, I’m sure many people would have issue with it even being called a sermon. We were looking at the ABC’s of CCE – where we’ve come from (right back to the reformation and the anabaptists), where we’re going and how we can practically be involved now.

It’s not the first time there’s been little scriptural involvement in a service. I remember one meeting last year when we had the finance report instead of a sermon. One of our series last year was The Story, looking at the entirety of the biblical story throughout the course of the year; bible based but not passage focused or expository in any sense of the word. It’s a very different attitude than home, where one of my minister’s main reasons for continuing with evening services is the importance to him of providing two opportunities for the “ministry of the word” on a Sunday.

It’s given me cause to think about what the purpose of our Sunday gatherings is and how necessary consecutive exegetical preaching is. I am not diminishing the importance of Scripture (I think you’ll find a post over there <- where I just quoted Calvin – can’t get more reformed than that!) but simply exploring the purpose of church meetings and the Bible’s role within them. In fact, I’ll be very honest and say that there are times when I miss the bibleness of home!

When the believers come together in the New Testament (I’m pretty certain) the sole purpose is never just to hear a sermon:

Acts 2:42-47 – And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)

1 Corinthians 14:26 – What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (ESV)

Of course, we must be mindful of Paul’s instruction to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1-4 – I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (ESV)

If the purpose of a Sunday meeting is to come together as a body of believers; to share together – our stories, our pains and joys, bread and wine; to worship; to learn; to do community: surely it is okay if preaching is not at the centre of this all the time. We’re not a community focused around a book, after all, but a community focussed around Christ. And sometimes you have to deal with the business of the community (such as the finances) or there’s a message you want to communicate to them (such as the plan for the year ahead).

My course in Practical Theology this semester has given me reason to think that the focus of the conservative, reformed church upon this type of preaching and service was originally a reaction against a Roman Catholic focus on Mass and what the reformers considered inaccurate biblical teaching. And then, more recently, a reaction against the charismatic/pentecostal movements who were focused upon revelation from the Spirit, leading reformed Christians to fear a moving away from the Word. It seems to me that we haven’t quite gotten over these fears and prejudices, despite the fact both the Catholic and Pentecostal denominations have changed their emphasis a lot in certain quarters.

I think there is a place for consecutive expository preaching. I think it is good and useful. But like all things it can be taken to extremes where there is no room for manoeuvre and the prompting of the Spirit is ignored for the sake of the preaching plan. I think the Bible is incredibly important, should be used in our worship and be the plumbline by which we measure everything we do. But I do not think that Church – the Body of Christ and Community of Believers – is solely about its explanation. This can be explored by other means and at other times. Doing Church, being Church is so much more.

Seek first the Kingdom

I was privileged to be able to join with a few friends for prayer on Tuesday night and as we started Charlie shared this verse:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

(Matthew 6:33 ESV)

That’s quite a challenge for the year ahead.

Our primary purpose and task is to seek God, His Kingdom and righteousness. We are not to fix the world or the church or even our own lives. It’s not our job to make everything right or the way we think it should be. We are to seek God – spending time in prayer, worship and study of the Bible, we’re to get to know Him as well as we possibly can whilst still on this earth. We are to seek His Kingdom – to stand for His justice, His morality, His way of living. We are to seek His righteousness – to “work out our salvation with trembling” (Philippians 2:12), to bring Him glory by our sanctification, to look holy as He is holy.

For busy-bodies like me, who like a task and a product for our efforts, this can be incredibly frustrating because these will not always be physically tangible results. For control freaks like me, it’s a daunting prospect because it means relinquishing control of a lot of things. For folks who like to worry and stress like I do, it’s very difficult because we have to make our worries and stresses lesser priorities.

And these things that will be added to us? Everything. Everything we need.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matt 6:34)

instead, “Seek first the Kingdom”

 

Many many memory verses

Did you ever do that thing as a child in Sunday School where you had to learn a verse of the Bible? I’ve  tried to learned and taught so many now that I’ve lost count. I’ve done them as puzzles, bursting balloons, pictograms, with songs and actions. Shame I don’t remember most of them!

A couple of weeks ago I went to see a “dramatic presentation” of the Books of Acts – from memory! That’s twenty-eight chapters and 1007 verses!

So we proposed a Christmas challenge for my church cell group: over the 3-week Christmas break, we’re attempting to learn the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:3-7:27. A meagre 106 verses. Simples.

I’ve got to to chapter 5 verse 20.

There are some really great resources out there to help in memorising bible passages:

this guy memorised the sermon on the mount too – http://bit.ly/far9DY – hear him recite it and answer how he did it.

this article is really good: http://bit.ly/gKRw2b – a how-to on memorising scripture, good practice etc.

and here John Piper gives some advice on how to memorise scripture:http://bit.ly/h7MN4N

Finally, some scriptural inspiration that this is totally awesome!
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7 ESV)

Don’t just stand there (2)

I decided to split this look at Nehemiah Chapter 4 into two, or it was going to be ridiculously long and you’d have stopped reading. So verses 15-21 . . .

God confounds the plans of Sanballat and Tobiah and the Jews are able to continue building, but this time “half of my [Nehemiah’s] servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail . . . each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.” (Nehemiah 4:16-17 ESV)

Sue inspired us all with a challenge: what would it look like if half of our volunteers/leaders were dedicated to prayer in our activities? I think the repercussions could be HUGE and with Holiday Club just around the corner it’s something everyone should bear in mind. Because prayer involves people sitting “doing nothing”, it’s easy for it to become sidelined. However, if we truly believe in a God who listens and answers, the power of prayer cannot be taken for granted.

But we must also remember that the people continued to labour: we must pray but we must also act. We must be willing to be the answer to our prayers. If we’re asking for something without being willing to take responsibility for it, can we possibly really mean it? Can we pray that we’ll meet a deadline without being willing to put in the work? Can we pray for someone to come to know God without being willing to tell them? Can we pray for the poor without being willing to help them? We can’t just stand there. We pray, seek God, rely on him for our strength and means and then we go. God sends us out.

And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” (Nehemiah 4:19-20 ESV)

How willing are you to “blow the trumpet” when you’re in need of help? I know that I find swallowing my pride and asking for help very difficult. To admit that I have a weakness or am not able to do everything completely independently is a big thing! But that’s one of the joys of being a part of the body of Christ – we “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). Conversely, are we willing to rally when the trumpet is blown? I like to think I’ll set aside my own agenda or to-do list in order to help but the reality is that every request goes through the filter in my brain: can i be bothered; am I likely to get something out of it; am I going to have to go out of my because of it? This is the joy of being a selfish human being. However, by God’s grace, we can ignore those selfish tendencies and be extravagantly generous with out time and energy! Our work might be widely spread, but we come together to help each other as each has need.

Finally, in verse 23, Nehemiah tells us:

So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand. (Nehemiah 4:23 ESV)

Now, if you should ever feel compelled by God to not change your clothes for length of time, please would you give the rest of us a heads up? Thanks 🙂

Don’t just stand there

It was wonderful to be back at staff devotions at St.C’s on Thursday morning (despite having to get out of bed before 9 o’clock) before spending the day painting holiday club sets. We were studying Nehemiah 4, a chapter I found very challenging.

The general theme of the chapter, and you could say of the book of Nehemiah as a whole, is pray and do.

Cyrus the Great, the Emperor of Persia in 538 BC allows the Jewish people to return home from their exile in the Babylonian lands which he has just conquered. In 444 BC Nehemiah receives permission to begin rebuilding the walls of the Jerusalem temple. However, they face some opposition from Sanballat and Tobiah of Samaria, who likely want to assert their authority in Judah. Chapter 4 begins with a cry from the writer against these men, asking God to protect his people from their jeers.

And the people keep building.

Sanballat and Tobiah decide it’s time to send their armies, to stop this abominable construction attempt, “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9 ESV)

At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:12-14 ESV)

The Jews who lived in the surrounding areas, who had not returned to Jerusalem and were not a part of the temple building plan, begged that their fellow believers return to the safety of obscurity. Nehemiah and his followers were going out on a limb with this. They were doing something new and different, something involving a great deal of risk and even more faith. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem? A handful of people, many of whom were unskilled? Families, children, elderly? Absurd! But it was God ordained, God led, and the Jews that surrounded them did not share their faith. Often when we go out on a limb for God, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ find it difficult to share our vision. They beg us to continue in relative comfort and safety. But when you know God has called you to a new venture, when you know he has plans for you and is moving you to take the first step, you have to leave even those you love behind, even those who have your best interests at heart.

Nehemiah sent his guards to stand in the lowest parts of the walls. Are we defending the weakest parts of our ministries, fellowships and personal lives?  We might be blessed to not yet have to fight physical battles here in the West but we are certainly always fighting Spiritual ones. And we don’t fight with metal swords or wooden bows, but we do fight with the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God and the shield of faith and the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6). Paul also encourages us to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18 ESV). Do we guard our weak spots with fervent prayer? Do we take action to put temptation out of reach? Do we fend off apathy and selfishness? Are we supporting those who need our support – physically, mentally, materially, spiritually?

Do not be afraid. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.

I was particularly challenged by verse fourteen here: “fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes”. I’ve stopped fighting. There are so many people whom I love who don’t know the Lord and this should break my heart but it doesn’t. I’ve given up. I care but I’ve given in to that age old excuse of “It’ll happen in God’s time” and I’ve abandoned the fight. 2 Chronicles 16 says that if God’s people will humble themselves and pray to Him he will hear their prayers. God is almighty and his plan will come to pass and he could do this all by his own efforts; but there is a partnership here, an understanding, and he gives us a role. We are to fight. We are to pray fervently and we are to use every opportunity – fear, feelings of incompetency, tiredness, pride – none of these are excuses when the great and awesome God is with you. This is God’s earth. These are his people. And we are to fight for them.

to be continued . . .


Women in Ministry

Carlos over at RagamuffinSoul posted a question yesterday about the lack of women in ministry and the discussion which followed is very interesting.

People are always surprised when they hear my view on this. I’m sure many are sick fed up of hearing me talk about it too. But let me try to explain . . .

I love God. I love His word. I love to tell people about Him and explain His word. I guess you could say, I feel “called” (anyone else grown to hate that phrase?) to teach/lead in the church.

Easy right? Erm, no.

1 Timothy 2:12-13 says:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve

Puts a bit of a dampner on everything right?

You can give me all the arguments you want for context and culture; for Jesus’ involvement of women in his ministry; for Lydia and Priscilla in Acts; for Paul’s other writings about everyone being part of the body and everyone receiving gifts of the Spirit; and I’m still going to come back to this and say, “No.

As soon as I say I don’t agree with women teaching and leading in the church people judge me. They don’t realise how hard it is for me to say that. I’ll be very honest: I say it because I know I should, because it’s what’s in the Bible, not because I genuinely believe it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully accept it. I think this is going to be a continual battle between God and I.

One of the commenters on RagamuffinSoul said something very interesting: “We simply don’t respect or mentor or listen to female voices enough”. It’s so true. Sure, women shouldn’t be leading and teaching but I’m not convinced that the only place for women gifted in these things is then either sunday school or women’s meetings. Women in the church need to be given more credit than that. God needs to be given more credit than that! Just because they can’t be at the front presenting the message, doesn’t mean their ideas about the church should be ignored. And just because you can’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t train them all the way up to be preachers doesn’t mean they don’t need mentoring and guidance in discerning God’s call for them.

I think part of the problem is the very limited view on ministry within the church which we have. We’re certainly getting better, but it’s usually kids and youth, leading and teaching, worship team, practical behind the scenes catering/technical stuff. But there is so much more work to be done in the Kingdom than this! There are so many ministries women can be a part of and be effective in, within biblical standards.

For me, it all means sitting on my “call” until God gives me clearer discernment on how he wants me to use the gifts/passions he’s given me. I’ll be very honest with you though: I am petrified that someone offers me the chance to preach, because I’m going to want to accept; and I will not choose to listen to female preachers, in case it puts ideas in my head. This is a battle and you might not agree with me but fight for me, on my side and help me figure this out.

Though this little blog space makes for quite a nice pulpit too.

Elijah was a man

James 5:17 says that Elijah was a man, and not just any man but, a man “just like us”.

Elijah was a man just like us

That’s NIV; ESV says he ” had a nature like ours” and NLT says he “was as human as we are”.

Elijah was a man just like us.

This is the guy who, amongst other things, raised the dead, brought three years of drought to an end, walked the desert without food or drink for forty days and nights, called fire down from heaven (twice) and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind.

But still, he was a man just like us.

Regular dude.

Average Joe.

That guy, Elijah.

We put our biblical “heroes” on pedestals. We make them out to be super-humans, holier than thou. But they were just like us.

We look at our earthly heroes of the faith too – whether it be speakers we love to listen to, missionaries we really respect or folks closer to home that we look up to – and think “Wow, I love what you’re doing! I could never be like that though . . . ”

Elijah was just like us. Moses was just like us. David was just like us. Paul was just like us. Martin Luther was just like us. Mother Teresa was just like us. Your favourite preacher is just like you. Your pastor is an average bloke.

People! God uses the average. God chose what is weak in the world (1 Cor 1:27).

You know what sets them and us apart?

Elijah “went and did according to the word of the Lord” (1 Kings 17:5)

Abraham “when called to go, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8)

You think you could never be like them?! Of course you can!

Elijah was a man just like us.

And his God is our God.

We just need faith in the King of Kings. Mustard seed faith that can move mountains.

Step out in faith today: if Elijah can do it, you can.

Lukewarm

As I said yesterday I’m reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. Well, actually, I’ve now read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. Loved it.

Powerful, convicting, full of what I’ve ranted about on here and been discussing with friends recently. He has an infectious passion and an optimism that you don’t always get in these kinds of books. He believes that things are going to change.

One of the things he speaks about, and which friends and I have discussed a lot over the past couple of months, is being lukewarm:

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
(Revelation 3:15-16 ESV)
Chan has a really powerful sermon called Lukewarm and Loving It that you should watch.
In the book he gives a profile of someone who is lukewarm. They:
  • Attend church like a good Christian should
    • this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV)
  • Give money, so long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.
    • But King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:24 ESV)
    • For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:4 ESV)
  • Choose what is popular over what is right.
    • Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26 ESV
    • They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matthew 23:5-7 ESV)
  • Are moved by stories of radicalness but do not act.
    • Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27 ESV)
    • So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17 ESV)
  • Rarely share their faith.
    • So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)
  • Gauge their goodness by secular standards.
    • The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ (Luke 18:11-12 ESV)
  • Have Jesus in their lives but He’s not in control.
    • Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 ESV)
  • Love God. A little bit.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37 ESV)
  • Love others but not as much as themselves and only when it’s easy or they are loved in return.
    • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. . . For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:44-46 ESV)
  • Will serve, but have limits to how far they will go.
    • When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 ESV)
  • Think about life on earth more than eternity in heaven.
    • our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20 ESV)
    • Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2 ESV)
  • Are thankful for their comforts and luxuries but rarely consider giving as much as possible to the poor.
    • Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7 ESV)
  • Do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling guilty, the bare minimum.
    • “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)
  • Are always concerned with playing it safe. They are slaves to control, making no sacrifices and taking no risks
    • As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)
    • And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 ESV)
  • Feel safe/saved in their church or “Christian” nation.
    • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21 ESV)
  • Do not live by faith but rely on themselves. If they stopped believing, their lives wouldn’t change.
    • And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21 ESV)
  • Aren’t that different from the typical unbeliever.
    • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

Anyone else feel thoroughly convicted?!

Jesus says, in Luke 14:33, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”.

Chan argues that the Lukewarm are not saved. Not because we have to earn salvation by overcoming everything in the list above, but because those with true faith will not fall into the above categories. We are still sinful and will still, at times, do all these things, but the difference, Chan says, is that a true believer has a “posture of obedience and surrender, where they continually move towards Christ”. Jesus would only spit us out if we were not already His.

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:4-6 ESV)

Rock of offense

“But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

– Isaiah 8:13-15

Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame

– Romans 9: 33

Isaiah is talking about God, or more particularly His law, being a stumbling block to the unfaithful.

Paul, in Romans, is talking about Jesus, or more precisely faith in Him, being the rock of stumbling.

Jesus teaches some offensive things. Faith in Him is full of stumbling.

Why are we so convinced we have to make it easy?

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

(Romeo and Juliet: II, ii, 1-2)

How important is your name to you?

Does it define you or do you define it?

Our names are important because they give us an identity. They make us irreducible to mass generalisation. Your name encapsulates who you are.

Our sense of identity is incredibly important. It gives us a sense of purpose,of belonging. If we don’t know who we are we become lost.

The animals were introduced to Adam in categories – it wasn’t about the individual but the group or the species which had to be identified. But amongst them Adam does not find a companion. He wants a personal other to whom he can relate. He needs a person with a name, with an identity, not just another category.

And so God creates Eve.

From the beginning we are given our identity by God. From the beginning of time and the beginning of our own lives. After all, he did knit us together in the womb and our days were written in his book before they came to be (Psalm 139). I think one of the hardest things for us to do as human beings is accept our identity in God. You’ve certainly heard more than your fair share of my struggles with it. Having to set to the side and walk away from our old identity which were caught up in the opinions of others, restrained by our apparent worth or usefulness in the world, beat down by our own shame and afflictions, is hard. Picking up, accepting, embodying our new identity in Christ is hard. To believe that we are loved – in our sinful, broken state – is hard. To know that we are lovable is hard. But God calls us his children (Rom 8:14). Jesus calls us friend (John 15:15). God says we are chosen (Col 3:12). All this whilst we are still sinners (Rom 5:6).

When we read on into Genesis chapter 3 we see the breaking down of language and identity begin. With the displacement of responsibility from Adam to Eve to the Serpent, we see language fall from “I” to “Her” to “it”. As the world breaks so do our relationships. As we lose our identity we lose our ability to relate to others. In losing our understanding of ourself we can no longer understand others. Barriers are created and we lose an intimacy. From here on in, it is easy for us to make people mere objects.

In not knowing our true identity we abuse ourselves by trying to fulfil plans that were never meant for us. We tear ourselves up and beat ourselves down because we’re not worthy – though none of us can pinpoint what of. We try to create identities but with what we think people expect and not the truth. Misunderstanding our own identities enables us to devalue other people’s as well. People become objects, a “who” becomes a “what”. When the enemy isn’t a person but a people they are easier to attack.

Identity is vital. Knowing our identity in Christ and accepting it, more so.

Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name you are mine

– Isaiah 43:1

Memorising Scripture

In a sermon a couple of weeks ago, Pastor John Piper recited the whole of the book of Philippians to his congregation.

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How brilliant is that!
I find memorising scripture to be so useful and important, it’s just unfortunate that I a)don’t put much effort into it and b)am a bit rubbish at it. I’m always challenged by the story of Ezekiel who eats the scroll and literally consumes God’s words, which is “as sweet as honey to him”.
I’m not going to go trying to eat my Bible but I think I’m going to make a renewed effort and using Desiring God’s brilliant resource FighterVerses. One a week, plus sixty Greek words, shouldn’t be too much of an effort!