Owen and Wesley being shortchanged in the bookshop

12 07 2010

The enormity of the debt owed by today’s church for the Christian heritage left by two giants of the faith, John Wesley and John Owen, is difficult to express in a short blog post.  The impact of their lives and writing have been the shoulders upon which many Christians have since stood and been enabled thus to see much further than they might have done if left to their own devices.  The ellucidation and application of the doctrines of the Christian faith although penned and practiced by these great men in a previous century continue to be a significant and guiding benchmark which we ignore or discard at our peril.

Nevertheless, at the present time higher profile and publicity are being offered to names like Gregory Boyd, Clark Pinnock, Brian MacLaren, John Eldredge and John Sanders.  Doctrine which is unbiblical and subversive to the central tenets of the Christian faith is being given high profile by both publishers and booksellers apparently driven by a market economy rather than by a mandate for exactitude in the whole counsel of God.  Shelf space committed to books on Open Theism, Emergent Church and ‘feel-good-about-youself-self-help-books’ dominates the readers eyes as he scans the Christian Life and Theological sections of the bookshop for well-hidden titles by more trustworthy and reliable guides.  One has to pick and chose very carefully to avoid the trap of swallowing some of the garbage we find nowadays on the shelves of the so-called “Christian” bookshop.

You may find it unacceptable that Christians should be guided in what they should and should not read but there is surely a strong case to be made for appropriate pastoral direction and oversight for the flock of God as they set off to feed in such pastures.  Society today is marked by their drive for freedom – freedom to read ALL and read WIDELY – it is our right and our privildege.  We will not be controlled or dictated to by some figure suggesting that certain matters might not be good for us.  Now while I would be the first to stand against outright censure we must ask the question, ‘Is it not right that we flag up the areas where thorns and thistles may choke the Word, and where the birds of the air may snatch away the Good Seed?’  Pastors of the flock, I say, “Warn your sheep!”  Not everything you buy in the Christian bookshop is truly “Christian”!

Even Christian publishers are no longer marked out by their faithfulness to traditional doctrines.  Commenting specifically on ‘Open Theism,’ William Davis notes the following (Beyond the Bounds, Crossway Books):

Christianity Today treats it as an evangelical option, offering both editorials that praise its proponents and links to the official open theism website. Thomas Nelson publishes and promotes The Sacred Heart and Wild at Heart. … InterVarsity Press publishes and promotes Clark Pinnock’s The Openness of God and John Sanders’ The God Who Risks. Baker Books provides publisher’s notes for booksellers that identify Gregory Boyd (The God of the Possible) and Clark Pinnock (The Most Moved Mover) as “evangelicals.”  Societies and gatherings of Christian scholars such as the Evangelical Theological Society and the Wheaton Philosophy Conference have welcomed and even showcased advocates of open theism.”

I wonder how and where Messrs Wesley and Owen from a previous century might have directed their flock…

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By faith: musings on the life of faith and its reward

17 06 2010

The life of faith is always a struggle; yet it is the only life to be lived before God.  Without faith, the Bible reminds us, it is impossible to please God.  We please God when, firstly, we acknowledge His existence; secondly, we come to Him; and thirdly, we recognise that He rewards those who earnestly seek him.  The NIV suggests these three by the sentence construction: “Anyone who comes to him must believe…that He exists and…that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Lives of faith are set before us in Hebrews 11 – people who were sure of what they hoped for and certain about things they could not see – people whose faith was set upon God.  Abel, Enoch and Noah; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph; Moses, Israel and Rahab.  The list goes on, unending: Gideon, Barak and Samson; Jephthah, David and Samuel; prophets, women, ‘others’ and ‘some’.  They are collectively known as ‘the ancients’ – not by reason of their age but because they were people of old, from an era long removed from the writer and more so from our own twenty-first century.

As if such distance in time was not enough to put us off further consideration of their example we are reminded twice in the chapter that ‘they did not receive what was promised’; even Abraham, the ‘father of faith’.  Here is some indication of the nature of their struggle, yet nevertheless, they were all commended for their faith… because the ultimate goal of faith is not the here and now, but the hereafter; not the matters of this world but the matters of a world yet to come.  Faith is concerned with a city – the city of God – where, by God’s design and plan the people of faith from every generation are to dwell with Him.  That promise was yet future for all those ‘ancients’ and it is still yet future for us ‘moderns’ and so-called ‘post-moderns’.  The fulfilment of God’s promise is still the ‘something better’ God has planned and which we receive by faith.  This is the reward of faith.

The reward of faith was set out and secured by its Author – who is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He is none other than our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  He became the perfecter of faith for all who believe in Him because by His death on the cross, he brought us to God by the atonement made through His own life blood shed there.  Jesus is an even better example of the life of faith than all those ‘ancients’ because he himself lived by faith, despising the shame and agony of the cross, believing that by his own sacrifice He could make perfect forever all who come to God by Him.  God was ‘well pleased’ with His Son.  His faith-full life and service, the ‘something better’ which God had planned, secures for all who believe in Him the reward of faith.  Faith in Jesus allows us to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see.

Yet God’s ‘reward’ is surely not confined to the future hope of a city in which God will not be ashamed to call us His people and we to call Him our God.   Why, did not Abel find his sacrifice accepted?  Did not Noah see God’s provision in the instructions for the ark?  Were not Abraham and Sarah blessed with a son in their old age through faith in the promise of God?  And in some small measure were not these things ‘the reward’ of a faith placed in the faithful and benevolent God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?  Hebrews chapter 11 makes it plain that these people lived a life of faith.  Faith characterised their outlook, their worldview, their perspective on every incident of life. 

The life of faith sees God in every moment, great or small.  The life of faith ‘earnestly seeks Him’ in everyday occurrences as well as in the high days and holy days of Christian experience.  The life of faith traces the hand of God in the fury of flames miraculously quenched and in the flogging of believers mercilessly jeered.  Whatever the race marked out may bring the life of faith is ready to see in it the hand of God – at times blessing, at times disciplining – in all things a hand that leads us on to holiness, without which no-one will see the Lord.

Abraham’s life is lived ‘by faith’.  We read ‘By faith Abraham… obeyed and went‘ which resulted in a complete change of lifestyle and circumstance.  Abraham removes himself from the dependence of the family and the society he has known all his days and launches out, dependent only on God.  ‘By faith Abraham… made his home‘, established his roots, did his business, lived out his life, worshipped his God like a stranger, a foreigner – one not quite accepted in the society in which he was based.  ‘By faith Abraham… lived in tents‘.  He saw himself as a nomad, a sojourner, someone with no permanent place in this world – the writer of Hebrews suggests he was seeking a better place to live and that place would not be found in this world.  ‘By faith Abraham… was looking forward‘.  Abraham’s life was characterised by looking forward, not looking back.  He sought out the new things God had for him – he was a man of spiritual vision.  It is certainly true that he made some serious errors of judgement and took matters into his own hands at times, but his course was always set looking forward to the fulfilment of God’s promises and to the ultimate hope of a final dwelling place with God.  In all his life, but especially in regard to having a son we discover that, ‘By faith Abraham… was enabled.‘  Yes, Abraham like Elijah after him was ‘a man just like us’ but a man of faith who recognised his need for the enabling power of God, received by faith.  God’s power was seen in His supernatural intervention in the birth of Isaac.  Despite receiving the promise of God in providing an heir we see the implicit obedience and complete trust of this man when we hear that ‘By faith Abraham… offered Isaac‘.  Faith was no irrational impulse, no religious fanaticism, no pagan rite or pious ritual.  Faith in God stands Abraham in good stead when using the intellect His Creator gave him we find that ‘By faith Abraham… reasoned that God could…‘.  He reasoned that God could what… ?  Yes, God could even raise the dead!  And faith was such that out of his ready trust and contrite obedience, Abraham did in some measure receive back Isaac ‘from the dead’.

In seeking God’s rewards in the everyday occurrences of life – through the pain and pleasure of life; through the anguish of barrenness and the joy of children; through abundance and plenty or through loneliness and famine; through strife with loved ones and the attack of enemies; through the blessing and discipline of God in the way marked out for the life of faith  – Abraham nourishes and develops a true and meaningful faith in a God with whom he has forged a deep and thoroughly satisfying relationship of great worth.  This is his great reward – to know God and to be known by Him – he cannot wait until the life of faith gives way to sight and he comes to dwell with Him forevermore.





Is there sand in your eye?

28 05 2010

One last Jim Elliot quote from “Shadow of the Almighty” by Elisabeth Elliot.

“As your life is in His hands, so are the days of your life.  But don’t let the sands of time get into the eye of your vision to reach those who sit in darkness. They simply must hear.”





Firm, Steadfast and Loving

23 05 2010

“Lord, give me firmness without hardness, steadfastness without dogmatism and love without weakness.”

Jim Elliot, Nov 24th, 1949.  He was 22 years old at the time.

From the journals of Jim Elliot in Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot, p128.





Daily Devotions – how do you feel about them?

17 05 2010

 

The following quote from:

The Shadow of the Almighty, by Elisabeth Elliot, 1958.

Authentic Media edition, 2009, Milton Keynes, UK.

On daily devotions (p.24):

 “None of it gets to be ‘old’ stuff, for it is Christ in print, the Living Word: We wouldn’t think of rising in the morning without a face-wash, but we often neglect that purgative cleansing of the Word of the Lord. It wakes us up to our responsibility.”





God At Work

12 05 2010

 When God wants to drill a man

And thrill a man

And skill a man,

When God wants to mould a man

To play the noblest part

When He yearns with all His heart

To create so great

And bold a man

That all the world shall be amazed

Watch His methods

Watch His ways;

How He ruthlessly perfects

Whom He royally elects;

How He hammers him

And hurts him

And with mighty blows

Converts him

Into trial shapes of clay:

Which only God can understand;

While man’s tortured heart is crying

And he lifts beseeching hands

Yet God bends and never breaks

When man’s good He undertakes

How He uses whom He chooses

And with mighty power infuses him

With every act induces him

To try His splendour out

God knows what He’s about!

 

Quoted by Tony Sargent in “I Did It His Way” by Hugh Hill.




Arrows, God’s Word and a Faith-full response

21 04 2010

My daily readings have recently been taking me through the book of 2 Kings. It is largely a sorry tale of the kings of Israel and Judah – Israel is in a degenerate state of imminent collapse and impending captivity to the Assyrians. Judah is also in decline and although threatened with the same fate is spared for the time being because of the faithfulness of a few ‘good’ men.  (May the Lord raise up ‘a few good men’ in our day and in our nation that we too might be spared.)

I met Jehoash in 2 Kings 13:14-19 in a room with Elisha who is on his deathbed.  Jehoash was king of Israel during a time when the Syrians (Aram) have been raiding and pillaging the northern tribes of Israel.  The prospect of Elisha’s death is threatening to the king because it will mean the departure of the Word of God from the nation leaving them defensless, helpless and lost.  Jehoash does not however stand out in the history of Israel – his reign of sixteen years is accounted for in four verses (v10-13) with a formulaic disinterest – but the incident with Elisha and Jehoash’s response to God’s word is set out in some detail to teach us an important lesson.

Elisha embarks on a session of ‘show and tell’ to reinforce the lesson he wants to pass on to Jehoash and us.  Jehoash is anxious to know what the future will be like, how the people of God will fare in the face of their enemy and whether victory will be assured.  He wants to hear a word from the prophet of God before he departs.  And God’s word graciously is given to him.  The word comes through the visual aid of the bow and arrows which he carries.  The narrative explains the instructions from the prophet to the king and pointedly details the required obedience of the king at each point along the way: “‘Get a bow and some arrows,’ and he did so. ‘Take the bow in your hands,’… When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. ‘Open the east window,’ …and he opened it. ‘Shoot!’ …and he shot.”  The kings attention to the word of the prophet, the instruction of the Lord is commendable to this point but there was nothing here that he could not do himself.  Furthermore, He seems to be enabled even by a sick and weak prophet’s hand – perhaps a sign of divine presence and assistance, but thus far it had been easy.  After the king’s patient attention to the prophet, Elisha offers the declaration of victory Jehoash had come to seek, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram (Syria)!”

With the promise of victory before him, Jehoash is brought to a further test of character, and faith.  Elisha leads him on in obedience – “‘Take the arrows,’ and the king took them.” Then comes the command to, ‘Strike (probably ‘shoot’) on(to) the ground.’  Clearly, the king had a quiver full of arrows and until now, only one had been used.  He fires three arrows and stops.  The way the narrator recounts the story makes it clear that this is an issue – why stop!?  Why not finish the quiver? Why not strike [with] the arrows five or six times?  Why only three?  Elisha immediately reprimands the king for his hesitancy, for his lack of perseverance in the face of God’s promised victory.  He is angry over the king’s lack of grit and determination, his failure to make a ‘faith’-full response to the revealed word of God.

D. Ralph Davis calls this an account of Jehoash’s most crucial moment – standing before the word of Yahweh.  In light of brief biography which certainly painted Jehoash as another of the wicked kings of Israel the cameo of his response to God’s word through the prophet is a clear indicator of a faithless response.  Here is a king who hears the word of God and in the face of the prophet is prepared to follow that word, but when required to act upon it in an expression of his own persevering faith falls short of all that the Lord had held out to him.  As Davis says, ‘He had Yahweh’s promise (v17) and he should have grasped it with both hands.’

What is our own ‘standing before the word of the LORD’?  How do we measure up in our faithful and gritty determination to take God at his word? May the Lord help us by faith to hold firmly to his promises, to be people who persevere in them and who ‘shoot our arrows’ continuously in the assurance of the victory he offers us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you… was not “Yes” and “No”, but in him it has always been “Yes”.  For no matter howe many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God’ (2 Corinthians 1:19,20).