Come and Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.

                My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.” :

God’s Wisdom

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 3:1-2

                “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 3:17-18

                “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:5

                One of the central themes of the book of James is that of Biblical wisdom.  This is the wisdom which comes from God, is consistent with His Word, and which is written into our hearts in the New Covenant.  It is this to which James turns his attention in the third chapter of his book.  There is much that we could focus on in this theme, but I will confine my thoughts today to a couple of brief points. 

  1. This wisdom is first of all something which defines mature Christian faith.  We are as believers moving towards it.  This side of Glory, however, we will never completely reach it.  James tells us that we “all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”  We are all sinners who fall short in many ways.  We have held out before us God’s perfect standard which we will constantly be falling short of.  Such a truth when rightly understood must drive us to the Lord Jesus Christ for His gracious redemptive work within.  James uses this truth from God’s law to bring us to Christ.
  2. Such wisdom from God is not given to us for informational purposes only.  It is meant to be applied.  The purpose for which God sends out His word, which will never return to Him without accomplishing His purpose, is to transform our lives by grace.  It will either transform us or judge us.  As James unfolds his argument here he shows us that the end result of receiving God’s wisdom is to produce in us the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  3. One of the primary ways that this transformation of our inner nature will be revealed will be in speech that is Spirit controlled.  It will be conversation which honours Christ in every way.  This calls for us to examine our speech, asking what it reveals to us about our reception of God’s grace.
  4. James warns teachers for a number of reasons.  Among the chief of those reasons is the ease with which we can deceive ourselves.  Seldom do we arrive at a sober minded assessment of our Spiritual state.  That is why we must rely upon God’s wisdom. 

I Am He

                “Even to your old age and grey hairs I Am He, I Am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will carry you.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 46:4

                What a wonderful text of Scripture containing one of the most precious of promises for every human being.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached upon this text in a sermon preserved in the second volume of Spurgeon’s Sermons (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2011, p. 361-379).  The sermon entitled “The God of the Aged” develops the theme of this text in Isaiah 46 by looking at the text’s doctrine and application to believers who are advancing in age.  To me this is becoming a doctrine which grows sweeter with age.  It has now been 41 years since I first gave my life to Christ.  In the beginning years of my walk with Christ my faith was strong but untested.  Now it has been tempered in the testing fires of life and has as a result become more precious.  As Spurgeon focus our attention on the doctrine in this text his desire is for us to focus upon God’s faithfulness to His covenant promise to us in love.  He is unchanging and therefore remains faithful in the carrying out of His unchanging purpose to redeem us through the cross of Christ.  There is more here however.  When we take a careful look at this text some other doctrines leap out at us.

  1. As Spurgeon stated our God is unchangingly faithful to His promise to love us sacrificially.  For Him to become unfaithful would be to deny His very nature.  Isaiah cries out “I Am He!”  God’s Name, His very nature tells us that He will be faithful because He is the eternal, covenant keeping God.  He will not become ill, or weary, or uninterested in the promise He has made to us.  This is true over the whole span of our lives.  It is also true over all of the years since the LORD Jesus Christ was crucified.  In fact it is true over all of the years of recorded history. 
  2. The doctrine of humanity is found here as well.  We are described as those in old age with grey hair.  There was a time when we were youths.  All of the future was before us.  We revelled in our strength and energy, feeling that nothing was impossible for us.  The years have passed and the toxic consequences of sin have borne their fruit in our lives.  With each passing day we find ourselves feeling that our best days are behind us.  Here is a wonderful learning opportunity for us however.  The LORD is preparing us for eternity.  We may be weakening but we are also discovering that He is unchanged.  As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)  He is trustworthy to continue to lead us in the same way He did when He first called us to faith.
  3. This is a promise of great scope and comfort for all who put their trust in Christ.  For the youth just beginning to follow Jesus it is a promise that the ending of their lives they will find that He is still faithfully with them.  For the middle aged who are just beginning to see the weakening of their physical bodies it is a promise that He who called you is still faithfully working out that same calling today.  For the aged who feel that they can no longer serve the LORD with the vitality they once had it is a promise that His grace is still sufficient for their every need.  It has always been about grace.  It has never been about our own personal strength. 
  4. For each of us, no matter what our age it is another promise as well.  This is that He is mighty to save us today.  Many have reflected upon the necessity of evangelising the young.  It is then that they can most easily be brought to Christ we think.  The reality is that the work of evangelism is an impossible work at any age if we are depending upon our flesh to accomplish it.  It is not our work, it is the LORD’s.  Nothing is impossible for Him.  He can save the youth and how we rejoice when a youth comes to put their faith in Christ.  He can also save the elderly.  It brings even greater joy to us when an aged man or woman comes to faith in Christ.  About twenty years ago an eighty eight year old man surprised his young Pastor with a simple question.  “Can you baptize an old man?”  It seems that after a lifetime of living as an unbeliever this man had come to understand the Gospel and had given his life to Christ.  He then said to his Pastor “I have been living for myself all these years.  Now I want to live the rest of my life for Him.  I must bear witness to my faith in Christ because I have children and grandchildren who must come to know that it is necessary at any age for a person to begin to follow Christ.”  About a year later an eighty year old woman with a heart condition moved into a home near our Church, she began to attend services and gave her life to Christ.  One Sunday she showed up at the Church Service with a doctor’s note stating that her health was sufficiently good for her to be baptized by total immersion.  She had done her homework so that she could bear testimony to her new found faith before family and friends.  As each of these senior saints was baptized there was not a dry eye in the Church such was our joy in what the LORD had done.  The lesson that we learned on those days was that our faithful God has the power to save anyone at any age who comes to the LORD Jesus Christ in faith.

Questions Which Lead To Faith

                “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you?  Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus.  You handed Him over to be killed, and you disowned Him before Pilate, though he had decided to let Him go.  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.  You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead.  We are witnesses of this.””

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:12-15

                The Scriptures so often ask us the key questions which force us to examine our own walk with the living God.  Such is the case here in the third chapter of the Book of Acts.  In verse 12 we are asked these key questions about our response the healing of the crippled man at the beautiful gate at the Temple in Jerusalem.  “Why does this surprise you?”  “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  These are the two key issues we face when it comes to the sign miracles and their significance.  We are astounded that a miracle can even take place.  Then when we accept that the miracle has happened we look for a human source for it.  It is hard for us to accept that God is personally active and intervening in His creation.  I want to take a closer look at what Luke tells us here.

  1. We must ask ourselves about why we are surprised by the sign miracles.  The Scripture teaches that God’s nature is to be a being who reveals Himself to His creation.  Why should this surprise us because we have the testimony of the Word of God that He would in fact do this?  The Scriptures clearly defined what the Messiah would do when He came to us.  The issue we are facing here is one of faith.  Do we believe God when He speaks to us revealing His purposes in grace to us?  Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that “Nothing was impossible with God.”  She accepted that with faith.  Do we?
  2. This sign miracle was done in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  In fact Luke tells us that God did it in the Name of Jesus in order to Glorify Him.  As Luke focuses our attention here he calls our attention to God as One who reveals Himself.  He is “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers.”  These texts draw our attention to a wonderful passage in the Book of Exodus chapter three and verse six.  “Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  There, in the burning bush event God reveals Himself to Moses and speaks His Name “I AM.”  For Peter what the LORD Jesus Christ has done in this crippled man is to reveal Himself as the one who intervenes by the power of His Name.
  3. Luke also tells us here that God has glorified His Servant Jesus.  In Isaiah 53:5 we discover this nugget of truth.  “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”  Why then should is surprise us that He would heal a crippled man?  Why should we attribute that healing to a human source?  The only explanation here is that God is at work through His Holy Servant the LORD Jesus Christ. 
  4. This leads us to our response to Him.  Do we believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Messiah who has come to set us free from sin?  The people that Peter preached to had rejected Him, and their rejection of Him had led to His cross.  God on the other hand had accepted His offering for sin, demonstrating it by raising Him from the dead.  What they were called to do was to repent and believe the Gospel.  This is God’s call upon us today as well.  We must turn from our unbelieving rejection of Him so that we believe God when He tells us that salvation is found in no one else.  The question is will you believe in Him?


When I Heard These Things

                “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.  For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

                                                                                                                                                                Nehemiah 1:4

                “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.  Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.  I was cupbearer to the King.  In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes when wine was brought to him, I took the wine and gave it to the king.  I had not been sad before in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill?  This can be nothing but sadness of heart.””

                                                                                                                                                                Nehemiah 1:11-2:2a

                What a wonderful picture of patient, persistent praying.  Nehemiah was a Godly Hebrew man who had been taken off into exile and made into a slave, serving as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes in his royal court at Susa.  This was a dangerous occupation, being responsible to taste the King’s food and wine in order to make sure that it was not poisoned.  As a Godly man Nehemiah was always hungering for news and information about God’s people and their land.  When distressing news arrived it hurt Nehemiah deeply so he did what every Godly person must do when distressing news arrives, he began to grieve, and fast, and pray to God for deliverance.  Not only did Nehemiah pray but it seems as if, from the text, he also recruited others to pray with him for the success of what he felt was his new calling in life.  His prayer was “give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.”  Favour was needed because as a slave Nehemiah could not just walk into the King’s presence and make his request.  He had to receive an invitation to speak.  Even then to make a request of the King could easily lead to Nehemiah’s death if the king did not receive it graciously.  So he and his companions prayed, and waited.  Daily they prayed and waited.  Four at least four months they prayed and waited. 

                In God’s providence the day for an answer came.  Nehemiah’s mood shone through his carefully guarded features.  The King noticed and asked him about the reason behind his sadness.  Nehemiah says, “I was much afraid, but I said to the King…”  Prayer was answered in that day.  It took four long months of praying and waiting.  Here we discover a vital lesson which we must learn and abide in if we are ever to become successful prayer warriors.  This is a willingness to pray persistently and patiently, looking for the Lord to open for us the door to and answer.  What are the key principles which we must apply to our praying in these days?

  1. We must have a commitment to Biblical Godliness as we serve the Lord in that place that He has put us.  This does not mean that we do not pray for change but we need to recognise that change comes in God’s time.
  2. We must pray with others for the change we seek.
  3. We must be specific in the things that we pray for.  Nehemiah and his companions made specific requests of God.
  4. We must expect God to answer.  They prayed that the Lord would grant them favour today.
  5. We must patiently persevere in our praying.  Nehemiah continued to pray and patiently look for God’s answer.
  6. We must be ready for God to answer.  God’s open door should never catch us by surprise.

ord

One Lord and One Name

“On that day there will be one LORD and His Name the only Name.”

                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 14:9b

                A number of years ago we spent time in our Wednesday Evening Bible Study looking at the book of Zechariah.  We discovered at that time that it is a wonderful and complicated book which, at times, threatened to overwhelm us.  When we took our final look at this wonderful Old Testament prophesy  we noted that the final chapter described the Day of the LORD as a sevenfold vision of elements of salvation and contrasting judgement.  We also noted how the structure of the chapter focused our attention on a central vision in verses 9b-13.  In doing so it brings us to the essential central understanding which we must have if we are to be truly saved.  This is found in verse 9b where the prophet writes, “On that day there will be one LORD and His Name the only Name.”    

                What Zechariah is seeing, and passing on to us is this, God’s purpose is to reveal Himself to us as the only redeemer.  It is only through faith in this revelation that we can ever hope to be saved.  Zechariah sings out that God is revealing Himself to this sin sick world in a way that will either lead us to salvation or to judgement.  D. A. Carson surely understands this point when he writes the following in a devotional based upon Hebrews 1.

                “Indeed, the form of expression, “by His Son,” in the original, suggests pretty strongly that the author of Hebrews does not think of the Son as one more prophet.  The idea is not that while in the past the Word of God was mediated by prophets, in these last days the word has been mediated by the Son, who thus becomes the last of the prophets.  Something more fundamental is at issue.  The Greek expression, over translated, means “In Son.”  The absence of the article “the” is significant.  Moreover, “in Son” contrasts not only with “through the prophets” but with “through the prophets at many times and in various ways.”

                The point is that in these last days God has disclosed Himself in the Son revelation.  In the past, when God used the prophets He sometimes gave them words directly (in oracles or visions), sometimes providentially led them through experiences they recorded, sometimes “spoke” through extraordinary events such as the burning bush:  there were “many times” and “various ways” (1:1).  But now, God has spoken “in Son” – we might paraphrase, “in the Son revelation.”  It is not that Jesus simply brings the word; He is Himself, so to speak, the Word of God, the climatic Word.  The idea is very similar to what one reads in the prologue of John’s Gospel.  The Son is capable of this because He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (1:3).

                Later on in the same devotional Carson concludes with this thought.  “But the author of Hebrews sees that the climax of all the Old Testament revelation, mediated through the prophets and stored in books, is not, strictly speaking, more books – but Christ Jesus Himself.  The New Testament books congregate around Jesus and bear witness to Him who is the climax of revelation.” (Carson, D. A., For the love of God vol. 1, Crossway books, Wheaton, Ill., 1998)

                Zechariah points us to the fact that the key revelation of God Himself is found in the One who comes as the Good Shepherd.  On the basis of this revelation are all of the issues involved in the judgment of this world.  The central section of this final chapter of Zechariah points us to this fact as it not only tells us that His Name is the only Name, but that the judgment which comes out of this revelation is based upon our response to it.  Either we are in Jerusalem, which will be raised up over all the surrounding territory, or we are in the Nations gathered to judgment as they experience the consequences of their unbelief.  It is all focused upon the revelation in the Son.  What a precious truth.

Holy! Holy! Holy!

                “The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; He sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.  Great is the LORD in Zion; He is exalted over all the nations.  Let them praise Your great and awesome Name – He is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:1-3

                “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:5

                “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 99:9

                Reginald Heber writes in the first verse of his wonderful hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” these penetrating and powerful words.

                “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!  God in three persons blessed Trinity!”

                In writing these words the hymn writer leads us into a world of praise to the LORD God who is described as three times holy.  There is a focus upon the doctrine of the Trinity in Heber’s hymn.  It is a focus and a doctrine which is woven into much of the praise, worship and teaching of the Scriptures.  Psalm 99 is an example of how that is worked out.  The LORD God is the focus of the invitation to worship which we find here.  He is introduced to us as three times holy.  In fact the Psalm is divided up in such a way that we meet with three refrains around which the Psalm’s teaching and invitations are woven.  In each refrain we find ourselves crying out “Holy!” 

                The message of the Psalm is that we have encountered a LORD God who is absolutely holy in every way.  So often we find ourselves attracted to the various attributes of God.  We love that God is a being of infinite power.  We especially love this attribute when we think that we can somehow bend the infinite power of God to accomplish our purposes.  That God would be on our side is a word of great comfort to us as we live in this uncertain world.

                We also find ourselves attracted to the concept of the love of God.  This is even more comforting to us if we define that love as a type of mushy commitment on God’s behalf to only act in such ways as to do good to everyone no matter how they live. 

                What we find more challenging is the teaching in the Scriptures which tells us that God is Holy.  Many years ago I encountered this description of the LORD God that He was a God of Holy Love.  His love is tempered with holiness and His holiness is tempered with love.  Here we are getting closer to the biblical portrayal of God’s character.  Holiness is defined as God being set apart from everything which is not God.  He is a being who lives in such absolute purity that He is completely and totally opposed to all sin.  For Him all sin must be judged, either in the second death or in the cross.  These are the only options available to a sinner.  To encounter the living God in His absolute holiness is to be overwhelmed with this reality.

                The Biblical writers confront us with this reality in various ways.  In Hebrews 12:28-29 we are confronted with this description. 

                “Therefore, since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

                In the third chapter of the book of Exodus Moses encounters God in the burning bush and is told to take off his sandals for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.  In Isaiah 6:3-7 the Old Testament Prophet has his encounter with God and is overwhelmed by the holiness of the LORD and of his own sinfulness.

                And they were calling out to one another:  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory. “ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  “Woe to me! “ I cried. “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.“  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for. ““

                This is the word of hope which we find in the 99th Psalm.  The Lord God is three times holy.  His sovereign holiness is revealed in His justice which brings us to His throne of grace where sin is judged and punished.  There however we meet with the offer of grace because at the throne of grace we meet with the holy God who has provided in His own dear Son the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World for all who will receive Him.  What a tremendous hope.  All you have to do is receive Him.

A Living Sacrifice

                “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

                                                                                                                                Romans 12:1-2

                The twelfth chapter of Romans begins a long section of the letter in which the Apostle Paul applies the doctrinal message which he has been exploring in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  What this tells us is that practical Christian living is always the result of correctly understanding and incorporating Biblical Christian doctrine into our lives.  The doctrine describes the fundamental way in which we come to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ.  A Christian is a person who by faith abides in Christ.  It is not a philosophy or a lifestyle, it is not even membership in a Church, it is a relationship which is characterized by a trusting commitment to the Son of God.  The Apostle Paul outlines this in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  Then he begins to apply these truths to the life we live.  He starts with a very interesting statement in the first two verses of chapter twelve.

                This is that our response to God’s mercy which has been revealed in the Gospel must be to surrender ourselves to God.  In verse one Paul uses the word “offer” or “present” here.  Back in chapter six verses 13, 16, and 19 he uses the same word which is always translated as “offer”.  The word refers to the offering of a sacrificial animal on the altar.  The animal so offered was considered to be fully and unconditionally devoted to God.  The Apostle Paul is stating here that the consequence of God’s grace revealed in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that we surrender every part of our lives unconditionally to God in Christ.  Such surrender is not partial or conditional.  It is total and complete.  John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes it in this way in regard to his own life.  He says that when he came to terms with his own unbelief which resulted in ingrownness in his life he recognised that the way out was through first of all giving himself unconditionally to God.  Then he began to courageously obey God in every area of his life.  The ability or power to do this came, he recognised, not from himself, but from God’s Spirit. 

                This is what the Apostle Paul is writing about as he applies God’s truth to our lives.  It requires courage to obey God in this.  It also requires a growing faith.  This is the test, do we truly believe that God will keep the promises that He has made to us in His Word?  When we truly do believe it then the results are life transforming.  It all begins with a living sacrifice.

For He Himself Is Our Peace

                “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 2:14-15

                Sometimes we are swept away in wonder over the power and the beauty of the Word of God.  It has a way of sweeping away the cobwebs of our cluttered lives in order to breathe in the pure wind of the Spirit.  It is useful, at times, to step back and take a wide angled view of the Word noting the huge context of the message.   In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul gives us a powerful description of the Body of Christ, the Church in all of its wonder.  God has created something new, a new creation, in which He will overrule all of the distinctions that we draw up in order to determine who we think, is acceptable to God.  In Paul’s world, the Jews rejected the Gentiles, calling them a lesser form of humanity, the Gentiles rejected the Jews calling them the enemies of all peoples.  Each one used human distinctions to reject people who were not like them.  We are guilty of this as well.  We are perfectly willing to accept others provided they change and become like us. 

                Paul tells us, in the wider view that God’s solution is to create one new people in Christ.  There is now no longer Jews or Gentiles, there is now Christians, those who are like Christ.  That is the wide angled view of what God is doing in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must take a closer view however.    John Calvin, in his Sermons on Ephesians (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1998) draws us in closer with these words.

                “Furthermore, the title that St. Paul gives to our Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that ‘he is our peace’, ought to be carefully considered,”

A.Skevington Wood in his commentary in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978) takes us further as he writes the following.

                “”He Himself” is emphatic (cf. V. 15, “in Himself”).  Christ and no other “has solved the problem of our relationships with God and man” (Barclay, p. 120).  He draws men to God and to each other in His own person.  It is not simply the message He proclaimed or even the message proclaimed about Him that effects this reconciliation.  It is Himself.  There is an echo here of Micah 5:5.  “Peace” is recognised by the Talmud as a name of God.  So Paul can announce that Christ is peace as well as life (Col. 3:4) and hope (Col. 1:27).  The “I am” sayings recorded in the fourth Gospel provided a foundation in the claims of Jesus for such assertions.”

                When we take a close look at what Paul writes here it is clear that his focus is not on the message of Christ which urges us to be at peace with others.  It is that Christ Himself is our peace.  It is only in Him that the deepest needs of our lives are met.  It is only in Him that we are reconciled to God.  Wood points us to a quotation from Micah 5:1-5 which speaks to us about the coming Messiah.

                “Marshall your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us.  They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.  But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me on who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.  Therefore Israel will be abandoned until them time when He who is labour gives birth and the rest of His brothers return to join the Israelites.  He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the Name of the Lord His God.  And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And He will be their peace.”             

Be Patient

                “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.   See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.  The Judge is standing at the door.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:7-9

                In meditating upon the final chapter of the book of James it becomes apparent that he has been working out a key principle of Christian living throughout the letter.  This is that the Christian life is one continuous pursuit of the promise and purpose of God in every area of our living.  Eugene Peterson focused his study of the Psalms of Ascent upon the premise that the Godly life is in reality “a long obedience in the same direction.”  This seems to be the focus of the letter that James wrote to a group of struggling Christians in the mid first century AD.  He begins the letter with these words,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.” (James 1:2-5)

In the fifth chapter, after describing a whole host of trials that the Christian must overcome as we live out our faith in this world which is so hostile to the purposes of God, James returns to this theme, commanding believers to be patient as we await the coming of the Lord.  God has called us to become people of faith who passionately pursue the Lord Jesus Christ, and His matchless Holiness, while awaiting His return in Glory.   It is in this patient pursuit of the Lord that we find our faith tried and matured so that it will be revealed as genuine in the Day when the Lord returns. 

In thinking of this I am reminded of those days when I was a middle distance runner.  The glorious days were those in which we ran a race.  To do well in the race however required that we be disciplined in the hidden days of training, when we ran many hard kilometers.  We struggled through those hard days, but they brought about a strength that saw us through the race that we were running.  James commands his readers to be strengthened in their hearts as they look ahead to the Lord’s return.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:14-21.  The Holy Spirit uses means however.  James calls us to walk with the Spirit in those disciplines to which the Spirit calls us so that we will be strong and mature as we face the difficulties of our lives. 

What are the disciplines that the Spirit calls us to engage in for this purpose?  They must surely begin with the following three things.

  1. A disciplined commitment to developing our lives of prayer.  God has called us to enter into the great privilege of fellowshipping with Him in Christ.  Nothing happens in our lives apart from a growing fellowship with God in prayer.
  2. The meditative application of the Word of God in our lives.  We must be engaged in more than just the reading of the Bible.  It must be transforming our lives as it is applied by the Holy Spirit. 
  3. Increasingly we must find that our lives are becoming centred upon the one goal that is worthy of life.  This is the pursuit of the Kingdom of God as it is revealed in the return of Christ.

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