Paul’s Spiritual Secret

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 4:13

At the close of his short letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul makes an astounding claim that comes straight out of his experience of the sanctifying work of the Lord in his life.  All through the letter Paul has been rejoicing in the triumphant way the Lord has been leading him, using every circumstance to advance the cause of the Gospel and to reveal the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.  He has taken us into the reality that he now puts no confidence in his flesh.  Neither should we trust in our flesh because it stands in the way of our receiving and growing into the righteousness of Christ.  Along the way Paul illustrates the way God has solved a huge problem in Paul’s life.  He has brought Paul to the point where he has learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance.  He has been brought to this point because God has infused into him the strength which comes from the Spirit of God.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” 

As I wrestle with what Paul writes in Philippians 4 I am brought to the point where I must ask how I can experience the growth that Paul describes here.  He is pointing to the wonderful reality of a life that is lived in trust of the Lord’s provision for him.  He is content because he has that one thing that is really needed in life, which is a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He has come to recognise that the Lord Jesus is completely sufficient for everything.  Therefore he can rest content because he is living in the will of God.

For most of us, and I am presuming for Paul as well it is not an easy process to come to such faith.  Our flesh rebels against the will of God.  We have our own self-centred, fleshly ambitions and desires which are in conflict with the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  What Paul is describing in Philippians four is the culmination of a long process of crucifying the flesh.  Such a process can be painful.  Our flesh dies hard.  It is absolutely crucial that we do indeed die to ourselves so that we can live to Christ.  How then does this take place in us?

It is with this question that I found myself wrestling recently as I was reading a little book entitled Rejoice…..Always by John Gwyn-Thomas (Banner of Truth, 1989).  In this short devotional study of the fourth chapter of Philippians Gwyn-Thomas reflects on the means by which we move into the reality of the contented life Paul describes in these verses.

“I also believe that we fail so often because we do not wrestle with God over our reactions to His will and purpose for us.  We must realize that in the school of faith God is always calling on us to grow – to apply our faith afresh.  It is not enough to say, ‘I am saved, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, and then grumble like the unregenerate.  That is not the Christian life as we see it in the Bible.  We have got to recognize that there are times in our lives when there is a fundamental clash between what I believe God ought to give me and what God actually does give me, and the two things may be very different.  There has to be a reconciliation, a real bending and breaking of my own will to accept the will of God; there has to be a conflict and the first thing we have to do is recognize that there is a conflict between our wills and the will of God.  Then we must go back to God about this conflict and say to Him, as Job said to Him, ‘I do not understand You.’  What is more, we have to deal with God concerning this conflict.  We must seek for a change of heart, we must seek strength from the Word of God and we must pray about it.  Unless we are seriously concerned about the conflict between our will and God’s will for us, I do not believe that we will ever enter into that peace that Paul knew when he said, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens [or empowers] me.’” (Pages 111-112)

                All we can say to such wisdom is Amen!

On Account Of Who He Is

“‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription upon it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  In that day each of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:8-10

                In taking a closer look at the third chapter of the Old Testament book of the Prophet Zechariah further treasure is revealed to us.  This chapter, which is right in the middle of the series of night visions that were given to Zechariah, gives us the central, redemptive message of redemption which was revealed to this post-exilic prophet.  Through His Messiah, who is pointed to by the High Priest, God is going to remove the sin of His people in one day.  Looking ahead we know that this prophetic word was fulfilled in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At Calvary, in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ, God dealt with, and removed all of our sin.  Romans 5:8 the Apostle Paul tells us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  What great love God has given to us.  We are simply called to receive it.  It has been given to us in Christ simply based upon the unconditional love of God.

God’s great act of love given to us in Christ is astounding in its impact upon our lives.  It meets us in our brokenness, while we are rejecting Him, and offers us reconciliation, even though we do not deserve it.  No wonder the Lord immediately begins to speak through Zechariah about the celebration which breaks out when such sacrificial love is given and received.  The picture points back to the celebration that took place at the end of the Day of Atonement, when all of the events of the day were winding down people would invite others to join in a great celebration which broke out in response to God’s grace.

Perhaps the best picture of this celebration that we have is the reception we join in after a wedding ceremony.  A marriage Biblically is a picture of the relation between Christ and the Church.  Biblical marriage is an unconditional covenant relationship designed to point us to the love and commitment between Christ and His bride, the Church.  We, the church, are recipients of His love, not because of our worthiness, but simply because of His character as a gracious God.  He loves us based upon who He is.  This is powerfully illustrated for us in a story relayed by the New Tribes Mission on their Facebook page.

“The verbs for a particular African language consistently end in one of three vowels,” Dennis Farthing writes from the NTM Missionary Training Center. He shares a translation story that a missionary recently shared with him.

“Almost every verb ends in i, a, and u. But the word for ‘love’ was only found with i and a. Why no u?” this missionary wondered.

Dennis says the Bible translation team included the most influential leaders in the local community.

In an effort to truly understand the concept of “love” in this African language, the missionary began to question them.

“Could you dvi your wife?”

“Yes,” they answered, “that would mean that the wife had been loved, but the love was gone.”

“Could you dva your wife?”

“Yes,” they responded, “that kind of love depends on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.”

“Could you dvu your wife?”

Everyone in the room laughed.

“Of course not!” they replied. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water and never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would have to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say dvu. It just doesn’t exist.”

The missionary sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God dvu people?”

Dennis writes that there was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of the elderly men of the tribe.

Finally they responded, “Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, while all that time we rejected His great love. He would be compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

The missionary noted that changing one simple vowel changed the meaning from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you, based on who I am. I love you because of me and not because of you.”

“God encoded the story of His unconditional love right into this African language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable.”

            Such is the astounding nature of the love that God has given us in Christ.  No wonder we celebrate.

A Book Of Prayer

A BOOK OF PRAYER

                “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge.  I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 57:1

                “Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1945, suggested in a seminal work called Psalms: The Prayer book of the Bible that the way to read the Psalter is by understanding that these Psalms are not, in the first place, our Psalms.  They are first and foremost the Psalms of David, and then the Psalms of Jesus.  While Bonhoeffer’s exegetical ( and theological) work in his tiny volume is minimal, his suggestion offers a fruitful biblical-theological way of resolving this most basic problem of how to read the Psalms, which has dogged the study of the Psalms for at least two hundred years.  It is obvious that whatever the nature of the connection between David and the Psalms, King David casts a long shadow over the collection.  The fact that thirty-seven out of the first forty –one Psalms are marked ‘Of David’ makes that clear.”  (Gary Miller, Calling On the Name of the Lord (New Studies in Biblical Theology)

                With a focus upon the nature of the Book of Psalms as a book of prayer for God’s people, centred upon David as the type of the Messiah Bonhoeffer draws us into a reflection on the promise of God to redeem us Himself through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.  Such a central point must be approached with true Biblical humility.  As I approach it in this way I find myself becoming open to learning some exceedingly precious truths.  These are truths about God’s purposes in this world, about the advent of His Son, about my exceeding sinfulness, about God’s great love for us, and about the tremendous promises He has made to us.

In the discovery of these tremendous facts we are brought to see clearly the real nature of prayer.  Prayer is not just the bringing of my wish list to God for Him to take care of for me.  It is calling on God to meet the need which is at the heart of real life.  Jesus says, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and all these needs will be taken care of as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

                The question is, have I truly understood and committed myself to the purposes of God in this world?  Am I only paying lip service to these things?  This is absolutely crucial for me.  These questions are at the heart of what it means to be a person who really prays.

I believe that this is something which the whole Bible and the Book of Psalms in particular, are meaning to teach me.  This is the crucial study which we are called to engage in.  Psalm 57:1 speaks about taking refuge in the Lord until the disaster is past.  Living in this world with its violent history will cause us to focus upon our current disaster.  How are we to respond?

The Psalmist cries out in just such a time as this that we are to take refuge in the Lord and in Him alone.  Submission to Him and to His covenant purpose is at the heart of all true praying. We must come to Him in the way He has provided.  This is through the cross of Christ.  This is the place where we find all of God’s promises to us fulfilled.  The place of atonement is the only ground on which prayer is heard and answered.

Prayer and the Kingdom of God

“When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God and to them were given seven trumpets.  Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.  The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.  Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

                                                                                                                                                                Revelation 8:1-5

                As the visions in the book of Revelation unfold we are introduced to a profound mystery.  What John “sees” repeatedly calls him to prayer.  What the Sovereign God does seems to come about in response to the prayers of the saints.  In fact it seems as if nothing happens without the praying of God’s people.   George Beasley Murray writes in his commentary entitled The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Mich., Eerdmans, 1981, page 151).

“The significance of this picture can hardly be overestimated.  No one was more aware than John of the limitations to what individual men and women can do to change the course of history and to bring in the kingdom of heaven, particularly in the face of the cosmic forces against them and the transcendent character of the kingdom itself (none of us can raise the dead).  But we can pray to Him who has almighty power, and it would seem that God has willed that the prayer of His people should be part of the process by which the kingdom comes.  The interaction between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of the saints is part of the ultimate mystery of existence.  Faith is called on to take both seriously.”

                We face the mystery of life as weak and broken people.  We are sinners, desperately needing redemption in Christ.  This weakness, when acknowledged, opens us up to become recipients of the power of God which was at work in the cross and resurrection of Christ.  This power is not our own, it is God’s power at work in us through Christ crucified.  It must be asked for in faith.  Beasley Murray calls us to recognise our weakness, and then to come to God in humble prayer asking for God’s power to be at work in us.

Jacques Ellul puts it even more strongly in his Prayer and the Modern Man (New York: Seabury Press, 1970, page 167).

“The Christian who prays acts more effectively and more decisively on society than the person who is politically involved, with all of the sincerity of faith put into the involvement.  It is not a matter of seeing them in opposition to one another, but of inverting our instinctive, cultural hierarchy of values.”

                Each of these scholars are in their own way calling the Church to sincere, committed, prayer as the means by which society will be transformed.  Our belief must be that prayer is one of our primary tools that we use in the advancement of God’s kingdom.  It not something that we tack on to the end of our meetings, and our days, after all the important work is done.  It is our calling.  The Apostles in Acts 6:4 declare that they will give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  The mystery contained in the whole of Scripture is that God has willed this.  How often, in His Word, do we see God acting in response to His people crying out to Him?

If we want to see our friends and neighbours come to Christ, our Church growing deep in the Word of God, our cities, nations, and world transformed by God’s grace then we must pray.  We must ask for God to create in us a desire for prayer.  We must also ask that He teach us how to really pray.  We have much to learn here.  James confronts us on our prayerlessness when he writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasure.” (James 4:2b-3)  Here there is a call to prayer as well as a promise of sanctification that will take place as we pray.

John introduces us to the mystery.  God’s kingdom unfolds on the knees of His people.  Make no mistake, He is firmly, and sovereignly in control of all things.  He has willed that we prayerfully advance His work.  I know that for me this is a call that must be seriously embraced.  How about for you?

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.

A Thought On Discipleship

“While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, He asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”  David himself calls Him ‘Lord’. How then can He be his son?””

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:35-37a

                As Mark continues to describe the means that the Lord Jesus Christ used to bring His disciples to faith he takes us further into the teaching of our Lord.  Mark has just presented us with a teacher of the law who is presented as a man who is “not far from the kingdom of God”.  Mark immediately goes on to this question asked of the crowds, and perhaps of the deeply convicted teacher.  It is a question raised by the teaching of the 110th Psalm.  In this Psalm, which was understood to be about the coming Messiah a confusing piece of teaching is given.  David is writing this Psalm about one of his descendants who was believed to be the Christ, the Hebrew Messiah.  As a descendant of David this person is assumed to be inferior to David, but David addresses him as his Lord.  How can this be?  That David was speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore was writing Scripture was understood by all present in the Temple.  What was not understood was how the Messiah could be both David’s descendant and his superior at the same time.  It is this question which Jesus asks the crowd.  The approach that Jesus takes here is to ask a question which will force those who sincerely want an answer to engage in an intense, Spirit directed study of God’s Word in order to discern God’s answer.  James 1:5 tells us “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.”  This is the expectation that the Lord Jesus Christ has for everyone who truly wants to enter into the Kingdom of God.

This text tells us several things about the process by which we become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1)      What is required is that we come to real faith in Christ as He is revealed to us in the Scriptures.  The Lord convicted His hearers on this point.  He asked them questions designed to force them to wrestle with what the Scriptures really taught.  How often do find ourselves failing to take the teaching of Scripture seriously?

2)      He put His disciples in positions where their failure to live up to God’s standards would be exposed.  He does the same to us.  So often we fail to see the reality of our hardness of heart.  Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom of God.”  He writes “all” not “some”.  The way into God’s Kingdom is always through real humility.

3)      The Discipleship process for Jesus’ followers was an intense and lengthy one.  There was some much unbelief and hardness of heart to deal with.  Can we expect that it will not be as difficult for us?   If we are to bear fruit for Him then we must expect trials.

4)      He was with them through the whole process.  Not even the atoning death on the cross could remove Him.  On the third day He arose.

5)      At the heart of the process that Mark describes here is the cross.  Jesus sets His face to obey His Father by going to the cross.  The teaching of the Gospels is that we to must travel the way of the Cross if we are to be Disciples of Christ.

Biblical Discernment

                “He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does.  And when the south wind blows you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is.  Hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky.  How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?””

                                                                                                                                                                Luke 12:54-56

On the back jacket of Knowing The Times by D.M. Lloyd-Jones we read the following important words.  “Every Christian has to be able to apply biblical principles to the age in which they are living.”  The calling to biblical discernment is absolutely vital to living the Christian life in this twenty first century.  Much of the present weakness in the mission of the Church in this world today is owing to the fact that we are, to use the words of a friend spoken many years ago, Biblically Illiterate.  We have difficulty, even as Christians understanding clearly what the Bible teaches.

We are living in a particular time in history.  We are in what Peter calls the last days as 2 Peter 3:2 tells usThis is a time, stretching between the two advents of the LORD Jesus Christ, in which the Gospel is being proclaimed and is advancing.  With it comes conviction of sin, judgment, a call to real repentance, and the announcement of cleansing from sin to all who receive the One at its centre, the Son of God who gave His precious life as our sacrifice of atonement.  Such blessing cannot be earned, or demanded.  It can only be received by faith.  This is trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross for us.  As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:23-25a, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood – to be received by faith.”

                In the text at the head of this post there is a particular concept of time, which is used to describe the times in which we are living.  It does not refer to time as passing, one minute after another, but as the significant time.  It is that time in which God is acting in history.  For Jesus He meant His time.  Did His hearers understand that the One who was speaking to them was the Son of the Living God who had come to bring them salvation from sin?  Do we understand what is being offered to us in the Gospel?

                When we look at Luke 12 we see that there is a shift in focus.  Jesus has been speaking to His disciples outlining the life of discipleship which they are to live as His followers.  He then shifts focus to the crowd who have been listening in.  Jesus reveals that His primary purpose, as well as the primary purpose of all His followers is evangelistic.  There is a world which we are called to proclaim the Gospel to.

There are significant times in history.  There are times of warning, of judgment, of repentance, of grace, and of revival which come upon us.  There are times when God’s Gospel work is to be consolidated and there are times when it advances boldly.   This applies not only to the big movements of history but also to our own personal lives.  We hear the Gospel clearly and know that we are being called to make a decision to believe in the LORD Jesus Christ.

What this means for us is that we are called to search the scriptures seeking to understand God’s invitation to us personally to believe the Gospel.  This is vital!  Have we committed ourselves each day to prayerful meditation and reflection upon God’s Word?  Do we wrestle with the Word of God that we might unearth its treasure?  Do we apply it personally to our lives, our Church, our city and our Nation?

God is calling His people to repentance and to believing the Gospel.  Have we heard Him, and do we believe 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.

Holiness, Mission and the Cross

“Awake, O Sword, against My Shepherd, against the man who is close to Me!” declares the LORD Almighty.  “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn My hand against the little ones.  In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one third will be left in it.  This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on My Name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 13:7-9

                It never ceases to amaze me whenever I explore the depth of the message of the prophetic Scriptures that they bring out in great detail the missionary purposes of the LORD God Almighty.  Mark J. Boda, in his commentary on Haggai and Zechariah, writes in reference to Zechariah 14 words which provide direction to our reflections on the end of the thirteenth chapter as well.

Zechariah 14 speaks to the Church today, first as a revelation of God’s work inaugurated in and through Christ.  In that way it has enduring relevance to us today as we celebrate this work, but also as we take to heart the way this passage shaped this community’s vision of God’s design for them in this world (a holy community for the nations) and the way it ministered to the community of God in its time (offering hope as well as warning). (Boda, Mark J. The NIV Application Commentary, Haggai and Zechariah, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2004, p. 533)

                Boda goes on to explore two key related concepts which come out of this prophesy.  These are holiness and mission.  To be redeemed in Christ is to be set on a pathway to sanctification.  Such a life of increasing Christ likeness cannot be lived apart from a vision for mission in this sin ruined world.  Holiness and mission are so closely linked that we cannot really have the one without the other.  This reality is one which every Christian tradition affirms.  The abiding fruit of our salvation seems to be an increasing burden for, and involvement in mission.  One example of this is C. H. Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle with its Sunday Schools, Orphanages, and numerous other organizations for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ.

This is something to be more fully explored in a study the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah.  Today we need to reflect a little more carefully on the message of 13:7-9.  In the past we have looked at this passage reflecting upon the command of God to strike down His Shepherd.  We noted that this event which will be of redemptive importance is not an accident or a tragedy it is in fact the decree of God meaning that it is God’s method of bringing his grace to a lost world.  Salvation is in fact God’s doing.  It enters into this world in personal terms, through God’s only begotten Son.  It brings about a confrontation in which our sin is exposed and judged in the Cross.  It takes the cross to bring about the purpose of God for us.

Zechariah also tells us here that God’s missionary purpose advances through to crisis created by the cross.  John Miller writes,

“Through the years I have learned to dislike Church conflicts and personality clashes with intensity, but I have slowly learned that the Kingdom of Christ can only grow through conflicts.”(Miller, C. John, outgrowing the Ingrown Church, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999, p. 114)

Earlier in his book Miller paraphrased Johannes Blauw in a moving passage dealing with the impact of this Gospel in our experience.

“Blauw notes that the purpose of this revelation of the divine glory is to confront the world’s darkness with the gospel.  I would add that this is a head-on confrontation between the world and the deeds (“the praises”) of God.  They are produced by the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel to the lives of sinners.  The divine glory is the difference between the former deeds of these who were once deeply stained sinners “living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry” and their deeds now that they have become the holy people of God.  This glory shines into the world’s darkness as a confronting power, and more of the world’s unwashed are saved as their consciences are stirred by seeing the renewed lives of God’s people.” (Miller, p. 46)

                Zechariah tells us that the cross will lead either to judgement on those who refuse to repent or a crisis leading to faith in God’s Redeemer causing God’s people to repent and to renew the covenant relationship with God that they have been called to.  This is the wonderful news that the gospel proclaims to us today.  How have you responded to it?

Blessed Is The Nation

                “Blessed is the Nation whose God is the LORD, the people He chose for His inheritance.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 33:12

                In examining this text, which was the focus of our meditation at First Baptist Church Brampton this past Sunday morning I find myself confronted with some key thoughts regarding the needs of my nation.  From a personal point of view when I meditate upon the needs of my nation, Canada, I am confronted with one key issue.  That is that what Canada needs is real Godliness.  This is not a call to an adherence to a superficial morality, and especially not to its imposition upon our lives.  We have had enough, in the past, of that type of self-righteousness which mars the testimony of Christ.  What is needed is the reality of the new birth.  What the Wesley’s and George Whitefield discovered in the 18th Century is what is needed now.  Their discovery led to the Great Awakening of the 18th Century.  The new birth, or regeneration, of the people of our nation is crucial.  How is this to be accomplished?

Robert Murray McCheyne once responded to a question regarding the greatest need of his Church with the following answer.  The greatest need of his Church was a Godly pastor.  We could say that the greatest need of Canada right now is our own personal Godliness.  In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we read,

“If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My

Face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

                There are several key things here.

1)      We must truly be God’s people.  We must be born again, gospel people.  Nothing is more important than this.  Reform, renewal, revival is impossible without laying this solid foundation in the LORD Jesus Christ.  The Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:23 “And this is His command: to believe in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.”  The question we must answer first, and Biblically, is “Are you Born Again?”

2)      We must humble ourselves.  Psalm 33 focuses upon the Nation whose God is the LORD.  This does not mean that we possess the LORD, but that we are His possession.  We belong to Him.  The message of the 33rd Psalm is that God speaks and we hear Him in humble obedience to His Word.  In the past God spoke to our ancestors through prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2a) Humility hears and obeys Him.  The truly humble person’s life is conformed to God’s Word.

3)      We must become a people who intercede for the need of our land.  In doing this we find that our praying is seeking for a genuine knowledge of the LORD Jesus Christ.  We must come to know the holiness of God, revealed in Christ, as well and His compassionate love.

4)      We must personally and corporately turn from all known sin.  This is not self-righteousness; it is a personal encounter with the holy and gracious God in Christ, and abiding in Him.  It is living according to His Word, and loving one another in Christ.  What comes from this?  God promises to hear from heaven, to forgive our sin, and to heal our land.

Isn’t this what we need?