More Distractions

Yesterday I was sent the same video by two friends. In the video a woman with a self confessed ignorance of the subject pointed out, in bordering on hysterical tones, that the ingredients in the Astra Seneca vaccine being developed in the UK included some that she found objectionable.

The reason for her objection to the ingredients being used is that at least one of them (MRC-5 see above table) was derived from some processes carried out many years ago which involved an innocent child that was probably murdered.

Of course, as Christians, we are well aware of the murder of another innocent person and God’s wonderful ability to redeem that murder and through it bring about the salvation of many (John 3:16 anyone?).

But that perspective is not one that can be applied here it seems. It seems that many people now have to be afraid and resist with all their fear the potential life saving consequences of the death of the innocent. As if there wasn’t any possibility of redemption when it comes to abortion or vaccines.

But let everyone be convinced in their own mind.

I’m just saying that there are different ways of looking at things.

Your viewpoint shouldn’t be used to create fear or division among us nor should mine. Unfortunately there seems to be a lot of people sowing fear and division with their strongly held positions about all sorts of things nowadays.

I was reading this passage from Hebrews (Chap. 13) this morning and I believe it has some relevance:

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating certain foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. 

For our hearts to be strengthened by grace we need to realise how little we really know about all that God saves us from on a daily basis. Some people, much better qualified than I, have spent a lot of time looking into what we ingest or put on or into our bodies. Very little, if any, of it is uncontaminated by exploitation, injustice, murder and other crimes. If our hearts aren’t strengthened by grace and mercy we have nothing. None of us are in a position in this fallen world to get every aspect of our lives right. We all depend on grace.

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 

Paul in 2 Cor. 11 nails it on the head (as you might expect).

Don’t be distracted! Leave alone the things you know nothing or little about and don’t be sowing fear and discord among people. Concentrate on hearing what God is saying to you. We have disciples to make and a kingdom to see come from heaven to earth. You are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus with a wonderful ability to do things only you can (Eph. 2:10). Don’t follow the crowd. Follow Him.

Here is something simple and true:

Thank God He loves you.

Praise God He is in you.

Worship Him so you can know what His perfect will is for you.

Do that perfect will.

Repeat 7 times a day or before you say or do anything in response to this or any other post.

The US Election

In 3 days the world will know the result of the US election. This is an election like no other in a year like no other. Many are praying that there will be a very clear outcome, one way or the other, to reduce the risk of social upheaval.

I have some people asking me about it so here is my tuppence halfpenny’s worth. I hope it helps.

Evangelical voters in the US are facing a particularly difficult choice and need our prayers. I, for one, am glad I don’t have to vote in this election.

There are 2 main components of the election facing all voters:

  • The choice between the 2 parties involved: Republicans and Democrats and the values they stand for.
  • The choice between the 2 men involved: Joe Biden and Donald Trump and their respective characters.

In the first choice the main issue seems to be around conserving or changing the US culture, perception of history and political systems. The US Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, etc.) and the ideology, culture and history that springs from it and the US Constitution are things that many Evangelicals, reasonable people, and other people of faith in the US, believe strongly in and want to preserve. Many perceive that voting for the Republicans is a vote for that culture, history and philosophy and voting for the Democrats is a vote to destroy all that. This particularly applies to issues such as abortion and race relations but also applies to revising history, concepts of family and gender and other dearly held Evangelical positions.

I have found Ben Shapiro’s writings and podcasts useful when it comes to understanding the Republican view point. The Atlantic and the Economist are good sources if you want to understand the Democrat view point.

On the other point many reasonable people, Evangelicals included, perceive that to vote Republican is to vote in Trump for another 4 years. A lot of reasonable people including Evangelicals would see in Trump’s character and behaviour everything that they would consider the antithesis of the nature of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels. Many consider Trump to be selfish and a narcissist in a similar way to other dictatorial leaders desperate to hold onto power at any cost (e.g. Putin, Kim Jung-un, Alexander Lukashenko). Joe Biden on the other hand comes across as a reasonable man who does not embody the extremes of the feared Democrat position.

So many Evangelical voters are caught between a rock and a hard place. They only have 2 choices:

  • Vote for Trump and the Republican party and usher in another 4 years of tweets, polarization, ego and damage to the Evangelical testimony in many people’s eyes or
  • Vote for Biden and the Democrat party and all it stands for including the loss of the gains in anti abortion rights, etc. that have been made under the Trump administration.

It is no wonder that John Piper recently blogged that he was not going to vote for either one (though he doesn’t recommend that to anyone).

The most likely outcome from this election will be disillusionment with the whole US electoral system.

Promises, beloved!

]Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

2 Peter 1:1-4 (NAS)

Peter is telling us that God’s divine power – which gives us everything we need to live a godly life- is mediated to us through the promises scattered throughout Scripture.

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,

“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1 (NAS)

Paul tells us of the greatest promises in Scripture: God Himself will be a Father to us. He also emphasizes that holiness is required to experience this.

Here are a couple of promises from Proverbs that have helped me this morning:

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
And he who has it will abide in satisfaction;
He will not be visited with evil.

Proverbs 19:23

The righteous man walks in his integrity;
His children are blessed after him.

Proverbs 20:7

Cleansing the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22

The Scripture is clear that, in the New Testament, the temple of God is no longer in Jerusalem but it is in the bodies of believers both individually and corporately:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

1 Cor. 6:19

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Matthew 24:1-2

Therefore it is also clear that Jesus intends the same purity for His spiritual temple, both corporately and individually, that He expressed for the earthly temple in the passage from John 2 quoted above (c.f. Mal. 3:1, Psalm 69:9). We should therefore not be surprised when we encounter various trials (James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:12) – God is cleansing His temple.

Don’t be surprised if everything is upset and in turmoil internally at times. There is a season for everything and this just might be that season for you. God might touch your hard secular work (represented by oxen), your Christian works (represented by sheep), your financial affairs (the money changers) and any other spirits that might be operating on you internally (represented by the doves).

It might have taken 46 years (more or less) to have got your internal state to the place it currently is. When Jesus comes in He could overturn it all in less than an hour and raise it up to something new in 3 days.

Enjoy!

Hollywood plots

I stayed up way too late last night binge watching a series on Disney+ called “Agent Carter”.

So here’s the plot: Our hero has to defeat a foe from another dimension which is trying to bring the whole world to hell. The script writers have determined that, no matter how unlikely the odds, our hero will win out in the end, defeat the enemy, find love and ensure that everyone around them lives happily ever after.

The fate of everyone involved in the story depends on their relationship to the hero. During the series it becomes increasingly clear to the various characters that if they side with Agent Carter they will be safe and if they oppose her (yes the hero is a woman) they will come to a sticky end. Again, this is because the script writers have written the story in this way. During the series some of the other main actors encourage one another to do what Agent Carter says.

The parallels are really obvious I guess. God is the Script Writer for all our lives and He has determined that our fates will depend on how we relate to His Hero, Jesus Christ our Saviour. The plot may take some very strange looking twists and turns and at times it may seem like our Hero has to lose. But the Script hasn’t been written that way. As long as we do what He says and live according to His principles (not our own) He will keep us safe into eternity.

We all need to understand the Script and its Author and come to know and follow the Hero.

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16, NKJV).

18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

(Romans 9:18-21, NKJV)

Different ways of seeing

In the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 He suddenly says this about Himself:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father” (John 16:16).

His disciples are confused so they repeat the statement:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’;and ‘because I go to the Father” (John 16:17)

Finally, Jesus repeats the statement again before not answering their questions about it (see Proverbs 25:2):

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me” (John 16:19)

When something is repeated 3 times in the space of 3 verses you would expect that the Holy Spirit is trying to draw our attention to something. However this is one of those places where the English translations generally miss something important: The first word translated “see” in each verse above is not the same in the original Greek as the second word translated “see”.

The first word translated “see” is the Greek word θεωρεῖτέ (thee -or- rei-te) and is often used in the sense of beholding something with your physical eyes.

The second word translated “see” is the Greek word ὄψεσθέ (ops -es-te) which is often used in the sense of perceiving something.

I am no Greek scholar and, anyway, it is not good to make a doctrine out of a single Greek word difference. But let’s look at a possible distinction in some other ways.

It is of course well known that seeing something can have different depths to it. For example, I might see my wife sitting at the table and perceive that she is very happy about something. Someone else seeing her might not perceive that about her. That person might just see her sitting at the table.

The context of the verses is also very important of course. For all the earlier part of Chapter 16 Jesus had been explaining the role of the Holy Spirit. He explained how (in verse 7) it was to the advantage of the disciples that Jesus went away. By going back to the Father He could send the Holy Spirit. He also explained (in verses 13-15) that the Holy Spirit would speak whatever He hears from Jesus.

So this is what these thrice repeated verses mean: In a little while Jesus was going back to heaven and the disciples would not see Him in the same way again. A little while later (after Pentecost) they would see Him again but this time it would not be physically but in the form of the Holy Spirit. This would require them to see differently since now they needed to perceive and hear some One spiritual. They would no longer have in front of them Jesus in the flesh.

Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 5:16b:

“Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”

Again, the context is important.

A Relevant Application

In the first half of the same verse Paul has this very relevant and important application for our lives, particularly in the context of the current upheavals since the murder of George Floyd:

“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 5:16a)

The crucial thing is that we perceive the underlying Spirit (or spirit) and character of the people we meet. We ought not to regard people according to their outward appearance including the colour of their skin (see also 1 Samuel 16:7 and Gal. 3:28).

Martin Luther King Jr. made it clear that this was his aspiration also for all people (in his “I have a dream” speech from 1963) :

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color
of their skin but by the content of their character”

I used to think that that was the whole answer to the race problem – ignore the outside and act according to the inside of someone – but I don’t think that is enough. Now I think we ought to be more aware of the fact that the outside of some people determines how they get treated and think all their lives. Now I think we need to be more proactive as a church and those who call themselves by God’s name in addressing why this is. May God give us all wisdom and much love while we work through this together.

In the end though if we are to consistently see the Bride of Christ as she really is, and all humans as they really are, we have to see them according to their spirit or character and not according to their external appearance.

Time and the Trinity

My daughter (19) had this insight to give us recently during our daily breaking of bread times. We have been doing these together as a family since the lockdown started and it has been a great blessing. There are 6 of us in the house – our family + 1. E. arrived to stay with us a couple of days before the lockdown started supposedly on her way to Greece to work as a missionary among refugees there. However, she found herself stuck with us for two months instead.

But back to the insight.

1. Future, God the Father. Our Father has planned good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10) and completely guarantees all our future once we obey.

2. Present, God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and guides us daily as we abide in Him (John 14:16-18).

3. Past, Jesus, God the Son. Jesus has paid the price for all our sins. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me at the beginning of the lockdown to break bread daily with everyone in the house. We each take turns at bringing a word and the results have been very encouraging.

Thoughts on Communion: Healing

Many of us have, at some distinct point in the past, known a time when we realised that Jesus died on the Cross for us personally. For me it was a life changing experience.

We usually associate that experience, if we have had it, with a sense of relief that comes from forgiveness of sins. We are also created in such a way that the Holy Spirit’s conviction of God’s love for us in our hearts causes us, in turn, to fall in love with Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Every time we break bread and share the cup we remember these things.

The realisation that it is of grace is very important. We didn’t do anything to deserve Jesus dying for us. In fact we were His enemies before He met with us (Romans 5:8). For it is by grace -undeserved favour – that we have been saved through faith and that faith is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

In these days of the corona virus it is good to remember another thing about the work of Jesus on the Cross: He can also freely heal our bodies by the same principles that He can forgive our sins. We don’t deserve it, of course, but healing is also freely available through the same grace which He lavishes on us (Ephesians 1:6-8). In the same way as Jesus offers forgiveness of sins to all who believe, He also offers physical healing. They go hand in hand. Here are some verses which back this up:

Isaiah 53:4-5

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Psalm 103:3

Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,

Romans 8:11

11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

One of the first miracles recorded in detail in Mark’s gospel is that of the paralytic whose sins Jesus forgave first:

Mark 2:1-12

2 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. 2 Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The trouble with saying someone’s sins are forgiven is that there is not usually any immediate obvious sign to any observer that anything has changed. In that sense, it is easy to say to anyone – who can prove that the sins are not forgiven?

However when you say to someone “Arise and walk” and they are paralysed and couldn’t normally do that, then you immediately run the risk of being put to shame. Normally, there are few things more of a deterrence to a man doing something that being put to shame in front of everyone. It is made even worse if you are also seen to be disproving the power of Jesus.

Of course Jesus has no such problem. So if we stay close to Him and hear His promptings about when to pray and when to claim someone’s healing we can be on surer ground. Jesus didn’t actually heal everyone that was sick all the time (see John 5:1-9 esp. v.3), sometimes He has better plans for them, though we struggle to believe that.

In the Letter of James we can also see the connection between believing prayer and healing:

James 5:13-18

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

In this passage we are encouraged to pray for one another in the context of confessing our sins to each other (v.16). Elders are expected to have the “prayer of faith” which will save the sick and the Lord will raise the sick person up (v. 15). Elijah was like us, James says, and he prayed effective prayers that we can too.

I hope that the above will encourage you to believe that Jesus wants you to be well during this time. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). If we stay close to the Word of God and hear those living words as from the Holy Spirit we can see ourselves and those we love healed more often.

But always remember God may have a better plan for that person. None of us know another person the way God does. We need to trust Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would like as well as when He does.

If we ask anything according to His will then He hears us and grants what we ask (1 John 5:14-15). So if our prayers are not answered the way we want it then the problem is with our will not His. We haven’t heard Him correctly or, perhaps, we don’t want to hear the answer He is giving about what He wants. Prayer should always be about hearing first and praying accordingly afterwards. Once you have heard God’s answer then you will believe since faith comes from hearing the (living – ῥήματος) word of God (Romans 10:17).

Dream – Lessons in Creativity from the Creator

God is very creative. When He puts together a group of people in a church and does things through them, the result can look very different from the constituent parts.

faithfulwon

Knock, knock, knock!  I had heard that sharp sound before in middle of the night, and it had woken me up before, on at least two occasions.  The last two times I initially thought it was someone knocking on the door downstairs but then realised it had just been a dream, turned over and went back to sleep.  But a bit like the young Samuel in the bible, this third time I realised that this was actually God trying to get my attention.

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20).

So I went to open the door and there Jesus was, all white and shining and making the inside of my head house look positively disgraceful.  I stood awkwardly at the door, saying that…

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Grace

God has done wonderful things for us as a family over the last many years. One of them was to give us the names of our children from the time of conception. Our youngest was given the names Bethany Grace Joy and Grace is the one that she uses everyday.

It is Grace’s birthday today.

Grace lives in the consciousness of the fact that she doesn’t deserve all the good things she gets. Her face lit up this morning when Ruth, her sister, showered presents on her. Thankfulness was written all over her as it often is.

When we were travelling to her school together we explored what Grace means. Grace is God’s master plan for His children. Here is how it works:

  1. Give people a whole pile of things (health, wealth, comfort, good companions and friends, a loving family, spiritual comfort and hope for the future, purpose, peace with God, an understanding that the God who created the Universe loves them enough to die for them, etc.)
  2. Make the giving of these things unconditional
  3. Use the created attributes of human beings to produce a response of joy, prayer for others and thankfulness in the recipients of all these blessings (see 1 Thess. 5:16-18).

It turns out that the mechanism that mediates this wondrous virtuous cycle to us is trust or faith. And that also is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

If you want that gift just ask. You must be born from above to receive it (John 3:8) but that also is given to us by Grace.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift!