Sovereignty and Free will

I was very disturbed yesterday, very disturbed indeed. I visited a website of a well known ministry, whose teaching has been in circulation in our congregation, only to find that one of the basic foundations for his doctrine is a denial of the total sovereignty of God.

"The widely accepted doctrine that God controls everything is a deception. If Satan can confuse and deceive you on that issue, he’s got you!"

Yikes! This is such a serious error! If God is not sovereign, then he is not God. If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. This is the most ancient of all heresies: Dualism. The belief that God does not have total control, but that Satan or some other power has a competing portion of the total sovereignty of the Universe. This view is the one caricatured by the image of God and the Devil playing chess for the souls of men -- it's only because God is so much smarter that he is going to win.

The root of this problem is also age old. It's the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. In human logic it must be one or the other. If God is sovereign then human free will is just an illusion. If men truly have free will, then God is not in total control. The argument gets even more complicated when you throw in the problem of evil. If God is totally sovereign does this mean he is responsible for all the evil in the world? If God is not sovereign over evil does this mean we have a weak or complicit God who is unable to exert his will over Satan?

The argument has been played out down through the centuries of Church history. Between St. Augustine and Pelagius; Calvin and Arminius. It's a sad comment on our ignorance of church history that the same old debate is coming around again -- if we do not learn from our history we are destined to repeat it.

The Bible teaches both God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. If we ignore one or the other we wander into error, and even blatant heresy. If we ignore the free will of man, then the inevitable result is fatalism and passivity. Why evangelise, if the elect will get saved anyway, and the damned never will? Why pray if God is going to do what he has predestined to do whether we pray or not? But even more serious are the errors we fall into if we deny the sovereignty of God: Satan becomes a little-god, and God becomes no god at all. If you worship a God who is not totally sovereign, then you do not worship the Sovereign Lord of the scriptures -- you are an idolater! Sorry to put it in such stark terms, but these things need to be said. Peter puts it in even stronger terms:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)

So how can God be sovereign, and man's responsibility not be diminished? Well it is a mystery. God wouldn't be God if you could totally understand him would he? But there are some analogies in nature. How can an electron be both a wave and a particle? How is it that when you pop a balloon, each molecule of air continues to do its own thing in total ignorance to the state of the balloon, and yet the air always flows out. How can it be that the individual radioactive decay of an atom is one of the securest forms of pure random data in the world, and yet radioactive half-lives can be calculated with accuracy down to fractions of a second? Did you know that your right eye and your left eye see two conflicting two-dimensional views of the universe? Yet we would have no concept of the world's true three-dimensional nature if they saw exactly the same thing.

But ultimately our best recourse is to the scriptures themselves. If you are struggling to understand the true meaning of God's sovereignty, let me prescribe a good dose of Romans chapter 9.

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, `Why did you make me like this?' " (Romans 9:18-20)


Lost in translation?

I'm still loving my new ESV Bible. I spotted something while I was reading Isaiah that I had never seen before; because the NIV translates the verse slightly differently.

Here's Isaiah 11:8 in the NIV

The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

And here it is in the ESV:

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.

[bold face my addition]

Spot the difference? It's subtle, but it makes a big difference. If you are only reading the verse for the immediate meaning, there is little or no difference between the two, and the NIV is making the immediate meaning more accessible... but... in the context of the rest of Isaiah that has come before, particularly chapter 7, "the weaned child" is very significant. It relates to the sign of Immanuel!

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (Isa 8:14-16)

The virgin being with child and giving birth to a son named Immanuel is of course a prophecy that not only had immediate significance, but pointed forwards to Christ. The child was to be weaned on curds and honey (also significant -- think milk and honey -- promised blessings) when it knew good and evil, and before this time there would be deliverance from the enemies that threatened. The weaned child thus represents the fulfilment of the sign of Immanuel.

The wording could thus make the difference from a nice verse about peace and security, to being a messianic prophecy about Christ subduing the power of the serpent.

So is this verse a messianic prophecy? I'm not a Hebrew scholar, so I can't make a definitive comment -- but the wording of the ESV certainly makes it a strong possibility; a possibility that you totally overlook in the NIV. I don't want to decry the NIV, I love that version too, and have read it for years, but it does illustrate the importance for serious Bible Study of getting a version that's as close to the original wording as possible. Often words are laden with significance and chosen deliberately to convey more than just one layer of meaning.


In Christ Alone!

One of the Songs at the wedding was "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend. What a fantastic worship song it is. For a start: what a great title! It's rare to find a modern chorus with a depth of theology to match the old hymns, but if there are any contenders around today -- this must be one of them. I love it.

As we sang it, I was struck in particular by the last verse...

No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till he returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!


Congratulations, Dan & Rosy!

I went to a great wedding yesterday. Dan and Rosy got married in Manchester. Due to the terrible traffic on the M6 we only just made it in time for the start of the ceremony.

The service was led by Richard Anniss, my room-mate from Bible College, now the Lead Elder of a church of hundreds in the heart of Manchester. He did a fantastic job. The service focussed not just on Rosy and Dan, but on Christ. It was a real testimony not just for their love for each other, but their love for him.

It was also good to see Andrew and Trenna there, also old classmates from that vintage year of '97! It's always a pleasure to meet with brothers in Christ -- no matter how long you have been apart, that common bond forged in Christ never fades.


More caption fun

Enough of the deep and meaningful... time for some Friday fun. Post your wittiest captions for this photo.


The beginning of wisdom

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Ps 111:10)

I'm going to bring my discussion of the fear of the Lord, and fearing no evil to a close now. I hope you've found it helpful. There is more I could say, but I feel I've said enough. I may pick up the subject again at a later date if it is appropriate.

However the scriptures say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is just the beginning, not the end. So to conclude and summarise, here is a checklist:

  • Who do we fear more: God or Satan?

  • Who do we believe is in the driving seat? On the judgement seat?

  • How awesome is our God? Do we let God be God, or do we shift the bits we don't like (e.g. the curse on creation, the discipline of believers) onto Satan?

  • Does the fear of God make us feel safe? Do we believe Romans 8: If God is for us, who can be against us?

  • Do we have peace that our lives are in God's hands, or do we worry about Satan's attacks?

  • Do we give God the respect he deserves or have we become sloppy in our attitude towards him?

  • How do we see Christ? As the Lord slain, or the Lord high and lifted up?

  • How do we see Satan? On a rung of the ladder just below God, or defeated and under his feet?

Finally, I'll finish with an anecdotal story about the reformer Martin Luther. It is said that one night he woke from a bad dream, and hearing a sound, lit a candle. There at the foot of his bed, was none other than the devil himself, grinning menacingly over him. "Oh!" said Luther, "It's only you!" and blowing out the candle he turned over and went back to sleep.

Sleep easy. Our God is in control: fear him, and fear no evil.


The Cross: Christ's victory, Satan's defeat.

The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. (Nu 21:7-9)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (Jn 3:14-15)

There is so much that could be said about the cross, and this may not seem like the most obvious place to start, but bear with me, it's very significant.

Jesus tells us clearly in John's gospel that the bronze snake that Moses lifted up in the wilderness was a prefiguring of his own atoning death on the cross. Just as all who were dying from the snake bites could look to the snake and live, so too all who are dying in sin can look to the Son, put their faith in him and live.

So far so good, nothing new here. But as I was thinking about this again, a question occurred to me: why a snake? If this action was intended to prefigure Christ you would have expected a different and more appropriate symbol. If Moses had lifted up bread and wine, you would have caught the symbolism immediately. If he had been told to shed the blood of a lamb and lift that up, again the symbolism would have been unmistakable. But he didn't; he lifted up a snake... hold on Moses... what blasphemy is this?.... where we expect to see a symbol of the Christ we see instead.... THE SERPENT!

Now I know there is other significance here. The people were bitten by snakes and it was a snake that was lifted up. Jesus took the punishment that we deserved. The serpent is cursed, and Jesus became cursed on the cross, taking the curse from us so that we could be blessed... but I think there is more to it than that... The imagery of the serpent in a foreshadowing of the cross is too significant to be incidental.

You see it says in scripture that it was for the joy set before him that Jesus endured the cross. Jesus in his mind, although he set his face like flint to the cross, was always looking beyond it -- not to his death, but to all his death would accomplish. The thought of the death part itself was not something that Jesus liked to think about, you only have to read the account to Gethsemane to see that. It was what lay beyond the cross, that filled his heart with joy.

It makes you think - why do we like to fixate so much attention on the very part that Jesus himself liked to think about the least. The cross itself was a wonderful moment of victory, but it was not until the resurrection that this victory was declared. The cross without the resurrection would have been no victory at all. Thus it is not the dead Jesus hung on the cross that is the true symbol of the Christian faith, but the empty tomb; even better is the ascended Christ in glory and the outpouring of the Spirit. Thus the true mark of a Christian is not the cross around their neck, but the infilling of the Spirit in their life.

This makes me think that God, very deliberately, did not chose to use an image for his Son when he told Moses to lift up the pole in the wilderness, and instead chose an image of the enemy. You see, Jesus did not stay on the cross, but all the power of the enemy did! At the cross, Satan scored the greatest own goal ever. It says in 1 Corinthains, that if he had understood the cross, and what would have happened, he would never have done it. When Jesus hung limp and lifeless, he thought he had won -- when in reality he had just lost. The prophesy in Genesis had been fulfilled. He had struck his heel, but Jesus had crushed the serpent's head.

I like to think that when Moses attached the serpent to the post, one of the nails when through its head. A prefiguring of how the serpent would have his head crushed at the cross.

So when you consider the cross, don't see a lifeless Jesus hung there. Our Lord is alive, he has won, he has defeated death and is seated at the right hand of God in glory. See the serpent with his head crushed. Your Lord is victorious. Your enemy has been defeated.



But God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed." (Nu 22:12)

Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest. (Pr 26:2)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Eph 1:3)

One thing I find totally baffling is Christians who think that they are under a curse! How can that be? Who can curse those whom the Lord has blessed? If God has blessed us, who has more authority than God to over-rule this and say we are cursed? It's an utter nonsense!

This attitude shows again the errors people fall into when they fear the devil more than they fear God. Consider this: whose curse is the world under at the present time? Is it the devil's or is it God's? Satan does not have the power to curse -- he himself is accursed of God. All he can do is to try to take as many down with him as he goes. In some Christians' theology you wonder just who they think is sat on the judgement seat.

God pronounced the curse as a righteous judgement on sin, as a consequence of Adam's rebellion. But the blessings that come through Christ's obedience far outweigh the curse that came through Adam's sin. Who is greater: Christ or Adam? It's not difficult.

[This is why I have a problem with the doctrine of "Limited Atonement" -- there's an oxymoron if ever there was one! -- It elevates Adam's sin above Christ's redemption. In Adam all die, but in Christ only a few can be made alive? -- I don't think so!!]

So no more talk of curses, or paranoid obsessions about demonic activity, please!
God is good. You are blessed. Satan is defeated. Simple!


A picture worth 1000 words

I saw this picture on Roger's blog today, and loved it! It would make a great caption competition, but that's not why it caught my eye. I thought it illustrated excellently the apparent contradiction with a right fear of the Lord: how it also make us feel safe.

The little fish fears the big fish because it rightly recognises that it wouldn't stand a chance against it, but the very thing that makes the big fish so fearful, is the basis for the little fish's confidence in its safety. Inside the big fish's mouth it has nothing to fear except the big fish itself. It's the same when we are in the hands of the Lord... or should that be mouth?

(Does God carry us around in his mouth? It's not the usual anthropomorphic metaphor, but it is not without scriptural basis: read Revelation 3:16.)

Seen in a new light

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light... While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. (Mt 17:2,5-6)

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead... (Rev 1:12-17a)

Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down... (Eze 1:26-28a)

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. (Da 10:5-8)

One key to the fear of the Lord is our vision of Christ. How do we perceive him? As the baby in a manger? As the good teacher who was humble and full of grace? As an emaciated figure hung on the cross? Or as the Lord of glory -- majestic, awesome, holy, with all authority and sovereign power? A.W. Tozer wrote "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

If we could catch but a glimpse of his glory, we would not have any problem with the fear of the Lord -- it would come naturally: we could have no other response. The disciples thought they knew Jesus well, they had eat with him, travelled with him, heard him teach, seen him perform miracles; they had shared his private moments. Yet they were still taken aback and fell down in awe and reverent worship when they saw him in his glory on the mount of transfiguration. Equally for us, it doesn't matter how long we have been walking with the Lord; we need to press in to see more of him and his glory.

You cannot see Jesus and walk away unchanged!

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see you, I want to see you
To see you high and lifted up
Shining in the light of your glory

-- Open the Eyes of My Heart, Paul Baloche


Mostly Harmless?

An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. (Ps 36:1)

One of the easiest ways to see the need for a right fear of the Lord is to examine what happens when it is not present. Where there is no fear of the Lord, there is no moral restraint on behavior. Abraham feared for his life in Abimelech's kingdom, because he believed there was "no fear of God in this place."

Whilst it is unthinkable that the Church would ever abandon the fear of the Lord to this degree; it nevertheless can become eroded. On a subconscious level Christians can adopt an attitude that reveals they have lost some of the right fear of the Lord. Would I turn up late to a meeting, if I really believed God, the awesome maker of the Universe was present in the gathering? Would I not bother to turn up, because I didn't feel like it, or had other things to do?

We can become over familiar with this wonderous grace in which we stand before God. When this happens, in creeps the attitude that treats God like one of our buddies: "You don't mind, do you? -- didn't think so." God does mind! He is not one of our buddies. He is a jealous God, who demands and deserves our undivided loyalty and love. Is it right that we give our boss or our elders more respect than we give to God himself?!

Those who have subconsciously adopted this "Mostly Harmless" attitude towards God, or consider that the awesome and fearful God of the Old Testament somehow had a personality transplant with the advent of the New Covenant [Marcionite heresy] should consider again the story of Anianias and Sopphira (Acts 5).

A right fear of God may make us feel safe - but it should also constantly remind us that God himself is anything but "safe!"

“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie,” said Mrs. Beaver. “And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then isn’t he safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!”

-- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; CS Lewis


In Safe Hands

Here is a little meditation on the hands of the Lord, to serve as an introduction to the subject of the fear of the Lord. It should illustrate what Roger shared in a comment yesterday - that the fear of the Lord actually makes us feel wonderously safe.

How can this be? Well, we fear the hands of the Lord because they are the hands that created the Universe. Compared to them we recognise how fragile and small our lives are. We understand the awesome power of the Lord, and that should he wish, he could remove our life in an instant!

Yet, look closer into those hands and you see something even more wonderous. Those same hands still bear the marks received on the cross; the nail-scars that forever proclaim to all the Universe how much we are loved, and the lengths he would go to save us.

Having our life in the hands of the Lord is the most fearful, yet the most wonderously safe place to be!

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:31)

It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshalled their starry hosts. (Isa 45:12)

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
-- Arise, My Soul, Arise; Charles Wesley; 1742.

I lay my life, in nail-scarred hands that paid the price for me,
opened up the way for me to be
here in your love.
-- Shepherd of My Soul, Matthew Ling.

Where in the world?

Just discovered that Sitemeter (who give me free stats on this blog) are providing a new free service: you can see, on a map of the world, where your last 100 visitors came from. How cool is that!?


Fear no evil

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Ps 23:4)

One of the consequences of the attempt to transfer all the works of God we dislike over to the devil, is we end up with a Devil we fear and a God we don't! This is totally contrary to the teaching of scripture. We are commanded and exhorted to fear God, and equally we are instructed not to fear the devil or his power. The fear of the Lord is an important topic that deserves a post in its own right; for now let us examine why we should fear no evil.

Bluff, bluster and deception are the enemy's tools; fear is his ally. He would have us believe that he is more powerful than he really is. He desires to have us running scared from what he threatens he could bring down upon our lives. Many Christians have swallowed the lie, and are constantly watching their back, believing every sniffle of a cold, or every unexpected bill is an onslaught from Satan himself.

God wants us to see him as he really is. Yes, he is an enemy, but he is a defeated foe. Even before his defeat at Calvary, he still could do no more than God allowed him to do. Satan could not afflict Job with anything more than God permitted him; the demons had to ask Jesus' permission before they could even enter a herd of pigs! There is no power struggle here. God is almighty; Satan is just one fallen created being.

There is a great irony in all the Devil's works: ultimately they serve the purpose of the one he so bitterly opposes. This is a great mystery; one that has puzzled philosophers and theologians alike for centuries, but whatever the explanations for the origin or the persistence of evil in the world, the result is clear: God works all things together for good. Even the greatest evil - the betrayal and execution of the Author of Life, by the cruelest means imaginable, God turned into the most wonderful means of life. God turned the enemy's weapon on his own head. Time and time again we see this in scripture: Haaman was hung on his own gallows, David used the sword of Goliath in his battles against the Philistines, Daniel's accusers were hurled into the lion's den, and so on. Even when God does allow us to face the wrath of the enemy, we should not fear: he is on a leash, and ultimately that which is intended to harm us will bring us into greater blessing, and recoil on his own head.

"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Lk 12:4-7)


Why does the best medicine taste bitter?

Hello again. I have been away in Scotland these past days, visiting my family; hence the absence from Blogging.

I have been reading the works of St. John Crysostom today. I am convinced of the value of learning from our fathers in the faith. Not just those who started the journey (the Apostles), and not just those who passed the baton to us (our spiritual fathers in the faith) - but all those who went between.

Solomon said "There is nothing new under the sun." If we do not learn from our history we are destined to repeat it. This is particularly true when it comes to doctrinal controversies. True - all that we need is in the Bible, but just as a wise lawyer will refer to past cases as well as the law itself when he argues his case, rather than reinvent the wheel; so we too should not despise the wisdom of our forefathers or think we are the first to face such issues.

Take the problem of suffering and sickness. There are some who have tried to do a P.R. job on God, and attribute all such activities to the devil. But what is the consequence? We no longer have a sovereign God, but a beleaguered candy-covered deity who looks on in despair, as through parted fingers, at what goes on in the world. Such a God may neatly fit into our small theological box, but is robbed of his divine majesty. Such a God would never have expelled man from paradise, would never have sent the flood to wipe out mankind, would never have taken away the gift of oneness of speech at Babel. Indeed such a God would never have endured to see his one and only son suffer so much on the cross. As such this theology is a form of idolatory, as it puts forward a God who is not the God revealed to us in the pages of scripture.

God is good - all the time. But we must be careful in our definition of what "good" means. God will never do anything that is morally corrupt, but he will sometimes use the "bitter medicine" to cure our ills.

John Crysostom had much to say on this issue. He lived in a time when many thought the world was over-run by the power of demons, rather than in the hands of a sovereign God.

Not only when he confers benefits but even when he chastises God is good and loving. For even his chastisements and his punishments are the greatest part of his beneficence, the greatest form of his providence. Whenever therefore thou seest that famines have taken place, and pestilences, and drought and immoderate rains, and irregularities in the atmosphere, or any other of the things which chasten human nature, be not distressed, nor be despondent, but worship Him who caused them, marvel at Him for His tender care. For He who does these things is such that He even chastens the body that the soul may become sound. Then does God these things saith one? God does these things, and even if the whole city, nay even if the whole universe were here I will not shrink from saying this. Would that my voice were clearer than a trumpet, and that it were possible to stand in a lofty place, and to cry aloud to all men, and to testify that God does these things.

For the physician is not only to be commended when he leads forth the patient into gardens and meadows, nor even into baths and pools of water, nor yet when he sets before him a well furnished table, but when he orders him to remain without food, when he oppresses him with hunger and lays him low with thirst, confines him to his bed, both making his house a prison, and depriving him of the very light, and shadowing his room on all sides with curtains, and when he cuts, and when he cauterizes, and when he brings his bitter medicines, he is equally a physician. How is it not then preposterous to call him a physician who does so many evil things, but to blaspheme God, if at any time He doeth one of these things, if He bring on either famine or death, and to reject his providence over all? And yet He is the only true physician both of souls and bodies. On this account He often seizes this nature of ours wantoning in prosperity, and travailing with a fever of sins, and by want, and hunger, and death and other calamities and the rest of the medicines of which He knows, frees us from diseases.


Whose life is it anyway?

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Gal 2:20 ESV)

I was reading Galatians in my new ESV, and this verse stopped me dead - pardon the pun! I don't know whether it was a rhema moment, where the living word of God jumped out, or just the change of wording that caused the magnitude of these familiar words of scripture to sink in afresh; probably it was a bit of both.

These words are immense! What a change it would make if we really lived like this every day. I'm not saying I've never understood these verses theologically before - of course I have - but it occurred to me afresh that we daily face many issues and questions that quietly and implicitly ask the question, "Whose life is it anyway?" and without thinking we often respond equally implicitly - "Mine." However our life is not ours: my old life is dead; my new life is Christ's. Our reaction to life's circumstances should convey the reality of our theological convictions.

It's not my free time - it's his time.

It's not my career. Getting ahead in my job is not the ultimate goal.

It's not my ministry. The kingdom does not exist to forward my ambitions! I live to serve his kingdom.

It's not my money. I came with nothing, and will leave with nothing. I am but a steward of what he entrusts to me.

It's not my life, to do what ever I want with - it's his life to do whatever he wants.

If I live this way, then the rest of the verse applies: the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. If I don't then I am a "Zombie Christian" -- a dead man walking!


All the World's a Stage... ?

"All the world 's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts" - (As You Like it - Act II, Scene VII - William Shakespeare).

Famous words from the bard, but is the world a stage? While it is true that everything we do here on earth is significant and being watched, we are not doing it as actors on a stage to get recognition or applause. We should not seek the limelight for fame's sake, nor weigh our words for the pleasure of men. We have been called to a greater purpose; we are part of the eternal advance of his kingdom. We do not run the race for our glory, but for his; not for the pleasure of man, but to please the heart of God.

Better (though less poetic) is to say, "All the world is an amphitheater, in which every man must run his race."

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Heb 12:1)

... this is not a dress rehearsal!


Iron Anniverary

This weekend is Jacqueline's and my Iron anniversary: we have been married 6 wonderful years. "Iron" doesn't have quite the same ring as some of the other anniversary names. It's not as romantic as gold, silver, ruby or diamond - though it is less expensive!

This year we are not giving each other presents of iron! We are going for a romantic weekend away in Stratford-upon-Avon. We are staying in a luxury hotel, going to a performance of As You Like It at the Royal ShakespShakespeareere Company, and having a meal out at our favorite restaurant. It's also two nights of freedom away from our little boy - we love him dearly, but will appreciate the break.

Here's a quote about Iron that seems appropriate:
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Pr 27:17)

All godly relationships do us good, and none so much as the relationship we have with our spouse. Who else knows us better or speaks into our lives on such a regular basis.

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the LORD. (Pr 18:22)
I praise God for all the favour, blessings and good things I have received from the Lord, through my marriage to Jacqueline these past six years.


Delight in the Law of the Lord

I got a new Bible yesterday. It's an ESV Classic Reference Bible. The ESV (English Standard Version) is a relatively new (2001) translation which is a Literal Translation (word for word) in the tradition of the ASV and RSV (NASB, and NKJV also fit into this category). Rather than a dynamic equivalence (idea for idea) like the NIV, or a paraphrase (verse for verse) like the NLT. I already have many copies of the NIV, a NLT, a NKJV, and various others. I decided on the ESV because it comes highly recommended, and has had scholars such as Wayne Grudem (whose systematic theology I find very helpful) on the oversight committee. I have also been reading it online and found it good to read. For in-depth study of the word, I want a version that is as close as possible to the original text whilst still flowing well in modern English.

I love the word of God! Whatever version of the Bible you read - it's good to delight in the Law of the Lord. Here's a passage from the ESV I read this morning that highlights the importance and blessings that come from delighting in God's word.

Psalm 1

1Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


To the Ends of the Earth

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Hab 2:14)

Another of the great truths that kept coming again and again at the Bible Week, was that the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. Our view of the end times, it not one of doom and gloom (though we do not deny there will be hardships and trials) but of the ultimate victory of God's Kingdom in God's earth.

This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mt 24:14)

It's great that as I write members of our local expression of Jesus' church are fulfilling this call to go into all the earth. Two members of our cellgroup left to go the the Philippines for a missionary visit with YWAM last week. Several others from the church were already there, and some more are flying out today. They will be delivering clothes and bibles to needy people. Providing education in basic health care. Spending time in a boys' prison where 18 boys accepted Christ last year. It's a great work - it's God's work. He wants the whole of his earth to be blessed and reached by his people.

They will be based at a place called Cagayan De Oro. If you have Google Earth you can find it here:cagayan.kmz. If you haven't got Google Earth, and you have broadband it's well worth a download. Whether you want to pray for God's earth, or just entertain yourself with a fantastic free interactive atlas with real satellite imagery that you can zoom as far in as the cars on the streets in some places! And as you zoom around and in and out just consider - it's all destined to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. Amen!