When a year doesn’t start smoothly

Good blog post here http://www.seedsfamilyworship.com/being-awake-in-2017/

‘The beginning of the year didn’t start off quite like I planned…anyone else?

The transition between 2016 and 2017 was going to be seamless for me. I had pages of notes and pages of goals and pages of lists. At the end of last year, I began praying and thoughtfully anticipating my new year. I was going to be dialed in and ready. It was going to be glorious….’ (read on at the above link)

I shall not want

So, I have got to know psalm 23 well over the past few years. But I never noticed this great promise until today. I SHALL NOT WANT. I think a big question when you are in recovery is, how am I going to get through this? In fact, anyone going through a hard thing can think, what about tomorrow? In fact the Lord Jesus had a few things to say on that.

But here, right smack bang in the start of Psalm 23 is the great promise. With the Lord as my shepherd, I shall not want.

I will not have a time where my needs outweigh his supply.

There will not be a moment where I can justifiably say, he has let me down.

As he gently works on my wants, I will come to see that there is nothing I lack.

How did I miss it? Because God’s word is not just expansive for the scholars and deep thinkers; it is expansive for the believer and you can never wring it dry!

HOWEVER, beware of ‘deceitful desires’ that is another phrase that has come back to me today. Paul mentions this in Ephesians 4. As we are fundamentally broken our desires would throw us about like a ship on a tumultuous sea. We need to be wary that not everything our desires feed us is right. In fact, they could be getting used as the devil’s handmaidens to con us. Our desires are deceitful and so we need to learn to be suspicious of them. When I want something, feel a longing, notice a prod…is that thing actually true and right according to God’s word? Do I need to think about that now? How COULD I choose to think about it using good doctrine. The battle after all, is to have good doctrine rather than bad. And, everything is theological. It is theological because there is a battle raging. Thankfully the adversary is defeated.

So, realise that in the truest and best defined sense, we shall not want. But realise also, that the things you are wanting are possibly handmaidens sent to deceive you. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT.

Look and live

Marcus Nelson preaching on John 3:16 ‘Christianity has not worked for me.’

He tackles the thorny issue of what faith is and breaks it down into simplistic terms.

‘Faith is not an action I must will…How could we not look to Jesus….He draws us with his love…to not look at him is such a terrible and unreasonable thing to do.’

Marcus makes the point that if he tells us there is something strange and wonderful on the wall behind us, we would not have to make a decision to look, we would be drawn to look. In fact we would have to try hard if we wanted to not look! Is this not the point of Numbers 21 with the snake lifted up?

This illustrates the attractional power of Jesus and takes the onus from us.

He then makes a great point about eternal life.

‘Jesus has come that we may have eternal life. Eternal life is defined for us. Eternal life is to know him and his Father.’

This reminds us that eternal life has truly started for us now who believe.

While this does not tackle some of the issues head on about Christianity ‘not working’, it actually does the thing needed. It causes us to put down our baggage and look.

 

 

Job and the mystery of suffering

Mike Reeve’s sermon on Job 42 is incredible. I can’t find where it was originally recorded, but I have the audio if you’re interested!

He shows that we need to realise that bad things happen to good people (or at least redeemed people.)

It is natural to ask ‘why?’ But Job’s comforters try and attribute blame and they do it theologically. In the face of his freefall into suffering, they are ready to wag the finger.

Mike shows, however, that Christ and the gospel are threaded right through the book. In Job 16:18-21 we see that Job believes in the Messiah, an intercessor. He is also styled as a kind of suffering servant. See how often Job is called ‘servant’ in chapter 42.

The false comforters are to take a sacrifice and to have Job the servant of the Lord pray for them. v9, after Job’s prayers, they are accepted.

So Job is a kind of Christ figure and that takes us to the cross. Through suffering- the worst event ever- blessing was brought. v10, through Job’s suffering he is blessed in a double portion. Isaiah 61:7 says that believers will be blessed with a double portion.

Then consider that Uz (Job 1:1) is translated fertile place, perhaps a garden and that Satan then makes an appearance to upset this. Does it not all smack rather a lot of Genesis 1?

The journey of Job is from garden, through temptation and into greater blessing. The road is also a long one of suffering. Hopefully we can see that this all comes very close to the gospel pattern. And so woven right through this exploration of human suffering is the story that suffering is not meaningless. The paradigm of the gospel is that through suffering God blesses the world in the gospel. And with Job we see that God blesses him more after his suffering than before. Please beware of false comforters who are quick to ascribe blame (maybe we try and do this with ourselves), and remember also that God is with us in suffering to bless. Praise God!

He is the theme and we are the footnotes

I listened to a marvellous sermon by Paul Blackham given on Christmas Eve, 2000.

As ever Paul announced Jesus as the event of history.

How often do we think we are the great event of history though!?

It is good to get this perspective. God promised Christ as the serpent crusher, Genesis 3:15. Indeed the Bible is thereafter the search for the serpent crusher. Paul makes the point that Eve even seems to believe that she has brought forth the serpent crusher straight away. Take a look at Genesis 4:1 where Eve celebrates the arrival of Cain. Blackham says that (as some footnotes allude) it would be better translated from Eve: ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth THE man.’ Rather, than simply ‘a man.’ Unfortunately Cain was a man who would demonstrate the condition of humanity, rather than come to rescue it.

History is about God’s salvation plan as shown in Scripture!

Some ways this matters for mental health:

  1. It does not matter if I do not change the world today
  2. I can do nothing this morning— and it is still ok.
  3. My witnessing is to be to him and not to what a ‘great bloke’ I am.
  4. I am not defined by my long term achievements, but by his.
  5. Our significance, as Blackham points out, is defined by our relationship to this central man of history, Jesus Christ.
  6. I need to fill my head with him, rather than with me.
  7. I must thank God for my walk on part; but it is really Jesus who gets all the applause. Glory to him.
  8. Who I am is more important than what I do or produce.

Hebrews 12: a treasury for the tested

  1. We see that sin easily entangles (I have the image of the net thrown by a gladiator). I sort of imagine that getting properly entangled takes time and so I will notice it easily. But no. Sin easily entangles. Had we considered that, we might not have so easily got trapped (v1). But the good news is we CAN ‘throw it off.’
  2. We have a great cloud of witnesses willing us on. Our true comfort in human terms does not come from sympathetic listeners, but from the fellowship of brothers and sisters who have passed through such trials.
  3. Fix our eyes on Jesus, as per previous post. We are saved by looking, Numbers 21.
  4. Did you noticed Jesus scorned the shame of the cross. That is he derided it, snubbed it, put it in it’s place. We also must refuse to be shamed. Shaming is a big thing in many cultures and the devil uses it profusely.
  5. God disciplines us, because he loves us. Not because he hates us (v5). An African friend of mind said: ‘Simon in my culture we discipline our children, not because we hate them but because we love them.’ He was appalled at the state of our society and his words hit the mark after a rather unruly youth Bible study!
  6. When we have hardship (v7) we should make ourselves stronger by saying, this could be loving discipline by my Father. It is the mark of being a son (v8).
  7. v10 it is always for our good and to preserve us in the faith.
  8. v11 Don’t be surprised if it feels horrible at the time– there is the guarantee of a harvest of righteousness which comes later. Peace is also promised later. How true this has been in my experience. There is a time promised when this seasonal discomfort will end and the malicious thought that it will ‘never end’ is to be fought.

 

John Newton’s advice on persevering

These points are from Vaughan Roberts talk at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (2016)

Things we can learn from Newton’s writings…

  1. Always delight in grace

He resolved ‘to tell the world from my own experience there is mercy for blasphemers.’

Keep close to the atonement he told ministers.

2. Keep looking to Christ

Realised that only through Christ he would grow in godliness. He often quote Hebrews 12:2 with reference to fixing our eyes on Jesus. Also 2 Cor 3:18.

There is the importance of seeing Jesus as ruling, reigning, interceding for us. A believing view of Jesus ‘does the business.’ We are not to resolve to become holy in our OWN strength, but by looking to him.

3. Be disciplined in devotion

Keep directing your soul to hungering and thirsting for Jesus. We need a humble dependence in our changing circumstances.

Sometimes getting our own heart in order is no easier than raising the dead.

4. Maintain close relationships

5. Suffer well

Ministry he said was ‘a sorrow full of joy.’

Don’t focus on the trials themselves, but look back to the cross, forward to glory and upward to the sovereign Lord.

Leave our troubles to themselves and ‘walk to Golgotha.’

‘All of our concerns lie in the hands that bled for us.’

‘If it be the way to heaven, the end will make amends.’

Amen

 

Tread softly (and the example of Pilgrim’s Progress)

‘I being poor have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’ wrote W.B. Yates.

During the past season of being more aware of my weaknesses, it had made me think upon the struggles of others. In the past I think I have probably expected everyone simply to conform to my way of doing things or expectations. Whereas the truth is, that we all have different constitutions given to us by the Lord and we can never know the crosses that others carry, as they do. There may be a good reason why someone is the way that they are. Not that we are to excuse sin in one another and brush it off. But we are to tread carefully.

One person who understood the various constitutions of Christians so well was John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress. Perhaps one of the reasons it flew off the shelves (if they had book stores then) was because people identified with the portraits of the individuals and not simply the allegory of the gospel, although that is probably unsurpassed.

The puritans understood the soul well– they were doctors of the soul– with remedies to dispense from the riches of God.

Take the nuanced personality of the man, Mr Fearing.

‘But when he was come to the entrance of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I thought I should have lost my man: not for that he had any inclination to go back; that he always abhorred, but he was ready to die for fear. Oh, the hobgoblins will have me! The hobgoblins will have me! cried he…But this I took very great notice of, that this valley was as quiet when he went through it, as ever I knew it before or since. I suppose those enemies here had now a special check from our Lord, and a command not to meddle until Mr Fearing passed over it…When he was come to Vanity Fair, I thought he would have fought will all the men at the fair. I feared there we should have been knocked on the head, so hot was he against their fooleries. Upon the Enchanted Ground he also was very wakeful. But when he was come at the river where there is no bridge, there again he was in a heavy case. Now, now, he said, he should be drowned forever, and so never see that face with comfort, that he had come so many miles to behold. And here also I took notice of what was very remarkable- the water at this time was lower than ever I saw it in all my life; so he went over at last not much above wetshod. When he was going up to the gate, Mr Great-heart began to take his leave of him, and to wish him a good reception above. So he said, I shall, I shall. Then parted we asunder and I saw him no more.

Hon: Then it seems he was well at last?

Great: Yes, yes, I never had any doubt about him. He was a man of choice spirit only he was always kept very low, and that made his life so burdensome to himself, and so troublesome to others. He was, above many, tender of sin…

Hon: But what should be the reason that such a good man should be all his days so much in the dark?

Great: There are two sorts of reasons for it. One is, the wise God will have it so: some must pipe, some must weep. Now Mr Fearing was one that played upon this bass. He and his fellows sound the sackbut, whose notes are more doleful than the notes of other music are: though indeed some say the bass is the ground of music. And for my part, I care not at all for that profession which begins not with heaviness of mind. The first string the musician usually touches, is the bass, when he intends to put all in tune. God also plays upon this string first, when he sets the soul in tune for himself. Only here was the imperfection of Mr Fearing; he could play upon no other music but this, till towards his latter end….

Hon: He was a very zealous man, as one may see by the relation you have given of him. Difficulties, lions, or Vanity Fair, he feared not at all; ’twas only sin, death and hell, that were to him a terror, because he had some doubts about his interest in that celestial country.

Great: You say right, those were the things that were his troublers: and they as you have well observed, arose from the weakness of his mind thereabout, not from the weakness of his spirit as to the practical part of a pilgrims life. I dare believe that, as the proverb is, he could have bit a firebrand, had it stood in his way; but the things with which he was oppressed, no man ever yet could shake off with ease.

Matthew: Then said Matthew, Fear was one thing that made me think that I was far from having that within me that accompanies salvation. But if it was so with such a good man as he, why may it not also go well with me? (pg 245-257)


Notice firstly how gentle the Lord God is with the weaknesses of Mr Fearing.

Then see the nature of his struggle. He had a weak mind and this did not exclude him from faith.

This portrait is one example of Bunyan’s grip on the gospel and the contours of the souls of sinners like us. Pray that we would get the same wisdom.