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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Try Seeds Family Worship

A great outfit from America that have you singing Scripture, with ‘no fillers.’ In other words, they just take the verses themselves and don’t add extra words for choruses or anything like that. I think there is great value in this for getting the Bible into our heads. While the temptation is to think of it as ‘just for kids’, I think we would benefit immensely as adults by seeing scripture memorisation as something for us.

Check it out: http://www.seedsfamilyworship.com/

Also on youtube: http://www.seedsfamilyworship.com/

Leaving and cleaving as Christ and the church

Was very encouraged by my bible notes this morning, The King’s English by Glen Scrivener. Genesis¬†2:24: ‘for this reason a husband will leave his father and mother and be United to his wife and they will become one flesh.’ Ephesians tells us we are to understand this as relating to Christ and the church. Notice who does the cleaving? Yep, it is the husband.

We have faith in Christ but it is he who takes hold of and cleaves to us. And as Hebrews draws out, he rejoices in saying that we are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, words that Adam speaks over Eve. How wonderful that we have such a husband. He takes the vital work of union on himself and will not let us go.

Poem from our time listening to Narnia

C.S.Lewis was someone I never appreciated much until the past couple of years. But now, I really do appreciate him. McGrath in his biography of Lewis explains excellently how Lewis saw literature as exciting longings that only the gospel could fulfil. That was when Lewis made sense to me and a lot of literature started to as well. With the kids we were listening to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe yesterday (BBC dramatized edition) and I really felt Lewis’ story warming my heart. He fills out what the gospel means for those longing for a new and better land with the Lion of Judah. And isn’t this what we long for?

 

Being empty and being full overlap in the Christian life

I don’t know about you, but lately I have been having some mornings where I think: ‘I’m totally empty Lord’, ‘I have nothing’ and ‘what is more, I can’t fix this.’

Now, naturally we look at those and go, this feels like a really negative situation. As I say that I have nothing within (as I did this morning), I feel a range of things. Potentially helpless, I feel guilty and I feel like I lack value to God.

But here is the thing. The gospel actually flips all this on the head. You see in the world’s economy, actually in any economy, having nothing is a bad admission. But in the Christian life it is the one qualification for life. I realised this as I started speaking the gospel to myself (which I hope is a habit you are also developing.)

Feel free to happily laugh out loud as you realise how good the gospel is.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

‘Blessed are those who mourn.’

‘Blessed are the meek.’

‘Give us today our daily bread’ (I mean, aren’t we supposed to go out and get it ourselves?)

‘I have not come to call the righteous’

‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor’

ALL OF THESE and more, are reasons why being empty and being full are remarkably close in the Christian life.

Jesus has come for those who know that they are running on empty and far from the fuel station. Those who believe that the electricity metre has run out and there is nothing to put in.

But oh, we might object: ‘Emptiness is only the way into the Christian life’. Now it is true that God fills us with his spirit, but that is not incompatible with feeling spiritually bankrupt. Remember, who the Pharisees were? They were the guys who thought they had made the inside, but were shown to be on the outside, because they believed that they were self righteous.

By looking away from ourselves to a saviour everyday and even having the painful experiences of emptiness we are able to go to another for supply.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.’