Monday, 23 May 2016

(SERMON) Trinity Sunday 2016 - The Athanasian Creed

Though rarely used, the Athanasian Creed is one of the official Creeds of the Church of England, it contains powerful and basic truths about God which we should both love and enjoy.

It teaches 1) The necessity of the Trinity to salvation 2) The  doctrine of the Trinity it utterly foundational 3) The catholic faith is the creedal faith, 4) We are called to believe not understand  5) We are called to not only believe but worship.

Knowing about the Trinity is this way changes our lives because 1) It humbles us completely 2) It reveals and encourages true Love 3) It builds up and makes sense of all human relationships.

Let us not shy away from the fact that the Trinity IS Christianity, the Trinity IS Salvation, and the Trinity IS our only hope and peace,

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Christian Meditation - Psalm 119.15

I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways. 119.15

Meditation is big business these days.  Brought in on a wave of Eastern mysticism in the 60’s the likes of yoga and ‘mindfulness’ are relentlessly pushed upon us. York Minster is even offering zen meditation led by a 'Christian' minister (the thought of which is enough to boil my blood).  Biblical Christians rightly recoil at such practices - they are inherently tainted by the pagan religions which formed them and have as their goal something in opposition to Christian faith.  Christianity teaches boldly that all things are not ‘one’ with each other - rather humans are unique in reflecting the glory of God by being made in His image and likeness.  Again, God is not part of His creation and is certainly not found in uniting with it - no, God is the creator whose essence is utterly apart from creation yet who in love for us became a creature in the person Jesus (but not in a tree or a mountain!).  The idea of emptying your mind and your ‘self’ into the void is a rejection of the gift of the mind and the uniqueness of your ‘self’ which God both made and loves.  Indeed, emptying yourself in such a way is toying with the devil and asking for something more sinister to come in.

Yet, meditation is Biblical.

Not meditation where you empty your thoughts and say mantras whilst you realign your ‘chakras’ or other such pagan pseudo-science.  Instead we are called to “meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.”  Christians are called to meditate on the Bible, spend time reflecting on the words and mighty acts of God, consider His commands and how to live by them.  We are called to seek out Jesus in each story and see how He is at the centre.  We must daily eat, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures as our spiritual food and drink.  If we long to become “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1.4) we will only do so through knowing Jesus.  Jesus is no longer on earth among us but all we ever need to know for salvation and growth in faith is found in the completely sufficient revelation He has given us and to which nothing more needs to be added - the Bible.  So by all means take up that meditation class, just make sure it is a Bible study and not some Eastern scam.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Reflections on ACNA's 'Ancient Text Lord's Supper'

I am very thankful for ACNA, it is a much needed refuge from the generally apostate Episcopal Church in the United States.  This does not mean I agree with the direction of ACNA nor all it promotes.  This is seen by my previous posts critiquing the ACNA Catechism for deviating from historic Anglican teaching.  Having been asked by a friend for my opinions on the new 'Ancient' liturgy for the celebration of the Lord's Supper I have put together the following comments.  These comments would also largely apply to the Church of England's Common Worship Order One.  The text of the new liturgy can be found here. I have only commented on the parts I have critiques of which is by no means all of it.

The Text:

The Acclamation
The Collect for Purity

The Summary of the Law
The rubrics allow the full use of the Decalogue and this good, but if one is to use a lengthy sermon slot the summary of the Law is not a bad thing so long as the Decalogue is frequently used as well

The use of Greek in Anglican services even if a translation is given is a silly and pointless thing which goes against the principles of Article24 and the whole purpose of the Prayer Book.  Thankfully one can use an English version.  This would only be used if the Decalogue is not because of the refrain calling on God to change our hearts.  The Trisagion is not 'Anglican' but is also completely unobjectionable and very good refrain to memorise.  

Oddly, one must ask, given the Kyrie is used standardly as a confession is this here a confession?  The fact a 'real' confession comes later would say not, but the inclusion of the Gloria immediately following the Kyrie would imply it is (we glorify God for the mercy we have received)

This is not the traditional place for the Gloria.  The rubrics allow it to come after the communion which is right and historic Anglican practice.  We give God glory for the wonders of His mercy shown and revealed in the Lord's Supper and ultimately for the absolution of sins which it reveals - in this sense it is odd to have the Gloria here as stated above.

The Lessons

It is standard practice to now have the creed after the sermon, but this was not the vision of Cranmer.  Cranmer placed it before presumably to hold the minister to account before he even got into the pulpit.  The Creed is not a 'response' to the sermon but rather the sermon should be a Scriptural reflection of the truths set forth in the Creed.  Ultimately, it is a minor thing but the rubrics should allow the creed to come before the sermon.

Prayers of the People
A litany style prayer is very in keeping with patristic practice where litanies crop up multiple times in the service.  Cranmer, however, ditched a litany style intercession during communion in favour of a more theologically robust and thus didactically useful extended prayer.  Whilst litanies are good and not objectionable at all, one would have hoped the rubrics would have allowed a more BCP style prayer and indeed the purpose of the litany seems to be to include the congregation more - could this not be equally achieved by allowing the congregation to say the prayers themselves via a specified member of the laity?

It would be more in keeping with the carefully thought out service of the BCP to have the prayers, exhortation, confession and absolution, after the offertory and this is allowed in the rubrics - I would recommend doing so.

The Exhortation
It is wonderful it is even mentioned and commended by rubric!

The Confession and Absolution of Sin
This is all solid, one would hope the minister would use all of the Comfortable Words.

The Peace
The Peace is a tricky one, the problem is that although it seems natural to have it after the confession, it breaks up the logic of the Prayer Book which goes straight from the joy of the Comfortable Words to lifting up our heart due to them.  This break is lamentable and though not allowed by the rubric is may be better to place the peace elsewhere in the service (or ditch it all together, the church survived without it since the Reformation I am not sure why we need it today in the form it is - surely the very act of sharing communion together from one bread and one cup is  the greatest symbol of sharing the peace!)

The Offertory
Again the placement here really breaks up Cranmer's logic and places the offertory much closer to the Lord's Supper itself, indeed it ties the lifting up of our hearts with the lifting up of our wallets - not a message Cranmer would really want portrayed to my mind.  Much better to place it before the prayers of the people whereby it serves as the break between the ante-communion and the communion proper.  The phrase "the people's offering of bread and wine, and money or other gifts" is rather jarring, the bread and wine are not offerings we give to God (heaven forbid!)  and it would be much better to stick to the BCP which separates the rubrics concerning offerings and the rubric concerning the bread and wine - the bread and wine are not part of the offering and this needs to be made clear. The best way to do this is to either already have the bread and wine on the table or to have it next to the minister and have the minister himself sort out the bread and wine, not have it paraded up from the back of church.

The Sursum Corda

The Sanctus
Ideally the 'blessed is he' part would be in brackets, it was clearly omitted by Cranmer despite patristic witness because of its use historically to refer to the coming of Jesus in to the bread and wine.

The Prayer of Consecration
A thought to start out:
Do we 'become subject to evil' or are we evil?

The introduction of an epiclesis over the bread and wine is clearly patristic but equally clearly unbiblical and not historically Anglican.  The epiclesis over the people is more in line with Cranmer but falls short of the simplicity of the BCP prayer of consecration.  Even more problematic is that the epiclesis comes after the words of institution.  In the Prayer Book it is the words of institution themselves which consecrate/set apart the bread and wine for their holy use. Here the consecration is clearly separated. 

Following the epiclesis we have the prayer of offering our lives as a sacrifice.  Cranmer wisely moved this away from its traditional location as it is here to after the reception because unless this is done the offering of our lives gets tied up with the very act of consecration rather than being a joyful and humble out working of reception through grace and faith.

The Lord's Prayer
Traditionally the Lord's Prayer came here but, once again, Cranmer moved it. Having the Lord's Prayer here is just creating a longer and longer separation between the words of institution and the actual reception - making the consecration the 'high point' rather than the immediate reception and leaving the door open to reverence the consecrated bread and wine.

The Fraction
Again, following the patristic pattern the fraction is separate from the prayer of consecration , BUT Cranmer rightly combined them - what is the purpose and logic of separating the words of Jesus from His actions?   It would be eminently wise to avoid the first response and use the second one which is unambiguously orthodox!!

The Prayer of Humble Access
Again, why is this here!? There is no patristic background for this so it should be a simple matter of following Cranmer who rightly and logically placed it after the Sanctus - When Isaiah beheld the song of heaven how did he respond?  He fell to His knees and prayed a prayer of humble access - this and not 'blessed is he who comes...' is the proper biblical response to the majesty and truth of the Sanctus.

Agnus Dei
No, just no.  

The Ministration of Communion
Best to use the first refrain with the bracketed text included.  Also use the bracketed text in the words of reception perhaps by saying the first half to one person and the next to the other so both can hear it all but time is saved.

The Post Communion Prayer
The Blessing
The Dismissal
Seasonal Greetings
Proper Prefaces
Offertory Sentences
The Exhortation

The Decalogue
"Incline our hearts to keep this law" or in modern terms perhaps "change our hearts so we keep this law" would be better than "and give us grace to keep this law" - just seems like grace is some kind of steroid for holiness in that wording.

General Instruction
Customary to add a little water to the wine - but not historically Anglican nor indeed required so ditch it.

Reservation of the bread and wine is not only pointless given that it is simply bread and wine and it is reception in faith which mediates the benefits of the Lord's Supper, but is clearly in contradiction to Article 28.  If you need to make home communions then the minister should do it themselves as per the BCP.  Communion by extension is effectively, to my mind, lay presidency - nothing more and nothing less.  This all counts for the idea of a deacon doing the whole service in church with reserved sacrament. 

Only the words of institution need to be used to consecrate more bread and wine as per the BCP.  The introduction of further epiclesises and prayers of consecration only muddy the clear teaching of the BCP that is the very words of institution and those alone which consecrate/set apart the bread and wine for their purpose.

Concerning Discipline

General Reflections:

All in all this is OK.  It does not represent historic Anglicanism very well and parts of it could be interpreted in a heterodox sense whilst the most troublesome parts are able to be dropped, replaced, or moved.  It is not ideal but it is workable.  In this sense it is much like Common Worship Order One in the Church of England. As modern liturgies go (ironic given the intention of this) it is well put together and given the inclusive aims of ACNA it is commendable.

But I can't help but ask why this needs to exist.  Clearly it is to fulfil the need some feel to connect Anglicanism more to the patristic churches and their liturgies.  But this is not necessarily a good thing.  Thomas Cranmer was one of the most knowledgeable and notable scholars of patristics throughout the whole Reformation. His vast library and notes on patristic writers was essentially unparalleled in either Protestant or Roman circles.  Anglicans more so than other Protestants, and Cranmer in particular, brought the patristic witness in favour of the doctrines of grace to bear in debates and argumentation.  This is why it is odd in the eyes of many that when it came to setting out the liturgy of the Lord's Supper Cranmer would be so innovative and plainly reject patristic tradition and consensus so completely.  

Cranmer's liturgy does not follow the pattern of patristic liturgies, it rejects the existence of an epiclesis, the separation of the fraction, the possibility of reverence of the host, any insinuation of real presence in the bread and wine, and focuses on reception in faith not the actions of the minister.  Though he did not really understand justification by faith alone, nonetheless, Dom Gregory Dix (whose work much modern liturgy including this one is based) was right in saying that the BCP Lord's Supper was "the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone."  That teaching gospel truths so clearly took the priority over patristic consensus in Anglican liturgy should give us great pause over attempts to change Cranmer's careful decisions and order of service.  It is thus a failure to take a rightful pride in our unique Anglican heritage and to respect the founding fathers that is at the heart of this liturgy, indeed the liturgy exists because of a misunderstanding of both Anglican identity and historical reality. 

So, ultimately, this is to my mind misguided and a failure to value Anglican heritage, but it is not heretical or terrible as a piece of liturgy and whether the use of it is a hill to die upon will be up to the conscience of the minister presiding.  I regularly use Common Worship Order One which is very similar to this, but it would not be my first choice and if possible I would change it for one more reflecting the beautiful logic of Cranmer's liturgy in which the truths of the Bible are so wonderfully not only spoken by acted out.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Word of The Word - Psalm 119.11

I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You. 119.11

Christians often speak of the ‘word of God’ but what does it actually mean?  Is the ‘word of God’ the Bible or is it Jesus?  After all, when we read the start of John’s Gospel we don’t read “in the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God”!  Rather we read that the “Word was God…” and that this Word is the “Light of the world” and that the Light has come into the world and we know Him by the name of Jesus.  So the “Word of God” is Jesus not the Bible, simple, right?


You see in the Greek of John chapter one “Word” translates “logos” which is a deep and rich word.  It means not only ‘a word’ but also ‘reasoning’ or the expression of thinking.  There is another Greek word, namely “rhema”, which is also translated into English as ‘word.’  Rhema means the spoken word.  The Bible is the spoken word of God and in this sense it is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17).  Sometimes logos is also used to refer to the Bible such as Revelation 1.2.  So in Scripture the ‘word of God’ is both the Bible and the person the Bible points us towards - Jesus.

The author of Hebrews plays on this ambiguity when he writes “For the word (logos) of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” Hebrews 4.12

Undoubtedly, reading the Bible, knowing the Scriptures, hearing the voice of God spoken to us in its words, is a powerful thing - something sharp, effective, and penetrating.  Knowing the Bible enables us to judge ideas and thoughts and passions, it cuts us deeply with judgement when we sin and it heals us with promises of mercy when we repent.  The psalmist could rightly say that treasuring up the words of Scripture helps us in our fight against sin.   This is why we must devote ourselves to reading, exploring, understanding, and memorising Scripture - just never lose sight that the Bible is always about Jesus and not about you (John 5.39)

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Books I've read in the past year.

I love books. I spend a lot of time and inordinate amounts of money on books. Books are life itself!  

People often ask me what I am reading, and the answer is usually complicated - I often have five or more books on the go at once. Some books I read in one sitting, some I read over two days, some drag on for a few months. Below is a list of books I have read over the past year and a bit (from about January 2015 but I don't keep a tally so I may have missed some off). They are in no particular order though I have created sections to make it easier to see. I have put an * beside the books I would most highly recommend in each section.   For the commentaries section I have included commentaries of which I have read at least the majority of the book but not the whole thing - all of these were read in preparation for sermons and sermon series and so I didn't always have to read every page.

Just for fun I have also included at the bottom a list of the fiction, fantasy, and comic books I have read - the books I escape into at the end of a rough day, books which offer me something completely and utterly different from everything real in my life! As with my other books, I have a somewhat rather eclectic taste.

  • Old Books
    • The Lord's Supper - Thomas Cranmer*
    • Christian Leaders of the Seventeenth Century - J.C. Ryle
    • The Book of Common Prayer in its history and interpretation with special reference to existing controversies 1866 - Richard Paul Blakeney
    • The Principles of Theology - W. H. Griffith Thomas
    • Old Anglicanism and Modern Ritualism - F. Meyrick*
  • New Books
    • Preachers, Pastors, and Ambassadors - various
    • A Fragile Unity: anti-ritualism and the division of Anglican Evangelicalism in the Nineteenth Century - James C Whisenant
    • Our Inheritance of Faith: A Commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles - Martin Davie
    • The Effective Anglican - ed. Lee Gatiss
    • Reformation Anglicanism: BIblical, Generous, Beautiful - Chuck Collins
    • Divine Allurement: Cranmer's Comfortable Words - Ashley Null*
    • Instruction in the Way of The Lord: A guide to the catechism of the BCP - Martin Davie
    • A Fruitful Exhortation:A Guide to the Homilies - Gerald Bray
    • Till Death us Do Part: The solemnization of Matrimony in the BCP - Simon Vibert
    • God Truly Worshipped - ed Jonathan Dean
    • Royal Priesthood in the English Reformation - Malcolm Yarnell III*
    • The Collects of Thomas Cranmer - C Frederick Barbee & Paul Zahl
    • The Devout Prayers of Thy Church - Peter Blake

  • Burn Out
    • Mad Church Disease - Anne Jackson
    • Crazy Busy - Kevin deYoung
    • Leading on Empty - Wayne Cordeiro*
  • The Baxter Model: guidelines for pastoring today - Bishop Wallace Benn
  • Evangelism - J Mack Stiller
  • Expositional Preaching - David Helm*
  • Church Discipline - Jonathan Leeman
  • Church Elders - Jeramie Rinne
  • Church Membership - Jonathan Leeman*
  • I Am A Church Member - Thomas Rainer
  • Online Mission and Ministry - Pam Smith
  • Liturgy and Liberty - John Leach
  • Simplicity in Preaching - JC Ryle*
  • 100 Ways to Get Your Church Noticed - Neil Pugmire
Moral and Patoral:
  • Understanding Gender Dysphoria - Mark Yarhouse*
  • Same Sex Attraction
    • Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections - Thomas Hopko
    • Can you be gay and Christian? - Michael L. Brown
    • What does the Bible teach about Homosexuality? - Kevin deYoung*
    • The Bible and Homosexual Practice - Robert Gagnon

  • Can Christian Men and Women be friends? - Joshua D. Jones
  • Mental Health
    • Depression: A Rescue Plan - Jim Winter
    • Spurgeon's Sorrows - Zack Eswine*
    • Bi-Polar Disorder: The Ultimate Guide - Sarah Owen & Amanda Saunders
  • Forgotten Factors of Sexual Sin - Roy Hession*


  • The Historical Adam: Four Views - various
  • The Law and Gospel: Five Views - various
  • The God Who Justifies - James White
  • The Holy Trinity - Robert Leetham*
  • For us and for our Salvation - Lee Gatiss*
  • The Future of Justification - John Piper
  • Given for you: reclaiming Calvin's doctrine of the Lord's Supper - Keith A Mathison
  • A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life - Joel R Beeke and Mark Jones
  • A Case for Historic Premillenialism - ed. Craig Blomberg and Sung Chung*
  • Without Precedent: Scripture, Tradition, and the Ordination of Women - Geoffrey Kirk
  • Hearing Her Voice: A Biblical invitation for women preachers - John Dickson*
  • Are We Together? - R.C. Sproul*
  • Wycliffite Spirituality - eds J. Patricl Hornbeck II, Stephen E. Lahey, & Fiona Somerset
  • From Heaven He Came and Sought Her - eds David Gibson & Jonathan Gibson

Sermons and Tracts:
  • Discovering Romans - S Lewish Johnson Jr.
  • The New Park Street Pulpit Vol.1 - Charles Spurgeon*
  • The New Park Street Pulpit Vol.2 - Charles Spurgeon*
  • Jonah: His life, character, and Mission - Patrick Fairbairn
  • Are You Ready for the End of Time? J.C. Ryle
  • Churches Beware! - J.C. Ryle
  • God is For Us - Simon Ponsonby*
  • The One Year Book of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament - Nancy Guthrie

Charismatic Theology and Practice:

  • Surprised by the Power of the Spirit - Jack Deere
  • The Beginner's Guide to the Gift of Prophecy - Jack Deere
  • The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts - Sam Storms
  • Stranger to Fire: When Traditions Trumps Scripture - ed. Robert Graves *
  • God Inside Out - Simon Ponsonby*
'Popular' Theology:

  • Crazy Love- Francis Chan*
  • Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart - J.D. Greear
  • Taking God at His Word - Kevin DeYoung*
  • The Good News We Almost Forgot - Kevin DeYoung
  • A Call to Spiritual Reformation - Don Carson
  • PROOF: finding freedom through the intoxicating joy of irresistible grace - Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones
  • The Hyper Grace Gospel: a response to Michael Brown and those opposed to the modern grace message - Paul Ellis
  • Surprised by Grace: God's relentless pursuit of Rebels - Tullian Tchividjian
  • Glorious Ruin: how suffering sets you free - Tullian Tchividjian
  • Evidence for the Gospel - Clive Anderson & Brian Edwards
  • For Calvinism - Michael Horton
  • Chosen for Life - Sam Storms
  • God's Unwelcome Recovery - Sean Oliver-Dee
  • The Calvary Road - Roy Hession*

  • Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
    • Joel and Amos - David Hubbard
    • Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah - David Baker, T. Desmond Alexander, & Bruce K. Waltke
    • Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi - Andrew Hill
  • The Preacher's Commentary: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah - Lloyd J. Ogilvie
  • Teaching Amos - Bob Fyall*
  • New American Commentary
    • Hosea and Joel - Duane Garrett
    • Amos, Obadiah, Jonah - Billy Smith & Frank Page
    • Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah - Kenneth Barker & Waylon Bailey
    • Haggai and Malachi - Richard Taylor & E Ray Clendenen
    • Mark - James Brooks
    • Acts - John Polhill
  • The NIV Application Commentary
    • Hosea, Amos, Micah - Gary Smith
    • Haggai and Zechariah - Mar Boda
    • Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah - James Bruckner
    • Acts - Ajith Fernando*
  • Zondervan Exegetical Commentary*
    • Matthew - Grant R. Osborne
    • Mark - Mark Strauss
    • Acts - Eckhard Schnabel
  • Pillar New Testament Commentary
    • Mark - James Edwards
    • Acts - David Peterson
  • Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
    • Acts - Darrel Bock
  • Christ-centered Exposistion
    • Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi - Micah Fries, Stephen Rummage, & Robby Gallaty*

  • R.A. Salvatore
    • Gauntlgrym
    • Neverwinter
    • Charon's Claw
    • The Last Threshold
    • The Companions
    • Night of the Hunter
    • Rise of the King
    • Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf
    • Archmage
  • The Return of Nagash - Josh Reynolds
  • The Fall of Altdorf - Chris Wraight
  • G. M. Berrow
    • Twilight Sparke and the Crystal Heart Spell
    • Pinkie Pie and the Rockin' Pony Party
    • Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare
    • Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity
    • Applejack and the Secret Diary Switcheroo
    • Fluttershy and the Furry Friends Fair
    • Princess Celestia and the Royal Rescue
    • Lyra & BonBon and the Mares from S.M.I.L.E
    • Daring Do and the Masked Thief of Marapore
  • MLP:FiM Offical Guidebook - ed. Brandon T. Snider
  • The Journal of Two Sisters - Amy Keating Rogers
  • IDW Comics (various artists and authors)
    • MLP:FiM Omnibus vol.1
    • MLP:FiM Omnibus vol.2
    • MLP:FiM 'fiendship is magic' omnibus

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Commitment and Condemnation - Psalm 119.5-6

If only my ways were committed to keeping Your statutes!  Then I would not be ashamed when I think about all Your commands.  119.5-6

Shame is a powerful emotion.  Whether it is something we place upon ourselves, or something others force upon us, shame is a horrible feeling.  Worst of all it is something which seems to stick like glue and spread from one part of our life to the next like a wildfire.  The Psalmist feels shame when he looks at his life and then looks at the Bible and the life it calls on him to lead.  I am sure we all know this feeling.  

If only I was more committed!

If only I had more self-control!

If only I hadn’t done those things in the past and enjoyed them!

The list could go on.  The problem is that when we look at the commands of God in the Bible, when we look at how He wants us to live and what He wants us to be, we meet a standard which is simply impossible.  That is the truth of the matter.  We cannot and never in this life will keep the commands of God or live up to His statutes.  Sin is always going to hamstring us.  The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26.41).  Even saint Paul would cry out “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7.15)  

The Good News is that God became human and lived the life we cannot live.  Jesus came and lived among us as one of us.  Jesus was tempted but never gave in.  Jesus lived a life which was pure, spotless, perfect.  Jesus kept all the demands of the law and all the commandment of God.  Then, at the end, Jesus took all of our sin and became sin.  He took our place, He died the death we deserve, He sacrificed Himself to set us free from our failures.  When we put our faith in Jesus and lay down our failed attempts at being righteous He gives us His perfection, His good standing, His purity, His holiness.  When we have all this, when we have Jesus, we can say goodbye to shame.  When we stumble and fall we can look to Jesus and not our failures.  When we look at the Law and see it's impossible demands we can cast our eyes on the cross where He said “it is finished” and know the victory is won.  When we begin to feel shame or guilt we can proclaim as that sinner saint Paul did “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8.1)

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Living with Diligence - Psalm 119.4

"You have commanded Your precepts be diligently kept." 119.4

Diligence.  It is the kind of word we expect wise leaders and noble kings to call their subjects to.  It is the kind of thing which teachers long for their students to demonstrate.  When I write  “diligence” my mind conjures up Winston Churchill calling on the British people to be diligent against their enemies and those who would take our freedom and cause us to live in fear - heartily speaking the rousing syllables “di-li-gen-ce” with a cigar firmly between his teeth and a fist raised high in the air.

Sadly, diligence is a neglected virtue in the 21st century.  Very few people seem to be diligent about anything.  We live in a world where everything and anything is at our fingertips through the internet, where televisions and films take us instantly across the globe or even to other worlds, and where more books filled with stories and distractions are published each year than ever before - not to mention my favourite time consuming, diligence eating, past time: computer games.  

With so many distractions it is little wonder we find it ever more difficult to stick at something.  Long gone are the days when a person would pick a single trade or hobby and become a master of it to the exclusion of others.  These days if you want to pick up a musical instrument the world offers you a confusing selection of options and capitalism ensures that if you have the money you can try them all till you find the one you like the most.  Getting bored of attempting to master painting watercolours? No problem! Just swap to another kind of art, heck you can even leave the traditional materials and do everything on your computer.  Getting tired of actually having a job? No problem! Just move into your parents basement and create a man-cave of action figures (in their boxes obviously!) and gaming consoles.

When it comes to the precepts of God, however,  His commands and decrees, we are called on to keep them all with diligence.  We are to be careful in observing them and persistent in bringing each and every area of our life under His command.  This takes effort, it is a process which we will have to go through till we die and we are finally glorified at the resurrection.  When we take knocks, when we fall and fail, when we face opposition or oppression, we cannot turn to some other way of life - we must be diligent and focused.  As a stonemason carefully chips away at the boulder to make a beautiful statue, so we too must chip away at our lives to make ourselves into an image of Jesus Christ.  The stonemason requires concentration, vision, training, time, patience, and of course great diligence.  The same is true for our sanctification.   When people look at our lives, would they see in us people who diligently fulfil the commands of God.  Let us call on Jesus to grant us this diligence through the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Happiness in Him - Psalm 119.2

Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart. 119.2

So much of life seems to be taken up with the search for happiness.  Popular wisdom is full of little sayings about happiness:

“Anyone who says money doesn’t make you happy doesn’t know where to shop”

“Happiness is not a destination but a way of life”

“Happiness is a home full of friends”

But the Bible takes a different route.  True happiness is found in living as God told us to and seeking Him with all that we are and all which we have.  It really should not surprise us that a loving God would tell us what is best for us - including what brings true joy and happiness.  After all, what father doesn’t long for their child to be happy?  Sometimes keeping the decrees of God can seem like something which will bring sorrow and misery - just think of how many people believe that Christians are kill-joys and prudes.  If we measure happiness in the same way the world does this is not surprising.  But is true happiness really found in sex, binge drinking, spending money on things which you either don’t need or death will take from you?  People who think happiness is in such things need their minds washing clean.  In Jesus we are offered a source of happiness which nothing can touch, nothing can destroy, nothing can take away.  In Jesus we are offered a happiness based on knowing we are loved by the God of the universe simply because He loves us and not because we have to earn that love or match up to anything.  

Jesus would talk about seeking first the Kingdom of Heaven - seeking first God and His rule in our lives.  We should seek this because it is something which cannot be taken from us or destroyed (Matthew 6.19-20).  We should seek it with all we are because nothing in this universe could ever be as amazing and awesome as it is.  Everything we could ever own or have in this world is second rate to what God offers and we should sell and give up everything we have and know in order to embrace the Kingdom (Matthew 13.45-46).

True happiness is something people are always searching for but never find unless they turn to Christ.  Only in Jesus is there the “fullness of joy” and only at the right hand of God are there “pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16.11). Let us lay down our life as we seek after Jesus and His decrees with all our heart, all our mind, all our strength - in this is true happiness.

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