Archive blog entries 03 2018

25th March 2018

Living the Life of Faith 2:

Last week I wrote about this topic particularly emphasising that if Christ is the gateway to the true life of God, then in order to truly live as God intended, we need to live in Christ in faith. This life of faith is a liberating, life enhancing experience when the Word & Spirit are united in our lives. It is not that we are seeking to live a life of balance; no, the life of faith is not balanced – rather it is a full-on, edge of the seat type of life. This does not mean that there is an absence of contentment, peace, joy & tranquillity of soul; in the life of faith these are actually more truly experienced & a constant part of the life of one who so walks with Christ. Reading the biographies of the heroes of faith emphasises this truth.

This is Holy Week, the most important week in the Christian calendar. It is a week during which we prepare our hearts for the sombre challenge of Good Friday, & the victorious liberation which is Easter Sunday. The events & words which surround Easter are so familiar conveying the gravity & importance of what took place that first Easter. In all the familiarity, we must be careful not to lose sight of the central character, the Lord Jesus. It is possible to be so caught up in what Easter means for me - forgiveness, hope, salvation in Christ, peace with God & the hope of resurrection to eternal life – that we attach our need to the story. If we allow ourselves to think this way then it is possible to also think that Easter is not about the past, once for all-time sacrifice of Christ, but about how I benefit from His cross. This is not faith-filled, Christ-honouring thinking – this is a form of humanism which enthrones self & relegates the divine revelation in the Bible to the place of serving self’s own freedom & wholeness. Christ did not seek my, nor humanities, improvement through His atonement, He sought to redeem fallen me & fallen humanity & unite the believer to Father God through the New Birth & regeneration life in the Spirit.

The community aspect of faith is really important. Our faith does not sit in isolation from the rest of society. Our faith is actually the hallmark of who we are & what we are. It is our life of faith which identifies us as Christ’s followers. Some see their faith as so intimate & personal that they do not share their devotion to Christ with others. A private faith that is never confessed or lived out before others is not biblical. The confession of faith is more than a theological statement or declaration before persecutors of Christians – it is a day in day out, every week, every month & every year manner of life. Jesus spoke about, ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. About not lighting a lamp & putting it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, & it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, He tells us to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds & glorify our Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14-16).

Living the life of faith contributes to the community of faith, the Church. More than this though, it has the power to actually see transformation of that community as we live Spirit-filled, righteous & good fruit producing lives. The overspill from this life of faith also enables us to serve Christ in society as God’s ambassadors. This life of faith is a powerful, life-transforming force. It is Kingdom of God focussed & bases its life on those Kingdom values.

Ultimately, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who comes to Him must believe that He is, & that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6). A genuine faith will lead to closing one’s door & earnestly asking, seeking & knocking at His throne room’s door in thanksgiving, praise & prayer – personal worship. However, it doesn’t stop there - it also recognises the need to be part of the community of faith in a corporate, church based setting. This Easter, may God guide our steps further into the well-pleasing life of faith in Christ.
God Bless
Pastor Leslie

 


19th March 2108

Living the Life of Faith:

How many times have I run from the life of faith? Jesus said that He came to give us abundant life; elsewhere that He is the fresh bread that nourishes & feeds God’s life in us. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the One who brings life giving water; He is also the One who brings us into God’s life in Christ, Regeneration & the New Birth.  These are only a few of the many life-giving illustrations used to reveal the theological truth that God is the Creator of all, & the Author of eternal life. God is Creator, He is the only truly self-sufficient One – within Himself He contains the eternal source for His own life; every other living being received the gift of life from God Himself. Christ is God, co-existent & co-eternal with the Father & Spirit. John 1:3-4, ‘All things were made through Him, & without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, & the life was the light of men.’

If Christ is the gateway to the true life of God, then in order to truly live as God intended, we need to live in Christ in faith. Without faith in Jesus we are dead to God’s eternal life. ‘In Jesus is my life’ – do I truly believe that – am I accepting that in faith? It is a big question. If I cannot accept that statement, then I am denying God’s witness of Christ, & choosing to remain in spiritual death in unbelief. Instead of receiving the gift of eternal life by grace through faith, I continue faithless in the life of the world in unbelief. The world’s life promises everything but is unable to deliver on the ultimate hope – true, abundant life because it is a life lived without a saving faith in Christ. When a person eats the world’s bread, it fills them really full, but takes them away from faith in Christ. It is a bread of death that is carnal & destructive to the purposes for which humankind were created, to love, worship & serve God. The world’s water is drawn from an anti-Christ, faithless spring. It does not quench the soul’s thirst, cannot give true life & causes the one who drinks it to find they have filled themselves from a futile & foolish source.

Many people fear to live in faith. The Freemason & doubting the Bible Mark Twain wrote, ‘The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.’ The American minister & scholar, Revd Henry Van Dyke wrote, ‘Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live.’ Twain is interesting in that he lived a very full life, became perhaps the most celebrated American author of his day, & yet he struggled to believe in the revelation of the Bible. On the other hand, Van Dyke was a man of deep & profound faith, who was also highly regarded in his day. It is possible to live as a Christian so conservatively & safely that we never enter into the life of faith; it is possible to be like Twain filled with doubt & unbelief. Instead of living liberally & in a faith-filled way - we only do that which we can understand, & never step out beyond our own resources into the abundant provision of God in Christ. It is possible to live a life so full of faith in Christ that we are not afraid to die, & point others to that same abundant life.

It is the life of faith that enables us to truly live as God intended in Christ. As we read the Bible, really absorb it, & allow it to live in us – it creates faith. Romans 10:16-17, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? So then faith comes by hearing, & hearing by the word of God.’ In Greek, the words for ‘report’ & ‘hearing’ are the same, it is the context that causes them to be interpreted differently. It is better to see them as both sides of the same coin. The ‘report’ is the preaching of God’s word, the ‘hearing’ is those listening to God’s word being preached. Is preaching in itself then the important act which causes faith? No, it is preaching God’s word. It is right to say that listening to biblically based sermons does inspire faith.

Faith is not an empty hope, but a real, tangible fact which grows out of both hearing God’s word preached, & studying God’s word to enable one to be able to share it. This goes beyond merely reading the Bible, to a deep interaction with the Bible. It is this Spirit-inspired interaction that creates the faith that leads to the true spiritual life God calls us to. What holds me back from the living the life of faith? May God help me to overcome, in Christ, whatever holds me back so that I live fully in Christ as He calls me to...
God Bless
Pastor Leslie 


 

11th March 2018

Joan & I...

This evening my wife Joan & I co-led a study on relationship in Church. It was based on Ephesians 5:22-33, & was in part a study on the passage of Scripture, a reflection on our own relationship & history, & a chance to explore marriage & relationship. We began with the passage mentioned above & then developed the 40mins session. The following is developed from our joint notes for the talk.

‘Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you [joint heirs] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.’ ESV, 1 Peter 3:7. This passage brings to the fore the need for husbands to be considerate & understanding of their wives personality, gifting & nature. In the ancient Near Eastern world women were treated as next to slaves by many men. A man would sit while the woman worked, a man would ride the donkey while the woman walked or ran alongside. Peter is introducing the concept of chivalry into the Christian vocabulary. Instead of forcing women to do that which seemed beneath men, he was saying that husbands should honour their wives in Christ by taking the role of a servant helping & supporting her.

This working together was based not on the wider society’s unfavourable views of women, but on the fact that both are joint heirs of the grace of life in Christ – they have equal spiritual rights & that, in Christ, both have equal access to the throne of grace. If a husband did not apply these principles to his relationship with his wife, his prayers would be hindered or blocked. He would suffer spiritually, but also in every way as a Christian man.

In Ephesians 5:25, Love is to be the basis of the marriage relationship as exemplified in Christ’s relationship with the Church. In fact, Paul uses the usual designation for God’s love in Christ throughout the passage, agape. In v. 28 & 29, husbands are to love their loves as they do themselves, precisely because they are one flesh or body in marriage. He is to Nurture, be sensitive to her needs –& this is mutually beneficial. In addition, he is to Cherish his wife – v. 29.These two actions, nurturing & cherishing, uniquely reflect the actions of Christ towards His church. Finally, he is to offer spiritual Protection – v. 26. Again, reflecting the actions of Christ, a husband’s love have a positive outcome – it produces a cleansing effect in the woman’s heart removing impurities & setting her apart for Christ’s honour & glory. It also brings a sense of security & safety to the woman knowing that her Christian husband is doing these things for her.

How do my actions contribute to Joan’s well-being – spiritual, emotional & physical well-being? v. 33: Lack of love weakens marriages & destabilises wives. On the other hand disrespect destroys a man’s sense of self-worth. Many are married, but function as a single without considering these aspects to their marriage. God considers these – we need to also.

Joan: Living together within God’s boundaries is an important foundational principle. This includes a true Commitment to one another. It requires a true Understanding of what is needed to make a successful marriage. It demands Flexibility, to be able to adapt to the different phases a marriage goes through.

Working together in love & with grace is a truly satisfying & enriching thing to do. Being Faithful to each other is a choice, a statement of the will, & a thing of honour. Supporting each other is at the heart of the ‘one flesh union.’ Lack of support leads to a breaking down of the unity required to work together successfully. Achieving together adds depth to the marriage. This includes raising children, teaching them about faith & life; Demonstrating how to be a Christian by how we live together; Teaching them about faith because of our example; Training them to have a good work ethic because this equips them to go out & be productive in society. Building a home together requires prayer, love & devotion to one another & the marriage. Contributing to Church is important to us, & a central precept which our marriage seeks to encourage.

Sharing goals & sharing the load makes our marriage function. It is important to define the goals to aim for: whether to have Children, & how to raise them; the commitment & dedication to the Farm we lived on; when it came to going to Bible College; & in the years since then in Ministry in Telford.

Understanding each other includes knowing each other’s Love language – Joan’s is Acts of Service; what each other enjoys; & what frustrates each other. Sticking together when it gets tough is also something that is a choice, but is supported by all that is above.

Safe & Secure means trusting each other, being faithful to each other, & choosing to respect each other. Both of us know that our feelings of being Loved & Valued happen because we were always attracted to each other, enjoy each other’s company, & want the best for each other. We do love each other. We care for each other. We pray together & read the Bible together. Paul’s command for wives to respect their husbands, & husbands to love their wives is still just as relevant today as in the day he wrote it.

God Bless
Pastor Leslie & Joan


4th March 2018

Simplicity of Faith:

People have a propensity to make life complicated; as well as discovering that life is by nature often very complex. It never starts out that way. We begin with the idea that life is straightforward, that the choices we have to make will be clear & easily defined, that things will fall into place as we had hoped, that circumstances will run in our favour, & that we will have the time to really do a good job of everything we do. Then, as we grow up, we begin to realise that life includes lots of complexity, choices can appear to be the lesser of two evils, that things can work against us as well as for us, that there is never enough time to do one job well because we have three things that need done at once. The older we get the more we realise that actually life is very short, & that opportunities & our own vitality are exhaustible commodities. In fact, we realise that we have only got the time to do a few things really well in life, & it can take years to be able to actually do these well. Instead of a whole lifetime ahead, we understand how short a lifetime really is. In fact, instead of shaping the world around us because of what we do, we discover that we have been shaped by the world & it is largely unchanged by our presence. At this point it is easy to allow the weight & overwhelming complexity of the world to crush us & make us conform to its hugeness & sinfulness.

That simple statement, ‘simplicity of faith’ is almost an unreachable goal; because I do believe that ‘simplicity of faith’ is a noble goal to aim for. How do we move from this simply being an aim in life that we never achieve to it becoming a dominant defining motive that we live out day by day? I believe it requires two shifts in our thinking. The first is easily presented but hard to achieve, the second hard to define & hard to achieve. The two verses I want to base these two points on are Proverbs 3:5-6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart & lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, & He will make your paths straight or direct your paths.’

1. We have been conditioned by the Humanistic & Rationalistic society we live in to question everything, doubt every absolute claim, & to disbelieve every statement of ‘truth.’ For instance, my sister Ann did a BSc degree, in other words empirically based study during which you cannot make a definite claim without irrefutable supporting evidence. When Ann did a theology course based on BA principles, she really struggled to acknowledge that the Bible could be a Primary Resource. Her BSc study had conditioned her to believe it could only be Secondary at best as it contains no empirical scientific proof. I guess that sums up societies view of the Bible.

Trusting in the Lord with everything that we are is a choice, but also an attitude to life & faith. I believe we can also add to ‘not leaning on our own understanding’ without doing undue damage to the text if we were to say, ‘not leaning on our own understanding, nor the world’s.’ Stating this is easy – not leaning on self nor the world is hard. Self-reliance is a difficult enemy of the Cross of Christ to overcome. ‘We must trust Him with the direction of our lives...there must be a healthy mistrust of self, an acknowledgement that we do not know what is best for us, that we are not capable of guiding ourselves’ (W. MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.798).

2. What did the writer mean when saying, ‘in all your ways submit to Him?’ How can this be done? Thomas Watson, the 17th Century Puritan writer in ‘The Godly Man’s Picture, p.22, writes about the fact that many want Jesus the Saviour, the Rescuer, but few want Him as Christ the Lord, the Master of their lives. Trusting in the Lord requires us to submit to Christ Jesus the Lord. This is hard to define & very hard to do. Two weeks ago I wrote about Christ’s Lordship & finished with eight values to live by (see Thought for the Week 24-2-2018). Today it is more about the application of all of this to our lives through simplicity of faith. In other words, living in the Higher Life of Christ in the power of the Spirit & in the full light & freedom that submitting to the Lordship of Christ brings.

These shifts in our thinking must also include a shift in our emotional responses & feelings. It is a matter of the heart as much as of the mind. I suppose I am ready to give a definition of ‘simplicity of faith’: ‘Taking God at His word & trusting completely in Christ as Lord.’ If this becomes central to how we live, then life becomes simple because we are now living as mature disciples as God intends & trusting Christ to guide us through life’s complexities & complications, joys & opportunities.
God Bless
Pastor Leslie



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