Why Read Old?

Do you like reading books or texts that were written a long time ago? At the moment I’m reading a little book that has mini-biographies of some heroes of the faith in, William Wilberforce and Charles Simeon for example. The rich ideas and different way of phrasing things really does make you think. Trying to read works that were written long ago (over 100 years) can be a real challenge though!

The writing style, sentence structure, vocabulary, and overall length is in sharp contrast to how our contemporary culture consumes content (how long is a tweet?).

What can become a difficulty can either make the text something to savour, or something to stumble over. This is purely down to the personal opinion of any given reader; maybe you love reading old, maybe you really don’t!

Why, then, is it important to occasionally pause and look back? Well, we see that the faith we are contending for now in 2020 is the same faith, with the same Saviour, with the same wonderful, sure, steadfast foundation as the faith of those who lived in a time gone by. It points to the eternality of Christ, the endurance of the faith, the generation-spanning character of our great and awesome God. Our 2020 faith, squashed and squeezed by temporary COVID restrictions is the same faith that fought slavery (Wilberforce), endured hostility, and allowed men to serve in one place for half a century (Simeon), and more.

So, reading something that was written in the 1800s might not be for everybody every day, but it is certainly useful for us all once in a while!

The grass withers,

the flower fades, 

but the word of our God will stand 

forever.

Isaiah 40.8

Today then, try and read something written before you were born. If you’re not sure where to find something, try here;

Charles Spurgeon – https://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/spurgeon_charles/

John Calvin – https://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/calvin_john/

Anathanasius of Alexandria – https://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/athanasius/

D.Martin Lloyd-Jones – https://www.monergism.com/search?f%5B0%5D=author:34450

Charles Simeon – https://www.monergism.com/search?keywords=simeon&format=All&f%5B0%5D=author%3A36498

William Wilberforce – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/25709/25709-h/25709-h.htm

Where Is The Hope I Need?

We read Scripture and want to be like this, don’t we? We want to be the ideal and perfect person we see there. We want to keep the laws immaculately, we want to be everything that God wants us to be, don’t we? But without exception our flesh is weak and alone we will never do it, and that repeated failure can create a hopeless feeling. We need help, and we need hope. 

Often people reminisce about years gone by and lament that they didn’t live in previous generations. Just think though, if we found ourselves living in yesteryear, in Old Testament times and under the Old Covenant, then we would be bound to keep laws that try as we might, we would never be able to keep. We would want to, so badly, but whilst the mind is willing, the flesh is so weak (Matthew 26.41). This Old Covenant, this old way of relating to God was rooted in what we needed to do; keep the laws, maintain righteousness (Deuteronomy 30.15-18, 1 Samuel 12.14-15).

The New Covenant, a new way of relating to God, was promised by Jeremiah and was brought into play by the death of Jesus (Jeremiah 31.31-33, Luke 22.20). It sits internally within us, it has the power to actually change you, but it is rooted externally. It no longer rests on you in order to be affective. Can you feel the burden lifted and the hope restored?

The hope we need is not found in anything we do,

in anything we can earn,

or in anything we deserve. 

The hope we need for the future is found in the promise and person of Jesus. He is the guarantor of this covenant, He promises better things for you;

Jesus promised rest (Matthew 11). Burdens are lifted at Calvary and hope came alive.

Jesus promised abundant to those who follow Him (John 10.10). Following Jesus brings us more spiritual fulfilment than we could have ever anticipated. We leave any traces of a boring, restless, unfulfilled life behind.

Jesus promised eternal life to those who trust Him (John 4.14). The Good Shepherd also promised to hold us securely.

Jesus promised that He will return for us (John 14.2-3). From then on, we will be with Him always.

No matter how many promises God has made, they are all yes and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1.20). 

Don’t look outwardly for hope as if it rests on circumstances, behaviour, or others. The world as we know it has just crumbled and melted away this past couple of months, hasn’t it? Everything we put stock in for contentment, fulfilment, or security has been found wanting. 

Don’t look inwardly as if it rests on you.

Where is the hope we all need? Look upwardly.

Whatever we are going through, no matter the circumstances, there is no greater hope for today and for the future than the hope found in Jesus.

There is no promise of a trouble free life, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. There will be hardship, there will be tough and troubling times, but, there is the promise that you will not go through it alone.

There is the promise that whatever you are going through, that He knows, that He cares, and that it is all working together to change you little by little more into the image of Himself.

The hope we need is found in the person and promises of Jesus. 

Beyond The Headline

Have you ever been taken in by a headline? It was just so shocking or attention-grabbing you had to watch, or read, or listen?

Every time we switch on the T.V., or pick up our phones there are headlines to read. Some true, some partially true, some not at all true. There are, research says, around 2million blog posts, 864,000 hours of video, and 400million tweets put out into the world every day ¹. Each comes with a headline that wants you to fully consume, digest, and act on their content. 

What does this mean for us, then? Well, it means the headline and the first bits of information we take in are very, very important. It’s important to think, do I want to pursue this information, or not, and how am I going to act once I have? Let’s look at a Biblical model and draw a conclusion.

In 2 Samuel 1.1-16 we see David getting information, investigating the information, and then responding accordingly to the information, and it’s a model for us in our Christian walk.

In vv.1-4 David gets the headline – Saul and Jonathan are dead. He lets the messenger give the news, in full, before asking any questions or even before speaking. How often do we want to jump in and ask questions, clarify things, argue, or interrupt?

In vv.5-10 David actually checks and investigates the claim with astute questions. 1 Samuel 31.4-6 and 1 Chronicles 10.4-7 seem to suggest that this guy was not telling the whole truth. 

In vv.11-16, David responds accordingly.

So David got the information, checked and investigated, and responded accordingly. If, though, David took the headline and acted on it after v.4 without asking questions, then this Amalekite could have been rewarded for his dishonesty, and David wouldn’t have had the full picture.

For us, it’s important that we look beyond the headline. It’s important that we don’t get caught up in and act upon stories that have a grain of truth in them covered with a large helping of opinion and conspiracy and agenda. 

Let me say it this way – Christian, you have no business in the proliferation, promulgation, or proclamation of highly charged cultural commentary, conspiracy, or agenda-driven soap-boxing.

Let me make it simpler – Don’t read it, watch it, listen to it, share it, post it, or comment on it.

Let me make it even simpler – Don’t.

Jesus didn’t die to give you a spirit of gullibility, conspiracy, or susceptibility. He came, lived, died, rose, and ascended to give you a spirit of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1.7). Believer, control yourself when presented with content that contains more falsehoods that verifiable facts.

Control what you listen to, watch, share, and indulge in (Philippians 4.8).

Control what you are fixing your mind on (Colossians 3.1-2). 

Filter what you take in through what you know to be true (John 17.17). 

Be very careful, it’s a slippery slope.

As Charles Simeon once said, 

“Once a man engages in [controversies like this] it is surprising how the love of it will grow upon him; and he will find both a hare in every busy, and will follow it with something of a huntsman’s feelings.”

Simply, once you get started in this kind of story watching, this kind of keyboard-warrioring, it will be very, very difficult to stop. Use that spirit of self-control to regulate what you allow into your life, use that spirit of love to think of others before you post or comment, and use the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to keep your mind fixed firmly on things above, where Christ is. 

COVID, the Christian, and Doubt

Let’s be honest, we’re not enjoying the way the world is at the moment, are we? Not gathering as the church, kids not going to school and not seeing their friends, not getting together with our own adult friends, the inability to travel and see family, friends, or far-off lands. Honestly, not many people can say they are 100% happy with the world right now. This also makes us doubt, doesn’t it? Why is this happening, is this consistent with a good and loving God? How do I feel about all of this?

So is it ok to doubt? As a Christian, is it ok to doubt? Honestly, it depends.

There are different kinds of doubt, and whether it’s ok to entertain them depends on the particular type of doubt. Let’s break them down.

There are doubts of the will. Example – do I want to follow Jesus? Do I want to do this or that?

To this, the Bible has a strong response – James 1.5-8 says 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

There are doubts of the mind. Example – can this be proven? Do I understand this?

To this, the Bible has a softer response – Isaiah 1.18 says

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

Then, there are doubts of the emotion. Example – how do I feel about this?

In the latter stages of his short letter, Jude is writing specifically about those caught under false teaching, to those who are being taught things to make them feel differently about their faith. He writes,

have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 

Jude 1.22-23

Jude is talking, it seems, about doubts of the emotion – how do I feel about all of this? 

Doubts of the will, doubts of the mind, and doubts of the emotions.

Doubt is human and doubt is universal, says Os Guinness. We live in a broken world and to doubt how we feel about it all is sadly just a part of life. We are going to question how we feel about things on an almost daily basis. Maybe how you feel about COVID-19 and its impact on the world changes daily. That’s ok.

Doubt, inherently, isn’t a bad thing. 

Psalm 73 also speaks of the response to doubts of the heart.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

So, is it ok to have moments of doubt? Yes, absolutely.

Your feelings will change on all manner of things, maybe daily. When we come across people who hold a different opinion to us, when we come across people who are feeling differently about things to us, when we come across people who doubt things we don’t, Jude tells us to have mercy on those who doubt

Author Charles Hummel said that a stronger faith can emerge through doubt. It’s ok to doubt how you feel about things, change how you feel about things. It doesn’t make you a bad Christian if your feelings and emotions change on a topic back-and-forth. You learn some more, you feel differently about something. You feel differently about something, so you learn some more, and so on and so forth. The key for you as a believer will be to always and forever filter everything through the lens of Jesus, Jesus who never changes (Hebrews 13.8, John 8.58). Our desire to follow an unchanging and eternal God in an ever-changing world must never be doubted.

COVID may have you doubting how you feel about certain things, it may have you doubting how much you know about certain things, but, Christian, COVID should never have you doubting if you want to follow Jesus through all things.

Social Distancing: Staying Apart, But Staying Connected

As much of the world is now on lockdown, meaning that voluntary physical distancing became physical distancing through a government order, I wanted us as believers all over the world to consider the difference between “social distancing” and “physical distancing.”

Social Distancing vs. Physical Distancing

Rather than term what we are all doing as “social distancing,” would it not be better to refer to this as “physical distancing?”

Here’s why this is important:

  • Social distancing means that we are isolated socially, not in touch with anybody, alone, feeling abandoned and definitely not part of a loving and living body of people (1 Corinthians 12:12).
  • Physical distancing is simply just that; you don’t get too close to people. This is a small difference in choice of words, but a huge difference in understanding, acceptance, and consequently, practice.

For the sake of others, let us practice physical distancing willingly and obediently. Let us be the model citizens the Word calls us to be (Romans 13:1) and exemplify those who put into practice the instructions of our respective national governments that are given for the good of all.

The church is still the church despite physical distance. Nothing will stop the church being the church. Nothing. Jesus said that, on the bedrock truth that He is the Son of God, nothing would ever prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18), and being physically distant from each other for a fixed period of time will certainly not. So, valuing others more highly than ourselves, let us willingly practice physical distancing.

During this unprecedented time, we have a wonderful opportunity to see if the church is really the church.

We will see if this body of people is self-supporting, self-sustaining and self-supplicating (James 5:16).

  • Is the church reaching out to the community?
  • Is the church meeting the needs found therein?
  • Is the church bathing its members in prayer?

We will see if this body of people is Kingdom focused or kingdom-focused (Matthew 6:24).

Is the church focused on God’s plans and purposes during this time, or is the church focused on the things that have been postponed or cancelled. Is the church focused on the programmes or the people?

We will see if the church is filling its God-given mandate to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

On any given Sunday (or Friday for me), the actual work of the church is usually done by a select few, those “on staff” maybe, or the faithful few who understand that serving the Lord through serving His people is not optional for the believer. Now that this physically cannot be the case, we will see whether the church family at large will spring into action and be the hands and feet of our Lord.

We will see if there is fruit and a root (James 2:14-26).

What we do always shows what we believe, so this time of enforced change will quickly bring to the surface through our actions what we hold dear and where we are willing to invest our time, talent and treasure. Does our fruit match what we claim to be our root?

Simply, we will see if this called-out-of-the-world group of people really are fully regenerate born again believers, part of the living body of Christ, or just a group of consumers who turn up to watch a religious TEDTalk once a week.

This is going to sting for some; this is going to turn some away (John 6:60), but for those truly part of the body, this is going to be a defining period of time, a call to action, a call to take up arms, a call to show that, yes, we are the church. We aren’t going anywhere; we are here for each other and for the world.

Brother, sisters, in a spirit of deferential love, let us willingly practice physical distancing, but let us not now nor ever be a church that is comfortable with social distancing. Let us come together, socially and spiritually, and show the world that we are the church today, tomorrow and every day.


This article was originally published here on April 9, 2020.

Rest

As we’ve all been adapting and changing to this temporarily augmented way of life because of the Coronavirus pandemic, many people will have been working harder, longer, and in stranger ways than ever before.

We set off sprinting into this pandemic, but we seem to have accepted that it isn’t going away anytime soon so we’ve slowed to marathon pace. Along the way, it’s now important that we pause and rest appropriately if we want to keep going.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Hebrews 4.9-10

Our enemy wants to keep us busy, distracted, stressed, and full of thoughts that are ultimately not about things that are good, noble, right, and pure (Philippians 4.8). He wants you bogged-down in the nitty-gritty of the here and now and everything that could go wrong, certainly not resting.

But, we really do need to rest! Lots of folks think about resting as going to the beach, doing nothing, firing up Netflix and kicking back on the couch to find out just how many tigers a man needs to keep. Maybe your idea of rest is different; maybe you rest by exercising, spending time with friends and family, sharing a meal, the list could go on and on…

We can have true rest from stress, anxiety, worries and weariness, and from our great accuser through one place and One person only: through Jesus

Hebrews 3 and 4 develops this idea that Jesus Himself is our rest, and the key to us understanding this is to understand what Jesus Himself said!

Jesus declared Himself as Lord of the sabbath in Matthew 12.8, and in Mark 2.27 said that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. 

In Hebrews we read of how a relationship with Jesus frees us from the works-based righteousness that being under a law demands. Jesus has done all of the work needed to satisfy the righteous requirements of God (John 19.28-30), and because of this, we can rest easy. There is no longer an incessant need to work, to earn, to strive for righteousness, to bear your own burdens and work them away, to occupy our every waking moment with thoughts of being good enough or accepted.

We can rest, we can recharge, and we can regroup and not worry that we are not fulfilling laws and expectations by doing so.

Jesus serves as our Sabbath rest in the sense that He provides freedom from living under the works of the law. Instead, His sacrifice has paid the price for our salvation in full. We accept salvation as His free gift, entering into His rest both now as well as in eternity in His presence. 

No pandemic or earthly circumstances will every change this, so whilst it might be tempting to work a bit longer, a bit harder, or a bit more because your situation has changed, never forget that the rest you have in Jesus is real and ready. The stress, anxiety, and burnout that comes from overworking yourself to try and get on top of your earthly circumstances will only increase the harder you try. 

So today rest, recharge, refocus, and remember that this is all possible through Jesus.

Social Distancing, Physical Distancing, and the Church

As much of the world now goes into lockdown meaning that voluntary social distancing becomes social distancing through government order, I wanted us to pause our study through Job and consider the difference between social distancing and physical distancing.

Rather than term what we are all doing social distancing,

would it not be better to refer to this as physical distancing?

Social distancing means that we are isolated socially, not in touch with anybody, alone, feeling abandoned, and definitely not part of a loving and living body of people (1 Corinthians 12.12).

Physical distancing is simply just that; you don’t get too close to people.

Small difference in choice of words, HUGE difference in understanding, acceptance, and practice.

For the sake of others, let us practice willingly and obediently physical distancing. The church is still the church despite physical distance. Jesus said that on the bedrock truth that He is the Son of God, that He is Divine, that He is the Messiah, that He is Almighty God,

I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Matthew 16.18b

During times of adversity and tribulation and trial, we will see if the church is really the church.

We will see if this body of people is self-supporting, self-sustaining, and self-supplicating (James 5.16).

We will see if this body of people is Kingdom focused, or kingdom focused (Matthew 6.24).

We will see if the church is filling its God-given mandate to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20).

We will see if there is fruit and a root (James 2.14-26).

We will see if this called-out-of-the-world group of people really are fully regenerate born again believers part of the living body of Christ, or just a group of consumers who turn up to watch a religious TEDTalk once a week.

This is going sting for some, turn some away (John 6.60), but for those truly in the body this is going to be a defining period of time, a call to action, a call to take up arms, a call to show that yes, we are the church, we aren’t going anywhere, we are here for each other and for the world. 

Brother, sisters, let us practice physical distancing but not social distancing, and let us show the world that we are the church today, tomorrow, and every day.