Watching Daily At Wisdom's Gates

A Yorkshireman's take on life, death, and eternity

Month: May, 2016

Charisma

“Therefore, I want you to know that no-one who speaks by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed’, and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 12:3

At university, this chapter, and the subject of “charisma” (spiritual gifts) was one of the most debated theological topics among the Christian students. Sadly, we never seemed to get the point. The charisma weren’t given by the Holy Spirit to the church to divide us between Charismatics and Evangelicals, but to unite us, as each member of the church uses their charisma to serve the rest of the body of Christ.

But I want to take a step even further back. If we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, that is a work of His Holy Spirit. But unless we live like Jesus is Lord and join ourselves to the body of Christ, that statement, although true, has no reality in our lives. The tongue cannot say, ‘Jesus is Lord, but I don’t like the brain so I want the hand to cut me out of the body’! That’s ridiculous: if Jesus is Lord of our lives we will be part of his church.

Only then can we start thinking about charisma. But once we do, the one with a prophetic charisma cannot curse the one with the helpful charisma, any more than someone would curse their own arm! Neither than the helpfully charismatic arm decide that they don’t need the charismatically wise eyes to see what help is needed.

The church is the united, diverse body of Christ on earth, a gifted, charismatic organism. So if you know that Jesus is Lord, find your spiritual gift to serve the church to evangelise the earth: to tell the good news of the Lord Jesus for all who repent and believe.

“Heavenly Father, I confess that Jesus is Lord of life, victorious over death. Help me find my place in his body, the church, to fulfil his great commission: to go and make him known in all the world. To the praise of your glory, amen”

Help

Psalm 121:1-2
A song of ascents
“I lift my eyes up to the mountains- where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”

This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible. I used to live in a flat where almost every time I lifted up my eyes I was looking across the Pennine Hills and remembering that my help comes from the Lord.

This Psalm is a song of ascents: it’s what the pilgrims would sing on their way up to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the Lord. Most ancient religions had their high places where they burned their sacrifices to their gods: including their own children. But only Israel worshipped El Elyon: God Most High, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Last weekend I got to stay in the Yorkshire Dales, amongst the Pennine Hills. As we admired the view, I could well have said to the people I was with: “See all this? I know the One who made it all, and He’s my helper!” (But I didn’t). The Psalmist is filled with wonder, love and praise: it’s as though he has to remind himself that the Creator of the cosmos cares about some mere mortal like him.

What a priviledge to know our Maker as our helper, and how we need His help! The mountains might be beautiful, awesome, breathtaking places, but they are also dangerous: it’s easy to break a leg or be robbed by bandits on the way up to Jerusalem.

We are disciples, followers of Jesus, on pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. Like the Israelite pilgrims of old, it helps to sing and speak encouragement as we travel through this world of woe to the heavenly city, the Zion of God.

“Lord God, Maker of heaven and earth, what a priviledge and joy to know you as my helper. Thank you that although I’m insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I matter to you, you love me so much that you sent your Son to die for me. Help me as I journey home to you, in Jesus name, amen”

Singleness is good (6)

Paul, the single apostle of Christ, has some great teaching on singleness.

 

1 Corinthians 7:6-9 says “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this: I wish that all were as I myself am. But each one has his own gift from God, one of one kind, and one of another.

 

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

 

Paul describes both marriage and singleness as gifts. Gifts are good things. One person may get a gift of socks and another of chocolates but they’re both good. It’s wrong to envy another person’s gift.

 

And controversially Paul describes singleness as a good thing, seemingly contradicting Genesis 2. But loneliness can’t be equated with singleness any more than marriage can be equated with companionship. Paul was blessed with many faithful companions in his labours for the gospel.

 

But although Paul and Jesus believed singleness to be preferable, they never suggested that to be married is to be sub Christian. They said that singleness enables undivided devotion to God’s kingdom, but if that isn’t physically possible for an individual, then it’s perfectly acceptable to get married.

 

Fellowship

Psalm 122:1
A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’

This is another Psalm that means a lot to me. I was very depressed a few years ago. Often, when the family went to church, I felt too upset to go. But sometimes my family encouraged me to go. Other times they suggested I stayed, but I insisted on going, even though I was a nervous wreck.

And every time I went to the house of the Lord, the gathering of God’s people, and even though emotionally I was often miserable, spiritually I rejoiced to be part of the household of faith. A Sunday service or midweek Bible study and prayer meeting may seem pretty mundane, but it’s where forgiven sinners meet with a holy God.

Some might say that they can meet with God as they are, on the basis of their own good deeds. They might even admit their need of forgiveness, but they still think that ultimately salvation is for those whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds.

But as far as the Holy One is concerned, only 100% goodness qualifies us for a place in the paradise of God. If we think that our shoddy efforts at religious observance will persuade the Lord God that we’re good enough for heaven, then we’re deluded.

Only by coming to God on his own terms can we be welcomed into His presence, and offer worship that is acceptable to Him. Admission of our guilt and unworthiness must come first, and then a recognition that salvation is 100% of the Lord: achieved for us by the death of his Son on the cross.

Every knee will bow to the risen Christ: and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. For the believer, it is a joy to do so. For the unbeliever, it is the prelude to eternal judgement.

“Lord God Almighty, we confess that you alone are holy. But we thank you that we can be made righteous by the blood of your Son, and we can enjoy eternal life because he is risen victorious over the grave. Help me now to live a life that’s dependent on Your love. Thank you that you are preparing me for heaven by your Holy Spirit. Thank you for the fellowship I enjoy with your people, worshipping you in spirit and truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Purification

“Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time”

Daniel 11:35

The first half of Daniel is straightforward narrative, with famous Sunday School stories of the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, and crazy kings. If that wasn’t dramatic enough, the second half of Daniel is terrifying visions of animals and kings fighting each other, until the Ancient of Days sends the Son of Man to wrap things up.

It’s like some fantastical film with the latest special effects, but this is prophesy of world history. Israel was in exile in Babylon, kings of north and south were fighting each other, mighty warriors became warlords, and it must have been terrifying for God’s people.

But God promised that even though the wise may stumble in their exile, he will refine them and make them fitted for heaven. The world is a crazy place: wars, rumours of wars, famine, plague, epidemics. Christians are persecuted, killed, mocked for their faith, sometimes even flattered by false believers. But ultimately God will bring them out of his furnace like pure gold, suitable for the King of Kings to accept into his presence.

God has to burn away our dross. He needs to hone us like precious stones, so that we can become a beautiful dwelling place for his majesty. In the midst of the craziness, remember that the Ancient of Days is working his purposes out, and when the Son of Man returns, we will be seen for what we are.

“Heavenly Father, in the craziness of this world, help us remember that you are the King of Kings and that your Son, the man Christ Jesus, will return to set his rule and reign. Help us trust you as you refine us, and make us into something beautiful, crafting us to reflect something of your beauty. In Jesus’ name, amen”

Mercy

Psalm 123:3
A song of ascents
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt.

Mercy is God not treating us as we deserve, because of his unfailing love for us. Jesus told of the tax collector in the temple who prayed “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. And Jesus said that he, rather than the religious man, went home justified before God.

King David had the wisdom to know that he too, and his fellow pilgrims, needed God to be merciful to sinners like him, so much so that he prays it twice. The reason he gives is that they have endured unceasing contempt. No doubt as they journeyed to Jerusalem there were plenty of unbelievers who couldn’t be bothered to go and worship the Lord with his people.

Plenty of enemies lurked in the hills around Jerusalem, people who would kill, steal and destroy given half a chance. The pilgrims know that they deserve no better: the penalty for their sins is death, but they are asking the Lord to have mercy upon them, knowing that God is at His heart merciful and delights to draw near to those who will draw near to him.

“Lord God, thank you for who you are, a merciful, bountiful God, abounding in lovingkindness. Take note of the contempt we endure, and deliver us to worship you with glad and sincere hearts, forgiving and forgiven in your Son Jesus. In his name we pray, amen.”

Confession

2Sam 12:13 NIV Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.”

David had sinned big time! He had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and had her husband murdered so he could be with her. He had ruined two families and as king of Israel had brought God’s people into shame and disrepute.

And yet despite all the people he had wronged, when he was finally confronted about his sin, he confessed that it was against the Lord he had sinned.

At face value it seems insensitive of him to not recognise his sin towards Uriah, Bathsheba, his family and his nation. But David had come to understand that his offense was first and foremost against God and His Word.

Thus is how we begin healing from our sins: not just to confess to the people we have wronged but to the Lord whom we have offended. Check out Psalm 51, David’s song of repentance, where he tells God “Against you, and you only have I sinned”. Sin ultimately boils down to rebellion against a holy God and it is to him that we must seek reconciliation before we can start to make amends to others.

God’s law commanded the death penalty for adultery and murder, and that’s what David deserved. But Nathan came with the message that the Lord had put away his sin and that he would not die. What amazing grace! But the consequences of David’s sin would remain: violence and abuse in his household and in his Kingdom. And his child with Bathsheba would die.

Maybe you’ve lusted after someone to commit adultery with them. Maybe you’ve hated someone and wished you could murder them. But there is forgiveness at the cross of Christ. Be confronted with your sin, confess it, and come to Christ for reconciliation. The consequences of our sin may continue, but the condemnation for them is gone when we come to the cross of Christ.

“Heavenly Father, I confess my sins to you today. Against you and you only have I sinned. Wash me in the blood of Christ and make me clean. Please take away the punishment I deserve. Please give me the grace to deal with the consequences of my sin, and break my heart for what breaks yours. For Jesus’ sake I pray, amen”

Loving The Law

“Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love”
Psalm 119:159

Psalm 119 is an epic love poem to… the Law of God! A bunch of rules seems a strange source of such sentiment, but David had come to see the beauty and perfection of God’s commands.

We live in an age where law is seen to be restrictive, constraining, a necessary evil. But for David, God’s Law was His way of telling His people the good life. It wasn’t just a gratuitously awkward list of do’s and don’ts, but a blueprint to living a fulfilled life in God’s world.

So David wanted God to consider how he loved His precepts. He didn’t resent God’s Word. He didn’t even just obsequiously submit to God’s statutes. He actually delighted in them and adored them.

God’s Law might be perfect, but we are not, and sometimes David might appear to be an eccentricly enthusiastic legalist. But this verse makes it abundantly clear that he had no delusions of perfection in his desire to fulfil God’s Law. He knew that any life he enjoyed was on the basis of God’s “hesed”: his steadfast, faithful, unfailing love.

It is right and good that we should love and seek to obey God’s Law, because it is a good think. But we mustn’t fall into a legalistic trap of seeking to earn our salvation through it. Our basis of eternal life is always and only the love of God for us in the Lord Jesus Christ, the lawgiver, perfect law keeper and the judge of all the earth.

The Law can only point to our need of Christ, like a childminder takes a child from school to his dad. The Law is better than lawlessness, but Christ is the best of all. In your reading of the Law of God, let it bring you to Christ, the perfect fulfilment of the Law and loving life giver.

“Loving God, thank you so much for giving us the Law. Thank you for showing us the right way to live. Help us to love it and follow it. May it lead us to the perfect law keeper Jesus, and let us adore Him for the eternal life He gives us in His love and righteousness. Thank you that His goodness is accounted to us and may we love the things that He loves as we seek to live lives that please Him. In His name we pray, amen.”

Thankfulness

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Us British pride ourselves on our politeness. We always make sure we mind our Ps and Qs! But when it comes to God, most Brits are functional atheists, we deny he exists, unless something goes wrong, which we then blame him for. There’s precious little thankfulness in the UK.

But Paul commands the Thessalonians to be thankful *in all circumstances*: not just when things are going well, but when times are hard as well. It’s natural and right that we should be thankful in the good times; but so much more counterintuitive to be grateful when bad stuff happens.

If we know that all things work together for our good, we can more readily be thankful even for perplexing circumstances. We can thank God for the difficult neighbour who reminds us that this world is not our own. We can thank God for the unemployment which enables us to take more time to meditate on His Word. We can even thank God for the cancer which destroys our idol of health and forces us to rely on Christ alone.

Why should we be thankful in all circumstances? Because that is God’s will for us. We often think of God’s will as some mystical thing that we need to unlock to discover what our future lives should bring. The Bible however is much more practical and describes God’s will as being for our holiness in the here and now, not just what we should do with our lives- what job we should take, where we should live and who we should marry etc.

God’s will for us is thankfulness in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not that God the Father wants us to always be thankful through gritted teeth and God the Son is apologetic about this difficult command. The triune God us perfectly united in His desire for us to be grateful to Him whatever life throws at us.

“Heavenly Father, thank you that whatever my circumstances you love me and are working all things out for my good. Help me be thankful in the hard times that you are causing me to rely less on the things of this world and more on you. Thank you above all for sending your Son to die for me, thankful that he could call a sinner like me His own. And it’s in Christ Jesus’ name I pray, amen”

A Father’s Love

“And the king was deeply moved and went up to his chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I have died instead of you, oh Absalom my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

Bear in mind that Absalom had led a rebellion against his father, was seeking to overthrow him, and basically wanted him dead. So David’s response to the news of victory over the rebels seems inappropriate. But Absalom was his dearly loved son, and a spoilt one at that, who had been pardoned by David after the murder of his step brother Amnon.

Remember God’s warning to David that his sin with Bathsheba would lead to a breakdown within his family and kingdom? This is where we see everything unravelling. Absalom had even brazenly slept with David’s concubines as part of his bid for the kingdom.

But David’s love for Absalom in some ways reflects God’s love for us. David would have died in Absalom’s place: the Lord Jesus actually did die in the place of sinners like us. God’s love for us is so much greater than David’s love for Absalom.

The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, even though it is a mercy for those who suffer at their hands. Furthermore, God desires that everyone should come to repentance and faith in him. David’s heart longed for reconciliation with his prodigal son, even if Absalom refused to return.

Having said all that, when the wicked are overthrown, the righteous rejoice. Absalom’s defeat was a day for rejoicing, not mourning, and David’s commander Joab rebuked him for damaging his army’s morale when they had just won a great victory for him.

David’s love for Absalom blinded him to the welfare of his nation. Let’s not let our love of our fellow sinners get in the way of more constructive relationships with our fellow believers. Don’t let natural affection blind you to what is right and good.

“Heavenly Father, thank you for your great love for us that you sent your Son to die in our place. Thank you that you don’t desire any to perish but all to come to repentance. But thank you too that you overthrow the wicked and you remain just as well as the justifier of the ungodly. Help me to have a godly love of others, and to rejoice in your victory over sin. In Jesus’ name, amen”