Friday, 20 November 2020

THE SECRET TO OVERCOMING OUR GREATEST FEAR

 THE SECRET TO OVERCOMING OUR GREATEST FEAR

Dale Carnegie was a self-confessed worry-wart who suffered horribly from anxiety. In one of his books he described himself as “one of the unhappiest lads in New York” (How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, 1948). He was fearful, anxious, and worried. Then something happened that changed him forever. F.W. Boreham was another person who battled with fear and anxiety. But unlike Dale Carnegie, he had good reasons for it. At the age of 15 he was nearly killed in a workplace rail accident which saw his life teeter in the balance for nine months. Doctors sent word to his mother telling her to prepare for the worst within the hour. Boreham’s severed right leg was amputated just below the knee in the best way they could in the 1880s, but the surgery was so crude that septicaemia soon riddled his body. Upon receiving the dire news, Boreham’s mother put her shawl on and went to her local church to pray and to plead for her boy’s life to be spared. Her prayers were miraculously answered but her son was understandably never the same again.

 

OUR GREATEST FEAR

You probably know what you’re afraid of. Some of us are fearful of heights. Others of us are fearful of spiders. Still some of us are fearful of speaking in public. I have a friend, who was in fact my tennis doubles partner for a couple of seasons, who confided in me that he was fearful of sharks. He also shared with me that he was going to do something about it so that he could overcome this fear (which he did). But our worst fears are not heights, spiders, the dark, or even confined spaces. At the root of our worst fears is our greatest fear – the fear of the unknown. (I suspect that the popular support for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill unfairly takes advantage of this crippling fear!) The aged Dr. F.W. Boreham would later go on to write in his autobiography –

Like the medieval saint, we can testify that we have had many and great troubles in our time, but most of them never happened!
Dr. F. W. Boreham, “My Pilgrimage”, p.221

In support of this discovery, we might paraphrase something that Mark Twain wrote as – 

“Our worst fears are the ones which never eventuate!”

People who see their life as something they have to live on their own, will often struggle with worry and fear – especially about the future. Kim was telling me that she saw a female performing artist on Youtube who shared that at the start of the 2020 year she established certain new year’s resolutions – earn more; travel more; socialise more; and take more control over her emotions (“stop crying so much”). Needless to say, she wasn’t able to achieve any of her goals! That’s the problem with making predictions – they often involve the future which can be quite surprising at times!

But there is a secret to overcoming our greatest fear – the fear of the unknown. This was what Dale Carnegie discovered, and what F.W. Boreham wrote so much about. It was King David discovered. 

¶ I sought the LORD, and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34:4

 

FEARING THE LORD HELPS US TO OVERCOME OUR GREATEST FEAR

When the apostle Paul was in Corinth and things were turning ugly, we have reason to think that he became somewhat fearful.

 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are My people.”
Acts 18:9-10

This was not the first time the Lord assured Paul that he would be OK, and, we might be forgiven for thinking that the reason he was reassured was because, as in the example above, the Lord reassured him that no harm would come to him. But this would miss the real reassurance that Christ gave him. The real reassurance that Paul received was that Christ was with him

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Second Corinthians 12:8-9

To fear the Lord is to trust the Lord.

You who fear the LORDtrust in the LORD!
He is their help and their shield.
Psalm 115:11

This is why when we pray we are expressing our trust in God. It is why making time to come together each Sunday is also a way of expressing our trust in God. Since we are all dealing with unknown futures (but not unknown to God) we are all subject to worry, fear and anxiety. But the more we can look to Jesus and cast our cares onto Him as an act of trust, the less subject we are to fears.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.
First Peter 5:7 NLT

This is the secret to overcoming our greatest fear.

¶ Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
Psalm 50:10

Your pastor,

Andrew

Friday, 13 November 2020

YOU’RE LOOKING AT THE WRONG THRONE

 YOU’RE LOOKING AT THE WRONG THRONE

by Dr. Andrew Corbett, Senior Pastor of Legana Christian Church

It might seem like things are getting increasingly difficult for Christians today (and for good reason). But take a moment to reflect on when the LORD chose to birth the New Covenant Church. Firstly, it was during the rule of the Roman Caesars. To the Romans, life was cheap. When Julius Caesar fought the Gallic Wars, he oversaw the deaths of one million Gauls, the enslavement of another million, and the execution (often by crucifixion) of yet another million*. Then came his battle with another Roman general and his forces, Pompey, who was originally Caesar’s patron and was now himself vying for the throne of the emerging Roman Empire, thousands more died in the battle (after Caesar essentially declared war by crossing the Rubicon River – the boundary of the city of Rome which no army was allowed to cross). After this victory, Caesar was named “dictator in perpetuity” of the Roman Republic*. But when the senate feared that Caesar also desired to be crowned Emperor, he was assassinated by sixty knife-wielding senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus (from whom we now derive the word, brutal) near the theatre of Pompey who feared that he would abolish the senate. Rome then entered into civil war with the forces of Mark Antony fighting the adopted son of Julius Caesar, Octavian — who would defeat Mark Antony’s forces and then himself be crowned Emperor and introduce a new title into the Roman vocabulary: Caesar (Supreme Emperor). The senate bestowed on him the name The August One (‘Augustus’).

¶ In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
Luke 2:1 

A depiction of Brutus leading a band of knife-wielding senators to assassinate Julius Caesar

While Julius was the first king of what had become Rome’s kingdom, it was Augustus who became the first emperor of Rome. After him came a succession of Caesars all related either by marriage or adoption until Imperator Nero Cladius Divi Claudius Filius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. In November of AD 64 Caesar Nero began a tyrannical campaign to eliminate Christians from around his empire. Dr. Kenneth Gentry states-

“For Christians he was especially a dreadful emperor. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote of his persecution, which was not only the first, but one of the cruelest in Rome’s gory history, that Nero ‘inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians. . . So those who first confessed were hurried to the trial, and then, on their showing, an immense number were involved in the same fate.’ ”
(Kenneth Gentry, ‘Dating the Book of Revelation’, p. 77-78)

And the bishop of Rome, Clement, writing around AD 95 said of Nero’s campaign of terror against Christians that, “a vast multitude of the elect . . . through many indignities and tortures” (First Clement 6:1). When a Roman describes someone killing a ‘vast multitude’ of Christians we can only wonder how many hundreds of thousands he means. The Roman world of the first century in which the LORD ordained for His Church to be established was a deadly place where life was cheap. At that time, in the city of Rome, one in five residents was a slave (Ferguson, Backgrounds, p. 56). Outside of Rome though, as I wrote in my previous Pastor’s Desk, in some instances, up to half of a city’s population (such as Ephesus or Antioch) were slaves with no rights what so ever. And then along comes Jesus and a global revolution began.

 

WHAT THE WORLD WAS LIKE WHEN THE GOD WHO CREATED IT VEILED HIMSELF IN FLESH AND ENTERED IT

Consider the world and its values at the time that Jesus the Christ took on flesh. It was a world where – 

  • Only citizens of Rome had rights to live freely and enjoy property ownership, have the legal right to natural justice before a magistrate, and the right to vote in the senate elections (which was famously corrupt).

  • Young girls (not citizens) could be taken from their parents and declared to be a ‘courtesan’ to one of the gods (usually the goddess Venus also known as Aphrodite) where they would be to live as a temple prostitute (the city of Corinth had a continuous supply of one thousand such ‘courtesans’ for the pleasure of the thousands of men who frequented the massive temple to Venus which was situated on the mountain overlooking Corinth).

  • When a woman gave birth to a young girl it was often seen as a humiliation and more likely than not this newborn baby girl would be ‘exposed’ (left outside at night for the roaming wild animals to despatch). The Stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC-65 AD) comments casually in On Anger 1.15: “…mad dogs we knock on the head…unnatural progeny we destroy; we drown even children at birth who are weakly and abnormal.” A letter from a Roman citizen to his wife, dating from 1BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed: ‘I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.’ *

  • Gladiatorial games saw slaves perpetrate heinous violence against one another in the arena usually resulting in the death of the loser.

  • People who were viewed as a burden, sickly, or enemies of the State, were frequently ‘invited’ to commit suicide. In AD 65, Nero’s former tutor, Seneca, who had become increasingly concerned with his former pupil’s deranged behaviour, was invited to commit suicide. The State would even issue the necessary hemlock (fatal poison) to assist a person to commit suicide.

 

THE DAY THE REVOLUTION BEGAN

When Jesus entered into His world to walk amongst His creation, He was not clothed in kingly arrogance and pomp. Everything about Him was contrary to what the Jews hoped their Messiah was to be. But His life, manner, ministry, mission, revolutionised His disciples who then realised that Rome (and even Jerusalem) were agents of death – both temporal and eternal – but Jesus the Christ was Lord of Life!

In Him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men.
John 1:4

that whoever believes in Him [Jesus] may have eternal life.
John 3:15

¶ “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
John 3:36

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:31

The realisation by those followers of Jesus that the powers of this world were agents and promoters of death is seen in stark contrast in the statement preached by Peter after the death-conquering resurrection of Jesus –

And you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Acts 3:15

This set in motion a global revolution. Not one conducted by military might, but one that transforms human hearts. Over the next few centuries, despite massive State and religious persecution, the influence of Christ continued to revolutionise human souls. Women, long looked down upon, were now elevated to a status previously unimagined possible. Slaves, who were mistreated, oppressed, and denied all rights, were told that in Christ they were now ‘citizens’ of His Kingdom and adopted by the King Himself. The diseased, malformed, injured, frail, and elderly, were declared to be infinitely precious and promised by divine guarantee that they would receive new glorious resurrected bodies without disease or deformity upon entrance into Christ’s eternal kingdom.

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
Luke 12:24

The realisation of this revolution cause believers to see others differently. Instead walking past the newborn babies taken out into the nearby forests and caves, Christians began to ‘adopt’ these abandoned children and raise them as their own. Every life mattered to these early Christians because every life was precious. This is why this form of ancient post-birth abortion was vigorously opposed by the early Christian who did more than protest, they raised any unwanted children they could find.

The catacombs are filled with very tiny graves with the epitaph “adopted daughter of…” or “adopted son of…” inscribed on them. These inscriptions refer to the many babies and young children Christians rescued from the trash over the centuries. Tertullian says Christians sought out the tiny bodies of newborn babies from the refuse and dung heaps and raised them as their own or tended to them before they died or gave them a decent burial.

A depiction of the stoning of Telemachus who denounced gladiatorial games

Instead of participating as another spectator at the bloody gladiatorial games, Christians, such as Telemachus, publicly denounced them as barbaric and did what he could to end them. His campaign was short but successful and costly (he was stoned to death by the angry spectators) and it resulted in this grotesque bloodsport ending in AD 404*.

Christians went into leper colonies and cared for the diseased which led to the later development of hospices and hospitals. By the fifth century, Emperor Julian the Apostate who wanted to reestablish the ancient pagan worship of gods, conceded that his efforts were continually thwarted by pesky Christians who cared so well for the vulnerable — even when the vulnerable were not themselves Christians.   

 

THE THRONE

But during the reign of terror instigated by Caesar Nero who had put both Peter and Paul to death and banished the last known disciple of Christ, John, to the Island of Patmos, things looked very bleak for the fearful and remaining Christians. While a despot sat on the most powerful throne in the then known world, the Apostle John received a revelation of the True King who sat on the real throne (Revelation 4:2). While many people speculate about the details of the closing book of the Bible, there should be one very obvious truth that we can all acknowledge. While the world played host to one tyrannical blood-thirsty dictator after another and seemed hell-bent on promoting death at every turn, there was One who was on the True Throne, and He was (and is) the True Lord and the True King. Even though He might look like a weak and meek little lamb, it would be Him, who would conquer and reign.  

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.”
Revelation 17:14

This is why we never lose sight of the real throne even today when once again it seems that the powers that be are hell-bent on treating some people merely as objects of personal sexual gratification and life – especially the developing and fully developed – as cheap and utterly disposable. And like the early Christians such as Telemachus, we need to speak up on behalf of the oppressed and vulnerable and spread even further the glorious vision of the one who truly reigns on a throne that we will each one day all behold with our own resurrected eyes!

 

Your pastor,

Andrew

Friday, 6 November 2020

THE PROBLEM WITH EVANGELISTS

 THE PROBLEM WITH EVANGELISTS

The ancient amphitheatre in Ephesus

The ancient amphitheatre in Ephesus

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he was writing to a church that had grown from 12 men meeting on a river bank (Acts 19:1-6) to what some scholars suspect was now a church of around 6,000 members meeting in houses around this major city. It was also a church that he had invested two years into (Acts 19:10). Ephesus was major port city and the centre for the worship of the idol, Artemis (Acts 19:24). From this strategic city Paul was virtually guaranteed to reach most that region (Asia-Minor) which Doctor Luke tells us Paul was actually able to do (Acts 19:10). Almost certainly, one of those who heard Paul preach and explain the gospel was a young man by the name of Epaphras. He was from the nearby town of Colossae. His life was transformed by the preaching of Paul. His soul was set on fire by the flame of the Holy Spirit. Maybe the apostle Paul himself also laid his hands on Epaphras whereby he was baptised in the Holy Spirit—just as the founding members of the Ephesian church had experienced (Acts 19:6). After spending some time sitting under the teaching and training ministry of Paul, Epaphras returned to his home-town of Colossae.

Upon returning to Colossae, Epaphras preached to his townsfolk. The result was that a church was founded that quickly grew. Paul had never been to Colossae but when he wrote to them he commended the young Epaphras as a fine minister of the gospel.

just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
Colossians 1:7

But Epaphras soon ran into trouble. His obvious evangelistic gifts had reached their limit. The church was now being infiltrated by false teachers who claimed to be Christians but held some very contrary views to what genuine Christianity was all about. In AD 62 and in desperation he went to find the Apostle Paul who had moved on from Ephesus and was now a prisoner in Rome. When Epaphras arrived there he sought Paul out and shared with him about the struggles he was having in correcting the errors that were leading people away from the true gospel. Paul decided to send Epaphras back with an epistle to the believers in Colossae.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
Colossians 4:12

Colossae today

In the first century, there was no postal service. Messages were carried by couriers and could be written or oral. When Paul sent Epaphras back to Colossae, he probably also gave him two other epistles to deliver as well. Since Epaphras would have had to sail into Ephesus, he probably carried the epistle to them (which was written as a circular letter [an ‘encyclical’] meant to be distributed to each of the seven churches in Asia-Minor). He would have also had Paul’s epistle to his old friend Philemon which Onesimus would have personally delivered to his old master. 

¶ Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you
Philemon 23

Paul’s three epistles carried by Epaphras (and then one of the three by Onesimus) are very revealing about three important insights. Firstly, to the church that Paul formerly pastored, Ephesus, there is no imminent threat of false teaching. Why? Secondly, to the church where his young protégé Epaphras had pioneered, there were serious doctrinal threats from false teachers which had the potential to eternally jeopardise the believers there (we explored this in our small groups earlier this year). And thirdly, Paul’s letter to his friend Philemon reveals how he helped to resolve an extremely serious conflict between an upset slave owner and a fearful runaway slave (ponder why Paul had the runaway slave that letter the last leg of the journey to his estranged master).

From what Paul wrote of Epaphras we see that Epaphras was a competent evangelist and loving pastor. Many pastors are excellent evangelists. While Paul had to write to Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2Tim. 4:5) he had no need to say this to Epaphras. (I wish I was.) And I wish we had more evangelists—especially pastor-evangelists—today! But there is a problem with evangelists which is borne out in this episode with Epaphras. Paul’s apostolic calling manifested in his teaching-pastoral ministry (note Acts 13:1). He pastored the Ephesian church for two years – lecturing everyday (that’s equivalent to preaching each Sunday for about 12 years!)! Paul would later write to the next pastor of the Ephesian church, Timothy, and instruct him to continue to preach and teach sound theology to the Ephesians (2Tim 4:1-4) in which he condemned the errors and myths of false teachers and then urged Timothy do the same. 

¶ I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Second Timothy 4:1-4

But doing this requires years of study and training. The apostle Paul was eminently qualified to do this due to his years of training as a scholar under the famous Jewish professor Gamaliel (see Acts 5:34 and 22:3). And no doubt, the two decades or so that Timothy was mentored by Paul would have equipped him to be able to do what Epaphras was unable to learn in the few months that he was mentored by Paul. But here’s where I have to admire Epaphras. Although he was overwhelmed by the sophistication and eloquence of the Gnostic teachers who were increasingly leading many Colossian believers astray, he was humble enough to seek out expert help. By appealing to Paul for help, Epaphras was acknowledging the limits of his own gifting. He was also recognising that God places different people with different gifts into different places within the Body of Christ. Thus, while Epaphras was a great evangelist and church-planter, he soon realised that he was not a philosopher-theologian—which was what was needed to deal with the Gnostics.

And that’s the problem with most evangelists. There are some evangelists who try to sound like teachers and worse still, theologians. This rarely goes well. That’s why Epaphras is such a great example for any evangelist today (especially church planting evangelists). And the relationship between Epaphras and Paul is also a great model for how we can all work together and contribute our strengths where others might be lacking and call on those with strengths where we might be lacking. Therefore, we don’t need to be an apostle or an evangelist to discover some great insights from the chemistry between Paul and Epaphras. But if you are an evangelist and you’ve never discovered these insights, you’ve got a problem — and that’s the problem with some evangelists (and some pastors and some teachers). 

 

Your pastor,

Andrew