Wednesday, 25 July 2012

What Makes Us "Human"

Cavemen pointing out to the preacher that he's gone overtime!There are certain things that make us unique and utterly different from animals. We desire and aspire. We appreciate and applaud. We love unreasonably and can reason unlovingly. We laugh. And we can repair our souls while resting.
Hebrews 4:9 "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God"
We have wants and dreams. We desire to have, to do, to go, and to know. We aspire to improve, contribute, achieve. This is a part of being human and created in the image of God.

We are able to recognise the difference between poor, good and great achievements. When we recognise the latter we often show our appreciation by applauding in some way. When a cat catches a mouse you rarely see the other cats from the neighbourhood gather around and clap (not that paws could clap that loudly anyway). But we humans often give in to the urge to show our appreciation. The highest compliment an artist could receive for their painting would be to have someone sit and admire it for hours. The act of sitting in this instance is actually disguising what is really happening. What looks like sitting is actually admiring and appreciating. (Husbands take note: Apparently women feel the same way when a man pays careful admiration to them.)

The recent Colorado tragedy where a deranged gunman senselessly shot at movie goers highlighted the best and worst in humanity. As the worst was rampaging the best were selflessly putting their bodies on the line to protect others from the showers of bullets. Many young men instinctively shielded nearby women and as a result died in doing so. This is called "altruism". It is an utter mystery to those atheists who hold to Darwinian Evolution as the explanation for how humanity came to be because it clearly does not fit within their story since it can not be about personal survival (or even the survival of the fittest). This kind of love is both unconditional and nicely unreasonable. Why do people do it? And why do people do it for complete strangers? Because we are created in the image of a God who loves unreasonably and unconditionally!
Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(We all long to love and be loved. We are designed to find love firstly from our parents, then our family, then our friends, then our spouse and eventually from our church. I have discovered that when people do not find love in their home, their craving for love from elsewhere is very difficult to satisfy. This is why people in a loveless home may come into a church and become very critical of that church for not filling their love needs. A truly loving church will help people look to Christ as the Ultimate Source of their loving and through this lens they will recognise the sincere love that Christ provides for the less-loved through His Body.)

Animals do not negotiate or reason. We do. We can internally reason with ourselves about the consequences of our actions. We can reason with others about our opinions, ideas, or experiences. And even though our hearts may tell us one thing, we have the ability to reason toward the truth of a matter despite its impact upon us. People have reasoned that their nation was perpetrating acts of evil despite their hearts loving their nation (we saw this during the Second World War with people like Bonhoeffer).
Second Timothy 2:7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Humans are also unique because we laugh. We (well, most of us) have a sense of humour. When we enjoy something funny we laugh. It is almost involuntary!

We are created in the image of a God who laughs and enjoys.
Psalm 126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
We humans are created to repair and rest. Each night we need sleep to repair and rest. Every seventh day we are designed to cease from our regular activity and rest and repair our souls through congregational attention to worship and the Word. At least once a year we need a holiday of sorts so that we come away from the demands of ordinary life and rest. Every 10 to 15 years we need an extended time off work to take leave and have an extended rest. And eventually we will all need to rest from our work and retire.

Pastor Philip Hills used to say of Christians, We work from rest rather than rest from work.  Hebrews 4 speaks of the rest that is available in Christ since He has done the work. We celebrate this rest from work each Sunday. Under the Old Covenant they looked forward to the rest that Christ would provide by anticipating it with their weekly Sabbath (Saturday) rest. Since Christ rose again from the dead on Sunday, poured out His Holy Spirit on a Sunday, and established the Church on a Sunday, we now celebrate our rest in Christ each Sunday.

When you come to worship in the House of God this Sunday, you are indeed coming to worship because you are created to desire God and aspire to be the person He has called you to be. You come to worship on Sunday because you are created to admire and applaud greatness - and no one is greater than God and therefore no one is more deserving of admiration and applause than Him. When you come to worship this Sunday you are coming to show love. When you come to worship together this Sunday you are coming to strengthen your reasons for trusting God. And when you come to worship this Sunday you are coming to rest from your ordinary work and celebrate the work which Christ could only do on your behalf. The rest we are looking for is found in worship.
Psa. 34:8 ¶ Taste and see that the LORD is good.
Oh, the joys of those who trust in him!
Ps. Andrew

Thursday, 12 July 2012


Cavemen pointing out to the preacher that he's gone overtime!It's a commonly held belief that we cannot control either what we think or feel. But both of these assertions are false. We can most definitely control what we think - and we can most control how we feel. And learning to control one actually affects the other (the Bible reveals that the heart and the mind are intrinsically linked.) It takes practice though. But here's some tips that can help you cultivate the way you think and therefore which thoughts most fill your mind.
Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
Feelings follow actions. Do something and you'll soon feel something. Conversely don't do something and you won't feel something. Those who struggle with exercise understand this. When you just "do it" you start to willingly do it and some say that they even enjoy it. But if you stop (or never start) it's likely that you won't feel like doing it.
Therefore, don't be surprised if your heart is turned toward the one who does something for you. The actions of others for you has an affect on your heart. If you can realise this, you can harness it to improve your marriage. When you feel as if the passion has gone out of your relationship - do something. Husbands, buy your wife flowers; take her out on a date; buy her a gift; do what she's been asking you to do, and then marvel how it will change her heart.

Feelings follow actions. What you do affects how you feel. But your thoughts follow what you feed your mind.

Many things in life depend upon your perspective!Your mind is like a pianist and your brain is like a piano. Scripture tells us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2) and guard what we think (Romans 12:3) and to take every unhelpful thought "captive" (2Cor. 10:5). When you find yourself thinking about something that is unhelpful, you can stop this train of thought and switch to thinking about something beneficial for you.
Philippians. 4:8 ¶ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Of course, the best way to feed your mind is by feeding it what it needs. It is designed to think on the Word of God. It actually craves to be filled with the Word of God. The Bible actually instructs us to think about the works of God (natural sciences), others, those things which will draw our focus more clearly onto Christ (such as: good books, sermons, films, art).
Second Timothy 2:7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
How you think affects what you do. What you do affects how you feel. This is the conncetion between the Mind and heart. And this connection is emphasized by God in response to the question about the greatest commandment- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart ... and mind. Interestingly, the Bible says as a man thinks in his heart.

The next time you find your mind wandering into unhelpful thoughts, take those thoughts captive by an act of your will and deliberately choose to think on beneficial things. Some time ago I was injured deeply the actions of another person. By the time I came home and Kim saw me, it was obvious that something serious had happened. She asked what had happened. I told her the facts. She enquired how I was handling it and said that I needed to focus on something else right now rather than dwell on the pain I was feeling. It was difficult. As I went to bed that night it was still in the forefront of my mind and again I had to deliberately think on something else. I asked God for help. I asked Him to fill my heart with peace. That night I slept well. I awoke thanking God that He was in control and resting in His Lordship. Remarkably by midday the next day, the entire situation was redeemed. I can't begin to tell you how much easier it became at that point to thank God compared to my feeble efforts to thank Him the night before.

I know that training my heart and mind does not come naturally. The most natural thing I can do with my heart and mind is to let it wander where ever it wants to go. To train my mind and heart takes discipline and practice. I like the word "practice" because it's different to "doing". "Doing" leaves no room for failure. "Practice" gives me permission to try and fail. I love that God expects me to practice before I do.
Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Practice feeding your mind with godly songs, books, Scripture, advice from brothers and sisters in Christ. Practice doing the things that will train your heart to love. This is how we can mind our hearts.
Psa. 34:8 ¶ Taste and see that the LORD is good.
Oh, the joys of those who trust in him!

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Adolescence is a fairly recent concept in the history of mankind. It wasn't that long ago that children went into adulthood without the recently invented phase of adolescence. It was a time when people picked up responsibilities very early in life and then took up more responsibilities as they became an adult. But responsibility is often not expected from adolescents. Who's responsible for this?
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Adolescence now starts at around 13 years of age and goes up into the 20s. It used to be that people left childhood and became adults when they married. Of course, some children grew into adulthood without marrying by taking up responsibilities beyond themselves. People don't become responsible then take up responsibilities - they become responsible by taking up responsibilities. Adulthood means responsibility.

But now we have many young men delaying marriage and family responsibilities well past their twenties. Some cite fear as the main reason. What if I marry the wrong personWhat if I get married and they changeWhat if it doesn't work out? Others cite a lack of incentive to marry and take up their responsibilities to care for a wife and a family. This objection is far more prevalent because it used to be that the Bible's injunction to "keep the marriage bed holy" (Heb. 13:4) was respected by civilised people who understood that marriage was the only God-ordained environment for any sexual contact. Young women, who long for what all young women long for (a man who will love them by being committed to them unconditionally), unwittingly sabotage the fulfilment of their longing by giving themselves intimately to a man who should have expected that such intimacy was only the privilege of the married.

Not even God will suffer a relationship with another without a commitment from them. If a relationship between a man and woman which includes physical intimacy demands a covenant of marriage, how much more does a covenant between a person and God? Indeed, God demands the highest form of covenant with a person which marriage is only a shadow. But oh, the wonderful privilege of being in covenant with God and all the ecstasies that that brings to a person's soul! In all my years of pastoring I have never encountered a couple who has regretted waiting until they were married to be physically intimate. But I have met hundreds who have deeply regretted their impatience. Similarly, I never met a person who, once tasting of the sweetness of Jesus, has said that they regret leaving behind their former life of bondage to sin.

But commitment to Christ, just like marriage, demands responsibility. As mentioned, for some fearkeeps them from accepting their responsibilities. The "right" person can become the "wrong" person if you confuse what agape love is. The person you marry will change - they are supposed to! In fact, when you marry, you both change because you grow together. And even the best marriage won't "work out" unless there is forgiveness and humility where somebody takes responsibility for the relationship. The other night I came home late from attending to some urgent matters. My mind was racing. My wife was greeting me. I brushed off her greeting as I continued to unpack my deliberations. Later that night I sensed there was something wrong. I asked what was the matter. After being told that I had not acknowledged her greeting sufficiently, I felt a little indignant. Didn't she realise that I was helping lots of people by the urgent matters I was giving my attention to and that unless I attended to them there would be some incredible damage done? To my shame I went to sleep indignant internally hoping that I might receive a much deserved apology in the morning. As I was waking next morning, my mind was racing about my responsibilities as a husband. I realised that I had to accept the responsibility of clearing the air by apologising to Kim for my neglect toward her. This took humility. But, it was sincere. I was belatedly responsible.
First Peter 5:6 ¶ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
The other Sunday during our morning service we viewed an excellent video clip from Growing Families about responsibility. It cleverly depicted responsibility as being like a stuffed toy monkey. Parents should give their children the appropriate number of these monkeys and refuse to take them back off them so their children learn responsibility. And in age where not even civic leaders are keen to take too much responsibility, perhaps we as Christian parents might want to at least help raise up a generation that understands what responsibility looks like. This will be difficult for parents who have excused their children from being responsible. But it is needed because there are too many adults irresponsibly enjoying artificially prolonged adolescence.
First Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
The next time life feels like it's a little too much for you to carry, it may be because you are a responsible person. (Irresponsible people don't carry such loads.) Don't be afraid. Be responsible. Trust God and do your best. God knows we need more responsible people - especially responsible adults who developed the ability to carry responsibilities through their childhood.
Psa. 34:8 ¶ Taste and see that the LORD is good.
Oh, the joys of those who trust in him!
Ps. Andrew

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Who Brings A Lit Lantern To A Dinner Party?

"Light of the World", by
William Holman Hunt, based
on Revelation 3:20

In the famous painting depicting Christ from Revelation 3:20 ("Behold I stand at the door and knock..."), called "The Light of the World", William Holman Hunt shows Jesus knocking at a door in an overgrown orchard at night. Christ is holding a lit lantern. But this glowing lantern seems unnecessary because of the brilliant moonlight which enables the viewer to clearly make out the scene. F.W. Boreham was in London in 1924 and visited Mr Hunt's famous painting at St. Paul's Cathedral. He understood that the artist meant to show that there was no door-handle on the outside of the door. He understood that the overgrown vegetation over the door meant to show that the inhabitants rarely ventured outside. But the lantern? There was no need for it.

Yet Boreham knew that Mr Hunt wasted nothing in his allegorical art. He remarked to his wife that this was a mystery to him. A kindly older gentlemen standing just behind Dr. Boreham interrupted with an apology for eaves-dropping. He excused himself by pointing out that he was no further away than Mr Boreham's elbow when he expressed this mystery. "I knew Mr Hunt well" he said. "If you would permit me, I can enlighten you with what Mr Hunt himself told me about the lantern." F.W. Boreham welcomed the offer.

Dr. F.W. Boreham with
Mrs Stella Boreham
The artist's friend explained that Mr Hunt wanted to convey that Christ was knocking on the door of a lukewarm church. Because there is no handle on the outside, the occupants must open up to Christ and invite Him in. But this church is located on the edge of the orchard adjacent to the wild woods. While Christ wanted entry to the church, it wasn't to be for too long because He really wanted to lead the occupants out of their dwelling and to journey with Him into the darkness of the wild woods - hence His lantern was lit and trimmed. The church becomes lukewarm when it ceases to venture out into the darkness with the light of Christ.

Christ is still knocking and He still bears a lit lantern to guide His Church into the darkness to rescue a lost world. Let us open up to Christ and enjoy our times with Him but recognise that He bids us to not just "go" but to "go with Him".

[From my upcoming daily devotional through the Book of Revelation]