Friday, 29 May 2015

The Smile That Drives Personal Clouds Away

This is probably the cloudiest time in human history. I don't mean the clouds associated with climate change but the kind of clouds that bring a gloom to the human heart. It strikes me as very odd indeed that in the era of the most highly educated and enlightened people in all history, the best solutions they can offer to this growing cloudy gloom only attempt to address the symptoms and not its cause. If you feel like your head, heart, and soul are cloudy, I would like to offer an ancient time-tested and proven solution.
As in water face reflects face,
so the heart of man reflects the man. 
Proverbs 27:19
People hide their clouds. It requires the wearing of masks. Masks can look like a smile, a laugh, fresh make-up, a new set of clothes, busy-ness, or new toys. But masks do not rid anyone of their clouds. Many people confuse their cloud-symptoms (sadness, worry, insecurity, embarrassment, tiredness) with cause of the cloudiness. Consequently they believe their ache is alleviated by fulfilling their quest to be happy. In fact, in this cloudiest time in history it seems that many younger people have been lured to believe that happiness is the goal to life. Most alarmingly is the way young Christians now mingle the pursuit of happiness with God's will for their lives. 
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.Matthew 5:30
In past few weeks I have been saddened by several Christians justifying their unbiblical choices with the defence, "God wouldn't want me to be unhappy." Was Jesus always happy? Did Jesus teach that our happiness was the ultimate goal for our lives? Could it be that following Christ might have to be done in adverse circumstances which naturally are not conducive to our happiness? Based on what we read in Scripture, can we conclude that God wouldn't ever want us to endure unhappiness?
Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and the end of joy may be grief.

Proverbs 14:13
Happiness has become an idol for many people. This false god might offer fleeting pleasure, but it comes with an eternal price-tag. It fills its worshipers with lust and the delusion that satisfying this illegitimate lust is integral to their true identity. Worshiping this false god will always bring clouds to a person's heart, mind and soul. It's important for the follower of Jesus to understand that God's will and desire for you is to be saved and holy - and this may mean temporary unhappiness due to the sacrifices which have to be made to follow Christ. You could therefore be living the most virtuous life in following Christ and not be happy all the time. But because holiness through knowing and beholding God in His Word is the goal of life, this doesn't trouble the believer like it does the worshipers of Happiness. Sadly, sometimes it's too late for many idol worshipers of Happiness to realise that their idol does not, cannot, has not, will not, ever delivered true, lasting, soul-soothing, abiding happiness. This kind of happiness and cloud-clearing can only come from seeking first God and His Kingdom in our lives (Matthew 6:33). This is why the true believer gladly worships Jesus and follows Him faithfully through whatever cloudy storms and difficulties life may force us to endure. When John Sammis realised this, he wrote that it was the smile of Jesus toward a trusting obedient child of God that would quickly drive away all clouds...
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey. 
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey. 
Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey. 
But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey. 
Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we'll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey. 
If you want to know the secret to having personal clouds driven away, you'll discover what John Henry Sammis did over a century ago: it's in bringing a smile to Jesus. Sammis shares a profound Biblical insight into how this canb be done in his famous hymn - "Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, but His smile quickly drives it away; not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear, can abide while we trust and obey."
Lord God,
We ask you to forgive us for when we have not trusted or obeyed You. Forgive us for pursuing things, pleasures, relationships or achievements instead of seeking You. Help us to grow our trust in You through a growing knowledge of Your Word. Help us to trust You in the midst of life's storms and near over-whelming disappointments. Lord, help us to obey You - to avoid what You forbid, even though we crave it - and to do what You require of us, even though we lack the courage to do it. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

Thursday, 21 May 2015


A New ChapterWhen Paul wrote to the Turkish Christians in Colossae, he was writing as a redeemed man to redeemed people. This is what Jesus does. He redeems. He takes broken lives and heals them. He takes lost lives and directs them. He takes loveless lives and adopts them. He takes enemies and makes them His friends. Jesus redeems. Paul reminded the Colossians about their redemption by Christ and it's good for us to be reminded of ours too.
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins
Colossians 1:14
Everyday you pass by hundreds, if not thousands, of broken, lost, lonely, angry, people. These people are torn. They intuitively know that they are not at peace with God - and yet they are very wary of the Church. Who can blame them? Some people in some churches have been very poor ambassadors for Christ and have even been, at times, misrepresentations of Christ. Some. Not all. Not most. Not even the majority. Some. For the most part, most Christians in most churches were once-fallen once-broken once-lost once-unloved once-angry people, who have now been redeemed. These redeemed followers of Christ still struggle, still stumble, still fail - yet they are being transformed. They are no longer who they once were.
¶ We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,
Colossians 1:3-4 
When Jesus redeems someone they feel different about others. Where they once felt indifferent they begin to feel a growing interest and love for others - especially their brothers and sisters. It's too easy in a Me-Centred World to be fooled into thinking that we only give our love to those who love us. This is conditional love. Too many people are loveless, not because they are not loved, but because they are difficult to love when they themselves do not give love. Jesus didn't become incarnate to be loved. He came to earth to love. He loves unconditionally. He loves limitlessly. Yet, we now love Him because He first loved us (1John 4:19). Christ's work of redemption transforms a human heart. It dramtically affects how and when we show love. This love from Jesus is different to earthly/natural love. It is a God-love called agapé. Agapé love is selfless love. Agapé love gives expecting nothing in return. It is described in First Corinthians 13. It doesn't have an ulterior motive. It gives and gives and gives. When I prepare a couple for marriage I try and try and try to give them a vision of this kind of love. I rarely succeed. I remind them that they are about to vow "to love...for better or for worse". I ask them if they still want to proceed with the wedding despite the eternal enormity of this vow. Only occasionally have I seen one of them hesitate in answering which gives me some glimmer of hope that they may have caught just a brief glimpse of what they are about to vow. I try to explain that this is agapé love that never gives up (1Cor. 13:1-4). It is the kind of love that is demonstrated before and sometimes even despite of the feelings of love. It is how God has loved us and demonstrated it by redeeming us. Our love from God is first an action then a feeling. It causes us to roll our sleeves up to help another person.
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 
First John 3:17
Paul reminds the Colossians that the means of their redemption was the Gospel. It was upon hearing the Gospel that their hearts were transformed. 
because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
Colossians 1:5
The Gospel calls people to accept the truth. It requires of us that we accept the truth about ourselves. This takes unnatural humility to admit that we are rebellious, wayward sinners. It requires that we accept the truth about God being the holy, just, and loving Creator. It confronts us with our need for a Saviour and that this Saviour is Jesus the Christ. The Gospel declares that our salvation is provided unconditionally by God as an act of His grace. The Gospel then summons us to respond to this offer of grace. And the Gospel of a loving, giving, sacrificial Saviour motivates us to bear fruit that glorifies God.
...the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,
Colossians 1:5b-6
Jesus wants His followers to be blessed and effective at whatever they are called to do. He has ensured every possible means for this to happen: His WordHis Ministers and His Church
just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
Colossians 1:7
For these means of success to be realised, it requires the follower of Christ to adopt a posture of humility. This too is a major component of our newly redeemed life. Once we were proud, angry, envious and unforgiving. But Jesus has redeemed us. His Spirit within us enables us to humbly walk after Christ by applying the Word of God prayerfully to our souls (who can read Romans 12:1-3 and not be humbled?). His Spirit enables us to humbly receive direction, correction and instruction from God's appointed ministers who steward His Word to His people. And the Holy Spirit places the believer into a local church where the graces of God are ministered to, through, and by the fellow members of this local assembly of believers. Paul told the Colossians that their redemption was being made effective as they learned about the grace of God they had received and loved one another with the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
Colossians 1:8 

God's primary concern for you is not your happiness - it's your fruitfulness. You can only begin to reach your potential as a human being by being redeemed by Christ. Once redeemed, God is able to redeem your past - your past failures, your past mistakes, your past regrets - He redeems all of you! It was the Apostle's prayer for the Colossians that they grew in their understanding of what it meant to be redeemed. 
¶ And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Colossians 1:9
Paul had already told the redeemed Colossians how God brought about this - by being taught the Word of Grace from God's appointed ministers of Grace. He now prays that it will happen in a blessed way. Added to this he prays that they might also be given wisdom (knowing how to apply this knowledge for the benefit of themselves and others) and understanding (a deepening sense of trust in God amidst the times of intense confusion of what God is doing and why He might be doing it). Knowledge, wisdom and understanding are the graces to Christian maturity for the redeemed.
so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Colossians 1:10
I pray this prayer for my own life. And like any prayer we pray to God for our hearts to be conformed to His, the opportunities for God to positively answer it come when I find it most difficult to do so. The virtues of godliness listed in Second Peter chapter 1 can only be experienced where there is opposition to them. I can only truly develop the virtue of steadfastness when I am feeling like quitting (2Pet. 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 2Pet. 1:6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 2Pet. 1:7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love). I can only acquire the maturing virtue of love when I am sorely tried by hard-to-love people. I wonder how different our city would look if all the redeemed of God walked in a manner worthy of the Lord being fully pleasing to Him who also were bearing fruit in every good work? My hunch is: different
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,Colossians 1:11-13 
Those Christ has redeemed are no longer who they once were. They have received a supernatural strength from God and even though their circumstances are adverse they are enabled to endure and be patient with joy. And Paul has said all this so that he could remind the Colossians of this - 
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:14 
In other words, we are not who we once were. And as we continue to follow Christ, we will not be who we currently are. We are redeemed by the Redeeming God. This the God who hears our cries, sees our tears, and knows our thoughts. He knows what's been done to us. He knows what we've done. He knows where we hurt and why we do so. And despite our brokenness, lostness, ugliness, He has redeemed us and loved us. And now He works by His Spirit to strengthen us, bless us, and make us into highly fruitful vessels of His love. We are no longer what we once were. We are redeemed.

Ps. Andrew

Saturday, 16 May 2015


God's Twofold DesireWhat does God want? Theologians will quickly refer us to the aseity of God and remind us that God does not  need anything. Yet, we might respond to these doctors of the Queen of the Sciences by pointing out that we didn't ask about God's needs but rather His wants or desires. In the New Testament there are three desires of God revealed, but one of these is actually a two-fold desire. Understanding this might help us to realise what the Enemy of God is vigorously working to undermine and prevent. And it might help us to see that the first of these desires can only be achieved if we simultaneously work on the second.
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ JesusFirst Timothy 2:3-5
Firstly, God desires all people to be saved. While most Evangelists depict being saved as "going to heaven" or even as "not going to hell", it is not merely about our after-life climate (perfect or blazing hot!) that being saved entails. Rather, and if you can apprehend this, it will transform your understanding about God and His plan for you, it is about being reconciled to God through the forgiveness made possible by Christ's substitutionary atonement (His death on the Cross in our place). But this is not all. Being reconciled to God goes way beyond just having our sins forgiven. God not only forgives those He reconciles, He also justifies us with Christ's righteousness. This is not merely fancy religious language - it's legal language. It means that we are eternally deemed to be sinless and thus qualified by Christ to be adopted as God's children. 
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"Romans 8:15  
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 
Galatians 4:4-5
This paramount desire of God to save all people is not involuntarily imposed upon people - each person must choose to turn to God for this forgiveness of their sins, have the meriting of the legal status of innocence and be adopted as a child of God. This enables the creature created in the image of God to have fellowship with their Creator. He desires this! He wants us to love Him and experience His love! But being saved also involves receiving an inheritance that jointly belongs to Christ, His only begotten (not created) Son. Our salvation means we become joint-heirs with Christ!
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. 
Romans 8:16-17
God's Twofold Desire
God's desire to save all people involves forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption as children of God, an infinitely valuable inheritance which grants us immediate and unimpeded access to God Himself anytime, and the hope of a new, glorified, super body that will never tire, expire, or perspire! For those who refuse God's offer of salvation - the consequences are eternally dire. Eternally. God does not desire that any should eternally perish. And neither should we. 
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Luke 13:5
¶ "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16
As much as God wants all people to be saved, He simultaneously wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth. This is the second half of God's two-fold desire. This Divine Two-fold Desire is not an "or" - it's an "and". When a lost lamb turns back to the Searching Good Shepherd they become aware of the truth in a way they weren't before. They also become increasingly compelled by God's desire to help others to know the truth.

Aspects of the truth

In a very compelling presentation called Christianity and The Problem of Popular Culture, Dr. John M. Reynolds (of BIOLA University) makes the case that through the 19th century people valued truth - especially Christians. In fact, Christians were more often than not the promoters of truth in popular culture throughout the early 1800s. But then naturalists (those who rejected the supernatural including God) began to claim that there were different kinds of truth and relegated Christians to promoting only "a religious truth" rather than the truth. Truth was being dumbed down. Around this time Charles Darwin published Origins Of The Species and increasingly Christians were regarded as intellectually backward and subject to ridicule. Careful thinking, once a hallmark of Christianity, became increasingly neglected as the Church appealed to people to come to Christ by not thinking but rather taking a step of faith - as if faith was wishful thinking rather than careful and truthful thinking. The 20th century saw the invention of film and the rise of the entertainment industry - which began to amuse people. Where once culture drew its recreation from reading, it had begun to value amusement over reflection as its source of recreation. People used to read Dickens, Tolstoy, and Verne, around the family's nightly fireside gathering. Thoughtful Christians down through the centuries had made Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, their sources of theological reflection, but into the 20th Century along with popular culture amusement became prized over musement (thoughtfulness). 

Dear Future Husband, sounds like yum yum, but the words are actually beautiful and profound.Dr Reynolds sees an analogy between what people think about, with what people eat. He asks whether there is anything wrong with eating food which tastes really nice but has no nutritional value? He concludes, no. He calls this type of "food" 'yum yum'. Modern culture has largely become addicted to a diet of intellectual yum yum. This is reflected in "pop" songs, "pop" movies, and "pop" video clips. He goes on to say that this presents a huge problem for the Church today. He's not bemoaning culture's craving for yum yum (as many sour Christians do). Rather, he's trying to get the Church to realise that we are now trying to reach a culture that is not familiar with careful thinking or the nature of truth. He suggests that Christians "slowly educate" their friends and colleagues about the truth and careful thinking, so that they can eventually share the Gospel with them. Readers will note that this is precisely the second half of the Divine Twofold Desire.
Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Isaiah 59:14 
This is why we must persist in defending the truth about God, the Bible, salvation through Christ alone, sexuality, marriage, the dignity of human life, and freedom to worship. We do this, not to win an argument, but to remove the obstacles to winning a soul. The Gospel is grounded in truth. Christians need to be prepared to use "truth language" when responding to those who ask us why we are Christians and why we believe the Bible. Rather than simply responding, "I believe the Bible because I believe it's the Word of God" we could use 'truth language' and respond, "I believe the Bible is God's Word because there are good reasons for believing so." People aren't used to hearing Christians using words like- "reasons", "evidence", "proof", "reliable sources", and "historical data".
As believers we can enjoy yum yum too. But if that's all we are feeding our minds on, we won't be in a position to fulfil the second part of God's twofold desire. 
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect
First Peter 3:15
As a church we want to help equip each of our church family to fulfil God's twofold desire by being committed to helping people come to a saving knowledge of Christ while simultaneously affirming the truth to a world that thinks truth is determined by each individual. For the Christian truth is not merely about correct facts. Truth is firstly an integral attribute of God. Jesus declared Himself to be "the Truth" (Jn. 14:6). Truth is instrinsically beautiful ('glorious', John 1:14). Truth involves doing right (Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7). Truth corresponds to reality. And truth can be verified - that is, it can be put to the test (1Thess. 5:21). We need to help our friends and colleagues understand the truth. This may take a while, but it may also help them to appreciate that Christians love the truth and that faith in Christ is the result of careful thinking - not the absence of it. By doing this, we are working toward the goal of satisfying God's great twofold desire.

Ps. Andrew

Friday, 8 May 2015

To Hear You Must Get Closer

Matthew 21v31The Son of God told a story to those who also called God "Father" about a Father who had two sons. The first son was asked to go and he said he would but he didn't. The second son was also asked to go and he said that he wouldn't but he did. Jesus asked, "Which one did the will of his Father?" And asking the same question a different way He might have asked, Which one felt his Father's heart more?
Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.Matthew 21:31 
When King David had won the heart of his men they went off into battle and in a brief moment of respite David let out an ever so-feint sigh. His closest comrades where his mightiest soldiers and all three of them were moved by the sight of David sighing and heard what he sighed. 
And David said longingly, "Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!"  Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD."Second Samuel 23:15-16 
In this graphic episode of devotion David and his mighty men show us what it means to love God. This kind of love is not minimum love. It's not lip-service love. It's not mere dutiful love. It's heartfelt love. It's the kind of love that goes beyond reasonable expectations or requirements. It's not just selfless love, it's another-focussed love. These men were watching and listening to the one they loved. It wasn't that David caught their attention with an abrupt command - it was that they were already voluntarily giving their attention to him so that they detected even his faintest sigh. To love God like this is to not merely be dutifully moved to obey His commands, but also to heed His warnings (which may not be commands), to welcome His advice (which may not be warnings), and then to be attentive to His desires which may not be immediately obvious. The Apostle Paul describes this progression as the progress of the mature. Not all Christians are sensitive to God's desires and thoughts. But the spiritually mature have learned to go beyond cold obedience to the laws of God to becoming sensitive to those things which God gently warns about, and then responding to God's heart desires.
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Philippians 3:15
Go work in my vineyard
God has certain desires. We can discern these from His Word and cultivate them by having a prayerful heart attuned to His. When the father of Jesus' story asked his sons to go and work in his vineyard there was a price to pay. Working in the open in the middle of a Middle Eastern summer's day is not pleasant. Little wonder the immediate reaction of his son was to say "No". But something happened in the heart that weighed up the costs between personal cost and discomfort with breaking his father's heart. How many of us see 'sin' as merely breaking the commands of God, rather than breaking the heart of God? How many read of a Biblical warning and fail to hear the heart of God behind the warning? Can you hear the warning in the New Testament command to not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26), or do you only hear a cold command? Can you hear the warning in the Scriptures about drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), or do you only hear an alcohol limit? When we read 'that God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth' (1Tim. 2:4) are we merely theologically informed or are we deeply moved to action - just like David's mighty men were? 
My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me

But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up With oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of Your Blood 
MY EYES ARE DRY, Keith Green
Behind every command of God is a warning. It's like God saying don't walk through that field of land-mines. Initially it sounds like a command. And whenever a born-rebel like me hears a command my most natural response is "Don't tell me what to do!" But behind this prohibition to walk through the field of land-mines is a warning: This field contains land-mines which could harm or kill you. Yet, if I "listen" to God even more intently, I hear not merely a command or a warning, but His heart: I love you and want the best for you and I don't want to see you hurt. Please don't go through that field. You might read the command of Hebrews 10:25 which commands believers not forsake weekly church attendance and only ever hear a cold command. You may have matured to the point where you recognise the warning behind the command. But too few have have pressed their ears to the pages of this Scripture and heard the gentle rhythmic pounding of God's heart for His children to be together in His Name as a witness to a world He desires to save.
¶ Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
Romans 10:1
Ps. Andrew