Quick to Listen (audio)

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

James 1:19 (NLT)

A short audio message from Andy about this particular verse considering respectful debate, the General Election and social media.

Never more have we needed this lesson from James!

https://andrewbrown100.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/quick-to-listen-1.m4a



Chosen To Be Holy

Ephesians #3

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”

Ephesians 1:4-5 (ESV)

A while ago I was forced to reassess something extremely important in the Christian faith. I had to face the challenge of the sovereignty of God. And these verses played no small part in that journey.

I once believed that although God was supreme, He did not control every single little action in the universe. I believed that our response to Him was somehow our choice – an act of our free will. The more I think about that, the more ludicrous it sounds.

The Bible teaches that God chose us, and not the other way around. As hard as that may be to get our heads around sometimes, it must be true. The alternative goes something like this, and I hope you agree it makes little sense. When I was a sinner, and had nothing to do with God whatsoever; while I was far off and living (and enjoying) my sin and sinfulness, somehow… some way… I decided to turn from that sin and come to God…

That cannot be correct.

Instead, while I was in that sin and quite happy there, God reached down and saved me from and in spite of myself. He essentially saved me against my will because no sinner willingly wants God in their lives. I had no will to escape the sin that I was in. Nor did I have the power to do so. The truth is that God chose me and He chose you as well.

These verses clearly tell us that God chose us and He did so before the foundation of the world. He chose us before creation. He chose us before we did or thought or said anything. That means that his choice had absolutely nothing to do with us. He chose us because it was His sovereign will to do so.

When we hear this truth, we often ask the question: “If He chose us, then why not choose someone else?” That is to say, if the choice is His, what about the ones who reject Him? This is a difficult question, and when we realise that God chooses some and not others, we feel it is somehow unfair. I’ve said it before, but fairness is not what we want from God, rather we want grace and mercy.

It is a miracle He chose any of us at all.

Why did He choose us? To be holy and blameless before Him.

I’ve always believed that God saved us for our own sake, and of course He does, but i’m no longer convinced it is His primary reason for doing so. Rather, I am starting to think God saved us not for us, but primarily so that He would have a spotless bride to present to His Son.

God predestined us for adoption, as the verses above say, and put simply, that means that God decided in advance to bring us into His family forever. Adoption is such a wonderful picture because legal adoptions cannot be undone, and also entitle the adoptee to everything that a natural child would have access to. Adopted children are as equal as natural ones, and the word “sons” here is important because the son (in that culture) had a greater claim than a daughter.

The point is that this adoption does not make us somehow second-class children. We are not somehow lesser children to God because we are adopted, rather instead the text makes clear that we are welcomed and celebrated in God’s family.

God specially selected you to be His very own, and He has brought you into His adopted family. I hope, like me, that makes you feel very special indeed. Even if the entire world rejects you, you can be assured that God will never reject or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

Rejoice in God’s love for you today, and know that this love will never change. You are His adopted child!

Capernaum

Pilgrimage to Israel #3

I continue my series on my pilgrimage to Israel with the next step on the journey at Capernaum. Just to let you know, I will intersperse this series on Israel with posts on other subjects to break things up a little! But do hope you’re enjoying this series about the Holy Land.

Capernaum is an ancient town on the north western shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. It is biblically significant and Jesus spent a lot of time there.

The town of Capernaum is mentioned a number of times in the Gospels.

You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today.

Matthew 11:23 (WEB)


When he came into Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking him for help,

Matthew 8:5 (WEB)

For some background, you will no doubt be aware that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – something we celebrate in this advent season. After his birth, Mary and Joseph took him to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod (Matthew 2:13).

After being warned in a dream that it was safe to return, Mary and Joseph returned with Jesus to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. We know very little about his time in Nazareth and His childhood in general, the Gospel narratives refer to only one instance found in the book of Luke (ch. 2, v41-52).

As Jesus began His ministry, he spent much time in and around the Sea of Galilee as I mentioned in a previous post. When he attempted to minister in His home town of Nazareth, the local people rejected Him refusing to accept that he could be anything more than a simple carpenter’s son. After that point Jesus moved his ministry to Capernaum.

He went out from there. He came into his own country, and his disciples followed him. 2 When the Sabbath had come, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many hearing him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things?” and, “What is the wisdom that is given to this man, that such mighty works come about by his hands? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judah, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended at him.

Mark 6:1-3 (WEB)

Leaving Nazareth, he came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Matthew 4:13 (WEB)

Capernaum essentially becomes Jesus’ base of operations for His ministry in the northern part of Israel. It’s an important site and one well worth a visit.

Aside from more great views of the Sea of Galilee, there were two main things we stopped to see.

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient house supposedly belonging to Peter and his family. Above its ruins is built a chapel with more wonderful acoustics. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to sing, we held a short service there and took advantage of the great sound of the place.

the-house-and-church

In the centre of the chapel is a viewing platform where you can look down over the ruins of the house. While some suggest this is really Peters house, I don’t suppose there is any real way to know for sure. Did Peter live here? Is this where Jesus healed Peters mother in law? Or did he live three doors down on the right? We can’t know.

The second point of interest is the uncovered ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum.

syna caper

Unlike Peters house, this really is the spot of the synagogue and we are confident that Jesus would have spent time there.  When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah announcing His ministry and who He was, He was at Nazereth – but He would have been in a synagogue much like this one at Capernaum.

You can see from the image what looks like large steps going around the outside. These are in fact seating benches, much like you would see in ancient stadia. The congregation would sit along here and the rabbi would speak and read from the scrolls. We sat in the seats, and we listened to the Scripture that Jesus would have read out loud 2,000 years ago.

We visited Capernaum at the end of our day, and after having looked around the ruins and conducted our service in the chapel, we headed down to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee once again. As the sun was setting over the hills, it shone brightly and was unusually striking. I’m not suggesting there was anything supernatural about it, but it was great to see such a powerful sunset in such an amazing place.

It was a peaceful place, like so many others we would visit that week, and I was extremely grateful for a few minutes that afternoon to reflect on what I’d seen that first day. I wondered if Jesus Himself would have sat somewhere near where we were sitting, praying or reflecting on His ministry.

This place, like many others we would soon visit, would force us to reflect on who Jesus was, and is. I invite you today to consider who Jesus is and the place He holds in your life.

 

 

 

The Mount of Beatitudes

Pilgrimage to Israel #2

Having spent some time in and around the sea of Galilee, the next step of our pilgrimage took us to the Mount of Beatitudes. This is the mountain where Jesus taught his sermon, and included the eight the attitudes in the eight blessings that he spoke.

You can find these in Matthew five.

Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and taught them, saying,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.Isaiah 57:1566:2
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they shall be comforted.Isaiah 61:266:10,13
Blessed are the gentle,
    for they shall inherit the earth.[a] Psalm 37:11
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they shall be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12 (WEB)

MtBe

The church of the Beatitudes sits atop a hill, sloping down to the shores of the sea of Galilee. As Jesus preached his sermon on the Mount, we were told He would likely have sat in a boat on the water, with the crowds gathered on the hillside. He would have projected His voice up the hill and it would have acted much like a stadium, allowing the vast numbers of people to hear His blessed words.

The text of the Bible (above) slightly contradicts this however. It states that Jesus would have been on the hillside, likely up high, and the crowds gathered beneath Him. In a similar way, He could have projected His voice downwards enabling all to hear.

Jesus opens his sermon with these eight blessings. I love the sermon on the Mount, but I must confess to struggling with some of these blessings. The meaning can be hard to grasp at times, and living them out can be even more difficult.

What does it mean, for instance, to be poor in spirit? Likewise, how can any of us hope to be pure?

Yet Jesus pronounces special blessings on those who attain these things. The purpose of my post today is not to teach on the Beatitudes, but I can’t help but pause here for a moment to think about the depth of their meaning.

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness – moral uprightness and to be in right standing with God?

Are you a peacemaker? Are you there, in the midst of conflict, mediating and offering soothing words? How difficult it is to give a soft answer at times, and yet we know a soft answer turns away wrath – Proverbs 15.

Anyway, back to the blog already in progress… you remember, the one about the place – Mount of Beatitudes!

The chapel is beautiful. There is a real sense of peace here. The building is octagonal in shape; one side for each of the eight blessings.

One of the most notable things about this place are the acoustics of the church. As our group moved quietly around, a few of our number with wonderful voices began to sing. If just a few voices can make such a wonderfully uplifting noise, then what must a whole host of angels sound like? I don’t recall even which song was sung, but I just remember the atmosphere as the harmonies surrounded us.

The gardens surrounding the church are not large, but they are well kept and offer wonderful views of the Sea of Galilee. As you walk around the paths, there are signs displaying the text of each of the beatitudes. Time did not allow us to linger there for too long, but I can imagine it being a wonderful place to just walk around and slowly pray through each blessing in turn.

In that peaceful place, it is easy to forget the troubles that still face the land of Israel today. While the Bible teaches that there will be troubled times in Israel and across the world during the latter days, we know that the Prince of peace will one-day put everything right. We may be persecuted, as the blessing tells us, for His name’s sake, but our trouble on earth is but a wisp in comparison to eternity.

Blessed indeed are the peacemakers, and blessed may you be today and every day that you seek to follow Christ.

Blessed 2x

Ephesians

Many months ago I began writing about the book of Ephiasians. You can find that post here – From an Apostle to the Saints.

For various reasons, I did not write more on the subject but I am very pleased to return to it today. I did promise you it might not be a series… and I make no further claims now!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”

Ephesians 1:3 (WEB)

After Paul’s introduction, he wastes no time and dives straight in! Blessed! Blessed be God! You can feel the power of his words leaping from the page as you read this. Before he says anything else on any other subject, he starts with praise.

It’s a great place to start a letter, and it’s a great place to start a prayer. In fact, it’s a great way to start anything really! Whatever you’re doing, be it work, washing up or watching TV, always start with a word of praise.

Praising God has many effects on us, which we can consider in a moment, but praise isn’t about us at all. It is about God Himself. We turn our attention off of ourselves and our own lives, and we focus as fully as possible on the One who made us. Worship is our reason for being, and on days when I feel I achieve little else, I want to be able to say I fulfilled my created purpose by praising the God of Heaven today.

Imagine the effect on us, if we uttered words of worship prior to any activity. Take the TV example above. How different might our TV viewing choices be if we were to spend a moment thanking and worshipping the Father before picking up the remote.

Paul identifies God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice in that. There’s also a nod towards the Trinity here, so see if you can spot the Holy Spirit’s presence also. If not, I’ll pick up on that in a moment.

The word “Blessed,” appears twice in this verse, although they are slightly different Greek words. The way we read it naturally in English is how it was intended. The first “blessed,” is referring to God being blessed, or praised, and the second, refers to the blessing of God or invocation of God’s blessings on people.

What Paul says next is astonishing to me. He says, “who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Read that again before you continue.

God has blessed us, which is wonderful. To simply say we’ve been blessed though, is something of an understatement!

God has “blessed us,” and we must first notice the tense. This is not a blessing we will get in the future, but something we hold right now.

What have we been blessed with exactly? “Every spiritual blessing,” That word translated as “every,” is the Greek word – pas – and means “every,” “any,” and “all.” That’s every spiritual blessing! Not some of them, not half, not most, but all of them!

You might not be feeling all that blessed at the moment, in fact, you might be looking at a stack of bills or a doctor’s report feeling anything but blessed. This verse shouldn’t be interpreted as “God is going to give me whatever I want…” as I don’t think that’s true. We do the Word and God Himself a great disservice however, when we diminish a verse like this and explain it away not accepting what it says.

You are more than just your body, and your life is more than just your bank balance. We must not limit the blessings of God to the physical realm. The spiritual world is far more real than this physical one, and came first. There was “spirit” long before there was any earthly matter.

Paul calls it “spiritual blessing,” and some therefore limit this to refer to things of the spirit such as sanctification, justification, salvation etc. And of course, all these are included. But the blessings here are “spiritual”, I believe, not because they are spiritual in nature, but because they are given by the Spirit of God. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, that’s what makes them Christmas gifts, not because the gift itself has anything to do with Christmas (although it certainly might do).

Thus in this one verse Paul has pointed us to God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

My point is that this blessing given by God is no small thing. It’s not limited to things of the spirit, although we would do well to focus on the eternal things more than the temporary.

So where is this blessing exactly? We find it in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. You might be thinking you’d rather have the blessing down here on Earth than locked away in heaven with Christ. Yet if the blessing is in Christ and Christ dwells in us then the blessing is not as far away as we might think.

We are too often guilty of thinking that blessing relates to money possessions or things this world holds so dear. Paul goes on to talk about many wonderful spiritual blessings in the next few verses and we will examine these another time.

The take home message today is really to think about what we mean by being blessed. If we ask God to bless us are we asking for something God has already done?

What we have as believers and adopted children of God is far greater than anything this world can offer. Our eternal hope is held securely in Christ and God can do no more than He already has to enable us to access heaven forever.

It is truly humbling to think about what God has done for us.

But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 (WEB)

We in no way deserve “every spiritual blessing” but it is ours because of what Jesus did at the cross. That is grace. And I join with Paul in saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen!

R. E. A. P.

I often read the Bible on the train, and so it is handy to have a number of tools to help study. A few days ago I encountered this little study technique and thought I would share it with you today.

It is called R. E. A. P. And stands for read, examine, apply and pray.

R is for Read – the first part of the technique is to read. You take a passage and read it. Simple right? Pay attention to the things that stand out to you . Always think about the context as this can affect the meaning. Ask yourself if the passage is poetic, historical, prophetic or another type of literature. Watch out for who is speaking, and to whom.

E is for Evaluate – Having read the passage thoroughly, we then move on to evaluate it. Here we go a little deeper and try to listen to the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to us through this part of the Bible. We consider the main themes of the passage and what it would have meant to those who first received it. Before we can apply it to our own lives, we need to understand how it would have applied to those originally hearing or reading it.

A is for Apply – At this stage, we start to think about how this passage applies to us. The Bible is timeless, but sometimes we need to think about the way that what we have read applies to our modern day lives. Does the passage require us to do anything? Is God asking us to give something up, or to start doing something positive? Do we learn something about God here, and if so, how does that affect the decisions we make today?

P is for Pray – Lastly, having read and applied the passage, we take it back to God. We pray about the passage at hand, and ask God to help us apply it and live for Him more. It may result in us praising God, and thanking Him for a particular blessing or worshipping an aspect of His character.  We may realise we need to pray for someone we know, or for ourselves, and it is great to be led by the Spirit in that respect.

 

So there you have it! It is not a perfect tool, nor should it replace dedicated study, but in certain situations, you may find it a helpful way of looking at a Bible passage.

Whatever you do, I pray that your Bible study time is fruitful this week.

Where To Draw the Line

Last time, I wrote about how to defend yourself against deception. This time, I want to think about where we draw the line when it comes to Bible teachers we disagree with.

What I mean is, no single teacher has everything 100% correct. And if you are looking for a theologically perfect teacher, then you will be searching for a very long time. All of us are on a journey, including those with a gift to teach, and so there may be elements of their teaching which is not quite correct.

Myt question, therefore, is where do we draw the line?

Clearly if someone is teaching blatant heracy, we should avoid them like the plague. You probably don’t need me to tell you that! If they teach that Christ is not the only way to God, or that we can earn our way into heaven (as examples) then have nothing to do with them.

But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed.

Galatians 1:8-9 (WEB)

Usually however, false teaching is rarely so obvious.

I was listening to a sermon the other day and was learning from what was being said. At one point however, the speaker made a comment about God’s Sovereignty. As you know, this is something I’ve been thinking about over the last year and so I was perhaps more attentive to such a statement than I might otherwise have been.

What they actually said is not relevant here, but it suggested they had a more liberal view of what God’s Sovereignty actually meant. It was a passing remark, and not a full statement of their beliefs. What if though, they had a mistaken or false view of God’s Sovereignty? Should I abandon the teaching altogether and forget all that they said?

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, like some others, is a critical doctrine and so likely affects all other aspects of our faith. If we have a wrong belief about such a foundational truth, then that will likely have a knock effect on what else we believe.

There are some issues in the Bible which I think are fundamental. I mentioned some of these above, but would also include the inerrancy of Scripture and the deity of Christ. There are other matters however, which are perhaps less clear cut and there is space for believers to disagree (agreeably).

So how can we decide if we should listen to and accept one Bible teacher’s lessons over another?

There is no easy answer I’m afraid. I cannot give you a single formula where you can plug in certain factors and get out a Yes or No answer.

We must start with what I discussed last time. We must attempt to gain a systematic and complete view of Scripture. The better we understand the Bible as a complete message, the easier it will be to detect false teaching when we encounter it. And by “false teaching” it could be mistaken teaching rather than deliberately deceptive.

As I said last time, we must interpret Scripture in the light of other Scripture. We must not take individual verses and make a new doctrine out of them. Context helps us understand what the message is meant to be.

Secondly, i think we should take each case in its own right. There may be a difference between us listening to a single message from someone, and us choosing to regularly sit under their teaching. A single message may be fine, but when we sit under someone’s teaching for a length of time, we will inevitably be learning more about their perspective and theology.

While of course we need to be on guard, I also don’t think we should be closed minded. Within reason, I try to listen to a variety of teachers in order to try to gain a wider perspective. That’s not to say I swallow any and every teaching that comes along, but if you only listen to one teacher, you only get that one perspective.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must take everything back to God in prayer and His Word. If you encounter a teaching which you are not sure about, then take the time to see what the Bible says about it. Instead of just listening to a teacher, discuss it with the Teacher. Be a Berean!

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Acts 17:11 (WEB)


But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.

John 14:26 (WEB)

Understanding the Bible is not an easy or simple task. It is a complex book, but it is meant for believers. If you know the Lord and are seeking to follow Him with your life, then the Bible is there for you. Speak to God about it and He will teach you from it. It may take a lifetime to learn, but it is worth every effort you put in.

I hope this has been helpful.

Feed My Sheep (Audio)

Here is a short talk Andy gave at the Morning Praise service in the Parish Church in St Osyth. It was on John 21:1-19 – text below.

 

After these things, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.”

They told him, “We are also coming with you.” They immediately went out, and entered into the boat. That night, they caught nothing. 4 But when day had already come, Jesus stood on the beach, yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore said to them, “Children, have you anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

They cast it therefore, and now they weren’t able to draw it in for the multitude of fish. 7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around him (for he was naked), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits[a] away), dragging the net full of fish. 9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fish, one hundred fifty-three; and even though there were so many, the net wasn’t torn.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”

None of the disciples dared inquire of him, “Who are you?” knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Then Jesus came and took the bread, gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples, after he had risen from the dead. 15 So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection for me?”

Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, “Do you have affection for me?” He said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.”

19 Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:1-19 (WEB)

Get into the Word (PoW#23)

Pearl of Wisdom #23

If you get into the Word of God, then the Word of God will get into you!

You will never be a strong or successful Christian unless you get into the Word of God in the Bible. Consider the Bible as your spiritual food!

As you begin to study the Word of God and absorb it’s truths, those truths will begin to shape your life. As you get into the Word, it will begin to get into you as well.

This means that when you need it, the Holy Spirit can bring the Word to your memory. He can bring that Word to life in any situation. The Bible describes the Word of God as a “sword of the Spirit,” and the Spirit can put that “sword” in your hand when you need it.

As you read and study the Bible, the truths you learn will change your mind – how you think. It will shine light on areas you need God’s help with, and it will encourage and strengthen you.

Get into the Word this week, and let that Word shape your life!

The Sovereign God

In my last post (Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God), I discussed the idea of God’s Sovereignty, and how it was at odds with my previous belief. Little else has occupied my Bible study time lately, and I’ve continued to grapple with this matter. Here follows some further thoughts on this, and hope you find the discussion helpful.

I should warn you – it’s not for the faint of heart!

I spoke briefly last time about Romans 9, and how Paul was debating the same matter that we are. Does God’s Sovereignty mean He controls everything, and indeed who does and does not get saved?

Let’s read Romans 9:9-25 (and sorry it’s a long extract, but it’s hard not to include the whole chapter!)

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:9-25 (ESV)

The thrust of this passage is that God does indeed “elect” some and not others. This is not based on their performance or on their character, but rather a sovereign act of God’s will.

There are two main objections here I think (both of which Paul answers). Firstly, that if God chooses some and not others then that is unfair. Secondly, that if God controls everything, then no one can resist His will and so should not be held accountable for their actions.

Let’s take these in turn.

It is unfair of God to choose some and not others

For some people, the very idea that God has an elected group He chooses to save is completely objectionable. I believed it myself I think, on reflection. The problem is that it does appear to be the case – if you study the Bible thoroughly.

Is it unfair of God to choose some and not others for salvation? On the face of it, it does appear so. Through no action of their own, they are specially selected to belong to God’s family, while others are rejected. Surely this is the very definition of “unfair advantage”.

What do we mean by “fair” however? Do we mean that all should be treated the same? If so, then I don’t think we want that at all. Why? Because not one of us “deserves” to be saved. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and so in reality, the “fair” thing would be to reject everyone.

Given this, I’d say the last thing we want from God is fairness. Rather, we want grace.

When we look at it this way, we realise that actually for God to save anyone is a miracle.

I’ve been over this argument many times in my mind, and have come to accept that it is the case. I have only one remaining objection really, and one I’ve not yet worked through.

We are sinners, no argument there, and we need saving. So if God saves anyone, it is a great act of His mercy towards us. The issue for me though is that if God controls every action, and we have no free will whatsoever, then is it fair to say we all deserve punishment? Could I sin without God allowing it?

Here we encounter the second issue mentioned above.

If God controls everything, even our actions, then how can we be held responsible?

I touched on this last time, and there is no simple answer. Look at what Paul says in verse 20.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

Romans 9:20 (ESV)

Indeed, who are we to talk back to God?

I don’t mind telling you that in the midst of this journey or battle with the sovereignty issue, there were times when I felt a whole host of negative emotions. I’ve never really been taught these things, and in fact, was taught that God does not control everything but leaves it up to humanity’s will as stewards of the Earth.

I don’t think that can be supported biblically.

What really caused difficulty for me was the conclusion of this line of thought. If God controls everything, then you cannot separate our experience from His will. If His will is paramount, then everything we all experience is exactly what He foreordained. All the suffering and pain of this world must be exactly as He willed it.

It doesn’t end there. If God does indeed control everything, and it was all planned in advance, then not only the cross was foreordained, but so was the fall of humanity.

At the time I came to that thought, it was too much for me. I had to go back over all of my study to find the flaw in my logic and understanding. Can it really be that God planned for mankind to fall in the Garden of Eden? If so, why?

I am not sure it is even possible for us limited humans to answer such a question.

Does it in any way suffice to say that it is because it brings Him glory?

I cannot, and will not, try to convince you on this point now. It is really the only natural conclusion of understanding that God’s sovereignty does mean He is in total and complete control.

We elevate ourselves in pride if we try to fathom this and question the One who made us. As uncomfortable as it may be, we cannot select the parts of the Bible that we like and ignore the rest. We must take the whole counsel of God and understand Him as best we can from it.

So how can God claim He wants all to come to repentance and be saved?

In 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, we read the following.

who [God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

A question I posed last time was how can these verses be true if God only elects some for salvation? Surely that is contradictory.

I began to read materials about the “Two Wills of God,” which I, at first, rejected. The idea is that God has a “revealed” will and a “secret” will. I struggled to find chapter and verse on such a concept.

The idea is this. I, the parent, am going out Christmas shopping for my children. When they ask, “Where are you going?” I answer, “I’m going out.” We see that my “revealed will” is “I’m going out.” But that my “secret will” is “I’m going out Christmas shopping.”

As an illustration, this works well. It is clear to see that I as a parent may not want to tell my children every little detail of my plans. This may be my choice, or it may be that they simply wouldn’t understand.

I can, to an extent, apply this to God and accept that there may well be things He chooses not to reveal to me, and so I should focus on what He does reveal. Where my illustration breaks down is that in terms of election AND God wanting all to be saved, they appear in direct contradiction.  My example of revealed and secret will going Christmas shopping fit together and are both true. We can’t obviously see that here in our Scriptures.

Again, it may be beyond our minds to be able to see the wide-angle view here.

For some, the “all” in these verses from Timothy and Peter refers only to the “elect” and so there is no contradiction at all. That is neat, but I’m not sure you can obtain that from the text alone and have to apply this interpretation.

Another way to look at it is a well-known ethics test. A train is hurtling towards a junction. On one side is your spouse, and the other a group of eight individuals. You have control the lever and can divert the train away from your spouse and into the group. What do you do?

Perhaps God is faced with such a dilemma. His will (revealed) is that He does not want anyone to perish, but He chooses to only elect some – this choice may be considered His “secret will”. It is impossible to put ourselves in God’s shoes here. If He owns the train, the tracks, the junction and the points, then how can it apply? I can safely say it’s beyond me.

Prayer, evangelism, healing and the rest

As I hit the bottom of the valley in this journey through sovereignty, I realised that much of what I had been taught was perhaps based on false foundations.

If you cannot separate God’s will from our experience, then you cannot say it is God’s will to heal someone if they remain sick. If it were, the sick would be healthy. This flies in the face of what I have previously believed God’s word to say.

It doesn’t end there though, and some of the classic questions about sovereignty are as follows:

  • If God is sovereign, then why pray?
  • If God is sovereign, and has an elected group, then why evangelise?
  • As I mention above, I would add – If God is sovereign, and healing (appears in my view) is His will for His people, then why do some remain sick?

This is already a long post, and I am keen to share my conclusions with you. I can’t answer the above questions fully in what little space I have left, but here goes.

Prayer

Prayer is problematic because the logic goes like this: If I pray for God’s will, then I am praying for something which will happen anyway. And if I pray against His will, then there is no possibility of it occurring. In both cases, prayer is pointless, right?

Paul, who wrote Romans 9 and stated emphatically that God is sovereign, had no issue telling people to pray. Indeed, just one chapter over in Romans 10:1 we read:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.

Romans 10:1 (ESV)

If Paul saw no contradiction between Romans 9 and 10, then neither should we. Perhaps he knew something we have not yet uncovered.

I was musing about time. If I pray, when does God hear it? The simple answer is straightaway. But there is no “straightaway” for God. Not wanting to drown in physics I don’t really understand, time is a physical property and (I think) linked to gravity.

I think Einstein proposed an experiment which said that if you take twins born at the same time, and send one to our nearest star at 99.9% the speed of light, then on their return, the traveler will still be a baby and yet the one left on Earth would have grown up. Time on Earth passes at a different rate.

Hope that didn’t melt your brain!

Put it like this, God is not subject to our time constraints. We think that we pray, and God hears and then acts, influencing our future. God knows the end from the beginning, and so knows our prayers before we were even formed. I’m not sure if it breaks the sovereignty of God to suggest that maybe He heard our prayers before the foundation of the world. Perhaps in making His sovereign choices, He takes our requests on board. Just my considerations here, and nothing I can support scripturally.

Evangelism

Likewise, if prayer remains valid, then so must evangelism. You simply cannot argue that the Bible does emphatically tell us to share our faith, and by that, the full number of the elect can be reached.

Healing

If God always gets His way, and if we remain sick, we must conclude that it is not His will to heal us. And yet, physical healing is certainly Scriptural. Could it be that God wanting us well is His “revealed will” and when we don’t, it is His secret will coming into play? I leave that thought with you.

Conclusions

How can I hope to conclude such a post! My head spins writing it, let alone you reading it. This is the culmination of much thought and study, and so I cannot expect you to just swallow it whole and accept it. I urge you to look into it yourself and see what you think the Bible says.

But what does it matter?

I don’t mean to be flippant there, of course it matters. Understanding the nature of God and how we can relate to Him must matter a great deal.

My point is this. What difference does it make to the way we live?

If God is Sovereign, or indeed if you believe He is not, the Bible is very clear about how we Christians should live. Whether it is God ordaining it, or you choosing it, we must determine to live our lives in a manner worthy of God.

We cannot do it in our own strength, and must rely totally and completely o Christ, but our lives should reflect His glory. The way we live should be a witness to the rest of the world so that by their acceptance or rejection of Christ, God is glorified and praised.

Praise the Sovereign and Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!

Willing to Pay the Price? (PoW#22)

Pearl of Wisdom #22

Don’t expect what other people have, unless you’re willing to pay the price they paid to get it.

Some say we live in the age of entitlement. People have a tendency to want or even expect what other people have – without being willing to pay the price they paid to get it.

Some newly weds or homeowners expect the same standard of living as their retired parents, not realising it took their parents their entire lives working and saving to be in a position to live that way.

We want to lose weight and be fit and healthy, but don’t want to spend the hours in the gym we need to. We want the “body” but aren’t willing to let go of the chocolate!

The same can be true of churches and ministries. We see a “big church” (which is not necessarily a measure of success) and want our church to be the same. A Bible teacher draws in a crowd of hundreds, and we feel we ought to have at least the same.

What we often fail to understand is that these things all come at a cost and a sacrifice. Whether in ministry or in business or life in general, success takes time and patience. We may be watching the end result of years of hard work, expecting to have it all in a few weeks.

I encourage you to have goals and dreams, but set realistic expectations. Don’t look at others and covet what they have. Do what they did to get it. Learn from them, and strive towards your goals.

And remember, we usually only ever see the “edited highlights” of a person’s life. Instagram and Facebook are very selective windows into a person’s world.

Be blessed this week.

Humble Pie (PoW#21)

Pearl of Wisdom #21

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, rather it is thinking of yourself less.

Humility isn’t exactly something we celebrate much in our culture. When we look to celebrities, we offer see arrogance, selfishness and pride.

Many of us misunderstand what true humility is. We believe that a humble person is someone who beats themselves up constantly, who treads themselves down and thinks very little of themselves.

That is not biblical humility.

Humility is not about mistreating ourselves, instead it’s about moving ourselves out of the way and keeping God in His proper place in our lives.

A humble person is someone who is totally reliant on Jesus. They don’t think of themselves more or less than they ought, and instead keep their minds on Christ.

Pride can be seen in arrogance of course, but it can also be seen in self-loathing. Pride is simply putting the emphasis on “us” rather than God.

Try to be humble this week. Don’t loathe yourself, love Jesus!