Salvation In No One Else

Our passage for today is Acts 4:1-22, and you can read the full text at that link. I’ll refer to various verses throughout the post.

Acts 4 continues the events we discussed in chapter 3 so it is useful to familiarise yourself with those first. In summary, Peter and John went to the temple and while there, healed a man who it says was “lame from birth.” This caused something of a stir among the crowds gathered, and Peter seized the opportunity to speak. He did not preach on the topic of healing, as you might expect, but used it to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not Everyone Is Happy To Hear Good News

As they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, 2 being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

Acts 4:1-2 (WEB)

The “they” in the first line is referring to Peter and John. We see that not all were happy to hear Peter’s message, and the priests and other “religious” leaders were upset by what they were teaching. The word “upset” here is the Greek word – diapomeomai – and I won’t try to pronounce it! It means to be troubled, displeased, or offended, and to the point of being worked up about it. One of the reasons for this would have been the claim that Jesus was the Resurrection, as the Sadducees did not believe in a bodily resurrection.

We believe the message about Jesus to be good news, but there are many who do not. Not everyone will be happy when we share our faith, and as we see in verse 3, they reacted very strongly indeed and arrested Peter and John, holding them in custody overnight.

Yet in the midst of such strong opposition, we see a great number turning to Christ. In fact, we observe more people joining the faith than did on the day of Pentecost!

But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Acts 4:4 (WEB)

Silly Questions

The next day, you might hope that the religious leaders had had a chance to sleep on things and be a little more reasonable about it. But sadly not!

They gather together all manner of important people, including the high priest and apparently several members of his family (see verses 5-6). It must have been some kind of court hearing, as they bring out Peter and John, and place them in the midst of them all.

When they had stood Peter and John in the middle of them, they inquired, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”

Acts 4:7 (WEB)

It is time to begin the questioning… imagine one of your favourite TV legal dramas… The prosecution stands to their feet, gathers their papers, and addresses the witness… and what do they ask? A pretty daft question in my opinion!

They ask Peter and John by what power, or in what name, they have performed this miracle. it is a rather silly question because Peter made it abundantly clear the day before in what name and power he had performed the miracle!

By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

Acts 3:16 (WEB)

The “he” above is Jesus Christ. Had the religious leaders been listening to what Peter was saying in front of them all, they would already have known the answer to this question.

Despite this, and continuing our courtroom example, Peter launches into his own defence, which is really no defence of him at all, but of the Gospel of Christ.

Salvation In No One Else

Verses 8-12 tells us what Peter tells them. He very clearly spells out that they are being “tried” for doing a good deed, which is the healing of this lame man. Peter sets out that the miracle was done in the Name of Jesus, and in that Name this man now stands before them all – whole and healed.

Peter states the facts of the case, but also cites Old Testament Scripture, quoting from Psalm 118 that Jesus was indeed the stone that the builders rejected, and yet He became the Cornerstone.

The pinnacle of Peter’s words is found in verse 12:

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among men, by which we must be saved!”

Acts 4:12 (WEB)

Salvation is found in no one else, and there is indeed no other Name by which we can be saved. Jesus is the One and only way to Heaven, and no one comes to the Father except through Him.

The religious leaders are astonished by Peter’s boldness, which is really inspired by the Holy Spirit (see verse 8). They recognise that these men are not educated in the religious Law, and yet can speak with confidence and effectively witness for Christ. The leaders cannot deny the miracle, which many have seen, yet they do not want this teaching about Christ spread about. They were the ones who killed Him after all!

Sending Peter and John out, they discuss what they can do. They realise they have few options and so, calling them back in, demand that they no longer speak in the Name of Christ.

Whether It Is Right

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, 20 for we can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard.”

Acts 4:19-20 (WEB)

Peter and John now have a choice to make. Do they obey the religious leaders, or do they obey God? Peter responds by putting the ball firmly in their court. Is it right to listen to you or to God, he asks. They have no answer to this at all, only offer further threats. They have no legal recourse and they fear the people who witnessed the miracle.

Under normal circumstances, we are to follow the commands of our leaders and authorities. When those commands directly contradict the Word of God, then we have a choice to make.

In the UK, we are largely able to practice our faith without harassment but things are changing. Christian values are no longer popular, and our Government continues to make ungodly decisions. I praise God for the freedom we have in this nation, and pray it may last. If it does not however, let us boldly proclaim the truth that salvation is found in no one else, no matter the cost.

The Gospel of… Barnabas?

Over the weekend, I read an article about an ancient manuscript they recently found. The headline read: “1,500 year old manuscript rocks Christian Church!”

According to the article, this newly discovered manuscript is the Gospel According to Barnabas, and dismisses the Apostle Paul, claims Judas was actually crucified and more critically, states that Jesus did not die on a cross but was just taken up to heaven.

It claimed that the church has been “rocked” because if Christ was not crucified, then it essentially breaks the major doctrines of the church. The article referenced the Roman Catholic Church particularly, and how the Vatican will be examining the manuscript carefully and were even accused of trying to suppress its contents.

This Gospel of Barnabas dates back to around 500 AD and the article claims it is “genuine.” It was written in Aramaic and this somehow lends credibility to it. As well as the article itself, there were many comments saying such things as “At last! The truth comes out!” Some even claimed that the person of Jesus never even existed, let alone anything the Bible says about who He was.

Much of the article’s claims are clearly false. I see no reason why the church would be rocked by this. This is not the first, nor I suspect will it be the last such manuscript to be unearthed and dispute the Christian faith. There are a number of ancient works not included in our Bible which make all kinds of claims. Most of them never made it into the Bible because they were questionable at best.

They cite this as an ancient work, written 1,500 years ago and the age alone somehow gives it credibility. The manuscript, if accurately dated, was written some 450 years after the time of Christ. The Gospel of Mark was written around 70 AD and some of the original readers might well have been alive at the time of the events described in its words.

Old it may be, but it is not as old as the Gospels we know and rely on in the Bible. Many historical texts were written years and years after the events, but not some of the biblical ones. Had someone just made up the Gospel of Mark, then those living at the time would have verified it and dismissed it as nonsense. Yet we still read it today, and we can trust its contents.

People are rather quick to believe the claims of this new work, dismissing the traditional and established history. What people fail to realise is that many have set out to disprove the Christian faith, and yet it stills stands. Seriously scholarly effort leads to having to face the claims of Christ and a whole lot of evidence supporting them.

I am not certain what the author of the article means by saying the work is “genuine.” Genuine does not mean true, and even if properly dated and authenticated as a real work of history, then it still does not equate to being true. I can write down a total fabrication and if someone finds it in a thousand years, claim it to be a genuine handwritten note from Andy Brown… but that does not make its contents a reality.

If this newly found gospel, which is no gospel at all, were true, then it leads us to ask an important question about the Apostles. If they were there and knew that Christ did not die, why would they themselves surrender themselves to death in belief of it? IF they knew it was false, they would not have given up their lives for it. There is no benefit to them of doing this.

If you have set your mind against believing in Jesus Christ, then there is little I can say to change it. Anything I argue will be disputed or ignored. Those looking for an excuse not to believe will welcome this Gospel of Barnabas with open arms, and are glad to undermine the church’s teaching.

Do not be closed minded. Even if you remain unconvinced, do not just believe what others have told you. Investigate it for yourself. If you take an honest look at the claims of the Bible, I think you will be surprised how coherent and convincing they are.

Don’t take my word for it though, find out for yourself.

Preach the Gospel (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Preach the Gospel, and if you have to, use words… let me tell you, you do have to use words!

St Francis is often attributed to having said “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words!” There is much truth in this, and our lives and actions should certainly declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

I am certain however, that St Francis never intended this phrase to become an excuse not to use words.

While our actions do indeed speak louder than words at times, we must all be ready to speak and proclaim the Gospel of Christ clearly when necessary.

When sharing the Gospel with someone, we may only have at most sixty seconds before they move on, decide they are not interested or want to hear more. We should all rehearse and practise that one-minute Gospel presentation. Don’t stumble over the words in the heat of the moment, have them stored away in your memory so that you can call upon them when needed.

Words without action may be ineffective, as we ought to give people a reason to listen. But actions without words to back them up may not give people a clear understanding of what Jesus has done for us all.

God made the world. We broke it. We deserve punishment for this sin. But God loved us and sent His Son to take the punishment for us. He died on a sinner’s cross, but rose to life again after three days. If we accept Him and put Him in charge of our lives, we can enjoy a new relationship with Him.

Let the world see this in your actions, and tell them what Christ has done!

You Thrill Me (Psalm 92 #2)

Yesterday I wrote about the first few verses of Psalm 92, and so today i thought I would just carry on and talk about more of this great song of praise.

You can read yesterday’s post here – Praise in the morning, praise in the evening.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to the Most High.
2 It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
your faithfulness in the evening,
3 accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp,
and the melody of a lyre.

4 You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
I sing for joy because of what you have done.
5 O Lord, what great works you do!
And how deep are your thoughts.
6 Only a simpleton would not know,
and only a fool would not understand this:
7 Though the wicked sprout like weeds
and evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.

Psalm 92:1-7 (NLT)

All He has done

Verses 1-3 encourage us to worship God for particular aspects of His character. It points us toward God’s unfailing love and His faithfulness. Verse 4 turns our attention to the good things God has done as a result of His wonderful character.

I once heard it said that worship is about recognising who God is, whereas praise is about the things He has done. Perhaps the definitions aren’t so rigid, but it is a helpful way to look at it. The psalm, in that case, turns worship into praise.

The New Living Translation, quoted above, uses the word “thrill,” which is a powerful term. God’s work should thrill us! We associate the word thrill or thrilling with something like a roller-coaster or extreme sport. I suppose in some ways our Christian lives can be a lot like that at times!

We are thrilled, or excited, by god’s wonderful works. Think of all He has done for you! We can look at Creation and see its complexity and beauty. We can look at the blessings we receive on a daily basis. Most of all we can focus on the saving work of Jesus Christ and the immense grace shown to us who believe.

Again, we are encouraged to sing in response to the kindness of God. Not just sing though, but sing for joy!

Joy is something I feel I lack. I’m happy, don’t get me wrong, but I find it hard to grasp joy in my inner man at times. Even as I write these words, I hear the Spirit’s whisper that it is because I do not do what the psalmist is instructing us here. I do not consider what God has done often enough. All too frequently I am caught up in the concerns of this life – work, family, or even recreation, and not nearly enough on the things of eternity.

The solution to lack of joy:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.

Colossians 3:1-2 (NLT)

Does this apply to you also?

Flourishing Evil

Verses 5-7 are really quite interesting. Verse 5 directs us to consider how deep the thoughts of God are. I am truly humbled by the times I have questioned God or what He has done. How dare I even imagine that I could fathom His reasons or actions with my limited mind?

When my children repeat over and over, “Why, dad, why?” I try to explain as best I can, but sometimes the answer is simply because I know things they do not. I cannot ask my six year old to understand the economic impacts of COVID-19 nor explain to my two year old about genetics or astrophysics. Some things are just beyond them.

The same is true for me. God’s thoughts and ways are sometimes so far above our comprehension, it is rather comical that we try to figure it out. God wants us to use our brain and to understand what we can, but we must also know our limits.

Verses 6 and 7 have some tough words for us. It says that only a simpleton would not understand this – that evildoers may flourish like weeds but they will be destroyed forever.

The psalmist is adamant. He tells us it is as plain as day! Yes evil may well flourish around us and be as abundant as weeds in a neglected garden, but they will not get away with it. Evil will not go unpunished. Why not? Because there is a just God in heaven!

Some people ask how a loving God could punish people in an eternal hell. The answer is simple, if not easy. A loving God must also be a just God. If God were to simply ignore sin and evil, then the result of that would not be “loving” for all. Imagine if someone committed a horrendous crime against someone you dearly loved, and the police just let them go. Would you feel loved? No, you would want justice!

The problem we have though, is that we are all guilty of sin and evil. So God, to be just, must punish us all. But thank God for His mercy and “deep thoughts”!

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NLT)

God has done something astonishingly amazing. He could have just left us to face the punishment of our sin but He didn’t – He had a plan. God came down and became human. We call Him Jesus. He never once failed to do good, and never once sinned against God or man. Yet He took the full punishment we deserve. He became our substitute so we can go free.

This thrills me!

God’s justice is fulfilled in Christ’s death. God’s love is demonstrated in the same way. Only a fool or a simpleton would accuse God of injustice or a lack of love towards His creation.

Evil may flourish for a lifetime on Earth, but eternity is a very long time.

Let the God of love and justice thrill you this day! Sing for joy for the things He has done! And another day we will complete this stunning psalm.

Have a great weekend!

Resurrection Sunday (audio)

Here is a little bonus post today, as it’s Easter Sunday! A Resurrection Sunday message I gave several years ago. It is still relevant today, and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening.

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday! Hallelujah! He is risen!

You can hear a selection of my other talks and sermons on the Audio page

Thanks for supporting the blog – it really means so much to me! God bless you all this Easter!

Good News

And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. 2 That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it—unless it was for nothing that you believed.

3 I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7

The word Gospel simply means “Good News,” and in a world where the news is rarely good at  the moment, I wanted to share some very good news with you.

There was a man named Jesus, and He died.

On the face of it, that may ot seem like very good news at all, and certainly not for Him. But Jesus was no ordinary man.

Let me start at the beginning…

God created the heavens and the Earth, and part of that creation was us – humanity. We did not evolve from some etherial slime, nor did apes one day mutate into human beings. God made us; He fashioned us from the very dust of the ground and breathed spirit into us.

God lived with us, and gave us only one rule to follow. We broke it. That one act of disobedience shattered the world, and this we call “sin.” Sin is doing wrong things of course, but deeper than that, it is a nature we are born with. We sin because we are sinners, not the other way around.

God was just, and knew He had to punish sin. Yet He loved His people and did not want them to perish. So from that very moment humanity fell, He put into action a plan He had in mind from the very beginning.

God took human form. God became flesh. We know that flesh as Jesus Christ.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago. He lived a perfect life, a life where He never disobeyed God and a life untouched by the sinful nature the rest of us has.

According to God’s plan, the “religious people” of the time did not recognise Jesus for who He was, despite hundreds of prophecies which told of His coming. As He was upsetting their religious applecart, they betrayed Him and had Him arrested. He was put through several illegal trials, and despite a total lack of evidence, they convicted Him. Although having done nothing deserving of death, they executed Him on a cross.

Jesus died on that cross, and we know this for sure. He was buried in a tomb where His body lay for three full days. On the third day, when they went to anoint His body, they found the tomb empty and His body gone.

Jesus had defeated death, and come back to life again. I know it sounds far-fetched, but there were many witnesses who saw Him after He had died. Those who saw Him went on to die for their belief, and those few initial follows grew into the global church we know today.

What does this all mean for you, here and now in 2020?

The Bible, which is a recording of God’s teachings to His people, tells us that Jesus’ death was really the death that you and I deserve. He took our place. That sin which taints us all and did not taint Him, meant we could swap places. Jesus took on the death we deserved, and we, by putting our trust in Him, can go free.

Death comes for us all in the end. This current COvid-19 crisis may have made you think about it more than usual. For many of us, particularly the young, we don’t think all that much about it. But death is a certainty, and one we all face sooner or later.

The Bible says that one day we will all stand before God and give an account for our lives. There is essentially just one question for us to answer: “Did we believe and put our trust in Jesus Christ?” That is to say, “Did we accept His sacrifice to pay for our sin and put Him in charge of our lives? ”

If you faced death today, what would your answer be?

There is no better time than now to start a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Tell Him you believe in Him and what He did at the cross. Ask Him to forgive you, and surrender your life into His hands. You will never be truly free until you do.

If you make that commitment to Christ today, then I’d love to hear about it. Please get in touch or comment below. The Christian life is not an easy one, but the eternity will forever make up for any hardships of this earthly life.

Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been wrestling with a tough issue of late – the sovereignty of God.

This began a while ago, when after a comment in a previous post, someone challenged my view of what sovereignty means. I am determined not to shy away from such challenges, even if uncomfortable, as it can only lead to growth of understanding to review one’s position. You either confirm what you already thought, or learn something new which changes your perspective.

In this case, I am certainly reviewing my previous view.

What does “Sovereignty” mean?

This, I think, is part of the problem. We all have a slightly different understanding of what we mean by the term “Sovereignty”.

One definition is simply that God being sovereign means He is the Supreme Being, Ultimate and without equal. I hope that no Christian can take argument with such a definition.

Going further though, some take sovereignty to mean that God controls every aspect of our lives here on Earth. Nothing happens by chance and everything happens according to God’s will.

This definition I struggled with. Like all who have faced this subject, the obvious question is “If God controls everything, then how come a) bad things happen, and b) how can anyone be held responsible for their actions?”

I previously did not hold to this view. I did not believe that God’s Sovereignty meant that He controlled every little thing in life, and that our very decisions were ordained on high by Him.

I could be wrong…

Two texts

There were two main Bible texts which challenged my view. I should clarify that I mean two main texts which I examined, rather that the big two.

The first is Ephesians 1:4-5, which says:

just as [in His love] He chose us in Christ [actually selected us for Himself as His own] before the foundation of the world, so that we would be holy [that is, consecrated, set apart for Him, purpose-driven] and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined and lovingly planned for us to be adopted to Himself as [His own] children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the kind intention and good pleasure of His will

Ephesians 1:4-5 (Amp)

This idea of being chosen by God opens up the heart of the sovereignty issue for me. Did God choose me first, or did I choose Him? Did He choose me, knowing that I would choose Him? If this doesn’t make your mind tilt, then you’re a wiser person than I!

The key here is to look to when God made the choice. “When” is a difficult one to apply to God, as He is outside of time. We think linearly, there is a start, a middle and an end, but we can’t think that way with God. He has no beginning, middle or end, and He just is.

What does the verse say? “Before the foundation of the world…” This means, put simply, before the Creation. If this is true, and as it is Scripture, it is, then it means that before you and I were born, before we did anything right or wrong – then God had chosen us.

The next obvious question is – on what basis did He make this choice? If it was before we did or said or thought anything, then it cannot be on our performance and behaviour. God did not choose you because you were “good” or “bad”, rather it was an act of His will.

We want to understand how and why God made His choice because we want to understand something fundamental. Why me and not them? A scant understanding of the Gospel should tell us that it is nothing to do with us – not our performance or how well we did or didn’t do, but completely and totally on the finished work of Christ.

The second text is from Romans 9:18-20

Therefore, God has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses. 19 You may ask me, “Then why does God still find fault with anybody? For who can resist his will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you—mere man that you are—to talk back to God? Can an object that was molded say to the one who molded it, “Why did you make me like this?”

Romans 9:18-20 (ISV)

Here, Paul addresses what is at the very heart of this issue. Indeed, verse 19 asks the precise question we hope to answer. “If God controls everything, then how can anyone be held responsible for their wrongdoing?”

What is his answer? And I warn you, it may not satisfy…

who are you—mere man that you are—to talk back to God? Can an object that was molded say to the one who molded it, “Why did you make me like this?

Who are we to ask such a question of the Sovereign God? We are trying to wrap our limited minds around an unlimited concept. Human thinking cannot comprehend the sovereignty of God. Who are we to question Him in this matter?

If, like me, you feel somewhat unsatisfied by this, then I understand.

I want to give you a “better” answer here. I want to be able to explain this to you in such a way as to enable you to accept and understand it. I tried. Then it dawned on me that if the great apostle Paul can only give the above answer, then how can I expect to come up with something better?

One author suggested we approach this issue in the same way that we approach the Trinity. That is, we approach it knowing that it is true and having no human understanding of how it can be so.

I sigh at this point, realising that theologians have considered this for centuries and no “good” answer exists. God is God, and we are not. His ways are higher than ours, and this is one of those (few) occasions where we cannot explain or understand Him.

We can do nothing except humbly accept it.

Conclusion?

Hardly! I can’t hope to conclude such a topic in a few simple lines here. Like many who have gone before me, we can only walk this road our own way. At each step we must try to see the Bible as a whole in a systematic way. There will always be things, this side of heaven, that we do not comprehend.

Does it make God any less? No, if anything it highlights how “Sovereign” He is.

Does it somehow weaken our faith? It should not.

I’ve asked God the big questions as I’ve begun to examine this subject. It can only weaken our faith if we allow ourselves to engage in pride. “I should be able to understand this” or “How can God choose some and not others?” This betrays an attempt by us to somehow reach God’s level. When we question His ways, we are on some level suggesting that we know better. Such thinking is not only futile, it’s comical.

My journey has not come to an end here. I began this post by saying it had led to me to review my way of thinking about God’s Sovereignty. This is true, but I’ve not completed it yet (and I suspect I never will!)

I have questions, and I’m guessing you do too.

If what I’ve shared above from Ephesians and Romans holds true (and it does), then I prayerfully wonder how the following Scriptures fit with this. It’s a heavenly jigsaw puzzle if you will, and I’m quite certain all the pieces fit. It may simply be that only God can see the big picture.

Abraham negotiates with God

In Genesis 18, we read a story where Abraham (very respectfully) negotiates with God. God sets out His intention to inspect Sodom and Gemorah (verse 21) with a view to destroying it, and yet Abraham appeals to Him.

This is relevant to our discussion because it seems contradictory. What was God’s will in this matter? Was it to destroy Sodom and Gemorah without any regard for any righteous people living there? Was it always God’s will to save the righteous before He destroyed it? A close reading may suggest that God never intended to destroy it while even one righteous person was there.

Although Abraham very cautiously “talks God down” to withholding the city’s destruction if only ten righteous are found there, in the end we see that it only took one. Indeed, the Angel of the Lord “could not” destroy the city while Lot was still within its limits.

Hurry and take refuge there, for I cannot do anything [to punish Sodom] until you arrive there.” For this reason the town was named Zoar (few, small).

Genesis 19:22 (Amp)

So how do we determine God’s Sovereign will in this matter? The destroying angel could not do a thing until Lot was safe, meaning God had given His Word that the city would not fall while Lot remained.

What does that mean for what God had discussed with Abraham right at the beginning? – did Abraham’s intercession somehow restrict God’s will, or rather his prayers cause God to give grace to Lot who dwelt in Sodom?

It is God’s will that everyone be saved?

Likewise, these are key passages for me that suggest God does not always get His way. If He does, and He does indeed control everything as we have expounded above, then how can we reconcile these verses?

who wishes all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge and recognition of the [divine] truth.

1 Timothy 2:4 (Amp)

The Lord does not delay [as though He were unable to act] and is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is [extraordinarily] patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (Amp)

We can clearly see that it is God’s will that everyone be saved. And yet, they are not. How can we place these verses alongside the verse from Ephesians 1 (discussed above) and fit them together?

If God wants all to be saved, then why only choose some?

One way to fit them together  (and it is completely flawed) is the idea that God chose everyone, and that means all will be saved. Indeed, some teach that God will have mercy on everyone irrespective of what they did with Christ on the Earth, and therefore both verses can be true. This is false.

Such teaching does not take a serious view of Scripture and indeed cheapens the sacrifice of Christ. If all are saved irrespective of Christ’s sacrifice, then Christ had no need to come at all. Clearly this is not the case.

There must therefore be another way that these verses fit together.

Your will be done (the Lord’s Prayer)

Finally, we look to the Lord’s prayer. While it is my belief that this is a template for prayer, rather than something we should repeat over and over, one of the points is rather clear.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Given what we have said above about God being in ultimate control of every aspect of life, why should we pray for His will to be done? Surely His will being done is a given?

Extending this thought, why pray at all? Indeed, if God’s mind is already made up and His will already established, how can we expect to change anything with our act of prayer?

The Bible makes it absolutely clear that indeed we should pray. Moreover, that our prayers make a tremendous difference on the earth.

And finally…

We could go on. We could cite Scriptures about God controlling the weather from Isaiah, or hardening Pharoah’s heart in the Exodus, or sending a great fish to swallow the reluctant prophet Jonah. Equally, we could look to Deuteronomy 30:19 where life and death, blessings and curses are set before us, and God encourages us to choose life!

Is it God, or man, who makes such choices?

We could go on…

I can’t hope to bring answers to all of these questions here. I also do not want this to come across as a crisis of faith – far from it. If anything, my conviction about the absolute supremacy and infallibility of Scripture is even stronger. I do not doubt His kindness or love, nor do I question His intentions.

I hope this makes you think if nothing else, and it certainly helps me to lay out my thoughts before you. Thanks for reading!

I say again that I can do no better than the apostle Paul who said, “who are you—mere man that you are—to talk back to God?

Indeed, I am not God, but I worship the One who is.

Out with the New

Whatever has happened, will happen again; whatever has been done, will be done again. There is nothing new on earth.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ISV)

A few years ago, we bought a new car. It was wonderful! Shiny, clean, modern, and full of the latest features. It was a real upgrade on our previous vehicle. While my wife and I are not especially interested in cars, it was fun and exciting to have a brand new one. With four “free-range” children however, and a couple of years on, it’s not as shiny as it once was!

There is something amazing about new things, we all love to get something new! And I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that. However, I think our expectation has now stretched into the church world also. If it’s not new or exciting, then we are perhaps not as interested as we ought to be.

Every Sunday we turn up to church and expect something new. A new worship song. A new cutting edge Bible message. A new sound system or lights or fog machine. A new children’s worker or youth ministry. A new experience. A new “move of God”. Just a new way of doing things.

Some even demand a new Gospel. One that doesn’t challenge or interfere. One that presents all the blessings with none of the commitment.

In this context, I’m convinced that “new” is not all that good at all.

Someone was once asked if they worried about the parts of the Bible they didn’t understand? Their response was telling. No, they said, I don’t worry about the bits I don’t understand, but the parts I do understand but don’t do.

How often are we seeking something new to learn, when we have not yet mastered what we’ve already been told?

A new minister started at a church and preached a wonderful message on the gospel of grace. People very much enjoyed it and congratulated him. The following week, he preached almost an identical message. One or two muttered to themselves – isn’t this what he said last week? Third week, the same again, preached an almost identical message. A few more noticed and complained among themselves. The fourth week, again he preached the same message on the gospel of grace. Finally the leadership team approached him and said – “Why are you preaching the same message over and over again? The people want something different!” He replied – “Once they understand and apply this message, I can move on to something else.”

Isn’t that true? Most of us can’t remember what last week’s sermon was about, yet we now want something new and improved. Wouldn’t it be better to master last week’s topic before moving on to something else?

Whatever we need, there’s a good chance we’ll need to hear it more than once. If you are anything like me, then God will need to draw you back to the same truth a number of times before it sinks in. To be honest, there are still some things God spoke to me about years ago that i am still dealing with today.

New is of course exciting and wonderful and fresh, but sometimes we need to dig into things we have heard multiple times before to really see change in our lives.

Going to church on a Sunday should not be about getting goosebumps and being entertained. Fun though it may be, what good will it do you later that week when facing a crisis? We need solid Biblical truths that will last, wisdom found in Scripture which will show us how to live and have a real positive impact.

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes quoted above, shows us that there is nothing new under the Sun. Whatever has been done, has been done before. This search for something new is indeed futile. God’s grace is sufficient!

Am I saying church should be dull? Far from it! Have you ever met the Holy Spirit? He’s the most exciting Person I’ve ever known! Just being around Him is exciting and energising.

Church should not be a place for us to catch up on our sleep, but nor should it be blown and tossed by every wind of popular culture.

When we seek to entertain, rather than sustain, we water down the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s communicate in different ways of course, but let us never hide or distort Christ for the sake of people having a good time.

Everything is a balance, and I don’t want you to think I’m saying the church should never change. We do need to reach our younger generation for they are the church of tomorrow. But we cannot do so by thinning out the truth.

If you currently find yourself bored with church, then seek the Lord and check your motivations. Are you bored because God has finished with you there and is leading you to move on? Or is it because you are looking to be entertained?

Not everything that is new is good. Seek God this week and ask Him what you really need. Perhaps a little of the old and faithful is just what you need.

The Next Generation

I had the immense privilege to become a godparent again a few weeks ago. It really is a privilege to be a godparent at a child’s baptism, and it’s my honour to pray for and support Abigail (who is far too young to read this!).

As well as being godparent, I was also asked to share a reading with the church. I didn’t choose it myself, but what a fantastic reading it was (the text I mean, not my delivery!).

I want to share it with you here, and point out a few key points.

It was from Psalm 78.

A psalm of Asaph.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God.

Psalm 78:1-8 (NLT)

The psalmist, in this case Asaph and not David, begins by encouraging us to listen to what he has to say. Perhaps there’s no great revelation in this, but how often do we not listen to important things said to us?

I will speak to you in a parable

In verse two, he uses the phrase “I will speak to you in a parable” which is an echo of Christ in the future. Jesus taught using parables, and there came a time when he would only speak to the crowds in these illustrative stories.

 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don’t really see.
    They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

Matthew 13:10-13 (NLT)

So we see that parables are a way to share truths, but only to those whom understanding is given.

Truths from our past

Asaph goes on to explain the importance of sharing stories from our past. He says that these stories, which were passed down orally from generation to generation, will not be forgotten.

When our daughters were born, we got them a 100-year diary. It’s a diary intended to cover a lifetime (although i’m believing they live well past 100!). As well as recording key events in life, there are sections for family members to record things – such as grandparents. This gives them (the grandparents) to share important things or just to share what life was like for them.

Imagine what will be contained in those pages after a lifetime. I imagine that diary being passed down to my children’s children so that they too will know what life was like for the generations that went before them.

It is so important that we do not lose lessons that were learned in the past. We see from history time and time again that lessons are not learned, and the same mistakes are repeated over and over.

Life does not have to be that way. We can learn from those who went before us, and more importantly have the guidance of God in our lives. We don’t have to learn by trial and error, we can seek the Holy Spirit who will show us things to come (John 16:13).

Whether parents or grandparents or neither, we have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the wonders of God

You may not have children yourself, but I don’t believe that absolves us of responsibility. We all have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the things of God. Whether that is in our own homes, with friends or family, or in our church.

In the UK, it used to be the norm that everyone went to church on a Sunday. The next generation heard the truths of God. But not so anymore. It is now the exception if you go to church on a Sunday (or any other day) and so many children now know nothing of God or his wonderous works.

Today’s Sunday schools ought to be filled with tomorrow’s church

I can’t pass over verse six without picking up that almost throwaway point about – the children not yet born. Here, Asaph is speaking of the future generations, those children who would come in the future and hopefully be taught about God and His ways.

The Bible makes many references to children not yet born, or those being knit together in their mother’s womb. Clearly  the Bible values those not yet born into the world.

This part of the psalm closes with Asaph encouraging the hearers to teach their children so that they would not be like their ancestors. As I said above, he is telling them not to make the same mistakes their forefathers made.

Because their ancestors did not learn the lessons of the past, they became stubborn, rebellious and unfaithful, and ultimately refused to give their hearts to God.

Sadly, this is true for us in the modern world. So many have not been taught the Word of God or His ways, and now many are rebellious against God altogether. Very few now give their heart willingly to Jesus.

But it’s not too late.

The result of not sharing these truths with our children is that they don’t know God. It hasn’t taken many generations for this to happen, but the good news is it only takes one generation to put things right.

As the church of Christ, each one of us can begin to share the truth of God with the children in our lives. I’m not suggesting you go up and preach to every child you see, as your authority does not extend that far. However, you can be a witness to Jesus in every situation.

For those children in your care, you can tell them how great God is. You can tell them the stories written down in the Bible and show them how they can live to please God.

If you are a Christian parent or grandparent trying to share your faith with the children in your life, or if you are a leader in a Sunday school or junior church – can I say a huge thank you! God is watching what you are doing and He is so pleased you are spending time and effort to share with the next generation. May He bless you in your work!

I hope what I have said has made you think, and encouraged you if you are working with young people. I leave you with Asaph opening words:

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,

Psalm 78:1 (NLT)

Compassion, Love, Eternity and Covenant

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #9

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103:13-18 (ESV)

We take a larger chunk of Psalm 103 today, not only to pick up the pace a little, but because these verses fit together so nicely. It would make little sense to split them up and cover them in separate posts, so I’ll try to cover them all here.

The section starts by thinking about God’s compassion. David uses the comparison of a father to his children, to illustrate God’s compassion for those who fear Him. This, in an ideal world, is the perfect comparison. God is our Father, and indeed loves us as dear children.

I understand however that for those who never had a father figure in their lives, or those who had one who did not treat them well, this comparison may not bring the impact it ought to. That’s not an easy thing to deal with. But let me assure you, any and every thing you missed out on with your earthly father, is more than made up by your Heavenly One.

God’s compassion (His love) is without end, and we will consider this more in a moment.

But who does He direct this compassion towards?

Those who fear Him.

The word “fear” here is yare’, and it means “reverent fear”. It is not about being frightened of God, and being scared to approach Him. Instead, it is about having a reverence for God. Reverence goes further than mere respect, and is that sense of presence of the Almighty that makes us bow the knee to Him.

God knows and recognises that we are “dust”. This means that we are physical, limited beings who dwell on the Earth for a little while. All of us will face death, and our bodies will return to the ground from which they came.

This is not a thought to pass over quickly. The psalmist compares the human life to grass or flowers, which fade after only a short time. Don’t misunderstand, this is not limiting us to a short life, but rather pointing out that life on this Earth is indeed short in comparison to eternity.

The older I get (and I’m not old by any stretch!), the more I realise that life truly is short. As the years move by, they seem to speed up in a way they never did when I was a child.

We must make the most of every single day, and live life to the full.

David does not say all of this just to get us down! His point is emphasised in verse 17. Human life is indeed short – in comparison to God’s everlasting love! Again, we find the phrase “steadfast love” – the idea that God’s love does not move or change with the wind, but is fixed, set and eternal.

There’s another little phrase here that I don’t want to skip over – “his righteousness to children’s children.” God’s love does not just extend to us who believe in Him, but also to the generations that follow. It is my belief that not only do I receive the blessings of God, but that they come to my children and theirs also.

 How might your actions affect not only you, but your children’s children also?

So far, so good. We’ve read about God’s great compassion and His unending, everlasting love – but again, who does it apply to? Verse 18 brings in a strong condition.

To:

  • Those who keep His covenant, and
  • Those who do His commands.

If your heart has sunk a little after reading these conditions, then please stick with me a while longer!

Perhaps you are not entirely sure if you have kept His covenant? Perhaps you are more sure that you have NOT done all of His commands? So does this exclude you from the compassion and love David has been praising God for?

Not at all!

David wrote these words while living under the Old Covenant (I think we touched on this in an earlier blog post). This Old Covenant required God’s people to keep His law and obey His commands in order to qualify. This led to very strict legalism (see the Pharisees in Jesus’ day) and even worse, those who saw themselves as “religiously righteous” looking down on those they considered “sinners”.

What many in Israel failed to realise was that they could not keep the Law. The Law was and is perfect, setting out God’s standards for humanity. The problem was not with the Law, but with us. We are not perfect, and so cannot keep God’s perfect Law. And so… we need a Saviour!

Jesus came and lived a perfect human life, fulfilling the entire Law in every respect. Despite never being tainted by sin, He was executed like a sinner deserves, and took on the punishment that you and I deserve. Death could not hold Him however, and He was raised to new life!

That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and it is the New Covenant, the covenant that you and I now live under.

We no longer need to fulfil the covenant, instead we put our trust in the One who did!

Does that mean we can do whatever we like, and break God’s laws whenever we feel like it? Certainly not! Sin is still sin, and even though dealt with, still has consequences. If you steal or murder, then you will likely face criminal charges. You could be forgiven, but still in prison!

Equally we have an enemy (the devil) who is looking for someone whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Sin very much opens the door for the enemy to work in our lives.

Grace is not a licence to commit sin, but a safety net to catch you when you fall.

Even for the born again Christian, it would be impossible to never sin again or to obey every command of God. While we are new creatures in Christ, we are also subject to the whims of the flesh, the ways of the world and the temptation of the devil.

We qualify for all the benefits the psalmist sets out here not because we deserve it, but because Christ made it possible through His obedience. You need to put your trust and faith in Him.

For more details about the Gospel, read my Resurrection Sunday blog post here, or else listen to the accompanying sermon (mp3) here.

Audio Blog: Prayers of the Righteous

I’m introducing something new today – audio blogs. Rather than a full length sermon, these are short talks about a particular verse or topic. I hope you enjoy listening to them.

 

The Lord is far from the wicked but he hers the prayers of the righteous.

Proverbs 15:29 (ESV)

One Way

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (ESV)

We take another little break from the ATBOB series to think about something I feel is important for us to discuss.

The other evening, I caught an episode of a Netflix show called “The Good Place.” It’s set in the afterlife, where after an administrative mix up, a woman named Elenor is mistakenly let into the Good Place (heaven).

The program makes no mention of God, and in fact states that all of the major religions on Earth are only about 2% correct.

How do you get into the Good Place? Well, according to the show, every action you take on Earth is scored and recorded. “Good” actions lead to a higher score, and only those with the highest of scores end up in the Good Place. Everyone else ends up in the Bad Place.

Similarly, when I was younger, I remember a TV show where the main character died and found himself at the pearly gates. He met St Peter, who then evaluated his life. Peter had a set of scales and every good action – represented by a white ball – was placed on one side, and every bad action – represented by a black ball – was put on the other side. If the scales tipped to the good, you were allowed into heaven.

I’m not sure where these sort of myths originated, but there are still many who essentially believe that if you lead a generally good life, then you will get into heaven.

But what is “good”? Or rather, what is good enough?

I can see why such thinking is popular. If there’s no standard of good, then we can just compare ourselves to others and grade on a curve. “I may not be the best, but i’m better than that guy…” Thus we justify being good enough.

Let me say categorically that none of this thinking is biblical.

Imagine this for a moment – you are on one side of a chasm, and heaven is on the other. You must jump across to reach heaven. The problem is that the chasm is a mile wide. It doesn’t matter if you jump ten feet or twenty, you’re still going to fall. It makes no sense to say, “At least I jumped further than them!” Because neither of you will make it.

The standard is not set by how we measure up against each other, but how we measure up against God.

God sets out His perfect standard in His Word. The Israelites lived under the Law of Moses, and that Law was given to show them how they ought to live. They misunderstood. They thought they could follow every command and fulfil every aspect of the Law. Wrong! The Law was intended to show them that they couldn’t fulfil it, and that they needed saving!

Here in the 21st century, we are no better off. Most people don’t even recognise God’s Word as a standard anymore, let alone try to fulfil every aspect of it. Likewise, we too need a Saviour!

While some believe living “good enough” will get them into heaven, others believe that there are many roads to heaven. This is another deception.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

Being better than other people won’t get you into heaven. Following the teachings of Buddha or other “holy” person won’t get you there. Worshiping a false god won’t work, nor will earning a fortune and giving it all away. You can sit in church every week for your entire lifetime, and that won’t do it either.

Sitting in a church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than sitting in a garage would make you a car (I think Joyce Meyer said that…).

There is only one way to heaven. And that Way is Jesus Christ.

I know this is not a popular view, and many consider it closed minded and not diverse. Some may think me arrogant, saying “What makes him think he’s right over all of the other religions?” The only answer I can give is – it’s true.

Jesus is the only way to get to heaven. If I were to say anything else to you today, I would be deceiving you. I appreciate you must come to that decision on your own, and I completely respect anyone who disagrees or comes to a different decision. But I believe it is my responsibility to tell you the truth. And, on the off chance that I’m right, I want to give you every opportunity to come to Jesus right now.

As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Galatians 1:9 (NIV)

When you die (not wishing to be morbid), you will stand before God and give an account for your life. It won’t be about what “good” you did or didn’t do, and it won’t be about anyone else. It will be about what you did with Jesus – God’s Only Son.

The Bible teaches that one day, Jesus will return. Irrespective of what you believe about that, none of us will live forever on this Earth, and will one day have to face our mortality. When that time comes, I want you to be prepared. Don’t put it off. Don’t wait. Make a choice for Christ TODAY.

Many may say it’s one way or another to heaven, but it’s not. It’s only One Way. And His name is Jesus.

 

If you are ready to make that choice today, have a read of my blog from Resurrection Sunday or listen to the accompanying talk. In there, I set out the Gospel – or Good News – about Jesus. You can believe in Him right now, and pray that Jesus will come and be the Lord and Saviour of your life. If you do, please contact me as I’d love to celebrate with you.