The Heroes of Hell Island

Just finished a book about the heroes of the siege of Malta in 1942-43; it’s called “Hell Island” by Dan McCaffery (copyright 1998 by Dan McCaffery, published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd, Toronto.)

This is a book about the tiny band of young British Commonwealth fliers (many of whom were Canadian) who overcame impossible odds, sometimes approaching 100 to 1, during the siege of the island of Malta by the German and Italian Axis forces in 1942. Like the medieval sieges of old, this one involved disease, starvation, death and massive losses. However, for me, one of the most striking paragraphs of the entire recounting came in the author’s epilogue. It said…

“I decided to write about the siege of Malta because I feel it tells us a great deal about the true nature of heroism and where it comes from. Like it or not, we need heroes. They are important role models for the young and an inspiration for those of all ages. Unfortunately, it seems to me, our modern world produces precious few genuine heroes, military or otherwise. The brave young man who sailed forth in his propeller plane has been overtaken by a faceless figure in a concrete bunker, poised to press a button that will send a computer-guided missile halfway across the globe. On the civilian front, great inventors like Thomas Edison, who toiled for countless hours in cramped, dingy laboratories, have been replaced by teams of anonymous scientists working in posh glass towers for giant corporations. Bereft of true heroes, we have turned to celebrities instead. It’s sad, really, because while the celebrity may be famous, there is often little that is particularly heroic about him or her. Perhaps even more serious is the fact that the cult of celebrity has diminished the worth of the so-called ordinary person. Worse than that, it challenges the democratic notion that everyone is created equal. While the 1940s generation admired regular folks who stood up to the Nazis and won, today’s society has been reduced to worshipping overpaid professional athletes, musicians and actors.”

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Is the North American church related to the Nicolatians?

A couple of times in the second chapter of Revelation, God states that He hates the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolatians. However, the identity and background of this mysterious group is not explained; in fact, the name appears nowhere else in Scripture. So who were these people of false doctrine?

Some scholars (as gleaned from the writings of some of the early church fathers) suggest that these are followers of a fallen deacon, Nicolas (Acts 6:5). This is a very tenuous claim, however, and some suggest that the group was named after another Nicolas, perhaps even the son of the deacon Nicolas, who later became bishop of Samaria.

If one of these two individuals was in fact the founder of the group that bears the name, what exactly was wrong with their doctrine?

Nicolas of Antioch was ordained as a deacon (Acts 6:5) and described as a “proselyte”. That means that he forsook his pagan roots and embraced Judaism. Subsequently, he changed his mind (and his religion) again and began to follow “The Way”. It has been speculated that if this individual was so adept at switching religious allegiances, perhaps he carried a lot of the old pagan beliefs and practices along with him. Those deep roots in paganism may have given him a tolerance for occultist practice, perhaps even leading him to believe that these things were not so dangerous or damaging. Such a liberal view would encourage people to stay connected to their old world of sin, hedonism, and occult beliefs. In Revelation 2:14-15, we are told that this Nicolatian practice is compared to that of Balaam, who placed a stumbling block before the people, causing them to sin.

The doctrine of the Nicolatians promoted and encouraged compromise, and that compromise of faith resulted in a weakened and powerless form of Christianity. Some say that this is exactly what has happened to the western church; we’ve become irrelevant because we have compromised our faith and give more heed to the ways and mores of the world than to what The Word teaches we should do and say and believe.

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Paul and the Fortune Teller

Had an interesting discussion this week about the passage in Acts 16 that describes the Apostle Paul becoming annoyed with a fortune-telling slave girl and commanding the demon within her to depart.

Acts 16:16-18 (NIV) Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

I had read this passage many times, but usually I rushed on to the part about Paul and Silas being imprisoned, and tended not to think much about the situation surrounding the slave girl. However, the discussion with my bride encouraged me to dig more deeply, and raised several questions (there are lots more questions, but these will suffice for now).

  • Was God directing Satan’s minion to proclaim the truth?

First, one thing must be made absolutely clear; God does NOT need Satan as an ally and supporter! If God wanted a supernatural pronouncement in support of Paul and Silas, then He would have provided it Himself; He has no need of assistance from the evil one.

  • Why was Paul so perturbed about this girl’s pronouncements, were they untrue?

Paul was not annoyed at the girl, he was annoyed at the loud and persistent demon within her. The pronouncements seemed true, but if Paul accepted them and said nothing it would have appeared that he was linking the gospel with demonic activities. It has been speculated that the girl was actually proclaiming the truth in a mocking manner, similar to those who mockingly greeted Jesus with “Hail! King of the Jews”. Perhaps she was not referring to the same “God Most High” that Christians assume; in Philippi Zeus was the supreme god.

  • And, why did Paul wait for several days before taking action?

It is unclear why Paul waited for several days before taking action and commanding the demon to depart. Perhaps he had been waiting for an opportunity that would not endanger the girl or the disciples, or antagonize the local officials. Additionally, Paul was concerned for the girl’s well-being and safety (she was used and objectified by her owners); demon possession cannot be ignored. Perhaps Paul was waiting for Holy Spirit direction on dealing with the situation. Whatever his original thinking, it seems obvious that a tipping-point had been reached and he was willing to proceed regardless of the consequences.

  • Why was Satan (the girl was demon possessed) promoting the way of salvation?

We have no way of knowing the whys of Satan’s involvement, but we can speculate. Perhaps there is at work here some of the same interaction between God and Satan as described in the account of Job (Satan had God’s permission to act). Perhaps, as the liar and father of lies, Satan is attempting to start a process that would eventually discredit the gospel and/or its messengers (a process thwarted by Paul’s exorcism). Perhaps the demon was constrained to speak the truth in the same manner that Baalam could only bless Israel, not curse them.

  • What is more important in this situation; the proclamation of truth, or the source of the proclamation? Is truth from an evil source still truth?

Matthew’s gospel states that good cannot come from an evil source, that good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:16-18). So, it would seem that the girl’s pronouncements were in fact NOT good, NOT truthful (as they seem). Perhaps Paul discerned something that is not immediately obvious to us (i.e.; not referring to God but to Zeus). In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul said, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

I really like it when someone points out something I had previously missed in Scripture. However, I must be careful because I have a tendency to get caught up in the trap of trying to analyze every nuance of Scripture. But scripture itself cautions us to not have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people“ (1 Timothy 6:4). So, with that in mind, I think that although these exercises are fun (and usually enlightening), it is safe to say that if it were really important, if God felt we needed to know the details, it would have been spelled out more clearly for us.

 

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Welsh Pentecostalism

Debate/presentation in the National Assembly for Wales, 25 Nov 2015, concerning Welsh Pentecostalism by Darren Millar, a member of the assembly and an ordained Assembly of God minister.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to lead this short debate in the Senedd on the topic of Welsh Pentecostalism. This year and next, Pentecostalism in Wales is celebrating some centenary celebrations. In doing so, this branch of Welsh Christianity confirms its place as one of the most significant parts of our Welsh religious heritage. But Welsh Pentecostalism has not just had an impact here in Wales; its influence has been keenly felt worldwide. As Pentecostal history continues to grow and Christianity continues to grow, so too does the importance of our Welsh Pentecostal heritage. Before going any further, I should put on the record that earlier this year, I was ordained as a minister by the Assemblies of God denomination, the largest of the Pentecostal denominations worldwide, and that one of my staff members, Tim Rowlands, is also a minister of the Assemblies of God denomination. So, you can call us both ‘Reverend’ from now on if you want.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘Pentecostalism’, perhaps I should attempt to define it. Pentecostalism is a stream of mainstream Christianity that is Protestant, evangelical, relational and experiential. In more accessible terms, Pentecostals believe: firstly, that salvation comes only through grace and faith in Jesus Christ rather than by our own human efforts; secondly, that they have a faith that is good news and worth sharing with others; thirdly, that everyone can know God and can have a personal relationship with him; and fourthly, that all Christians can experience God through the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which empowers believers to live the Christian life for themselves. Of course, it is this distinctive that sets Pentecostals apart from other streams of Christianity. It is perhaps because of these beliefs that congregations in Pentecostal churches are generally very lively and exuberant in their worship, and that they reach out so effectively in mission and care for their local communities.

Pentecostalism is so called because it associates itself with the events recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles, where on the day of Pentecost, some 10 days after Jesus’s ascension into heaven, around 120 disciples experienced an infilling of the Holy Spirit, which fuelled their ministry and birthed the worldwide church that we see today. While the American Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in 1906 is generally considered as the origin of the modern Pentecostal movement, many would argue, myself included, that the 1904 Welsh revival was the catalyst that prepared the way for Pentecostalism to take the world by storm. Interestingly, from its beginnings, Pentecostalism has always been inclusive regarding the role of the women in the church, with some very high-profile women minister such as Maria Woodworth-Etter and Aimee Semple McPherson. Importantly, because of the pioneering role of William J. Seymour, the African-American minister who led the meetings of Azuza Street, Pentecostalism has also managed to successfully build bridges across numerous racial divides. But early Pentecostalism was not embraced by all. Those who experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit were often rejected by the churches they attended, and it is this that caused new denominations to emerge. Thankfully, these divisions did not last long, and now many people in other denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Baptists have all embraced the Pentecostal experience for themselves. Such people are often referred to as ‘charismatics’, and from its humble beginnings, Pentecostalism now represents the fastest-growing form of Christianity in the world. One piece of research estimates that one in four of all Christians worldwide are Pentecostal or charismatic, representing 8 per cent of the global population.

As recently as August this year, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, stated that engaging with Pentecostalism was especially important, as Pentecostalism has become, and I quote,

‘the second-largest reality in Christianity after the Catholic Church.’

What is fascinating is the part that Wales has to play in this exponential growth, and the role it has played in the past. The influence of the 1904 Welsh revival cannot be underestimated. As a forerunner to global Pentecostalism, the work and ministry of Evan Roberts was significant. Born in 1878 in Loughor, near Swansea, Evan Roberts spent his early adult years as a coal miner. But it was while studying for the ministry in September 1904, at a chapel service in Blaenannerch, that a supernatural experience changed his life. Following this, on Halloween of 1904, at Moriah Chapel in Loughor, Evan Roberts began to hold a series of meetings that ignited a spiritual awakening that spread the length and breadth of the country. Within just two years of those meetings, it’s estimated that 100,000 people were added to the churches and chapels of Wales. Chapels were filled from morning until night, marriages were restored, families were reconciled, long-standing debts were settled, the crime rate plummeted and, in some parts of Wales, judges wore white gloves because there were no cases to try. It’s even reported that pit ponies refused to work as the swear words that used to command them were abandoned by the miners whose conversions caused them to abandon their foul language. One legacy of the revival that continues to feature strongly in our modern culture is the singing of hymns at national rugby matches.

Reports of the awakening in Wales soon spread across the world, both in printed form and by a new wave of converts who became passionate Welsh missionaries. From India to Madagascar, and from China to Patagonia, the stories of Welsh revival burned wherever they were carried, and Evan Roberts himself inspired those who became leaders in the Azusa Street movement, encouraging them in correspondence to seek a similar awakening for themselves. They did, and it led to the Pentecostal revival that has now reached every continent on Earth.

Two of the children of the revival in Wales, as converts are often called, would become pioneers of the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Christmas Day 1904 saw the conversion of Daniel Powell Williams, or D.P. Williams as he is more often known, and this turning point in his life took place under the Ministry of Evan Roberts at Pisgah chapel in Loughor. Following his conversion, D.P. Williams experienced his own personal Pentecost in 1909, and in January of the following year, he joined a small church in Pen-y-groes, south Wales, which was opened by a group of people who’d been impacted by the 1904 revival. Under D.P. Williams’s leadership, in the January of that year, the Apostolic Church in Wales denomination—. In January 1916, rather, the Apostolic Church in Wales denomination was formed, with its headquarters based in Pen-y-groes, which also became home to the first Pentecostal college in the UK. Today, with its headquarters now in London, the Apostolic Church, with more than 15 million members, will be celebrating its hundredth anniversary next year.

A fortnight before the conversion of D.P. Williams, on 20 November 1904, two brothers from Nantyffyllon, Maesteg, Stephen and George Jeffreys, attended a service in Siloh chapel, during which they were both converted. George was just 15 years old at the time and in very poor health. Few could have predicted that he would become, as that prince of Welsh preachers Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones has reckoned, the most outstanding British evangelist of the twentieth century. George was baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1910, during a meeting in Sunderland, and soon gained a reputation as a popular evangelist and preacher. After participating in an international Pentecostal convention in Sunderland in 1913, he took up an invitation to preach in Monaghan, Northern Ireland, and it was during these meetings, in January 1915, 100 years ago this year, at the Temperance Hall in Monaghan, that George Jeffreys formed the Elim Evangelistic Band. A year later, at the site of a former laundry in Hunter Street, Belfast, the first Elim church was opened, and a place for washing clothes became a place for washing souls. Under George’s leadership, the fledgling Elim movement went from strength to strength, with new churches being established in most major cities in the UK, including Cardiff City Temple here in the capital. Elim is now in its centenary year. It’s a denomination of almost 600 churches in the UK, and 9,000 churches worldwide, operating over 40 different nations, founding hospitals, orphanages and schools.

Stephen, George’s brother, went on to become a highly successful evangelist with the Assemblies of God denomination, of which I’m a member. That was formed in 1924. It now has more than 67 million members around the world. So, the three main Pentecostal denominations in the UK all trace a link back to Wales and, as such, we should be doing much more, I believe, to celebrate and profile this rich and unique part of our Christian heritage, including through the Welsh Government’s faith tourism action plan and any other work that is being carried forward from that. After all, it’s a heritage that draws thousands of visitors to our shore every year, many of whom see Wales as something of a spiritual fatherland. But, regrettably, this heritage is sometimes overlooked. Just a few years ago, Pisgah chapel faced demolition, in spite of its association with Evan Roberts, who oversaw its construction, and its being the place where D.P. Williams was converted. And the Bible College of Wales in Swansea, which was established by Rees Howells, and where Pentecostal evangelist Reinhard Bonnke trained for the ministry, was closed, and it faced a very uncertain future. But, thankfully, as a result of the generosity of Cornerstone Community Church in Singapore, both of these important parts of our Chris0tian heritage have now been rescued and restored. A heritage centre has been established also at the Bible College of Wales, which was officially opened by Edwina Hart on behalf of the Welsh Government earlier this year. Its collection includes a commemorative item of the 1904 revival that was kindly donated by the Deputy Presiding Officer.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Here in Wales, Pentecostal churches continue to do great work, with churches running volunteer projects for young people, supporting older people and reaching out to help the vulnerable. There can be no doubt that, without them, many people would be much worse off. Just last week I held a number of meetings with the leader of the Assemblies of God in Great Britain, the Reverend John Partington, to discuss how as a denomination they can improve their impact and engagement in Wales. It was a positive discussion with a sense of purpose for the future. Here in Wales, of course, there are some excellent examples of Pentecostal churches that are adding value to their local communities. From Hope Church in Newtown, led by the AOG area leader in Wales, the Reverend Alan Hewitt, which my colleague and fellow Assembly Member Russell George attends, to North Coast Church in Tywyn, led by the Reverend James Buckley, where I fellowship. Communities of Pentecostal believers are making a real difference and we should do much, much more here as legislators in the Assembly to acknowledge them.

Indeed, I was very pleased to host a visit to North Coast Church in Tywyn with Carl Sargeant, when he was the Minister for Communities and Local Government, and he saw for himself the tremendous work that that church is doing with young people, parents and older people.

To summarise, then, Wales has a very rich Pentecostal heritage that has had an enormous impact on Christianity here in the UK and around the world. We need to do more to protect and commemorate and to celebrate this heritage, and we certainly need to promote it, particularly amongst the hundreds of millions of Pentecostal Christians around the world. We also need to do more to engage with Pentecostal churches and groups in our own constituencies, and to acknowledge the ongoing and positive contribution that they make to the Wales of today. Thank you for listening.

 

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JC Ryle (1816-1900)

My frugal self (read cheap) has prompted me to seek the best buys in terms of the most/best reading material for my e-reader. I have collected (but not yet read all) works by Spurgeon, Calvin, Edwards, Milton, Finney, Moody, etc., all of which tend to be quite inexpensive. I have recently been reading “Top 7 Classics on Holiness” by some familiar authors, but it also includes works by names with which I was unfamiliar.

One author in particular has caught my attention; that being Bishop J.C. Ryle, (1816-1900), the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool (J.C. Ryle). His book, “Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots” , written in 1877, is included in this anthology. The book’s 21 chapters constitute an amazingly thorough treatise on Holiness, but, if you are strapped for time, I recommend reading Ryle’s own introduction to the book. It will surely open your eyes to some of the greatest theological thinking of the nineteenth century.

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Rediscovering Holiness

I have been out of town for a few weeks and missed my daily explorations of the J.I Packer Classic Collection, a sampling of excerpts from some of Packer’s most loved writings. This little snippet was extracted from his book Rediscovering Holiness.

Rediscovering Holiness – J.I. Packer

Colossians 3:5 (ESV)  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you

Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

“How do we form the Christlike habits which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit? By setting ourselves, deliberately, to do the Christlike thing in each situation. We should think out our behavioural strategy with difficult situations in mind. Thus, we should think of:

  •  Love as the Christlike reaction to people’s malice.
  •  Joy as the Christlike reaction to depressing circumstances.
  •  Peace as the Christlike reaction to troubles, threats, and invitations to anxiety.
  •  Patience as the Christlike reaction to all that is maddening.
  •   Kindness as the Christlike reaction to all who are unkind.
  •  Goodness as the Christlike reaction to bad people and bad behaviour.
  •  Faithfulness and gentleness as the Christlike reactions to lies and fury.
  •  Self-control as the Christlike reaction to every situation that goads you to lose your cool and hit out.”

I struggle frequently with some of these things, but pray that even I might become more Christlike in my dealings with the people I encounter daily.

 

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Studying The Bible

How to Study the Bible

As newcomers to London, Ontario, we have been visiting various churches to get a feel for the communities and to endeavour to determine where The Lord would have us participate. Yesterday we visited a church of fairly new believers in which the Pastor makes the Sunday message a learning opportunity, and even takes questions from the congregation at the end. On this occasion, and after some encouragement to “get off the fence”, one questioner asked exactly how to do just that, how does one get off the fence and make a real commitment to God? The Pastor’s response focused upon getting to know God more intimately, and to do that one must diligently study His Word. Today, while reading one of William Booth’s books on Holiness, I chanced upon a chapter entitled “How To Study The Bible”. I would like to share some of Booth’s insights and suggestions on the matter.

  1. Read and study the Bible as two young lovers study each other’s letters. As soon as a letter arrives from his sweetheart, the young man delves deeply into it, laughing and rejoicing over it, and almost devours it. He might even kiss that letter and carry it close to his heart until the next one arrives. He meditates on that letter often, reading it over and over again. He delights in that letter. That is the way to read the Bible. It is God’s Will and Testament. It is His own written instructions as to what manner of people we should be; how we should behave; what we should and should not do; our rights and privileges in Jesus; how we shall know our enemies; how we shall enter into and enjoy His favour.
  2. Read in Acts 18:11 what the disciples in Berea did. They received the Word and searched the Scriptures. They wanted to know for themselves, and not merely by hearsay. Some truths may lie on the surface of Scripture reading, but those things that will make us wiser are found only after diligent search (as for hidden treasure). John 5:39 says “Search the Scriptures… that testify about me.” If you want to know Jesus, search the Scriptures and you will know Him, and see His face. The Bereans searched daily, not sporadically or spasmodically, daily digging into the Word of God. In Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist says, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.”, and Psalm 119:97 “I meditate on it all day long” (NIV). Initially, our Bible study habit may seem to come from a sense of duty, but soon we become not only hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word as well.
  3. Read and study the Word not to get a head full of knowledge, but a flame of love in the heart. 1 Corinthians 8:1 says that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Read it to find fuel for affection, food for reflection, direction for judgement, and guidance for conscience. Read it not that you may know, but that you may do.
  4. Follow carefully the line of thought from verse to verse and chapter to chapter. Sometimes the first part of one chapter belongs to the last part of the previous chapter. Do not be discouraged if your progress in the understanding of the Word seems slow at first. It is like learning to play an instrument of speak a new language. At first it seems impossible, but soon a veil will drop from your face and scales from your eyes and you will find yourself doing with ease what you had thought impossible.
  5. But you must keep at it, keep at it, keep at it! Cry out to God (as did the Psalmist), “Create in me a clean heart…” And pray for understanding; you will only love and understand the Word as Jesus and Holy Spirit reveal it to you. After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to His discouraged Disciples and, beginning at Moses and the Prophets, He explained all the Scriptures concerning Himself. “Then He opened their understanding.” Luke 24:45.

There are things in The Bible that we sometimes find hard to understand, and we might not know the full meaning until we see Him face to face in Glory. But we can learn those things that will make us meek and lowly in heart, and more like Him.

We shall be happy indeed if we can say, like the Psalmist, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart.”

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Are you on the RR track?

When I was a kid, our family lived close to the main rail line running south toward Halifax from Truro, NS. There were a lot of trains passing by every day; mostly freight trains but many passenger trains as well. Our parents repeatedly warned us of the danger of playing on or near the track, but we thought (as most kids do) that we were smart enough to avoid the trains, after all we crossed the tracks on a footpath every day to get to our school bus stop. We would sometimes try interesting stuff like placing coins on the rails to be flattened by oncoming trains. The engineers would always wave back to us and sometimes even blow the whistles and horns. And sometimes Mom would catch us too close to the tracks and yell for us to stay away from the railroad track.

I those days some of the railroad crossing signs were emblazoned with a large “R R”, and some of us kids came to refer to railroad crossing signs simply as RR signs, and by inference the railroad tracks were RR tracks.

Well, you are saying, that is interesting and all, but what does that have to do with anything? Nothing, really, except it was one of my first thoughts when I recently read (in the J.I. Packer Classic Collection) an amazing bit of alliteration with many repetitive “r”s to make Packer’s points. He was talking of repentance and referred specifically to Acts 11:18, which in the NIV says, When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Packer talks about what elements are found in repentance. Real Repentance (RR) is “an abandonment of those courses of action in which one defied God by embracing what He dislikes and forbids.” Real Repentance (RR) includes the following:

  1. Realistic Recognition that one has disobeyed and failed God, doing wrong instead of right.
  2. Regretful Remorse at the dishonour one has done to God.
  3. Reverent Requesting of God’s pardon (and help to not lapse into the previous errors).
  4. Resolute Renunciation of the sins one has committed, deliberately avoiding them to live right for the future.
  5. Requisite Restitution to any who have suffered loss through one’s wrongdoing.

Hopefully all of this RR will help us to stay on the right track to Real Repentance.

 

I hope that my musings encourage you to seek answers for yourself. Do not merely accept what I have said, but seek answers and guidance from the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God. He will give wisdom to all who ask (James 1:5).

Be BLESSED!

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Moses, Elijah and Jesus

While listening to a radio preacher yesterday, I heard a comment alluding to the fact that there is much more about the three participants at Jesus’ transfiguration than first meets the eye. I was unable to listen to the entire message, but that one statement got me thinking, and I discovered that there are indeed several significant factors about the three men (Moses, Elijah, and Jesus) that might initially escape our attention. Let’s look first at the passage in question:

Matthew 17:1-3 (NIV) After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

So, what are some of the “significant factors”?

  1. These three individuals represent arguably the most important sections of The Bible; namely the Law (Moses), the Prophets (Elijah), and the New Testament, especially the Gospels (Jesus).
    1. The Law refers to the five books of Moses known as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
    2. The Prophets are the last 17 books of the Old Testament: (Isaiah through Malachi)
    3. The New Testament contains the last 27 books of the Bible, especially The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
  2. Each of these men can be described as one who speaks for and with God.
    1. Moses conversed with God. (Exodus 3:4-6; 19:19; 33:11)
    2. The Lord speaks to Elijah (1 Kings 19:9-18), and Elijah speaks for God (1 Kings 17:1; 17:14)
    3. Throughout the Gospels there are many instances recorded of Jesus speaking with God (in prayer: Matthew 11:25-26; John 11:41-42; John 17) and speaking for God (in prophecy regarding end times and His part in that).
  3. Each of these mighty men of Scripture ushered in a distinct age of miracles.
    1. Moses was directly involved with many miracles: the ten plagues against Egypt (chapters 7 to 12 of Exodus), the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31), manna from heaven (Exodus 16:14-35), water from the rock (Exodus 17:5-7), and many more.
    2. Elijah is said to have performed 16 miracles, but the most remembered is probably his battle on Mount Carmel against the prophets of Baal, in which God’s prophet outclassed the prophets of evil (1 Kings 18:16-46).
    3. Jesus performed many, many miracles as recorded in the Gospels, from turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), to healing all manner of sickness (Matthew 9:20-22), to raising the dead (John 11:1-44).
  4. The deaths of each of these three are shrouded in mystery.
    1. Moses died alone with God on Mount Nebo, but no one knows where God buried him (Deuteronomy 34:4-6)
    2. The Bible tells us that Elijah did not die, but went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11) so as with Moses, Elijah has no known burial place.
    3. Jesus died on a cruel Roman cross and was buried in a borrowed tomb. But when His followers went to the tomb to prepare His body, the tomb was empty (Luke 24:1-12). He ascended into heaven and has no earthly remains or burial place.

So these “significant factors” about the three men present at Jesus’ transfiguration are more than merely coincidence. These elements, which the three share, should give us pause to consider that there is much more than meets the eye in the details of some of the Bible stories. We should keep our minds open to the possibility that God is really trying to tell us more if we would simply open our hearts, ask Holy Spirit to open our understanding, and be willing to dig deeper and find out for ourselves some of Scriptures hidden gems.

I might, of course, be completely out to lunch on this one. If you think that is the case, I would appreciate seeing your comments.

 

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Godly Laughter

Laughter

Jesus laughing Jesus laughing2

What do you think of when you see these two pictures?

Is your first reaction one of positive affirmation?

Or is it one of shock and horror at the thought of Jesus laughing and enjoying himself? After all, God (The Son) is far too serious and sedate to ever have had a good time.

I think it is fairly safe to say that Jesus enjoyed himself frequently (his detractors called him a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners), and enjoyed a good laugh with his close friends.

OK, so it may be a stretch for some of us, but we can probably agree that Jesus (fully God and fully man) would have had occasion to enjoy himself and would likely express that enjoyment in a good belly laugh.

But what about God (The Father)? Does God laugh? Does God enjoy Himself? Does God have a sense of humour? Obviously He has a sense of humour; He made me.

I don’t think I have ever thought about The Father laughing, even though I had presented a lesson on The Son’s laughter to a men’s study group. That changed today. I read a sermon originally preached by C.H. Spurgeon in 1887 in which he made a good case for God’s laughter as He looks approvingly at the antics of His children. Here is some of that sermon, entitled “Our God Sings”:

“The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

“The LORD will rejoice over thee with singing.’ Think of the great Jehovah singing! Can you imagine it? Is it possible to conceive of the Deity breaking into a song: Father, Son and Holy Ghost together singing over the redeemed?

God is so happy in the love which He bears to His people that He breaks the eternal silence, and sun and moon and stars with astonishment hear God chanting a hymn of joy…

A Sermon
(No. 1990)
Delivered on Lord’s-day Morning, October 30th, 1887, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

Our great consolation in the worst times lies in our God. The very name of our covenant God-“the Lord thy God”-is full of good cheer. That word, “the Lord,” is really JEHOVAH, the self-existent One, the unchangeable One, the ever-living God, who cannot change or be moved from his everlasting purpose…

… We go yet further, and we come to great deeps: behold God’s joy in his people. “He will rejoice over thee with joy.” Think of this! Jehovah, the living God, is described as brooding over his church with pleasure. He looks upon souls redeemed by the blood of his dear Son, quickened by his Holy Spirit, and his heart is glad. Even the infinite heart of God is filled with an extraordinary joy at the sight of his chosen. His delight is in his church, his Hephzibah. I can understand a minister rejoicing over a soul that he has brought to Christ; I can also understand believers rejoicing to see others saved from sin and hell; but what shall I say of the infinitely-happy and eternally-blessed God finding, as it were, a new joy in souls redeemed? This is another of those great wonders which cluster around the work of divine grace! “He will rejoice over thee with joy.” Oh, you are trembling for the ark of the Lord; the Lord is not trembling, but rejoicing. Faulty as the church is, the Lord rejoices in her. While we mourn, as well we may, yet we do not sorrow as those that are without hope; for God does not sorrow, his heart is glad, and he is said to rejoice with joy-a highly emphatic expression. The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, imperfect though they be. He sees them as they are to be, and so he rejoices over them, even when they cannot rejoice in themselves. When your face is blurred with tears, your eyes red with weeping, and your heart heavy with sorrow for sin, the great Father is rejoicing over you. The prodigal son wept in his Father’s bosom, but the Father rejoiced over his son. We are questioning, doubting, sorrowing, trembling; and all the while he who sees the end from the beginning knows what will come out of the present disquietude, and therefore rejoices. Let us rise in faith to share the joy of God. Let no man’s heart fail him because of the taunts of the enemy. Rather let the chosen of God rouse themselves to courage, and participate in that joy of God which never ceaseth, even though the solemn assembly has become a reproach. Shall we not rejoice in him when he, in his boundless condescension, deigns to rejoice in us? Whoever despairs for the cause, he does not; wherefore let us be of good courage…

… The last word is, however, the most wonderful of all: “He will joy over thee with singing.” Think of the great Jehovah singing! Can you imagine it? Is it possible to conceive of the Deity breaking into a song: Father, Son and Holy Ghost together singing over the redeemed? God is so happy in the love which he bears to his people that he breaks the eternal silence, and sun and moon and stars with astonishment hear God chanting a hymn of joy. Among Orientals a certain song is sung by the bridegroom when he receives his bride: it is intended to declare his joy in her, and in the fact that his marriage has come. Here, by the pen of inspiration, the God of love is pictured as married to his church, and so rejoicing in her that he rejoices over her with singing. If God sings, shall not we sing? He did not sing when he made the world. No; he looked upon it, and simply said that it was good. The angels sang, the sons of God shouted for joy: creation was very wonderful to them, but it was not much to God, who could have made thousands of worlds by his mere will. Creation could not make him sing; and I do not even know that Providence ever brought a note of joy from him, for he could arrange a thousand kingdoms of providence with ease. But when it came to redemption, that cost him dear. Here he spent; eternal thought, and drew up a covenant with infinite wisdom. Here he gave his Only-begotten Son, and put him to grief to ransom his beloved ones. When all was done, and the Lord saw what became of it in the salvation of his redeemed, then he rejoiced after a divine manner. What must the joy be which recompenses Gethsemane and Calvary! Here we are among the Atlantic waves. The Lord God receives an accession to the infinity of his joy in the thought of his redeemed people. “He shall rejoice over thee with singing.” I tremble while I speak of such themes, lest I should say a word that should dishonor the matchless mystery; but still we are glad to note what is written, and we are bound to take comfort from it. Let us have sympathy with the joy of the Lord, for this will be our strength.

These are but a few paragraphs from the aforementioned sermon. You can read the whole thing at this link http://v3.blueletterbible.org/Comm/spurgeon_charles/sermons/1990.cfm

 

 

 

 

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