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Thursday, 26 April 2018

Solomon's Splendour - Why?

Solomon the greatest Old Testament Celebrity
The Queen of Sheba visits Solomon
Solomon is the Old Testament's biggest Celebrity - he had everything this world can offer. As king of Israel he received about $1 billion in annual tax revenues paid in gold (in today's money; out of which he made hundreds of ceremonial gold shields). His Palace took 13 years to complete. Six steps led up to his throne, each step had a lion figurine on either side. All household articles were made of gold, he owned some 12000 horses. His wisdom was world-reknown, he built cities, gardens, reservoirs, you name it........

When the Queen of Sheba came to visit him she was astounded by everything she saw.

But why?
But why was Solomon granted such wealth and such reknown?

We know it can't be a celebrity reason, "Look up to this kind of person", or "Become like this and you will be happy."

So why did God give him such wealth and fame?

Because he asked for something better
The Lord gave Solomon wealth because he didn't ask for it, and didn't seekt it. When the Lord asked him what one thing he wanted, Solomon asked for discernment, wisdom. And so the Lord gave him not only that but wealth and honour also. It's what Jesus taught, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well."

To teach us that you can have everything and still be empty on the inside
The great Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, in which he recounts his many journeys to the peaks of all human mountains, only to discover there was nothing to be found there. God gave one man the ability to climb every mountain and declare to the world, "There's nothing up here!" Everything in life without God is "Meaningless, meaningless, meaningless!" Only God can satisfy the human heart.

To teach us that with great wealth comes great temptation
1 Kings chapter 10, which describes the splendour of Solomon, is followed by 1 Kings 11, which describes his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Only a wealthy man can contemplate or keep 1000 women. Wealth can lead to temptation: for a man can now "do what he wants to do" - and that can be dangerous. "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." (Proverbs 30:8)

To show us that human splendour is nothing compared to divine splendour
Speaking about the humble wild flowers God has made, Jesus said that they were better dressed than Solomon in all his splendour! The greatest fashion houses of the world cannot compare with the creations God comes up with. Human ingenuity merely plays around in the lower foothills of God's Himalayan genius.

To teach us that true greatness lies in just-the-opposite-of Celebrity status
True greatness lies in humility and weakness. Jesus announced to the crowds that he was greater than Solomon. Jesus was poor, humble and "weak."  And this is where true greatness lies. The Jews missed Jesus because he wasn't like Solomon. Their vision of greatness was this-worldly. We too can all too easily miss the greatest events, the greatest saints, the greatest churches, if we see things in a worldly way.

Celebrity Judgements
We can falsely judge churches by their size, wealth or composition.

We can falsely judge Christians by their standing in the world.

And we can make wrong judgements about events in our lives because they are difficult.

 Jesus and the Gospel turns Celebrity Culture on its head.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Heroes of the Faith - Three Favourites alive Today

True Celebrities
Little by little Time magazine has drifted from News to Celebrity. (And even when there is news between the covers, Time, like all the media outlets today, takes such a predictable position that anyone could write it, without thinking, or looking: Trump is the Devil, gay rights are the top priority of western culture, Science is King, and of course, Here is the next world Celebrity.) 

Tragically the church so often apes the world: we love our celebrities too.

According to Jesus, his followers should be disliked by those around them - because they speak the unfashionable truth:

"Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets." Luke 6:26

A false prophet said what his hearers wanted to hear. But a true prophet always upset his audience (and comforted the true believers at the same time).

So if we are looking for true "Christian Celebrities" we should seek to follow men who like Jesus and Paul and the apostles were hounded, hated, lied about and persecuted - because they spoke the truth. These are the men we should honour.

Fitting the bill, here are three of my favourite living servants of God.
RT Kendall

RT Kendall
RT Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel for many years. George Campell Morgan was one of his predecessors and so was Lloyd-Jones. But Kendall was mistreated by some because he didn't dot their secondary i's or cross their tertiary  t's. 

Then he did the unthinkable in the eyes of some - he went out into the street to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with lost people! That was apparently the lowest a noble Westminster preacher could possibly go!

If you listen to Kendall you will never fail to be blessed by a sermon or a book written by this great godly man. 

Donald Macleod
Donald Macleod
In some ways I am surprised Donald is among my favourites because he is called a "theologian", and that is not an office found in the NT.

After saying that, he served as a pastor in the free church of Scotland and pastor is a biblical title. Macleod is a pastor who writes, that's OK. 

I remember reading the "Monthly Record" when he was the editor. I was in my twenties and I couldn't wait to receive my copy in the post - just to read his wise, witty and deeply spiritual contributions. He did not write to please the crowd, just like his Master.

Once again, some in his community hated the fact that he stepped out of their tiny theological circles to preach the truth and they started a witch hunt against him, involving lies and false accusations, this time with dirty-tricks sexual allegations, believe it or not, all of which were thrown out of court.

Franklin Graham
Franklin Graham
Perhaps the best known of my favourite Christian leaders today is Franklin Graham. Time magazine liked the cuddly Billy but hate his son Franklin. 

Why? They didn't know what Billy believed on moral issues and they didn't have to ask him - because they held the same views. But the times are a changing.

Billy's son is having to minister in a perverse age where Gospel morality is despised - and along with it every true Gospel minister.

A true test of Gospel Giants
So if we are looking for someone to follow, check out their doctrinal fidelity, yes, and then check out whether or not they are hated and lied about. If they are true Gospel men they will also be despised. Only then can you be sure they are like their Saviour and his apostles. Only then should you follow them as they follow Jesus Christ.

Amy Carmichael: stars without scars
The saintly Amy Carmichael battled with the same issue in her day a hundred years ago (1867-1951). As she looked around the Christian scene, she came across stars who bore no scars. 

So she wrote this little poem: 
Hast Thou No Scar 
by Amy Carmichael

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?
Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Daily Devotions - the value and method

A very old tradition
The idea of taking time out of the day to spend time with God goes back a long way. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10) As a very busy government official if he didn't carve time out of his schedule, well perhaps he would not pray at all: so he established in three daily slots for prayer. 

"Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." (Daniel 6:10)

The reasons?
Daniel gave thanks, we read. No doubt there was more in his prayers than thanksgiving. We are not told if he read his Bible - but remember Scripture would have been in the form of scrolls in Jerusalem and perhaps only the first five books of the Bible anyway. No doubt he had the Word in his heart.

(i) The example of others
The first reason to carve out a daily time spent with God, let's call it Daily Devotions or DD, is because of the example of men like Daniel. Joshua was instructed to keep God's Word in his heart and mind daily as well:

"do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night..." (Joshua 1:8)

King David said of the blessed man that he mediates on God's law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Not a daily-devotional but a day-long-devotional!

And then we would add the supreme example of Jesus who often set out early in the morning to be alone and to pray: 

"Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16)

 (ii) The need to be alone with God
A second reason for DD is the need to be alone with God. Spending time with fellow believers is vital, but so is spending time with God alone. Where we can examine our own hearts and develop our own relationship with God is worship, repentance and petition. If  Jesus, the perfect man, spent time alone, so too surely, must we.

(iii) The desire to be with God
Every believer should want to spend time with God, just as a married person wants to spend time with their beloved. There are some quite remarkable examples of this yearning in the Psalms:

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God." (Psalm 42:1)

"My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

We may feel further from this standard than we may want to be, but this surely is the desire of every Spirit-born soul.

(iv) The hunger for spiritual food
A fourth reason for DDs is to feed our souls.  

"Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)

We are not only physical entities - bodies, which need feeding - we are souls, invisible entities, which also need feeding. And the word is soul-food.

There are many ways to undertake daily devotions - all of which begin with a conviction that this is what we want and need.

(i) Find a time of day suitable to you
First, work out what time is best for you. Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Is there 15 mins you can carve out at lunch time?

(ii) Find a place you can go
"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen." (Matt 6:6). Jesus is responding to the Pharisees show-off prayer style, but still, the location matters. Find a quiet place if you can, all on your own. That's why a DD is also called a QT, a quiet time.

(iii) Make a plan of Bible Study
What part of Scripture will you study? Will you use one of those plans to read the whole Bible in a year or two years or three years? If you do, alternate NT and OT. Will you use one of those 365 day devotionals which encourage you to read a little Bible, follow it up with a small explanation and end with a prayer? Or will you use one of those "Bibles" already divided into 365 parts? 

(iv) The Quiet Time
Whichever method you use - and you can change it year by year, start with a short prayer asking for wisdom and guidance and light. Then read the Scriptures and ask what God is saying to you for that day. Is there something to learn, some duty to add, something to stop, something to love, something to hate? Take the lesson into your prayers. And in your prayers remember to worship, confess, thank and ask petitions.

No law
Do not be legalistic about DDs or QTs! If you miss a day, don't panic and feel you have to catch up the next day. This is a joy not a duty, a privilege not a law. 

No Christian who takes up this habit will fail to grow in grace and faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, 6 April 2018

It is Manly to Weep

Jordan Peterson
One reason Jordan Peterson is receiving so much global attention is that he is more human than most of your academic types. In addition to devastating arguments he is able to understand the sadness of  people around him - and in particular young men who are oppressed in a feminist world and who are discouraged at every turn by a PC culture that preaches that all the ailments of the world can be traced back to their patriarchal fault.

All this patriarchal stuff is a pack of lies, but the lies are having a devastating effect upon young men in the West today.

See here an example of Peterson's tears. Jordan Peterson in Tears

Jesus and Paul
This clip reminded me of the Lord Jesus, who wept at the grave of Lazarus.

It reminded me of the apostle Paul who every day in Ephesus warned the church elders about wolves who would come into the church after he was gone and try to scatter the sheep - a wolf has zero concern for sheep and 100% concern for personal power.

To be Christlike is to feel deeply. Sometimes that is sorrow, sometimes that is in indignation and righteous anger at sinfulness. 

It reminded me of the apostle Paul who sharing his sorrows in 2 Corinthians 11:29 said "Who is led into sin and I do not inwardly burn?"

When weak vulnerable sheep are led astray by error or lies or gossip or wolves, Paul felt it inside. The Greek word "inwardly burn" is just as it says on the tin, "inwardly burn". To see someone led astray causes a shepherd's heart to inwardly burn at the wickedness that led them astray.

True men weep.

That is what was so unusual in the Peterson Clip. You just don't see it today.

But hopefully men the church, Christlike men, will weep at sorrow and wickedness and sin.