FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
“… Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We believe that God is sovereign; He is on the throne, governing all things. Nothing that happens is outside of His control. His good purposes will be worked out and nothing can prevent it. (Isaiah 46:10; Job 42:2; Ephesians 1:11).
But does God always get what He wants? If He does, why did Jesus tell us to pray ‘Your will be done’?
In this fallen world many, many things happen that are completely at odds with God’s revealed will as expressed in His Word. His commands are broken every day. A brief glance at the newspaper shouts loudly that most of what happens in the world is far from God’s will. Even His own children are capable of all kinds of sin, and I cannot escape the fact that in my own life the battle with my sinful nature continues to rage and I do not consistently or adequately conform to God’s will.
When sin wreaks its devastating damage in my life or in the world, it can be comforting to know that God’s ultimate plans and purposes, His sovereign will, cannot be thwarted. But a fatalistic view of God’s sovereignty that shrugs its shoulders and immediately says of evil, ‘Well, it must be God’s will’, can double the pain and leave me with more questions than answers.
When bad things happen I must trust in the truth that nothing takes God by surprise and even the worst is ordained by Him for His glory; I must hold tight to the promise that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28); I must learn to walk by faith and not by sight when nothing that I can see makes sense, keeping my eyes resolutely fixed upon the unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18) and setting my heart upon what is eternal, not what is passing away; I must remember that His ultimate purpose is to conform me to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29); and I must keep on praying for His will to be done: that His name will be feared, His commands obeyed, sinners saved, His people sanctified, His name glorified.
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
“I tried it once [obeying a clear command of Scripture] but I didn’t like the outcome so I decided I would never do that again.”
“If you don’t want to [obey the biblical command to be hospitable] you shouldn’t feel bad about it.”
“Yes, we should tell the truth, but in this context, in this particular set of circumstances, of course you wouldn’t!”
“If you don’t do what’s best for yourself, no one else will.”
“I know the Bible says to do that, but can you imagine the consequences if you actually did it?”
These quotes are all paraphrases of words spoken in my hearing by reformed, bible-believing Christians, all of whom would say they love the Truth. And just in case you think I’m pointing the finger, at least one of them was said by me.
Life has a way of being nuanced and complicated, with grey areas that can make the application of God’s commands less clear cut than we would like. Sometimes we struggle with how to obey God’s Word in a particular circumstance, balancing the requirement to obey and uphold truth with the requirement to love, be patient and show compassion. But sadly, it seems that very often there is no struggle. Our attitudes and words, the advice we give to others and our own thoughts and actions often betray the reality that we are shaped far more by our culture and our own sinful nature than we are by God’s Word. And many times we don’t even seem to notice the huge gap between what we say we believe and how we actually live.
John 8:31 says, “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” I was reminded in a sermon some months ago that we must not confuse nodding of the head in agreement with bowing of the heart in submission. Abiding in God’s Word means obeying it and being governed by it in everything. It means yielding the heart and the will. It means yielding my heart and my will. God’s assessment is that if I am nothing more than an enthusiastic hearer of the Word, I‘m deluding myself.
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye. Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
It’s so much easier to apply the truth of God’s Word to someone else. As I read the Bible or listen to sermons I can clearly see where that person is going wrong, or what this person needs to put right. Or where this church has strayed and that one has the wrong emphasis.
While there is a great need in the Church today for discernment and a commitment to upholding truth and recognising and turning away from error, my love for the truth must always lead to a transformation of my own heart. If I only apply God’s truth to the church I may become complacent because I attend one that has a high view of God’s Word and tries to obey it in its structure, government and worship. My ability to spot doctrinal error may protect me from being led astray, but it will not in itself make me more like Christ.
If I only use God’s word to analyse the specks in other people’s eyes my own blind spots will become blinder. If I’m unaware of the deceitfulness of my own heart and never allow God’s Word to deal with my own sin, then even an apparent love for truth may lead to a belligerent, argumentative or pedantic spirit that is proud and self-righteous and glories in always being right.
My love for truth ought to be inseparable from my love for the Truth; the Lord Jesus. My reading and hearing of God’s Word must be a matter of the heart as much as of the head, and my application of it must always be to my own heart first.
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
The way we grow in our knowledge of God and our joy in the truth is by letting the Word of God dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16) – through regularly hearing God’s Word faithfully preached and by reading His Word for ourselves. However, it’s possible to spend hours listening to sermons, reading books and even reading the Bible, and still come to dubious conclusions.
• Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to open your eyes to the truth (Psalm 119:18), and to expose error in your beliefs and sin in your life.
• Test everything by what the Bible says, not by your favourite preacher or author. This applies to the Bible itself. It can be easy to get the wrong end of the stick if you take one verse out of context and come to a conclusion about what it means. Read the whole passage and better still, read the whole Bible regularly. Test to see whether what you’re thinking or what’s being preached is consistent with what the whole Bible teaches.
• With that in mind, make a commitment to read and get to know the whole of God’s Word, both Old Testament and New. Find a fellowship that preaches through whole books of the Bible, rather than favourite isolated texts.
• Make it a priority to read God’s Word and hear it preached regularly. God’s Word is the food we need daily to sustain us, to refine and build our faith, to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God and in our love for Him, to expose our sin and call us to turn from it, to equip us to live godly lives to the glory of God, and to inspire us to reach out to others with the gospel. You can’t live on what you learned years or decades ago, however good it was. You may remember with delight the wonderful five-course meal you ate back in 1981, but to live you need food today.
In Acts 17 the believers in Berea, and even called “more noble than those in Thessalonica”. Why? “[T]hey received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
By Guest Blogger
And [Jesus] was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. John 6:65-68
When I first went to a church where the truth was taught, hearing God’s Word faithfully preached brought great joy, but it wasn’t long before I heard truths which were completely new to me. Some of them were unsettling and hard to accept. They presented challenges to my mind and my emotions and caused me to wrestle more than they caused me to rejoice. But there was no escape – they were there in black and white on the pages of my Bible.
What happens when I read something in God’s Word that doesn’t fit with what I thought I knew about Him, or when I read something that’s beyond my ability to grasp intellectually or accept emotionally? What about when I discover that what’s actually written in God’s Word contradicts or challenges long-held, cherished beliefs which were taught, apparently from the Bible, by people I love and respect? What about when my circumstances seem to mock the truth of God’s promises, or when the truth hurts and my sin is exposed?
The following is from a prayer entitled “Christ the Word” (From The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions):
“In a world of created changeable things, Christ and His Word alone remain unshaken … If I oppose the Word I oppose my Lord when He is most near; if I receive the Word I receive my Lord wherein He is nigh. O thou who hast the hearts of all men in thine hand, form my heart according to the Word, according to the image of thy Son. So shall Christ the Word, and His Word, be my strength and comfort.”
If I claim to love Jesus I must love His Word, even when it says hard things. I must know who He is as revealed in Scripture and hold fast to Him even when that means letting go of my own version of Him. I must always consider what I believe in the light of what God says in His Word, rather than evaluating God’s Word in the light of what I already believe.
God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
At times we do wrestle with the difficult things we encounter in His Word or experience through His providence. If we continue to humbly wrestle and don’t walk away, our wrestling eventually leads to greater rejoicing and a deeper knowledge of Him. Job, because of his wrestling with God during the deep suffering that he endured, was able to say, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5). After Jacob wrestled with God he said “I have seen God face to face…” (Genesis 32:30).
Our wrestling is not resolved by withdrawing in order to work out intellectual answers, nor by turning away from difficult teachings, clinging to the Jesus of our own making and searching out a fellowship where we can be told what we already believe. Over time, if we continue to hear God’s Word faithfully preached, some of the truths we found the most difficult to accept when we first heard them become the truths that bring us the deepest joy.
Grace Church Wellington met together for the first time on September 21, 2014. As we reach 3 years, I like to pause to consider gratefully what God has done. And, what He is doing. And what He will do. An anniversary seems to me to be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the God’s timeless faithfulness – He is always good! Always in the present, ongoing verb tense.
At GCW we say together:
Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were
brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. Psalm 90:1-2
Before GCW, my doctrine and understanding of the Church was very limited. What a blessing the combination of truth and experience has been these 3 years.
If asked to identify particular blessing at Grace, or to characterize what God has been doing in our midst, I adopt:
speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4:15-16
GCW: loving and growing together, to the glory of God.
By our In-house Blogger
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” John 14:6
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:31-32
I remember when I first went to a church where the truth was preached. I mean that the Bible was preached, taught and explained; the truth of what God actually said in His Word. And by God’s grace my soul said “yes, that’s true!” My heart rejoiced and I couldn’t wait to go back for more. From then on, nothing less than truth would do.
Before that I had sometimes heard sermons where a verse of scripture was used as a springboard for man’s own thoughts, or sermons where a man’s ideas were taught then apparently backed up by some verses from the Bible (taken out of context and twisted to fit). I had frequently heard stories or ideas put forward as if they were of equal importance to God’s Word when in fact they had nothing to do with the truth and, therefore, had no life in them and left me empty, hungry, misguided and lost. I had attended church for years but had never really heard the gospel.
Through regularly hearing God’s Word faithfully preached I came to understand specific truths that cause me to rejoice: the truths of the gospel, the good news of salvation from the wrath and judgment of God; that our foundation is scripture alone; that salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone for the glory of God alone. I came to understand more of God’s holiness, my own sinfulness and the wonder of Christ’s saving work on the cross. God’s grace and mercy became more and more amazing to me.
But more than this, through encountering these truths I encountered the Truth, Jesus Christ, the living Word. In rejoicing in the truth I am rejoicing in Him.
By Guest Blogger
… Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her …
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,
just as the Lord does the church.
For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.
When I think and talk about the church, so often I begin with what pleases me. I consider my preferences, see the faults, remember the disappointments, examine the scars from past hurts, and shake my head over the failings I’ve encountered. And I conclude that the church isn’t really my cup of tea. It’s not that I have a problem with Jesus; it’s just the church that doesn’t suit me.
But when I think and talk about the church in this way, I’m thinking and talking about the body of Christ, bought at immense cost, nourished and cherished, dearly loved, precious to Him.
God ordained the church local as the means for my growth, edification, sanctification. Do I really think He didn’t anticipate that our preferences would not always align and that we would sin against each other? It’s true; commitment to a local fellowship of believers exposes me to the sins of others.
But it also shows me my own sin; challenging my pride, reminding me of my continual need for God’s mercy, and causing me to rejoice in God’s forgiveness. The very things I would prefer to avoid are the things God will use to conform me to the image of His Son.
The enemy hates the church and is determined to destroy her. No doubt he is pleased when I insist on having my own way, or criticise, or stay away.
But Christ …
… loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish -
By Guest Blogger
“I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”
The Church has an enemy who will do everything in his power to destroy her - the devil obviously doesn’t have such a low view of the Church as we often do.
Some of the methods he employs are to undermine, dilute and divert from the preaching and teaching of the gospel; infiltrating ‘churches’ with ungodly and even unsaved leaders; distracting with gimmicks and apparently good things that subtly replace God’s Word; substituting man’s ideas for God’s clear commands.
Another tactic is to keep genuine believers out of the Church local, so they stop contributing to the growth and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16) and are no longer benefitting from the means of grace ordained by God for their edification and growth in holiness (Acts 2:42). The enemy may use discouragement or disillusionment, distraction by earthly concerns, or personal divisions among Christians. He may magnify the shortcomings in different fellowships until we are convinced that we could not possibly commit ourselves to any of them.
The reasons we sometimes find ourselves outside of the body may be diverse and complex, but the outcome is the same: the local expression of the body of Christ is weakened, and so are we.
The remedy is simple, though not necessarily easy: obedience to God.
By a Guest Blogger
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another …
Love one another? You mean me? Love other Christians?
Well, of course I love them - I’m far too mature a Christian to fall at such a basic hurdle! - but that doesn’t mean I have to commit to spending time with them ~ … not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some … Hebrews 10:25
I do love them; I just don’t like them very much ~ … love one another fervently with a pure heart – 1 Peter 1:22
I love them up to a point, but if they offend me they won’t get a second chance ~ … with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love – Ephesians 4:1-2
Yes, I love them, but it’s important to get your doctrine right, and if I’m right then it gives me the right to be harsh and judgmental ~ … love as brothers, be tender-hearted, be courteous – 1 Peter 3:8
Well, I love these particular Christians because we have lots in common. You know, similar age, same interests, even the same number of kids … We’re from a similar background and we face the same kinds of pressures in life so we can understand each other … And we like the same kind of music … The Christians down the road are too old/boring/straight-laced/young/trendy/middle class … ~ There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus – Galatians 3:28
… as I have loved you, that you also love one another. – John 13:34