Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sharing God's providence

I am grateful to be preparing a sermon as identified in this earlier post.  The chosen text for that sermon is shown here:

"Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other,“Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” 2 Kings 7:3-4 NIV

The story continues in that the lepers do indeed go over to the camp of the Arameans.  They find the camp empty.  They eat from supplies and then recognise their duty to return to the city to share that which God has provided.

It is interesting to consider the leper’s return to the city to share God’s providence. There seems a worthy comparison in the Parable of the talents.

The lepers return to the city is explained in the text 2 Kings 7:9:

"Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.” 2 Kings 7:9 NIV

The Parable of the Talents is in Matthew 25:14-30.  In that parable the man who hid the money and did nothing with it was punished.  The men who wisely used their money were rewarded.

 Three points arise on comparing the texts:

·         God's providence is something that is good news.

[2 Kings 7] The provision of food in the Aramean camp, [Parable] or in ample return on invested money, or through the provision of Christ is all good news.

·         God's providence is something that is to be shared.

[2 Kings 7] The leper's windfall find was too much for them alone.  While they were broken and separated from the people of the city they identified the need to share.  [Parable] A wise Christian will also share his wealth in Christ through using the skills he is given.

·         God's providence is offered through grace not through works.

    [2 Kings 7] The leper's windfall find was by means of grace.  There works were minimal in that they need only go forward in faith.  [Parable] God entrusts Christian to share the Gospel in response to the grace that God has offered them.


Note: all links good as at 24 May 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

His name was John

A true sad story of many years ago was to mark my time at a suburban church.


It was a clear Sunday morning.  Sitting near the rear of the church I observed a man walk in.  His arrival was about ten minutes ahead of the sermon.  The man was dressed in a dishevelled way. He had layered clothing suitable to the cool-weathered season.  Arguably, he was wearing too many clothes for daytime yet maybe he needed those clothes to get through the night.  The outer layer of clothing was dirty.  While I was not located immediate to him, I expected that his body shed quite an odour.  The appearance of such a man was uncommon in my suburb, so I assumed that he was passing through.

Odd to the man’s transitory state was that he was not carrying anything.  He sat awkwardly: he squirmed in his seat.  Behind him, the two male ushers stood cautiously with an eye to the man.  The two ushers seemed prepared to remove the man if necessary.

The Rector commenced the day’s sermon.  Minutes after the sermon started, the dishevelled man rose from his seat and proceeded out of the church.  The ushers happily opened the internal doors for his exit.  I sprung to my feet and followed the man.  I begged the man to stop at a point before he departed the building.  “Can I help you?; May I assist you”, I said.  It was then that I noted that the ushers had followed me - we were a huddle of four. 

The man responded in a manner that was incomprehensible.  He let out mutters that were impossible to understand.  I changed tact thinking it best to pray.

“What is your name?”, I asked.

Further incomprehensible mutters followed.  Within the mutters I detected “John”.

“John”, I said, “May I pray for you?”

And then he was clear – not through words, but through body language – yes, I could pray for him.  I requested the two ushers and John to bow their heads.  I offered a prayer for John’s safety and for his peace.  While I had my eyes closed, I had the distinct impression that the two ushers had one loose eye each upon John.
"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,
 for by so doing some people have shown
 hospitality to angels without knowing it."
Hebrews 13:2 NIV

After the prayer John seemed more relaxed.  His speech slowed and while it remained incomprehensible, John seemed appreciative that someone cared.  He departed in peace.

The two ushers and I watched as John exited the building.  I then turned to re-enter the church.  The sound of the sermon faintly could be heard through the inner doors of the church.  One of the ushers was wide-eyed and seemed eager to communicate: 

He said: “Do you think it right that you leave the church during the Rector’s sermon?”.

By the look on the other ushers face the statement was being made by both of them.

I was flabbergasted! 

Could it be fairly said that I made my leave from the sermon? 
Was my departure specific, or incidental, to the timing of the sermon? 
Would it not be fairer to say that I attended to the work of Christ?

Thinking quickly – and in some (righteous?) anger – I let fire my response: “You don’t understand what I have just done.  Has it been worth your time listening to any sermon?”.

It was Law against Spirit.  And the moment was sealed.  Until now.


Note: Go in peace.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The story of two beaches

There are two popular beaches patronised by swimmers that have these common attributes:
·         In daylight hours the beaches are patrolled. 
·         The people who attend the beaches have all the skills they need to swim at the beach. 
·         Flags mark the zone in which it is safe to swim.

The beaches have unique characteristics as follows:
Beach 1
Swimmers merrily approach from the beach precinct from the south or the north.  Some jump merrily to the sand from the boardwalk wall instead of walking down one of few staircases. While it is convenience that the life guards have placed the flags, the swimmers themselves make their own cursory assessment of safety before they enter to swim.  When entering the water a good proportion of swimmers enter between the flags yet others are content to cruise into the flagged area from an entry that is slightly to the side of the flags.  They swim at varying depths.  Confident in their skills they cast the odd eye to the lifeguard yet are largely content just enjoying themselves.  If the current occasionally puts them outside the flagged area the swimmers return at their own leisure to the flagged area.  If a rescue of a swimmer is required, the swimmers can commence rescue themselves in full confidence that the lifeguards will soon be on hand. 
The swimmers go home most rewarded when they can remember that they, and others, had a wonderful day at the beach.
The chief lifeguard gets his esteem in seeing the quality of the swimmer’s skills and the swimmer’s confidence.  He sees himself as a facilitator.  He judges himself against other lifeguards in terms of how much enjoyment the swimmers have and how their skills grow.
Beach 2
Swimmers enter the beach from a single path aligned with the flagged area.  This requires strict passage down a single staircase from the broadwalk to the sand.  It is essential to the swimmers that the lifeguards have placed the flags.  The swimmers absolutely rely on the lifeguards for their safety. When entering the water all swimmers enter between the flags.  The swimmers are repulsed if a swimmer strays from the flagged area and a lifeguard is immediately attached to correct the person’s position.  The swimmers never swim in more than waist deep water.  While the swimmers are confident in their skills they never stray their eye from the lifeguards.  If the current occasionally puts the swimmers outside the flagged area they are inclined to depart the water rather than face leaving the flagged area again.  If a rescue of a swimmer is required, then the swimmers focus all their attention on alerting the lifeguards.
The swimmers go home most rewarded when they can remember that during their day on the beach they, and no others, incurred the scowl of the lifeguards.
The chief lifeguard gets his esteem in setting the rules and making sure that no-one steps out of line.  He sees himself as a leader.  He judges himself against other lifeguards in terms of how compliant all the swimmers are.
We can bring the analogy of these two beaches into a church setting.  The Holy Spirit has given all Christians (swimmers) all the necessary skills.  Christians are confident using their skills (Beach 1) or very measured in using their skills (Beach 2).  The swimmers are rewarded for life in the Spirit (Beach 1), or in compliance to norms (Beach 2).  The Senior Minister (chief lifeguard) can be an enabler – as is seen in Beach 1 – or a controller – as seen in Beach 2. 
Analogies are rarely perfect. This analogy fails in many respects.  Yet, many churches seem closer to Beach 2 churches.   Beach 2 churches do not allow Christians to have full life in the Spirit.  A strict Beach 2 church imprisons people and strangles the Spirit.  Some people never enter deeper water.
I’m not against control: for control is a necessity of all human communities.  I am for consideration of how control is established and exercised.
A key to knowing that you are in a Beach 2 church is whether there are some particular customs or practices that are sub-Biblical –local etiquettes – that must be adhered to.  In a worst case they will depict an unwavering dedication to their leader and doctrine at the cost of grace and love (refer this Desiring God article).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A note to my children ten year's hence

A note to my children

Today's word, my children, is cis-gendered.  It is best you understand it so that you can safely make your way in the world.

It is a rather young word.  It was first coined within your father's lifetime in the year 1991.  It is not often heard in 2017. The word will gain momentum.

It means: "a term for people whose gender, body and identity match with the gender that they were born to".  People are said to be cis-male or cis-female.

That meaning is a mouthful.  Basically, it can be broken down to either:

- a person born a boy is now still a boy, or,

- a person born a girl is now still a girl.

Or, simply, that they are normal.

Saying that people are normal is grand.  It was once fashionable.  The New Moralists have unfortunately made it unfashionable.  You'll come to learn that by calling some people normal, you are automatically and damningly implying that other people are not normal.

[Caption: the video where I first heard the term cis-gendered. By Neel Kolhatkar]

So 'normal' will face a death - as the original meaning of 'gay' has; and 'cis-gender' will flourish. You may even find that comes a day when being cis-gendered is seen as a bad thing.  Indeed, it is all part of Satan's plan to over-turn the order of God's wonderful creation.


- "Fred is so simple, he has only ever known what it is to be a boy."


- "Jane has never experienced testosterone-supplementation"


Note: all links good as at 19 May 2017

Note:  "testosterone-supplementation" (is an allusion to a programmed testosterone steroid experience in Brave New World; for instance, 'violent passion surrogates').

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Four decision factors, less two

I am grateful to be preparing a sermon as identified in this earlier post.  The chosen text for that sermon is shown here.

"Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” 2 Kings 7:3-4. NIV.

It is interesting to consider the leper’s decision process. The lepers intuitively set three decision factors and seemingly discounted a fourth factor.  The four factors are listed here – the last being the discounted option:

1.    Go into the city

2.    Stay at city gate

3.    Go to enemy camp

4.    Abandon city and flee

The first factor is improbable in its execution.  The very nature of the leper’s situation at the gate is a function of Levitical law – the leper’s skin disorder places them away from their community by operation of Leviticus 13.

The first factor - go into the city - is possibly listed by the author as a means of firmly setting the context.  There certainly would be no doubt to a Jewish reader of the story of the leper’s situation – they simply could not go into the city.  The fourth factor – the one I presume was discounted by the lepers is probably fanciful.  The siege had been lasting a long time.  The Armaens quite possibly held significant control across the whole region.  To abandon the city and flee was surely not sensible.

So, the lepers only really had two practical options:

·         Stay at city gate

·         Go to enemy camp

Stay or go.

Either option led possibly to death.  Only the second option – of going to the enemy camp – had scope for a promising outcome.

Three points arise on considering the options:

·         There seems a certain irony in the leper’s situation at the gate.  The lepers are really no worse off than the people of the city – all will suffer the same fate.  Further, there has already been devastating outcomes of the siege within the walls of the city such that Jewish law has been breached.  A donkey’s head is of value as food 2 Kings 6:25 (breaking food laws) and murder of a child occurs for human consumption (breaking one of the Ten Commandments,  Exodus 20:13).  The city has turned from God in breaking his decrees. Exclusion of four lepers is in that sense an anachronism. 

·         For the lepers, thinking through the options must have been a considerable feat in its own right.  There would have been great despair from the length of the siege.  The people would have little time to consider the lepers.  Perhaps the lepers had given up hope of ever returning to the community.  It is perhaps a direct consequence of first having the sense of mind to cogitate the options to set upon the option of going to the enemy camp.  That is, the very process of having the presence of mind to deliberate options most likely suggests that the lepers were predisposed to action.

·         The leper’s nothing-to-lose attitude is facilitated by their first being ostracised.  While they are ostracised from the main community they are themselves in community.  The ostracisiation and their forming of own-community was their strength.  The strength is articulated here in a quote from The Black Swan: TheImpact of the Highly Improbable”, “In the history of ideas, we see schools of thought occasionally forming, producing unusual work unpopular outside the school”. [The leper’s success on executing to their option is a Positive Black Swan event]


Note: all links good as at 15 May 2017

Note: The Black Swan quote is from Revised edition, 2010, Penguin Books, Paperback, page 94, Nicholas Taleb.  Taleb highlights other positive outcomes from ostracism within that page.

In praise

Praise be to the Almighty God most high for his provision of the Holy Spirit!

I’ve documented an earlier experience with the Spirit, from this calendar year, here.  A more recent experience has again been powerful.  I lived through the experience mindful of the message of the four lepers – that message is: never give up hope and expect the unexpected.

A sticky problem that had been five years in the making was much on my mind over the January holiday.  In prayer I sought a solution.  The message in response was to let the matter go.  The Spirit was nudging me to hand over control.  I duly handed control to the Spirit and patiently awaited the result in faith.

“Whenever it appears in your life that Jesus is not winning,
 whenever it seems as though he’s not triumphing over your enemy,
 just at that point and at that time,
you need a very robust and clear vision of God’s sovereignty
 over you and the horrors of your life.”  Pastor John Piper

The result has been glorious life-giving freedom.  The Spirit revealed two critical pieces of information that had been hid from me.  Two different people revealed the information.  The information has opened my eyes to how I have been under yoke of oppression for some considerable time – I had been burdened by someone’s false construct.  The dawning of the implications of the revealed information was slow at first.  Then it struck with a rush all on one day.  I walked unburdened into church for the first time in years on Sunday.  I was rewarded with the joy of a meaningful and enriching conversation. Christ genuinely does bring freedom when light is shined upon darkness!

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.
The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”  John 6:63 NIV

There is much to do and much to gain from the Spirit’s revelation.  I look forward to life afresh with my cup over flowing.


Note: this post intentionally identifies all three of the Trinity.
Note: it was a song with peculiar lyrics that was a turning point on the January holiday.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The blessing of a Bible-teaching church

One of the joys of attending a church in a busy metropolitan area is to meet people who are passing through.  Yesterday at church I had the delight of meeting two foreigners.  The foreign visitors were passing through to visit family in Australia.  They were in town for a short period.

The visitors were from a far flung place.  They named their town and their church.  For context I'll not reveal any detail beyond identifying it as a place known commonly as the home of the Church of England.

A conversation over coffee was interesting in that the visitors made quite pointed references to their 'born-again minister' and the 'solid Bible teaching'  of their home church.  The two phrases -'born-again minister' and the 'solid Bible teaching' peppered the early part of their conversation.

My interest in the use of these phrases was heightened.  Why did they specifically use both of these phrases?  Weren't all churches in their area led by Christian ministers?  Wasn't the Bible taught clearly in all churches in their home town? (Indeed, I had not heard 'born-again' used for sometime).

On querying them I learnt that within the vicinity where the people lived:

  • many ministers were seen as being customary or rote teachers.  Their faith was often not evident.  The ministers were often open about their homosexuality and often lived in homosexual relationships,
  • the Bible often was used secondarily to the quotation of theologians or other teachers,  

The visitors deeply treasured their home church and had come to appreciate that it was somewhat a rarity.  They expressed appreciation at the quality of the teaching they had heard only moments earlier.  It was plausible that use of "born-again", in reference to their minister, signalled a very important standard for them: a solid and God-righteous minister. [An aside: it was a female minister].

It was a heartfelt conversation.  I was glad to offer them encouragement.  My own faith and Christian walk was enriched by being reminded that I was at a church that offered solid spiritual food.

We should all thank God for the quality of teaching that is available to us.  We should never take it for granted!

"He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, 
and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, 
who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— 
the Lord God Almighty is his name." Amos 4:13 NIV