“He Breaks the Power of Cancelled Sin & Sets the Prisoner Free” – Wesleyan Self-Examination

Although, we will never be entirely free from sin until Christ returns that does not mean that we should not seek after a growth in Gospel holiness and ruthlessly put to death the old nature.  For this reason I have uploaded the following devotion and whilst you might not agree with everything it is a useful tool in Christian discipleship.

“The questions have their origin in the spiritual accountability group started by Wesley when he was a student at Oxford — a group that detractors called “The Holy Club.” The first list appeared about 1729 or 1730 in the preface to Wesley’s second Oxford Diary. Similar questions appeared in his 1733 A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week. As late as 1781, Wesley published a list of questions like this in the Arminian Magazine.” [1]

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Do I pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
  3. Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the tax collectors?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

[1] http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/selfexam.htm

WWJD? [Luke 8:22-9:26]

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Sermon Link [why not have a listen to the sermon?]

 

When I was younger, I used to watch a TV programme called “Quantum Leap.”  In it, a physicist called Sam Beckett would travel through time jumping into the lives of other people in which he would solve some sort of dilemma before he would jump into the life of another. [1]  The Christian life is loosely analogous to this concept too, in that the new life of Christ has come alive within us and helps lead us, guide us and conform us into His image.  And while this is done through God providentially assigning us with a specific genetic make-up, leading us into and out of certain life experiences and through the power of His Spirit, it is also, to a greater or lesser extent, linked to our volitional choice.  Therefore, we as believers must genuinely ask the question, in regards to how we live our lives and the decisions we make, what would Jesus do?

Luke, in this passage, having described the demands of discipleship, gives us a twenty-four hour period within the life of Jesus – a period from which we are able to draw three integral truths for the life of the Christian and the life of the Christian Church.  These truths, however, must not be seen as exhaustive but illustrative of individual and collective Christlikeness.

 

1. The Primacy of Care

22 Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them,“Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep.” Luke 8:22-23

 

Most Christians, like their non-Christian friends and family, have very little time for other people.  Sure, we can be polite and civil (some of us at least), but our relationships with our fellow worshippers, family members, work colleagues and neighbours is often superficial at best and our care of the stranger in our midst, be it the new girl at work, the immigrant neighbours who have just moved in or the new family at Church can, at times, be appalling.  Jesus here is completely exhausted but still takes the time to still the storm [Luke 8:24], deliver a demon-oppressed man [Luke 8:27-39], heal a sick woman [Luke 8:43-48], raise a young girl from the dead [Luke 8:51-55] and feed five thousand people [Luke 9:12-17].  He did this because He believed in the primacy of care and the importance of people.

APPLICATION: As disciples we must follow His example.  This does not mean we should overstep boundaries or not practise wisdom, but it does mean that we should learn people’s names, learn a little bit about what their interests are and about their families, stop dominating conversations, share the truth in love, refuse to put them down even in jest, practise and receive hospitality and invite them into our lives or get involved in theirs, particularly if they look as though they really need our help.  It is this counter-cultural stance that makes evident the genuineness of our faith for He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” [1 John 2:6].

 

 

2. The Priority of Prayer

All bible-believing Christians agree on the importance of prayer and no-one modelled its need and the priority it should take in our lives as much as Jesus.  Even within this short period we see Jesus praying a prayer of protection against the storm [Luke 8:24], a prayer of deliverance for the demon-possessed man [Luke 8:29-33], a prayer of intercession for a dead girl [Luke 8:52-55], a prayer of commission for the twelve [Luke 9:1-2],a prayer of thanks for  the provision of the five thousand [Luke 9:16] and a prayer for revelation for the disciples [Luke 9:18-20, Matthew 16:17].   However, our lives and churches often suffer from a lack of supernatural power that results from the low priority we place on sincere, heart-felt, faith-based prayer.

APPLICATION: This week ask that God would give you the ability to pray.  Spend some time finding what places and what times work best for you.  A fruitful prayer life will have set-times (like before meals, when waking up and going to bed) and impromptu times, will pay attention to the bible and the newspaper and will be for the affairs of others as well as for yourself.  Some people may find that worship music or the sound of creation helpful when praying.[2]

 

3. A Willingness to Share

Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases…So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Luke 9:1,6

A husband who can repair an engine but is unable to cook a meal, a child who can use complex electronic equipment but is unable to use a washing machine, an office that is over-reliant on one member of staff or a Church that collapses after the loss of their pastor or worship leader are all tragedies.  These tragedies often have two things in common, an unwillingness of people to share their skills and the unwillingness of others to learn those skills.  Jesus chose to complete His mission by transferring His skills to His team, and their role, as willing disciples, was to learn and practise those skills.

APPLICATION: We, too, must be facilitating others and be willing to learn new skills whether they be in the Church, the home or the workplace.  Why not start by taking an inventory of some of the things that you are responsible for or some of the things you do well and teach others.  This does not necessarily mean that you need to abdicate responsibility, though you may, but it does mean that you can empower others.  Alternatively, you might want to get involved in areas in which you have little or no knowledge or for which you have not been responsible before.  Please remember that even the most complex task can be broken down, making it more simple and manageable.  Remember the way in which the “Karate Kid” is trained through menial tasks?

 


[2] While it is a poor substitute for creation itself the sounds of nature are freely available on the internet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdIJ2x3nxzQ

Who’s in Charge, Anyway? [A Reflective Essay]

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A number of weeks ago, during the “Power and the Powers” lecture, I was involved in a rather heated discussion on the concept of the sovereignty of God.  Many things were discussed but the two main points that kept recurring were the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  Due to time restraints, the discussion ended more promptly than I would have wished, however, the reason why the conversation went on as long as it did is that the classmate with whom I was “discussing” was unable to hold these truths in dialectical tension.  Therefore, within this essay, I will seek do exactly this.  The reader must be warned, however, that this is no easy task and therefore, like all the great truths of Scripture, the reader is asked to understand this truth as an unfathomable mystery.

 

1. The Sovereignty of God

When discussing the sovereignty of God the Shorter Catechism says:

“The decrees of God are His eternal plan based on the purpose of His will, by which, for His own glory, He has foreordained everything that happens.”[1]

 

Immediately, the reader may be baulking at this whole idea and be filled with a plethora of tragic circumstances and situations, real or imagined, in which he/she is categorically unable to see the hand of God.  This innate response in many places a wedge between the goodness of God and the providential sovereignty of God, a wedge that is neither helpful nor biblical.  No!  If God is sovereign but not good then He is all-powerful but not merciful but if He is good but not sovereign then He is power-less but merciful.  The reader must never be forced into accepting either one of these positions and therefore must hold these truths in tension.

God is both good and sovereign so His relationship to good and evil must be one that is “asymmetrical.  Doctrinally this is known as compatibilism and in its most rudimentary terms means that God is the author of all that is good and, for our good and His glory, permits all that is evil.[2]  This does not mean that God does not hate evil, and that the Church, individually and corporately, must not work against all forms of evil but it does mean that we worship a God who is all-powerful, mericful and can use evil for redemptive ends even if He is not the author of that evil.  In short, this is the God of the Bible.

Scripture clearly teaches that God is in control of creation (Joshua 10:13), Satan (Job 1:9-12), demons (Matthew 8:28-32), salvation (Ephesians 1:4), empires (Daniel 2:29-45), healing (2 Kings 5:14), sickness (John 9:3), life and death (2 Kings 20:1-6).  This gives us confidence because the believer can rest assured that nothing can happen that has not first passed through the counsel of a loving God.  “Oh!” say my detractors, “if God exercises such control over all things then you must relegate man to an agent that is acted upon and so cannot be held responsible for either good or evil.”  While this abominable doctrine may be held by hyper-Calvinists I would be keen to distance myself from it and show that it must be wedded in paradoxical union to the doctrine of the responsibility of man if it is to be truly biblical.

 

2. The Responsibility of Man

Before I begin to look at this, I must state categorically that even though I believe and teach human responsibility, I do not believe or teach that man has free will.  A W Pink puts it aptly when he says:

“Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children.  The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has free will.”[3]

Man is bound by the flesh, the world and the devil and may exercise some freedom of will within the midst of his servitude but cannot ever be seen as free.  The believer, however, is bound to Christ and so is free in Him but still subject to His example, led by His spirit and ultimately can only act within the parameters of His will.  Nonetheless, this does not mean that man is not responsible.

This can clearly be seen throughout scripture.  There is Pharaoh whose heart was “hardened” sometimes by God and sometimes by himself, given over to judgment because of the part which he played.[4]  Then there is David who is tested by Satan, under the permission of God, because of his sin, being inflicted with judgment of the severest nature.[5]  Not to mention the man who played the chief role in betraying Jesus.  A man, who helped Christ fulfil his mission (Luke 9:21-22), was filled with demonic power, given ‘permission’ by Jesus (John 13:27) but was still held responsible (Mark 14:21).  My point is that if there was ever a person who might be able to feign responsibility it would have been this one and therefore we can only be left with one conclusion:  That is that man will be held responsible in this life and in the life to come.

Now again this must be balanced with the concept of corporate responsibility, the fall and the role of suffering in the life of the believer but nonetheless it is a fundamental truth that must be constantly reiterated.[6]  Without this truth, man is depreciated to nothing more than a pawn within a cosmic game of chess.

 

Conclusion

While there is no doubt that this topic has been inadequately dealt with, it is my hope that an understanding of the sovereignty of God will invoke an iron-like confidence in the believer, while the doctrine of human responsibility might endear a grace-based humility and passion for holiness.  For me personally it has invoked awe and wonder and has brought about a desire for a life-long understanding of these truths and their practical application for my life and for the purpose of mission.  Something that I will reflect on for the rest of my earthly life.

 

Bibliography

Carson D A, 2006, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil Second Edition: IVP, Ebbw Vale

Kelly D & Rollinson P, 1986, The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg

Pink A W, 1961, The Sovereignty of God: Banner of Truth Trust, Guildford

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[1] Kelly & Rollinson, 1986, p.6 (Q7)

[2]“God stands behind good and evil in somewhat different ways; that is, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically.  To put it bluntly, God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of his sovereignty, yet evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to secondary agents, to secondary causes.  On the other hand, God stands behind good in such a way that it not only takes place within the bounds of his sovereignty, but it is always chargeable to him, and only derivatively to secondary agents.” Carson, 2006, p.189

[3] Pink, 1961, p.92

[4] Compare Exodus 7:13 & 8:15

[5] Compare 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1

[6] For more information on the role of suffering in the life of the believer please study the life of Job, Jesus and the Apostles.

Supper at Simon’s House [Luke 7:36-8:3]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Like many cultures around the world, though not Western culture, Jewish culture is built around the concept of honour and shame.  This means that the way someone feels inwardly is often linked to the way in which they are perceived and treated outwardly.  In our narrative, a Pharisee, named Simon, invites Jesus into his home to publicly shame Him.[1]  The commentator Hendriksen writes:

“The Master exposes before everybody the shabby treatment he had received from his host.  The latter had omitted all the customary evidences of hospitality, all the amenities to which, as everyone knew, an honoured and invited guest was entitled…The reception had been cold, patronising, and discourteous. ”[2]

 Nonetheless, it is as a result of this failed shaming that we are able to extrapolate some essential theological truths.  To do this we must look at the three main characters that are involved.

 

1. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar [v36-38, 8:1-3]

Firstly, we have an unnamed woman who is referred to as “a sinner” and while it is not explicitly stated the consensus of scholarly opinion would identify her as a prostitute.  This unnamed woman sees the public snub of Jesus by Simon the Pharisee and begins to wash his feet with her tears, dry them with her hair and anoints his feet with costly oil which we learn later comes from the gratitude she feels from having been forgiven. [3]

Application: According to the Jews, the feet were considered the filthiest part of the human body, a woman’s hair was not to be shown to anyone but her husband and the perfume in alabaster jars was expensive and could only be used once (they had narrow necks which had to be snapped).  From this, we are able to understand something of what was expended at this meal.  Luke goes on to show that costly worship is normative for the Christian [8:1-3].  This week examine the cost of your own worship. If it is not becoming progressively more costly, you must ask yourself why.  Maybe I could challenge you to give a one-off generous donation to the rebuilding of the Philippines, rid yourself of self-consciousness in public worship or challenge you to live missionally.

 

2. The Pharisee with a Bad Attitude [v39]

The second person at the meal is Simon the Pharisee.  He is scandalised by what is going on because he knew “who and what manner of woman” this was.

Application: We too can be like Simon, feeling good about ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.  However, the Bible says: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” Phil 2:3.  Therefore, I would like to challenge you to measure your goodness against Christ and not others.  If you do this, you will come to see that we are constantly indebted to His grace and constantly in need of His power; hopefully this will develop the gratitude to God and humility in front of men that was sadly lacking in Simon.

 

3. The Saviour who Forgives [v40-50]

Jesus goes on to tell Simon a parable in which “a certain creditor” forgives “two debtors,” one who owed fifty days wages and one who owed five hundred.   He uses the parable to show that one’s response is in direct proportion to one’s perceived need.  Is He teaching, then, that all men are actually or potentially saved?

Calvinists and Arminians often debate whether Christ purchased a limited atonement or an unlimited atonement.  As a “Cal-Minian” I would say that the atonement is unlimited and everyone in the history of mankind was actually forgiven at the cross [John 1:29, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 4:10, 1 John 2:2].   Nevertheless, the atonement is also limited because it only becomes efficacious and salvific for the elect, that is those, by God’s grace, who have accepted it [Matthew 1:21, John 6:37-40, 10:15, Ephesians 1:4, Revelation 5:9].

Application: What have you done with the forgiveness of God?  If you have truly accepted it then there should be a growing personal relationship with God [Matthew 28:20], a hunger for doctrinal truth [John 16:13], an assurance of salvation [Romans 8:38-39] and lifestyle change [Titus 3:8].  This does not mean that there are not exceptions to this [Luke 23:39-43] and nor does it mean that we are saved by our own merit.  We are saved by grace through faith and for works [Ephesians 2:8-10].  Anything other than this is not the Gospel and hence I would like to challenge you, to wholeheartedly place your whole life into the hands of Christ.


[1] During a meal the well-off would leave the doors open so others could participate in the conversation or wait for leftovers.

[2] “New Testament Commentary: Luke” by William Hendriksen p. 408

[3] Many confuse this account with the one found in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8 but a close examination shows that they took place in a different location, by a different woman and for a different reason.

Have we Neglected an Important Aspect of our Protestant Heritage?

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechisms through out Christian history have been regarded as an important part of the discipleship of both children and adults. Have we as ‘Evangelicals’ neglected this to the demise of discipleship. Do we even have a an understanding of what discipleship is? It’s interesting to think that the children of a couple hundred years ago were more theologically literate than most of us ‘evangelicals’ today. I’m not claiming that theological literacy is discipleship, however if we long to know and love God then surely learning about His character our responsibility to honour and worship Him is a useful tool in ones spiritual formation.

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.

I guess as good ‘Evangelicals’ many of us were taught bible verses as children. Indeed this also is an important practice that perhaps today has been sidelined.  I remember many many verses that I was taught around the breakfast table, with my dad banging on the table to keep a rhythm to make it easier for us to learn.  I guess at the time I wasn’t the most thankful for him doing this… However now I am incredibly grateful that I am able to recall various verses that i learned all those years ago, particularly helpful in pastoral ministry.

Maybe its about time that we begin to start memorising scripture again. Perhaps we should be thinking about catechising each other…

The good news is that Tim Keller and the guys at the Gospel Coalition have developed a fantastic catechism for both children and adults. Its called the‘New City Catechism’ There is an iPad app, and the material can be used online (sadly no Android app yet) or downloaded as a pdf.

The New City Catechism is based on the Geneva, Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms and consists of 52 questions, one for each week of the year. The catechisms of the reformations times were much larger but the New City Catechism has been developed especially for the busy family today. For each question there is a prayer, a exposition of the Q and A and a short video reflection.

So have we neglected an important aspect of our Protestant heritage?