What strange times we find ourselves in. Only two weeks or so ago, it was business as usual here in Australia, even as we heard reports of COVID19 spreading overseas.
One week ago, it was church as usual, albeit with great care taken to sanitise surfaces and avoid the usual hugs and handshakes.
This week, wow! The bombshell has hit, and the floodgates have been blasted wide open.
We had already made the decision to cancel all church gatherings as a matter of prudence and safety for our people. Many churches tried to continue to meet, albeit with significantly reduced congregation sizes.
But as I write this, I hear reports that all church gatherings will be banned. Sunday worship, Connect groups, corporate prayer – all stopped until further notice.
One of the most important aspects of Christian life is the regular gathering together of the saints. Not only does Scripture insist on it (see Heb 10:25, for example), it is part of our growth to health and maturity as believers (see Eph 4:11-16).
How can we possibly fulfill these requirements if we are forbidden to meet together? How are we to grow as Christians if we can’t worship and hear the Word as one body regularly?
How indeed? Has the devil finally found a way to destroy the Church?
You know what my answer to that will be, of course…
How do we measure successful Christian ministry? What are the indicators that God has blessed a preacher, a church, a ministry?
The most obvious sign is that they have lots of followers. John the Baptist certainly had lots of followers back in the day.
But then, so did Rev Jim Jones when he led nearly 1,000 of his followers to commit suicide in 1978. So sheer numbers may not be the best measure of success.
In fact, if we were to measure only numbers, then Jesus was an abject failure.
So, what is the best indicator of a successful ministry?
It’s a commonly held belief that cockroaches are the only creature that would survive a nuclear holocaust. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll have to wait and see…
They are certainly one of the most unpopular creatures on earth. I don’t know anyone who is not disgusted by the thought of cockroaches in their house – and horrified at the prospect that friends might see cockroaches when they come to visit.
This reaction is prompted by the belief that cockroaches are filthy, disease-spreading animals that thrive on our mess. The presence of cockroaches, then, must be an indicator of poor hygiene.
No doubt, every home has many more cockroaches than there are ever seen. For they rarely come out into the light, preferring to stay hidden in dark corners, and scurrying back there when exposed.
Just like us humans when we sin…
There have been plenty of strange “manifestations of the Holy Spirit” in recent decades, associated with what is supposedly spiritual revival.
People barking like dogs, falling backwards in waves, laughing uncontrollably, dancing around an auditorium oblivious to their surroundings. The list could go on.
There is also the reasonably common manifestation, getting drunk in the Spirit, whilst others have “connected with the Spirit” by “toking the Ghost,” a supposedly spiritual version of getting stoned “in the Holy Ghost.”
These things, as strange as they might seem, are nothing new. Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher and theologian, was instrumental in revival breaking out in New England in the 18th century. And he witnessed many strange manifestations in the course of that great revival.
Edwards wrote on this subject, concluding that the strange manifestations said nothing about whether revival was – or was not – genuine. Importantly, he also concluded that there were some genuine signs. See the link at the end to see what Edwards decided.
What’s all this got to do with the holiness of God, the attribute of God that Mike talked to us about on Sunday?
Jesus’ disciples were worried about the future. They wanted to know what to look for as a sign that He was on His way back.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” [see Matt 24:5-6].
Wars and rumours of wars… We don’t have to watch too much TV to see graphic footage of wars in the Middle East and Africa. Nor to hear rumours of wars between the US and Iran. Are they signs of the approaching end?
Well, Jesus said, “Not yet.” But that doesn’t stop apocalyptic cults and doomsday preppers from preparing as if the end was tomorrow. And it doesn’t stop many Christians from being fearful of the end.
But the truth is, these wars are far away from most of us. But there is a war much closer to home; one we tend not to give much thought to; one that should concern us much more than armed conflict in far-flung corners of the globe.
Have you ever noticed that the Bible is book-ended by marriage? Gen 2 tells us about the first marriage in history, between Adam and Eve; “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” [Gen 2:24].
Rev 21 tells us about a bride adorned for her husband; “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” [Rev 21:9-10, see also 21:1-2].
And in between, we see all manner of marriages; good ones and bad ones, and even surprising ones, like Hosea’s marriage to the prostitute Gomer [see Hos 1-3].
Marriage is a major theme of the Bible, but it is my guess that few people understand why marriage is so important. Continue reading
It’s a beautiful thing to watch your children grow up – and for Mel and I, to watch our grandchildren grow up. They learn so much, especially in the first 4 or 5 years of life.
They learn to recognise and respond to mum and dad; to crawl, then walk; to talk; to feed themselves, dress themselves, to read and write.
It seems only yesterday that we were caring for our infant children, and now they are all raising beautiful children of their own. We are justifiably proud of them.
How quickly it flashes past; how quickly they grow. One of the grandchildren has reached the stage where he doesn’t want to sleep in the cot anymore. He wants to sleep in ‘the big boy bed.’ And he no longer likes the highchair at mealtimes. He reckons he is grown up enough now for the ‘big boy chair.’
It seems he is in a rush to grow up. Pity so few of us adults feel the same way.
Have you ever noticed that the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know? I find these thoughts, which may appear contradictory on the surface, fascinating and honest.
A great example, in the Christian life, is the growing awareness of the depths of our sin as we travel further down to path of sanctification. As we grow in holiness, by the working of the Holy Spirit within us, we see ever more clearly how unlike God we are in that respect. Continue reading
How shallow my prayers can often be. “I pray God’s richest blessings on you; I pray for traveling mercies.” What do those word even mean?
Do they mean anything at all? Or are they only Christianised ‘white noise’? Just filler and fluff, about as meaningful and helpful as ‘sending happy thoughts your way’?
I’m challenged and convicted when I read Ephesians 3 because my prayers are frequently little more than that sort of fluff.
Not so when the apostle Paul prayed.
Isn’t it funny how you can read a passage of Scripture 5 times, 50 times, 500 times, and still not realise what it is talking about? That’s what Jesus rebuked Nicodemus about in John 3:10. And it is what I’ve experienced the many times I’ve read John chapter 3. It probably won’t be the last time either, so I can’t be too critical of Nicodemus.
Jesus had been explaining why Nicodemus – and all of us – need to be born again [see John 3:1-13]. And He was adamant that this new birth was entirely a work of God by the Holy Spirit, not something any of us are able to do for ourselves.
Then Jesus inserts these words that I’ve never before connected with the rest of the passage; “… as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” [John 3:14-15].
As it turns out, they are critically important words for us to understand our part in the work of new birth, the work that is done entirely by God. Confused? Let’s see if we can shed some light on it. Continue reading