Why Christians can respond to aggressors with love.

Triumph of the Lamb cover

I have found Dennis Johnson’s commentary on Revelation (Triumph of the Lamb) really helpful as we’ve been looking at Revelation on Sunday evenings.  Discussing the picture of Jesus Christ given in Revelation 19 he quotes from Miroslav Volf who is explaining why Christians can respond to aggressors with love.  I didn’t explain this very well when we looked at the passage so putting it here as further explanation

“Miroslav Volf, reflecting on his Croatian people’s suffering at the hands of Serbian aggressors, concludes that only the biblical confidence that God will bring the unjust to justice at history’s end can enable victims to respond to their attackers with nonviolent grace in the present. “The presupposition of God’s just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it.”; He anticipates, “My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West.” To his objectors he proposes that they imagine themselves lecturing on the thesis “we should not retaliate since God is perfect non-coercive love” to people living in a war zone, whose villages have been plundered and burned, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, and whose fathers and brothers have been murdered. “Soon you will discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.?’” Page 271

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Ephesians 5: The picture of marriage

Marriage Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund’s book “Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel” looks at what we can learn about marriage through the Bible.  Genesis is clearly foundational but Ephesians 5 is central!  Here is what he writes in one section about the “breathtaking reason why human marriage exists”, page 100.

“here in Ephesians 5, the “Therefore” points back to the fact that we are members of Christ’s body. So then, why do people feel the stirrings of romance and start spending time together and take long walks hand in hand and long for one another when apart and write poetry and sing along to “our song” and fall so head over heels in love that they finally jump into the mega-commitment of marriage? There is a reason for this very human experience. And the reason is not only what God did back in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve but also, and even more, what God has done in uniting Christ with his church. The eternal romance – not, in the final analysis, the love of the couple getting married but the love of Jesus for us and our joyful deference to him – the eternal love story is why God created the universe and why God gave us marriage in Eden and why couples fall in love and get married in the world today. Every time a bride and groom stand there and take their vows, they are reenacting the biblical love story, whether they realize it or not. The Son of God stepping down out of eternity, entering time, taking on flesh, pursuing and winning his bride as his very heart and body with his inmost, sincerest love so that he can fit her to be with him forever above-that dramatic super – reality is the breathtaking reason why human marriage exists. It is truly profound. And Christian married couples have the privilege of making the mystery of the gospel visible in the world today by living out the dynamic interplay of an Ephesians 5 – quality marriage.

We should not think that Christ and the church are the metaphor in this passage, but the reverse. Christ and the church are the reality of realities, and our Christian marriages are the metaphors.”

 

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I Dared to Call Him Father: Bilquis Sheikh: A good example of dealing with idolatry.

“If opposition to my slowly evolving Christian life was lessening from my family, it was still coming from within me at times. I was yet a very private person, possessive, counting my land and garden my own.

Across the lawn from my house is a road leading to the servants’ quarters. Growing next to this road is a tree called the ber, which has a red fruit similar to the cherry. That summer after the Mitchells left, children from the village (perhaps encouraged by reports of a change in my personal ity) began coming right onto my property to climb the ber and help themselves to its fruit. The intrusion was bad enough, but when their shouts and squeals interrupted my rest time, I leaned out of my window and ordered the gardener to chase the children away. That very day I had the gardener cut the tree down. That would solve the problem permanently!

As soon as the tree was destroyed I realized what I had done. With the tree gone, so was the joy and peace of the Lord’s Presence. For a long time I stood in my window staring at the empty place where it had been. How I wished now that the tree were still there so that I could hear the joyful shouts of the children. I realized what the true Bilquis Sheikh was like. All over again I knew that in my own natural self I would never be different. It was only through the Lord, through His grace, that any change could ever take place.

“Oh Lord,” I said, “let me come back into Your Presence again please!” There was only one thing to do. Scattered throughout my garden were large trees heavy with summer fruit. The very next day I issued an open invitation to the village children to come and enjoy! And they did too. Even though I’m sure they tried to be careful, branches were broken, flowers trod upon.

“I think I see what You’re doing, Lord,” I said one after- noon after the children had gone home, and I was surveying the damage. You found the garden itself to be a place that stood between us. You are weaning me even from the garden! You’ve taken it away to give to others. But look how they were enjoying it! It’s Your garden. I give it up to them with great pleasure. Thank You for using this to bring me back into Your comforting Self.””

Pages 123-124

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The Pursuit of God A.W. Tozer

Some words from a prior age that are just as relevant today, pages 94-98.  It’s a long read for a blog post, but I think it’s worthwhile.

“A satisfactory spiritual life will begin with a complete change in relation between God and the sinner; not a judicial change merely, but a conscious and experienced change affecting the sinner’s whole nature. The atonement in Jesus’ blood makes such a change judicially possible and the working of the Holy Spirit makes it emotionally satisfying. The story of the prodigal son perfectly illustrates this latter phase. He had brought a world of trouble upon himself by forsaking the position which he had properly held as son of his father. At bottom of his restoration was nothing more than a re-establishing of the father-son relation which had existed from his birth and had been altered temporarily by his act of sinful rebellion. This story overlooks the legal aspects of redemption, but it makes beautifully clear the experiential aspects of salvation

In determining relationships we must begin somewhere. There must be somewhere a fixed center against which everything else is measured, where the law of relativity does not enter and we can say “IS” and make no allowances. Such a center is God. When God would make His name known to mankind He could find no better word than “I AM.” When He speaks in the first person He says, “I AM”; when we speak of Him we say, “He is”; when we speak to Him we say, “Thou art.” Everyone and everything else measures from that fixed point. “I AM THAT I AM,” (Exodus 3:14) says God, “I change not” (Malachi 3:6)

As the sailor locates his position on the sea by “shooting” the sun, so we may get our moral bearings by looking at God. We must begin with God. We are right when, and only when, we stand in a right position relative to God, and we are wrong so far and so long as we stand in any other position

Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image. The flesh whimpers against the rigor of God’s inexorable sentence and begs like Agag for a little mercy, a little indulgence of its carnal ways. It is no use. We can get a right start only by accepting God as He is and learning to love Him for what He is. As we go on to know Him better we shall find it a source of unspeakable joy that God is just what He is. Some of the most rapturous moments we know will be those we spend in reverent admiration of the Godhead. In those holy moments the very thought of change in Him will be too painful to endure

So let us begin with God. Back of all, above all, be- fore all is God; first in sequential order, above in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honor. As the self-existent One He gave being to all things, and all things exist out of Him and for Him. “Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Every soul belongs to God and exists by His pleasure. God being who and what He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full Lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. We owe Him every honor that is in our power to give Him. Our everlasting grief lies in giving Him anything less.

The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. And this not judicially, but actually. I do not here refer to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper.

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade. We shall find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way. We shall acquire a new viewpoint; a new and different psychology will be formed within us; a new power will begin to surprise us by its upsurgings and its outgoings.

Our break with the world will be the direct outcome of our changed relation to God. For the world of fallen men does not honor God. Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token respect to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is above, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day throughout his life.

“Be thou exalted” (Psalm 21:13) is the language of victorious spiritual experience. It is a little key to unlock the door to great treasures of grace. It is central in the life of God in the soul. Let the seeking man reach a place where life and lips join to say continually, “Be thou exalted,” and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once. His Christian life ceases to be the complicated thing it had been before and becomes the very essence of simplicity. By the exercise of his will he has set his course, and on that course he will stay as if guided by an automatic pilot. If blown off course for a moment by some adverse wind, he will surely return again as by a secret bent of the soul. The hidden motions of the Spirit are working in his favor, and “the stars in their courses” (Judges 5:20) fight for him. He has met his life problem at its center, and everything else must follow along.

Let no one imagine that he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sell-out of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator. His deep disgrace lay in his moral derangement, his unnatural usurpation of the place of God. His honor will be proved by restoring again that stolen throne. In exalting God over all he finds his own highest honor upheld.

Anyone who might feel reluctant to surrender his will to the will of another should remember Jesus’ words, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34). We must of necessity be servant to someone, either to God or to sin. The sinner prides himself on his independence, completely overlooking the fact that he is the weak slave of the sins that rule his members. The man who surrenders to Christ exchanges a cruel slave driver for a kind and gentle Master whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Made as we were in the image of God, we scarcely find it strange to take again our God as our All. God was our original habitat and our hearts cannot but feel at home when they enter again that ancient and beautiful abode.

I hope it is clear that there is a logic behind God’s claim to preeminence. That place is His by every right in earth or heaven. While we take to ourselves the place that is His, the whole course of our lives is out of joint. Nothing will or can restore order till our hearts make the great decision: God shall be exalted above.”

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Captive in Iran – Christlikeness in all situations

captive-in-iran

Two young Christian ladies were imprisoned in Iran because of their faith.  Captive in Iran tells their story of being imprisoned in Evin Prison and their continued witness as Christians.  It was a good reminder of God working through the prayers of his people, and that He is at work in the hardest of countries.

The following excerpt from when they were in prison is one small inconvenience they faced, but their response was a challenge to me – when it is so easy to complain at the smallest thing.

“The end of Nowruz also meant that the prison shop would reopen. Our sisters had set up an account for us so we could buy snacks and a few other small luxuries. We stood quietly in the queue. The moment the window opened, there was a mad dash as dozens of women scrambled to be first in line after two weeks without shopping. Others jumped in front of us, shoving and yelling. Soon they were pulling each other’s hair, screaming, and swearing. We backed farther away, saying, “Please go ahead.” It wasn’t worth it to fight for a spot. We could wait until tomorrow. We turned and started back toward the ward.

The only quiet place was at the very front of the line, where Soraya’s gigantic bulk nearly blocked the view of the window for everyone else. She was first, and for all the other squabbling and pushing, no one dared lay a hand on her. Seeing us retreating, she headed toward us, calling out, “You silly girls, why do you let others cut in line ahead of you?”

Before we could answer, she grabbed us, one with each hand, and led the way back, barreling through the swarm like a ship parting the sea, straight to the head of the line. “Here you go. Now do your shopping, my dear girls.” No one dared dispute her decision-including us.

The shopkeeper was a young woman who also worked in the office. She took one look through her little window at us-the Christian girls!-gave a sudden scowl, and said curtly, “The shop is closed!” sliding the panel shut in our faces. We waited for an hour until the window reopened, and then placed our order. But instead of handing us our items, the girl threw them through the window so that they either hit us or fell on the floor. Our natural impulse was to shout back at her or complain. Yet, we thought to ourselves, our little inconvenience and embarrassment was nothing compared with what Jesus endured for our sakes. We had no need to complain, though we surely had the right to. We knew we were there as part of God’s perfect plan to do His work. The incident tested us and reminded us of how hard it is to remain silent and Christlike in the face of even the smallest challenge. We prayed that God would always give us the power to forgive and a sense of compassion for everyone, even those who mistreated us.” Pages 104-105

 

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The Lord’s Supper – Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes.

untitled-lsThis is a helpful book, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Matthew Crawford, to think through the theology of the Lord’s Supper from a non-conformist standpoint.  It starts with the Lord’s Supper as a Passover meal, looks at the Supper in the Gospels and Paul, and then is heavy on historical theology, spending time looking at the reformation debates.  It closes with some chapters on the Lord’s Supper in churches today.

It was helpful to be reminded of all the Lord’s Supper signifies.  From chapter 2 on the Gospels Jonathan Pennington gave five nodes of meaning contained with the Lord’s Supper as we look back, participate now, and look forward:

a)      An enacted parable of Jesus impending sacrificial death (this is from the Gospels so prior to the cross).

b)      The fulfilment of the Passover and the new exodus.

c)      The inauguration of the new covenant.

d)      Community / Identity formation (the Passover meal was a family celebration).

e)      An appetizer of the eschatological banquet.

James Hamilton Jr had these closing thoughts on the implications of Paul’s theology of the Supper:

“In the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death: heralding that Jesus died for our sins. The gospel has more power to humble than any other force in the world. It places all on equal footing before the cross. This humbling power of the gospel then enables us to proclaim the Lord’s death as we live out the self-inconveniencing love for others modeled by Jesus, even unto death.

Just as the kind of idolatry that Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to flee was normal behavior in the wider culture of Roman Corinth, so there are idolatrous behaviors in contemporary culture that are considered normal. Just as there was rampant immorality in Roman Corinth, so all manner of sexual deviancy is considered normal in our day. And just as the Corinthians exalted themselves by identifying with those they thought were superior, so there is no lack of hero-worship and super-star Christianity today, to say nothing of rampant materialism and vainglorious displays of economic privilege. There are no favorites at the Lord’s Table. The only cure for factionalism, immorality, idolatry, and favoritism, then as now, is the gospel. Christ covers our sins, transforms our identity and self-conception, and leaves us an example that we should follow in His steps (cf. 1 Pet 2:21-25).

As we come to the Table, we must examine ourselves. If the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of introspection in the past, that is not our problem today. In our flippant culture we are not reflective enough. Self-examination, however, is not an end to itself. It should be spurred by our awareness of the behavior of Christ, which in turn should lead to repentance and celebration of the sufficiency of Christ’s death. Self-examination should be prompted by our under- standing of Christ’s love, and it should then be swallowed up in our awareness of God’s mercy to those of us who believe-for the things about ourselves of which we become aware in our examination are all nailed to the cross of Christ. Let us proclaim His death until He comes!” Pages 101-102

 

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A Passion for Holiness: Jim Packer on showing the Spirit’s power in holiness

“MANIFESTING GOD’S POWER

This book is about holiness. Our review of the power of God as seen in the New Testament has led us to look at ministries of various kinds. Was that relevant? Are we not ranging too widely, and going beyond our subject? I do not think so. It is artificial and unscriptural to draw a hard and fast dividing line between God’s work of transforming a person’s character, which is what we have discussed so far, and his work of thrusting that person into ministry-into active service of others, accepted as a task that God has given. I am not speaking here of ordained or salaried ministry only, or even primarily.

Ministry means any form of service, and there are many such forms. Thus,

⦁          being a faithful spouse and a conscientious parent is the form of ministry at home;

⦁          discharging an office, fulfilling a role, and carrying a defined responsibility is the form of ministry (both ordained and lay) in the organized church;

⦁          sustaining pastoral friendships that involve advising, interceding, and supporting is a further form of ministry in Christ; and

⦁          loving care for people at any level of need-physical or mental, material or spiritual-is the true form of ministry in the world.

Holiness, as we have seen, is neither static nor passive. It is a state of increasing love to God and one’s neighbour, and love is precisely a matter of doing what honours and benefits the loved one, out of a wish to raise that loved one high. Holy persons, therefore, show themselves such by praising God and helping others. They know they should, and in fact, they want to. God himself has made them want to, however self-absorbed they may have been before.

As their Christlikeness adds to their impact, credibility, and effectiveness for God when they serve their neighbours, so God uses their experiences in such ministry (success, failure, delight, frustration, learning patience and persistence, going the second mile, staying humble when appreciated, staying kind when attacked, holding steady under pressure, and so on) to advance the change “from glory to glory” in their own lives (2 Cor. 3: 18). He continues to make them more like Jesus than they were before.

It is noteworthy that most speakers and books on holiness say little about ministry, while most speakers and books on ministry say little about holiness. It has been this way for over, a century. But to treat holiness and ministry as separate themes is an error. God has linked them, and what God joins man must not put asunder.

One regular result of ongoing sanctification is that concern for others, with recognition of what they lack, and wisdom that sees how to help them, is increased. Ministry blossoms naturally in holy lives. In effective ministry, God’s power is channelled through God’s servants into areas of human need. A saintly person of limited gifts is always likely to channel more of it than would a person who was more gifted but less godly. So God wants us all to seek holiness and usefulness together, and the former partly at least for the sake of the latter.”

 

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