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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A Passion for Holiness: Jim Packer on complacency in a “faithful church”.

From pages 151-153 – the danger of the Laodicean church (bold sections are my emphasis)

“More fundamentally to blame, however, is the corporate decadence that now marks the conservative church-the decadence that concentrates exclusively on upholding the faith and ignores the biblical insistence that those who maintain the doctrines of grace must manifest in their lives the grace of those doctrines. In other words, orthodoxy (right belief) must lead on to orthopraxy (right behaviour). In this era of decadent Christianity, in which niceness has replaced righteousness as the moral goal and success is valued over sanctity, the call to orthopraxy is rarely heard and rarely heeded. So we all suffer loss at this point.

The fact is that Christians today are all victims of our decadent late twentieth century ethos that wrenches public orthodoxy and personal morality apart, implying that the latter does not matter so long as one is valiant for the truth. So when leaders fall we may well reflect … that there but for the grace of God go we. Were our consciences educated any better than those of the saints who sinned? Do ours work any better than theirs? Probably not If with our own inadequate moral equipment, in a world that mocks morality anyway, we had been exposed to such temptations (first to pride and then to folly), we might well have fallen as they did. We need honestly to acknowledge that Satan has made great headway in the battle for our consciences. Unless and until it is re-established that the Christian life for everyone is a life of self- scrutiny, self-humbling, and daily repentance for daily sins, Satan will continue to score.

If it is true, as we have been saying, that holiness is an honouring of God that is health-giving to the soul, and that humility is at the heart of holiness (humility, not as a game of grovelling before God, but as a frank facing of one’s limitations, frailties, and failures, with dependence on God for all that is good)-if it is also true that humility is rooted in, and reinforced by, realism in repenting of our failures, and if finally it is true that realism in repentance flows from knowledge of God and of ourselves-then our first need, as disciples in Christ’s school of holiness, must be to exorcise complacency from our souls.

We should not take it for granted that, because we are holding on to the faith that others have given up, God has to be pleased with us, and therefore we should be pleased with ourselves. Rather we should suspect ourselves of being like the Laodiceans, with consciences atrophied by worldliness and prosperity, and no ears for the words of the one whom we call our Saviour and our Lord.

What, then, should we do? Action is required along two lines. Within the church, preaching, study, and fellowship need to be directed to raising each other’s consciousness about God’s hatred of sin, his requirement of righteousness, and the way we offend him by not taking his demand seriously. And in our daily pilgrimage, we must learn to listen to God for ourselves. If we dare to ask God to let us hear his word to us personally about our lives, he will.

[After meditating on Scripture] Amid the assurances of grace and help with which he will delight your heart, he will again and again verify to you the truth of his word: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Do not say that you were not warned about this! But do not fancy, either, that you are walking the path of holiness, growing downward as Christians are called to do, if rebuke and repentance have no place in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Passion for Holiness: Jim Packer on Continual Repentance

I once got into a discussion with someone who thought Christians didn’t need to keep coming back to God and asking for forgiveness.  “God has forgiven me once and for all, so why do I need to keep coming back to him for forgiveness?” was the argument.

Aside from the Lord’s Prayer which teaches us to continually ask for forgiveness, another response is that we continually need to repent – and that includes the discipline of confession and asking for forgiveness.   These are Jim Packer’s words on continual repentance, as well as the sin of unthankfulness – which is quite striking (pages 133-134):

Because of God’s majesty as sovereign ruler of the universe, sin (lawlessness, missing the moral mark, failing to practice righteousness with all one’s heart and soul) is a major matter. Secular Western culture, which has deliberately atrophied the sense of God’s majesty, finds this hard to believe, but it is so. Some sins are intrinsically greater and intrinsically worse than others-but there can be no small sins against a great God.

God’s purpose in our creation, as in our new creation, is that we should be holy. Therefore, moral casualness and unconcern as to whether or not we please God is in itself supremely evil. No expressions of creativity, heroism, or nice-guy behaviour can cancel God’s displeasure at being disregarded in this way.

God searches our hearts as well as weighing our actions. For this reason, guilt for sin extends to deficiencies in our motives and our purposes, as well as in our performance. T. S. Eliot wrote of” … the greatest treason: ‘To do the right deed for the wrong reason,” and God observes and assesses our reasons for action as thoroughly as he does the actions themselves. In one sense, indeed, it is true to say that God focuses more attention on the heart – the thinking, reacting, desiring, decision-making core and centre of our being – than he does on the deeds done, for it is by what goes on in our hearts that we are most truly known to him.

God is good and gracious to all his creatures, and has so loved the world as to give his only Son to suffer on the cross for our salvation. Active thanksgiving that expresses thankfulness of heart is the only proper response, and is in fact one of God’s permanent requirements. Unthankfulness and unlove toward himself are as culpable in his sight as are any forms of untruthfulness and unrighteousness in dealing with our fellow-humans. Transgressing the first and greatest commandment has to be the first and greatest sin (see Matt. 22:34-40).

God promises to pardon and restore all who repent of their sin. Because sin, both of omission and of commission, in motive, aim, thought, desire, wish, and fantasy even if not in outward action, is a daily event in Christians’ lives (you know this about yourself, don’t you?), regular repentance is an abiding necessity. Repentance must be thorough, coming from the heart just as did the sin. Repentance, whereby sin is confessed and forsaken in the confidence that-as the Anglican Prayer Book has been saying since Cranmer drafted it-God “pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel,” expresses in a direct way the regenerate heart’s desire to cleave to God, and to love and please him constantly. It is this desire that begets the purpose of forsaking the sin and returning contritely to the Lord.”

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A Passion for Holiness: Jim Packer on temperament

I’ve been reading this book in a time of enforced rest due to a shoulder operation.  How do I react to a time of rest?  Am I bound by my temperament to respond in a certain way to more time to think than usual?  Are we all able to blame our temperaments for how we respond to events or situations we face in life?  Surely not.

If we recognise our temperaments, then we can recognise the wrong thought patterns we can get into and we can speak to ourselves (from Scripture!) and change. This is what Jim Packer has to say on this subject on pages 22-24 – which I needed to hear again, but as you read it – think – who am I in the descriptions, and how do I need to change to become more like Jesus?

“Holiness Has to Do with My Temperament.

By temperament I mean the factors that make specific ways of reacting and behaving natural to me. To use psychologists’ jargon, it is my temperament that inclines me to transact with my environment (situations, things, and people) in the way I usually do.

Drawing on the full resources of this jargon, psychologist Gordon Allport defines temperament as “the characteristic phenomena of an individual’s nature, including his susceptibility to emotional stimulation, his customary strength and speed of response, the quality of his prevailing mood, and all the peculiarities of fluctuation and intensity of mood, these being regarded as dependent on constitutional make-up, and therefore largely hereditary in origin.”  Allport’s statement is cumbersome but clear. Temperament, we might say, is the raw material out of which character is formed. Character is what we do with our temperament. Personality is the final product, the distinct individuality that results.

Temperaments are classified in various ways: positive and negative, easy and difficult, introverted and extroverted outgoing and withdrawn, active and passive, giving and taking, sociable and forthcoming as distinct from manipulative and self-absorbed, shy and uninhibited, quick and slow to warm up, stiffly defiant as contrasted with flexibly acquiescent, and so on.

While these classifications are useful in their place, perhaps the most useful of all, certainly to the pastoral leader, is the oldest one which Greek physicians had already worked out before the time of Christ. It distinguishes four basic human temperaments:

⦁          the sanguine (warm, jolly, outgoing, relaxed, optimistic);

⦁          the phlegmatic (cool, low-key, detached, unemotional, apathetic);

⦁          the choleric (quick, active, bustling, impatient, with a relatively short fuse); and

⦁          the melancholic (sombre, pessimistic, inward-looking, inclined to cynicism and depression).

It then acknowledges the reality of mixed types, such as the phlegmatic-melancholic and the sanguine-choleric, when features of two of the temperaments are found in the same person. In this way it covers everybody.  The ancient beliefs about body fluids that supported this classification are nowadays dispelled, but the classification itself remains pastorally helpful. People do observably fall into these categories and recognising them helps one to understand the temper and reactions of the person with whom one is dealing.

The assertion that I now make, and must myself face, is that I am not to become (or remain) a victim of my temperament. Each temperament has its own strengths and also its weaknesses. Sanguine people tend to live thoughtlessly and at random. Phlegmatic people tend to be remote and unfeeling, sluggish and unsympathetic. Choleric people tend to be quarrelsome, bad-tempered, and poor team players. Melancholic people tend to see everything as bad and wrong, and to deny that anything is ever really good and right. Yielding to my temperamental weaknesses is, of course, the most natural thing for me to do, and is therefore the hardest sort of sin for me to deal with and detect. But holy humanity, as I see it in Jesus Christ combines in itself the strengths of all four temperaments without any of the weaknesses. Therefore, I must try to be like him in this, and not indulge the particular behavioural flaws to which my temperament tempts me.

Holiness for a person of sanguine temperament, then, will involve learning to look before one leaps, to think things through responsibly, and to speak wisely rather than wildly. (These were among the lessons Peter learned with the Spirit’s help after Pentecost.) Holiness for a person of phlegmatic temperament will involve a willingness to be open with people, to feel with them and for them, to be forthcoming in relationships, and to become vulnerable, in the sense of risking being hurt. Holiness for a choleric person will involve practicing patience and self-control. It will mean redirecting one’s anger and hostility toward Satan and sin, rather than toward fellow human beings who are obstructing what one regards as the way forward. (These were among the lessons Paul learned from the Lord after his conversion.) Finally, holiness for a melancholic person will involve learning to rejoice in God, to give up self-pity and proud pessimism, and to believe, with the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, that through sovereign divine grace, “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” What are my temperamental weaknesses? If I am to be holy, as I am called to be, I must identity them (that is the hard part) and ask my Lord to enable me to form habits of rising above them.”

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Hebrews 11: How faith shows itself, faith in action:

We’ve been looking at Hebrews recently and reached Hebrews 11 this Sunday morning.  There are a number of ways of preaching on or through Hebrews 11 and in the morning we looked at questions about faith.  I found the chapter so challenging and encouraging at the same time that we looked at it in the evening as well.  I borrowed an idea and some headings from the Gospel Coalition blog (by Thabiti Anyabwile: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/thabitianyabwile/2012/03/12/the-variegated-nature-of-faith/) and preached a 27 point sermon!  Never done that before.

Don Carson discusses this chapter and talks about faith as “A confident trust in God and his word that what he says is true.”  If we have this kind of faith it will show itself – and Hebrews 11 (in fact from Hebrews 10:37-12:3) shows a number of ways. Here they are:

10:37-39

  1. Faith is a fundamental characteristic of someone who is righteous in God’s eyes. 10:38
  2. Faith perseveres. 10:38
  3. Faith leads to salvation. 10:39

11:1-7

  1. Faith is what God commends. 11:2
  2. Faith understands that God is the creator. 11:3
  3. Faith offers sacrificially to God. 11:4
  4. Faith pleases God. 11:5-6.
  5. Faith takes God’s warning seriously. 11:7.

11:8-19

  1. Faith obeys without knowing the outcome. 11:8-9
  2. Faith trusts God’s promises. 11:11-12.
  3. Faith looks forward to heaven. 11:10, 13-16.
  4. Faith recognises that we are aliens and strangers in this world. 11:13.
  5. Faith is willing to sacrifice things that are important to us. 11:17-19.

11:20-38

  1. Faith holds on to the future. 11:20.
  2. Faith doesn’t conform to the culture. 11:21
  3. Faith worships to the end. 11:21
  4. Faith encourages others. 11:22
  5. Faith puts God above the authorities. 11:23
  6. Faith chooses suffering over sin and treasures Christ over the world. 11:24-26
  7. Faith perseveres because it trusts God for salvation. 11:27-28
  8. Faith risks everything for God. 11:29
  9. Faith does the crazy thing sometimes. 11:30
  10. Faith welcomes God’s people whoever they are. 11:31
  11. Faith trusts God to do great things. 11:32-35a
  12. Faith puts God before life. 11:35b-38.

11:39-40

  1. Faith unites the people of God in history and geography. 11:39-40

12:1-3.

  1. Today, faith is focused on Jesus.

 

Mark 9:24: I do have faith; help my lack of faith.

 

 

 

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