Book Review: The Freedom of self-forgetfulness by Timothy Keller.

Are you struggling with your identity in Jesus? This is the book for you! This little book by Tim Keller focuses on the clear distinctive marks that come out of a person’s heart when their lives have been changed by the grace of God through Jesus Christ and where their new identity is found. He focuses his exposition on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7 and he reminds us that the church in Corinth is not different to the church that we see today.

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Culturally we desire pride and boasting, making sure our lives are better than anyone else and creating a high view of ourselves but that this view is also our own downfall. Keller draws out 3 points from 1 Corinthians:

  1. The natural Condition of the Human Ego – Our pride can swell up, even beyond a natural point where it leads to emptiness, pain, busyness and fragility. The root cause of our ego is pride because “we are only proud of being more successful, more intelligent or more good looking than the next person.” (P18).This leads to boastfulness. The problem is we can never satisfy our ego because we are always seeking to be better than the next person and our lives can never find rest or satisfaction.
  1. The transformed view of self – Paul in 1 Cor 4:1-2 tells the church that he doesn’t care about the world’s view of him or what other people think of him because his identity is in Jesus. Paul displays great humility, acknowledging that he is a great sinner and realises it is not all about him anymore.“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetting.” (p32)We stop thinking about ourselves and we don’t get hurt from criticisms and opinions because they don’t matter.
  1. How to get that transformed view of self – The verdict we are looking for in life is that we are important, that we are valued and raised up. Paul didn’t care what others thought and he didn’t care about what he thought of himself because there is only one opinion that really matters – God’s. Everyone in the world live within the walls of a courtroom – we are continually put on trial in what we say think and do, but those in Christ, he is the one who gives us the verdict that really matters. In Jesus, we are taken out of the courtroom because our trials, our verdict was placed on him and the cross – therefore we are free – we don’t need to meet what the world expects, only what God expects and because Jesus has done that – we can live in peace and joy!

I hope this little book will give you a sense of freedom and joy, it’s not all about our own thoughts and opinions or what other people think, but it is all about fixing our identity in Jesus for there is freedom and satisfaction in him that the world cannot give.

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Politics and the Christian Faith – Book Review “God and Politics” by Mark Dever

Over the last few months, the British government has been battling with the issue of Brexit and we might be asking ourselves – What is going to happen? Can we trust our government? What is the role of a disciple of Jesus in all this?

There are a few books available that deal with the relationship between the Christian Faith and Politics and Mark Dever’s small book “God and Politics” is a valuable addition to this field. If you are wrestling with the issues about the sovereignty of God verses the sovereignty of the state then this is the book for you.

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Dever responds to one of his Muslim friends who challenged him “That’s the problem with the Christian Faith, you have no vision for state, for society as a whole”. The motivation behind this statement is the belief that the Christian faith is all about heavenly joy, looking forward to the New Heaven and New Earth.

Dever develops a Biblical Theology on Mark 12-13-17 where he draws from Jesus’ experience of this very dilemma when the Pharisees ask Jesus about paying the Roman Tax to Caesar. Dever composes a very detailed exposition of the passage and suggests that Jesus is establishing a new understanding of government when he say “Give back to Caesars what is Caesar’s and Give back to God what is God’s”. By saying this Jesus is affirming the legitimacy of the Political state. Christians are called to be good citizens to the state, to be a blessing to those around us even though in many countries that will be more difficult. God’s initial charge at creation was to form governance (Genesis 1:28) for the stewardship of the whole world. The Bible is very clear “God is sovereign over all and that the state is His servant.” (p20). The purpose of a government is to bless those whom they have been entrusted with but also be accountable to God. If the State is God’s servant we must give to the state what it is due because by honouring the state we are in turn honouring the living God.

Jesus shows to us that government is not restricted to a stretch of land, whether a state supports the worship of the one true God or even allows it because our true governance is in Christ. Christians are international, from all nations and we are not constricted to land.  But we are not just accountable to state but to God too. Jesus makes a clear distinction that Caesar is not God. We are to obey the state but not worship the state. We are fallen human beings and governments are a gathering of fallen corrupt human beings for they do not cover the vastness of God’s character. How can fallen human beings have ultimate authority? Only the maker and creator of the world has that honour. There is our hope when we face corrupted and unjust governments – they will not last – they will crumble and fall, yet the Lord will reign for all eternity.

Dever concluded by saying his friend’s challenge was too shallow. Jesus came to do something far deeper, to actually change our whole hearts. We are to endure fallen governments but also work for something which is much better, an eternity with God. “Go ahead and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but then give to God what is God’s and remember that you belong to God, all of you.” (p55). I really recommend this book and may it help you grasp a better understanding between our Christian relationship with the state and government.

The Patience of growing seeds.

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Gardens are amazing things. I have the real privilege to be writing this, sat outside on a warm sunny day in my own garden. As we move deeper into the summer months where things are getting warmer, the gardens are in full bloom, BBQ’s, paddling pools and World Cup Parties are in full swing – we can forget that hidden from our very eyes, the Kingdom of God is growing.

The Sunday gospel reading from a few weeks ago was the Parable of the Mustard seed and the parable of growing seeds (Mark 4:26-34). In these two parables, Jesus gives us great illustrations of how God’s Kingdom; the Church grows.

“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mk 4:31-32)

A Mustard seed is tiny. It looks weak, vulnerable and useless on the outside. If you eat it, can’t sustain you and it can be easily lost. Yet Jesus reminds us that the power of that tiny seed is on the inside. Even though it looks tiny, it produces the largest tree. How can something so tiny produce something so large? That is how the Kingdom grows. It begins very small, so small that we feel that nothing is happening. When we look at our churches we might look and feel like Mustard seeds. With small congregations we might feel weak, vulnerable, like nothing is happening, but hidden from our eyes, in the very heart of all that we do, God is at work, in every person we engage with. God doesn’t look at us on the outside, but from the inside. He looks at and works from our hearts therefore, we should be patiently waiting for these small seeds to grow. They can only grow, like any seed, if the soil is ready and prepared. The soil is solid Bible teaching and focused prayer.

The other parable tells us what we can do to encourage the growth of God’s Kingdom:

“A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mk 4:26-27) 

What is important to the farmer is not how the seed produces the crop for him to harvest but that he actually scatters the seed. The Farmer trusts the seed, he has faith and patience in God and in that seed and believes that it will bear fruit. God in his great sovereignty nurtures, encourages and maintains the seeds we scatter. This seed is telling people about Jesus, from loving our neighbours to inviting them to events but unless we are scattering the seed then we will not see growth.

In the heat of the summer, continue to scatter seeds and be patient for their growth. Even through the most rough and tough times we are to keep hold of the hope and joy that deep down, God is still at work in all that we do, even if we feel like mustards seeds. There is a great future! We are to look forward in joy that all these seeds that have been scattered is forming and becoming a great tree.

Facing your anxiety and fears

Most, if not all of us today suffer from some kind of anxiety or fear. It could be related to your job, your health, your family or friends, finances and even your faith. Some of us suffer from panic attacks that come out of nowhere. They all begin as something very small but if left unmanaged, they can grow to the point where it impacts every part of your life. A few years ago, as a student I suffered the fear of writing assignments and essays. Despite studying for at least 10 years in higher education, I still hadn’t learnt how to deal with the fear of a pending deadline or the pressure of achieving the best mark. Is it the right format? Did I actual answer the question that was asked?Picture1

I came across a really helpful booklet called Anxiety and Panic Attacks: Trusting God when you’re afraidby Jocelyn Wallace (pictured). She is a Christian counsellor who has worked in residential treatment centres for girls in the USA. In this booklet, Wallace defines Anxiety as being “…fearful or apprehensive of something bad happening that it affects you physically.”(p5) It is something that your body begins to suffer after your mind has processed your thoughts and feelings that you might have. I am no expert on how to deal with Anxiety but through my biblical studies, I was able to uncover the truth about how the Lord understands anxiety and fear.

The most related verse to anxiety is Proverbs 12:25 which reads:

“Anxiety weighs down the heart,but a kind word cheers it up.”

God understands anxiety as the weighing down of your heart, our heart full of worry, not knowing what is happening or if anyone can control what is going on. It feels like we are being brought to the ground under the burden of fear. When we live without a relationship with God, our lives feel out of control – we are fearful about what will happen because we live in a world where bad things do happen, when reality hurts us. God designed the cure for anxiety to be found in Jesus. Through Jesus we can come to the Father and find comfort and strength. The Lord will never abandon us in what we are facing. We might feel that the only person we can trust is ourselves and we want to be safe from other people.

Peter wrote to his fellow Christians who themselves were suffering the reality of this world and he instructs them:

 “Cast all your anxiety on him (God) because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7

Peter tells them and us today to cast or throw your anxiety to God because he cares and loves you. It is like throwing a bag full of books to a friend – the worries and fears that weigh your heart down, throw them to the Lord, and trust that he will catch them, hold them and deal with them. Even if we haven’t believed in Jesus; God is still there for us to come back to him. Come and receive his care, his love by completely trusting in him. It sounds easy to say trust in God, but without giving it a go how will we know?

What is the thing that causes anxiety or fear in your life? Throw it to the Lord because he cares and loves you. He loves you so much that he sent Jesus, his only son to die on the cross for you, so you can throw your fear of work, of health, of life to him and receive the hope and joy of eternal life.

Training in godliness…

We all know that physical exercise is part of a good and healthy lifestyle. Recently I have been attending the local gym and getting into a routine that requires commitment, lots of energy, and time. This level of commitment began to have a  strain on other things in my life and as a result I took a 2 week break from the gym.

Unfortunately, that break turned into 4 weeks. The time to ‘go to the gym’ was eventually squeezed out of my ‘life timetable’ – it has lost its place and is replaced by other things instead. Does it matter? Surely physical exercise comes in all different  forms, walking, cycling, football, cricket etc. Do I need to go back to the gym? How  do I get back into a rhythm of doing 30mins on the bike or 20 mins at level 15 on a  cross-trainer? To begin with – it’s going to be hard – but eventually I’ll get back into the habit.  

Paul wrote these verses to his young apprentice Timothy:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but  godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present  life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:7-8). 

Paul reminds Timothy about his priorities – training yourself to be godly. It is amazing how physical exercise, Marathons, Football, Rugby, Tennis etc, have  become an idol or ‘mini god’ in people’s lives. They become part of the ‘ timetable of life’ and tend to replace spiritual growth and faith. I want to be  clear, all these are great things and God created all things to be good (as Paul  reminds us earlier in 4:4-5), but when they become a priority over our  commitment to the Lord, we must remember what is more important – getting  a hat-trick on Sunday – or growing and living in hope of eternal life through  faith in Jesus Christ?  

Physical training has value but growing in godliness is vital. Physical training has a limit, our bodies wear out – eventually our bodies will die – but growing  in our spiritual life, growing in our ability to pray, depending more of our lives  by faith in Jesus, reading and shaping our lives by the Bible, God’s Word, we are living our current life in obedience to the Lord, including our physical  exercise; and we are preparing for eternal life promised to those who have  faith in Jesus. When we get out of the ‘habit’ of gathering to worship or when it  is squeezed out of the timetable – it is difficult to get back into a rhythm, our  training in godliness suffers. We get blinded by our sin and the world around  us that we forget about what Jesus has done with our sins on the cross.  

It is so easy to conform to the world, to listen to myths, olds wives tales and get carried along with the crowd to Decathlon and Sports Direct and forget to gather with your brothers and sisters to worship the living God. It is vital to offer our prayers to our Father, to be taught from the Word through Jesus the  Son and go out to witness by the power of the Holy Spirit, to nourish,  encourage and grow each other as the body of Christ, the church. 

Focus on your godly training, get back into godly ‘habits’ and be a real witness to the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Loving difficult people…

Conflict is something that I real struggle with and I know that I’m not alone. The other day, I was watched two people arguing about one of them jumping a queue in the local supermarket. The one who committed the crime was taking no responsibility and showing fingers and using abussive language. This is not unique. There are so many people in our society today who have no respect or are nasty for no apparent reason. So how do we cope with these people? How can we grow to love them? Are you someone who has become difficult to love?

I read a great little book called “How to love difficult people” by William Smith. It is part of the CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) series. (See picture).

Smith starts his solution by saying:

Learning to love difficult people starts with understanding that you (like me) are hard to love too.

We need to accept that we are not perfect and we can be difficult to love too. We sin like everyone else and to be humbled by that truth is the starting point to loving others who are like us. As Isaiah 53:6 reminds us:

We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all (NIV)

God sees us as difficult people, who are sinful, rebellious and selfish, like sheep, but he had a plan to reconcile us back to him. He sent Jesus as the good shepherd to gather us back to himself. God’s goal is to gather these difficult people into his fold. Do you think God gives up after a week, month, year? Why should we? We need to keep praying for the people in our lives who we find difficult- that they encounter his unfailing love. Don’t quit, but pursue. Be encouraging, pursue areas of growth, pursue them for their own sake and love them even if they don’t love you in return. I leave the last words to Paul and use them as a prayer for what you are going through:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 15:5-6 NIV)

Amen

C.H.Spurgeon on Genesis 24:63

Over the last 2 years, I have been fed by the wonderful wisdom that C.H. Spurgeon has provided in his “Morning and Evening Prayer”. For the Morning of the 15th August, Spurgeon takes us into middle of Genesis with this very specific verse:

63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.

Spurgeon draws out the importance of meditation and specifically, the location and time that should be devoted to it. He brings to light this amazing statement:

“If those who spend so many hours in idle company, light reading, and useless pastimes, could learn wisdom, they would find more profitable society and more interesting engagements in meditation than in the vanities which now have such charms for them”. C.H. Spurgeon. Morning Prayer 15th August.

Spurgeon emphasises that the time we have and the way we use it has a huge impact in the way we view our own lives and how we treat God. The amount of time we can spend watching ‘trash’ TV or playing games on our mobile phones – including the trend of catching Pokemon – is remarkable. We become slaves to our own pastimes and we find it very difficult to leave our phones alone for more than 5 minutes.

When was the last time you went for a walk without your phone or computer? When did you last go into a field and give praise to God for the beauty of his creation and grace he gives to us so freely?

I have recently discovered that I am spending 5-6 hours a day just sat in my study – working on my computer – this is not healthy – this is not spending time meditating and enjoying and receiving the wisdom of God through his Word. Spurgeon raises this issue:

“Our little rooms are neither so healthy, so suggestive, so agreeable, or so inspiring as the fields.” C.H. Spurgeon. Morning Prayer 15th August.

We are to meditate in the field – spend an hour in the evening everyday and go for a walk – giving thanks to God for the day you have had, for sending the Lord Jesus Christ to be our Saviour and for giving us the wisdom found in his word. In the Urban climate I am him – Spurgeon does say – The Lord is found in the crowded streets too.

Where do you spend time in meditation on God’s Word? It is vital we spend time reflecting and growing closer to the Lord instead of growing more dependant on disposable ‘charms’.