Friday, 3 July 2015

Hello there. How have you been? I thought it would be good to remind you that we have relocated and that our blog is now integrated with our biblebase website. if you haven't yet visited us over there do come and see how we are doing. It is still in the early stages but its taking shape.

We would hate to lose you so please do sign up for reminders to the blogs on the new site, if you haven't already done so. We have some exciting (for me) plans ahead and would love you to be part of them.

Come and join us? Click here to be redirected but do remember to sign up for reminders of future blogs on the new blog site. Thank you.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Just a quick note. We are in process of moving our blog to WordPress. Please follow the URL link and subscribe to the new feed. We are hopeful that we will be able to improve your blog-reading experience. The material from this blog will be moved, ultimately, to the new blog. This will bring things under one roof and make it easier to maintain. Thank you for your faithful following... Please come and see what we are doing. Click HERE

Friday, 11 July 2014

Bring Here Thy Wounded Heart

Relics of the Salvation Army
Back in October 2006 I was at a wedding in Exeter UK. The venue was the old Salvation Army 'Temple' in Exeter which is a fascinating building. I was almost distracted from the wedding by the furniture. Stretching the whole width of the hall, approx 40 feet, was a beautifully polished 'Penitent Form'. This was the 'altar' of the Salvation Army where souls were encouraged to 'get right with God'. The 'form' is really not intended for 'sitting' but to put your elbows on as you kneel.

In 2 foot high letters of gold it carried the words..


...split into the two halves of the Penitent Form and consequently spread right across the width of the hall.

A little lower, and in the centre of the text, in slightly smaller letters were two more golden words


The Salvation Army Sunday meetings used to be a 'Holiness Meeting' in the morning and a 'Salvation Meeting' in the evening. This beautiful old piece of furniture is a 'relic' from the days when we believed people needed to 'repent' to come to Christ and presumed that if God was not already at work in their 'wounded hearts' they would not wish to come.

The Salvation Army officers did not 'counsel' the enquirers but knelt with them to 'pray through' until they came to personal conviction that God had heard their cries for mercy; hence it was often called the 'Mercy Seat'. Whether they came for 'Salvation' or for 'Holiness' they came to the same place; to Christ alone, with their wounded hearts.

It sat there through the whole (wonderful) wedding almost transfixed by the silent testimony of the days when God was expected to move in people's lives and bring them 'broken hearted' to the cross.

Have we lost something...?

Friday, 27 June 2014

“It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

In George Orwell's devastating critique of totalitarianism, 1984, one of the party workers has been given the job of culling the dictionary. The strategy is to make 'thoughtcrime' impossible by the removal of words that describe things forbidden by the party. Words like 'freedom' and 'rebellion'. If there are no words then there will be no thoughts, or so the theory goes. As he removes the words the party worker says the words at the head of this blog.

There is another famous quotation from the same book which declares "but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.". Together the two quotations describe a brilliant propaganda strategy. Either remove the words altogether or, as an alternative, continue to use the word but redefine them. What does this have to do with us? Much, in every way.

Let's remove some words, shall we?. Sin? an old fashioned concept surely. Judgment? Not a word we hear much in the normal course of our lives is it? Adultery? Covetousness? Holiness? "it's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words". Remarkably 'freeing'. Of course we shall need to redefine the word 'free'. But that's not difficult and when we have corrupted the word we have corrupted thoughts and made communication all but impossible. What a strategy. Corrupt the language, corrupt the thinking processes. Break up the whole communication process. What a strategy.

It's not only in evangelism that we are struggling. Word's are dropping out of our Bibles; concepts are vanishing. "the old man" has disappeared from almost all modern versions. New words are being introduced instead with entirely different meanings. "the self"; a Freudian psychology concept. When is a Bible no longer a Bible?

There is a battle on, brothers and sisters. Time to wake up and enlist.

In desperation the psalmist asked a question;
If the foundations are destroyed,

What can the righteous do? Psa 11:3 NKJV.

A word of assurance came to his heart...
The LORD is in His holy temple,

The LORD’S throne is in heaven; Psa 11:4 NKJV.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Digging Deeper into Disciples Pt 2

The word disciple is not only a noun as in disciple it is also a verb meaning 'to become a disciple' or 'to cause someone to become a disciple'. It is used in this way in...
Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. Matt 27:57 NKJV.
Young's Literal Translation has...
And evening having come, there came a rich man, from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was discipled to Jesus, Matt 27:57 YNG.
Did you notice the emphasis? He was not a 'disciple of Jesus' in a general sort of a way. He was personally 'discipled to Jesus'. Joseph of Arimathea was not ' a distant camp-follower' of Jesus Christ he had become 'yoked' to him and was 'learning' from him. No doubt there were many who had had this kind of encounter with Christ and had come 'under his yoke' and whose lives were now 'at his disposal'.

The verb, rather than the noun, is used again in the next chapter of Matthew.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matt 28:19 NKJV.
That is a commission to bring men and women of all nations to the event in which they bow their neck to the yoke of Jesus Christ. There is no hint here that this was expected to be a long process of catechising resulting in this surrender. The form of the verb here indicates that this has a 'point' in view rather than a process. Youngs Literal Translation has an interesting use of parentheses here...
having gone, then, disciple all the nations, (baptizing them — to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all, whatever I did command you,) and lo, I am with you all the days — till the full end of the age.’ Matt 28:19–20 YNG.
The significance of that is the implication that the way in which men and women were to be brought into discipleship to Jesus Christ was water baptism and teaching them to obey Christ's commands. This is personal surrender and personal tutelage at the hands of Jesus Christ.

This is not the last use of the verb in the Acts.
And when they (Paul and Barnabas) had preached the gospel to that city (Derbe) and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, Acts 14:21 NKJV.
It is a challenging account. They 'evangelised the city' and 'discipled many'. We are not to think of modern discipling patterns when we read that account. They evangelised the city and brought many to the event of surrendering their lives and rights to Jesus Christ. Little wonder that such a truth and such a church planting practice turned the world upside down.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Digging Deeper into Disciples Pt 1

This is a kind of Post Script to the last blog and may be a little technical for some but if you read past the bits that are over your head you should still see why I am blogging this topic.

In modern church life we hear quite a bit about 'discipling young converts'. It has become the adopted pattern of many churches. I want to examine that concept. Not to criticise any attempt to encourage younger believers but because I think it can obscure an important Biblical truth.

The word 'disciple' is used over 250 times in the New Testament. It is scattered throughout the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles but vanishes without trace after a passing reference to an early believer whose name was Mnason.
Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge. Acts 21:16 NKJV.
So why does this word never make it into the epistles? I think the answer to that is really quite simple. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles recount the story of the beginnings of many a pilgrimage. To become a disciple of Jesus Christ stands right at the beginning of that pilgrimage. By the time we reach the epistles we are addressing men and women who have already made their beginnings, they have already 'become disciples of Jesus Christ'. Consequently the writers all assume, safely, that the foundations are laid and the event of 'becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ' lies in the past.

There is a key pointer to becoming a disciple that is easily missed. It is the famous passage in which Christ declares that men and women can only know the Father through the Son and then encourages his hearers, whom he has just 'rebuked' for their lack of repentance, to come to him. If they come they will know the Father through the Son. We have an old hymn which captures the truth..
"Come to the Father
Through Jesus the Son
And give him the glory

Great things He has done'
They knew a thing or two those old hymn writers!

The Bible passage is well known to us.
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matt 11:27–30 NKJV.
That picture is of an event which leads immediately into a process. The word come is not in the imperative mood, as a command, but is a gentle encouragement. But the imperatives follow quickly.
  • Take my yoke upon you
  • and learn from me...
The word 'learn' is mathete. It is from the same root as mathētēs, disciple. Suddenly we discover that this well known passage is not just a word of gentle comfort but a call to arms! He encourages them to come to him and then spells out the implications. The only way we will ever know the Father is by being yoked to the Son and abiding under his rule. We discover that these precious verses have a bit more bite than we had expected. They are a call to radical life change as disciples to a single master. be continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Enough evidence to prove you guilty?

I love the word 'disciple'. I know what it means. Christ constantly defined the way in which his disciples were to live their lives. We can build a definition for the word 'disciple'. But what about "Christian"? It's a word with a long history and one that is increasingly difficult to define. Some years ago I read an advert in a 'Christian' magazine that was requesting "Christian software for a Christian hairdresser'. The advert bemused me. What is a 'Christian' hairdresser? How would we recognise a 'Christian' haircut?

As a teenager I had a Saturday job delivering groceries to customers of a small greengrocers. At one house I would be met by a small terrier that would throw itself at the gate and bark aggressively. A lady's head appeared over the gate who informed me "You're all right. He won't bite, he's a real Christian". A "Christian" Jack Russell Terrier! Some hope! The word has become so overused as to be virtually useless.

Some say "the Bible says a real "Christian" is ..." But the Bible hardly every uses the word Christian and never defines the word. We meet the same struggle when we ask someone "are you a Christian?" Almost invariably we mean 'was there a day when you made some choices?' The problem is that this creates a sort of working definition of Christian that implies it is something 'I did' usually some years ago. "Christian" is part of my history.

The first time the Bible does use the word is helpful and it does give us a kind of working definition of the word.
And when he (Barnabas) had found him (Paul), he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. Acts 11:26 NKJV.
So we do have a definition after all. A Christian is a disciple. It brings to mind the old question when being 'called a Christian' was becoming a criminal offence; "if you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to prove you guilty?"

The words "Christian" and "disciple" provoke different questions. The first provokes the question; "what has happened to you in the past"". The second provokes the question; "to whom do you belong today?"

The religious leaders of the day had a penetrating conversation with a newly healed man;
He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. John 9:25–28 NKJV.
They saw, with devastating clarity, that the two states were mutually exclusive. They still are.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to have chosen an extreme pattern of life. It is the choice that another will be my Teacher and that my life will be answerable to that Teacher alone.
Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? Acts 15:10 NKJV.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matt 11:29–30 NKJV.

The word 'learn' here has the same root as the word 'disciple'. I cannot be a disciple of Moses AND a disciple of Jesus Christ. I cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ AND be ruled by any other life mentor/coach. I cannot 'add' my relationship to him to any previous pattern of life.

And the challenge to us all is that we were not commissioned to 'go into all the world to make converts' but to bring men and women to the point of personal submission to Jesus Christ. If our converts were charged with the criminal offence of being a 'Christian' aka a 'disciple' would there be sufficient evidence to prove them guilty?

to be continued tomorrow...