Category Archives: Bible Reflections

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Good Friday Sermon – in memory of Bronwyn Chin (who convinced us to go into ministry)

TheUnexpectedGOd

Here is my Good Friday sermon. I wrote and preached it for the glory of Jesus but also in memory of Bronwyn Chin (who convinced us to go into full time ministry 13 years ago and is now in glory)

Thank you for finding this post and if you are looking for details for Bronwyn’s Memorial Service, please click here

Please stop burdening us with more rules and regulations!

Monday and Tuesday’s REAP passages were Galatians 5 and 6!  I thought that it would be helpful to reflect on those passages particularly as I want to address something I have seen around Christian circles and even my own SPCH.

Before we get there, let me briefly explain what’s going on in the letter. A controversy arose over the issue of circumcision:  Paul’s opponents were compelling the Galatians to be circumcised (6:12).  Although circumcision is itself a morally indifferent act (5:6; 6:15), it signifies the adoption of Jewish observances.  Galatians is the objection against those who compelled the Gentile Galatians to live like Jews (2:14; cf 2:3-4).  Can you begin to see what’s going on?  Paul’s fundamental concern is the preservation of the truth of the Gospel.  And we see it again in 2:15-16-> that the only way to justification is by faith in Christ.  The Galatian church has stuffed up the doctrine of faith.  Christ’s death would be emptied of its significance if justification were through the law (2:21).  So what’s Paul saying? Don’t adopt the way of life as described by the Old Testament law because justification is only by faith in Christ and not by living according to works of the law-this is at the heart of the gospel. 

My concern is that today, even though we are Christians living by the Gospel of grace, I always keep finding the well-meaning and godly Christians keep pushing us down paths of slavery to rules and regulations. WE Christians are saved by faith AND WE are to live by that same FAITH.  We’re saved by our 100% trust in God’s grace and we live by that same 100% trust in God’s grace.

And this principle: Saved and live by Grace is something which liberates our Christian life.  If every aspect of our life flows out of God’s gracious work on our behalf, then we’re freed and liberated from the tyranny of self-righteousness.

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Now, often the desire to create rules for Christians to live by, arises out of a real desire to be “above reproach” and “not causing others to stumble”.  Moreover, I firmly believe they do not think it is based upon works righteousness.  However, to the un-discerning, the matter does become muddied and the end result is that Christans are unwittingly yoked again to slavery to rules, regulations and laws.

So, if Christ has set us free, what has he set us free to do?

We are set free to love.

Love is the great concept which binds together the whole Christian moral framework.  We don’t need rules and regulations to be complete because Christianity is PRIMARILY AND FUNDAMENTALLY about a faithful relationship with Jesus.  If we truly have faith in Christ and the trust the sufficiency of God’s grace, then the love we have for God can be real.  If the heart of the gospel were not justification by faith, then our love for God would be empty.  God’s grace means our only response can be of affection and love towards God.

I’ve got to say: the Christian life isn’t some mushy love-fest, but rather it is the genuine expression of faith and grateful love. Having a ministry shaped by God’s grace does not mean antinomianism or offering a license to sin. What does love look like?  If you understand God’s grace, you can’t be lead by your own desires, BECAUSE when we trust God His Spirit is what leads us and changes us and not the law.  What does faith expressing itself through love look like?  Look at 5:22-3 the fruit of the Spirit –

5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there’s no law.

It’s an obedience to God born out of faith and love towards him.

And this freedom to love God means we are free to act outwardly also.

5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

We already know that it is only God who graciously changes people, our response to Him is love.  This means that our outward response to others is to rely on God’s grace to change them which expresses itself in our free love towards them. 

5:14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Freedom to love?

My plea is not for more compendiums or rule books outlining acceptable Christian behaviour. What is needed is a proper understanding of the freedom of the Christian and delight in our freedom in love.  The love of God, expressed in God’s grace frees us both to truly love God and one another.

“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” Martin Luther

That crazy Ezekiel!

We are currently reading through Ezekiel in REAP.  The Book of Ezekiel is long, politically convoluted and sometimes exegetically obtuse! It is written by what some commentators have described as an “oddball” prophet, Ezekiel.  However, Ezekiel is part of God’s word and for that, at the very least, Ezekiel’s voice demands to be heard today.

One of the things you will notice are some of the things God gets Ezekiel to do.  These are called sign-acts.  Sign-acts refer to the way the prophet embodies and dramatises a particular prophetic message.  Ezekiel has some of the best and bizarre sign-acts in all of the Bible. Here are a few (but not all) of them . . .

  • Lying on his side for a number of days, then switching to the other side, symbolising the years of exile for both Israel and Judah (4:4-8) – with 390 days on his left side!!!
  • Cooking food over human excrement (but later cow manure), symbolising the ‘unclean’ food they’ll eat whilst in exile (4:9-15)
  • Shaving, weighing, dividing, chasing around with a sword, and burning his own hair, symbolising the judgement coming against them (5:1-4)
  • Packing his luggage, saying bye and digging a hole in the wall to go into exile (12:1-7)
  • God takes Ezekiel’s wife and then God commands him not to mourn or weep over his wife’s death, symbolising that God will destroy the temple and also that God will not mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and/or the Temple (24:15-27).

My mind is often drawn to these kinds of interesting (and sometimes humorous) things.  However, in order to get the best understanding you can for the book, I recommend that you read it in big chunks (one sitting if that’s possible!). I want encourage you to read it patiently and carefully, being prepared to encounter an unfamiliar world. This is a daunting task but it will put you into a good position to know the flow and purpose of the book as well as how each passage will fit into the wider arc of the book and of the Bible.

Here is a list of books that could help you read Ezekiel better:

  1. Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24 – NICOT
  2. Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48 – NICOT
  3. Ezekiel in Dumbrell’s, Faith of Israel
  4. Ezekiel in New Bible Dictionary
  5. Ezekiel in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology

 

 

 

Godly Heritage

Heritage has to do with what we have inherited from the past and also what is reserved for future generations. It’s what’s formed us in the past through our backgrounds and it’s the direction we have shaped ourselves for in the future.  The word itself is easy enough to understand but the concept especially applied to us is difficult to grasp.

I think probably the main reason why the concept of heritage is so difficult for us is that we now live in an iWorld – the individualistic world. In the iWorld, we so value individualism that we cut ourselves from relationships, relationship with God and relationship with one another. The “I” is most important; “I” define who I am by what I consume rather than who I am in relation to others. And when we think of ourselves in isolation of others, we also cut ourselves off from our relations in the past and in the future.

In the Bible (especially the OT), people are spoken of in relation to others. Actually, we see this for example in the genealogies are all the way through and people are introduced and described in relation to their families and clans. Look at Saul in 1 Samuel 9

There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites”

Because of our iWorld, we don’t think of ourselves as the ‘child of so and so’, the ‘grandchild of so and so’, ‘belonging to a particular clan’ – basically we don’t think in terms of heritage. That’s just not the way we think! When I introduce myself, I’m Eric – me and me alone. No connections, nothing. Just me. My identity is not linked to any other, especially those in the past. We don’t think we’re bound by the past or that we’re bound for anything in the future – because I am the center of my world. In our world, we like to think of ourselves as “self made”. As the product of the iWorld, we’re losing the concept of heritage.

But in the rWorld – the way that the Bible sets for us to live – in relationships. In the rWorld, the idea of heritage has to do with locating and building our identity around those we are related to in the past, the present and even in future. Building a godly heritage will mean that we will work hard at shaping our character and actions according to the Bible to make a positive impact on future generations.

The Love that creates an rWorld

God’s plan for the world is not an iWorld, but rather he created us for an rWorld – relational world.  The Bible points out that we’re made for relationships and we find our deepest satisfaction not when seeking self-fulfillment but when living and engaging in the full constellation of healthy human relationships that God has blessed us with – for an rWorld.

What makes the rWorld work?  What would drive it? What would be its essential ingredient? It’s love.

However, the love we’re speaking of is not the icky, syrupy, teenage kind of puff love.  To create our rWorld, we need the kind of love that comes only from God – a kind of love that characterizes God, the love that gives life, the love that builds and transforms community. And this love is grounded in the triune nature of God.

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

‘God is love’ gives us a clue to the kind of trinitarian love we are thinking of. For ‘God is love’ does not mean that love itself is God, nor that anything done lovingly is in and of itself divine, nor that God is reduced to this concept of love.  While it is true that God is loving, that all his thoughts and actions are done in love… BUT ‘God is love’ encapsulates so much more.

‘God is love’ is a description of the very essence of God, his very nature, what’s intrinsic within himself.  God is a triune communion of persons – He is Trinity consisting of Father, Son and Spirit.  Love is intrinsic to who he is. Love is more than just attributes like grace, mercy, justice, holiness;

We see all of these attributes in how God relates to creatures, in the way God relates to us.  So for example, we see His wrath when he relates to sinners, as the expression of his holiness in response to human sin.

However, love belongs to who he is in himself in the undivided communion of the three persons of the godhead. Internally, within the Trinity: the Father always loves the Son; the Son always loves the Father;  the Father always loves the Holy Spirit; the Spirit always loves the Father; the Son always loves the Spirit; and the Spirit always loves the Son.  This reciprocal love of the three persons exists in the unbreakable union of the undivided Trinity.[1]

So going back to 1 John 4v7-8:

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

This love that drives the rWorld, must be grounded in God’s love. It comes from the intimate knowledge of God, from being born again of the Holy Spirit – using the apostle John’s language. The God who is love has made us in his image, and although that image is damaged by sin, we’re renewed by God’s Spirit dwelling in us and making us like his Son.

So if we’re serious about creating an rWorld, then we need to rethink the way we view ourselves – our nature and our purpose. We are relational beings, created in God’s image – to love one another in community. That’s what’s ‘natural’ for God’s children.


[1] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 477.

What we ought to be preaching to a hurting and needy world

I’m writing this post 5 hours after the doctors had administered a paralysis drug into mother-in-law just minutes before they were to switch off her life support.  Shocking, I know!  However, 5 hours ago, I was writing a sermon and pondering the kind of sermon ought we be preaching to our church.  The problem is that today’s preachers are just torn in trying to work out how and what to preach.  Everyone has an opinon about what’s wrong with our preaching!  For example, when you read some of the Christian luminaries, they say things like:

“… at the end of the day people are not asking about the five points of Calvinism, the trichotomy or dichotomy of the Spirit or the peccability/impeccability of Christ!  They are asking “why is my life falling apart?”  Or, “how do I get past the fact that I was sexually molested when I was eight?”  Or, “how do I, as a single mom, lead and provide for my family?” (Perry Noble from his blog)

And 5 hours ago, before the phone call, I tended to agree, to an extent. We live in a world racked by sin and death and decay.  We live in a world where we and the people we love suffer, grieve and are victims of other barbaric and violent sinful humans.  But now after 5 hours of reflection and prayer and crying out to God in pain, I dare suggest (and with the greatest of respect for Perry Noble and co) that to preach a needs centred, how-do-i-cope-with-life message to God’s church is a cop out.  And I say this not because I am some expert in preaching or some guru in solving the world-wide church’s problems, but as we’re currently going through a crisis, here is what I want to hear:

I want to hear of a God who is mightier, stronger, more loving, more majestic, more gracious than anything or anyone I could ever wish for or imagine.  I want to hear of the the God who is holy, holy, holy (Isa 6). I want to get to know the God who is all powerful, omni-potent, omni-prescent, eternal, unchanging .  I want to hear of the God who is the divine and soveriegn King of unrivalled power, holiness, love and glory.

This God is the one who doesn’t owe us, is not manipulated by our demands or instructions, and is not dependent on us in any way.  This God is the one “who made the world and everything in it and doesn’t live in temples made by humans, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17).  This is the God who freely gives salvation by sending His Son Jesus to die for us.  This the God who if is for us then no one and nothing could stand against us (Romans 8).

Unfortuately if our preaching is not grounded in this God then all the psycho-analysis and all the useful life-skills and all the world’s wisdom just seems trite and limp and lame and even pathetic.

I want to know how to make sense of people being struck down in their prime.  I want to help people whom Perry Noble is speaking of.  But the answers to our problems are not sociological or pschycological … instead our answers are theological as they lie in turning back to God and every fibre of our being putting our trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. Our preaching must as it’s primary focus be bringing the church into the presence of God.  For it is only when we are God-centrered and knowing God who has revealed himself to us in Christ, will we truly find God-centred and God-honouring solutions to the most dificult of our life’s problems.

I’m sorry for my rant.  But I hope this helps!  Also my sincerest thanks to all who have been supporting Viv and myself over the last few weeks, and especially the last 5 hours.  My mother-in-law has had a miraculous late rally, but the doctors still don’t think she’ll make the night.  Thankfully, God is in control and in his loving-kindness he will do what is best for her.

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