Looking at Relationships through Jesus’ Lenses

Hello all.

I have been discussing with several people recently how difficult I have been finding relationships. Relationships of all kinds, with all sorts of people. And how much I struggle to know and understand what God thinks about that particular issue, especially when that comes to pragmatics.

For example:

What should I do when deciding how to prioritise friendships?

How can I help my brothers and sisters to better serve God?

How does God want me to react when a colleague is out of line?

How should I behave when I’m unsure about where I stand with somebody?

All these questions are ones which I’ve encountered over the past few years. Having pondered over various issues like these, finding answers difficult to come by, and wishing someone had written a good Christian book on this can of worms, I thought to myself “why don’t I try to answer my own questions” (by referring to God through His word, obv)?

Although this is pretty brief, I’d like to consider these things more (time-permitting)! I know I don’t have all the answers and will not pretend to be an authority on anything but, wherever I can, I will appeal to Christ as my authority using His Word.

I was thinking recently about the “greatest commandment” which is given as not an optional extra but as a mandate to all who would “esteem others more highly than himself” (Philippians 2:3). What I was reflecting on is going back to basics but this was a helpful reminder for me.

Jesus, when He was here, somehow managed to live alongside us and yet remain sinless (Hebrews 4:15), which I believe is quite an amazing thing when I consider how many times I sin against or in relation to people.

He makes it clear in Mark 12:30-31 that if you truly strive to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, loving your neighbour naturally follows on from it. The NKJV version says in this passage that loving people is like loving God (“the second [commandment is] like it (Mark 12:31)). If you love God, you will want to love people. This basically means that you cannot love your neighbour well without loving God well first. If your relationships are suffering, perhaps (not always!) the root cause is that your relationship with God is suffering. This is something that I don’t meditate nearly enough on!

As Jesus gives us this mandate, loving others well must be attainable, but only through loving God first. You can see this in the pattern of the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21)– the first is to worship God and no other (v6-7). And all the rest follow on from that.

For example, if you were to covet your neighbour’s donkey (v21), you would not be loving your neighbour.

And you would not be loving your neighbour because you would not be loving God properly.

And you would not be loving God properly because you would be more concerned with what you can gain than with what God has already given you.

We love people poorly when our love for God is faint, like a flickering candle. When the candle blows out and we are not loving Him, it is difficult to love others well and be a witness to them. This is not to say that non-Christians do not know what it is to love others – many love others better than Christians do. But having the superior example of what true love is – Christ on the Cross (1 John 4:9-10) – shows us that standard by which we are to love and forgive others.

It goes to follow that the more we love God, the more that love will overflow into love for others. And the more we are made like Jesus, the more we will want to love others. In summary, I want to love others better by loving God best. I want to strive to know him better (Philippians 3:10), to love Him more and through it, to love others more. And it’s fruitless for me to try to do this in any way except through Jesus.

 

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Keep Your Heart With All Diligence

I receive devotional emails every day and thought this one was particularly helpful, so thank you to Lee Dodd for sending it to me.

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

He who would keep his heart pure and holy must plant a sentinel at every avenue by which sin may find access there, guarding against none more than the “little” sins, as they are called. The man of God has his eyes to keep, and so Job said, “I have made a covenant with mine eyes”—, and his tongue, and hence the exhortation, “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile”; —his ears as welland hence the warning, “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err”; —his feet, and hence David says, “I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep Thy word.” And since there is no gate of the five senses by which the enemy may not come in like a flood, unless the Spirit Lift up a standard against him, we have need to guard every port, and write over every portal, “Here there entereth nothing to hurt or to defile.”

~ Thomas Guthrie

God: The All-Good

I just thought I’d post a prayer that I read a minute or two ago from The Valley of Vision (book of Puritan prayers) (you can buy it here  – http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/item_detail.php?4461 or read the prayers as devotions online here – http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/dailydevotion.php ).

MY GOD,

Thou hast helped me to see,
that whatever good be in honour and rejoicing,
how good is He who gives them,
and can withdraw them;
that blessedness does not lie so much
in receiving good from and in Thee,
but in holding forth Thy glory and virtue;
that it is an amazing thing to see Deity
in a creature, speaking, acting,
filling, shining through it;
that nothing is good but Thee,
that I am near good when I am near Thee,
that to be like Thee is a glorious thing:
This is my magnet, my attraction.

Thou art all my good in times of peace,
my only support in days of trouble,
my one sufficiency when life shall end.

Help me to see how good Thy will is in all,
and even when it crosses mine
teach me to be pleased with it.

Grant me to feel Thee in fire, and food and every providence,
and to see that Thy many gifts and creatures
are but Thy hands and fingers taking hold of me.

Thou bottomless fountain of all good,
I give myself to Thee out of love,
for all I have or own is thine,
my goods, family, church, self,
to do with as Thou wilt,
to honour Thyself by me, and by all mine.

If it be consistent with Thy eternal counsels,
the purpose of Thy grace,
and the great ends of Thy glory,
then bestow upon me the blessings of
Thy comforts;

If not, let me resign myself to
Thy wiser determinations.

That’s something I definitely need to pray more.

God is even Sovereign over the rioting… and men are just doing what they do best.

In light of the recent riots, I thought I’d throw in my two cents. Or rather copy someone else’s. I was just reading this:

http://www.afaithtoliveby.com/2011/08/09/anarchy-in-the-uk-how-should-christians-think-and-respond-to-last-nights-events/

which a friend tweeted and it reminded me of a prayer I read last night:

“O God, whose will conquers all… I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal, and it delights me to leave them there… O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back at every moment, we should be devils incarnate.” *

The blog post said this: “We are not surprised by the events of the last few nights (although we are saddened and shocked) because as Christians we recognise the doctrine of total depravity when we see it.” – It’s true – Job 5:7 says “Yet man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.”

This doesn’t make the rioters’ behaviour more acceptable but reminds us of its root: the problem we have as people is our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) – they are rotten and desperately sick, and only God can give us new ones (Ezekiel 36:26).

What’s going to change the face of this nation isn’t rioting or not rioting or executing justice on the rioters or social reform; only God and His Gospel can do that. Along with safety and solace for those affected by the riots**, that’s what we need to pray for at this time – salvation for all people everywhere, even and especially the rioters – and it’s probably the most important thing we could ever pray for.

* The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, The Banner of Truth trust, 1975.

** I feel especially sorry for this guy – see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8692463/London-riots-in-ashes-a-firm-that-survived-two-world-wars.html

A Couple of Top Hymns by a Toplady

Last Sunday I was in Bath at Widcombe Baptist Church where I heard a brilliant sermon on Genesis 28 – it hasn’t been uploaded yet but do check it out when it’s up at http://www.widcombebaptistchurch.org/sermons_2011.php. There we sang a couple of brilliant hymns by Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778 – he was only 38 when he died!). Wikipedia tells me that he was an Anglican cleric and hymn writer from Farnham in Surrey. He was apparently a major Calvinist (which really shines through his words) and an opponent of the famous John Wesley.

I reckon the extent of the ostentatiousness of his name is matched by the quality of his hymns – the theology in the two I mention below is just so good. The first we sang was the well known “Rock of Ages”:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

The second hymn, “A Sov’reign Protector I Have”, is less well known but so helpful and true. We sang it to the tune of “A Debtor to Mercy Alone”, also a boss hymn.

A Sov’reign Protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and Hearer of prayer,
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my Shield and my Sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind Author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defense Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

– Anyway, these are definitely words that will benefit us if we ponder them and thank God for their veracity. Enjoy.

Piper on Humility and God’s Help

I’ve been watching such a helpful Q&A session from the Desiring God National Conference 2010 (the theme being “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God” – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/speaker-panel-with-piper-anyabwile-chan-and-mohler – (btw Francis Chan’s face at 18:17 after Al Mohler has finished speaking is priceless!) and was just so struck by some things John Piper was saying during it. He is just so challenging and yet so encouraging. Here’s some of what was said:

“Probably the first thing to say is that God is in charge of keeping His people humble, not us. The Bible does say “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”, but as in almost all other things, “command what you will and give what you command.” So, you may, I think, expect that God will deal roughly with you if He has to, in order to remind you that you’re not God, and that you are desperately in need of Him.

… I don’t know why God has been pleased to release influence –  through me the way He has when I look at the [natural] limitations [I have].  I can’t read faster than I can talk. Everybody thinks I’m a scholar –  I’m not a scholar! … I have learned to navigate my limitations and just do the few things I can do as well as I can. And I’m just always thinking about what I can’t do! I just wake up in the morning and think about what I can’t do!

So God, I think, fits us with weaknesses. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, He leads us in His providence, yes, even in and out of sin, and does what He has to do to break us. God is in charge of keeping us humble and He loves us so much,  (Hebrews 12) that if you are a child and you are not yet disciplined, you may be a bastard. Those are strong words; if you haven’t been spanked hard enough to come to blood, then maybe you’re not even a child.

We leaders here believe in a certain vision of God’s sovereign grace. There’s not a thing in you or me that inclined God to choose you for Himself. Nothing! There’s not a thing in you that inclined God to cause you to be born again. Nothing! There’s not a thing in you that secures your eternal destiny. Nothing! It is totally free

Our theology is meant to flatten us (1 Cor 1:29-30). Salvation is designed  in a way to cut the legs from all human boasting. It’s designed in that way. The new Calvinism is about smashing human pride and giving glory to God! What is the  meaning of the death of the Son of God? It means I am unspeakably lost –  it took that much to save me! Anybody who lives near the cross isn’t going to put His thumbs in his armpits and strut! He’s not going to brag about his stuff, not going to talk a lot about his achievements but he’s just looking at that incredible horror and saying “that’s how corrupt I am!”

And the Cross has another message – and it’s good news!That’s how much I’m loved. And it’s free. THE biggest challenge theologically and experientially for us is to feel loved, unworthily. To get up in the morning and to be thrilled to be alive and to be thrilled to know God, totally undeservingly – that’s the challenge. Because I’m wired to want to be thrilled because I got a book, or had a conference, or gave a message… the constant clawing at my ego to find my meaning and my significance in other people’s reckoning of what I’ve done. God’s going to do it whether you want Him to or not. He’s just going to flatten you.  He’s gonna do whatever He has to do, to just flatten you, so that you are desperate before Him.

And secondly. He’s gonna work through a conference like this, and books here and there and movements, to get you a theology. And He’s gonna put Himself so massively at the centre, it would have never occurred to you to put yourself there. And then He’s gonna take you to the Cross, over, and over, and over again to remind you of how “un-saveable” you are apart from that horrific crucifixion, and how much you are AMAZINGLY loved. There is no escape from this battle, and so we must pray hard for each other all the time.”

All I have and All I Am Are His

Just a quick note!

I’ve had to do a fair bit of reflecting about the past year for my third and final Relay conference next week and things have been becoming quite hard, in respect to thinking about the future. I woke up this morning and the future felt quite bleak – and was then reminded by Psalm 127:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

I was also reminded by Lou Fellingham’s song based on this psalm (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryip0dD1uoo) that all I have and all I am belong to God. I think Luther picks up on this when applying the marriage vows to our relationship with God and the way in which He has redeemed us and made us righteous. The bridegroom says to His bride, “all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you”. He takes all my sin and gives me His perfection.

He has been building my life, not me! Every blessing I have had this year has come entirely from Him, and I can see that so clearly because I didn’t even really plan to come to Preston in the first place – rather I felt an overwhelming conviction that God was calling me to leave Liverpool because I kept wrestling with the idea for so long.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labour in it in vain.” I can try to build my house all I like, but unless God has planned it, it’s in vain!

I’m so very blessed by God in all that He’s given me this year, and I pray that I don’t forget those blessings. I’ve been finding it a bit weird over the past few days (and since leaving Liverpool) both to leave people and to see people leave, but seeing people I’ve come to know and love leave is just part of life. Ultimately, what God wants is my sanctification (1 Thes 4:3), and since everything that works in my life is fulfilling His purposes (Romans 8:28), seeing people come and go is part of His plan, in which He is making me more like the Lord Jesus. The friendships I’ve had over this last year are a mere shadow of the friendship God gives to me. “The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Greater love has nobody than that. The transience of life and the temporary nature of things within it now point me to the permanence of eternity.

“So we do not lose heart…. for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Soli Deo Gloria.