Monthly Archives: January 2018

What can Christians Learn from Wonder Woman?

My wife Tracy received the DVD of the film ‘Wonder Woman’ as a present from her sister at Christmas.  I had no complaints whatsoever about that as we had seen the film at the cinema and it had been an enjoyable experience.  But watching the film again it occurred to me, not only  how good it was, but just how idealistic the character of Diana (Wonder Woman) is, which is conveyed by her thoughts and actions.After all,  without  giving too much  of the plot away, she finds herself  plucked from  her idealistic world  and plunged into the horrors of World War 1.  Not only that,  but  none of the generals want to listen to  a woman!  Yet, when given a mission, but  told she must not be swayed by the suffering  and death of civilian men, women and children  trapped behind enemy lines  because there is a greater overall  plan, her idealism automatically kicks in.  So she immediately stages a one-woman  rescue attempt.  This draws her  comrades into action and  vulnerable lives are saved and suffering is cut short!

Recently, in the evening, I’ve  just started  preaching  through the book of Revelation.   In 1:9-20 John has a vision  of the glorified  Christ  walking  among seven lampstands  which  represent seven Churches in Asia Minor.  Some of these Churches are doing well  in certain areas and badly in others.   One is visibly successful,  but  spiritually  dead.   Two look weak,  but are going to receive special  blessing.  As the number seven was seen as a symbol of completeness in Jewish  thinking, it doesn’t stretch our minds too far  to realise that this is  a picture of the ‘complete’ Church throughout the ages.  Both  the good and the bad within the Church is represented here.  But the key thing to note is this, Christ is walking among them!   Even if they are  sinning by tolerating  false teaching or immorality he has a message for them and is warning them and calling them to repentance and to be faithful to  the Gospel by not comprising it in any way !

My last post questioned  what  Orthodox Christians ought to do in the face of a situation where  Scripture is playing second fiddle to ‘good disagreement’  and ‘listening to experience’ in the debates within the Church.  Certain Church leaders have hijacked  what the Church should stand for as they are afraid of the offence that Scripture  can bring  and the flak  that will come the Church’s way if the full council of Scripture is preached.  But this passage gives us hope.   Christ does not want  to forsake his Church, but is calling on those who truly love him to stand up and be counted.   This can only be done by being  gracious  and firm about what we believe and praying for revival in our Churches.  Otherwise confusion reigns  when, at the best, neo-evangelicalism and neo-Orthodoxy hold sway, and  at the worst liberalism  is the order of the day.

So let’s learn a lesson from Wonder Woman’s   idealism  and stand up  for what we believe!    Let’s be prayerful and vocal by challenging anything contrary to Scripture  and praying for revival  in the Church.  The last Church  to receive a message from the risen and glorified Christ  is the Church  at  Laodicea.   They had grown cold  and apathetic,  yet Christ challenges them  to respond to him.  ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (Revelation 3:20).   This is a gracious  invitation  to a banquet, a veritable feast, not a five-minute snack, but a time of intimate  fellowship!   Even when the Church  wanders from  God’s Word  he longs to reconnect intimately with it.   So let’s be idealistic about  our belief in God’s Word and let’s pray for the revival  of the Church in  in this day and age!

 

Stepping out of a Difficult Situation.

Psalm 27

Background to the Psalm:

 David longs for closer fellowship with the Lord, to: ‘dwell in the house of the Lord’ as it were and be in a very different situation to the one he finds himself in.  There’s a sense that this is an experience that every believer may have at some point.  Some have argued for this having been two Psalms which have somehow ended up together, but James Montgomery Boice points out: ‘The first half of the Psalm (vv1-6) excludes confidence.  The second half (vv7-14) is a very moving prayer.’ [1]  The differing halves of the Psalm just reflect a changing mood so there’s no reason not link the two differing themes together.

The structure of the Psalm:

  • David places his confidence in the Lord in each and every situation (vs1-3).
  • David seeks closer fellowship with God which will act as protection for him (vs4-6).
  • David seeks the Lord to intercede for him through study of his Word (vs7-12).
  • David states his confidence in the Lord and urges others to have the same confidence (vs13-14).

Some obviations on the text (all quotations ESV):

The Psalm starts with two statements which, due to their nature, suggest the questions that follow them are rhetorical.  The first: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’ (v1) makes us think of Jesus’s statement: ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).  But what did David mean by it here?  The answer is in what he writes next which is:  ‘whom shall I fear?’  This shows his confidence in the goodness of God as he sees clarity in who God is and what he does, so how is it possible to fear?  He follows this statement by stating: ‘The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’  The beauty of this verse when coupled with Jesus’s statement is that if David has such confidence and security in the nature of God being light, how much more should we have in Jesus as he shows God’s purpose to us through his life, death and resurrection!  Many times David had been in a tight corner and under threat, so he language may be poetical, but the description shows there have been times where people of evil intent had sought to do him a great deal of harm!  Yet it is they who: ‘stumbled and fall’ (v2) not David!

Derek Kidner notes: ‘the singleness of purpose’ of verse 4.[2]  But how are we to understand it?  My feeling is that this is not an ambition to give up his Kingship and become a priest, but rather that he’s seeking a closer relationship with the Lord.  As Eric Lane points out, Psalm 23 may have been written when David was a Shepherd.  But it: ‘ended with the desire to dwell in the house the Lord for ever, which no one takes to mean David aspired to the office of priest everlastingly; everyone interprets it spiritually.’ [3]  However there is a more literal meaning in David’s longing.In Psalm 42 David is desperately missing the fellowship and joy of Tabernacle worship.  CS Lewis notes that very often in the Psalms for the writers: ‘Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and to “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst.’  He elaborates that: ‘Lacking that encounter with Him (God), their souls are parched like a waterless countryside.  They crave to be “satisfied with the pleasures” of His house.’[4]  There was something special about Tabernacle and Temple worship which we would be rash to dismiss in the context of various Psalms.  James Montgomery Boice, after highlighting CS Lewis’s views on the subject and noting Jesus’s comments in John 4:23-24, argues that: ‘There is something to be experienced of God in church that is not quite so easily experienced elsewhere.  Otherwise, why have churches?  If it is only instruction we need, we can get that as well by an audiotape or a book.  If it is only fellowship, we can find equally well, perhaps better, in a small home gathering.’[5]  For David, this was quality time, where he was unhurried in his meditation, prayer and fellowship.

The word: ‘For’ in verse 5 establishes a connection with David’s devotion to the Lord and his wish to spend time in the Tabernacle.  God is his protection which is picked up again in the phrase: ‘he will conceal me under the cover of his tent’.  The last part of the verse, and also verse 6, pictures David in an unassailable place where his enemies cannot reach him.  Therefore he will worship the Lord (v6).  The centrality of verse 4 is brought to the fore again as David speaks of offering sacrifices illustrating his joyful worship of God.  What David infers here is that our worship is a daily and constant thing.

In the second half of the Psalm David turns to prayer.  Verses 7-10 are a plea that the close relationship that David has been seeking with the Lord will continue as David seems to be experiencing some sort of opposition or difficulty.  Whether verse 10 is to be taken literally seems unlikely.  The prayer starts with the request that God hear him and be gracious to him.  This is the right attitude to prayer and David reminds us it is only by his grace that we can approach God in prayer.

David now reminds us that any genuine meeting with God can only be found in his Word.  The phrase: ‘You have said “seek my face.”  My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”’ (v8) illustrates David’s observance of the Law.  As King, David would have had been presented with (or have copied it out for himself) a copy of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).  The Law spoke to everyone in that it illustrated God’s love and devotion towards his people.  So this is how David could seek the Lord’s: ‘face’ as he had an intimate knowledge of the character and nature of God.

Verse 9 indicates that David may have felt that he was subject to God’s anger or punishment.  But he pledges his devotion to the Lord with the use of his word: ‘servant’.  The last part of the verse illustrates the confidence that the Lord will not abandon him but rather will: ‘take me (David) in.’ So David now makes a positive request.  The phrase: ‘and lead me on a level path’ (v11) illustrates that David cannot see any stability outside of God’s Law and in verse 12 we come to what is the reason for this prayer of intercession.  David is suffering slanderous accusations!  He seeks for God to keep a hold on him and not to give him up to his enemies.  It might strike us as curious as to why David’s request to the Lord occurs here rather than at the beginning of this prayer in verse 7.  Yet there is a sense this whole Psalm has been about this.  David seeks the Lord’s protection and will throughout this ordeal.  The lesson here is David doesn’t see it as just the Lord’s job to deliver him from his difficulties.  The Lord has provided the Law, his Word, for David, so he sees as his responsibility to study it and keep it with the Lord’s help!  So David now comes to a twofold conclusion.  Firstly, he believes that this closer walk with God is possible in the here and now (v13).  Secondly, most likely drawing on his experience from prayer, he urges others to have confidence that the Lord will answer their prayerful petitions.  They are to: ‘wait for the LORD!’ and by doing so demonstrate the strength of their faith and confidence in him (v14).

David’s Christ-like example in this Psalm shows that obedience to God’s Word requires God’s help but also a great deal of our obedience.  We may suffer intense opposition and the difficulties such as David did.  But as David concludes, God is faithful so it is more than worth the effort!

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Volume 1, Psalms 1-41, (Grand and Rapids, Baker books, 1994), 238.
[2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 121.
[3] Eric Lane, Psalms 1-89, The Lord Saves (Fearn, Focus Publications, 2006) 134.
[4] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Glasgow, William Collins Sons, 1961), 47.
[5] Boice, Psalms Volume 1, 241.

The Heroes of Faith: Corporate Faith and Unexpected Faith!

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies’ (Hebrews 11:29-31).

In these verses the writer shifts his focus from personal faith to corporate faith, and then to what might be termed totally unexpected and extraordinary faith!

The crossing of the Red Sea was an act of incredible faith and whatever the behaviour of the people before the crossing (Exodus 14:10-13) it must have taken great faith to walk the path between the piled up walls of water even if it was: ‘as if on dry land’. Yet, as we know: ‘the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned’ (v29).  The writer then fast forwards forty years to one of the most remarkable events of Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land, the conquest of Jericho.  The actual method that the Lord had prescribed for taking Jericho must have seemed totally ludicrous.  After all, how could walking round the city once six days in a row and on the seventh, on the seventh circuit, giving a loud shout possibly be an effective strategy (Joshua 6:1-21)?  Think about it, it sounds absolutely mad!  Surely siege-engines would have to be built to scale or breakdown the city walls and you would have to have a well-trained army!  It took faith for the people to obey instructions like that even if they had seen God at work in the past!  But that is what they did because they had faith in God and Joshua as his servant.

That now brings us to the big surprise of Hebrews chapter 11, Rahab and her monumental example of faith! Rahab and her family’s lives were spared in the conquest of Jericho due to her reaction to the Israelite spies.  She took the great risk of hiding them and covering for them (Joshua 2:8-21).  Her reaction is interesting as it is a display of great faith for someone living among a pagan people.  While all in Jericho had heard the stories of the Lord’s great deliverance of his people from Egypt only Rahab drew the right conclusion in that she: ‘so feared Yahweh’s threat that she fled to receive his mercy’.[1]  In other words she threw herself on the mercy of the living God, while the rest of Jericho panicked and locked the gates.  John Calvin notes her background was even less promising: ‘the name harlot is added to heighten the grace of God’.  He then adds: ‘it is also certain that this refers to her past life for her faith is the evidence of her repentance.’[2] So this former ‘Shady Lady’ is held up by the apostle James as a beacon of faith and rightly so (James 2:25). She is an example of faith in the most surprising place and circumstances, and a wonderful testimony to Just how far God’s grace and mercy can extend!

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage? Faith that Expects the Miraculous.

[1] Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua, No Falling Words (Fearn, Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 56.

[2] John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistle’s of St Peter, Calvin’s Commentaries (Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1963), 181.