The Bible As Literature?

Do you consider the Bible, or rather, the books in the Bible, to be literature? The way you might a novel like The Lord of the Rings or Pride and Prejudice, or the latest book by Tim Keller or D.A. Carson? Sure there are a few differences but there are many more similarities. All of these authors wrote with a purpose in mind and an idea of what they were trying to share with those to whom they were writing.

bible reading 2Like literature today, the Bible is full of different genres from narrative to poetry to letters and many others. Yet we often limit ourselves to reading little bits, or a number of little bits, of different books (a chapter here and there, perhaps a chapter from Genesis another from Matthew and a Psalm all in the same go). But if that’s the only way we read the Bible we are in danger of missing the bigger picture of what the author might be trying to communicate, the grand flow of a narrative.

My point isn’t to suggest you give up your daily reading plan, there are plenty of good ones and we should make a habit of reading the Bible regularly! However, I would like to encourage you to think about choosing a book of the Bible and reading it through in as short a space of time as possible, the same way you might a novel, perhaps even in one sitting so as to get sense of the plot, or big picture, of the book. How might we read Genesis differently if we read it all together or over a couple of days instead of over 50 days? Or even Romans? Might we see things that were previously obscured by the way we read it?

If this way of reading the Bible sounds appealing to you allow me to draw your attention to two products that will most certainly aid you as you pursue this endeavour:

Firstly, the NIV’s The Books of the Bible. I’m a huge fan of this Bible and you can read about why here so I won’t add anything else except that I would recommend this Bible slightly more than the next.

Secondly, the ESV Reader’s Bible. This is a new product by Crossway and it looks amazing, so if the ESV is your translation of choice you should invest in a copy (only so long as you have money to spare for things like this!).

Both of these Bible’s have headings, chapters (the ESV retains chapters in the margins but they don’t impede on the text), and verses removed giving you access to the Scriptural text without these distractions. The experience of reading without these is markedly different and honestly a little weird at first but they do encourage longer readings and I’ve found they help me to get a better grasp on what the different authors are saying.

Of course you can just as easily use any Bible to read the Bible in this way so why not give it a go? Just open it up to a book that’s piqued your and read, and don’t stop until you finish.

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The Church and Revelation by Paul Ritchie

The word translated ‘church’ in the New Testament means ‘an assembly’ .  Church is people rather than place.  Church is community not buildings.  The New Testament never speaks of the house of God but does speak of the household of God.  Look around at the Christians gathered here this morning and you see church.  Look around at the walls and roof of this place and you see the rain-shelter in which the church meets.

This morning we are looking at the church in Revelation.  The first thing that we see is that the church consists of people who are loved by Christ (1:5).  Yet in the world not everyone shares Christ’s passion for his people.  The book of Revelation speaks of satanically-inspired enemies of the church. The church will be persecuted in the world.  But we do not lose hope because we are journeying through this world to a wonderful home.

1.  The church needs to listen to Jesus (1:9-3:22)

In 1997 I went on a holiday with my parents.  We visited the sites of the towns mentioned in the first three chapters of this book.  They were in the Roman province of Asia which is now in modern Turkey.  Ephesus and Pergamum are still amongst the most amazing places I have ever been to.

revelationWhile the church is made up of every Christian it consists of local groups of believers meeting together.  Jesus addresses seven of these local churches.  It is worth noting that the number seven is symbolic of completeness and that there were at least ten churches in Asia at that time.  Therefore it is safe to say that these churches are chosen representatives and that these words are for every church at every time.

When we read these letters to the churches we should ask:  Are we like the church at Ephesus, with its sound theology but lack of love?  Are we like the church at Thyatira, which was hard working but tolerant of immorality and compromise?  Are we aiming to be like the church at Philadelphia, who kept Christ’s word and would not deny his name?  Are we wanting to be like the church at Smyrna, which was materially poor and spiritually rich (unlike Laodicea, which was materially rich and yet spiritually poor)?

While these letters to the churches call for community repentance notice that they finish on a note of individual repentance (3:20).  ‘If anyone hears by voice …’  The church is not made more beautiful by members pointing to the faults of others.  A critical spirit never made the bride of Christ more lovely.  Revival of the church begins with individual Christians repenting, opening themselves up to more of the influence of Christ, and inspiring others to do likewise.

2.  The church is persecuted in the world (4:1-20:15)

I believe the book of Revelation has a message for every generation of the church.  While the beast-like powers, of chapters thirteen and fourteen, may have a particular fulfilment in the period immediately preceding Christ’s return they have their equivalents throughout the ages.  The first hearers of Revelation would have had no trouble relating these figures to the government of the Roman emperor Domitian as he presented himself as being divine and persecuted those who would not worship him.

The beast from the sea represents religious or political ideologies that oppose the gospel.  This beast delights to see us keep our mouth shut about Jesus.  This beast would have us deny that Jesus is the only way to God.  This beast would have us water-down a gospel that proclaims the desperate need all people have to be forgiven and restored to God.

The beast from the land represents political regimes and economic structures that persecute the church.  This beast delights when he sees us compromise for financial gain.  This beast would enjoy seeing Christians distort their tax returns and work outside the tax system.  This beast would approve of unethical business practices and the black market.

Ultimately the beast from the land and the beast from the sea want our total allegiance.  They will stop at nothing to get their way.  The powers that be will kill to get their way.

Why does God allow the church to suffer in this world?  He allows the church suffer in this world because as the church stands firm she is being refined and made beautiful.  In this world the church is a bride being prepared for her wedding day.

Will we survive all the tribulations we face in this world?  Christians may die but they will remain faithful.  Tribulation, persecution, danger and sword can not separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8).  Christ has sealed those who are his (7:4).  God will keep us firm to the end.  Those who love Christ will face the allure of materialism, the pressure to compromise, the temptations of affluence, and the danger of spiritual complacency.  But we will show that we are his as he gives us the power to overcome.

3.  The church is on a pilgrimage to a land of love (Chapters 21-22)

While the church faces pressures in this world she looks with anticipation to what is to come.  The final chapters of Revelation show us Christ’s people gathered together in a world of love.  In the 1700s, referring to the closing chapters in Revelation, Jonathan Edwards wrote: “The glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens [the sky] in a clear day, fills the world with light.” (Rev. 21:23).  “All the saints in heaven love God for his own sake, and each other for God’s sake, and for the sake of the relation that they have to him, and the image of God that is upon them.”

While pride and selfishness hinder our love for God and his people in this world in the New Heaven and New Earth all such barriers to love will have been torn down.  Even now the love we experience for God and his people gives us a taste of what is to come.  “That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven.  The soul that in this world had only a little spark of divine love in it, in heaven shall be, as it were, turned into a bright and ardent flame, like the sun in its fullest brightness, when it has no spot upon it.”

“And oh! what joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of the saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this!  Here is joy unspeakable indeed, and full of glory — joy that is humble, holy, enrapturing, and divine in its perfection!  Love is always a sweet principle; and especially divine love.  This, even on earth, is a spring of sweetness; but in heaven it shall become a stream, a river, an ocean!”

Conclusion

I remember listening to a speaker who asked what our favourite picture of the church was.  I think I said mine was the bride of Christ.  In Revelation we see that the church is a people loved by Jesus.  He allows us suffer in this world but gives us the grace to endure.  In this world the church is being prepared as a bride for her wedding day.  The pressures we face purify and refine us.  Like every bride we look forward to the wedding.  For we are on our way to a world of love.  We are going to join Christ forever.  The book of Revelation finishes with a reminder of our evangelistic task.  We see the bride of Christ issue an invitation to all.  ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price’ (22:17).

~

Used with permission. For more blog posts by Paul Ritchie check out his blog: To Whom It May Concern.

The Gospel and Revelation by Paul Ritchie

I am sure that you have all heard about twitter.  Twitter is a social media site where you post your opinions in one hundred and forty characters or less.  A number of years ago a controversial Christian leader decided that he would post his understanding of the gospel in a tweet.  He wrote: “The gospel is the counterintuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us”.  I don’t see anything wrong with that except for the fact that it uses big words and lacks content.

A better tweet came from a friend of mine who wrote: “The gospel is the news that God, in great love and at great cost, has provided the effective means of rescue for a world that is doomed” (David Blevins).  I like another tweet of the gospel which points out that “our sin is so serious that nothing but the death of God’s own Son could deal with it; which is what God has done for us” (adapted from Randy Newman).

How would you tweet the gospel?  You might look to the book of Revelation for help.  For Revelation is a gospel book.  We are going to look at the gospel in Revelation and then try to write a tweet about what we have learned.

‘Tell me the old, old story’

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’  Humankind has a special place in this creation, we are uniquely made in the image of God.  God put the first two humans in the Garden of Eden and lived in relationship with them.  So we can speak of God’s people, in God’s place enjoying God’s blessing.  But this human pair rebelled against God.  Now sin separates us from God, we no longer live Eden, our world is under God’s curse and we are subject to death.

revelationHowever God set about restoring what humankind lost.  He made a promise to a man he would call Abraham.  This promise spoke of a new people, who would live in a new place and experience God’s blessing.  Indeed he promised that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world would be blessed.  The whole of the Old Testament is the outworking of this promise.  We see a chosen people, trying to live in a promised land and enjoy relationship with God.

Like Adam and Eve that Old Testament people continued to sin.  Like Adam and Eve they were kicked out of the promised land.  Yet God was not finished with his promises.  At just the right time he sends Jesus who gathers a new people and brings them into a new creation.  We see the fulfilment of this in the book of Revelation.  Here we read of a new heaven and new earth and see God’s people, in God’s place, enjoying God’s blessing.

We hear echoes of Genesis in the book of Revelation.  The heavens and the earth become a new heaven and a new earth.  The tree of life is there (22:2).  We see that God has undone the curse that followed the fall, there is no longer a curse (22:3).  While death followed the initial rebellion in Revelation we read ‘blessed or those who die in The Lord (14:13).  God had promised he would bless the whole world through Abraham’s seed; in Revelation we see a multitude gathered from every tribe and tongue (7:9).

The first part of our tweet: ‘God restores what humanity lost.’

‘Nothing but the blood of Jesus’

I once read a blog post where the blogger was giving out about all those hymns that are obsessed with the blood of Jesus.  But the blood of Jesus is essential to the gospel.

The first announcement of the gospel comes immediately after the fall.  In cursing the serpent, which Revelation tells us is the devil, God says ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (Genesis 3:15).  A descendent of the woman will be bitten by the devil and yet will finish the devil off.  Just like the whole of the Old Testament is a working out of the promises to Abraham it is also a great search for this serpent-crusher.

In Revelation we read of the strike and the crushing.  On the cross, wicked people, inspired by the devil, crucify God’s beloved Son.  Yet that apparent victory signals defeat for the devil.  For Jesus is the one ‘who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood …’ (1:5).  It is only a matter of him before the devil is thrown into the lake of burning and tormented day and night for ever and ever (20:10).

So we continue our tweet: ‘God restores what humanity lost. His Son dies freeing us from guilt.’

‘Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place’

We should all know that becoming a Christian is all about what God has done for us not what we do for God.  We are told that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works, so no person can boast.  We see this portrayed in Revelation.  There we read about being freed from our sins by Jesus’ blood (1:5b) and of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7:14).  But while we are not saved by good works we are saved for good works.  God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us brings inevitable change.  Our changed lives serve as proof that we have been rescued from sin.

‘And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books’ (20:12).  On one hand we will stand on the day of judgement simply because of the mercy of God.  He has put our names in the book of life and washed away all our guilt by the blood of Jesus.  On the other hand we will be saved because our lives demonstrate the transforming power of the Christ’s indwelling presence.

‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city’ (22:14).  We are people who been sinful and yet we have been forgiven.  ‘Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood’ (22:15).  It is not just notorious sinners who are left outside.  Jesus equated lust with adultery and hatred with murder.  The apostle Paul called greed idolatry.  It is is not that Christians never fail, the blood of Jesus goes on cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7).  But if we don’t take God’s call to be a holy people seriously and if we refuse to let him tell us how we should live our lives then we are demonstrating that we have never been born again.

So we continue our tweet: ‘God restores what humanity lost. His Son dies freeing us from guilt.  Transforming our lives in the hope of eternal joy.’

Conclusion

I would want to finish our explanation of the gospel in Revelation with an invitation.  Revelation invites us to repent.  The gospel calls us to repentance.  It tells us to turn around and place our trust in Jesus.  This book contains two of the most open and gracious invitations in the whole of the Bible.

So our tweet of the gospel according to Revelation is: ‘God restores what humanity lost. His Son dies freeing us from guilt.  Transforming our lives in the hope of eternal joy. So repent and live.’

~

Used with permission. For more blog posts by Paul Ritchie check out his blog: To Whom It May Concern.

Top Five Books on Counselling

Counselling is something which each and every one of us does, and yet it is something that is extremely difficult to do well (and by well I mean biblically).

My caveat at the outset of this post is that I am no counsellor. During my time at IBC we did tackle counselling, especially in our Pastoral Studies class. However, that does not qualify me. What follows is not the definitive list of counselling books; nor are they all books about counselling, some tackle one counselling topic. Nevertheless, I have found them helpful as I consider counselling people as a pastor and as I do counsel people as a husband, brother, son, friend, etc.

  1. Michael R. Emlet – Crosstalk: Where life & Scripture meet (2009)

This is a book about counselling.

The main thrust of Crosstalk is helping those who counsel connect Scripture to the lives of people. As one recommendation on the back testifies, “Mike Emlet is serious about applying all of Scripture to all of life”. In one particularly amusing section Emlet suggests using 1 Chronicles 1-9 to counsel marriage issues – can you imagine the couple’s faces if you started reading aloud that list of names? However, this section is also challenging as he legitimately applies 1 Chronicles 1-9 to that situation.

This book will help transform the way counsellors use the Bible in counselling sessions, but I also hope it helps us change the way we use our Bibles in everyday conversation whether we are knowingly or unknowingly counselling.

  1. Justin & Lindsey Holcomb – Rid of my Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (2011)

As is evident from the title this book does not tackle the issue of counselling, but it does offer some much needed help and guidance in counselling a very sensitive issue.

This has fast become one of the biggest issues of the twenty first century. Not that it wasn’t an issue before; however, today it seems more people are willing to be open about sexual abuse and quicker to seek help after suffering it.

It is a tragedy that people are willing to execute these acts on people, and a travesty that it occurs within the church. But sticking our head in the sand and ignoring it will not do.

This book is a thoroughly researched piece of work, it is written with tact and yet it is informative. The real benefit of reading this book is the stories shared which then have grace applied to them. It is exceedingly helpful to have the Holcomb’s give examples of counselling victims so as to offer hope and healing.

  1. David Powlinson – Speaking the Truth in Love: Counsel in Community (2005)

This is a priceless resource for the church.

As I have stated above we are all counsellors to someone, whether we know it or not. This book tackles the issue of telling people how it is, while ensuring our speech is full of love. Powlinson has soaked his book in Scripture, and wrapped it up in wisdom. He speaks from experience (both good and bad). Due to the nature of the book it tackles both issues of the tongue, but also how to conduct counselling.

This book is part of a series the other book of which is called Seeing with New Eyes.

  1. Tim Lane & Paul Tripp – Relationships: A mess worth making (2006)

The title says it all…

There is not one person on earth who does not know the truth that relationships are messy. Whether it is parent-child, friend-friend, husband-wife, colleague-colleague, all relationships run into difficulties at one point or another.

The book covers the whole range of issues connected with relationships yet does it with humility and a little humour. These two men know they haven’t fixed all of their relationships, and so they don’t expect you to. However, they offer some practical help, based on Bible truths, to ensure your relationships are a mess worth making.

  1. David Powlinson – The Pastor as Counsellor in For the Fame of God’s Name (2010)

In this essay Powlinson gives a brief, but helpful, definition of counselling. This definition aids us in grasping the concept of counselling, and the aim.

You don’t have to be a pastor to find this essay of benefit, although it will encourage pastors and hopefully lead congregations to be more sympathetic toward pastors as they work hard at counselling. However, the majority of the essay is concerned with the uniqueness of the message of Christian counselling. This is why it is helpful to all of us as all of us at some stage or another counsel. Our aim and hope should always be to counsel well by counselling biblically.

 

In addition to my top five I would encourage people to read most of what David Powlinson and Paul Tripp have written. Their writing is extensive, wise, well informed and thoroughly Christ centred. Most things you come across by these authors would be well worth reading.

Consequently, if you find yourself drawn toward the realm of counselling, desire to learn more or are seeking resources for counselling I recommend that you visit www.ccef.org – the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation. This is American, but extremely helpful. Also check out the titles published by New Growth Press as they work closely with CCEF.

Mark Dricoll’s Death by Love is also worth reading as he shares letters written to members of his congregation in need of pastoral counselling. In each letter he shows how some aspect of Christ’s work on the cross brings healing and hope into a difficult situation.

Finally, two slightly more dated authors who are still worth reading would be Jay Adams and Lois Mowday. Adams is a counsellor concerned with counselling congregations, his material is dated but there is lots of help there too. Mowday tackles issues that women face. One book in particular which was perhaps written before its time is very helpful – Daughters without Dads: offering understanding and hope to women who suffer from the absence of a loving father.

Jesus and Revelation by Paul Ritchie

A. W. Tozer writes, ‘I warn you that it is entirely possible to turn the Revelation into a source of blight to your soul.  On the other hand, it is possible to find in this Revelation a great source of light and blessing’.

Some people read Revelation to speculate about how it might fit together with world politics.  Often they end up feeling proud of themselves for seeing things that the rest of us are ignorant about.  Time always proves their speculations wrong.  They have read this book to the blight of their soul.

Other people read Revelation to see Jesus and to learn how to be faithful to him during times of tribulation.  For them Revelation is a great source of blessing, and God uses it to prepare them for heaven.

Our first look at this book seeks to see something of what it says about Jesus.

Jesus: the divine and human lord (chapter one)

‘The revelation (or unveiling) of Jesus Christ …’ (1:1).  Jesus is both the one who is revealing and the one who is revealed.  He is the central theme of this book.   The opening chapter gives us a resplendent picture of Christ.

revelationChristians are called to be witnesses in the world as we imitate the one who is the faithful witness. Christians have hope in the world because Jesus is the firstborn of the dead (we will be raised in him).  Christians have confidence in the world because he is the ruler of the kings of the earth (even though the first hearers of Revelation were subject to the emperor Domitian they needed to realise that he was subject to their Lord).  Christians have joy because Jesus is our saviour who loves us and has freed us from our sins by our blood.  Christians look forward to the end of time because Jesus is set to return.

John, who was imprisoned on the island of Patmos, hears a voice and turns to see Jesus.  In Revelation we see that Jesus is fully human and yet fully God.

Jesus is called the Son of Man.  The Son of Man was a glorious figure in Daniel who was both a human person and a divine person.  I think that is mind blowing to think that Jesus is still human.  He took on flesh and was born as a baby, he was raised from the dead with a glorious human body, and now he sits at the right hand of the Father.  And what are the only manmade things in heaven?  The scars of his crucifixion which are still visible to see.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that Jesus is only an archangel and not God the Son.  The Unitarians deny that Jesus is truly divine.  Revelation proves otherwise.  Look at the title given to The Lord God in verse eight: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’.  Now turn to the title given to the Son in chapter twenty-two verse thirteen: Jesus says, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’.  Right throughout the New Testament we see Jesus being given titles that belong only to God.

Another pointer showing that Jesus is God the Son is in the fact that he receives worship.  I find it quiet amusing that on a couple of occasions John gets overcome by what he sees and falls down to worship the angel who is explaining the vision.  John gets rebuked.  The angel says, ‘You must not do that!  I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets … Worship God!’ (22:9).  Yet in the book of Revelation we clearly see Jesus being worshipped.

In chapter one we see Jesus’ royalty as he is clothed in fine robes with a sash around his waist; he is the King of kings.  He is infinitely wise, as is shown in his white hair (the ancients knew that wisdom should come with age).  He has eyes like flaming fire that same see beyond any facade; thank God that the one who knows us better than anyone else nevertheless loves us better than anyone else!  He knows our sins and yet has freed us from them by his blood.  He has feet of burnished bronze that will trample upon those who continue to resist him. But his people need fear nothing because he hold the keys of death and hell.

Jesus: the one foretold in the Old Testament (chapters four and five)

A friend of a friend gave me a book that he claimed had changed his life.  It was an exposition of chapters four and five of Revelation.  My friend’s friend was right.  Seeing the splendour of God, portrayed so amazingly in these two chapters, should turn our world upside down.

We are given a picture of heavenly reality.  The focus on chapter four is on God the Father and then chapter five turns to God the Son.

The Son is called the Lamb.  Why?  Because the book of Isaiah spoke of a lamb that would be lead to the slaughter and be sacrificed for the sins of his people.  “You are worthy to take the scroll … you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah; in Genesis (49:8-12) Jacob had promised his son Judah that one of his descendants would be an eternal king.  A line of descendants went from Judah to king David, and king David was promised that one of his descendants would be the eternal king.  Jesus is the root of David – not only is he the Messiah coming from David’s line, he is the source of David’s rule.

Some people are impressed by the preacher who speculates about the book of Revelation and identifies figures in this book with political leaders.  But the teacher to be impressed with is the one who can take this book and show how it relates to the Old Testament.  For this book is filled with quotes, echoes, titles and allusions from the Old Testament.

Jesus: the conquerer (chapters six to twenty-one)

What follows from beginning of chapter six to the beginning of chapter twenty-one are a series of visions revolving around the number seven – for example there are seven seals opened, seven trumpets blown, seven bowls of wrath poured and seven woes pronounced.  I believe that these various scenes give portraits of what it is like to live in the time between Christ’s first and second coming.  We live in a time characterised by famines, war, death and opposition to the truth.  Yet in all this Jesus is with us.  This portraits generally end with Jesus defeating all his enemies.

‘I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and wages war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.  He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.  “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.”  He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords’ (19:11-16).

Some students in a Christian college in America were having a hard time trying to figure out how to understand the book of Revelation.  They decided to take a break from their studies and have a game of basketball.  There in the corner of the hall was the elderly caretaker reading.

‘What’s that you’re reading Joe?’, one of the students asked.

‘The book of Revelation,’ he replied.

‘Oh, you can’t understand that,’ the patronising student responded.

‘Yes, I can,’ said the caretaker, ‘it’s quite simple: Jesus wins!’

Jesus: the focus of eternal joy (chapters twenty to twenty-two)

The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon taught, ‘If we are to overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by looking to Jesus.’  Whatever opinions you have on the book of Revelation remember that it is primarily an unveiling of the person of Jesus.  Look to him and ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to rejoice in him.  For you were made to delight in the three persons of the Trinity forever.

Near the close of Revelation Jesus establishes his new heaven and new earth where he will be worshipped eternally.  If he is not your delight then heaven will never be your home.  John Piper asks, ‘Can we really say that our people are being prepared for heaven where Christ himself, not his gifts, will be the supreme pleasure?  And if our people are unfit for that, will they even go there?’

‘Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see the beauty of your character that we might be ready to enjoy you now and always’.  Amen.

~

Used with permission. For more blog posts by Paul Ritchie check out his blog: To Whom It May Concern.

The 100: A Fresh Start?

*Warning: Spoilers*

Image from the100source.com

Last Monday evening E4 launched their latest new show, The 100.

The plot to the show is relatively straight forward (so far).

Earth experienced some kind of radiation exposure which has forced human beings to live in space for the past 97 years. They have been living on a space station, but population levels have continued to rise and the space station is now at capacity. There are only a few months left before all of the resources and supplies are used up. As an experiment 100 criminals (mainly petty criminals and some, it seems, unjustly imprisoned) are sent back to earth to see if the radiation has lessened enough for humans to return to the earth’s surface.

The first episode sets this scene and gives a little glimpse of what the 100 are in for on earth’s surface.

The big idea seems to be the opportunity of a fresh start. As the criminals begin to realise they are on earth, and aren’t dying from radiation poisoning (yet), they begin to dream of a new start away from the space station and their old lives as convicts.

They experience the new hope of a fresh start.

If we are honest with ourselves, a fresh start is something each and every one of us has desired at one point or another in our lives. I think this is what attracted me to watch the first episode; perhaps it’s what attracted you to watch and all the other people who watched it with us. The reality is we have all wanted a fresh start at some point.

The reason a fresh start is so attractive to all of us is because often our lives are very messy. There are people we have hurt, there are people who have hurt us; things we should have done that we didn’t, and things we shouldn’t have done which we did. The Bible calls this messiness sin; we have sinned against others, others have sinned against us; the world is full of sin (Rom. 3:10-11; 23).

What’s worse is that sometimes when we try to do something to fix our mistakes, to make them better, to change the consequences to our actions we can just make it worse. Instead of fixing sin we often find ourselves piling sin on top of sin. We can often struggle to make it better.

The Bible does teach us that there is the possibility of a fresh start though. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul is explicit, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come’. Through conversion – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our union with Jesus Christ – we are changed. We are made new, in other words we receive a fresh start. One of the great truths of Scripture is that in Christ we are a new creation. And as a new creation in Christ our hopelessness has been changed to a certain confidence in our God who has promised not only to make all things new, but also to fix many wrongs.

“But, my life hasn’t changed! There are still people who sin against me. I still sin against others, even when I don’t want to. The world is still full of sin. My fresh start in Jesus is just the same as a fresh start on my own.”

In many respects a fresh start with Jesus doesn’t change everything. We have a new nature, the old is gone, we are renewed by the Holy Spirit and desire righteousness. That much is true. However, we are still living in the flesh, with our sinful nature clinging on and battling against us. Paul’s famous words in Romans 7:15-20 describe perfectly the battle that every believer faces. In addition to this we still live in a world surrounded by sinful people who continue to indulge in sin which often affects us.

For these reasons our fresh start doesn’t always feel like a fresh start.

Our fresh start is different. Our fresh start has begun in Jesus, but our fresh start is not yet complete. Through Christ’s work and our consequent conversion we enjoy this fresh start that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians. But this fresh start has only begun, and we will not enjoy it completely until Jesus returns again.

When Jesus comes again he will come in judgement condemning those who still revel in their sin. But, he will also take those of us who are new creations to be with him. He will take us to be with him in the new heaven and the new earth where there will be no sin, no tears, no death and no pain because the old things will have passed away and our new start will be complete (Rev. 21:1-4).

I do not know how The 100 will develop over the next few weeks or months – if you have read the book perhaps you already know. What I imagine will happen is that the fresh start on earth will not be all that the 100 hope and think it will be. As Christians we may fear that our fresh start in Christ is not all we hoped and thought it would be – but rest assured, one day our fresh start will be completed and all things will be new, right and beautiful.

Hunger for that day, because every fresh start this side of Jesus return is tainted with sin.

The Dividing Walls of Hostility

Father, knowing that you are the God of all peace we come to you seeking peace.

Our small country is a volatile country; it is deeply divided with many hurting people. There are many dividing walls of hostility – both physical and spiritual. A large proportion of our population appears to be divided from you by a wall of hostility and even within itself we find ourselves separated from each other by dividing walls of hostility. Much of this is the result of sectarianism. The population of our country is at odds with each other, especially at this time of year. There is much friction, tension and finger-pointing taking place at this moment in time. In light of this we turn to you and ask for peace and healing in this country.

For our politicians we request that you would grant them great wisdom. Political leaders find themselves in delicate situations, with the possibility of causing disruption and danger to many people through their words and actions. We ask that you may grant them wisdom in their decision making, clarity in their communication and submission to authority. For those political leaders who profess faith in Christ we ask that they would be Christ-like in their behaviour.

For all of the members of the Orange Order we ask that common sense would prevail. As people who claim to be servants of the Protestant religion, protectors of the reformers faith and beacons for the gospel, we ask that the gospel would take root in their hearts and that the Protestant religion, the reformer’s faith and the one true gospel would be proclaimed in word and deed. As we listen to the bands that parade with the Orange Order we hear the familiar tunes of many hymns. Our prayer is that the truth of those hymns would be understood by both those playing and listening to the tunes.

Many of the citizens of Northern Ireland will find themselves in dangerous situations this summer – living at interfaces, caught in protests or evacuated because of potential threats. We ask that they be kept safe. We pray that in your wisdom and power you would prevent people from protesting, and that numerous people would stay at home instead of causing division and destruction on the street.

Great God, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ serve in the services. We know that they will all be put at risk this summer whether they are fire fighters, police officers or paramedics. We ask that your hand would keep them safe, protect them from evil and deliver them from danger. Our prayer is that they will be successful in keeping the peace and that leaders in our communities would help them in their job.

Even though much of our division and hostility is sectarian at this time of year we do not want to neglect to pray for the ethnic minorities of Northern Ireland. They have been much in the news in recent months having awful crimes perpetrated against them. We ask that Christians may hold out a helping hand to these minorities and that through our practical love we would have opportunity to share the greater love of Jesus with them. We praise you that around your throne at the end of time will stand people from every tribe, tongue and nation redeemed by Jesus – we ask that some of them may be won for you here in Northern Ireland.

As we look on at our society it appears to be more godless, or at least more openly godless, than it has ever appeared before. In light of this we pray not only for physical peace and protection this summer, but for a spiritual peace with you to blanket this nation. We love our wee country and we hope and pray that your love would win many hearts and change many lives to the glory of your name through Jesus. We pray that there may be a revival as your Holy Spirit awakens many to their need of salvation and transforms people who call you their Lord.
We pray that all the dividing walls of hostility would be broken down in Jesus Christ – both those walls which separate ourselves from your love and those walls which separate us from each other’s love.

We seek this peace not for our own comfort but for your honour and delight.

Amen.

Resting on God

As we begin what is for many a time of rest we want to pray that our rest would be rooted in the rest of God which comes to us through trust in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This prayer comes from a book of Puritan Prayers and Devotions called The Valley of Vision. The Valley of Vision is a fantastic resource that we highly recommend because there are times when we simply don’t know what to pray and to read and pray the prayers of the saints of old is often highly instructive and beneficial to us as we seek our Great God in prayer.

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O God Most High, Most Glorious,

51YHX6HE5JL._The thought of thine infinite serenity cheers me,
For I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed,
but thou art for ever at perfect peace.
Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment,
they stand fast as eternal as the eternal hills.
Thy power knows no bond,
thy goodness no stint.
Thou bringest order out of confusion,
and my defeats are thy victories:
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,
to leave every concern entirely to thee,
every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood;
Revive deep spirituality in my heart;
Let me live near to the great Shepherd,
hear his voice, know its tones, follow its calls.
Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,
from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.
Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,
burning into me by experience the things I know;
Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,
that I may bear its reproach,
vindicate it,
see Jesus as its essence,
know the power of the Spirit.
Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;
unbelief mars my confidence,
sin makes me forget thee.
Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;
Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee,
that all else is trifling.
Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy.

Abide in me, gracious God.

A Wedding Prayer

Just over a week ago one of my best friends, Gary, married his fiancé, Alison. I was given the great honour of opening their beautiful wedding ceremony in prayer. Below is an unedited copy of my prayer. I considered how to make it fit for general use but to have done so would have been to rob it of what, I feel, makes it special: that is concerns one of my best friends and was written for his wedding day. Please feel free to make use of this prayer, in whole or in part, as you pray for your marriage or the marriages’ of your friends (all you have to do is substitute the names!).

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Father,

As we celebrate the marriage of Gary and Alison we begin by thanking you for sending your Son, Jesus, into the world as it’s Lord and Saviour to rescue his Bride, the Church. He is the epitome of all to which a Bridegroom strives; as one who, in life and in death, poured out his life on behalf of his Bride.

Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID www.garrisonphoto.org
Ben Earwicker
Garrison Photography, Boise, ID
http://www.garrisonphoto.org

We are grateful that for those of us who belong to you in Christ, as his Bride, he is our perfect Bridegroom. Who, having left the beauty of heaven, humbled himself, becoming like us by taking upon himself complete humanity so as, in concert with his complete divinity, to make complete atonement for our sins and in so doing make us his radiant Bride without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but instead: perfect, holy, and pure.

We praise you that after making atonement for sin Jesus returned to heaven in victory as our sovereign King who reigns over the whole universe and works all things together for the good of his Bride, the Church.

We thank you for establishing the covenant of marriage for our joy and your glory. And for the profoundly mysterious way earthly marriage reflects Jesus’ relationship with the church, his Bride, and our relationship, as the Church, with our Bridegroom, Jesus.

Today we are especially thankful for our friends Gary and Alison as they embark upon life’s greatest, most challenging, most rewarding relationship into which a man and woman can enter together. As they commit themselves to one another we ask for your blessing to rest on their lives, on their marriage, and on their new family. We ask that they may know the incomparable riches of your grace, expressed in your kindness to them in Christ. We ask that they would make you their refuge in the storms of life and so experience your peace which transcends all understanding, and will guard their hearts and minds in Christ.

We ask that just as you have rescued Gary and Alison from the penalty of sin, that you would continue to deliver them from its power until the day when you finally save them from its presence. Our prayer for them is that, by your grace, you would shape them into harmonious partners in their fight against sin; strengthening them as their love for you and for one another deepens as they read Scripture and pray together, as they sacrificially serve one another, and as they share their lives with their family and friends.

Finally, as we join together in celebration of the joys that lie before Gary and Alison on this their wedding day we eagerly long for the Wedding of the Lamb and of his Bride; and for that greater, eternal day of celebration, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, when we, together with all our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout all of time, will forever be with our perfect Bridegroom on a new earth in which all sorrow, injustice, and death will have been undone.

To the praise of your glorious grace, which you have freely given us in Christ.

Amen.

Prayer for Foreign Missions

Our righteous and sovereign Father,

From Creation, You’ve called your people to “go”. You commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply”; to “fill the earth and subdue it”. You chose Israel to be a light to nations. You commanded Israel to expand, and drive out the deep darkness of Canaan. But, Adam and Eve failed; they chose disorder. Israel failed; they chose idol worship.

irelandSo Father, as we pray for everyone who’ll be leaving Northern Ireland – whether short or long-term – to witness to Your glory in other countries, we know that they can only do so in Christ. Because Christ Jesus alone lived up to the task to go. He is the Light of the World; so it’s only through union with Him that we can be lights in the world. Which means, first and foremost for all foreign mission work, we pray that missionaries will be grounded in, and rooted to, Your Son. We pray that they will be assured for their union with You, and the ongoing presence of Your Spirit. We pray that they’ll continue to be shaped by Your grace, as they live repentant lives of whole-hearted devotion to You in their new, foreign, contexts.

Father, as they give themselves to Your service, help them to be joyfully obedient to their Lord. We pray that the great cause of mission will totally engage their hearts: that they will totally desire to see Your kingdom reaching into every stronghold of chaos on earth, to Your great glory. Father, may this alone be their drive. Protect their hearts from spiritual arrogance, and guard their minds against potential disappointments, by clearly reminding them that You are sovereign over all mission; salvation alone belongs to You.

We pray that this assurance of Your mighty power and sovereignty will help them be confident in the universal relevance of Your gospel. We pray that they’ll be culturally astute in their mission’s particular context, and yet totally convinced of the universal scope of Your gospel. So, we pray that cultural adaption will be quick; we pray that they’ll have the humility to learn from their cultural missteps and mistakes, so the only offence caused will be the offence of the gospel.

Father, may they make the most of every opportunity You open for them to share Your word. Especially for people who will serve short-term, we pray that they’ll make the best use of the time You’ve given them. Help all missionaries share Your word clearly. And, constantly remind them: You are sovereign over salvation!

Father, for those of us at home: help us to be consistent in our prayers for our foreign missionaries. Forgive us; we’re so quick to forget to pray for our brothers and sisters. May we do all we can to strengthen, encourage and equip them. May we listen and learn from them, with humility, to reform our lives in the light of Your word.

Father, we long for the day when Your saints will gather before Your throne. We long to hear people from every tribe, every tongue and every nation praising our triumphant and glorious Lord. We pray for our foreign missionaries; we pray You’ll help them to reach the unreached, and we pray that all the glory will go to You.

All these things, and loads more we’ve forgotten, we ask in Your Son’s name.