Passed from Time to Time

The sequence starts, its fullest frame began,

In chase of none but the length of rivers ran.

 

Mark how it courses by our transient trust

And pauses not nor slows as slow it must.

 

Begotten once, twice it shall not live,

Our song forgotten peace the harmonies give.

 

Three on par, but One above,

As truth to life, and life to love.

 

Shallow men and deep deluded,

Curious wise, though wise because secluded.

 

Fallow ground even knows its time,

With cog, wheel, spring nor tragic chime.

 

My measured verse is fondly sang,

Its well beloved theme hardly reticent rang.

 

Look toward our sun dial and its silhouette gallows,

Trace the tyranny, mark well its guilty shadows.

Samuel Crossman – My Song is Love Unknown

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Boldly – an apostolic adverb

I’ve just finished reading The Acts of the Apostles. It was quite good to read it quite quickly so as to catch the sense of rapid activity which purveys Luke’s narrative. An eventful book, the Acts describes the remarkable spread of Christ’s gospel in the known world. Even though there were relatively few primary personalities that are at the heart of the action – Peter, Paul, Philip, and others – the extent of their respective ministries is remarkable, and of course, supernatural.

This glorious account of the Early Church is very useful for the church in all ages. I’d like to just share one striking insight that benefited me during my recent reread of Acts. Luke’s use of the word ‘boldly’ really grabbed me. The Greek words παῤησιάζομαι refer to speech that is both frank and confident, e.g. Acts 9:27, where Paul spoke boldly in the name of Jesus. This apostolic boldness is a characteristic of times of particular outpourings of God’s Spirit. This is not to deny that is always available with God’s blessing. But the point is that this is not a natural boldness, but an imparted one. God fortifies His servants with that proper confidence and courage to fulfil His calling. In Paul’s case, it was surely a gift of God since he was but a young Christian, yet he could preach boldly, in the face of violent persecution in which he had but recently been involved.

Such boldness, it is sad to say, is all too scarce. May God graciously grant such vocally bold and courageous ministries in this age.

Two brother, two presents

Two brother presented gifts to God. The first offered up a lamb, a perfect specimen and free of blemish. The other, thinking himself wise in novelty, offered up the best of his harvest.

God preferred the first brother’s offering, for it was motivated by humble obedience. But He did not respect the harvest gift of the second brother, not through defect in the gift, but the heart of its giver.

The story of Cain and Abel teaches us much of human nature. The tendency to transform a wounded ego into murderous jealousy is the story of human history, to a greater or lesser degree. From school bullying to world wars, from political assassinations to benefit fraud, the evil in the world is so often the retaliation of insulted and deflated pride.

The account of Abel’s murder by his brother Cain is a significant episode of early human history in the divine record for numerous reasons. First, it illustrated the reality of the Fall. Man, once innocent and communing with God in paradise, is now guiltily walking away from a pool of freshly shed blood, the work of sin and jealousy. Second, it teaches us to be humble and precisely obedient about God’s worship. We cannot bring our own ideas, novel and creative as they might be, to seek God’s favour, but we must submit reverently to God’s way. This means coming to God through Jesus, heeding His word, and doing so decently and in order. Third and last, the story of Cain is powerfully comforting to sinners, to us all, as sinners. Cain sinned horribly. He was a murderer, a jealous slayer of his own brother. He committed adelphicide. In addition, he was angry against God! Yet God protected him. God gave him the choice. “Rule over your sin” He commands Cain. Surely the mark of Cain indicated God’s merciful protection of even this wayward and violent man.

The hope of all sinners, like Cain, is in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, who made the perfect and most acceptable sacrifice to God. His blood speaks better things than the blood of Abel. It speaks of atonement and reconciliation with God. It is well pleasing to God and makes us presentable as living sacrifices to our Holy and Heavenly Father.

Two brothers presented gifts to God. Two sinners approached their Maker. One came pleading the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the other smiled in self-satisfied vanity that he gave something new and different. But he forgot he was fallen. Which of the two brothers are you?

Remember, there was hope for Cain even upon slaying his brother. There is hope for any sinner, turning in repentance and complete trust in the shed blood of the perfect Man, who like Abel, was killed in jealousy, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Christian Activism

I’ve been thinking about the question of Christian involvement in political activism. And I’ve made the discovery that I’m actually quite conflicted about the subject. On the one hand, it seems a duty of each and every Christian, while one the other, there are very powerful and Scriptural arguments for seeing it as a distraction from the Gospel.

In order to share my ambivalence over this topic, I’m going to describe the two views in the most sympathetic way in the hope of communicating the problem I have. Or had, as I believe I have come to some resolution of the problem using a degree of synthesis.

The first position (A) is that Christian activity in the political sphere is mandatory because the Christian message is a whole-of-life message. The Bible contains political, as well as spiritual, instruction. Therefore, obedience to God’s Word will have direct political ramifications. Moreover, upholding God’s law is required by that law. Opposing sin and promoting righteousness is always worthwhile and never futile, regardless of success. For example, if opposition to abortion saved one baby’s life, it will have been justified, as preserving life is a fulfilment of “loving your neighbour as yourself”. Furthermore, we are creatures of God and His moral law is embedded as absolute truth in His creation. Therefore, our very ‘creatureliness’ demands a desire to uphold God’s law, a duty simply reinforced with the Gospel.

The second, allegedly alternative view (B) is that political activism is a futile distraction from the Christian calling to evangelise. In other words, a political and moral change at the fundamental level can only be achieved when the renewing work of conversion changes hearts, when God supernaturally changes people who will then bear fruit, including the cultural, political, and moral ramifications of salvation. This views states that without the Gospel, it does not matter if someone has the right view on moral matters, such as abortion, euthanasia or homosexuality. They will be damned anyway. In fact, any attempt to superficially transform a society, apart from the Gospel, is a distraction from the Gospel, and will simply antagonise those we should be winning for Christ. This view looks to the New Testament model, where despite a context of paganism for many of the early churches, there is no reference to an imposition of God’s standards on political systems that administered these places. In fact, Paul says “For I am determined not hear anything among except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2.

As I said, both view A and B seem to have both Biblical support and reason on their side. Both seem to make valid points. Yet both can’t be right! So I have decided to formulate a view which utilises the valid points of both views and discards invalid points to create a third synthetic option: view C.

View C, or simply Christian activism as I’d like to call it, states that as salt and light in an increasingly secular society, Christians must use every opportunity to preserve and promote the Gospel. At the same time, we are called to oppose sin and have a moral duty to uphold God’s law. Yet we should never divorce this from the Gospel, else it will become futile. If we seek to reform legislation and public morality without reference to the Gospel, we are implying moral uprightness can be achieved apart from the work of salvation. We in effect make the Gospel redundant. Like Jesus, therefore, we should go about doing good (including the challenging of those who do bad, as Jesus challenged Pharisees and others), yet seeking the lost and relying on the supernatural work of redemption as the only hope of an anti-Christian society.

This kind of Christian activism, due to its emphasis on the Christian Gospel, is consistent with the idea of heavenly citizenship. We are ‘sojourners’ or foreigners in this world, with our eyes set on another Celestial City. Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this earth.” The Christian activist should not give the impression that reforming our present cultural context is a substitute for the Heavenly Kingdom! This does not stop the church’s influence from being sanctifying or uplifting to the world. We are to be ‘heavenly-minded’ as we engage with and seek to influence the world.

View C has a high, presuppositional view of God’s law. God’s law is always worthy of defence and activism, yet an understanding of the power of the Gospel reveals itself as the only effective way to truly reforming a society that has rejected God’s law in favour of man’s own morals. History bears this out, as we see that evangelical awakenings have so often led to political progression. For example, Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery was an effect of his own conversion and the wider evangelical movement that preceded it. Wilberforce was absolutely right to do what he did, but note how the Gospel inspired his campaign.

Although this view of Christian activism deserves to be more fully developed, I hope this quick outline helps resolve the conflicted minds of others, who like me have seen truth in both polar views.

Norwich Reformed Church, Islam, and One Complaint

My church, Norwich Reformed Church, has recently come up against a surprising and oppressive action from our local council preventing our usual weekly witness in the city and our normal meeting place for worship. A single complaint has robbed us of both venues. The issue at stake is Islam.

Now many Christians, even of the more Reformed ilk, shake their heads embarrassedly when they hear that it was a leaflet on Islam that caused this problem. Though broadly supportive, there is a reluctance and a slight awkwardness at the thought. “A leaflet of Islam? What else did you expect?!” is the sort of unsaid reaction I’ve observed in very solid gospel men (even the sort that will go out and preach in the open air). The prospect of addressing an issue so controversial invites notions of politically correct suppression. These men, therefore, in order to maintain their gospel witness become silent about this (and other) issues, even though they know and secretly hold to the kind of beliefs contained in my pastor’s offending leaflet.

The problem I have with this position is threefold. First, holding views which you are silent about because of the reaction you’ll get implies that you’re ashamed of your own views on the matter. I can’t see the integrity of this approach. Surely if something is true, it remains true and must be “preached from the housetops”. And surely the fact an idea has become controversial implies it has become especially and urgently relevant. Potatoes are best served hot. And Islam is certainly a hot potato!

Second, this quote from Martin Luther almost instantly came into my mind when I heard about the council’s decision to deny us our bookstall and church venue: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Third, when you stop saying things for fear of the reaction you’ll get, aren’t you on the road to ultimate compromise? Don’t expect there to be an instant switch from ‘don’t talk about politics’ to ‘don’t talk about Jesus.’ It will always be gradual. But surely the claims of Christ will always offend Muslims and therefore throw us into the firing line of the fearful keepers of the peace. In truth, I can’t explain the zealous protection of Islamic sensibilities without sensing an underlying fear of the Muslims. They certainly don’t fear Christians. And why should they? The Christian must forgive seventy times seventy. The Christian must turn the other cheek and return blessing for cursing. So why do they fear Islam? Precisely because it isn’t a religion of peace!

Of course, the truth must be handled in love as well as integrity. How you articulate your view should show the gentleness of the dove and the wisdom of the serpent. The call of the Christian is to firmly and faithfully represent Christ’s truth to each and every context, “teaching every man and warning every man”, but at the same time demonstrating the love of God in every aspect of our presentation. My pastor has done this yet still stands accused of hate!

Please pray for us as a church in Norwich. Although we are saddened and disappointed by this furore, we are being blessed as a community of God’s people. Due to the smaller premises we currently use, we feel God has brought us closer together both literally and spiritually! We pray for either a restoration of former things or new horizons for witness in our city.

Yet in all this, we believe God has already brought much good out of evil. As the website administrator (www.nrchurch.co.nr), I’ve never known the website so busy nor the inbox so well populated!

By all means, visit our website and drop us a message of support, if you’re so inclined!

The Mantle of Elijah

The man of God was mystery and bringer of wonders. His shadow stood intimidated beside the figure of the man of God. Under the mantle, a mere man submitted to the mere word of God and obeyed it with exact loyalty. But the man of God’s days, though infinite, were numbered.

An apprentice was appointed for Elijah. That exact loyalty chose a loyal servant, Elisha. And so, the mysterious men discovered each other, in serving God. And as the older prophet was beckoned to another realm, the mantle fell on the young successor.

And so the new prophet of God no longer wore an apprentice’s garment. The mantle of Elijah clung majestically to his form. Yet even though he outshone his predecessor, with mightier acts and fewer indications of weakness, he must always be Elijah’s servant. Perhaps Elijah, for all his despair and momentary lack of trust, showed the greater faith in the midst of ignorant despair and angry doubt. Elisha was the more privileged with Elijah’s example, marginally less wicked a king, and the company of sympathisers.

Both Elijah and Elisha were more given to action than words. When they did speak, it was to declare God’s thoughts on the matter in hand. But in general, they were more active than vocal. Signs and wonders marked their ministry in a manner distinct from many other Old Testament prophets. In a land rapidly departing from the LORD, these signs and wonders vividly signalled the power of God against the priests and prophets of Baal. The contest at Mount Carmel was a spectacular illustration of this. Yet the man of God, Elijah, despondently pleaded for death in the wake of such historic victory. Indeed, even as God’s mighty works proclaim His power better than our words, we can often seem depressed and discouraged while we are witnessing His intervention. Let’s covet more success and spiritual encouragement, but let’s not question our heavenly Father’s wisdom.

It takes bravery to admit cowardice and humility to admit pride. The man of God is called to bravery, though he may feel like a coward. He is called to selflessness, though he might feel mighty as an angel. He is called to strength, though he may feel weak. He is called to holiness, though he may feel like the chief of sinners. He will declare God’s words though it attracts the most obstinate opposition. If need be, he will die with the words of the LORD on his lips. The LORD look on it and repay!