Canadian author and story teller Stuart McLean (The Vinyl Café) has two rules for his Story Exchange where listeners can send in their own stories: 1) Your story must be true and 2) it must be short, after that it is up to you.
We offer some Biblical reflections in that same vein. We hope that they point you towards the Lord and that you profit by them.
God’s Faithfulness: 5 Months in Review- Psalm 89:1
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
God is faithful to his children in countless ways. Most importantly through the Cross, but in countless unrecognized ways He demonstrates His grace towards undeserving creatures. Even amongst those who have not yet believed, the LORD does not crush them because of their unbelief but sends the rain in due season on the just and unjust so they may turn to Him while He may be found. Ps 89 reminds us, and not only for our benefit, but as a TESTIMONY to others of the goodness of the Lord, we ought to recount and make known the mercies of the Lord. These last 5 months have not always been easy for Rebekah and I, but looking back (because hindsight is often 20/20), we can see some amazing ways in which the Lord poured out those undeserved mercies upon us. We bless Him for being counted His children upon whom He bestows such undeserved goodness. Here are some things that stand out:
- The check in lady at Pearson who didn’t charge us for our extra luggage because we were moving
- The support and friendship given by our church family at Kensington Baptist
- That because our house has still not sold (and hence we have no swelling bank account) the Lord provided us a loaner car to use through a couple in the church
- That, on a couple occasions, the Lord prompted gracious individuals to give us gifts of money that were the EXACT amount of a coming bill
- That Cromhall Chapel approached Chris just when his passion to be engaged in ministry had reached an agonizing point, and that they approached us out of the BLUE
- That Rebekah was promoted to deputy manager at her work while still on probation
Truth be told, the LORD has done far greater things than these, but be it known that His faithfulness endures to all generations. To God be the glory great things he has done in 2014!
Finding ultimate treasure at Christmas- Lk 2:15-16 & Phil 3:17
This Christmas will be materially different through spiritually rich. On Sunday, as per our custom, we set up the most affordable tree we could find and decorated it with homemade ornaments (many of those gingerbread men which Jennie promptly ate!). All our lights and ornaments are packed away in Canada, we do not have the budget for elaborate Christmas gifts, our Canadian residence still not sold and we don’t even have snow! We are grateful that Abby is coming to visit, that we have each other, our health, and a multitude of other little blessings, however, perhaps more than any other year we have found the true worth of the greatest Christmas treasure, who, without the tarnish of the trappings, is shining radiantly for us.
In Luke 2:15-16, we see how these poor shepherds discovered this radiant gift in humble simplicity:
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
They had found the Christ, the sovereign of the universe and the one who would save His people from their sins, and worshipped Him in a stable. The sentiments of their encounter and ours this Christmas are reminiscent of Phil 3:17 where Paul declares:
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Good Old Right Faith- Heb 13:7, by Chris
Several weeks ago I had the tranquil opportunity to sit and pray in the solitude of a chapel that was over a thousand years old! It was a Saxon chapel (meaning it pre-dates the Norman conquest of 1066) in Bradford-upon-Avon. Its walls were over 1 metre thick and it only had one window, which shone a beam of light upon two stone carved angels and through a door upon the altar.
Many Christians scoff at my studying Church history opposed to the queen of the sciences (theology) or Biblical studies. Interestingly, being a historian usually means having to be conversant in all Christian fields as well as your own. Such people often fail to realize that Christianity is an historic religion and central to it is the belief in God’s providence and the Incarnation (an historic event so important even today’s date hinges upon it). One begins to add to that the value placed upon of history in the OT (eg.1 & 2 Samuel) and NT (eg.the Gospels, Acts) and the scoffers are quickly backed into a corner.
Evangelicalism has often been much better at being contemporary than drawing from the deep wells of the past. When it does look to the past it is generally only interested in the giants. Who needs that stiff necked traditionalism anyway is often the excuse given. Well there is a huge difference between traditionalism on the one hand (the dead faith of the living) and rich and vibrant tradition (the living faith of the dead) on the other. Among numerous Biblical warrants for Church history and a “usable past” is Hebrews 13:7:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Here contemporary Christians are called to 3 things (2 imperatives and a linking participle to be exact): Remember, consider, imitate
Remembering is not just a one off, it is a continual and active command to remember and keep remembering;
Once we have remembered we are called to consider or ponder, to look at or come back to something again and again. And here we are not called to ponder the brokenness of our forbearers but the fruit produced by Word at work in their lives;
Remember….and as you do that…imitate what you see. BUT do not imitate them in their brokenness. In this you will always be disappointed. Imitate their faith, their relationship with the Lord and His redemptive grace seen in their lives. This is why Paul could say in 1 Cor 11:1- Imitate me just as I imitate Christ. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) said that, “The knowledge of God is a mountain steep indeed and difficult to climb—the majority of people scarcely reach its base. If one were a Moses or a Paul, he would ascend higher.” Men and women, who though flawed sinners, can serve “as role models for other Christians as they seek to be faithful followers of Christ.”
We are not called to remember, consider or imitate the person and thus idolize them, nor find authority in tradition, but rather see God’s word at work in them, and remember, consider and imitate that through them. It is here that we find the “good old right faith” and that is worth remembering.
Reflections on Study, by Chris
What a privilege it is to study at the level I am (and in a foreign country!), especially given the thousands of Christians around the world who do not have access to Christian education.
I have been finding my studies accomplishing their task of transforming my character (a work of sanctification) and better preparing me as a pastor to be able to “equip the saints” (Eph 4:12). On the other hand, both the privilege, responsibility and enormity of the task have been incredibly humbling. You come to realize that the more you know the less you actually know because of the vastness of information that surrounds us. But those who love learning should not let such a reality produce the burden of morass (new word to me so I thought I would use it here). A Biblical worldview provides a helpful framework to balance these two tensions as the Bible speaks of both our finitude and inability to know all truth and the resulting humility (Isa 40:28; 55:8-9) and also the confidence and hope found in the fact that we can know the truth (Jn 8:32).
Ecclesiastes 12:12 also gives us helpful instruction on this point (to be balanced of course). It says
12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
There is a place of study, however, that never fails and is always of great profit and that is the cross. John Newton said, “There is no school like the school of the cross. There men are made wise unto salvation; wise to win souls. In a crucified Saviour are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And the tongue of the truly learned, that can speak a word in season to them that are weary, is not required, like Greek and Latin, by reading great books; but by self-knowledge and soul exercises. To learn navigation by the fire-side, will never make a man an expert mariner. He must do his business in great waters. And practice will bring him into many situations, of which his general theory could give him no conception.”
As I continue to invest in becoming a pastor-scholar, becoming a curate (a doctor of the souls) is my premiere aim. At the cross we are humbled and given the promise that in turn we will be lifted up. I pray my studies, in the end, in corroboration with the Cross, will serve to make me wiser to salvation and to share that blessing with others.
Pondering Providence, by Chris
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Moving to England, growing my global perspective and facing many trials, has had me pondering the Biblical teaching of providence. Add to that the most recent assignment my supervisors have me writing (what does it mean to write historical Christian biography?) and by consequence I have been pondering providence in every waking and sleeping breath. This has been both humbling and powerfully equipping. The clincher is that as finite human beings who cannot know the entire mind of God, though we can know truth. We can see the finger of God upon history, but not presume to know everything. As we struggle between the known and unknown we can become depressed and drawn into the chaos of darkness by such incredible morass. But thanks be to God He gives us the light of His truth to cling to and to be the foundation on which to build our house, so that even when we are left to trust His mystery we know that He is faithful.
The Westminster Confession states, Q&A 27&28:
What do you understand by the providence of God? Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.
How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us? We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.
On these truths I will build my life!
For a helpful article on the patterns of Providence in Esther written by a friends click here.
A Tribute to William Tyndale- by Chris
This afternoon, in the early autumn sunshine, a small group of us made our way north of Bristol to a village called North Nibbley. Above the village on the edge of the Cotswold scarps is a very special tower. It is the Tyndale Monument, erected in memory of William Tyndale who was chained and burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church near Brussels for translating the Bible into English. William had fled England and was living on the continent when caught. His reforming zeal ensured that the English had their own translation of the Bible so they could read God’s word for themselves. 80% of the KJV of the New Testament and 70% of the Old Testament are Tyndale’s translation. He was born and raised near North Nibbley and we marked the anniversary with prayer, praise and a reading from the Tyndale New Testament.
grace to hear and keep your word
that, after the example of your servant, William Tyndale,
we may not only profess your Gospel,
but be ready to suffer and die for it,
to the honour of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN!
Worship While We’re Waiting- by Chris
That line title describes Rebekah and I at the moment. We are still waiting on the Lord to do a great many things in this calling and move of ours that we trust He has called us to. At times we find that our greatest and simplest prayer is to ask for more faith (trust), because we humans are often of so little faith. We have found ourselves crying out with the Psalmist (Ps 79:8-10):
8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!
10 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
We have found ourselves waiting on the Lord. The Bible says a lot about waiting, and much of it our fast drive through culture doesn’t really want to hear. I would consider, by human standards, to be a patient person, but also as a man of action sometimes, and in this case, I find it difficult to wait on the Lord. Then there is this promise from Isa 40:31:
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Something about waiting, trusting God’s character and promises, draws us nearer to Him and prepares our hearts for His next assignment for Him. So when the way is not clear, or it is and you are waiting, focus on your relationship with Him. Focus on what is at hand. I was encouraged in my research on this point by a helpful quote I came across about John Ryland. It said, he “always did the little which lay to his hand, and found that by doing the ‘next thing’ life became rich in opportunities of usefulness.” Ryland too, at least earlier in life, had issues with waiting. He was waiting on a very noble thing, finding a godly wife. In his trial of waiting (and he waited a good while only to have his first wife die in childbirth, leaving him a single father) the young Ryland turned to his dear friend and lifelong mentor, John Newton, author of Amazing Grace. Newton advised him:
Believe likewise, that as the Lord has the appointment of the person, so He fixes the time. His time is like the time of the tide; all the art and power of man can neither hasten nor retard it a moment: it must be waited for; nothing can be done without it, and when it comes, nothing can resist it. It is unbelief that talks of delays: faith knows that, properly, there can be no such things. The only reason why the Lord seems to delay what He afterwards grants is, that the best hour is not yet come.
So we wait, trusting and worshipping our sovereign and gracious Lord.
“Secret Little Idols”~ Exodus 20:3, by Chris
You shall have no other gods before me.
It is no secret, idolatry (worshipping false gods instead of the one true God), is the most discussed topic in the Bible. It heads the 10 commandments, commands against it are found over 100 times in the first five books of Scripture and Jesus Himself said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” That leaves no room for dual allegiance. The Lord wants all of you and will not settle for anything less. Though we live in an age where idolatry is rife, I do not generally consider myself an idolatrous person. Our spiritual journey to the UK has been teaching me much about the secret little idols that are sometimes not so noticeable.
Idol #1- attachment to things
Rebekah and I were blessed to have a lot of “stuff.” Now stuff is not bad in and of itself but must not be elevated above the Lord nor viewed as anything but something the Lord gave you; and He is free to shift it around a bit. When we were getting ready to move I was struck by how reticent I was to let go of things that we did not have space to keep; how much I latched on to silly objects. “I can’t get rid of that mug, I might need it,” or what about that t-shirt, “I have had that since high school.” I had to release idol #1.
Idol #2- security in possessions
We were blessed with a little home and by many standards it was not large and was modestly decorated. The difficulty was packing all those possessions away. Not just choosing what to keep but putting all that you were used to— away— knowing we would not see them again for four years. When we arrived in Manchester we entered a new country with not a whole lot; 3 suitcases each and our dog. Stripped away was idol #2.
Not so much for Rebekah but for me, was the idol of identity. It is not wrong to find identity in good wholesome God honouring things. I was a pastor, army chaplain, beekeeper… now in transition what was I? It was a helpful reminder that our primary identity must always be Christ and Him alone. Working on idol #3.
None of those things were in themselves bad or wrong, but they were or were tested as idols before the Lord. Would I release them to Him? that was the test. God in His goodness will often offer them back when we have surrendered them at His feet in a sign of homage to our rightful King. In all things though, secret idols or not, let us not cling to our pride but in all things humbly prostrate fall loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, empty of ourselves and worldly passing idols.
“Moving on trust” ~ Genesis 12:1, by Chris
The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
We are now in the UK, 5,720 km or 3,554 miles from home. That is an incredibly long way away from home; the people, places, sights, sounds, smells and tastes that you know and love. Home is everything that is familiar. It is your identity and your heritage. We have likened our journey to the UK with that of the Old Testament patriarch Abram’s famous call from Genesis 12. The call and obedient faith of father Abraham has been a story Rebekah and I have both related to and drawn much strength and wisdom from.
Now certainly there are many dis-similarities between his story and ours! Abram walked or rode, we flew. He did not have Skype to talk with loved ones and we do. In reality though, his journey was only 555 miles, which is 3000 miles shorter than our trip. True he did not know where he was going and we did but there is the hurdle of an ocean for us and many modern political boundaries not to mention the administrative and financial details involved in shifting between continents.
Truly though, I do not pretend the stories are identical, nor do I ignore the magnitude of Abram’s journey, but there are similarities in the journey which every believer who has been called by God to move far away from home, or to a mission requiring deep faith at home, can deeply resonate with. These fit well with the 7 biblical principles in Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God:
- 1, 2, 3 and 4- (paraphrasing) God is sovereign, loving and relational and speaks to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways.
The LORD, the LORD! spoke to a man named Abram and changed his life as he knew it. Rebekah and I are so thankful that through a friendship with the LORD through His Son Jesus we have the privilege to be called a friend of God, our lives have been changed because God spoke, first to save us from our sin and now to call us to England to study to His glory and His kingdom’s benefit.
- 4- God’s invitation leads to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
The LORD spoke saying “go” and this command, at the outset, was not supplemented with any further details. Those details were none other than “to the land that I will show you.” “Very helpful and clear God, thanks,” Abram perhaps thought. This command challenged Abram to abandon the normal sources of personal identity and security: his family and country. Psalm 119:105 paints the picture of a lamp lighting our path. God reveals just enough of what He wants to accomplish in our lives so we trust Him but remain dependent upon Him. If we were given a great light into the future rather than a lamp we would think we are God Himself. Rebekah and I have seen a great many of the things the Lord is pointing us towards but the how of reaching them remains a mystery of faith that keeps us humble before Him.
- 5- You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
To obey Abram must trust God implicitly; all human support is largely removed. Ur to Canaan—go! Abram left all that was familiar and secure to journey in obedience before the LORD into the unknown, with only a command and a promise. We have packed our lives into a trailer, left our family and all that is special and dear. We only have our God, each other and Jennie (our dog). We have made a massive adjustment unlike any other in our lives thus far. Even with the wisest human planning the move still involves risk and injury but we trust God for the future because He has proven Himself faithful in our past.
- 6- You come to know God by experience as you obey Him…
God promised Abram that if he followed the LORD would make him a “blessing to the nations.” That must have seemed like a tall tell command and promise. To a land that I will show you compounded with a grandiose promise to use him to become a great nation and be a blessing to all nations? The promised outcomes for Abram are conditional on his obedience. To seize hold of them he obeys. It is because of his obedience that the blessings of that promise, as father Abraham the righteous man who lived by faith, were enacted. We only experience the LORD when we obey His promises.
We have moved to England on trust. We are trusting God that our house will sell and that we will find meaningful and sufficient jobs; and yet trusting Him for so much more, that as He works in this situation our involvement in what He is doing through us might produce something worthy of glorifying His name. It is a God sized assignment to which we have been called; and that is the best assignment to embark on because then God receives all the glory because who are we, can we accomplish it?
We have humbly followed, and we now humbly stand, trusting the Lord to guide our way.
“Gratitude for the Family of God” ~ Galatians 6:10, by Chris on Aug 20, 2014
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Fellow believers have been a tremendous blessing to Rebekah and I throughout the entirety of our transition and that is an understatement. We are so grateful for the prayers and support we have received on both sides of the Atlantic, those sending and those receiving.
Here in Bristol there have been many gracious members of the household of faith who have exemplified the Christian duty of hospitality (Ro 12:13; Lev 19:34; Heb 13:2) by doing good to us.
My professor and staff at BBC who helped us get here, and who has been a great friend.
To our new church family at Kensington Baptist Church who:
Picked us up from Manchester Airport;
Provided a food care basket the first night of our arrival;
Secured a temporary loaner car for our use;
Invited and enabled us to attend the church holiday weekend in Somerset;
Put together a hospitality rotation whereby we visit families in the congregation for a meal 3-5 times each week for the month of August;
The fellowship, friendship, and love we have received have helped to assure us of the Lord’s provision and love for us and have helped us to not miss home quite so much.
We’re so glad we’re a part of the Family of God!