As far as the east is from the west

The book of Psalms is a wonderful book. Reading from it recently I came across this passage (Ps 103:6–19):

The Lord works righteousness     and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses,     his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious,     slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide,     nor will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,     nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,     so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west,     so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children,     so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame;     he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass;     he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,     and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,     and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant     and remember to do his commandments. 19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,     and his kingdom rules over all.

Verses 11 and 12 are significant.

v. 11- The atmosphere of the earth is 300 miles thick (though most is within 10 miles). God’s steadfast love is even greater than this!

v. 12- The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles. However, there is no actual distance between the east and the west, they never meet! God’s ability to forgive is immense.

Contrary to much popular belief, however, that teaches God’s love, and especially His forgiveness is given to all indiscriminately, that is not what the Psalm says. Notice the end of v. 11 (and 12, 17) that says “on those who fear Him.” On those who know the greatness of the Lord (v. 19) and truly acknowledge their sin before Him (v. 10) and stand in reverence and awe before such a God, pleading not their own cause as if they were innocent but trusting in the blood of the New Covenant (Jesus) (v. 18) alone to save them, to that person—the humble believer—the Lord will show the steadfast love and forgiveness the Psalm describes.

The Gospel message is inclusive (available for all) but forgiveness belongs exclusively to those who trust in Jesus (Acts 4:12). Have you placed your trust in Him?

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

How endorsing homosexuality crosses the Rubicon

I would much rather write today about the wonders of authentic Christian faith but in the day and age in which we are living in often find it necessary to equip us against the tossing seas of error that threaten the truth (Jude 1:3).

Since homosexual marriage was legalised in the UK in 2013 many in the church have entered into great discussion on the subject, jostling between the direction culture is heading and what the Bible says (don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind [Ro 12:2]). Trying to make the church relevant by giving into culture in certain matters will only make it less potent and relevant. Given that I am from Canada, the fourth western nation (after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain) to make such unions legal in 2005, I have had even more time to reflect on the subject and write today to briefly demonstrate how endorsing homosexuality as a church or Christian crosses the Rubicon.

Firstly, what is the Rubicon? It is a figure of speech, quite similar to the phrase “past the point of no return.” It refers to a river in north-eastern Italy that the general Julius Caesar crossed heading south in 49 B.C. The significance? It was illegal under Roman law for a legion to enter Italy and by crossing he effectively declared war on the Senate and eventually brought about the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. Caesar was intentionally doing something that he knew would have far reaching consequences that could not be [easily] undone. In a nutshell to cross the Rubicon means “to commit oneself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action.” Endorsing homosexuality is a departure from the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

History_Ask_History_Crossing_the_Rubicon_SF_HD_1104x622-16x9

How does endorsing homosexuality cross the Rubicon in ways which other authentic Christians may disagree yet still enjoy varying degrees of fellowship and cooperation? Many Christians disagree over the place of women in ministry, the subject and mode of Baptism, predestination, forms of church government, pacifism/ just war, and divorce.

The answer to the above question is that those are all secondary issues, which whilst very important (and an improper view will produce negative effects on personal and corporate Christian life), are not primary issues. Divorce is an interesting comparison to homosexuality. The reason why it does not cross the Rubicon is because while condemning divorce the Bible does make some exceptions, unlike homosexuality. The greater the theological agreement between Christians the greater the level of missional cooperation (Amos 3:3) and this begins with primary theological matters related to the Gospel (what it means to be saved and know and please God through Jesus Christ). The issue of homosexuality crosses at least three primary lines of Christian beliefs: Scripture, the Gospel, and sexuality.

Rejects the doctrine of Scripture

Central to the Christian faith is that the Lord has spoken light into our darkness by revealing Himself in the Bible. While we must remember context when studying the Bible (literary, theological, historical) the book in question is no ordinary human book but “sacred writings” inspired by God, because “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful…” (2 Tim 3:15­–16) and “every word of God proves true” (Prov 30:5).

Therefore Scripture is trustworthy, authoritative and sufficient. Because God is “the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Mal 3:6, Heb 13:8) the truths He has spoken to us remain the same today just as they were 2000 years ago, from eternity past, and into eternity future. If the Bible is from God we listen and obey, if it isn’t we can do what we want, but that is not Christianity.

The problem with endorsing homosexuality is it forces one to crop out significant portions of Scripture as uninspired (under the guise they are culturally bound texts) such as Gen 19; Lev 18:22, 20:10–16; Rom 1:23-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; Jude 7. The problem is that not only is the cultural argument untenable, but that in dismissing these passages one dismisses a consistent teaching of the Bible that is intricately interrelated to other key texts and teachings of the Bible. To affirm homosexuality is to dismiss Scripture, including Gospel passages.

Rejects the Gospel

The Gospel message begins with the bad news of sin and ends with the good news of forgiveness from sin through faith in Jesus Christ and [eternal] life in His name. To reject homosexuality as sin is also to reject the Gospel. In 1 Cor 6 (cited above) verse 11 reminds the Corinthian believers that “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” When we know we fall short of God’s perfect standard (Mt 5:48) and that faith in Jesus offers us not only forgiveness but the power to change, that is good news in light of our present circumstances. Homosexuality, similar to other sins, separates us from God. The good news is that—whatever our sin(s) or past— we can be restored to God through faith and repentance in Christ and transformed by His Spirit into new creations (2 Cor 5:17). If sin is not sin and the Gospel does not have the power to change it is not a message of good news.

Rejects God’s design for marriage, sexuality and gender

To endorse homosexuality is not simply a different Christian view on human sexuality, it is an entirely different worldview. All Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and gender (including Jesus and Paul) trace their roots to Gen 1:26–28 and 2:22–24. This is further filtered through the lens of God’s moral standard in the Law such that when in the NT Jesus and Paul quote Genesis and the Law they are showing continuity and agreement with God’s original design consistent throughout Scripture. When Jesus warns the “sexually immoral” that includes homosexuality because it is a stock phrase used by Jesus to refer to the moral standard for sexuality expressed in the Law.

People can dismiss what the Bible clearly teaches on the subject, they are free in matters of conscience to do that, however, it is misguided to say the Biblical worldview for marriage, sexuality and gender is in anyway compatible with those views that endorse homosexuality.

Many objections have and will be made to similar lines of thought as those presented here. I would refer such people to 2 Tim 4:1–5. If we degrade Christ (His Word, Gospel and designs), He will surely degrade us. Recent studies show that generally those churches that remain true to orthodox Christian teachings (such as marriage and sexuality) grow, whilst those who go ahead of such teachings (2 John 1:9) are in general state of decline. Unlike many divisive issues within the church in the past this issue is a Rubicon that will separate the wheat from the chaff. Many churches and individuals have already or are considering crossing the Rubicon. To the former I would exhort you with the aforementioned words, to the latter I would say the following. While Caesar crossed the point of no return, whilst endorsing homosexuality does depart from orthodox Christianity, unlike the Rubicon, through repentance in Jesus Christ, a turning back to Him, restoration is graciously possible.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

YIKES!

There are many things I would rather write about, the wonders of Jesus, the depths of what it means to follow Him, however, pastors—in every age— often spend a great deal of their time speaking into the particular issues of the day, which morally speaking centre right now around the LGBTI and gender inclusive agenda. Like I said, this is not a hobby horse but something I feel I must address.

Many Christians have reluctantly acknowledged that until a move of the Holy Spirit comes upon our land to awaken us to the truth and reveal our sin and need for Jesus, there is a very small likelihood that the recent tide of laws against marriage will be reversed. And that we can very comfortably sit behind a belief that while these things may exist in society (and even grow as they are promoted as a choice) that we are safe because of our “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech.” If you read the fine print of the Article 9 of the 1998 UK Human Rights Act[1] you’ll see there are loopholes that permit a way to circumvent these “freedoms.” This, however, is not the news that concerns me today.

You may have seen a recent news article where the European country of Malta passed legislation banning “gay cure conversion therapy.” Click here to read the BBC article. There are a number of things that I think are disconcerting about this law:

  • That the law “enshrines” that sexual orientation or gender identity is not wrong or a “short coming of any sort”
  • That others who disagree for religious or non-religious reasons are therefore legally “wrong.”
  • That religious freedom is outweighed by others “rights.”
  • That if you believe such things are not acceptable and seek to help change someone you will face up to £8,450 in fines and a year in prison (sending a clear message that freedom of religion is really freedom from religion and that this freedom is at best secondary).
  • That if it has gained a foothold in Europe, how much longer until such laws are advanced in the UK?
  • Lastly, that it strikes hard against two Biblical truths, the first is that what the Bible describes as right and wrong is the standard, there is no other; and the second, the Gospel itself.

While the law targets professionals such as psychiatrists who offer various forms of gay conversion therapy, it also would apply to Christian leaders, preachers and teachers who preach the life transforming message of the Gospel. While physical and psychological routes for gay conversion may assist they ultimately fall short of offering true hope to the individual because the issue is ultimately about sin and requires a spiritual solution.

This is what we read of in 1 Cor 6: 9–11 (emphasis added):

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This passage identifies a representative list of various sins (which includes but is not limited to homosexuality) that separate us from God. Paul then reminds the Corinthians “and such were some of you” meaning they had been CHANGED by believing in the Gospel (that’s the “but”). They once were and were now no longer. The hope of change from homosexuality is possible (though many prefer to continue to walk in darkness). However, it comes not through gay conversion therapy but by trusting in Jesus.

May we never lose sight of the wonder and power of the Gospel which can transform any sinner and make them a new creation in Christ Jesus, regardless of the consequences. May we never cease to be defined by the message of the Gospel that sets us apart as Christ’s.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Article 9 Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

<http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/schedule/1/part/I/chapter/8&gt;

The Gospel of Hezekiah

For those who may be wondering at the title—NO— this does not refer to a long lost book from a Dan Brown novel! Even if the fullest manifestation of the Gospel came in Christ we see marvellous foreshadowing’s of the Gospel in the Old Testament. We should expect this as not only predictive of Christ’s coming but also reflective of God’s character and mission, for He reigns over both Testaments and changes not.

When the Passover was celebrated (itself emblematic of Christ) Hezekiah sent “couriers” to the tribes of Israel that had recently been decimated by the Assyrian invasion. While the leaders, craftsmen, etc, were carried into exile many commoners appear to have remained. Having compassion upon them and desiring that they might be restored to the Lord the couriers message to Israel from King Hezekiah of Judah was this:

“O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. (2 Chronicles 30:6-8 ESV)

The first part of the Gospel is to point out and for people to come to acknowledge the bad news. Israel’s sinfulness and faithlessness as that of a whore [c.f. Hosea 5:4] (horrifically recounted elsewhere in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles and the Prophets) had brought judgement upon them.

Having clearly identified the problem, however, Hezekiah then turns to point them to the solution:

For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV)

IF— the condition of the Gospel. The avenue, the means of salvation is accepting the invitation and remedy for the bad news. For the Israelites it was returning to worship the true God, offering sacrifices for sin and humbly obeying His commands. Today it is no different, we are called to acknowledge the Lord, the one true God, turn to Christ for the forgiveness of sins and live under His life giving promises.

But in Israel’s case we see the sad reality, that not all to whom the Gospel is published will repent and believe, some will, some will not:

So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 30:10-11 ESV)

When we preach the Gospel we need to be ready to be laughed at, scorned and mocked, all the while “not being ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16). Such push back also reminds us of the hardness of people’s hearts and that it is only by the Spirit that men can be lead to believe (Jn 6:44). However, we should take heart to persevere in our promotion of the Gospel:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim 2:10)

Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was that because the elect of God are out there, we labour in preaching the Gospel trusting that the Lord will use us as the means to reach them.

Thanks be to God for the Gospel!

Pastor Chris

Gratefulness for the Gospel

Paul opens his letter to the Colossians with a thanksgiving prayer for two things: the Gospel and the believers in Colossae. Often even true Christians can lose their passion or gratefulness for the Gospel, and yet this ought to be the mainstay that undergirds our Christian sense of joy, mission and piety. Can we honestly say with Paul that we continually praise the Lord for His Gospel of grace and His saving work in our life? We should. Paul reminds us of the dire circumstances from which we were saved from and the gratefulness this should produce. In vv. 13-14 he writes, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Sweet redemption! Do you remember your first love? The knowledge of what Christ did for us and how much we continually need Him should bring us to our knees with thanksgiving, great joy and humility, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints of light” (Col 1:12 ESV). One helpful exercise to cultivate such thankfulness and praise for the Gospel is to remember how we were brought to faith in Christ. We often call this our testimony.[1]

So get out a pen and paper, or sit down at your computer, and begin to write out your testimony (we’ll limit this to our conversion experience for in the broadest sense this can apply to ALL that the Lord has done in our life). This will serve to bring God’s incredible grace to mind not only to increase our thanks but also to help refine your knowledge of His work in your life so you can more readily share the Gospel with others.

I share my own condensed testimony with you here, not to boast, but as an example, recognizing our stories will all be as unique as we are but also with a strong commonality as we are all saved by the same Lord:

“I was born and raised in a nominal Christian family. Though my parents were nominal, or cultural Christians, that did not stop me from being influenced in a positive way towards the Gospel. Many folks consider it a privilege to be led to Christ through some type of “Damascus road experience” after having blatantly pursued an outward life of sin, and can pinpoint their conversion to a precise day, hour and second. Certainly such conversions are powerful witnesses and testimonies to God’s grace and work in the world, however, this was not my experience. For me the transition appeared as much more progressive.

In the parable about of the vineyard workers (Matt 20) these ‘Damascus road conversions’ could be considered those hired at 5 o’clock. Responding to God’s providential care at a young age I was a worker called at the 9th hour. Though the attitude of the early workers is portrayed negatively, in practicality it is a blessing to be called early and it is a privilege to know Christ from a young age and have longer to get to know Him. I count it as God’s wonderful grace that I was positioned in a place where I could respond to the Gospel early in life and have the opportunity to share in His work and experience His blessings. In fact, I can never remember not knowing the Lord’s presence in my life and count that all grace (Ps 22:10b). Through the Lord’s love He surrounded me with believers, a Biblical church and solid mentors whom the Holy Spirit used to lead me into a lifesaving relationship with Jesus. In 1995 I publically professed my faith in Christ for the forgiveness of my sins and was baptized. During my childhood I was kept from certain outward forms of sin which other youth succumbed to. While not perfect, the Lord kept me close to Him and built me up in the most holy faith and gave me a desire to delight in and follow Him, something which I have done ever since. As I have matured in my faith I have grown in my awareness of my own sin and the sin of this world and the need for a Saviour. This, and the knowledge of grace, continues to produce the fruit of humility as I declare, ‘I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Saviour,’ who working through me, can do immeasurably more than I could ever hope or accomplish, for His glory. Amen.”

May our testimonies increase our grateful praise and humility!

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Upon reflection, if you discover there is no proof that you have ever responded to Christ, hence why v.12 makes little sense to you, would you respond to the Gospel today?