Sunday, 25 January 2009

Dear Saints - Hold On!

Hold onto what you Have (Revelation 2:18-29)

It is a problem that has faced Christians through the centuries; how do I get on in the world while keeping my Christian principles? I know I am not to be of the world but cannot deny that I am in the world and retreating from the real world is not an option (although many have tried); as a Christian I am supposed to engage with the society around me, of which I am a part, but how am I to do that while remaining unsullied by contemporary standards?

Paul’s advice to the Roman church was, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Ro.12:18). He goes on in Ro.13 to write about being submissive to authorities, paying taxes and giving honour where it is due, but how far does this accommodation with the world go before it becomes compromise?

Some Christians will insist on an uncompromising stand on every single issue, even going so far as to separate into communities that remain as exclusive as possible, keeping themselves untouched by anything to do with the world. Paul addresses something of this kind when he deals with meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Cor.8 and makes clear that, in many such instances, it is the individual conscience of ‘the weaker brother’ that is the only consideration.

Some Christians get along so well with the world, however, that we can begin to doubt their credentials as Christians and that is the problem facing believers here. Thyatira was a small but busy centre of commerce, the smallest town among the seven to whom John writes. As a thriving commercial centre it entertained many trade guilds, including wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers (Lydia was originally from Thyatira, Acts 16:14), leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths.

It would have been very difficult for any Christian to make a living without belonging to one of these guilds and that would mean eating at trade banquets where meat offered to idols was served up and the religious elements of such an offering perhaps included in the banquet. Whoever Jezebel may have been it seems that she convinced some that this was alright. But it didn’t stop there and such banquets could degenerate into parties of the kind Christians should not been seen attending.

Having someone who is considered a prophetess to condone such things leant weight to the argument that “while in Rome” etc. and being so encouraged Christians would very quickly lose sight of their identity and, more importantly, whose they were. Jezebel also offered secret knowledge to those who followed her, what Jesus calls ‘Satan’s so-called deep secrets’.

This is a heady mix of ambition, pleasure and esoteric insight and not so far removed from the problems facing Christians today, certainly in the developed world. The world seems preoccupied with itself and its ambitions, is increasingly liberal and experimental in enjoying pleasures and seems willing to follow anyone promising them initiation into the meaning of life (preferably secret) and the secrets of success. Prophets and prophetesses abound and the truth available to anyone willing to pay their dues and join up.

Jesus’ answer to all this, his counsel to Christians concerned about these things is simple:

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first...Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you); Only hold on to what you have until I come” (VV19, 24-25)

This is the burden of the concerned Christian, to hold on to what you have, “guard what has been entrusted to your care” (1 Tim.6:20); “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim.1:14). God’s promise is, “I will impose no other burden on you”; other than what? No other burden than the Christian service and faithfulness to truth already enjoined on us. This is our burden as it has been the burden of all believers in all ages; may we bear it faithfully because:

“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – ‘He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ – just as I have received authority from the Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

Previous Posts in this Series:

A Message of Hope

Remember Your First Love

Be Faithful

Be True

Friday, 23 January 2009

BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Italian Job conundrum is 'solved'

Trouble  is Mr Bridger some people 'ave too much time on their 'ands and no mistake. Still, I always wondered 'ow I was gonna get out of that bleedin' pass with the gold and my crown jewels intact. see you in Malaga Mr Bridger.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced the winner of a competition to solve the conundrum at the end of the iconic UK film The Italian Job.

In the film, the robbers' coach almost drives off a cliff, ending up balanced precariously on the edge, with the gang at one end and their gold at the other.

The RSC asked for ideas to get the gold off the coach before it tips over.

Check out the official Italian Job site, its a riot.

BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Italian Job conundrum is 'solved'

Monday, 19 January 2009

Dear Saints - Be True

Be True to the Name (Revelation 2:12-17)

Pergamum was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and the place of residence of the proconsul of the area. It is significant that this letter contains, “The words of him who has the sharp double-edged sword” since the sword was the symbol of the proconsul’s authority (Ro.13:4), demonstrating his power over life and death. The opening words of the letter are a reminder that there is a greater power than that of an earthly governor.

The city boasted a vast library said to have contained over 200,000 parchment scrolls. The word ‘parchment’ derives from the name ‘Pergamum’, although parchment itself was around long before this time. As the provincial capital Pergamum eventually boasted not one but three temples dedicated to the worship of the Emperor and was an important religious centre. It has been described by some as, ‘the Lourdes of the ancient world’ and people travelled from all over the world to be healed by the god Asclepius. It also had important temples dedicated to Zeus, Dinonysos and Athene, alongside a multitude of heathen temples, as well as being the principal centre of the imperial cult in the region.

When Jesus said, “I know where you live – where Satan has his throne” this was not mere hyperbole; Satan ruled this place and, while Christians counted it as their permanent earthly home, the Lord knew that this was where Satan lived. “Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me” says the Lord. There had been times, and there would be again, when Christians would face spasmodic periods of persecution but here, in Pergamum, they faced a continuing crisis and challenge to their faith (the first martyr of the region, Antipas, was tortured to death here) and yet they had remained faithful.

Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test” (2 Cor.13:5)

Of course, the saints in Pergamum had not failed the test for the Lord had already commended them for being true to his name. “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you” said the Lord; and the problems were inside the church. It was not so much that the church was steeped in idolatry as that “you have people there who hold to the teaching...” There is something insidious about this type of tolerance, a tolerance that is popular in today’s liberal world and all-too-often manifest in today’s church. Tolerance of error in whatever form is a trap.

The particular example given of Balaam illustrates this very well. Balaam was the one who advised the king of Moab that the way to get the Israelites to forfeit God’s protection was to induce them to worship idols (Nu.31:16). This is what is meant here in the reference to Balak enticing the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols. This was not merely a reference to food purchased in the market place that was previously sacrificed to idols (1 Cor.8) but an involvement in sacrificial worship to foreign gods. “Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans.”

The answer is a call to repentance. It is Jeremiah, the probable writer of Lamentations, who wrote:

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift our hearts and our hands to God in heaven and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled...” (Lam.3:40)

Despite its role as a seat of learning with a great library and its reputation as a religious centre and place of healing this was the home of Satan. Even Christians of whom the Lord could say, “You have been true to my name” could fall into the trap of compromise with false teaching and were reminded that judgement will come on those who teach error. It is a timely reminder that correct doctrine is important and sound teaching vital. Religion itself is worthless if it is built on unsound foundations; healings and miracles are worthless if they are predicated on lies. People are capable of justifying all and any sins, including sexual immorality and strange worship if they are not grounded in the word of God. That is why we teach as we do and urge others to be true to the name of him who has saved us and who will one day judge us.

Previous Posts in this Series:
A Message of Hope
Remember Your First Love
Be Faithful

Friday, 16 January 2009

Catholic, Orthodox Bishops

You just have to read this post from the Peter Ould's most excellent blog An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy. There is also a link to an excellent paper on the unique nature of Jesus.

It’s so encouraging isn’t it that these wonderfully orthodox bishops in TEC take huge amounts of effort to defend Christ’s glory.

INAUGURAL PRAYER: Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire is scheduled to deliver a prayer at a Jan. 18 inaugural event for President-elect Barack Obama. Bishop Robinson told the Associated Press "I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer."

You couldn’t make it up could you?

Catholic, Orthodox Bishops

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Dear Saints - Be Faithful

Do not Fear – Be Faithful (Revelation 2:8-11)

If ever there was a spiritual battleground it was surely Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It was here, at Antioch Pisidia, that disciples were called Christians first (Acts 11:26); here that the first largely Gentile local church was located; from here Paul’s three missionary journey’s were launched (Acts 13:1-4;15:40;18:23) after his resolve to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).

Smyrna (modern Ismir) competed with Ephesus for the title First city of Asia. It was a faithful ally of Rome before Rome was recognised in the region and one of the first cities to worship the Roman emperor and won the honour of erecting a temple to him during the reign of Tiberius. Conflict between the demands of Christ and those of the state was inevitable and persecution and martyrdom were daily threats. The Lord says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty”. “Afflictions” here is extreme and means a crushing burden; poverty means more than simply living on basics, it means extreme poverty. “Yet you are rich!”

It was in Smyrna that the aged and renowned Polycarp was bishop some years later in the second century and from here that he suffered martyrdom in the arena. The last link with the Apostolic Age (through his association with the apostle John) he was even respected by pagans who described him as “the Father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods, teaching men not to sacrifice or worship!” His reputation as an uncompromising defender of the faith is illustrated by an encounter he had in Rome with the heretic Marcion who rejected much of the Bible and denied the incarnation. “Do you recognise me?” asked Marcion. “I do recognise you – the first born of Satan!” replied Polycarp.

Such a frank and resolute response to error in such a place as Smyrna brings its rewards and in 156 AD, at the age of 86, Polycarp was dragged into the arena and urged by the proconsul to “Swear by the divinity of Caesar; repent, and say ‘Away with the atheists’ (meaning Christians)” Polycarp waved his hands towards the pagan crowd baying for his blood and repeated, “Away with the atheists!” The proconsul pleaded with him, “Take the oath and I will let you go; revile Christ”, to which the bishop replied, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong – how can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”

The Lord refers to “Those who say they are Jews and are not, they are a synagogue of Satan”. At the martyrdom of Polycarp all those years after this letter was written such people were still very busy as, despite the fact that it was the Sabbath, they scurried around searching out wood to build the pyre on which they were eager to see Polycarp die. Polycarp knew that, though he was poor in the things of this world yet he was rich in the things of God.

Do we see our world in the same way? Does our world reflect the world in which the saints of Smyrna faced such extreme persecution and privation? Do we count the crown of life as worth the giving up of anything in this world?

Emperor worship has its modern equivalent in the slavish devotion paid to liberal secularism. This is the new Rome and we are all expected to concede that the modern secular state reigns supreme, all religions are of equal value and all subject to secular thinking. By all means worship who you will but all must worship the modern state.

Marcion has his equals today in those who deny the inerrant nature of Scripture and the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus.

“Those who say they are Jews” can be seen in those liberal elements in the church who insist they are Christians but bend with every wind of doctrine and accommodate their beliefs to the prevailing philosophies around them. Anyone who disagrees is dubbed ‘phobic’ in one way or another and branded a dangerous and reactionary element to be watched and controlled – even imprisoned and eradicated in some states. The word of the Lord to us, as it was to the church in Smyrna, is:

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life”

If difficult times come, if persecution threatens, we need not fear if we are faithful. It will end and a crown of life awaits those who, like Polycarp, like the believers in Smyrna to whom John wrote, look to a God who knows how we struggle for the truth and what temptations beset us on every side in the militantly secular world in which we live. “He who has an ear, let him hear” writes John. Are we listening?

Previous Posts in this Series:
A Message of Hope
Remember Your First Love

Monday, 5 January 2009

Dear Saints - Remember Your First Love

Remember Your First Love (Revelation 2:1-7)

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev.1:7)

This is how these letters to the churches in Revelation conclude, indicating that the message of these letters has a wider application, both in space and time. There is certainly a good deal of encouragement as well as serious censure in the letter to the Ephesian Church that can be applied to us today.

As with the opening words of the revelation (Rev.1:12,13,20), we are reminded that the church is held firmly in the right hand of the Saviour who is present in the midst of his churches. It is comforting to the faithful to realise that he knows our deeds and is not unaware of our hard work and perseverance (Rev.2:2). Christians can labour to the point of weariness and never get a word of thanks or recognition but they know that their Lord knows and that is enough. William Barclay sees in the word ‘perseverance’ the sense of a “courageous gallantry which accepts suffering and hardship and loss and turns them into grace and glory”. God knows what is happening among his people.

I have often reflected that of all the gifts that are vaunted in today’s church the poor relation has been the gift of discernment. It is praised here as the Ephesian Church is commended for:

a) “Not tolerating wicked men.” Ephesus was a centre for occult and idolatrous sects. It seems that Ephesian letters were used as charms to cure sickness and bring luck (Acts 19:8-10) and it would have been so easy to intermingle religion with magic. The Ephesians stood apart.

b) “Testing and exposing false apostles.” Whereas the wicked culture of Ephesus was a threat from the outside, the claims of false apostles were a real threat to the early church from the inside. These weren’t an obvious danger openly threatening to destroy the church but a subtle threat promising to build the church further through what was ultimately false doctrine. The Ephesians stood for truth.

c) “Hating evil practices.” The Psalmist writes of, “He who has ceased to be wise and to do good. He plans wickedness upon his bed; he sets himself on a path that is not good; he does not despise evil” (Ps.36:4,5 NASB) Such were not the Ephesians who “hated the evil practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” The Ephesians stood firm.

Yet there was a serious condemnation and one of which we can all prove deserving: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Rev.1:4) Leon Morris, in his commentary in the Tyndale series observed:

“They had yielded to the temptation, ever present to Christians, to put all their emphasis on sound teaching. In the process they lost love, without which all else is nothing”

What a remarkable indictment! And yet how close to home. As Paul so eloquently put it, “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor.13) If we have lost our first love the Lord gives is three steps to recovering it:

1) “Remember the height from which you have fallen” ‘Hold in memory’ is the best understanding here. Go back in your mind to the days when you first knew the love of Jesus and hold it as a constant memory in your mind. Dwell on it and re-establish that first close walk with God.

2) “Repent!” Recognise how far you have fallen and truly repent, turn your back decisively on the unloving ways that have crept into your life.

3) “Do the things you did at first” As you reflect on those first heady days of faith remember what you did, how you conducted your life and go back to those first principles and practices. A good place to start is to look at the church in Acts 2:42-47 where we see believers devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching, fellowshipping and breaking bread. What needs to be re-established in your life to bring back, or strengthen that first love?

It is vital to hate those things that God hates, to reject evil and false teaching, but all that we say and do in the service of truth becomes empty and worthless unless it issues from love. Of course, love for good necessarily includes hatred for evil but a church without love ceases to be a church. Otherwise where will the repentant go when they see and flee from the error of their ways? If we are wise to remember our first love, then they will come into the arms of a loving church.

Previous Posts in this Series:

A Message of Hope