Jars of Clay: The Key to Bold Living

jars - calendar2 Cor 3: 7-18

A Bit of Background

Moses’ breaking the tablets of the law in response to Israel’s sin with the golden calf demonstrated that the Sinai covenant was broken from the beginning.

Although Israel had been rescued from slavery her idolatry revealed that her "neck" remained "stiff," enslaved to sin.

As a result, the Sinai covenant failed in its purpose: , Israel’s on-going experience of the glory of God had been intended to purify them to become a holy "kingdom of priests".

Instead, faced with the sin of the nation, God proclaimed a desire to destroy the people and to start over with Moses (cf. Ex 32:10).

How can God’s glory continue to dwell in the midst of Israel without destroying her?

Initially, God’s glory was forced to dwell outside the camp in the "tent of Hireling," lest God’s presence destroy the people (cf. Ex. 33:7-11). Only Moses (as part of the faithful "remnant," could approach the presence of God”’

In the end, therefore, Moses becomes the answer to his own prayers and the covenant is restored (Ex Moses receives the law a second time and, with the glory of God beaming on his face, mediates God’s presence to his people (34:1 1-35).

The presence of God’s glory means Israel’s death.

In response, after speaking God’s word to the people, Moses veils his face, not to hide the fact that the glory is but in order to protect Israel from being destroyed (34:32-33).

Moses’ veiled mediation of God’s glory permits his presence to remain in Israel’s midst without destroying her. In this regard, Moses’ veiling himself is an act of mercy.

The Old Covenant Ministry of Death (3:7)

Moses’ ministry came in glory but brings death (2 Cor 3:7). When Moses subsequently returned to the tent of meeting, he removed the veil, thereby "recharging" the glory on his face.

Afterwards, Moses would then quickly veil himself to hide the fact that the glory was fading away. Paul’s point is that the glory on Moses’ face was continuously being brought to an end or cut off in regard to its impact.

The Contrast Between the Two Ministries (3:8-11)

It possible for God to dwell in the midst of his people without destroying them, thereby bringing about their righteousness. This real manifestation of God’s glory, is the ministry of the Spirit (3:8)

Paul is not saying that the glory of the old covenant pales in comparison to the new, but that the "surpassing glory" of the new covenant now brings "that which had been glorified," that is, the old covenant, to an end. When one compares the purposes and results of the two covenants, the former has no glory at all.

“Once the new covenant arrives, with its primary purpose of granting new life in the Spirit, the old covenant, with its primary purpose of condemnation, is no longer the locus of God’s glory in the world.”

The Boldness of the New Covenant Ministry (3:12-18)

Paul’s confident expectation is that through his own life and message as a minister of the new covenant (3:6) the glory of God is being mediated to God’s people in the Spirit (3:11). Because he has this "hope," Paul is therefore "very bold".

The word "bold" is a technical term from the political realm that was associated with freedom and truth. It refers to shamelessness in one’s behaviour that leads to a free, courageous, and open manner of speech.

The power of the Spirit in Paul’s ministry (3:8) has made him fearless and forthright in his proclamation of the gospel (3:12, Rom. 1:16-17).

Ultimately, this boldness arises from our assurance that our lives and labours:

  derive from God’s grace in his life,

  that they are being carried out in God’s presence,

  and that they will be vindicated before God’s judgment (2 Cor. 1:12,- Phil. 1:20).

Israel’s persistent hardening to the demands of the old covenant is evidence of her continuing separation from God.

Christians’ "freedom" confirms their being in the presence of their Lord. The transformation of God’s people "comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit," since the Spirit is the down payment of God’s presence and power in our lives (1:20-22,- 3:3-6, 8).

We too derive our sufficiency for the tasks to which God has called us from the power of his Spirit in and through us.

The confidence that undergirds the ministry and the life of the believer does not come from techniques or training, but from God’s call and the reality of God’s Spirit.

This is the great news. It is the gospel and the foundation of our "hope." It is our absolute confidence for the future. Our confidence and boldness is a result of the life-changing reality of the Spirit.

We all, like Moses, can enter into the presence if God with unveiled faces Those who know Christ are being transformed by God’s glory into the glory of God’s likeness.

BUT
We, like the Corinthians of Paul’s day, are often tempted by the lure of an "over-realised eschatology" that promises an escape from the consequences of living in the midst of a sinful world.

Like Paul’s opponents, we too are often convinced that Paul suffered too much to be a Spirit-filled apostle of Christ.

Nevertheless, God is creating a people who, by their on-going transformation, testify to the presence and power of God’s Spirit in their lives. For those who have benefited from the "ministry of the Spirit" and "righteousness," conformity to Christ in the midst of adversity is the primary evidence that the kingdom of God is here (1:7,- 2:12-14, 3:18).

Their "obedience that comes from faith" (Rom. 1:5) makes it evident that only "in Christ" can such a salvation take place, since only Christ’s death can make it possible for the Holy Spirit of God to invade our lives with mercy rather than judgment (3:15-16).

As the "letter from Christ" written "with the Spirit of the living God" (3:3), the church is therefore a local outpost of the kingdom of God and his righteousness in the midst of this evil age.

As such, she lives in confident anticipation of her final redemption, having received the Spirit as God’s own "deposit" or down payment (1:22).

Having received the Spirit, the believer has also received a revelation of God’s righteousness (cf. 3:8 with 3:9). This righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment to glorify himself by maintaining his moral standards in judgment, by revealing his sovereignty in election, and by showing his mercy through meeting the needs of his sinful people.

Because of Christ’s life and death, these displays of God’s righteousness are not in conflict with one another.

In Christ, God’s righteousness towards his sinful people can begin with their election, work itself out in the forgiveness of their sins, and culminate in their deliverance from sin.

The display of God’s righteous activity toward his sinful people thus includes:
  their redemption because of Christ
   their transformation in Christ,
     their final restoration into the image of Christ in the age to come (3:18,- 4:4-6,- 5:21,- 8:9).

Hence, the flip side and expression of God’s righteousness displayed on our behalf is our transformation into the likeness of God himself. The evidence that we have been sealed in the Spirit is the growing life of the obedience of faith that flows from the presence and power of the Spirit in one’s life.

All of this is from God.

God ever call for and anticipate that anybody can or should try and merit grace.

He never says, "Get your act together for six weeks and then I »ill bless you."

The indicatives always precede the imperatives. God’s work of transforming jars of clay into his image is seen in the perseverance of the saints, even in the face of their broken lives of suffering and death.

Jars of Clay: The Pastoral Heart

jars - calendarThere were lots of things which caused Paul to consider he was a jar of clay. The violence he experienced, the weight of apostolic responsibility, and “people”. People give us our greatest joys and some of our deepest despairs.

The Corinthians people problem.

Paul nowhere mentions the specifics of the offence. Could have been the same as in 1 Cor 5

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? …. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

…. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

1. If the offence been against Paul alone, he would have been compelled to heed his own advice in 1 Corinthians 6:7 and "rather be wronged" than pursue personal vindication.

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.

2. But, the integrity of the congregation was at stake (1 Cor. 4:14-21).

If not the 1 Cor 5 man, then this is someone who is undermining the church and Paul’s ministry to it. This is the heart of much church discord.

Most of the Corinthians seem to have initially sided with this offender. Later, after the majority had repented as a result of Paul’s "tearful letter"; (2:4,-7:8-13), they grieved with Paul because of the offenders influence over them. They consequently punished him (2:6), by excluding him from the fellowship of the Christian community in accordance with the precedent set in 1 Corinthians 5:2, 5, 13.

The punishment had its intended, salutary impact. The offender had repented. He was ready to re-join the congregation. In response, Paul calls the Corinthians to follow in his footsteps not only in pouring out punishment on those who deserve it, but also in showing mercy to the repentant. Paul’s purpose is redemptive, not the reestablishment of reputations.

Baptists’ churches, until they started behaving like Victorian clubs, and now charitable businesses also did this. Baptist year books would contain the names of the covenanted members and then described any disciplinary action taken (usually excluding the offender from communion).

3. There is a spiritual battle that is raging as they fight the temptation to bear a grudge and to transform their punishment into an act of revenge by extending it beyond what is needed.

The majority of the Corinthians had shown righteous anger against the one who caused Paul grief and harmed the church. Now it is time to pass the ultimate test of whether their repentance is indeed legitimate. Nothing less than the validity of their own salvation is on the line in the call to forgive others. Those who have repented and experienced mercy from God have no choice but to extend the same mercy to those who have done likewise (Matt. 6:12, 14-15).

4. Pastoral care is based on theology and ecclesiology (1:12-2:4).

Our behaviour is not just WWJD! In our finite, sinful state we cannot do everything that Jesus did as the messianic Son of Man and the incarnate, divine Word. Most attempts to discover "WWJD" degenerate into an attempt to “get behind the texts of the Gospels” into the "mind of Christ." At best a guess. We find this so difficult to understand because we believe that there is some hidden will of God seen in “doing the loving thing”. Paul’s concern was not there is some hidden "will of God" that he must set out to discover. To God’s plan for our lives, we must discover the Bible itself as the focal point for finding God’s purposes.

Paul was practicing what he preached when he admonished others to be "imitators of God" (Eph. 5:1). In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, he applies the same principles to the Corinthians. He expected them to "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1)..

A. Theology: There is a direct link between theology and ethics, between the dynamic nature of God’s presence in one’s life and how we actually live. God’s work in our lives will mean that we do not need to hide our actions or motives behind a wall of secrecy, even when we are wrong (1:13). For “Jars of Clay”, this combination of humility before others and confidence before God becomes the strength we need(1:14).

Faced with unbelief, even among those who claim to follow Christ, our response must therefore always be to warn of the judgment of God rather than to offer a false comfort in the midst of sin (cf. 13:1-10). At the same time, the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation to those who return to Christ must be equally strong. Such a serious and gracious call will be the very means God uses to bring his people to repentance (cf. 7:8-13). We must also examine ourselves, to make sure that we too are not presuming on God’s grace in the face of flagrant sin.

B. Ecclesiology. In 2:5-11, the overarching principle that guided Paul was his understanding of the church.

i. We are connected

In 1 Corinthians 12:26: "If one part suffers, every part if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it". The grief, punishment, and forgiveness taking place in the church are not individual matters of private experience. Being part of the Christian community is not a slogan. Our local gathering of God’s people is part of own identity. Like a family we are inextricably intertwined. Such a collective understanding is not easy to maintain in the West, with its transient individualism.

John Piper: So what is love? Love abounds between us when your joy is mine and my joy is yours. I am not loving just because I seek your joy, but because I seek it as mine. … love is what exists between people when they find their joy in each other’s joy.

Our joy is all wrapped up in each other’s joy!.(Phil. 2:1-4). This is the point of 2 Corinthians 2:3b. Our mutual joy is at stake. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, all suffer,- when one is honoured, all rejoice (1 Cor. 12:26).

ii. Genuine faith needs both the courage to confront and the willingness to forgive

Church is not a "club" we have "joined. As Jesus’ qualifications to prayer demonstrate (cf. Matt 6:12, 14-15),

   14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

this twofold test of faith is intimately intertwined. Not to forgive the sinner is evidence that we have not repented and experienced forgiveness ourselves (Matt 18:21-35)

3. The Lordship of Christ leads to forgiving others for their sake, not to seeking vengeance for one’s own.

He who has had mercy on us will be the one to judge us, with Christ’s own righteous and merciful character being the essential criterion for evaluation. Those who have received mercy in Christ will be merciful to others, receiving mercy from Christ on the Day of Judgment.

Jars of Clay: God’s Yes for You

jars - calendar2 Corinthians 1

1. We are Jars of Clay!

Life is a bitch – lie to say otherwise. And we are jars of clay

A biblical life avoids two extremes: content-less expressions of praise on the one hand, and human-centred "testimonies" on the other. Genuine praise is not a mindless act designed to escape thinking about our daily lives, nor is it a means of sugar coating our circumstances. Our praise of God should never be transformed into some sort of Christian "mantra," nor should it be used to make things look better than they really are.

We praise God in the midst of our life, not because things are not as bad as they seem, but because of who God is and of what he does in and through the reality in which we live. Our praise (1:3) is grounded in the praiseworthy character of God himself (1:4-11).

Those who genuinely testify to God’s mercies will present a God-centred display of his character and attributes as seen in his works (1:11; Is. 64:4).

Suffering and comfort actually produce endurance. It was the experience of Christ.

Against the backdrop of his opponents’ accusation that Paul’s suffering disqualifies his ministry, he answers this question by revealing just how drastic the situation really was. He knew that, humanly speaking, he was in over his head, both physically and emotionally (v8).

Indeed, Paul’s suffering was so severe that he saw no way out but death (v9). In other words, the apostle felt as if he had received a "sentence of death".

But God’s purpose was that the apostle was brought to what he thought was the end of his life in order that he would in no way rely on himself, but only "on God, who raises the dead"

Like Christ, Paul too was called in his "death" to trust the God who raises the dead. And just as God raised Christ from the dead, so too God delivered Paul (1:1).

Just as Christ’s resurrection points forward to and secures our hope in God (1 Cor. 15:20-28), so too God’s past deliverance of Paul establishes his confidence in the deliverance to come (2 Cor. I:10).

This replay of Christ’s death and resurrection in Paul’s own life makes him confident that God can be trusted to deliver him in the future. This confidence is the   biblical notion of "hope." 

Far from calling our discipleship into question, it thus becomes clear that Paul’s past deliverance and present endurance in the midst of suffering are the means by which God continues to display that he is both willing and able to deliver and sustain his people.

Paul’s experience in Asia was an object lesson of the same divine faithfulness and power portrayed in the cross and resurrection of Christ. As such, it should draw others to join Paul in trusting in praising God in the present as they look to the future.

Hence, since Paul’s suffering is the platform for the display of God’s resurrection power, the Corinthians should not reject Paul for his weakness. Rather, they ought to pray for Paul that, having learned to hope in God, he may continue to trust God in the midst of his adversities.

And as a result of the many prayers being offered up on Paul’s behalf, others will join in praising God for displaying his great; mercy and comfort to his apostle (v11).

The character of God: His Uniqueness

As a prayer of thanksgiving, though concerned with suffering, it is ultimately about God. This is so countercultural this is in our day and age. The comfort of God so desperately needed in our day derives not from within, but from knowing the God as the one who has delivered and will deliver his people. God himself must become the central subject of our worship, of our conversation, and of our theology.

David Wells: “we have bought cultural acceptability by emptying ourselves of serious thought, serious theology, serious worship, and serious practice… The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequential upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common."

Westminster Confession of Faith:

I There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

II. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: he is the lone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things,- and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest,- his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature,- so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, he is pleased to require of them.

John Piper: God is utterly unique. He is the only being in the universe worthy of worship. Therefore when he exalts himself he thus directs people to true and lasting joy. "In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore" . (Ps 16:11).

3. The provision of God: Comfort.

Paul praises God because of his confidence that the Corinthians too will be recipients of God’s comfort in the midst of their suffering (1:6-7, 11). To curtail the extent of God’s power or purposes in the world is to cut off the possibility of comfort in the midst of adversity.

The comfort of God is not his empathy with us as someone who feels the tragedy of evil but is helpless in it. The comfort of God doesn’t lie in his actions as a "substitute", who is brought in after things have fallen apart to save the day just before the whistle blows.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us to resist in all time of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future.

Our response to the comfort of God’s presence is to endure the suffering that comes our way.

"Endurance" is not some kind Stoic self-discipline. It is not the "power of positive thinking," Nothing can be farther than the "new age" conviction that all we have to do is to get in touch with "the god within us."

"Endurance" means that trust in God’s power and purposes in the midst of adversity expresses a steady not giving up. 1 Cor 10.13: We endure in faith because of our confidence that "God is faithful," so that "he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." God provides a "way out" in order that we might persevere, not escape!

When suffering strikes, God will either deliver us from it to show himself powerful and teach us faith, or, as our faith grows, will give us the strength to endure In order in show himself even more powerful, as he did for Paul in regard to his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7-10). In either case, God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we can handle.

The priority Paul places on endurance as our response to God’s sovereign power points to two important implications:

1.  On the one hand, we must resist "accepting" affliction and "welcoming" death as merely a normal part of life. Death is still "the last enemy" (1 C or 15:26) and the result of sin in the world (Rom. 5.12).

2.  On the other hand, we must also resist the "health and wealth gospel" The message of the cross is the power of God.

Hanging in there with God in the midst of intense suffering, as Christ hung on the cross, magnifies the worth of God as the one who sustains us. God’s goal in suffering, therefore, is to teach us that in life and in death, as in all eternity, he himself is all we ultimately need.

God never intends to destroy his people, nor will he allow anyone or anything else to do so. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39). In placing us in a situation in which we despaired even of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8), the only thing God destroys is our self-confidence. In return, we receive God himself.

Face to Face with God: Fire!

face2face_websiteIsaiah 6:6-7

The message God had for his people then is equally relevant to us today. Back in the late nineteenth century, the founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth, predicted that six things would mark the twentieth century and dominate the life of the Church and particularly the lives of its young people as the coming new century developed. He foresaw that there would be:

1.            Religion without the Holy Spirit
2.            Forgiveness without repentance
3.            Conversion without new birth
4.            Christianity without Christ
5.            Politics without God
6.            Heaven without Hell

When we meet God and die to self, all our ambitions, our precious plans, our self-will and our previous priorities fall under the axe of God’s death-sentence. It is only when we are truly "dead" that we are really useful to God!

Moving from fear to committed faith

1. A seraph with a live coal

John Wesley: "Get on fire for God and men and women will come to watch you burn!"

The fire of God cleanses us and energises our spirits and is a holy mystery both to us and to the watching world. God, therefore, uses holy fire to sear the lips of His prophet and He fills Isaiah’s being with a blazing flame that will eventually sustain a sixty-year long ministry, one that still speaks to us today nearly three millennia later. Only God’s power can accomplish such a thing.

2. A live altar with burning fire

The angel took up an actual burning coal from the altar in the temple. The act was therefore not metaphorical or imagined. We have to picture a very real altar somewhere in the courts of the temple.  The altar in the outer courts was recognised as the place of sacrifice for every person, right in the very heart of Jerusalem (Hebrews 9:22b). We dare not minimize or dismiss the true horrors of the cross of Christ centuries later. The word "blood" demands we take it seriously. If no blood is available no forgiveness is possible. We cannot dismiss the mystery of this too quickly since the Scriptures insist it is there (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13).

This sacrifice alone could atone for Isaiah’s sin (v 7). The word "atoned" is the Hebrew word kipper, which means "to ransom or to deliver by means of a substitute". Throughout the Bible the message is restated that it is ultimately God Himself who will pay that "ransom price".

The altar in the temple, and later the cross at Calvary, deal primarily with God’s wrath against sin. Unbelievers live daily under that wrath (John 3:36), a factor that should make perfect sense to us, as it does to anyone who has clearly seen the real problem.

C.S. Lewis: "When we merely say we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness."

The cross is the only bridge possible across that gulf between sinful man and a holy God, made by our sin. We only fully know His love after conversion (Romans 5:5). The cross vividly placards the loving heart of God who understands our sin, suffering and fears, and yet willingly suffered them for us (Romans 5:8).

Haslam: “Christ became a sinner for us by "imputation", reckoned "as guilty as hell" in our place, by God. He literally stood in the dock, then at the whipping post, and finally at the gallows for us. Christ "took the rap" for debts He did not owe and for people who could not pay. He was literally "nailed" for them (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the "divine exchange" that alone made it possible for the unjust to be justified. Our acquittal hung on His condemnation. ”

John Stott: "What was transferred to Christ was not moral qualities but legal consequences … In consequence Christ had no sin but our sin, and we have no righteousness but His righteousness."

Richard Bewes:  "The difference between Christianity and all other religions is a four letter word. In other religions it is all ‘Do, do, do!’, but in Christianity it is all Done, done, done!’".

As someone once said, "The kingdom of Satan is proof against everything, except fire." Fire is the one thing that can disarm Satan and throw back his power – holy fire, God’s fire, fire that emanates from the cross of Christ itself.

3. A live word with personal impact

The angel spoke to Isaiah saying, "See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has been taken away and your sin atoned for." In other words Isaiah was now clean. He was now right with God.

This was fact, not fiction. The words the seraph spoke are what has sometimes been termed a "performative utterance". There are certain statements that can be made that are essential, integral in fact, to the act we are performing at the time.

An example would be when a minister says to a couple standing at the front of the church with him, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." This statement is not merely a description of the couple, though there is truth in that, the very words perform the event of marrying them and dramatically changing their status and identity.

Similarly, the angel’s words imparted the searing, cleansing power of God to Isaiah and, at that moment, what God declared over him was so. When God says to a man, "You are clean" then he is clean. Just like that.

Every aspect of Isaiah’s encounter speaks of the cross. The cross is God’s last word to man and it is also His endless word. Once the blessing of healing has been spoken over your life from the cross, you are finished, because your life has ended and begun again.

Oswald Chambers: "It was at the cross that the prince of this world, Satan, was finally judged; there sin is killed and pride is done to death; there lust is frozen and self-interest is slaughtered – not one can get through. The cross is the point where God and sinful man merge with a crash, and the way of life is opened; but the crash is on the heart of God. The cross is the presentation of God having done his ‘bit’; that which man could never do…"

Jesus, who says to us, "If you would be my disciples then you must give up altogether everything that you are and everything that you have and surrender it to me" (Mark 8:34-36).

A John 12:24 generation

The image Jesus creates for us here is a powerful one. Unless it falls into the ground and dies it remains alone and unused.  What a terrible thing wasted potential is – to live the whole of your life, and ultimately to leave it, with nothing to show for the fact that you were here.

It was at the point when Isaiah, realising the depths of his own sinfulness and the horror of the sins of his nation, died to himself and surrendered to God that he was cleansed and commissioned for service. This was the call of God on Isaiah’s life. The call of God occurs where our deep hunger and the world’s deep need meet, but first and foremost it is important to realise that all of this occurs at the place of death.

In his commission Isaiah received God’s heart for the world. It orientated him properly both to God and to the hard-hearted and deeply deluded people he would set out to reach. Isaiah was revolutionised. He moved from a condition of fear to one of faith. Crucially, his focus moved from "in here" to "out there

Face to Face with God: Was it all worth it?

face2faceIsaiah 6:5

The sight of a holy God helped Isaiah to see himself in a completely new light and he did not like what he saw at all. This is part and parcel of what it means to encounter God in a fresh way. Isaiah became disturbed at the depth of his corruption, and at the measure of complicity he himself carried responsibility for as a priest in contact with the filth of his environment and its spiritual coldness.

But we can stop there. The call of God on our lives is to be demolished and then put back together by Him in order to go out in power to meet the world at the point of its greatest hunger and need. 

Whenever God says "Go" as He will say to Isaiah in the next few verses of chapter 6, we need to realise that just ahead lies the toughest assignment of our lives, and yet we must still be utterly convinced that we must go. The starting point is recapturing the fear of the Lord and dying to self. We are ready to go when we can truly say, "I saw the Lord."

Recapturing the fear of the Lord

The UK has slipped progressively backwards as we have consistently compromised our godly principles, now enshrining in law abominable practices, and curbing the precious liberties of speech and of conscience that many gave their lives in the world wars of the twentieth century fighting to prevent.

Pompey and the temple.

If your heart is cold towards God, then you can be standing in the most holy of places in a location of tremendous spiritual significance where many others have met God, and you will see and experience absolutely nothing.  John Piper

“Today we are too sophisticated for God. We can stand on our own; we are prepared and ready to choose to define our own existence. When God is neglected, the runner-up god takes his place, namely, man. And that by definition is the opposite of humility, namely, the haughty spirit called pride. So the atmosphere we breathe is hostile to humility."

Stephen Charnock:  "A proud faith is as much a contradiction as a humble devil."

Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of prayer and fasting
By and large, our nation stands in exactly the same position as the nation of Israel in the time of Isaiah, or the nation of Rome at the time Pompey. If Lincoln and Pompey stand at either end of the spectrum of fearing God, where do we, in Britain stand?

David Pawson comments on the fact that Muslims fear their god, Allah, treating the threat of his judgement very seriously indeed. Muslims believe in Paradise and they also believe in Hell, and they desperately want to avoid the latter and arrive safely in the former. They are convinced of the reality of these places as much as any Christians have been in times past. Pawson:

"The sight of rows and rows of men of all ages and rank, standing equally together in the Mosque and then prostrating themselves before God, their foreheads touching the ground, is a sight not quickly to be forgotten … by contrast, the fear of the Lord has largely disappeared from contemporary Christianity .… Our worship is increasingly informal and even casual, so that a friend of mine put it to me like this: ‘We seem to be worshipping God All-matey, not God Almighty.’

Hebrews: "Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’ "

(Hebrews 12:28)

Are you surprised that you are still alive?

Back in the 1740s in America, Jonathan Edwards, asked the congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts,

"O sinner, can you give me any reason why, since you have risen from your bed this morning, God has not stricken you dead?" That would be a strange, even bizarre question for the ears of twenty-first century hearers.

There is nowhere that this sense of amazement at still being alive after glimpsing a sight of the Living God, than in the story of Saul of Tarsus! Years later, Paul could still vividly remember it Acts 26:13-18

In a single moment, the One Saul had so vehemently opposed suddenly transformed him, and Christ’s greatest enemy became His greatest friend. Was it worth it?

Paul and Isaiah, God wants us today to see the contemporary world and culture as He sees it. We have become desensitised to what is happening around us. How desperately we need to look at our world with fresh eyes that have seen the glory of God.

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