Celebrate the second half of life

Our church is struggling at the moment to attract young people and the majority of people who currently attend are over 60 years old. This is something that concerns me and I would like to see a significant increase in the number of young people who come every week.

I was thinking about this the other day and by chance came across a book review of Seasons of my Soul which has been published by the Church of England and the Methodist church. This book aims to encourage Christians to celebrate and affirm the “Second half of life”.

The following quote from the book review caught my attention:

“Often when we talk about the demographic of church attendance, we concern ourselves more with those who are not within our church communities than with celebrating and resourcing those who are”, added Doug Swanney, Connexional Secretary for the Methodist Church.

Whilst I still want to see more young people coming to our church this quote reminds me not to forget those who are currently attending. These are the ones who God has sent along to us and therefore they are the ones we should be looking to bless and encourage.

 

19 year old software bug discovered

You may be aware that this week Microsoft released a patch that fixes what is described as a critical bug in its software. For those who follow closely the monthly updates that Microsoft release this news would not come as a surprise. However this patch is not addressing a recently discovered security problem but one that has existed for 19 years! According to IBM this bug has been present in every version of Windows since 95.

I’m not sure how these bugs occur but I guess somewhere many years ago something was missed or a mistake was made in some coding by someone. This mistake has taken 19 years to surface but eventually it came to light.

I wonder how many of us made mistakes in the past that have yet to be discovered by anyone? Perhaps we are unaware of the mistakes we have made or maybe we are aware but are trying desperately to hide them from coming to light!

If you are trying to hide something there is an important factor that you need to consider: God sees everything. Nothing can be hidden from Him.

From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; (Psalm 33:13)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

What’s the answer? Turn to Christ and confess your sins and receive His forgiveness for your past.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness

We continue our series looking at the beatitudes as recorded in Matthew 5:1-12 and today are looking at “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

If you have been around in Christian circles for any length of time you will have no doubt have heard the word “righteousness” being used. It features a number of times in the Bible and in songs we sing too.

What does righteousness mean?

Righteousness comes from the word righteous. The dictionary definition of righteous is: virtuous, upright, just. In Jeremiah 9:24 we are told that justice and righteousness are attributes that form part of God’s character.

But what exactly is Biblical righteousness? John Stott in his life-builders bible study series on the Sermon on the Mount says that Biblical righteousness has 3 aspects to it: legal, moral and social.

  1. Legal righteousness – is referring to a right relationship with God. As I mentioned in the introduction we cannot make ourselves right with God. No matter how much we might try. Paul tells us in his letter to the book of Romans that “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.” (3:10-11). He then goes onto tells us the wonderful news that we receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We are given this wonderful gift of grace. And by receiving this free gift we are made right with God.
  1. Moral righteousness – is referring to that righteousness of character and conduct which pleases God. Once we are made right with God through faith in Christ we don’t just stop there. God wants us to become more like Him. He calls us to be holy. He wants to change us so that our lives reflect and honour Him. Jesus tells us “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20). What did Jesus mean by that statement as the Pharisees seemed to be very religious. The Pharisees were more concerned with an outward show of religion. However Jesus is concerned with changing our hearts. An inward change that results in real outward change. Therefore instead of do not murder Jesus warns us about the danger of getting angry with our brothers. Instead of not committing adultery we are told that lusting after a woman means we have already committed adultery in our heart with her. Instead of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” we are told to turn the other cheek.
  1. Social righteousness – this is the scriptural call to care for the poor, the oppressed, the widow and the orphan. We see this challenge not only in the Old Testament law and prophets but also too in the New Testament. In the past we have seen examples of this in Wilberforce’s fight against the slave trade, Martin Luther King’s civil rights fight in America in the 1960’s. These days we see Christian organisations like Christians Against Poverty and the Foodbanks reaching out helping those in society who are struggling financially and in real need.

There can sometimes be tensions in different church circles about what is more important personal righteousness or social righteousness. Some groups can stress one at the expense of the other.

When asked in Matthew 22:36-40 about which commandment in the law is the greatest Jesus said:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

So we need to start with a foundation of wholeheartedly loving God first and out of that should flow a love for our neighbour. Our love for God should affect the way we live. If there is no love for our neighbour then we may need to question whether we truly know God.

In our beatitude that we are looking at today the Greek word translated here as “righteousness” is dikaiosune, a term that refers to personal righteousness as well as to social justice. This word is used 85 times in the New Testament – including 30 times in Romans).

Wesley reflected the spirit of this beatitude when he declared, “There is no holiness without social holiness.”

As we realise our spiritual poverty, mourn and walk in meekness (humility) we look to God and hunger and thirst for Him and His righteousness.

Hungering and Thirsting

There are a number of mentions in the Bible of thirsting after God e.g.

  1. As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
  1. Psalm 63 when David was in the wilderness of Judah “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

We can see that thirsting is shown in scripture as a way of describing a person’s need of God. Mark Roberts, in this devotional on this verse says “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness  have a deep yearning for things to be right in their individual lives and in society.” This is not a casual desire but rather an aching and longing.

I’m not sure if many of us here have experienced true physical hunger and thirst ever. Most of us in the west are fortunate that we are only ever a few hours away from the next meal. I personally have never to the best of my knowledge never suffered real physical hunger.

However I did once experience something close to true thirst. I was travelling by train between Munich and Athens, in the heat of the summer, and ran out of water. My throat was getting very parched and I was desperate for a drink. When I arrived at my destination and got a drink, I gulped it down. I was very relieved!

I wonder this morning how much do we really want the righteousness of God? Do we get desperate for God in the same way that a hungry person is desperate for food and a thirsty man is desperate for water? Thirsting and hungering for God is more than just going to church for an hour on a Sunday and 2 hours for house group. Instead it’s wanting and desiring Him and His righteousness with every ounce of our being 24 hours a day, 7 days per week!

Whenever I hear Bible verses, hymns, prayers or liturgy about desiring more of God or hungering / thirsting after Him then something inside of me says “yes this something I want!”

However if I’m being 100% honest when I look at my life I realise that so often my life does not reflect this. I say that I hunger and thirst after God but the reality says something different.

What stops us from hungering and thirsting after God?

  1. Sin – If we are deliberately sinning, either doing something we should not be doing or not doing something that we should be, it will affect our relationship with God. Sin destroys our intimacy with God. It dilutes our desire for Him and His righteousness. Like Adam in the garden of Eden we hide from Him. John Owen “be killing sin or it will kill you!” We cannot and must not mess with sin. In Psalm 32 (v1-v5) David speaks of the damage that sin does to his life: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
  1. The cost – Paul in his second letter to Timothy, which was written at the end of his life, said “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). Of course we do not face the same levels of persecution in this country as Christians face in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other countries. Nevertheless, if you are committed to “hunger and thirst after righteousness” you will face opposition in this country. As our country increasingly turns away from Christian values that can only increase. The Trussell Trust, who run the foodbanks in this country, recently came in for criticism from the government. They dared to suggest that there was a link between cutting benefits and the increase in the amount of people going hungry and having to use foodbanks. When we speak up for those suffering we will upset people. And if the church is not facing any persecution then it’s likely we are not living out our faith as we should do.
  1. Desire for other things – You may be familiar with parable of the sower that Jesus told. We see in this parable that some seed fell among the thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. In Marks’s account of this parable, when Jesus is explaining it he says “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word, but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Materialism is a real challenge to us in the West. It is so subtle as we all like our things. The problem is often not having things, but things having you. We need to be careful as things can dilute our desire for God.

What’s the answer – confess your sin and turn to Christ. Look to Him and ask Him to make you someone who hungers and thirsts after righteousness.

You will be filled

The Greek word used here for filled is chortazō

One of the meanings of this word is to satisfy (i.e. nice meal)

The Amplified translation of this verse tells us the condition of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness “for they shall be completely satisfied!”

Without wishing to sound selfish and self-centred who does not want to be “completely satisfied”

This is a promise. So if we hunger and thirst after righteousness “we will be filled.” It does not say “you might be filled” or “you could be filled” but “you will be filled.”

But filled with what?

  • He fills us with Himself – The abundant life of Christ.
  • The richness and beauty of the King of Kings.
  • He fills us with the peace that passes all understanding in our hearts and minds.
  • He fills us with hope
  • He fills us with the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 55:1-3 “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”

Note that Isaiah said “everyone who thirsts” is invited. This is not just for a select few. This is for everyone here this morning. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. It’s doesn’t matter whether you have known Christ for tens of years or just ten minutes. It doesn’t matter if you have messed up your life and feel there is no hope. The invitation is for all to come to Him this morning.

Nothing in this world truly satisfies like Christ does. As Isaiah says let us not waste our efforts on things that do not satisfy but rather instead seek to know and delight ourselves in the One who quenches our thirst and obtain his life so we might truly live. This morning let us all hunger and thirst for righteousness and be filled.

Lying on a CV

I read a very interesting article yesterday about the seven most common lies that employers have seen on applicants CV’s. The top two, both on 57%, were embellished skill set and embellished responsibilities. However the one that really stunned me was in fifth place, where 32% had lied about companies that they worked for.

I wonder how many employers have written to former employers listed on a CV only to be told “we’ve never heard of him / her!” How embarrassing!

The full article can be read here

Digital Detox

It’s not unusual these days for people to spend hours on their mobiles or tablets each day. If you walk along the street or get on public transport there will be a number of individuals with their heads buried in their gadgets. The first thing many do each morning is to check their mobiles and they do exactly the same thing at the end of each day.

On Monday night the London BBC news had an item about a group of people going away to Wales for a few days to have a digital detox. The people featured in the item where all avid users of mobile phones / tablets who spent several hours on their devices each day. The house was in an area where there was no mobile signal and at the introduction session everyone had to hand all their mobile devices to the organizer who locked them away in a box.

The participants then engaged in a number of activities which included walking, group exercises and speaking to one another! Everyone seemed to have a good time and they did not miss having their mobiles and tablets. Interesting at the end of the time away the main two people who featured in it both said that they were not looking forward to getting their mobiles back. They had actually enjoyed being free from them.

Although a few days later they both admitted they had got back in the habit of using them again, there was a real desire expressed by them not to go back to their old habits.

I thought this was a very interesting program. Many of us, including myself, spend too much time on our digital devices. It’s good to schedule in proper breaks from them and do more constructive things with our time.

 

Come and Dine

The following is from Spurgeon’s Daily Devotions:

In these words the believer is invited to a holy nearness to Jesus. “Come and dine,” implies the same table, the same meat; aye, and sometimes it means to sit side by side, and lean our head upon the Saviour’s bosom. It is being brought into the banqueting-house, where waves the banner of redeeming love. “Come and dine,” gives us a vision of union with Jesus, because the only food that we can feast upon when we dine with Jesus is himself. Oh, what union is this! It is a depth which reason cannot fathom, that we thus feed upon Jesus. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” It is also an invitation to enjoy fellowship with the saints. Christians may differ on a variety of points, but they have all one spiritual appetite; and if we cannot all feel alike, we can all feed alike on the bread of life sent down from heaven. At the table of fellowship with Jesus we are one bread and one cup. As the loving cup goes round we pledge one another heartily therein. Get nearer to Jesus, and you will find yourself linked more and more in spirit to all who are like yourself, supported by the same heavenly manna. If we were more near to Jesus we should be more near to one another. We likewise see in these words the source of strength for every Christian. To look at Christ is to live, but for strength to serve him you must “come and dine.” We labour under much unnecessary weakness on account of neglecting this percept of the Master. We none of us need to put ourselves on low diet; on the contrary, we should fatten on the marrow and fatness of the gospel that we may accumulate strength therein, and urge every power to its full tension in the Master’s service. Thus, then, if you would realize nearness to Jesus, union with Jesus, love to his people and strength from Jesus, “come and dine” with him by faith.

 

The Mortification of Sin – chapter 5

In chapter 5 we now move into the second section of the book which covers the nature of mortification. In this chapter John Owen gives us five descriptions of what mortification is not:

Mortification Is Not the Utter Destruction and Death of Sin
“To mortify a sin is not utterly to kill, root it out, and destroy it, that it should have no more hold at all nor residence in our hearts. It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished.”

When I first read the above quote I initially disagreed with it.  I thought that it was possible to see a particular sin utterly destroyed whilst we are in this life. To support his argument Owen quotes Paul’s letter to the Philippians when the apostle says “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Phil. 3:12).  After looking at that verse in context I understand the point that Owen is making and would agree that this is what Paul is saying to the Philippians.

Mortification Is Not the Dissimulation of Sin
“When a man on some outward respects forsakes the practice of any sin, men perhaps may look on him as a changed man. God knows that to his former iniquity he has added cursed hypocrisy, and is now on a safer path to hell than he was before. He has got another heart than he had, that is more cunning; not a new heart, that is more holy.”

So often we humans look at outwards appearances. However God looks at the heart, for example in the calling of David as a future king of Israel. We need to remember that it is the heart that is important not outward appearances.

Mortification Is Not the Improvement of a Quiet, Sedate Nature
 “Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortification of the sin than the former.”

I do sometimes envy those who are of a quiet, sedate nature. On many occasions, especially at work, I’ve wished I could be more like that. However as Owen says we do not know what is happening in their hearts and the state of them.

Mortification Is Not the Diversion of Sin
“A man may be sensible of a lust, set himself against the eruptions of it, take care that it shall not break forth as it has done, but in the meantime suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself some other way; as he who heals and skins a running sore thinks himself cured, but in the meantime his flesh festers by the corruption of the same humour, and breaks out in another place………… Men in [old] age do not usually persist in the pursuit of youthful lusts, although they have never mortified any one of them. And the same is the case of bartering of lusts, and leaving to serve one that a man may serve another. He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to the contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still.”

Mortification Is Not Just Occasional Conquests Over Sin
Owen here speaks of two occasions or seasons where a man may believe that he has mortified a particular sin. Although this is a long quote it’s worth reading in full:

“When it has had some sad eruption, to the disturbance of his peace, terror of his conscience, dread of scandal, and evident provocation of God. This awakens and stirs up all that is in the man, and amazes him, fills him with abhorrency of sin and himself for it; sends him to God, makes him cry out as for life, to abhor his lust as hell and to set himself against it. The whole man, spiritual and natural, being now awakened, sin shrinks in its head, appears not, but lies as dead before him: as when one that has drawn nigh to an army in the night, and has killed a principal person—instantly the guards awake, men are roused up, and strict inquiry is made after the enemy, who, in the meantime, until the noise and tumult be over, hides himself, or lies like one that is dead, yet with firm resolution to do the like mischief again upon the like opportunity. Upon the sin among the Corinthians, see how they muster up themselves for the surprise and destruction of it (2 Cor. 7:11). So it is in a person when a breach has been made upon his conscience, quiet, perhaps credit, by his lust, in some eruption of actual sin—carefulness, indignation, desire, fear, revenge, are all set on work about it and against it, and lust is quiet for a season, being run down before them; but when the hurry is over and the inquest past, the thief appears again alive, and is as busy as ever at his work.

In a time of some judgment, calamity, or pressing affliction, the heart is then taken up with thoughts and contrivances of flying from the present troubles, fears, and dangers. This, as a convinced person concludes, is to be done only by relinquishment of sin, which gains peace with God. It is the anger of

God in every affliction that galls a convinced person. To be quit of this, men resolve at such times against their sins. Sin shall never more have any place in them; they will never again give up themselves to the service of it. Accordingly, sin is quiet, stirs not, seems to be mortified; not, indeed, that it has received any one wound, but merely because the soul has possessed its faculties, whereby it should exert itself, with thoughts inconsistent with the motions thereof; which, when they are laid aside, sin returns again to its former life and vigour. So they are a full instance and description of this frame of spirit whereof I speak:

For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works. Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant. (Ps. 78:32-37)

I no way doubt but that when they sought, and returned, and inquired early after God, they did it with full purpose of heart as to the relinquishment of their sins; it is expressed in the word “returned.” To turn or return to the Lord is by a relinquishment of sin. This they did “early”—with earnestness and diligence—but yet their sin was unmortified for all this (vv. 36-37). And this

is the state of many humiliations in the days of affliction, and a great deceit in the hearts of believers themselves lies oftentimes herein.

These and many other ways there are whereby poor souls deceive themselves, and suppose they have mortified their lusts, when they live and are mighty, and on every occasion break forth, to their disturbance and disquietness.”

Deeply challenging words!

 

The Mortification of Sin – chapter 4

In chapter 4 John Owen argues that “the life, vigour and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin.”

However before he gives us his supporting arguments on this, Owen reminds us from Psalm 88 that life, vigour and comfort are not necessarily connected to mortification. It is possible to be in a constant course of mortification but never enjoy a good day of peace and consolation. He says “The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.”

Owen then gives us the following six reasons why in the ordinary relationship with God, the vigour and comfort of our spiritual lives depend much on our mortification of sin:

  • This alone keeps sin from depriving us of the one and the other. Every unmortified sin will certainly do two things: It will weaken the soul and deprive it of its vigour. It will darken the soul and deprive it of its comfort and peace.
  • It weakens the soul and deprives it of its strength. An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit and all the vigour of the soul, and weaken it for all duties. For:
  • It untunes and unframes the heart itself by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father (1 John 2:15; 3:17); so that the soul cannot say uprightly and truly to God, “You are my portion,” having something else that it loves.
  • It fills the thoughts with contrivances about it…… and if sin remain unmortified in the heart, they must ever and anon be making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
  • It breaks out and actually hinders duty. The ambitious man must be studying, and the worldling must be working or contriving, and the sensual, vain person providing himself for vanity, when they should be engaged in the worship of God.
  • As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul. It is a cloud, a thick cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s love and favour. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them: of which afterward.

Owen then goes on to say “Men may see their sickness and wounds, but yet, if they make not due applications, their cure will not be effected.”

He concludes with the following two points:

  • Mortification prunes all the graces of God and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigor of our spiritual lives consists in the vigour and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), let room be made for grace to thrive and flourish—how will every grace act its part, and be ready for every use and purpose!
  • As to our peace; as there is nothing that has any evidence of sincerity without it, so I know nothing that has such an evidence of sincerity in it— which is no small foundation of our peace. Mortification is the soul’s vigorous opposition to self, wherein sincerity is most evident.

As I read this chapter I was reminded of the following quote, which I believe was attributed to Tozer: “you are only as holy as you want to be.” If we truly want to grow in our walk with God then we will be eager to mortify our sin. It’s very easy to blame others or circumstances for our sin but we need to face the sobering truth that it is our fault that we sin.

My sin is a serious matter. It must not be ignored but instead with the Spirit’s help it must be mortified otherwise I cannot expect to grow as a believer.

This chapter concludes the first section of the book on the necessity of mortification and we now move onto the nature of mortification.