Sunday, 29 October 2017

Heavenly joy

I was reading a sermon this afternoon by Duncan MacGregor, a minister in St. Peter's in Dundee during the nineteenth century. He was reflecting on heaven, and it is good to think about it.

During his sermon, he mentioned the verse, 'When his glory is revealed, ye shall be glad with exceeding joy.' He then expanded: 'Exceeding joy - joy without alloy, joy which eye hath not see, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived - joy ever increasing - never-ending joy - joy which, wave on wave, will flow for ever into the hearts of the ransomed.' That is something to look forward to.

He then spoke about John Milne, a minister who had recently died, and gave this description of him: 'One who has lately gone from us, and passed within the veil - an Enoch for close walking with God, a Nathaniel for simplicity, a John for lovingness, a Barnabas for tenderness, an Epaphrus for fervent labouring in prayer (with hand uplifted like Moses' rod), and a Boanerges for unflinching boldness in rebuking sin...' That is a testimony to have from others!

He referred to Milne because he had described the exceeding joy of heaven as follows: 'They are singing in unison and they are singing universally. No hands without a harp, no lips without a song: and no harp is unstrung, no lips are silent there. Could you approach the gate, you would hear sweetest music. They are feasting, they are rejoicing. The work is done, the fight is over, their wanderings are ended, they are all at home. Not one is lost, not one is wanting. There never was joy like this. As they look back, and think what they were; look down, and think what, but for grace, they must have been; look around, and see where they are; look forward, and think what they shall for ever be - it is joy, joy, joy! Each kindles and stirs up the other. "Oh, that will be joyful, joyful, joyful, when we meet to part no more."' That is what lies ahead for believers! 

Living in the kingdom of God


What ideas do we have about the kingdom of God? Perhaps we imagine, or daydream, about a smooth domain, free from troubles, where everything flows like clockwork. Is this what the disciples of Jesus were told to expect when he instructed them about his kingdom?

Jesus did say that there would be a kingdom, indeed a growing one, that would spread throughout the world. And it probably is bigger today, as far as the earth is concerned, than it has been before. Yet it is obvious that the worldwide kingdom is not trouble free anywhere.

One way that Jesus instructed about his kingdom was through parables. His parables have been described in many ways, yet we can see that most of them contain features designed to shock. In his parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13, he mentions that he will not uproot evil from alongside the places where he plants his people. That is surprising, at first, although we can see how the devil would place his plants beside the ones that Jesus has planted. The devil does so to minimise the effects of the kingdom of God. The clear conclusion is that Jesus’ plans for his followers is that they serve him in circumstances where the enemy kingdom is at work.

How are we to serve Jesus in such places? According to the parable, it is by being patient with the presence of weeds and focussing on the Day of Judgement and what will happen then.

Why should we be patient? Two reasons, maybe. Sadly some of the wheat in the parable are not much different from the weeds, so how would his disciples know definitely whether such individuals are wheat or weeds? Disciples don't have the ability to read another person's heart. The other reason is that some of the weeds will become wheat. After all, there is no other place for future wheat to come from.

Why should we focus on the Day of Judgement? The answer to that is surely obvious. Then all will know who comprised the wheat and who remained weeds. After that, there will be a smooth Kingdom for the people of God. But before then, there is the Account. All will appear before the Judge to hear what his verdict is. I suspect that there will be some surprises, even shocks, when the great Parable-Teller speaks plainly.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

God’s rescue mission

In Luke 15, Jesus told a parable with three parts. The three parts are each concerned with something that was lost - a sheep, a coin and a son. Moreover, Jesus told the parable in order to point out the errors of the Pharisees to themselves. 

I attended a sermon this morning in which a preacher spoke on the first two - the sheep and the coin. The preacher pointed out that we should ask two questions here. First, we should ask, ‘What is Jesus saying about God?’ Second, we should ask, ‘What is Jesus saying about us?’ 

The preacher mentioned that we can depart from God in two opposite ways. One way is living badly and the other way is trying to please God by a life we imagine corresponds to his instructions. Jesus, in contrast to both of these options, mentioned that there was a third way, but we only realise it when we cease living according to the other two ways.

What do the illustrations of a shepherd and a busy woman tell us about God? First, he perseveres in looking for those who are lost. Second, he celebrates when those who are lost are found.

What do the illustrations of a lost sheep and a lost coin tell us about ourselves? First, we cannot do anything to put ourselves on the right road. Second, when we are found (or converted), we are made secure, and become a reason for celebration in heaven.

At different stages in life, I tried the two wrong ways of departing from God. Thankfully Jesus found me, and as far as the story of the shepherd is concerned I am on his shoulders, and will be there until he takes me to his destination. That is a secure place. Regarding the woman who lost the coin, I assume we are meant to think that she put it in a secure place from which it could not be lost again. So another reminder of security. 

The service this morning closed with the congregation singing Amazing Grace. It was a suitable response. 

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Praying for Divine Blessing

There are many promises in the Bible regarding receiving blessing from God. Sometimes, the promises are given in an individual way and at other times they offer blessings in a corporate manner. Usually, those blessings, while promised, are given in answer to prayer.

No doubt, we are aware of the need for prayer, but we are also aware that not all prayer is the same. How do we pray so as to get God’s blessing in a deeper way? Job, on one occasion, said that he would use arguments in his prayers in order for change to come in his circumstances. Here are some arguments we can use.

One effective argument is to say to the Father that the promised blessing we are seeking was purchased for sinners by Jesus when he died on the cross. It is a way of pleasing God when we mention to him the triumphs of Jesus at Calvary. Speaking in such a way to God reveals that we have grasped the significance of the sacrifice that Jesus made. One reason why he died was so that sinners could enjoy answered prayer.

Another argument that we can mention is that all the children of God are granted certain spiritual privileges because they belong to his family. We cry to him as the Father. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that the heavenly Father would give good things to those who ask for them. That promise is certain, but there is a condition, which is that we have to ask. It is not a wise expression of faith to speak to God merely in general terms and say to him words such as, ‘Lord, give me the blessings you promised.’ Instead, we should itemise the blessings we desire and also say to God why we want them.

A third argument we can mention to God is the glory of his own name. The Lord is glorified when sinners are converted and when converted sinners become more and more like Jesus. I suspect that the Father loves to hear requests connected to those two aspects of spiritual living. There is joy in the presence of the angels when a sinner is converted, and it is difficult to imagine that heaven does not have such joy frequently, probably continually. And he is very pleased when his people make progress spiritually and develop in Christlikeness. We may not be as Christlike as we should be, but we can tell if we are heading in that direction. Asking the Lord to save sinners and then to turn them into imitators of Jesus pleases him greatly and he delights to answer such prayers.