Month: March 2011

The ground of salvation

I’m currently in the middle of a surprisingly busy fortnight, but I thought this quote I found earlier today at the gospel driven church was well worth sharing:

A young minister, while visiting the cabin of a veteran Scotch woman who had grown ripe in experience, said to her, ‘Nannie, what if, after all your prayers and watching and waiting, God should allow your soul to be eternally lost?’

Looking at the youthful novice in divinity, she replied, ‘Ah, let me tell you, that God would have the greatest loss. Poor me would lose her soul, and that would be a great loss; but God would lose his honor and his character. If he broke his word, he would make himself a liar, and the universe would go to ruin.’

The veteran believer was right. Our only real ground of salvation lies in God’s everlasting word.

—- Theodore Cuyler, “Wayside Springs”

What a reminder of the centrality of God’s character to everything!

Rejoice, believer

I recently rediscovered a fantastic hymn written by John Newton. Many a time I’ve sung a hymn which was particularly refreshing and looked up the author only to find it was Newton. I think what I love about many of his hymns are that they show God’s grace not on its own, but in the light of human failing. Amazing grace is obviously Newton’s most famous hymn, and the first verse illustrates the point well. In it, grace is not an abstract concept, but a gift to “a wretch like me” who was “lost” and “blind”. This is what makes the grace amazing – the extent to which we don’t deserve it!

The hymn below is similar, but instead of applying grace to wretches it speaks of how the gospel applies strength to the weak. I find it helpful to regularly remind myself of God’s strength in the context of my weakness, rather than as an independent concept. This way my expectations of a Christian life are accurate. I do have God’s strength, the incredible strength that makes anything possible, but I am also living in a weak body, and I should expect a daily tension between the two.

I won’t say anything else about the hymn, just enjoy Newton’s voice echoing down the centuries.

Rejoice, believer, in the Lord
who makes your cause His own;
the hope that’s built upon His work
shall ne’er be overthrown.

Though many foes beset your road
and feeble is your arm,
your life is hid with Christ in God
beyond the reach of harm.

Weak as you are, you shall not faint,
or fainting shall not die.
Jesus, the strength of ev’ry saint,
will aid you from on high.

Though unperceived by mortal sense,
faith sees Him always near.
A guide, a glory, a defence;
then what have you to fear?

As surely as He overcame
and triumphed once for you,
so surely you that love His name
shall in Him triumph too.

#prayforjapan

In the wake of a huge earthquake and resultant tsunami, the hashtag #prayforjapan is trending, even in UK. For those not familiar with the lingo, that means people on twitter are talking lots about praying for Japan. Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor and author, was good enough to tweet against the flow.

Is this how Christians are meant to pray? Is prayer our plan A, with practical aid as plan B? Are the two mutually exclusive?

My guess is that this view comes from thinking that answers to prayer must be miraculous, breaking laws of nature. In this case, an answer to prayer would presumably be considered to consist of the miraculous appearance of food and shelter, without any aid agency involvement. Answers to prayer may be miraculous, of course, but the simple fact remains they often aren’t.

The Bible never speaks about God being constrained by external forces. The laws of nature are not laws external to God which He may choose to keep or break. They are a normative description of the way in which God usually maintains the universe. A miracle isn’t so much God breaking the laws of nature as God choosing to uphold the world differently on a single occasion. By definition, therefore, we should expect miracles to be rare.

So what should we expect to see resulting from prayer for Japan? God may answer prayers for Japan miraculously, but by definition it is more likely He will provide for them through non-miraculous means. These means may well include aid from other governments or from individuals. If we pray for God to provide physical aid to the Japanese, we should not be trying to twist an unwilling God’s arm. We should be willing to use the resources God has given us to bless others. That prayer should be prayed not so much in a spirit of trying to change God, but a willingness to see Him change us.

Of course, this all assumes that Christians are praying for God to provide shelter, food and other material blessings for Japan. We are assuming our prayers are answerable by an aid agency. Not all prayers fit this category though. No amount of financial giving will provide wisdom to Japan’s politicians, energy to their emergency services or spiritual comfort to suffering families. John Piper’s prayer for Japan is not one material aid agencies have the ability to answer.

Please do pray for Japan. Please do contribute money to those less fortunate than yourself. But please don’t view those actions as diametrically opposed to each other.

Heavenly advertising

The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that it’s exactly a month since I last posted anything to this blog. The main reason for this has been that I’ve been very busy with work, as I’ve been at various Christian Union missions and training events. I wasn’t organised enough to write some posts in advance to tide me over, but I’m sure all my readers (yes, both of you!) coped admirably with my radio silence. If anyone is interested in knowing how things went with my work, get in touch and I can email you a copy of my latest prayer letter.

Talking of smooth transitions, I’ve noticed a lot of advertising recently on the theme of religion. It was on the way to Forum South East that I came across a novel use of the term ‘church’.

I don’t really care about the use of the word ‘church’, but I do like their definition of repentance, which involves doing something to the contrary of the sin. It’s interesting to see such an active meaning given to the word ‘repent’ but I think it’s very much the Biblical meaning.

Not long after I came across a somewhat stranger advert, which I must confess I still don’t really understand. However, I wholeheartedly agree with the main message. It does strike something of a chord with Acts 4:12.

I’ve also recently enjoyed a bar of divine chocolate, which claims to be “heavenly chocolate with a heart”.

I don’t really have a point to make about this sort of advertising, but it does strike me as interesting that advertisers clearly think religious language has selling power.