A Time To Keep Silence

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens:… A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” – Ecclesiastes 3 v 1, 7

There are times in my life which are exceedingly dark. Times when I’ve so selfishly and unrelentingly catered to the flesh and neglected the things of God, that I’m brought to the point of utter misery. Sometimes God gives us what our flesh desires, to show us that it cannot ever satisfy, and eventually it becomes sickening. It was His way in response to the murmuring and weeping of the children of Israel in Numbers 11: “… and Jehovah will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Not one day shall ye eat, nor two days, not five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but for a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils, and it becomes loathsome unto you; because that ye have despised Jehovah who is among you…” (v 18-20).

A moment of self-examination shows the same ungrateful flesh in me – the flesh which hankers after spiritual Egypt, and despises the spiritual manna. The flesh has no taste for Christ. I have to confess that all too often I’ve murmured inwardly against God’s blessed provisions. In Numbers 11 the culmination of God’s dealings is a righteous judgement of evil, unsparing and final, so that the place came to be called Kibroth-hattaavah, ‘graves of lust’. Thanks be to God that there’s One who is infinitely greater than Moses, making intercession on my behalf, a patron with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2 v 1) – One Who has borne the wrath I so richly deserve, made propitiation for sins.

Having been brought through one of these dark times of waywardness and neglect, it’s often my first instinct to get on my knees before God, to confess my sins, lament my weakness, beg the Spirit’s help, and to pour out all my misery. A right instinct, I should think, but sometimes it’s “a time to keep silence” in the presence of God. Sometimes He would say, “Enough. Now, you will listen to what I have to say to you.” After a time of distance and turning away, it’s a wonderful relief, having come to myself like the younger son (Luke 15 v 17), and repented, to simply spend a moment at the feet of the Lord and hear what He would teach me about what has happened. There is always a lesson to be learned in these incidents – often a deeply humbling one. Every failure of mine and the consequent discipline is part of my education. The failure is allowed, and the discipline administered, by a God and Father Who loves me far beyond my feeble ability to comprehend.

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Thoughts on Anger and Violence

On the subject of the invention and use of gunpowder in warfare, historian Edward Gibbon observed the following: “If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.”*

We see how quickly violence entered the world of man, and how promptly it immersed mankind – a few chapters in the divine account between the moment the Cain rose up against his brother Abel in the field and slew him (Genesis 4 v 8), to the time when God made the solemn observation: “The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is full of violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6 v 13). History repeats itself: a battle for the city of Aleppo in Syria which has lasted for four years has claimed over 400,000 lives. 600 years ago, the conqueror Timur put the same unfortunate city to the sword, massacred its inhabitants with the exception of a few artisans whom he sent captive to his capital, and left behind him desolation and columns and pyramids composed of hundreds of thousands of human heads. The history of the world is stained a deep crimson by innumerable bloody incidents, some on the colossal scale of great wars, commemorated and mourned for a thousand years, and some remembered only by families and friends, the lives of whose loved ones have been extinguished in the pettiness of a grocery store robbery or a late-night altercation. The world points to declining crime figures and the absence of world-engulfing conflict, “saying, Peace, peace! when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6 v 14).

Anger is at the root of so much of this history of violence – Cain’s anger brought violence into the world. “For the pressing of milk bringeth forth butter, and the pressing of the nose bringeth forth blood; and the pressing of anger bringeth forth strife.” (Proverbs 30 v 33). There is the fury which flames into impulsive violence, and there is the slow-burning anger of conquerors and warlords which endures through sieges and crushes nations. There is the violence of actions and the violence of words. We’re warned to stay away from people who are angry: “Make no friendship with an angry man, and go not with a furious man; lest thou learn his paths, and get a snare to thy soul.” (Proverbs 22 v 24-25). Anger is often seen as a necessary – and even positive – thing in the world of business: one is seen as being firm and decisive if one can give an incompetent subordinate or a difficult supplier a tongue-lashing. However, the scripture says this: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” (Proverbs 16 v 32). It is written of our beloved Lord Jesus, Who has gone before us in this pathway of challenges, dangers, and temptations – suffering but remaining perfect and sinless – “when reviled, reviled not again; when suffering, threatened not; but gave himself over into the hands of him who judges righteously…” (1 Peter 2 v 23). He is the perfect Exemplar in all things to us. His pathway was marked with perfect evenness (so unlike ours!): when a strong rebuke of evil was required He delivered it without hesitation, and when gentleness was required He would draw near to the needy sinner in tender care. Sometimes we need to be angry. The Lord found in the temple the sellers of oxen, sheep, and doves; he made a scourge of cords and cast them all out, poured out the change of the money-changers, turned over the tables. “And his disciples remembered that it is written, The zeal of thy house devours me.” (John 2 v 17). The Lord’s every thought and action as a Man here was perfect. He was full of righteous zeal for the house of His Father, angry at the debasing of it by merchants and their merchandise. We should have zeal for the spiritual house, God’s house, of which we are a part, “which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth” (1 Timothy 3 v 15). Our anger needs to be governed by the Spirit. “Be angry, and do not sin; let not the sun set upon your wrath, neither give room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4 v 26-27). Our anger needs to be spiritual, not fleshly, directed against what God’s own anger is directed – sin – and only for a limited duration. Any deviation from the direction of the Spirit in our anger gives room for the devil, and he’ll be quick to turn it into a source of strife and violence.

However, there is a need for spiritual violence. “But from the days of John the baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence, and the violent seize on it.” (Matthew 11 v 12). Only with strong exercise, with spiritual vigour, will we be in the good of kingdom, will we truly possess it. When John was baptising, those of Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the country around the Jordan came to him to be baptised, confessing their sins (Matthew 3 v 5). They seized upon what came in by John, the opportunity to separate from the corruption of the Jewish nation, to confess their part in it and separate themselves from it in baptism. They came apart, they did violence to the ties that bound them by nature and kinship to their brethren in the flesh. Are we willing to do violence to what holds us back from going apart from the world and committing ourselves to the Lord? We may be part of a great crowd following Jesus, but have we put ourselves to the test? “And great crowds went with him; and, turning round, he said to them, If any man come to me, and shall not hate his own father and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple; and whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14 v 25-27) (See also Matthew 10 v 34-39).

Anger and violence are a necessary part of our walk as believers, but not anger and violence as the world knows it. This anger and this violence serves a wholly different purpose, and secures far more than the temporary and unstable kingdoms of this world. We may suffer losses, we may have to give up what’s naturally very dear to us, but we’ll be rewarded with infinitely more than we’ve sacrificed. God is no man’s debtor. May we all be encouraged to take up that cross, day by day, taking each day at a time.

*The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, viii, c 65, p 136

 

The Fear of ‘I’

 

I don’t like to write about myself.  Even writing that sentence has filled me with a moderate level of anxiety, and a sort of guilt.  As a believer, it feels somehow wrong to speak about oneself – immodest, unbecoming.  Many other believers blog about their lives and share their personal testimonies, speaking about themselves in a way which has helped others, including myself.  I don’t condemn that, not at all – I’ve begun to learn that what’s right for others may not be right for me.  I need to learn that I need to tread my own pathway in dependence upon the Lord, in self-judgement, and not looking to judge other believers for what their conscience permits them to do, but mine doesn’t.

Why do I not like writing about myself?  Perhaps it’s because I look at my life and I feel ashamed.  I feel ashamed of my sins of commission and omission – the secret acts of wilfulness, selfishness, and cold neglect.  I can look at myself, sighing, and truly say, “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell…” (Romans 7 v 18).  I don’t like to write about myself because that requires self-examination and self-judgement that I’d rather avoid.  Yet there’s another reason.  Fear.  Fear that Satan will find another point of attack, my pride, occupation with self, so that I become “vainly puffed up by the mind of [my] flesh” (Colossians 2 v 18).  I fear that some natural ability of mine, knowingly or unknowingly revealed, will be praised by others, and I’ll find that praise intoxicating.  Praise would make me feel adequate for a while, when I know in my heart how inadequate I am.  The praise of men can be a weapon in the hands of the enemy.  It’s so very true that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are profuse.” (Proverbs 27 v 6).

As I write this, a great sense of relief has come over me – I have the answer to my difficulty.  I remember the words of John the baptist which are on my WordPress profile: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3 v 30).  If I speak about myself, I don’t need to speak about my failures, my weaknesses, or promote myself in an effort to forget these things.  My failures and weaknesses are very real, and I have to judge the flesh which they stem from, and have done with it.  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” – there’s no Friend more faithful than the God we adore.  How often I need the loving wounds He inflicts – the gentle rebukes and chastening of my heavenly Father, the discipline which makes me a truer disciple.  The more I make way for the Spirit, the less I make room for my flesh, the more I’ll decrease.  And the more I decrease, the more scope I’ll have to speak about myself.

Only, I won’t be speaking about myself – the self that I’m ashamed of and afraid of.  Self will have ceased to occupy me, and when I present myself to others, what they’ll see is the wonderful work of God in me, shining out.  That’s what I find so heartening and encouraging, that there is a work of God in me which is perfect and untouchable, and not in any way affected by my failure.  There’s a beautiful inevitability to the progress of this great work in my soul – the apostle Paul could write to the Philippians, “having confidence of this very thing, that he who has begun in you a good work will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day.” (Philippians 1 v 6).  There’s a great end in view, and God will secure it.  Of course, I am responsible not to grieve the Spirit of God, to make way for that divine workmanship to progress, but it will progress, that I can be sure of.  I don’t need to look to my own poor flesh to find the strength to go on – every resource is found in God.  I don’t need to apply my limited thoughts to what the next step should be – the great thoughts of God have encompassed everything.  I simply need to trust Him.

“Confide in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own intelligence; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will make plain thy paths.” – Proverbs 3 v 5-6

What an antidote to self!  What amazing reassurance!  I couldn’t remove one sin by myself, but my Saviour removed every single one, washed them away in His blood.  I can’t take one step in my own strength, but in Jesus I find the resource for every single step on the pathway.  If my pathway is on the plain paths set out by God, then there’ll be so much I can speak about of His goodness, faithfulness, power, and holiness, to the glory of God, and to the encouragement of my fellow pilgrims.

“My soul shall make its boast in Jehovah: the meek shall hear, and rejoice.” – Psalm 34 v 2

The Decline of Religion In The UK: Why It Doesn’t Worry Me

A recent study has shown that the United Kingdom is one of the least religious countries in the world. A mere 30% of the population consider themselves religious – to set that in context, the figure for Armenia is 94%. This figure includes, of course, all religions, and not only Christianity, which would indicate that the profession is at a very low ebb in this country.

These statistics, like all statistics of this kind, have provoked some reaction from experts, pundits, and religious leaders. There’s satisfaction expressed in some atheistic and humanistic quarters that the scourge of religion is on the decline. Among professing Christians, the reaction has been mixed: some have been gloomy, some have been fearful, and some have been optimistic. This last school of opinion suggests that these things are cyclical, and that a great revival is just around the corner.

Throughout this corner of Christendom, however, I believe there’s a consensus among those who have any sort of firm conviction. That consensus is that things have become more difficult, and are likely to be increasingly difficult, for Christians in the UK. Undoubtedly, it’s become increasingly taboo for a believer to speak about their faith publicly – in the workplace, for example. Politicians come under particularly intense scrutiny – witness the demise of evangelical Christian and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. British Prime Minister Teresa May is a regular church-goer, and yet she won’t be drawn into speaking about her faith in publicly. Not so long ago, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had no such qualms and faced no such pressure to keep her light under a bushel. In today’s world, even for the private individual there’s a sense that speaking about one’s faith makes others uncomfortable, and amounts to a vaguely antisocial act.

That is the subtly introduced constrictive atmosphere which has arisen in this country – one that tries to stifle the public expression of Christian faith. Apart from that, there are times when militant secularism has come into direct conflict with faith. We would be reminded of the attempts to force bakers and hoteliers to compromise their principles to appease the homosexual lobby. Force isn’t required in the case of other religious professors – I recently heard “the secularisation of religious institutions” referred to. That is, the principles of the world coming in, displacing divine principles, and governing companies of professing Christians to their incalculable harm. Even the most empty and unspiritual professors of Christendom seem to be concerned that the institutions of Christendom are losing what makes them distinctive: churches are more and more resembling secular charitable organisations or political think-tanks. There is a fear that they’ll lose what makes them distinctive as religious organisations, alienate members, lose revenues, and fade out of existence.

Yes, a bleak picture. The believer can’t fail to be moved by the sad situation of the people of the United Kingdom – the decline even of the profession of Christianity in a country which was once called Christian. We would pray that the gospel would be fruitful, that there would be a revival and many turning to Christ as Saviour. This is not something we can take lightly – that isn’t what I mean why I say that this decline doesn’t worry me. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t worry me in relation to my own personal circumstances as a believer in Christ.  On the contrary, I see in it a field of opportunity.

Not so long ago, it would’ve been relatively easy to be a Christian in the UK.  The majority of the population would’ve professed Christianity, and even been church-goers.  To confess the name of the Lord Jesus publicly wouldn’t have been seen as an odd thing to do, as it is now.  There’s a distinct stigma attached to that confession now.  As the Lord warned His disciples, “Ye will be hated of all for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21 v 17).  In many parts of the world at the moment the fires of persecution are burning against the people of God, and all those who are identified with that Name are openly and violently hated of all.  The enemy is taking a different approach in this country – the hatred isn’t expressed in outbreaks of physical violence, but rather in the form of a more subtle, pervasive discomfort with the expression of faith, and attempts to stifle it.  In this atmosphere, any fearless confession of the name of Jesus becomes all the more distinctive.

To be a believer in the UK today is becoming, more than ever, an exercise in swimming against the tide.  The gulf between what are rapidly becoming societal norms and values and what we know to be true and of true value is ever-expanding.  More and more, the truth is becoming unacceptable – unsavoury, even – to society at large.  Any believer who upholds scriptural truth and won’t compromise divine principles will increasingly find that society has no place for them – no room at the inn.  Perhaps it’s been comfortable for believers to sit on the fence to some extent – not anymore.  We would be reminded of the divisions of Reuben, in which there were “great resolves of heart” (Judges 5 v 15).  Perhaps we’ve gone on in indecision for some time, treading a careful line between fitting into the world and being identified with the name of Jesus.  Joshua’s challenge is ringing in our ears: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…” (Joshua 24 v 15).

For me, this challenge is exceedingly testing, yet I welcome it.  The fact that my faith is increasingly unacceptable in society doesn’t worry me – I see, over all, the hand of the Almighty, Who is ever in control, and can use adverse circumstances to further His own blessed purposes.  The heat is of the furnace is increasing, but the fire is used by the Refiner: “Take away the dross from the silver, and there cometh forth a vessel for the refiner…” (Proverbs 25 v 4).  In the addresses to the seven assemblies in Revelation, the Lord speaks to the overcomer.  In the United Kingdom at the present time, as well as in other places, a distinct opportunity is being given to believers to overcome in the face of increasing pressure, using divine strength and resources.  With Joshua, we can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.”