Meditations on M’Cheyne 2

27 07 2009

World Leader Eaten by Worms – Acts 12 (25th July)
Acts 12 is big picture teaching on the part of Luke, but as is so often the case we have a tendency to domesticate the application of Scripture. Many times when this passage is expounded the focus is on the prayer meeting for Peter that is mentioned in 12:5. It truly is wonderful that when God’s people prayed things turned around for the Apostle and it is astonishing that they were so flabbergasted by the fact that God answered (12:15-16). This does reflect our own unbelief in prayer, and it should serve as a rebuke to our lack of faith. But if I might be permitted to say so, this isn’t the main thing in chapter 12.

To simply draw this application and move on is something akin to spending all our time admiring an envelope, without realising that if we opened it there is a cheque contained within which would settle all of our financial worries for life! The context of the chapter is the church, but this is not all that Luke is seeking to show by writing of Peter in prison. This chapter is about persecution, about power, and about an omnipotent God whose hand moves history, whose power is unsearchable, and whose church will ultimately prevail – despite appearances.

Verses 1-5 introduce Herod, who is hounding the church and putting believers to death. The power described here is seemingly unassailable. With ‘violent hands’ James is captured along with some others ‘who belonged to the church’, and he is brutally killed. Martyrdom is a spectator sport for the ‘Jews’ (v3) and hearing the cheers from the crowd spurs Herod on to harder treatment for the people of God. Peter, in all his prominence, is captured.

It is so important when we think of this that we dispose of all of the flannelgraph images we have of these kinds of narratives in Scripture. This was a dreadful experience for Peter. He was seized, put in prison, and delivered to ‘four squads of soldiers’ (v4). In a cruelly ironic twist Peter would be offered to the Jews after the Passover – a Christian being sacrificed after the ceremonies of Judaism. There must be no mistake – these were dreadful days.

This is where the context of the church at prayer really matters. Look at this scene merely from the vantage point of externals – the Church is doomed. Herod with all of his heavy handed force is going to destroy God’s people, and he is going to do it by demolishing their ‘pillars’. ‘But earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church’.

God’s means of deliverance is nothing short of breathtaking. The dramatic entrance of an angel the night before Peter’s destruction, and their chain breaking, door opening exit from the midst of Herod’s military elite even caused Peter to think it was a vision – and the church to imagine that such an event couldn’t take place. How ironic that those who surrounded the Apostle to keep him from escape are themselves cut down by Herod’s hand, in his fury at Peter’s escape.

But this is not the only irony of this narrative. Herod’s power is so complete, so corrupt, so idolatrous, that when he is approached by the people of Tyre and Sidon and acclaimed for his god-like oration he accepts such praise glibly and obliquely. Herod has big ideas about himself. But God has even bigger ideas for history. How profound that this man with ‘violent hands’ with squadrons of soldiers, with absolute power is devoured by the lowest and smallest of creatures at God’s command. The king is overcome by the supremacy of God, and His absolute intolerance of all that stands to take His glory. You can imagine the headline in modern terms – ‘World Leader Eaten by Worms’.

But Luke is perhaps more interested in the punchline than the headline. Verse 24 states with kingdom shattering, Sovereign establishing, humanity abasing simplicity – ‘but the word of God increased and multiplied’. There has been a contest described over 24 verses, and God’s Word inevitably prevails, his helpless people victorious in spite of the human odds. The Church will be built and the gates of hell, and even less the threats of Herod, shall not prevail against it.

The parallels to our own time are obvious. Let us not insult the word persecution by rushing to apply this to Western Europe. Rather let our minds be drawn to places on our planet where the issues of Acts 12 are being played out with chilling reality. We could think, for instance, of North Korea where even the BBC are reporting the wholesale slaughter of Christians. The secular media reporting the public execution of a woman for distributing Bibles, and the detention of her whole family circle in a prison camp, gives us some sense of the profundity of persecution which is taking place within that secretive state. One feels that this might merely be the tip of the iceberg.

However, Kim Il-sung nor his son Kim Jong-il need not deceive themselves into thinking that their actions have gone unnoticed. Nor that the worship they gladly garner to themselves will remain unpunished. North Korea is a political conundrum that even major states like the US cannot unravel. But it is no mystery to God. His Word, His Gospel, His Church shall be prevail – regardless of how many gallons of Christian blood might flow through its streets. Every drop absorbed by Korean soil is marked, and it may be that even before eternity dawns the leaders of Korea might be consumed by the all prevailing purpose, power and dignity of God. If not then there kness will bend, their hearts will break, and their souls will be damned before the bar of God’s immaculate justice at the end of all things.

We have no need to fear that God will not master those who martyr His people. Although the human evidence might hint otherwise – God’s hand is at work to help the humble, and to humble the haughty. What a God.

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Weekend Web and Book Watch

24 07 2009

The Christian Institute carry a chilling story here, quoted from the Sunday Times about the stark realities of assisted suicide.

Guy Davies raises the bar even higher for blog interviews, with his latest Q&A with Garry Williams, director of the John Owen Centre in London.

It’s a little bit dated, but I recently found this interesting piece at the Desiring God blog about the TNIV and a public speech by Barack Obama.

Reformation 21 has become one of my favourite websites and this article about Shakespeare and the Geneva Bible by Leland Ryken is simply superb.





The Firmness of Faith and the Folly of Atheism

20 07 2009

Derick Bingham is a well known preacher, writer and Christian thinker in Northern Ireland. In February of this year he was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. A blog has been set up here, both to give information about his condition and inspiration from what God is teaching him in the midst of the storm. His reflections are wonderful and I would highly commend your reading of them. Recently I read the following post which touched me by its depth of reality, and its shattering rebuttal of atheism’s posing vanity. Given a 5-10% chance of recovery and having faced death in all of its dreadful physical reality Derick writes:

I have been thinking much over these very difficult and uncertain days about the humanist advertisement on buses which points out that from their point of view it is reasonable to believe that there is no God. They advise that we go and enjoy ourselves. Now if this were true where would I go? I cannot go anywhere physically at this time outside this hospital room and ward. Where then can I find enjoyment? I find it in the Lord Jesus. He has given me bread from heaven. He restores my soul. He is a hidden source of deep, refreshing living water from which I draw. Christ is lively, He is always lovely and he is all together lovely. At his right hand are pleasures forever more.

Please pray for Derick today as a new series of chemo injections commences.





Premium Bibles Up for Grabs

19 07 2009

Logos Bible Software are currently running a very exciting giveaway of Premium grade Bibles to mark the launch of their Bible.Logos.Com website. Have a look at their site and enter – some of the Bibles simply look fantastic! Here’s the blurb from their own site:

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new online Bible by giving away 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at Bible.Logos.com and you can get up to five different entries each month! After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.





Of Frogs, Water and European Persecution

17 07 2009

Living in another culture for any extended period is a strange experience. For me it has been a process of both being dulled and sharpened in terms of my perception of home. The dulling process has more to do with issues of visuality and sense – for instance I get surprised when I look at photos of home by just how green it all is. There is a slight tendency to forget the dimensions and essence of Ireland and the UK.

However, the sharpening process is what I’m more interested in for the sake of this post. Someone has quite astutely likened being in a culture to a frog in hot water. Supposedly if you place a frog in a pan and slowly boil the water around, it will not perceive the change until it is too late. If, however, you wait to place the frog in the pan until the water is boiling then it will notice very quickly and hop out! I feel like I’ve been out of the UK/Ireland pan for a while, and when I’m in touch with the seething waters of its religious/spiritual culture I feel the burn a little more keenly than when I lived in Ireland.

An example of this is the moral deterioration of law and culture in the UK. I praise God for The Christian Institute and the stirling work they do in terms of Christian advocacy. I receive a weekly prayer email from them, highlighting news stories of concern to Christians. This weeks reads like a tragically escalating barometer of what is happening in the UK. The headlines, centre around sex education in the UK encouraging more activity for teenagers, the steady stifling encroachment of ‘equality’ laws, the BBC’s pondering of whether ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4 should also include secular and humanist contributions, and an MP’s call to let Westminster dictate abortion laws for Northern Ireland.

The anti-Christian ball which began to roll in the UK generations ago is gathering momentum, and as I watch its slowly invasive trajectory into the arena of faith, practice and liberty of speech, from an ‘outsider’s’ perspective it looks as though persecution is not far away.

I write this from Peru, where the culture is utterly different. While this country and its evangelical church has much that it must address in terms of morality, integrity and witness, the issues affecting Britain, Ireland and Europe are not current here…yet. Postmodernism is present here, but more like a live culture in a lab than a pervasive influence on how people think (although that will be for a limited time only). God is still assumed as a reality by most people, and one is very free to share Christ with much less fear of opposition.

No doubt the clouds are gathering in Western Europe, and this will be both bad and good for the church. Bad in a material sense, in that the water in which evangelical witness has been slowly marinating will suddenly feel unbearably hot in the not too distant future. But it will also be good in terms of making the Church, and individual Christians come to terms with the fact that their faith is profoundly counter-cultural, and that it requires the virtues of honesty, integrity, courage and conviction.

And so I watch the UK and Ireland in a fast forward rush to moral and spiritual oblivion. How interesting it will be to watch the Church’s response from a distance, and to pray that the spiritual realism and resolve required for this hour might be found and exercised.





Preaching, Gravity and Depravity

15 07 2009

It’s now over seven months since I last preached (boy am I missing it!), but the intervening time has given me opportunity to read and reflect on what the task of preaching really is. Much that passes for preaching in our generation falls far short of what the word means biblically, and what it has meant historically. I can think of no finer tutor in what the task of preaching represents than Iain H. Murray, and recently a quote from his ‘A Scottish Christian Heritage’ has been coming back to me with force. It is from Thomas Chalmers, and ought to serve as a warning to all who preach, and to all who listen to preaching:

How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment on the one side, and of admiration on the other! And surely it were a sight to make angels weep when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow sinners, and hastening to the grave and judgment along with them, finds it a dearer object to his bosom to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest, the work of his Master’
– Thomas Chalmers in A Scottish Christian Heritage, p.94





Words and Music Pt.1

13 07 2009

Later this week I hope to do my first post on what is currently on our iPod playlist, but I also want to supplement this every now and then with the words from great hymns from the past. Should we forget these pieces, or allow them to slip into disuse, we forfeit a tremendous Christian heritage.

The hymn below is ‘Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted‘ by the Irish Hymnwriter, Thomas Kelly (1769-1855). Every word is worth weighing in this great piece about our Saviour’s suffering, and how it ought to lead to sanctity:

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.