Video: Heaven is waiting

EQUIP Heaven is waitingHave you ever wondered “Could Jesus return in my lifetime?” I know He will return, but why hasn’t Jesus come back, and what should we be doing while we wait?” 2 Peter 3 has the answers.

And what will heaven be like? Is it something we can imagine or is heaven just a mystery to us? Well, the Bible is full of pictures of heaven from the garden of Eden right through to the new heavens and the new earth, and it’s better than we can imagine.

 

Saturday May 19th 2012 at Darling Harbour, Sydney. Solid, practical Bible teaching by women for women. EQUIP 12: Heaven is waiting.

Visit the EQUIP website for tickets.

 

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The Prodigal God II: the shocking gospel of grace

Prodigal God, by Tim KellerStephanie Toose: in chapter two of “The Prodigal God”, Keller helps us think through the story of the younger and older lost sons more deeply.

The younger son certainly does make a bold request. And yet the father willingly grants it! What a devastating loss it would have been for the father to give up his property and wealth for his son. It is helpful that Keller points out the Greek word for ‘property’. It literally means life! I don’t have any children, but look forward to the day I do. However, I can only imagine the knife that would go through my heart if a son of mine (let’s hope this never happens!) boldly walked up to me and asked for his share of my savings and the house… I wouldn’t know how to react. I know I certainly wouldn’t agree to his request!

At least this younger son realises his mistake once he’s squandered all the money. He even comes up with a plausible plan. He could work as his father’s servant to pay off his debt. And yet, after all that, does it not make us wonder even more at the depth of the father’s love: that he should freely and willingly take this lost son back. No questions asked, no bargaining together, no conditions for his acceptance back into the family. The father opens his arms to him. And he doesn’t just give him his room back and say “there you go”. He puts his best robe on him, throws him a huge party, and restores him to his previous family standing.

As you ponder this parable for the third, or maybe the three hundred and third time, I hope the depth of God’s love for you and the forgiveness He gives still amaze you. Don’t let that become old news. The parables surrounding this story in Luke chapter 15 (the lost coin and the lost sheep) give us an even bigger picture of God’s love and forgiveness. They shout to us of how precious the lost are to God, and how wonderful it is when they are brought back to Him. Our great God freely loves and freely forgives. As Keller says so well, “God’s love and forgiveness can pardon and restore any and every kind of sin or wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done… There is no evil that the Father’s love cannot pardon and cover, there is no sin that is a match for His grace.” p24

The response of the older brother, then, becomes so much more shocking in light of the father’s response to his younger son. And yet in the older son’s attitude and actions, we realise he is just as lost as the other son. The older son is only concerned for his own reward and for his own justice. The older brother demands what he sees as his rights from the father; benefits and a share in his father’s wealth almost as a payment for his strict obedience. While the father offers the older son love and an invitation to join the party, we are left without a final response from this brother.

I love the fresh look we get at sin in chapter three. (That might not have come out the way I meant it! I’m not enthusiastic about sin, just glad of a chance to understand sin and our own sinfulness better with Keller’s help.)

By understanding these two sons more fully, Keller shows us how to more fully understand sin. While Keller looks at the example of both sons, I’m just going to think about the example of the older brother, as I think that is slightly less well-chartered territory.

Keller shows that the older brother in this parable represents the Pharisees and their strict observance of the law. And this parable says something striking. As Keller says, ‘the lover of prostitutes is saved, but the man of moral rectitude is lost.’p34.

The elder brother’s sinfulness is in his obedience; because his obedience is moralistic and dutiful. It is obedience without heart. The barrier between the older brother and the father is this son’s pride in his moral record. He expects reward and wants it on his own terms.
As Keller says towards the end of the chapter, ‘Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Saviour, Lord and Judge, just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life’ p43.

I think this has implications for both Christians and non-Christians.

Maybe this way of thinking is how your non-Christian friend thinks about God. If they’re just good enough, enough of the time, God will let them into His great feast, won’t He? Maybe if they work hard at keeping the laws of the land, respecting people, and praying every now and then to God, He’ll be happy with their ‘righteous’ life and accept them into His kingdom.

Well, we need to keep exposing the amazing and shocking gospel of grace to those around us who think this way. Only then will they see there is nothing they can do to be good enough for God and be accepted by him.

I wonder how often we as Christians slip into thinking like this older brother about our ‘righteous’ lives. We forget we’re already saved, but instead think that because we’ve perhaps suffered a little as Christians, or because we’ve remained faithful and served God for many years, we deserve to be accepted by God. We might even slip into thinking we’ll be ok on judgement day because we’re doing so well at following Jesus. Not actually because of what Jesus did! We look down at those ‘sinners’ around us, and congratulate ourselves for being so holy.

In essence, like the Pharisees, those of us thinking this way have totally lost perspective of ourselves, and of God. We have forgotten grace, and are instead trying to work for our own salvation. This is completely the opposite of what God wants! Though we try to make ourselves morally upright, we know that cannot happen. We cannot ever make ourselves morally good enough to be worthy of any reward. Our ‘righteousness’ will just never be ‘right’ enough.

Let us instead cling to God’s grace. Let us, unlike the older brother, remember that we are in need of this grace. Let us not think of what we can do, but instead, of what Christ has done.

The author of one of my favourite hymns says it better than I ever could.

Not the labours of my hands
can fulfill your law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
you must save, and you alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to your cross I cling;
naked, come to you for dress;
helpless, look to you for grace;
stained by sin to you I cry;
wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Augustus M. Toplady 1776

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Video: The Perils of a Page-Turner

There are many perils a page-turner can undergo! Here is a short YouTube video by Ruth Parker that highlights the perils and the remedy.

 

Reformers Bookshop … After all, life’s just too short for bad theology, isn’t it!

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The Prodigal God – New light on a much loved parable

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller (paperback)Stephanie Toose of EQUIP: I wonder if your experience is anything like my friend Sophie’s. In the past few years, Sophie has been discovering new truths about life. For the past 21 years, Sophie has grown up with sayings and names for things that her family used. Only now as a 21 year-old are her friends telling her that they are not in fact the common names or common sayings! So she’s learnt that instead of saying ‘daylight-saving-frolics’ she says ‘daylight savings’ and instead of ‘clicker’, she says ‘remote control’. What she thought was true for her whole life has to be modified. She is understanding things in a whole new light!

As we come to read Tim Keller’s Prodigal God, this may become our experience.

Tim Keller bases this book on the much read and loved parable from Luke 15:11-32, The Parable of the Prodigal Son (as it’s often called). Right from the introduction, Keller sets out to show that this parable has been quite misunderstood in the past, and really needs to be understood in a whole new light. He tells us it is a story of God’s reckless grace, our greatest hope.

“Over the years, I have often returned to teach and counsel from the parable. I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explain the true meaning of it, than by any other text.” Page xiii

What a big claim! Well it’s time to look again at this parable, in all truth and humility, and see what new light Keller may shed on it for us.

Chapter One.
Chapter one straight away introduces us to Keller’s understanding of the brothers; two different ways to be alienated from God and then seek his acceptance. He provides for us the context of the parable and highlights that the two groups of people Jesus is talking to represents the two different sons. The ‘tax collectors and sinners’ who are attracted to Jesus are like the younger son, and the Pharisees and teachers of the law are like the older son. There really is such a great contrast between these two. But to whom was Jesus actually directing this parable?

Keller says the second group. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Keller argues that it is in fact in response to the attitude of this group of people that Jesus tells the parable. Jesus tells this story because of the Pharisees’ cold and stubborn hearts towards the ‘sinners,’ and their indignation at Jesus because of his acceptance of them.

“It is a mistake, then, to think that Jesus tells this story primarily to assure younger brothers of his unconditional love. No, the original listeners were not melted into tears by this story but rather they were thunderstruck, offended and infuriated.”

Already I’m finding my understanding of the parable being refreshed. I have (I assume like many others) thought of the younger son as the primary focus of the text. But it makes sense that Jesus is using this parable to show the ‘moral insiders’ just how blind and self-righteous they really are – to the detriment of their own lives and those around them.

However, I do wonder if the parable can’t be directed at both groups of people? With such an emphasis on the Pharisees and the lesson they should learn from the older brother, do we lose out on the lesson learnt from the amazing grace and love shown to the younger brother? Can’t this be just as much an offensive rebuke to the Pharisees, as an offering of grace to the ‘sinners’?

Either way, it is worth looking more closely at the place of the Pharisees and tax collectors in this parable, and how much their attitudes are reflected in our own church circles.

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Restoration and Reconciliation through the Gospel of Grace (Peacemaker III)

The Peace Maker, by Ken SandeKathy Thurston: My husband Dave was a young minister, fresh from college and confronted with a middle aged divorced woman in our parish openly pursing a relationship with a non-Christian man. It was the talk of our small country town for all the wrong reasons. He knew what he had to do but was unsure about how it was all going to end. How would she respond? What would the members of our small church think if she left? But what damage was being done to the name of Jesus if we did nothing? So with much prayer and fear, he arranged to speak with her and gently talked to her about the mercy that we have been shown through Jesus and how He wants us to live lives worthy of him.

To our surprise, I am ashamed to report, our friend was so convicted of her sin, she repented of her actions and recommitted her life to the Lord. She went on to marry a beautiful Christian man, go to bible college and serve overseas! What a privilege it is always to act as God’s servants but sometimes, we are witnesses to His particular grace-we were that day.

Part 3 of Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, methodically and practically deals with the process of talking to others about their role in a conflict. This principle of peacemaking is called “Gently Restore” and is based on Matthew 18:15-20 where Jesus sets out what to do if our Christian brother or sister is caught in sin but before we look at the process outlined in this passage, we need to ask “When is it right for us to intervene?” As we have already seen, it is first important to count the cost of a conflict. Sande says we intervene when someone’s sin is likely to bring dishonour to God, when their offense is damaging our relationship with them, when their actions are causing significant harm to us or others or seriously harming the offender.

So the steps outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 to gently restore a brother or sister, can be summarized as follows:

1. Go and show your brother his fault, just between the two of you in private (v15)

2. If he will not listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (v16) The key to this step is to keep the people involved to a minimum.

3. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.(v17a) Sande interprets this to mean to tell a church leader, not to make a public church announcement!

4. If he refuses to listen even to a church leader, treat him as an unbeliever. (v17b)

Although this seems severe, Sande explains that the purpose in Jesus’ instruction here is to help the offender understand the seriousness of their sin which hopefully causes them to repent and be restored. This may mean withdrawing church membership privileges but unless they are disrupting the church, they should be welcomed at church like any unbeliever would. Thankfully most of us are likely to be involved more often in steps 1 and 2, and Sande provides some wise advice for preparing for such a conversation. I have particularly found it helpful to write down what I want to say, to focus on what we agree on and define clearly what we disagree on. By preparing in this way, I am more likely to be an un-anxious presence in the conversation, less likely to say unhelpful things and will be able to listen better.

Our goal in restoring is reconciliation and the ideal outcome of any conflicted situation, is repentance followed by forgiveness and reconciliation. Sande’s fourth principle of peacemaking is “Go and be reconciled” but this unfortunately is not always what happens. Without repentance there can’t be reconciliation but we can make a commitment to God to forgive the person who has offended us. Sande’s discussion of forgiveness in this situation is frank but rings true from my experience. Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision; it is not forgetting, but a conscious choice not to remember and it is not excusing as if it doesn’t matter.

Forgiveness is an event and for Sande consists of four promises that we need to make to ourselves:

1. I will not dwell on this incident.

2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.

3. I will not talk to others about this.

4. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

What a difference it would make in our relationships if we could forgive like this and yet, is it not just how God has forgiven us? (Ps 103:10-12) And if we refuse to forgive in this way are we not like the unmerciful servant who takes God’s forgiveness for granted while withholding forgiveness from others. Sande reminds us of the story of Corrie ten Boom and how trivial are the petty hurts the God mostly calls us to forgive, in comparison. Ultimately, only God can change people’s hearts and bring about repentance and reconciliation and our responsibility is to honour him in the way we behave and speak. But what a huge difference we can make as we breathe grace into the situations of conflict we find ourselves and follow the godly and practical principles set out in this book.

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Rev John Stott – September Book Giveaway Winners

John Stott, a Portrait by his friends, edited by Chris WrightReformers Bookshop is pleased to announce the winners of its September Book Giveaway.

Congratulations to the winners:

  • Nancy & John Tigwell;
  • Mark Callaghan;
  • Howard Petts; and
  • Lisa Hall.

They will receive a copy of this lovely hardcover book.

Thank you to all who either contributed or promoted the Book Giveaway – your support is a real encouragement to us. Keep your eyes peeled for our next Book Giveaway.

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