Happy You, O Israel

These words are from Deuteronomy 33:29. In our bibles the words read, “Happy are you, O Israel: who is like unto you, O people saved by the Lord”. The word “are” in the English translation is superfluous in Hebrew: hence it is added in English in italics to help the flow of the language. However, I confess that, for me, there is something very  special about the original, and this is the reason for our heading, “Happy You, O Israel”.

Moses was approaching the end of his life. He had been the leader of the Children of Israel during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. There were 600, 000 of them apart from women and children, and they were a difficult, murmuring and thankless people. They frequently tried Moses to the limit of his patience. Yet, now, when the time of his death is near, He speaks of them as a ‘happy people’. Was Moses pretending when he spoke these words? No, what he said was based on facts.

They were a people saved by the Lord. The disobedient, faithless generation that came out of Egypt had passed away, and  a new more obedient and faithful generation had taken their  place. They were destined to enter into Canaan, into the Promised Land, which God had promised to give them. Hence their happiness in the eyes of Moses. The happiness of the christian is similar in nature, but far surpasses that of the Children of israel.

Their happiness is not just based on their future in heaven, but there is for them a present happiness. What is that present happiness? It is the simple fact that they are saved. Life for them in this world has, perhaps, not been easy, it rarely is; but their trials are not meaningless. They are productive, and full of meaning. They know that their trials are preparing them from heaven. Their present happiness is that they are now irreversibly and unchangeably saved. They have no righteousness of their own. Their righteousness is the righteousness of Christ, which they received when they received Him as their Saviour and Lord. Also, the moment they received Christ, the Spirit of God entered into them, and  made their heart His dwelling place. From there He will never move, and cannot be evicted. How wonderful that the God the Holy Spirit makes our unworthy hearts His permanent dwelling place! O happy thought;  and how extra happy we are when He makes His presence known. Yes, we often grieve Him, but still he will not leave. Let us live, speak and think in such a way that He is not grieved, but that He rejoices in His dwelling place, making us sing with happiness.

Then, of course, there is heaven. The Bible tells us that there is an  inheritance in heaven with Christ waiting for us when we get there. The presence of the Spirit in our hearts is like an ‘earnest’ (advance payment) of heaven (Ephesians 1:13,14). When He makes Himself known, it is like a foretaste of heaven. Yes, there is a sense in which heaven begins in this life. Indeed I would say that we should search and work for these moments when He draws near: in the secret place, in reading the scriptures, in the fellowship of His people wherever the are gathered on the Lord’s day or midweek, visiting the sick, reading good books. All these things are like a pursuit: the pursuit of holiness.

We read of Gideon’s men, that they were “Faint, yet pursuing”, (Judges 8:4). Are you pursuing holiness of  life, even when faint? This is truly being RightWithGod.  How is it with you, christan?

 

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Walking Carefully

Last week we looked at Ephesians 5:14, 15,16 we read, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and  Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. We concentrated on the phrase, “reedeeming the time”. Today, I wish to commend to you the phrase, “See that ye walk circumspectly”. The word is an important one to help us understand the christian life, and enable us to walk, ie live our lives,  in a way that is pleasing to God. The christan life is meant to be a happy life, the happiest there is. But that happiness depends on our day to day relationship with God. We want a relationship which is based on a two-way delight: God delighting in us and we delighting in God. God is intensely, even fastidiously, interested in the way His child is living. There are many aspect to this. Today we will look at one of these aspects: Walking carefully.

This word “circumspectly” is not a word we use very much, but it is one  which the christian should import into his understanding of the walk that pleases God. To put it very simply, it means walking carefully. This involves walking  warily. Why? Because Satan  is continually trying to snare the christian. He often presents himself as an angel of light, and with great skill, makes the things of this world seem very attractive. He makes things that are not good for our souls, and mar our happy relationship with God,  seem quite innocent.  We must be constantly on our guard against his wiles.  This means walking warily.

But the word, “circumspectly” can be also explained in terms  of the word itself. We do not need to know much about language to see that it is made up of two parts which, when joined together, give us ‘looking round about’.  This is helpful. We are not only to walk carefully and warily, but we must keep our eyes open and observe the full situation in which we find ourselves. In the words of the text, we must walk, “not as fools, but as wise”. The Lord treats us as rational beings and expects us to make wise choices in every situation. We do not naturally have good judgement, but it is something that is integral to the christian life, and must be built up. I once sat at a Lord’s table, and during the part of the service which deals with the question, who should sit at the Lord’s table, and who should not, the minister said a few simple words which I have never forgotten, and which  I have found  very helpful. He said, “the Lord’s table is not for the perfect, but neither is it for the careless”. He put a lot of wisdom into a few words!

May the Lord help us to find our greatest delight in the assurance  that, as we delight in God, He delights in us: true happiness, RightWithGod!

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Redeeming the Time

As I write it is the 16th day of the New Year. Already a good chunk of 2016 has gone. The sense  of ‘newness’ is  already fading. Many of us will have slipped into the ‘groove’, and we are back to normal life. Sixteen days of our time in this world have gone, never to return. I would press upon you that these have been sixteen days of quality time. Time for the unbeliever to get RightWithGod, and for the believer to pursue holiness and enjoy the full delights of being RightWithGod.

In Ephesians 5:14, 15,16 we read, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and  Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. The whole context here is addressed to believers, even v14, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give the light”. The death spoken of cannot be the spiritual death which is on the unbeliever,  because it would be absurd to ask the spiritually dead to rise from the dead. The spiritually dead are not commanded to arise from the dead, but to believe on Christ. The imparting of spritual life is of God, and it often accompanies the preaching of the gospel. The death spoken of in v14 is the death, or spiritual slumber which can come on the believer (Even the five wise virgins in the parable slumbered and slept, Matthew 25:5). The call, “Awake thou that sleepest” is to believers who have lost their zeal for Christ, and have allowed a spiritual sleep to come upon them, making them live like the spiritually dead. This slumber is always a danger to the believer in this life.

Paul makes clear the way that we must live if we are to overcome this slumber, or, better still, prevent it happening. “See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise”, v15. ‘Circumspectly’ is not a word we commonly use today, but it is a good word we would do well to grasp, in order that it might help us to keep our souls lively,  keeping us RightWithGod, and  hence delighting in Him. The dictionary defines the word, as ‘being wary, and unwilling to take risks’ We would like to flesh this out with some practical guidance, but we must leave that this week, so that we can deal with the v16: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”.

To redeem  something is to gain or regain for the payment of a price. Here it would have the simplified meaning of getting full control of our precious time, at whatever cost. There will be a cost in terms of making adustments in our lives. Some things would have to go: things that have stolen away our time, perhaps for  many years. We live in evil days,  when Satan is reaching new heights, or depths, to entice and seduce the believer to waste his  precious time, giving himself to thoughts and imaginations which corrode and corrupt the mind, and which prevent him from experiencing  the greatest enjoyment possible in this life: being RightWithGod.

 

 

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The Big Issue for the Unbeliever for 2016

 

The Big Issue for the unbeliever for 2016 is getting RightWithGod, rather than keeping RightWithGod, which we discussed last week. The difference between ‘getting’and ‘keeping’ may seem slight, but it is not so. The difference is in fact immense. It is the difference between an overwhelmingly important and urgent quest, and the enjoyment of the resolution of that quest. It is often the case nowadays that this difference is often minimised by preachers, while the bible maximises that difference, equating it to the difference between being lost and saved, death and life, darkness and light, misery and happiness.
There is nothing in this life more important than getting RightWithGod, while we have opportunity.

We often complain about the downsides of this life, and there are many; but there is one wonderful upside to this life, which overwhelms all the downsides: that is, that it is an opportunity to get RightWithGod, and so come into the fullest enjoyment of this life, and the assurance of heaven after death. This opportunity is before us throughout our whole time in this life, but ceases forever on death. There will be no further opportunity. No one will ever be saved beyond death. This life is the one and only age in any person’s existence, of gospel preaching, gospel invitation, gospel appeals, and gospel blessing. This is in fact a good time to be alive, because the door to heaven is wide open to all who will have it, without exception.

But the gospel invitation comes in this form in the bible: “God commands all men everywhere to repent”. This command assumes that there is something for all men to repent of. This brings us to man’s greatest stumblingblock when it comes to being saved: all human beings are by nature sinners before the all-righteous God. They are fallen creatures, guilty before Him, and therefore subject to His wrath. Accepting the fact of this guilt, is hard for fallen man because one of the symptoms of his fallenness is his pride. He thinks himself to be righteous, strong and self-sufficient. It is extremely hard for him to confess his sins before God, and hence it is very difficult for him to repent of his sins. The gospel is for sinners, not for the righteous.

Yet, repentance alone never saved anybody. There is no salvation for men until their sins are not only owned by them, but dealt with. The due punishment must be paid. At this point we are helpless, until we see why Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into this world to bear mockery and rejection, and suffer the cruel death of the cross. Then, glorious light banishes our darkness: Christ died as a substitute. On that cross He suffered the wrath of God the Father for the sins of all who will repent, and bow the knee before God, in confession and deepest gratitude for His great provision for sinners: not for the righteous, but for sinners. This provision permeates the bible in express words and in illustrations: for example, Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” What a glorious moment for any human being when he sees this clearly and receives this Christ as his own substitute!

He is, at a stroke, made RightWithGod, permanently and irreversibly. O happy moment!

Dear friend, if you have not yet settled this matter between yourself and God, I beseech you to make that your Big Issue for 2016.

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Another Year Begins.

I am always thankful that we have a New Year’s Day service in our congregation. I had the privilege of preaching at that service in our congregation yesterday.  As an illustration to introduce my sermon, I referred to a magazine which is sold on the streets of most of our cities by people who are homeless. The aim of the organisation behind the magazine is to give homeless people a start to earn some money by selling the magazines at a small profit, and so build up a businesss for themselves. All the sellers are self-employed. The name of the magazine is “The Big Issue”, that ‘issue’ being homelessness, although the magazine covers a wide range  of topics.

The point of using the title of this magazine to  introduce a New Year’s day sermon is obvious: the question being, ‘Is there a big issue between youself and God, that you need to settle before more time passes?’ The issue of course is, whether you are RightWithGod, or not. It may surprise you that I applied the question to believers first, and then to unbelievers. It applies to both, but in totally different ways.

But surely the believer is already RightWithGod? Yes, most certainly: there is not the slightest possibility, that a person who is saved, united by faith to Christ, trusting in Him as the only One who can save from sin, can ever, ever be lost.

However, when we look at a passage of scripture like Hebrews 12:1-4, which is clearly addressed to believers, we have a picture of the  christian life, which challenges the christian. In verses 1 and 2, we read of a race, not of our own making, but one which God himself has  “set before us”. It does not say, ‘He sets the race before us, and forces us to run it.’ He just  sets it before us, and, if we are believers, we are enabled to run this race, but not forced into it. It is a race which can only be run with patience, literally, perseverance, or staying power. This is very far from the attitude which says, ‘I am saved, and saved irreversibly for all time and eternity, and nothing can change that (which is true), so I can relax, and enjoy my christian life without pushing myself. The last clause is mistaken.

The christian life is a life of intense joy and happiness in God. No greater happiness is possible in this life than this. It is a life of “laying aside” certain things, or separating ourselves from them. The first of these is “every weight”. Weights here mean things which are not in themselves sinful, but which weigh us down: certain company, friendships, reading materials, entertainments, excessive internet chats, etc. The second thing is “the sin which does so easily beset us”. We must get to know ourselves, and especially the sins which all too easily over take and enslave us, filling our thoughts before w know where we are. We must separate ourselves from all the situations which make it easy for these sins to ‘grab’ us: If you are honest with yourself, you will soon know what these situations are. This race is really a pursuit: it is pursuing holiness. This is a pursuit which is in itself is the joy of all who are in it. The greatest happiness possible to the christian is the enjoyment of God.

This is supremely being RightWithGod.  As we separate ouselves from the things mentioned, we separate ourselves unto Christ; “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”. We make Him the focus of our thoughts and aims. He is the one whom God the Father graciously, lovingly sent to “endure the cross” for us. His Joy was that He would reconcile us to God by His suffering the penalty of our sins for us on the cursed cross. Let us endure for Him, just  for the sheer present joy of dong so.

I have written enough for this week. If spared, we will address the unbeliever next week.

 

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