Saved, but from what?

I have heard a gospel message preached, talking about the hope we can have in Jesus and the relationship we can have with Him. All good, except for one thing. When we talk about being saved, the question should be – saved from what, exactly?

To miss that part undercuts the foundation from the rest of the message. You are left with maybe a warm aspirational message, here’s a God who would like to develop a relationship with you, build you up, get to that spiritual itch you have from time to time.

That’s a rather different approach from what has been taken in the past. In the 18th century Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Even the title would likely cause offense these days, let alone the content:

Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now
with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare.

Can you imagine such a sermon being preached now? I can hear the response – hateful, intolerant, bigoted and narrow-minded. How dare you judge me!

We have so little concept these days of being lost. Or of the reality of hell. And that’s in the Christian world, let alone outside the church. We often seem to have only a limited understanding (if at all) that the wicked the Bible speaks of – that is us, without the grace of God. We are not the good guys. We are complete wretches in need of that grace, lest justice take us to the end we so richly deserve.

We are, rather, as Jonathan Edwards says: “the foolish children of men miserably deluding themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow.” And that trust shall prove illusory on the day their foot shall slide.

Why are we in the Church so afraid of ruffling feathers when we speak of this? Because the fear of man consumes us, where we should be consumed with the fear of God. We see no revival because we do not treat our natural state, and the gospel message, seriously enough. Causing offence should be an expected by-product of our preaching. Consider our founder:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

John 6 v60-66

Now, that’s not to say we go about deliberately trying to shock and offend. But it is to recognise that the gospel – the full gospel – is and always will be offensive to those who are perishing. What? I said that? There are those who are perishing? Yes – and it is profoundly tragic to pretend otherwise.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1 v18

It is only when we set the scene, and come to a full realisation of our abject state that the following words make any sense:

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God

Truth is, being saved is essentially meaningless if there is no concept of what we have been saved from. We won’t get anywhere with the gospel until we can understand and attest to GK Chesterton’s response to the question ‘What is wrong with the world?’ …. ‘I am’.

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The way of the cross

Easter Sunday is the greatest celebration of the Christian year – Jesus triumphant over the powers of death, sin and hell! He is risen, risen indeed!

Ah, but to get there, a cost beyond our comprehension. The mocking, the scourging, the hatred. The bearing of the crown of thorns, a link to the beginning where God told the exiles that the ground would yield thorns because of their sin. Yield them yes, and in due time He would bear those same thorns.

The road of suffering, the Golgotha Road, leading to the place of execution. Stripped, shamed, humiliated and brutalised. And hung on a cross, to die a slow agonising death.

That’s the bit we can see – we only get a glimpse of the deeper cost, when the great I AM has the weight of all human sin hung on His shoulders and the fellowship the Son has with the Father was, for the first and only time, sundered. A chasm opening up and where there was rich communion, suddenly only silence – the separation of what is holy from what is darkness and death.

I think we know this, at least in our heads. But it’s not a nice thing to dwell on. Best to move on swiftly from Good Friday, shuffling away from the brutal reality of the cost of our own darkness. But wait – for unless we start to understand what it really cost to save us, unless we begin to understand how much we have to be saved from, the resurrection on Sunday signifies little.

We don’t serve a Lord who came to show us how to be nice to each other, preaching peace and tolerance with a few Easter bunnies thrown into the mix. No, we serve a Lord who turned everything upside down, literally and figuratively – and who was not ‘nice’, or ‘peaceful’, or ‘tolerant’. He did not tolerate the principalities and powers, did not tolerate the sin, darkness and death that is endemic in us all. And he paid the cost of that intolerance in full.

Church, we had better wake up, because the same road Jesus followed is the one we must also. We also will have to reckon with mockery, abuse and slander. We also will have to tread the Golgotha Road of suffering. We also will have to endure the metaphorical cross.

Before you choose to follow Jesus, just check on the road he trod. It is the only road that will lead you to Life. But to get there, you will have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. There is no other way. You will have a Guide who has trod that road, and will be closer to your soul than any other. But on the way to your Easter Sunday, He will also lead you through your Good Friday. There is no other way, no short cut. This is the Way of the Cross.

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The dividing line

A year ago, I wrote a Storm Warning. This was the word I was given for that post:

My Church, you are going to Prepare one way or the other. Either you will Prepare to endure the coming storm, or you will Prepare to surrender. There will be no middle way. All will come to the decision point – to walk the path I trod, or to turn away.

Let us be clear, preparation is not just an active thing. It is equally a consequence of passivity. Were the foolish virgins’ denied entry to the wedding feast by their actions? No, rather they did nothing, they just went along with little focus on what was important.

Now, please don’t mistake me. There is no salvation by works, and this is not to exhort us to try harder, do more. That is a trap and a snare, by which many religious become bound. But it is to recognise we have choices – how do we spend our time, where to we invest our money, what are our priorities? Are we renewing our spiritual minds or allowing them to rust up through neglect?

When the time of decision, the dividing line, comes – where our heart lies will dictate the decision we make. For a dividing line comes, separating the Church from the worldly imposter. Events will continue and intensify and will serve to bring us to that decision point. When it comes, our preparation will already have been made. Do not leave matters until that time, rather purchase oil without cost while it can be found!

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The dyed scroll

On the morning of 7th January 2021, as I woke a condensed image flashed through my mind.  I saw a long and narrow vista opened up in front of me like an opened scroll, that was intensely detailed, full of people, places and events.  The startling thing was that it was all dyed blood red.

I have pondered it since.  One interpretation that came to my mind, was that it spoke of conflict and/or war.  A brother I shared this with thought it could also speak of redemption. Perhaps various layers of inference could be drawn.

Since then, I’ve not done anything with it because the application was uncertain. When would such a word bring value? There is foretelling involved in prophecy but its heart is forthtelling.

With current events though it seems apropos. There are perhaps two things to gather from this.

Firstly, nothing happens without Gods full foreknowledge. That isn’t to say what will happen is going to be good. A cursory reading of the Bible prophets can assure us of that. However, it does tell us He is in complete sovereign control. We do not live in a random cruel world where things happen by chance and there is no meaning. We live in a world that is in active rebellion against its maker, the results of which we see every day. And we live in a world amidst principalities and powers that have been defeated by the blood of the Lamb.

Which leads to the second point. On praying about the scroll vision, I received the well known passage:

Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains.

Matthew 24 v4-8

The emphasis in my spirit was – do not be alarmed! These things will come, and much trouble and suffering in its wake – but do not be alarmed! Rather, recognise the sovereignty of God and trust in Him regardless of your situation. There is nothing happening that He has not foreknown and if you will trust in Him, little faith though you may have, He will bear you through the storms and the shakings. He was, is and ever will be, unshakeable. In His mercy, love and grace, you can find refuge for your soul.

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The line on the horizon

I stood upon a cliff and gazed out across the wide expanse of the sea. Grey was the water, and grey the clouds. All was flat, calm. On the horizon was a line, a little wave, a gentle swell. My Father had me attend to that line. To and fro go the people in the city, addressing this and that. The line moves closer, and as it does it begins building, swelling, and accelerating. Too late does it dawn upon the residents of the city, the reality of what is coming.

The structures, the houses, that people have built will be tested. They often look quite similar. But some have foundations, roots and strength. And others, they have no foundations at all. When the waves crash in, those with no root will lift, will smash against each other, will topple and break up.

It seems this is nothing new. The warning is now three times in three decades.

P.S. I should note this word does not speak to immediate events. But rather part of the shakings I’ve written about many times here. I may write further on current matters soon.

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The pandemic of fear

I recently read an article about the Sage sub-committee that was tasked with altering our behaviour at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Turns out that they were alarmingly successful in inducing fear – the results being way beyond what they had hoped for.

Some of the members of that committee retrospectively expressed concern about the manipulation in which they engaged, likening it to a form of totalitarian behaviour. While it is faintly hopeful that there was belated expression of remorse, there are plenty of people in leadership positions who will show no such qualms and in fact will quite happily use the same tactic again. The Bible talks about such as these:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

1 Timothy 4 v1-2

How unhinged many people were, and often still are, should really come as no surprise. As I mentioned in a recent post, we live in a pagan society surrounded by the rubble of our judeo-christian heritage.

Many people in our society have no underpinning, have no faith or hope beyond the here and the now. It’s hardly unexpected that such a society responded this way – and will do so again when the next shaking comes. And come it will.

Fear is an extremely powerful motivator and the only real antidote for such fear is faith. This is why I have said and continue to say that we need our lives to be rooted strongly and deeply on Jesus Christ. Nobody else will do, nothing else is ever going to work, no programme, no organisation, no government will provide us the underpinning, foundation and stability that comes through trust in the Rock of Ages.

In these times the only sane people in the sea of panic will be those rooted on this Rock. Those panicking people, organisations, societies and governments will do terrible things in the name of their fear, justifying it later to themselves in any way they can.

We have to be salt, we have to be light, we have to be the hope that is in the world. If we’re not that then we’re nothing of value – just more lost souls adrift in the crashing seas, submerged by wave after wave, panicking and grasping for anything offering hope.

The clarion call again of this time is to be ready. We have to know who and whose we are in order that we might help save some of those shipwrecked by the waves. If we’re not ready, we’ll find ourselves in in the same tempestuous and raging sea.

This isn’t a word for tomorrow or sometime in the future, this is a word for here and now. This is the world in which we live, as all that has seemed sturdy will prove illusory. The world where our creature comforts are going to be taken away from us. A world where we must be radically different.

We can only shine as lights if we are a different lumen factor than the world around us. Of course, we can do none of this in our own strength. But Jesus Christ is a strong tower, our fortress. He cannot be shaken and he can do what none of us can. We must be found in him. There is no other place.

As a side note – I’m currently slowly working forming something that might be a word for 2022. The things that are unseen are real, whilst so much of what is seen is illusory…

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The hope of the world

Today is the day when it all began turning around. When out of a miasma of hopelessness, hope was born.

Sometimes, maybe like me, you look at the world with a mixture of anxiety, frustration, incredulity and a nascent sense of despair at our unerring ability to mess things up! Blind sheep led by blind guides, all eager to find the nearest pit to fall into.

But then, something new comes. Something outside of us – as it ever had to be. Hope dawning, in the midst of hopelessness. Grace, kindness and mercy, unexpected and undeserved.

Hope – not in the form of a conquering army, not a new philosophy, not a society reformed with new and fairer rules. Hope – in the form of a baby. Let’s face it, only God could come up with that type of hope! A baby, another mouth to feed, how does that help a thing? Fortunately the foolishness of God is a cut above the wisdom of man. This baby holds the promise of redemption.

The truth is we are all broken people. Sometimes the cracks in the jars of our lives are more visible, sometimes less so. But they are there, and we all leak. We get hurt and damaged, and we hurt and damage in our turn. Often we don’t want to, we desire the good, but somehow our very best intentions turn sour, wrecked on the rocks of our own inadequacy and darkness.

We are all people who have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Popular mythology aside, that fruit is not an apple. The key is in to know. In the biblical sense, to be intimate with. We know the difference between good and evil because we have all tasted the fruit of that particular tree. And the very act of eating from that tree cuts us off from the fruit of the tree of life.

And this is where the baby comes in. This baby is not meek and mild. This one holds in His hands the power to subvert all order, and through His own assumption of humanity, holds the ability to reconnect us to the tree we lost so very long ago, the tree of life. This baby is both lost humanity and the very essence of the that tree, reconnecting and making a way, when there was no way.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3 v 16

Now that – that is real hope. A hope worth surrendering your whole life to attain. And some do, whilst many do not. There is still a choice – as it was in the beginning, so it is now.

Here is the rest of that verse:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3 v 17-21

Choose wisely. This baby is your best, last and only hope.

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The pagan society

For any useful prognosis, it’s important to get the initial diagnosis right. With that in mind, in what kind of society do we dwell? The current consensus appears to be that this is a secular society, providing an ostensibly neutral ground for various beliefs to coexist. Useful, perhaps even noble in its way?

Only, I don’t think that’s the truth. When our society abandoned its Christian roots, it didn’t become somehow more enlightened, more noble, more evenhanded. Rather, it became pagan. We didn’t stop worshipping, we just transferred onto new objects. Fervent devotion to political parties, to science, to sport, to work, to money …. you name it. And when these gods do not satisfy, pseudospiritual mashups of our own making.

The only reason we haven’t seen at a societal level the full range of darkness is that it takes time to regress. Desire conceives sin, which when full blown leads to death. It’s not an overnight thing. Trappings remain that create illusions of stability. But they can’t and don’t last. Perhaps some of the insanity in recent years shows the fruit of the tree we have chosen to tend. Do we really think this will end well?

This then comes back to the Church. What are we to be? Well, we’ve already been told – to be salt and light. Not candifloss and popcorn. To preserve, flavour and bring illumination into a great gloom. Not to sit on the sidelines engrossed in our own programmes.

If a pagan society doesn’t hate the Church in its midst, the problem is with us. Are we distinct, different, or did we take on the miasma of the world around us? Did we lose our saltiness? The times to come will show the truth of this, with the wordly church, the dark lighthouse, being separated from the Church of God. We’ll all be faced with the questions – Who are you, Whose are you and What are you willing to pay to follow Christ?

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Back soon…

….when I’ve fully kicked this Covid thing….

Natural immunity might be the best, but it’s not the most pleasant to acquire. However hopefully it’ll stand me in a bit better stead than the vaccinations did. 😉

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Wake up!

What if I told you that in a part of Australia, it has been made illegal to pray in a particular way? I’m not kidding. Maybe you would hope that within the response to that linked article that there would be some concern that this was possibly an overreach? Read the comments on that article, and all there is is approval of the law and hatred of the church. Now, I do not mistake internet comments for the real world, but the almost completely one sided nature is perhaps something of a bellwether.

In my country things trend the same way. In October the Ozanne Foundation released the Cooper Report. In it, they call for the criminalisation of conversion therapy. Now I could talk about how the whole conversation therapy thing is a shell game – evoking imagery of extreme practices in order to ban simple prayer and any dissent from secular orthodoxy. Or maybe I could talk about the strangeness of attempting to ban consent to prayer in an age where consent itself is idolised? But appeal to reason really doesn’t matter, because there is no reasoning with this particular beast.

But surely this is extreme, banning prayer wouldn’t actually happen here? Maybe. Perhaps in the same way it didn’t happen in Australia? It’s extreme, right until the day it isn’t, right until the day when it becomes self-evident to most people, and to think otherwise makes you a bigot.

Look, it is here, it is right at the door. If not now, then imminently. Maybe you can dodge for a while longer. But we are at the point when we will have to, like Peter, say “we must obey God rather than men” and in so doing make a conscious choice to disobey antichristian laws because we obey higher laws.

Now, this is quite a high bar. Obeying the laws that governments enact is a Christian ethic – see Romans 13 v1-7. Maybe we disagree with the governments response on Covid, or how tax money is spent, or any number of public policy choices. But those kind of matters are within the competency of a secular authority to determine. But matters such as determining who can pray, and for what, is not. So we must start to ask ourselves, how should we respond in such a time as this? Richard Wurmbrand had some thought for that in Preparing for Underground Church. We need to steel ourselves to disobey antichristian laws when they arise, and face the consequences of doing so.

And do not imagine that wider society will save you from the excesses. I’ll tell you exactly how it will go down. There will be a minority who will actively drive the persecution, they will often be in the place of power. The majority will just do what they have to get along, and will avert their eyes. The media will do their part, suppressing any reporting and demonising the church.

Jesus didn’t say the world will love you, or will rescue you, or be kind to you. He did say, however, that He has overcome the world. So whatever they can throw at you, rejoice, for they threw it at Him too. And He overcame, and He calls us to the same – to be overcomers. In Him, we can become more than conquerors, and as light in the darkness we will have the opportunity to minister to the despised, the rejected, the unimportant, the powerless, the ones for whom Jesus died and longs to gather in to His barn. We will have that opportunity because we will be one of them.

There is nothing new here really in what I’m saying – but I call to warn of the coming storm while I am able, for any that will listen.

In my minds eye, I see myself at a church gathering on a beach. There is worship, there is food, there is activity, there is rest – a social hub. And we are still wearing summer clothes, basking in the fading gleams of the sunlight that remains. There are those of us on the edge of the gathering that see the storm clouds gathering high, the wind gusting, and we look at what’s coming and the seeming blindness of those on the beach – and we say please, please, please prepare! Prepare your people for what is right at the doorstep. Break out the sou’westers, batten down the hatches! Put away the party gear and gird yourself. Do not flee, but be prepared! In the times to come the aroma of Christ will repel some and attract other simply by its contrast. In the times to come, we will be paid in a new coin – the one side of which is inscribed Persecution, the other side Revival. It’s time to seriously consider, and count the cost of following Christ, before it becomes time to pay that cost in full.

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