Hawthorn Presbyterian Church

Grace and “father” Noah

[Taken from the September edition of the Church Notes]

Right from the beginning, the Bible is about fathers. “Naturally enough,” you say, given that there is no “be[ing] fruitful and multiplying” without them! Fatherhood is thus a creation ordinance, structured into the very foundation of society, and it is a fundamental and rebellious denial of this creation order to claim that fatherhood is somehow dispensable, or indistinguishable from motherhood. When Adam was created, he was created to be a father, and had he not sinned, he would have been the prefect husband and father, rearing perfect sons, who would have grown up with the blessing of prefect mothers and enjoying the interaction with perfect sisters. (Ah, bliss! But we cannot live on what might have been!) Instead, within a generation we find such brokenness throughout the family and social structure that results in jealousy, deceit and murder, and all in the context of supposedly offering up acceptable worship! (Here is all history, both Church and social, in a nutshell!!).

Yet despite this first sin of Adam & Eve with all its consequences, God did not destroy all that he had made, but rather provided a way of redemption. Grace was promised even as the covenant curses were pronounced. One day, God promised, there would be a son born who would triumph over all this brokenness and undo the effects of the curse. We know that One to be our Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, that takes us to the first three chapters of the Bible. Only 1186 to go! We must expect, therefore, that the rest of the Bible will say lots of things about fatherhood, both godly and ungodly, as it unfolds. So while godliness is never genetic or passed on biologically, we are heartened to see that Genesis goes on to describe a line of godly descendents even as it bluntly describes sin’s descent into further sin.

Noah must have been an extraordinary father and must have had an extraordinarily powerful relationship with his sons. What pressures there must have been through all their growing and grown years to conform to the ungodliness of this world. Yet what a model of practical righteousness they must have seen in their father; a sense of the free presence and grace of God such that Noah and the Lord God communed directly. They would know that Noah, as a result of his knowing and loving God, would have such implicit confidence in the command of God that he would build the ark as directed, and so they also knew that it was right to take his side over the far more popular side of their in-laws [who never made it into the ark] and build with him. Their wives, likewise, must have seen in their father-in-law, something that held them to a living trust in God even though their own fathers refused to go into the ark with them. Godly fathers have influence way beyond their expectations.

Our world is obsessed with the opportunity for individuals to have a “meaningful life” i.e. to find a measure of purpose in life that gives satisfaction to one’s existence. That meaningfulness is suggested in all sorts of ways, but unless that meaningfulness is found in Christ, all such hopes are ultimately doomed to fail. So, fathers, pursue godliness and true holiness. Live as “men of the Book.” Pray for your households, and give them a good example. Model godliness so that sons may copy and improve upon it, and daughters will know what traits they should seek in a husband. All that is impossible without first loving one’s wife as Christ loved the Church, so this is the first step for all husbands, even where there are no children.

No father is perfect and if we could see into the heart as God sees, we would expect that even those who may be held up to us as models of godly fatherhood do [or did] grieve daily for their faults and long for grace to master their sins. And this is precisely the point: grace. The Bible is brutally honest about the failures of godly men, including Noah, not so that we can hold them up to ridicule, but so that we too may learn from them to seek the same grace that redeems and sanctifies, and model it in our daily lives, whether we are fathers or not.

Arthur Pink on The Sovereignty of God

Taken from the Monthly Notes, for August, 2012.

Why is it that so many in our day are content to live without any thought of God? The answer to that question is complex, but one of the contributors must surely be that Christianity has lost sight of the grandeur of God. Listen to the thoughts of Arthur Pink, taken from his book titled The Sovereignty of God.

The Sovereignty of God is an expression that once was generally understood. It was a phrase commonly used in religious literature … a theme frequently expounded in the pulpit. It was a truth which brought comfort to many hearts, and gave virility and stability to Christian character. But, today, to make mention of God’s Sovereignty is, in many quarters, to speak in an unknown tongue.

The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this … ? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God… To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God… to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35)… to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3)… to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleases Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

How different is the God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man … the creation of maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence. … To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent. To throw the blame, as many do, upon the Devil, does not remove the difficulty, for if Satan is defeating the purpose of God, then, Satan is Almighty and God is no longer the Supreme Being.

To declare that the Creator’s original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God. To suggest that God was taken by surprise in Eden and that He is now attempting to remedy an unforeseen calamity, is to degrade the Most High to the level of a finite, erring mortal. To argue that man is a free moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has the power to checkmate his Maker, is to strip God of the attribute of Omnipotence. To say that the creature has burst the bounds assigned by his Creator, and that God is now practically a helpless Spectator before the sin and suffering entailed by Adam’s fall, is to repudiate the express declaration of Holy Writ, namely, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: …” (Psa. 76:10). [T]o deny the Sovereignty of God is to enter upon a path which, if followed to its logical terminus, is to arrive at blank atheism.

Sovereignty characterises the whole Being of God, … evidenced on every page of Scripture.

If Pink is correct, the question we must all ask is this: “Does my life as a Christian show that I really believe that God is sovereign, or am I simply confirming atheists in their hardness of heart and in their disbelief? Over to us.

Thinking the Right Way up.

[taken from the Monthly Notes, June 2012]

In many ways, the meanings of key words in our language have been captured and inverted. Everyone agrees that words may alter or vary their meanings over time, but what we have seen over the past few generations is the deliberate perversion and or inversion of long held meanings so that they now provide the cover for all sorts of moral, philosophical and sociological changes. We believe that this is no accident, because when the meanings of a culture’s foundational words are re-defined, capturing it is made so much easier. The past can then be re-interpreted and even re-written, in order to normalise and justify all sorts of present practices.

We see this attack on meaning in the attempts to redefine the word “marriage” so that it would include relationships it was never intended to mean. Of course, there is no argument over whether there have always been aberrant sexualities in history – the Bible is brutally honest about such things – but over whether they should be embraced as legitimately constituting a marriage. The Scriptures are quite clear that marriage as ordained by God only ever involved male and female, and that to declare otherwise is to rebel against His created ordinance. Likewise the unborn is now commonly identified as a “fetus”, which for any latin speakers among us is a perfectly sensible and accurate word for an unborn child, but which for everyone else serves to subtly de-humanise the unborn. In this way, abortion ceases to be what it is - a deliberate killing - and becomes something abstract. As a third example the word “tolerance” has also been subtly re-defined. Originally, the word carried the idea of endurance; that there were some things which, being outside the bounds of “normal acceptability” [however it was defined], were nevertheless permitted as exceptions to be endured, but not thereby normalised. This notion of endurance has now all but disappeared, so that the claim for “tolerance” has become a demand for acceptance as of right. Thus what was once intolerable has become the new normal and what was previously normal has, by re-definition, become intolerable.

However, when God created, he defined much more than the physical and spiritual limits of the universe. He also defined what was “Good” and therefore, what was not. These definitions are fixed, and we are not at liberty to overturn them. In Isaiah 5:20 we read: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! These are God’s words to the people of Judah as He revealed why they would go into exile. Simply put, their thinking was upside-down. Good and evil are not matters of opinion; they are opposites, and this is the point of the bitter-sweet and light-darkness comparisons. As in our own day, this moral inversion was no accident; it had come about through the manipulations of those who were ”wise in their own eyes.” In the words of the New Testament, they had “exchanged the truth of God for a lie”.

It is important that Christians are careful not to allow the capture and re-definition of their own vocabularies. This is no easy task, because to insist that God’s moral definitions are fixed independently of human choice is itself politically incorrect. There will be opposition. However in this as in all things, we have a sure guide: the Word of God which stands forever. If we rest in all it reveals, beginning with Christ himself, we shall know God’s blessing, not his woe. We shall think “right way up.”

Living By the Sermon on the Mount

[Taken from the monthly Notes, May 2012]

I am sure that many who read this editorial have heard at least one person say something like this: “I don’t believe all that religious stuff about Jesus, I just live by his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.” Really? If people realised the solemn danger of such a statement they would not be so quick to claim the Sermon on the Mount as their basis for life. To live perfectly according to the pattern given in the Sermon on the Mount is commendable; failure to live up to its demands, even in only one area, is condemnable. And, to date, no-one but Jesus has managed to reach such a high standard, and we can confidently say that before He comes again, no-one else ever will. So why does Jesus set forth such a high, impossible standard?

If we are honest, there’s a little bit of the bush lawyer in all of us that likes to argue like this, “I’m really not a bad person; not when compared with that person over there.” No doubt there were many in Jesus’ day who drew comfort from the fact that they had not murdered anyone, nor run off with another’s spouse. Perhaps they hoped that Jesus would commend them for their high moral integrity. They were well respected members of the community: pillars in fact; regular synagogue attendees who did not swear or dishonour the Lord’s Name. There have always been such people, and there are such in our own day: good citizens, outwardly moral and even church-goers! How shocking Jesus’ words must have been to them as he gave the words of the ancient Law an uncomfortable extension : “… everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty…” and “… whoever looks on a woman to lust …” has already broken the law.

When Matthew records that Jesus sat down to teach on the mountain, [Matt 5:1] he was very deliberately drawing our attention to another time that God had spoken on the Moral Law; Sinai. On that occasion, it thundered, and the people fled in fear. But with 1400 years of familiarity and self-righteous excuses, the law had lost its force. It was something to be applied to others, and then to external matters. It was the “low life” who sinned, not religious people. [For proof of this, see Luke 18:9-14]

A moment’s serious reading makes it unmistakably clear that the Sermon on the Mount is not intended to be an easy alternative to facing the Law of God! [5:17-18] God has not changed His morality or His ethics. Jesus was not going soft! Rather, He was deepening and intensifying the Law’s application in a way that few in His day may have cared to admit. Jesus’ words bring the Law of God to bear upon the inner person, yours included holding up thoughts, motives and affections to the searching standard of God’s holiness. As Jesus said on another occasion, it is what comes out of man, out of the heart, that renders him [or her] unclean. [Mark 7:17-23]

In my experience there is usually only one saying of Jesus in these chapters which people really cling to, and that is His “Judge not that you be not judged …” [Matt 7:1]. I cannot recall how many times those words have been taken out of context and turned around. Either the first two words, “Judge not, ” are read as a command and emphatically turned into a rebuke akin to, “How dare you speak of my sin!” or Jesus’ logic is completely reversed and His words are taken to mean, “If I don’t judge anyone, that must means God won’t judge me either.” Nonsense.

Yes, the Sermon on the Mount does speak of comfort, but it is a comfort appointed only for those who see their sin and who embrace Jesus as the Saviour He is. To them He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Facing Up to the Resurrection

[Taken from the Monthly Notes, April 2012]

For the most part, even the most vehement critics of Christianity are willing to accept that there was such a man as Jesus who lived in Judea and Galilee in the first century. Most will also accept that he was crucified by the Romans under Pontius Pilate. For them, this is quite safe to admit. After all, a dead person, even someone heralded as a saviour while alive, can be safely dismissed once dead. If the dead stay dead, then given enough time, resources and perseverance, history can always be re-written or conveniently re-interpreted as a myth. Or so they hope.

A Saviour who dies but lives again, is quite another story, particularly one who will never ever die again. Such a one is problematic, and not simply because it involves accepting the non-materialistic premise that death is not the end of all conscious existence. That concept has been accepted by various cultures and religions, and in the case of Hinduism, expanded so that existence is comprised of an infinitude of life-cycles but despite their myriad of gods, there is no real external accountability to anyone else. A risen Saviour of the sort that Jesus is, is problematic because of the clear implication that this One might one day confront and hold accountable those who deny His existence! Therefore, Jesus must stay dead! So, opponents of Christianity have resorted to various theories in their desperation to dismiss the clear Biblical claim that Jesus rose from the dead. In short, they have created their own myths, such as:

1. The Wrong Tomb Theory: In their confusion and grief, the women and disciples simply got the tomb wrong and went to an empty tomb instead of the real one. But this theory falls flat when one realises that when Peter & John were later arrested for preaching the resurrection, the easiest way to scotch the new faith and render it powerless would have been by producing the body from the real tomb. # BUSTED!

2. The Hallucination Theory: This claims that in their collective grief and stress, the women and disciples were all easily convinced to believe they had “seen Jesus.” Despite all the psychological problems with such alleged “group hallucination” the theory fails when again, it would have been a simple matter for the authorities to produce the body from the real tomb. #BUSTED!

3. The Swoon Theory: This says that Jesus was not dead but in a deep coma-like state, and revived in the cool of the tomb. He then managed to unwrap himself, and escape. This ignores the fact that it was Romans who signed off on the death, and ignores the physical violence of crucifixion, which usually broke bones in hands and feet. Jesus was in no fit state to escape anywhere! As D.F. Strauss, himself a critic of Christianity, wrote in the 19th century: It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the grave, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, [& who had] at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life… Impossible indeed. # BUSTED!

4. The Stolen Body Theory: This is that the disciples stole Jesus body and pretended he had risen. In order for this to be so, the disciples who had all fled for fear suddenly summoned the courage to overpower or to sneak past the guard, move a 2 tonne stone, carefully unwrap Jesus, and sneak out again carrying the corpse with them. Implausible as all this is in itself, the entire gospel narratives make it clear that until Jesus rose, the disciples had no understanding of anything Jesus had said which spoke of resurrection. They were in despair [see Luke 24:21] # BUSTED!

Once again, we see that people choose to exchange the truth of God for a lie, rather than serve the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen [Rom 1:25]. Don’t you do the same!

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