He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.
It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy…
In confession the break-through to community takes place.
Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sins wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community.
In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.
The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is openly manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted…
The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder. Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother. He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God. It has been taken away from him. Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time. The sin concealed separated him from the fellowship, made all his apparent fellowship a sham; the sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ…
If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere… Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to a holy God? But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution.
Self-forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin
And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? Self-forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin; this can be accomplished only by the judging and pardoning Word of God itself. Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sin everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light. But since the sin must come to light some time, it is better that it happens today between me and my brother, rather than on the last day in the piercing light of the final judgment. It is a mercy that we can confess our sins to a brother. Such grace spares us the terrors of the last judgment.
Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession.
It is not experience of life but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient in brotherly confession. (pp. 110 -119 Life Together)
There is the verse-centered approach in which people look for a word for themselves. I’m tempted to call it ‘the horoscope method of Bible reading’, where we read through until a verse fits our situation. But this is not how God intended the Bible to be read. Indeed, you would have to go a long way through Ezekiel before you found a personally relevant verse that leapt off the page! Devotional Bible reading can be useful and is better than nothing, but it’s not the right way to read the Bible. It is an essentially self-centered way of reading.
2. The passage-centered approach (to give to others)
Next, there is the passage-centered approach. Some Christians read the Bible mainly for the sake of other people. This is especially the case for preachers and teachers, who are wondering what they should preach about. Four passages in Ezekiel are special favorites with preachers.
Perhaps the most popular is chapter 37, made famous by the Negro spiritual ‘Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones …hear the word of the Lord’. The themes of death and life are too good to resist, and the extraordinary image of bones joining together, covered with flesh, makes for dramatic effect.
Chapter 47 is another preaching favorite, through it tends to be taken out of context and used in an allegorical way. In the chapter a man finds a river flowing from the temple. He steps into it up to his ankles, and then up to his knees, and then up to his waist, and then it is deep enough to swim in. So preachers use the water as a picture of the Holy Spirit. They ask: ‘How deeply are you into the Spirit? Are you swimming in the Spirit yet, or are you just paddling?’ But geographical details in the context (fishermen at En Gedi by the Sea in the Arabah Valley) surely intend the prophecy to be taken literally. The Dead Sea becoming full of life with the influx of desalinating fresh water is a miracle of nature, but preachers find it easier to ‘spiritualize’ such events and apply them to human nature, especially if they have problems with supernatural intervention in the physical realm. And the allegorical treatment of the Old Testament has a long history in church pulpits, emanating from the Greek disdain for the literal and physical in the teaching of Clement and Origen of Alexandria in the third century AD.
3. The book-centered approach (God)
This is the best approach to Ezekiel, and it involves getting a grasp of the whole book rather than just parts of it. Only by doing this can we really understand what God is saying to us through it. Ultimately the main reason for reading the Bible is that we might know God. Bible reading teaches us what kind of a God he is – how he responds to us, how he feels about us and what he will do with us. So if we avoid Ezekiel we avoid a crucial part of God’s revelation about himself and we miss out on what it teaches us.
When Christians read the Bible book by book for the first time, I always recommend using the Living Bible. As I mentioned earlier, some years ago the church my Teacher served in Guildford read through the whole Bible non-stop in this version. The Living Bible is the most accurate translation of the feelings expressed in the Bible, but since it is a paraphrase, it is not the most accurate translation of the thoughts and the precise wording of the biblical text.
The Bible is of course, the word of God and the word of man. So we can look at it for both inspiration and interest. There is a great deal of human interest in it. God chose to communicate his word through people, in all their complexity, at particular times and in particular situations. These are not ‘ivory tower’ speculations but words that made a difference to the world and to people’s perception of it.
By understanding the real-life situations portrayed in the Bible we can appreciate the way in which God’s word came to real people in real history. When speakers take the divine word out of its human context, boring preaching and teaching is the result.
Taken from David Pawson
I was so struck today at all the incredible pictures and videos from the devastation coming out of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami! I sense in my heart and spirit that we must be further into the birth pangs than many think. Looking at the pain and suffering on the faces of the Japanese is deeply profound! I cannot foresee years and years more of this type of destruction. As of this moment, the media is announcing 1000 dead but if you see the devastation it must be much more.
Just days before His death Jesus told His closest disciples what the “end of the age” would look like. Some have suggested He was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman Empire in AD 70. I disagree. Would not Jesus’ last words on earth have a much broader ramification than an event 40 years later?
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name… Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matt 24: 7-9, 12-13)
I cannot foresee such tragedy being played out on a global stage for the next 50 years. I cannot foresee this type of weekly or monthly eruptions throughout the earth just simply going “on and on”.
I think God is seriously wrapping things up in “this present age” so that He can transition the whole earth into the “age to come”. The prophet Daniel wrote 2,500 years ago that “in the end of time” the whole earth would experience a time of tribulation and distress such as had never occurred on the earth.
“And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time…” (Daniel 12:1)
My daughter was told on her Facebook blog that “Jesus would never bless a storm” — meaning, I guess, that the devil is in control of all storms, earthquakes and wars, etc. Well, that is simply not the whole truth! That old paradigm will not serve the church during the Last Days.
The whole truth of Jesus is found in the book of Revelation, where we see Him as the Lamb of God, “standing, as if slain”, breaking open the seven seals of the scroll that was in the Father’s right hand. (Rev 4-5)
When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Rev 6: 7-8)
When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, destruction and suffering and death came upon this earth.
I am not saying that this earthquake in Japan and recently in New Zealand (both the largest earthquakes in either countries’ history) is the breaking of the seals, but they are the intensifying “birth pangs” that are setting the stage for the whole world to transition into the age to come and for heaven to come to earth! (Rev 21-22)
Let us not be offended by Jesus as He takes on the role of Judge and opens the sealed scroll. We must stay near to His heart in these “beginning of birth pang” days so that when the Great Tribulation comes we will be men and women of insight and give hope and strength to many.
Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand. (Daniel 12:10)
Christ wanted us to “read the signs”.
“Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (Mtt 16:3)
> There are signs right now beinmg played out in the Middle east and North Africa. (read Daniel 2 “clay and iron feet and toes”)
> There are signs right now in Israel being a nation once again after a nearly 2000 year absence.
> There are signs right now that the Gospel is being spread to all the nations of the whole world as a witness BEFORE the end. (Mtt 24:14)
Yours for the soon coming King,
“but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets.” (Rev 10:7)
Did you know that seven is a special number in God’s eyes? Maybe it has to do with the seventh day of creation in which He completed and rested from all His work. Really, it could have taken Him only one day but in the providence of God “seven” was to be an everlasting reminder of completion and resting. Indeed, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. (Gen 2:3)
We see the power of seven at work when Elijah told his servant to climb to the top of Mt. Carmel and “look toward the sea” for the prophesied rain. “There is nothing” he responded six straight times! Finally, on the seventh time, he saw a cloud as small as a man’s hand and the rain soon followed. (1 Kings 18)
This significance of seven was not lost on Elijah’s successor, Elisha. Elisha told the leprous Naaman, the valiant warrior, to “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” Sure enough, after the great captain of the army humbled himself and obeyed, his flesh was restored to him on the seventh dip! (2 Kings 5)
Joshua was also involved in a tremendous seven story. God told him to march around the city of Jericho for seven days with seven priests blowing seven trumpets! WOW! Is this not a case of overkill…? But wait, it is not until the seventh day that they are told to march around the city seven times and then with all the seven priests blowing their seven horns the walls will come “tumbling down” and the people go up and take the city.
“And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times and the priests shall blow the trumpets.” (Joshua 6:4)
Let’s skip ahead to the last days of human history and we shall see another profound instance of the number seven! If you know the book of Revelation, (the revelation of Jesus Christ – Rev 1:1), even in a small way you known that it is filled with sevens. In this book we see Jesus having seven horns and seven eyes, holding in His right hand seven stars and walking in the midst of seven golden lamp stands… You get the idea!
Later He will take a small scroll sealed with seven seals from His Father’s right hand. As He opens the seven seals the scroll unrolls and opens up to reveal seven trumpets. It is the seventh trumpet blast at which “the mystery of God is finished” (Rev 10:7).
Oh, if only the church knew Her future as well as she knows Her past!
At the seventh trumpet blast the skies will open up and we will see Jesus Christ Himself descending on a cloud. We will then be caught up to meet Him in the air with all the redeemed saint of all time. He will reward each one of us and then we will all return back to earth, this actual earth of today, where Jesus will destroy the Antichrist and his armies at the Last Battle for Jerusalem. From Jerusalem Jesus will rule the nations with a “rod of iron” for 1000 years. At which time God the Father will return to earth, bringing down with Him the New Jerusalem. Christ will hand over the kingdom back to His Father at that time (1 Cor 15:24-28) and we will live forever with God on the new earth.
Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11: 15-18)
Yours for the soon Returning King,
Taken from The Economist 10/2008
In a suburb of Shanghai, off Haining Road, neighbours peer warily across the hallway as visitors file into a living room, bringing the number to 25, the maximum gathering allowed by law without official permission. Inside, young urban professionals sit on sofas and folding chairs. A young woman in a Che Guevara T-shirt blesses the group and a man projects material downloaded from the internet from his laptop onto the wall. Heads turn towards the display and sing along: “Glory, Glory Glory; Holy, Holy, Holy; God is near to each one of us.” It is Sunday morning, and worship is beginning in one of thousands of house churches across China.
House churches are small congregations who meet privately—usually in apartments—to worship away from the gaze of the Communist Party.
Private meetings in the houses of the faithful were features of the early Christian church, then seeking to escape Roman imperial persecution. Paradoxically, the need to keep congregations small helped spread the faith. That happens in China now. The party, worried about the spread of a rival ideology, faces a difficult choice: by keeping house churches small, it ensures that no one church is large enough to threaten the local party chief. But the price is that the number of churches is increasing.
The church in Shanghai is barely two years old but already has two offspring, one for workers in a multinational company, the other for migrant laborers. As well as spreading the Word, the proliferation of churches provides a measure of defense against intimidation. One pastor told the Far Eastern Economic Review last year that if the head of one house church was arrested, “the congregation would just split up and might break into five, six or even ten new house churches.”
Abundant church-creation is a blessing and a curse for the house-church movement, too. The smiling Mr Zhao says finance is no problem. “We don’t have salaries to pay or churches to build.” But “management quality” is hard to maintain. Churches can get hold of Bibles or download hymn books from the internet. They cannot so easily find experienced pastors.
“In China”, says one, “the two-year-old Christian teaches the one-year-old.”
Because most Protestant house churches are non-denominational (that is, not affiliated with Lutherans, Methodists and so on), they have no fixed liturgy or tradition. Their services are like Bible-study classes. This puts a heavy burden on the pastor. One of the Shanghai congregation who has visited a lot of house churches sighs with relief that “this pastor knows what he is talking about.”
Still, the teething troubles of the church are minor compared with the vast rise in the number of Christians. After the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 many disenchanted democrats turned to Christianity: six of the 30 or so student leaders of the protests became Christians. China’s new house churches have the zeal of converts: many members bring their families and co-workers.