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Romans 3:21-4:25 – Friday Bible Study

Okay, this is a very large section of Scripture.
I think there is a cohesive unity that makes it beneficial to consider as a whole.
Today we examined firstly 3:21-31.
The word ‘But’ represents a massive turning point in a line of argumentation that goes all the way back to Romans 1:18. Even more important is that the focus is on God.
This is accentuated by the similarity in structure of 1:18 and 3:21. In the first instance the wrath of God is revealed, now the righteousness of God has been manifested. (ESV)
There is a structure in this book.
The law, the commands of God do not enable one to be righteous, but point those who understand them to the fact that none is righteous but God and God alone can make one righteous.
We considered some of the words that we were reading and attempted to gain an understanding of what they mean.
Righteousness; Justification; Redemption; Grace; Propitiation/Expiation/Atoning Sacrifice (which have significant shades of meaning themselves); Forbearance.
Righteousness is not simply doing the right thing and not doing the wrong thing. It is a state of being. Consider verse 23: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The glory of God is righteousness.
Justification is being declared righteous. We are not made righteous in justification, it is a declaration that God makes, imputing Christ’s righteousness to our account.
Redemption is purchasing something back. In this case God secures us back from being subject to His own punishment.
Propitiation speaks of receiving God’s righteous anger and punishment, expiation is more confined to punishment for sin and atoning sacrifice could be seen as making some form of restitution or sacrifice in recognition of wrong doing. The word propitiation can be properly used here because we already know that it is the wrath of God which is being dealt with.
Grace is the reception of something underserved, unsought, even unwanted.
Forbearance is patience.
These points help us to understand that as Paul addresses the church in Rome that there are no first and second class Christians. Indeed the Jewish believers should be more humble because they have a greater testimony of human need. The longer someone has been a Christian the more humble they should be and less willing to press themselves as more important.
These points are then evidenced by Paul in Chapter Four in the life of Abraham.
He was not justified (counted righteous) on the basis of obedience, his obedience came after God called him into relationship.
His life was a testmony of accepting God’s promises. The ongoing trust he had in God’s promises was evidence of his acceptance by God. The same is true for all everyone who trusts God.
Abraham received all the promises of God, believing them in spite of not seeing physical evidence of them. He did this before the law was given. His reception of these blessings was of grace, not works. (When Abraham’s life is read in Genesis it can be further seen that it was not a faultless life which qualified him for these blessings.)

We’ll be seeing more of this as we move along.
Hopefully next week’s study will be a little more structured.


Rural Ministry – Different Country, Same Situation

D.G Hart writes an article entitled: If Cooking Slowly and Growing Organically are In, Why Is Rural Ministry Out? on the website Front Porch Republic.
Apparently the phenomenom where pastors find that God’s call is to the capital cities and away from the country is not unique to our nation. Nor is it confined to Presbyterian and Reformed denominations. The pastors of the other churches in my town confirm that it is observable everywhere.
This is a situation distinct from the plight of churches that are not able to sustain support for a resident full time, set apart pastor. Rather, this is the situation where financially self-supporting parishes cannot even interest credentialled ministers to come and talk to them about the possibility of a call. In our movement we have generally articulated our placement of ministers as a call of God. If this is the case, then the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to want pastors in the country. Inexorably He seems to be leading ordained servants to the city.
Now, I’ve only been serving a provincial parish for six years. The town has twenty-five thousand people in it. It’s not that small. Some day I may end up back in a city again and these words may come to haunt me.
I don’t think I encounter a disdain for rural ministry or a bias against the people as such, but rather the idea that a city ministry is more personally fulfilling is usually present in some way or another. There are church code phrases that spiritualise the preference. I know. I used to use them. I once felt my gifts could be of the most value to the wider church if I was in the city. Is it any wonder that God in His infinite wisdom got me far away from there!
This sort of thing can also be expressed by the idea that pastors from city backgrounds will not be able to relate to people in the country, and vice versa. Oddly, the idea that the truth of God’s Word, thoughtfully taught, should transcend these cultural differences is absent. The relationship grows because we’re part of God’s family.
Absent from the areas of concern which Hart addresses is mention of the idol of the modern age, the family. Often the needs of children are given as a basic reason why a call away from the cities cannot be entertained.
I’m here because when I thought that I should move the only criteria I applied was that the leadership be born again and that the focus of the place be forward looking. So here I am. What’s the point of speaking about a call of God if you’ve got your fingers in your ears and your eyes closed unless the approach comes from the right postcode?

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Four Questions To Consider When Framing The Mission Budget

Kevin DeYoung writes a lot of thoughtful and thought provoking material. I reviewed his short book on guidance and decision making, Just Do Something a short while ago. I appreciated the perspectives with which he engaged in Why We’re Not Emergent (co-written with Ted Kluck). I look forward to reading his new book Why We Love The Church (also co-written with Kluck).
On his blog, DeYoung, Restless and Reformed, he poses some questions which he believes are worth considering when framing a church’s mission budget. I think they are good points, ones which we engage with at mgpc, but which need to be considered again and again.
I’ll be providing the article to our Mission IDEA group for their consideration.
If there was a fifth question I would like to see consideration given to how the church and its members are being enabled to gain cross cultural experience themselves. (Short term work.)

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If you believed they put a man on the moon…

…join the club. (How many blogs are going to have this title today?)
Forty years ago I was six years of age, attending Grade One at Lota State School, where my mother was a teacher. Because we lived across the street from the school (33 Richard Street), a group of children came over and watched the moon landing there. This was back in the dim dark ages. I thought the school owned one television, but Margaret doesn’t think hers did, so ours may not have as well. In any case our lounge room was packed. (Probably with my mother’s class, plus I can’t remember how many others.)
It was a time of wonder, all the more so because I was young, but because the future really did seem to be arriving so quickly. President Kennedy had committed the USA to putting men on the moon within ten years and the goal was attained. It was a lofty goal, by no means guaranteed, and its achievement was a testimony to single minded determination.
To be sure I don’t know what it achieved in concrete terms. Teflon and Velcro? But it encouraged dreamers and achievers. Sadly the USA would find itself mired in Vietnam and embroiled in the Nixon scandal. No one seems to speak in those terms any more. Politicians articulate their goals in very guarded terms. Aspiriational without being concrete.
When the first two men landed on the moon in 1969 it seemed like we all could go there. So far only ten more have made it. No women as yet. I was hoping for flying cars, Dick Tracy watches and the like. (I was only six)
Any way, there are times in your life you remember an event, but you also remember the spirit of an age. The moon landing was one of those.
NASA would imprint itself on the public conciousness less than a year after with the drama of Apollo Thirteen and again another decade and a half later with the tragedy of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.
Depending on your perspective on the moon landing I suppost you can either watch The Dish, for those sentimentally inclined, or for the more sceptical Capricorn One. (Which I saw at the Wynnum Imperial Picture Theatre, but that’s another story.)

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Masterchef – A Chapter Closes, The Story Goes On

So, apparently one in five Australians watched the grand final of Masterchef last night. Seven of them were at our house. By the end there was not a dry eye on the set and there may not have been a dry eye at home as well.
The finals of Australian Idol, Biggest Loser and (more understandably) Big Brother didn’t evoke such a response. Why this time?
At the end of April I speculated that the fact that the contestants were doing something productive and were developing skills that could be used in real life were one reason why the contest resonated with the public. But over the last three months we’ve also had something of a relationship cultivated with the contestants. Every time we read their Christian names (not surnames) on the screen we are given their occupation as well. Some family detail has been carefully introduced along the way.
A noticable difference has been the general cameraderie between the contestants and also among the judges as well. Even the less popular contestants were genuinely contratulated by their peers when they succeeded. There was not typecasting among the judges, no ‘industry voice’, no ‘critical judge’, no ‘maternal presence’. When criticism was merited it was given in a constructive manner, when praise was due it was generously delivered.
So, what can we learn from this exercise in community:
1. People gathered for a purpose pursue their purpose with a single focus. While there was a prize, cooking was the goal. The church are God’s people gathered so that the Gospel can be spread. That goal should trump every other consideration.
2. When one excels, all celebrate. It was noticable that even those subject to elimination were positive about the achievements of the others. Friends, Christians aren’t even subject to elimination. Why not celebrate what goes right instead of looking for fault?
3. Encouragement is powerful. The judges were also the teachers, they were also the cheerleaders. The contestants had opportunity in certain challenges to work together. They aimed to build each other up. Again, in the context of a competition I expect there may have been some level of gamesmanship. The church is not a competition. Christians should be generous with praise and constructive advice.
4. A second chance is powerful. One of the finalists, Poh, had been eliminated, but subsequently was invited back into the competition by the judges. In addition, at her initial audition, Poh’s application meal was rejected but the judges gave her an opportunity to cook a second dish. It was on the basis of that dish that she was accepted. Christians know all about receiving something underserved. We should be ready to give as many second chances to others as God give us.
5. Learn and move on from an honourable failure. Every single contestant managed to serve up a few disasters. Nobody quit. The closest was when Kate voted herself off so that one of the other contestants could go on. They all picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and got back into the competition. The cause of the Gospel is far more worthy than dinner. Most Christians have felt like its all crashed and burned at some point in the past. Rather than remaining on the sidelines we need to keep getting back to our mission.
6. There is no finish line. All the contestants affirmed that their experience was a step in a journey that they intended to continue. How refreshing to listen to the winner Julie be interviewed and state that before she could open a restaurant she needed to learn how to run a commercial kitchen and a business. As Christians we never ‘arrive’ in this life. We are committed to a life long pursuit of growth, learning and maturing. Perfection is for the life beyond this one.
7. There’s a time for personal flair and a time to follow the recipe. The church should nurture their young thoroughly in God’s Word so that when they want to express their unique giftings they will do so informed by the principes of eternal truth.

So, we need to be certain that we all know and share a sense of mission as a local church. God’s power works in that a shared purpose to weld us together as God’s family and a community with a single goal. Our mission at mgpc is this: Glorifying God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by growing His family through Biblical teaching, prayer and loving relationships, locally, nationally and internationally.


Search Me, O God – Sunday Songs

Today at our worship services at Nelson and Allendale East we sang Search Me, O God.
With the advent of the Rejoice! Hymnbook in the late 1980s the hymn Search Me, O God came into wider use among Presbyterian Churches throughout Australia. The familiarity which most singers would have had with the tune Maori, (an adaption of the Maori Farewell tune, Po Atarau/Now Is The Hour) would have helped.
The hymn’s real strength though is the lyrics, which were composed by J. Edwin Orr, a Christian teacher who had a life long interest in Revivals. Read about his life and work here. The hymn begins with an expression similar to that of Psalm 139: 23-24 which reads: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
While the words are in the first person singular, the song works in a group setting because it speaks of a necessary individual resolve which is a precursor to a gathered response. It also does not emphasise the individual’s actions, but rather their dependence upon God to work in them. Because of this it serves as a testimony and encouragement amongst gathered Christians.
It is a good choice when seeking a song that expresses a personal response to a biblical challenge to live out a life of gospel obedience. I also think we could use it as our Congregation’s corporate confession of sin and dependence upon God’s forgiving grace.
The version below is not the one from Rejoice!, which has been altered to modernise the pronouns. I think this version is closer to the author’s original version.
Search me, O God,
And know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior,
Know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be
Some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin
And set me free.
I praise Thee, Lord,
For cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word,
And make me pure within.
Fill me with fire
Where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire
To magnify Thy Name.
Lord, take my life,
And make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart
With Thy great love divine.
Take all my will,
My passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord
In me abide.
O Holy Ghost,
Revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival,
Start the work in me.
Thy Word declares
Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now,
O Lord, I humbly plead.

© J Edwin Orr – Moody Press

Our youtube contains an acapella version of the first verse sung in both English and Samoan. Lovely harmonies.

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Romans 3:21-4:25 – Week 6 – Now, For The Good News

The following outline is provided by my colleague, Ian Touzel.
Every eight weeks I take the services at two smaller churches that are part of our parish. Tomorrow we’ll be examining Mark 6:14-29. But for those of you following Romans, here’s Ian’s outline:

1) God’s righteousness revealed in Christ’s cross.
2) God’s righteousness defended against criticism.
3) God’s righteousness illustrated in Abraham.
(These notes are part of the third point listed above.)
Justification deals with our position of guilt by acquittal and acceptance.
Sanctification deals with our condition of pollution by a new heart and a new life.
(This is his final application.)
The takeaway: Abraham’s faith and your faith.

That’s your lot.