By the rivers of Babylon


While in Europe a few years back, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit a former Nazi concentration camp.  Dachau was the first “test case” of the Nazi camp system.  We walked slowly through, following the footsteps of the poor souls that entered there some 75 years prior.  Our guide described their experience.  Wagon loads of Jews, Poles and political prisoners were offloaded from the train station and then marched through the streets to the camp which was located some 8 km away.  Upon entering the main gate, they were lined up and forced to listen to a long tirade by a Nazi officer that they were worthless scum, that all commands must be obeyed unquestionably, and insubordination of any kind would be met with a bullet to the head.  This was followed by camp registration.  All personal belongings (personal ID, photographs and documents) were handed over and in return you were given a number.  This was your new identity.  You were then shaved, showered and handed prison clothes.  This would be your new life.  Few survived and those that did lived with the scars.

This was the kind of experience (with a lesser level of brutality and cruelty), that Daniel and his three friends would have endured when their homeland was invaded, and they were hauled off to become subjects in a foreign land.

Their captor was king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar was proud, ambitious and in the year 605 BC he was building one of the greatest empires of the age.  In the spring of that year he defeated the Egyptian army at the Battle of Carchemish.  Then he turned on the kingdom of Judah and invaded the city of Jerusalem.  He took captive many of Jerusalem’s choicest young men and women and marched them off to Babylon, to the house of his god (Daniel 1:2) and he put the vessels from the temple of Jerusalem in the treasury of his god.

Babylon was the capital of the empire and the greatest city of that age.  Everything about it spoke of Gentile power and glory.  The city was the largest of its time, covering 850 hectares (over 2000 acres).  Herodotus, a Greek historian in 450 BC, said “Babylon surpasses in splendour any city in the known world.”  Its outer walls were 100 metres high and ran over 80 km in length.  They were wide enough, that if you went on top of them two four-horse chariots could ride side by side.


Daniel and his fellow exiles would have been led through the Gate of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war and then down the famous procession way.  All around them were magnificent buildings, palaces and temples (53 in total).  And towering above them all, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  It was the Paris and New York of the ancient world and would leave any one of us dazzled at the sight.  But there was nothing about it that was dazzling to these captives.  It filled them only with sorrow and despair.  We get a sense of that sorrow from Psalm 137 with the song of the captives:

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1–4)

It is the last line of this song that becomes the central issue of the book of Daniel: how can Daniel and his fellow captives sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?  And it becomes the central issue for us as well.  Because this land that we live in, that was once permeated with Christian thinking, that held to moral values the Western world was once founded on, now appears to be very strange to us.  Our universities are influenced by liberal agendas, our politics dominated by a secular worldview, and our nation is devoid of Christian thought.  This is modern Babylon.  The question Daniel and his captives faced is the same question we face: how are we to sing the songs of the Lord in this strange land?  The book of Daniel gives us the answer.  The first clue is given to us in opening verses.  We read,

“In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. The Lord handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God…” (Daniel 1:1–2)

It is right here, at this juncture, that we find the main lesson of the chapter, which is also the lesson of the entire book: no matter what earthy kingdom is strutting its power, God is in charge and he will enable his people to stand.

Daniel knew there was nothing accidental in the lives of God’s people.  He was there for a purpose.  God was at work behind the scenes.  God was in full control.  And it was precisely that he was convinced that God was in control that enabled him to make the stand that he did and become salt and light in a hostile environment.  As a result, Nebuchadnezzar – as well as countless other men and women in the Babylonian court, heard about the God of Israel and witnessed his saving power.

Babylon was to be the scene of Daniel’s lifelong service to the kingdom of God while living in a foreign land.  He would demonstrate, along with his three friends, what it means to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.

In my next post, we are going to see something of the strategy Nebuchadnezzar used to accomplish complete global dominance.  It’s called operation assimilation.  And we are going to see how Daniel and his three friends, trusting that God was in full control, use courage, wisdom and faith to evade it.

This post was based on a sermon called A Tale of Two Kingdoms. It is the first of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

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Remembering Liz

TarraWarra Vineyard in the Yarra Valley, one of Liz’s favourite spots

I had just finished a wonderful meal celebrating my wife’s birthday when my phone started ringing.  It was my brother John.  My sister Liz, who lives in Australia, had just suffered a stroke and was in an induced coma.  She wasn’t expected to last the night.  We were devastated.  There was no warning, nor any symptoms.  Liz’s family gathered around her bed for their last goodbyes.  At 1:00 pm the next day, Liz slipped from this world into the next.

I knew this was going to be very hard for the family.  Liz’s children adored her.  They would need all the support they could get.  I booked a flight and two days later, got on a plane for Melbourne.

And how glad I was that I did.  Over the course of time that I was there, I had opportunity to spend precious time with Liz’s children that I will never forget (I’m convince the Maori culture gets it right here;  the Westernized idea of an hour and half funeral and then everyone goes home just doesn’t cut it).  We talked about Liz’s life, her amazing abilities, her wonderful sensitivity and self-effacing nature, and her deep love for her family.

During one meal, my niece Sarah turned to me and said, “Can I ask you a personal question?”, to which I answered, “Sure, go ahead.” “Did you ever consider Liz to be a real sister?”  I took a deep breath.  I knew we were heading into some deep waters.  Before I go further however, I will need to explain some of our family’s past.

My dad married twice.  In his first marriage, he had three children – Liz, John and Michael.  The marriage didn’t last (due to mental instability of his wife) and for a number of years the children were shunted between their house in Foxton and our family farm in Takapau and then into an orphanage in a nearby town.  My dad couldn’t cope raising them on his own (he was a dairy farmer) and nor could their mother.

After a number of lonely years my dad met up my mother and proposed to her (for the second time in fact, she turned him down the first time because she wanted to travel to Europe. Now she had returned).  My mother accepted; they were married, and she moved into the family farm.  Six more children were born over the next 10 years.  I was the youngest.  Meanwhile Liz, John and Michael grew into adult life, became trained in their respective jobs, got married and had their own children.  We saw them from time to time of course, but I never was as close to them as I was my five sisters (mostly due to my young age and the fact they lived elsewhere).

I assured my niece that I really did consider Liz to be my sister and would have liked to have been closer to her.  My niece didn’t stop there however.  She then said, “I’m wondering whether my mum, along with her brothers, always felt a little left out.  You were part of the happy family they never got.” I took another deep breath.  She obviously didn’t know our family – otherwise she would not have made this statement.  And I sense right then and there I had a moral obligation to put things right.

So, I told my niece something of what it was like growing up in this “happy family.”  Soon after having children, my mother went school teaching.  That was what she was trained for and it was what she loved.  But it was also at the expense of our family’s welfare.  As a young child, I hardly remember seeing her.  She would leave early in the day (the school was a 45 minute drive from our farm) and come home late.  I have memories of her sitting at the kitchen table at night marking tests and exam papers while we watched TV by the fire.  Somewhere along the line my dad started drinking.  And I mean a lot.  My mother would arrive home and find him out cold in the cowshed with the cows standing there un-milked.  She would yell at him and beat him.  This happened on numerous occasions.  Then Michael (Liz’s brother from dad’s first marriage), who was a pilot, was killed in a top-dressing accident.  My dad was very close to Michael and I don’t think he ever recovered.  His drinking got worse and so did my mother’s exasperation (understandable, under the circumstances).

There’s more.  My mother was a very strong and domineering woman.  She had a way of dressing us down like her school students.  Mum would say “jump” and we would say “how high?” on the way up.  She told us later that she had a very severe father who would sometime beat her.  These things have a way of severely affecting people when they are young.  Unfortunately, it gets put on rewind when they get older.  We would often bear the brunt of our mother’s wrath.  Today it would be called emotional and psychological abuse.  Back then we just thought this was normal.  I thought that’s how everyone is brought up.  It was anything but normal, and we all had to do some unravelling and processing later in life.  A lot of that mess got sorted for me when I became a Christian.  I left it all at the cross.  It wasn’t so easy for my sisters.

I don’t want to speak disparagingly of my parents.  They did their best and we still have some wonderful memories growing up.  And they sacrificed many of their own comforts so that we were well provided for.  But we were definitely not the picture-perfect family.  We had issues; some of which are still being unraveled today.  I felt I needed to share some of this with my niece.  It would not be right that she would leave that night with the idea her mum got the raw end of the deal and we got the better end.

All of this reinforces in my mind the importance of talking things out with family members.  Liz went through most of her adult life wondering whether we accepted her as one of us.  I would have loved the opportunity to talk to her about that.

I write these things not to air my dirty laundry but because I know this kind of things happens in other families.  Mine is not the only one – I’m convinced of that.  Perhaps there’s some history in your own family (every family has history – good and bad).  Are there things that should be sorted out?  Are there things that have been buried and need uncovering?  Do you have a strong personality?  I know that I do (inherited no doubt from my mother), and I need to be careful with it.  I see a lot of damage in my line of work (pastoral ministry), that is done by people who exert an overbearing force on others around them.  Are there ways that you might have a controlling influence on those around you – your kids, your spouse, or other family members?  If you are not sure, why not ask them?  Better now than at your funeral.

I’m going to be talking to my kids some more.  They are all adults now, but I want to make sure things are right, in all areas.  My wife and I were not perfect parents, and we made a lot of mistakes, some of which may have caused some damage.  I’d rather know about it now than for them to be talking about it after I’m gone.

Family matters.  People matter.  Relationships matter.  And no matter how deep the hurt, they can be restored and healed.  That’s why Jesus came.  God is the restorer of the broken.

We just need to be open to it.

Liz, brother John and her son Michael in New Zealand.

A birthday poem for my wife


From opposite sides of the world we met
Two strangers on a road
Neither taking a second glance at the other
Until the day our paths unexpectantly crossed
Then everything changed.

Mischievously planned by the closest of friends
In good faith (it must be added) and submersed in prayer
HE was in it, from the beginning
The timing impeccable, his fingerprints untraceable
Our lives would never be the same.

I saw you, standing there
Listening intently, conversing wisely
With those who sought your counsel and care
“What is this?” I asked myself, “here’s something I never saw before”
Women such as these, I know, are rare.

I was betwixt, my heart and head in a mix
My life was surrendered to another
“For you, my Master, I have given my life
This cannot possibly be in the plan – can it?
“Never more so,” was his answer.

Love of my life
You have befriended me, loved me and served me
You have counselled me, cared for me and taught me
To act wisely and care deeply
He has beautifully used you to shape and perfect me.

Everyday with you brings joy
Talking together, walking together
Resting together, waking together
Our lives are so intertwined
I hardly can imagine life without you.

For all the years that have been
As well as those to come
Times of sorrow and sadness as well as joy and gladness
I give thanks to my God for you.
Happy birthday, my love.

I met Francelle during my first year of Seminary training.  We were asked to head up a new bible study for our Young Adults ministry.  It started purely as a working relationship (set up by our Pastor and his wife) and then changed as God drew us closer and closer together.  The third verse describes the night that I was watching Francelle from the other side of the room, conversing with some young women.  That was the moment I was first drawn to her, and have continued to be drawn, ever since. 

I am a Child of God

Among the many wonderful benefits of our salvation, none is more uplifting and assuring than the doctrine of adoption.  It brings comfort to the most troubled and distressed soul.

Adoption is the gracious and loving act of God where he takes children of Adam – those who are sinners by nature and by choice, and He brings them into His household, into his family, and grants to them all the legal entitlements of being a child of God.

There are a number of passages in the Scripture that teach adoption; one of the clearest is in Galatians chapter 4 verses 4-7:

“When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.”

Notice how the entire Godhead is at work here.  The Father chooses us for adoption.  Ephesians 1:5 tells us that, He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will”.  The Son goes to the cross and redeems us and secures our adoption legally.  And then the Spirit comes and indwells us and assures us that we are God’s children, so that we cry out “Abba Father.”   The result is we are no longer slaves but sons.

It all seems too good to be true doesn’t it?  Like a fairy-tale.  But it’s not a fairy-tale. It’s the story of every Christian in every age.  From slavery to Sonship through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Every Christian is a rags to riches story.

Don’t you find this truth to be absolutely marvellous?  John the Apostle thought it was.  He exclaims in 1 John 3:1:

“See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him.”

Notice his astonishment – “See what great love!” (or “Behold, what manner of love”).  He’s amazed, astounded, and stunned over the fact that God’s love would be so great as to make him – a rebellious sinner, a son in God’s own family.

Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon on adoption and this is what he says:

“A man, when he adopts a child sometimes is moved by its extraordinary beauty, or at other times by its intelligent manners and winning disposition. But, beloved, when God passed by the field in which we were lying, he saw no tears in our eyes till he put them there himself; he saw no contrition in us until he had given us repentance; and there was no beauty in us that could induce him to adopt us — on the contrary, we were everything that was repulsive; and if he had said, when he passed by, ‘You are cursed, be lost forever,‘ it would have been nothing but what we might have expected from a God who had been so long provoked, and whose majesty had been so terribly insulted.

 But no; he found a rebellious child, a filthy, frightful, ugly child; he took it to his bosom, and said, ‘You who are dirty, you are comely in my eyes through my son Jesus; unworthy though you are, yet I cover you with his robe, and in thy brother’s garments I accept you;’ and taking us, all unholy and unclean, just as we were, he took us to be his—his children, his forever.”

Christian, do you grasp the astonishing and astounding reality of your adoption?

Adoption is not a recent or modern invention.  It has been around for centuries.  Paul’s readers would have been very familiar with it.  Adoption was a legal act in Roman times and it was taken very seriously.  The adopted sons enjoyed the same privileges as natural born sons.  According to the Roman law the adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family.  He got a new father and he became the heir of his new father’s estate.  He became co-heir with the other sons in the family.  The old life was completely wiped out.  All debts were cancelled, and he was absolutely the son of his new father.

Paul tells us that this is what God has done for us. We were sons and daughters of Adam.  We inherited his sin and guilt.  God took us out of that family and adopted us into His new family.  We have been completely released of all responsibility and debts of sin because Jesus paid the debt in full.  And we inherit everything that Jesus inherits.  All that is his is now ours.

Adoption applied

The implications of this doctrine of adoption in our Christian lives are rich and profound.  I would like to offer three of them.

1. Intimacy with the Father

Intimacy is what we experience when we feel when we really know and are known by another person.   An intimate friend is someone we feel very close to; they know us at a deep level.  When intimacy is damaged or broken, there is a feeling of distancing with that person.

That’s what children of God experience in their relationship with God the Father.  They are intimate with him and he with them.  There is a deep sense of closeness, of being known, and of love for each other.

I am a father of four children.  I have very fond memories of going into their rooms when they were asleep.  I would look down upon them, as see them sleeping peacefully.  I would look at their faces and a great sense of love and affection for that child would well up in my heart.  Well, I am certain the Father looks down upon his children and experiences that same kind of affection for us.  He loves us.  He adores us.  We are his children.

2. Trust in the Father

Children are very trusting – have you noticed that?  Sometimes they are too trusting!  Sadly, as they grow older, they grow less and less trusting of their parents and anyone else for that matter.  Your heavenly father wants you to be like a child, trusting him with everything.  I know that’s hard.  We want to be in control.  We struggle handing over the wheel of our lives to someone else.

Your heavenly father can be trusted with every detail of your life – no matter how insignificant or small.  “Look at the birds,” Jesus said, “they don’t sow or reap or gather into barns (like you do), yet your heavenly father feeds them.  Aren’t you worth more than they?”  He cares for birds.  Dum birds.  You are more important to him than a dumb bird.  So trust him.  Stop fretting and trust him.  Don’t lose sleep over a bill you can’t pay, or someone you can’t change or a problem you can’t fix.  Trust him.  He’s got the whole world in his hands.  He can handle your problems.  Trust him.

3. Love for the Father’s family

Not only do we become sons and daughters of the living God.  We become brothers and sisters of each other.  You know how it is with your earthly brothers and sisters.  They can be a bit of a pain at times, can’t they?  But you still love them.  You love them because they are family.  And so, it is in the family of God.

The Christians that are in your life – the one’s you sit beside in church on Sunday or work alongside – they are not simply friends and acquaintances.  They are your family.  Jesus calls you to love them and serve them and encourage them.  He calls you to pray for them and watch out for them.  And that means each and every one of them; not just the ones you like!  When you care for them and serve them and show kindness towards them and forgive them when they wrong us, your heavenly Father smiles down upon you.  For in the same way you show love to them, you show love to him also.

Conclusion

The Father loves you.  It can sound so trite, can’t it?  But it’s not.  He loves you.  He has proven his love by sending his own Son to redeem you.  He has doubly proved it by then sending his Spirit to indwell you and place his stamp on you.

Who am I?  I am a child of God.  I have been adopted into God’s family.  He says to me, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

This is my identity.  And this is my destiny.

This post was based on a sermon called I am a Child of God.  It is part of a series on the Christian’s identity that we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

Five Unforgettable Days


When I boarded the plane in Nelson on Saturday heading to a Student Life conference, I did so with mixed feelings.  There was a sense of excitement about what God was going to do in the lives of those I would be ministering to.  But there was also a sense of anxiety: How would I be received? Would the content of my messages be suitable for my hearers?  Would I be able to connect with them?  By the second day those fears had faded.  By the third day they had disappeared altogether.  On the final day, I didn’t want to leave.

The conference was in Queenstown (I know, suffering for the Lord – right?).  I’ve never been to Queenstown in the winter and I have to say, it’s worth it.  The views are breath-taking.  The camp was positioned right on the lake front with 360⁰ views of mountains, towering above us on all sides.  Each morning I would walk out of the dining room on to the balcony of the camp building and gaze at the awesome scene in front of me.

Those mountains – formidable, beautiful, immovable, and majestic, just like the One who made them.  Wonder turned to worship as I gazed at them.  I was reminded how insignificant and small I was, compared with the great I AM.  It was good tonic for the soul before stepping before a crowd who will be attentive to my every word.  Preachers are always prone to growing big heads.  The mountains helped to put things in perspective.

Let me tell you a little about Student Life.  Student life (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) operates on six of our university campuses – Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago.  Their mission is “to turn lost students into Christ-centred labourers.”  From what I saw over those five days, they are right on target.

There were around 80 students attending, all at different stages of their study and their Christian journey.  Each year that a student attends a conference, they are part of a training track where they are equipped to share their faith, grow in their relationship with God, disciple new believes and then in their final year of study, learn how to live and speak for Jesus in the workplace.

Once my job was done (speaking at the morning session), I jumped into one of these tracks to see what they do.  I was suitably impressed.  By the time a student has finished university, they are fully equipped to make disciples and have likely been on at least one or two summer missions.  They learn that life is not about making lots of money and being successful in their careers.  It’s about serving Christ and reaching the lost.  If we could replicate this kind of equipping in the lives of those who attend our local churches, it would turn the world upside down.

I was also impressed with the caliber of the staff.  After finishing their degree and completing their training, a student can apply to be a staff member.  They raise their own financial support and work on campus full-time.  I know the pressures of full-time ministry.  I’m a pastor.  But I don’t have to raise my own financial support.  And I don’t lose a third of my congregation every year.  Nor do I wear myself out silly, staying up to all hours of the night talking with students who don’t understand the meaning or need for sleep.  I  take my hat off to these leaders.  Their reward is in heaven.

Enjoyed some quality time with Drey, the leader of Student Life in Otago. Drey became a Christian during his first year at Uni through a student outreach.

They do experience however, a measure of reward here on the earth.  It comes in the form of life – new spiritual life.  And if you are a follower of Jesus, you know that nothing is more thrilling and more exhilarating than seeing people come to faith.  There were a number of students attending this conference who were not Christians.  They were part of what they call the “explorers track.” While the others were in training sessions, they were learning all about the Christian faith.  On the second day, one of them gave her life to Christ.  On my last day, while waiting for my flight at the airport, I received a phone call from one of the staff members: three more students had just committed their lives to Christ.

I don’t get to see this sort of thing in my church.  Conversions are (sadly) few and require an immense amount of patience and hard work.  I’m not saying the leaders at Student Life don’t work hard.  They do.  It’s just that the people they are working with are young men and women in their prime who are making life-altering decisions.  You couldn’t catch them at a better time.  Four young individuals, who were previously bound for eternal separation with God, have now become children of God.  Heaven rejoices.  And so do I.

I’ll never forget these five days.  I’ve never bonded with a group so quickly in such a brief period of time.  I feel as if part of me was left there and I have taken part of them back home with me.  Thanks Enoch and the leadership team for inviting me.  May God continue to use your ministry to bring more people into his heavenly kingdom and may many more young men and women be equipped for serving the Saviour and seeking the lost.

Who am I?


Who are you?  What is it about you that defines you?  Is it your job or career?  Is it your role as a parent or wife?  Or is it some great achievement you have attained in life?  How you answer this is important because it will tell you something about the way you understand yourself.  It will tell you about your identity.

Some find their identity in their career.  Work is not just a means to an end.  It is their end.  That’s what they live for.  Others find their identity in relationships.  They view themselves as someone’s wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend.  Some find their identity in their possessions.  Others find their identity in their sexual orientation.

For the Christian, none of those things have a bearing on their true identity.  When you go to the bible, you never find Paul or James or Peter identifying themselves by their job title or who they are related to or what they own or by their sexual orientation.  They use an entirely different set of self-designations.  These designations, which reveal the Christian’s true identity, have become lost in the church today.

I am in Christ

Foundational to your new identity as a Christian is this truth: you are in Christ.  The term “in Christ” is one of the Apostle Paul’s favourite expressions.  He uses it more than 160 times in his letters in the New Testament.  The term “Christian” in comparison, is only found three times in the bible, twice by Luke in the book of Acts and other by the Apostle Peter – never by Paul.  So, we know this an important concept.  He doesn’t want us to miss it.

So what does it mean to be in Christ?  Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.  To be in Christ does not mean to be ‘inside’ Christ as a person is inside a house, or tools are kept inside a toolbox.  It is not a matter of physical location.  It is a spiritual reality.  “In Christ” is Paul’s shorthand for our union Christ.  Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, defines union with Christ as, “that intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.”

You say, “I’m still having difficulty getting my head around this.  It’s not like being in a room or a house and it’s not like belonging to a club or an association.  Then what is it?”  The answer is it’s the opposite of being “in Adam”.

Christ, the Second Adam

In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul says this: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

Note the two key expressions here – “in Adam” verses “in Christ.”  When God looks over all humanity he places every single man and woman into one of two categories: those who are “in Adam” and those who are “in Christ.”  There is no third category.  Those who are “in Adam” – those who have Adam as their representative head, will die.  Those who are “in Christ – those who have Jesus as their representative head, will live.  This is the idea that Paul develops in Romans chapter 5:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

God placed Adam in the garden and gave him specific instructions not to eat from a certain tree.  If he did he would die.  He disobeyed, and so did Eve.  They both ate and guess what?  They both died.  The first death was spiritual and instantaneous.  Their relationship with God was broken – cut off.  Eventually they died physically.  But here’s the catch: Adam was no ordinary man.  God appointed Adam to represent the entire human race.  What he did affected us all.

So when Paul writes in verse 12, “in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned,” he is referring, not to our individual sins but to the fact that we were united to Adam as our representative head.  When Adam sinned, we all sinned.  And we all suffer the consequences of his sin.  Look also at verse 18 – Paul is saying the same thing:

“So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone…” (Romans 5:18)

And again, in verse 19,

“For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…” (Romans 5:19) 

In answer to the question “Who am I?”, we would all have to say therefore, “I am a sinner.”  That is how God identifies me.  I was made a sinner through Adam.

You say, “Well that’s just not fair.  I never asked for Adam to be my representative head!”  No, and I didn’t ask for the Queen to be the head of our State and I didn’t ask Steve Hanson to be the coach for our national rugby team.  But that’s the way it is.

But here’s the good news: what Adam ruined, Christ reclaimed.  What Adam lost, Christ restored.  That is why Jesus is called the second or last Adam.  The first Adam turned from the Father in a garden; the last Adam turned to the Father in a garden.  The first Adam substituted himself for God; the last Adam substituted himself for sinners.  The first Adam sinned beside a tree; the last Adam bore our sin on a tree.  The first Adam died as a sinner; the last Adam died for sinners.

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “It isn’t fair that Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, came to die for the sin of humankind. I don’t want to be represented by Christ.”  Yes, Adam sank our spiritual ship, but God has thrown a life-preserver to us.  His name is Jesus.  What Adam did was the worst thing that ever happened, but what Christ did was the best thing that ever happened.

To be ‘’in Christ’’ therefore is to trust in him in such a way that we are united to him in the all his saving acts.  When he died on that cross, I died with him.  When he was buried, I was buried.  And when he rose to new life, I rose to life with him.  The day I put my trust in Christ, my union with Adam was severed.  He ceased from being my representative head.  I formed a brand union with Christ, who became my new representative head.

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

Consider these words from John Wesley’s great hymn, “And Can it Be?”

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold, I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own

You see there in line 3, Wesley is talking about representative headship.  He’s talking about being united with Christ.  This is not “deeper theology” for spiritual elites.  This is fundamental to the gospel.  And it’s crucial to understanding our identity as a Christian.

As a Christian, you are not defined by what you do – your job or your career.  You are not defined by your possessions – the things you own.  You are not defined by your role as a wife or mother or a husband or a father.  Nor are you defined by your successes or your failures in this world.  When God looks at you, he sees none of these things.  When God looks at you, he sees who you are in Christ.

  • You are chosen (Eph 1:4)
  • You are redeemed (Eph 1:5)
  • You are loved (1 John 3:1)
  • You are forgiven (Eph 1:7)
  • You are a son or daughter of the living God (Eph 1:5)
  • You are a saint (Eph 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 2:1)
  • You are dead to sin (Rom 6:11)
  • You are spiritually alive (Rom 6:11)
  • You are Christ’s friend (John 15:15)
  • You are God’s workmanship, created in Christ for good works (Eph 2:10)
  • You are a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)
  • You are a co-heir with Christ (Rom 8:17)
  • You are chosen (1 Peter 2:4)
  • You are called (Gal 5:13)
  • You are the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)
  • You are the light of the world (Matt 5:14-15; Phil 2:15)
  • You are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17)
  • You are an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5:20)
  • You are God’s prized possession (1 Pet 2:9)

Don’t listen to what the word tells you who you are.  And don’t let the devil start telling you who you are.  Let God tell you who you are.  It will free you in a thousand ways.

This post was based on a sermon called I am in Christ.  It is part of a series on the Christian’s identity that we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

 

 

 

Dissonance


Last Sunday at Grace was a difficult day for me.  Later I learned that I was not alone.  It was a difficult morning for a number of people on the worship team.  Things just didn’t sync.  There were sounds made as well as words spoken that didn’t harmonize.

There’s a word for this kind of phenomenon.  It’s called dissonance.

Dissonance is when you have musical chords that contain acoustic frequencies that interfere with one another and set our nerves on edge.  The result is a kind of jarring.  Listeners with a musical ear will pick it up.  Those who don’t might not.

Driving away from church on Sunday I sensed a deep unrest within.  There was something about the morning that wasn’t right.  There was a spiritual dissonance.  Even before the service started our team was unsettled.  Our Service Leader tried leading us into an extended time of prayer.  Suddenly, one of the fold-back speakers exploded (at least that what it sounded like).  Everyone jumped, setting us more on edge.  Prayers were short and lacked heart.  There were long periods of silence.  One or two people shuffled their feet.

Dissonance.

And I had a part in it.  I was speaking on the glorious reality of being united “in Christ.”  There were two places in that message where I went off script.  Once when I was encouraging our people to look at their bibles while I was reading the text.  I spoke too roughly and harshly.  My tone was out.  I was exhorting them to do something good, but not in the right way.

Dissonance.

In the second occasion, I was drawing their attention to the words of a great hymn by Charles Wesley.  Many of the great hymns of the past are filled with profound spiritual truth about the gospel – unlike much of our modern worship music.  This fact has always been an irritation for me and this irritation was vocalized, rather vividly, right there on the spot.  I had a mini-rant about the superficiality of modern worship songs.  It was unscripted, a little too forceful and it didn’t fit with the rest of the message.  Unsurprisingly, it irked one or two of our musicians.  One took offense and wrote to me about it the next day.

I had no doubt that Satan had a hand in this.  He has an aversion to harmony, particularly among God’s people.  He uses all the tricks he can think of to bring about discord, disagreement, dissension and disturbance.  He stirs up feelings of unease and agitation over every little thing (and big thing).  He’ll use feedback speakers and human speakers.  He’ll use kids crying and tea cups dropping.  He’ll use anything he can to cause disruption of what God intends to do in and through his people, which is to bring them into a closer and fuller and richer relationship with himself and each other.

What I found interesting, in the days following, was that an equal number of people were greatly encouraged by the morning and sensed that God spoke to them from his Word in a powerful and real way.  Those of us in ministry can be heartened by that.  Despite the enemy’s tactics; despite his meddling and interfering causing distraction, disruption and discord, God’s Spirit is at work bringing about beauty, unity and coherence.

So, we might say, heaven’s harmony overcomes the devil’s dissonance.  The Spirit of God wins out over the spirits of the evil one.  Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

There is still a lesson here for me (as well as for all of us).  I need to be on guard.  I need to stay alert, spiritually speaking.  I am prone to pride and self-promotion.  I am passionate about the truth, but that same passion can easily manifest itself in the flesh.  I must guard my heart.  I must also listen carefully to my critics – there will always be some element of truth in what they say.

Finally, I must remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).  Therefore, I must take up the armour of God, fasten my belt and take a stand.

Here’s hoping this Sunday I will be better prepared.  And so might you.