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Nigel Lloyd

I’ve been misunderstood, what next?

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2 Corinthians 1:12 – 2:4

In one of the churches I previously led there was a man who used to say repeatedly to some of the other members, “what Nigel really means is…” This led to people believing wrong things about what I was saying, the motives behind what I was saying and even led to some people not trusting what I was saying. Many years later, when meeting up with one of the couples in the church who had believed these misinterpretations, they told me that they had found out, after time, that the statements made about me made were in fact distortions of the truth. A little late, but at least it offered a little comfort.

No one likes being misunderstood or having their motives called into question. We can get ‘on our high horse’ when others question our integrity in this way, especially if we know in the depth of our heart that we intended only good.

I think we are all by nature defensive, but there are different ways of going about vindicating our reputation or explaining our words and actions. All too often I find I react, rather than respond, and do so sometimes out of frustration at those who’ve dared to express doubts about my sincerity.

No one modelled godly responses to pressure more helpfully, clearly and consistently than the apostle Paul, and nowhere is it seen more clearly than in these verses that close the first chapter of 2 Corinthians.

Paul experienced quite a lot of opposition in Corinth, men who were determined to criticise his every move and undermine the confidence of the Church in his Apostolic credentials. Here, in these verses, we can see at least three accusations brought against him.

  1. Against his conduct in vs 12. He seems to be arguing that he acted in simplicity and sincerity which must mean that there were people who believed the opposite
  2. Against the content of his letters in verses 13-14. He feels that the heart and motive of his letter had been questioned.
  3. Against his travel arrangements in verses 1:15 to 2:4. He seems to be defending his decision making process. He believed that there were some who said that his travel arrangements were serving his own purposes and not serving them.

Let’s just say before we get into this, that Paul is facing some severe criticism. I want to concentrate on the third one, mainly because it gives us a bigger chunk of material and a description. It’s important to grasp the actual sequence of events so that we can make sense of Paul’s response to his critics. Contrary to the accusations of his opponents, Paul’s change of itinerary was not because he was unstable, unable to make a decision or unreliable and far less because he cared little for the Corinthians, indeed, he changed his plans for their sake.

Paul had hoped to visit the Corinthians twice: first, on his way to Macedonia, and second, on his way back from Macedonia (verses 15-16). This changed, however, when Timothy arrived in Corinth bearing the letter we know as First Corinthians and discovered how bad things were. Upon hearing of this, Paul immediately made an urgent visit to Corinth, a visit that was not easy for him, in fact he described it as painful (2:1). Paul then returned to Ephesus and decided not to make another painful visit to Corinth. Therefore, he called off the double stop he had earlier planned. It was this alteration in his plans that opened him up to the charge of being unreliable and self serving etc.

Paul’s apparent random change of plans, they insisted, was motivated by self-interest and a lack of concern for the Corinthians themselves. He is charged with making plans according to the flesh and according to his feelings ( verses 17-18).

I wonder what Paul would have been feeling at this point? Let me try and get into the emotions of the man (I am surmising).

Do you not know me? Do you believe me to have an unreliable character, to be governed by my emotions, to have no convictions or conscience? Do you not trust me to hear from God and to respond to Him even if it conflicts with my own self interests? Do I say things to flatter you, do I say things and not mean them, do I make promises to intentionally break them? Do I hide my true motives, do I deceive you deliberately? Am I fickle saying yes one day and no the next? You know me better than this, come on! Has what I have said and done been in line with my letters? Why are you interpreting my heart and motive? Why do you wish me harm?…….Rant over!

In verses 19-22, Paul gives a vigorous denial that he is a man given to dithering and indecisiveness and is insensitive to the people entrusted to his care. He’s not the sort who says “Yes” one moment, only to make a U turn on some random , self-serving whim and then declare “No”.

Paul is a man of his word, as is the God whom he loves and serves (vs 18). The Father doesn’t assure us of some great blessing, only to withdraw it, without justification, to serve his own interests. When God makes a promise to his people, he fulfils it in Christ. This, says Paul, is the pattern and principle on which he has based his ministry to the Corinthians. It can be summed up like this, how could I possibly preach to you the Good News of a God who always acts with your best interests at heart and never fails to fulfill his promises, and then turn around and treat you with utter disregard by behaving in a double-minded and self-serving way?

Some have said that Paul cared very little about what they thought of him so long as they put their trust wholly in Christ. It may even be that Paul is telling them here, “If you refuse to believe me, at least remember the truth of my message concerning God’s gracious work in you through his Son.” I am not sure this is wholly true, their remarks must have stung. In any case, Paul will again insist in the remainder of these verses (1:23-2:4) that he made his decision based on his undying love for the Corinthians, his concern for their spiritual welfare, and, above all, for the sake of their joy in Jesus (vs 24).

I want to try and ground this a little, believe me I am not an expert and am trying to learn myself how to work these things out.

This has happened to me so many times people have been too quick to “read between the lines.” Unless there are past repeated known indiscretions or there is a bulk of evidence that indicate otherwise, then first, trust your Christian friends motive. Give them the benefit of the doubt when they say they are being sincere (verses 13-14).

This one is hard for those who always go deep first. Don’t always look for some ulterior and sinister motive in what others do simply because things did not turn out the way you wanted them to (verses 15-16). Not your way does not mean it was the wrong way.

Go back years not days. If someone has proven themselves faithful and devoted in the past, don’t be quick to believe accusations brought against them by someone else. What have others said about them over years. Be patient and give them an opportunity to explain themselves. In other words, don’t jump to conclusions, for it just may be the case that you are the one at fault (verses 17 and 23)!

Don’t become frustrated or withdraw yourself from other Christians if they mess up or prove to be unreliable and unfaithful. I can sometimes do this as I don’t like conflict. Ultimately, your trust and dependence are not in them anyway, but in Christ who never fails (verses 19-22).

You may have to be misrepresented and suffer unjustly. Don’t be too quick to try and vindicate yourself. Be willing to endure what you don’t deserve for the sake of peace in the body of Christ. Oh my! I do this all the time, so much to learn. The opportunity to clear your name will eventually come (vs 23) however, it may never come on this earth, so be faithful anyway.

Wow that’s a tough one to write.

 

Prayer: my biggest challenge, my greatest weapon

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You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:11

What is my greatest weakness? What is the one thing that will help me the most? Prayer. I have been a Christian for nearly fifty years and I am still learning this profound and yet simple lesson. The answer is prayer.

The easiest thing about prayer is not doing it or persevering in it.

I am lazy, I can find a million and one excuses or other priorities, I would rather chat than pray. I am glad I am not alone in this , it seems it’s always been that way, which is why Paul told the church in Colossae to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). If you’ve ever battled with the importance and power of prayer like me, then this passage is for you and me.

Paul has just confidently declared that the God who had already delivered him from a life threatening situation would do it again and again (vs 10). God’s purpose in Paul’s extreme burdens had worked, he no longer looked to himself but now trusted in the “God who raises the dead” (vs 9). If God can raise his son from the dead, then what we face has to be measured against that.

So, if Paul is so confident that God ‘will deliver us’ (vs 10) what’s the point in asking the Corinthians to pray? Why ask them to pray if God is going to do what He’s going to do anyway irrespective of their prayers for Paul whether they pray or not? Doris Day sang “Que sera, Sera,

whatever will be, will be”. That may well be one conclusion but it was not Paul’s! No sooner had he spoken with great confidence about his trust in God’s ability then he enlists the intercessory prayers of the Corinthians on his behalf. What is it that Paul asks them to ask God? He encourages them to ask God to do what God has declared is his desire and character to do! Does that sound a little strange? Maybe, but there it is divine black and white. Ask for what God has told us he will do.

God will deliver us, says Paul (vs 10). We have put our hope in him “that he will deliver us again” (vs 10). Therefore, based on this assurance and flowing out of this confidence, he appeals to the Corinthians to “help us by prayer.” It is however, more than just a survival prayer request. It seems that Paul’s request for prayer will impact ‘many’. So what Paul believes is, that these prayers will be a contributory factor in the success of his apostolic ministry. Now that challenges us. Here’s some examples:

At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Philemon 1:22

for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, Philippians 1:19

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. Romans 15:30-32

Therefore our prayers have incredible impact on the advance of the kingdom. Paul’s desire was that news of his rescue from death would serve as an impetus for the saints in Corinth to join together in prayer on his behalf, in response to which he believed God would deliver him yet again should similar dangerous circumstances arise. That’s what answer to prayer does, it fuels, fires up, stirs us.

Let’s take this a bit further. Paul believes that the prayers of the church in Corinth would produce blessing or favour and that his ministry would prosper. Do you see how prayer is always a win win for all concerned? Look at how it works for the benefit of everyone involved:

The ones who pray (the Corinthians) experience the excitement of being an instrument in the fulfilment of God’s purposes and are in wonder as they watch how God works in response to their prayers. They are encouraged, motivated, filled with faith. The one who is prayed for (Paul) experiences being delivered from horrible circumstances, is sustained in trials and receives a transforming blessing, thus he is encouraged, motivated and filled with faith. The one to whom prayer is offered (God) is thanked, glorified by all parts for having intervened in a way that only God can in order to bless or deliver or save his people.

What we read here in this one verse is similar to others in Paul’s letters (see above). On two occasions he indicated that whether or not he was released from prison may well be dependent on prayer.

In his letter to Philemon, Paul wrote , “at the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you”. The word translated “given” means “to graciously grant a favour.” Paul believed his physical welfare and where he should be, was ultimately in the hands of God. He believed it was God who would determine to act in response to the prayer requests of his people, specifically Philemon and his household, to secure his release.

We find a similar scenario described in Philippians 1. Paul is again confident of his impending release from prison. Yet he also says, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” Paul evidently believed that God had purposed to effect his deliverance through the prayers of the church at Philippi and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s appeal to the Roman Christians is especially poignant:

The apostle was convinced that God could suspended the success of his journeys and mission without the prayers of his people. Without those prayers, Paul was at a loss. His anxiety about a threat from the unbelieving Jews in Judea was well known. (see Acts 20-21). Therefore, his request for continued prayers was not merely an emotional manoeuvre to engage their sympathy, but a call for help to advance the kingdom. His plan to come to Rome and enjoy the friendship of these saints was also dependent on prayer (1 Thessalonians 3:10-13).

He eventually made it to Rome, although his arrival there was not in the manner he expected (see Acts 21 onwards). In any case, the important thing to note is, that he believed in the power and importance of prayer as a means given by God for the fulfilment of his will.

We must never presume that God will grant us apart from prayer what he has ordained to grant us only by means of prayer. It’s one of God’s mysterious ways. We may not have the theological brain to fully work out how prayer functions in relation to God’s will, but we must never cast it aside on the lazy or unbiblical assumption that it is ultimately irrelevant to God’s purpose for us and others.

Here’s the bottom line: If we don’t ask, God doesn’t give. If God doesn’t give, people don’t receive. If people don’t receive, God won’t be thanked. Think about it Nigel. Better still, pray about it.

 

God’s Help when we are ‘Beyond’

By From Nigel One Comment

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Something of a deep, life changing significance, occurred in the life of Paul. Sometime between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians around 55/56 A.D. Paul had, what he described, as a brush with death that seemed to affect his perspective on life, his apostleship and his relationship with God. In verse 8 he uses the word, ‘beyond’ (Greek word ‘Huber’) tells us that he viewed this experience as exceptional, extreme.

When we read what Paul says in Philippians,

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

what he describes in 2 Corinthians must have been an experience that tested that truth because of its severity and potential for ending Paul’s life. Paul uses graphic terms to describe the depth and intensity of the situation he was in, “utterly burdened,” others translate that as “burdened beyond measure,” “beyond our strength,” the word despaired describes a situation where there seemed to be no way out, we might say backed up against a wall. This is not the kind of despair that we have when we are annoyed at someone or with something, it is the facing death in terrible circumstances type of despair.

There is a lot of speculation as to what was the cause of this burden, this despair. I don’t know, but let me give you some options.

What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

1 Corinthians 15:32

Was it fighting beasts in the arena at Ephesus? Was it the riot in Ephesus in Acts 19:23-31 where Paul leads people away from trusting in the special powers of trinkets made by Demetrius the silversmith?

It may have been physical persecution from his enemies, or death sentences passed against him by a court, or hardships like extended hunger or beatings to the point of death whilst in prison. Some have thought that Paul had some kind of severe illness, maybe painful or even life-threatening, the consequences of which led him to believe he would not live long. Of course, we’ll never know for sure. What’s more important is how it transformed Paul’s perspective on life and the lessons we should learn from it as well.

Paul does use the term “sentence of death” (vs 9). The word translated “sentence” (apokrima) appears only here in the New Testament and can also be translated “response” or “answer” or something similar. So, (stay with me), it implies that Paul, in the midst of this extreme and terrible situation asked God, or asked himself, or asked those around him the likely outcome and the reply or conclusion was “you will die!”

Now we don’t know any of this for certain, but one thing is clear, Paul did not die at that time and was convinced that God would deliver him now and in the future (vs 10) from encounters with death. God is able, capable and powerful to deliver us from our worst of situations.

What is amazing is that Paul can still reach out to and trust God.

Whether we face physical illness, financial stress, relational disappointments or the loss of a family member, we can find it hard to see in it anything remotely approaching a purpose or reason.

These experiences, we tell ourselves, are senseless and lacking in any value to us at all. Some Christians write them off as an attack of the enemy, never discerning what God is teaching them or trying to say.

But, as overwhelming, excessive, and burdensome as this brush with death was for Paul, he knew that God was in it! The point of it all Paul says, was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (vs 9). For those of us who regard all such trials and suffering as wrong and slowing up our walk with God this may come as a considerable shock.

One can imagine Paul saying to himself before he ever said it to the Corinthians, ‘I’ve grown too self-reliant. I’ve become used to trusting in my own personality, my own ability, my education, my reputation, my depth of theological wisdom. I’m close to taking credit for what only God can do.’ Trusting in oneself above God is an affront to God. How far will God go to ensure that Paul doesn’t trust in himself and his own ability and spiritual smartness? How seriously does God regard this tendency in the human heart, whether Paul’s or yours or mine? To what lengths will he go to guarantee that he alone gets the glory?

In Paul’s case, God knocked out every man-made prop and reduced him to utter despair. If God did not intervene and deliver him he was utterly lost, he would die. “Oh come on Nigel stop being so extreme and serious!”

If you consider what self reliance tells us, it goes a bit like this. God, I’m more capable than you are of accomplishing this task. God I don’t need you on this one. God, I’m wiser than you are in working this one out, how this should be done. God, I’m better than you are at sorting through options and discerning the proper path to follow, and so on and so on.

Let me quote James Denney ( 8 February 1856 – 12 June 1917) a Scottish preacher.

“It is natural . . . for us to trust in ourselves. It is so natural, and so confirmed by the habits of a lifetime, that no ordinary difficulties or perplexities avail to break us of it. It takes all God can do to root up our self-confidence. He must reduce us to despair; He must bring us to such an extremity that the one voice we have in our hearts, the one voice that cries to us wherever we look round for help, is death, death, death. It is out of this despair that the superhuman hope is born. It is out of this abject helplessness that the soul learns to look up with new trust to God. . . . How do most of us attain to any faith in Providence? Is it not by proving, through numberless experiments, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps? Is it not by coming, again and again, to the limit of our resources, and being compelled to feel that unless there is a wisdom and a love at work on our behalf, immeasurably wiser and more benign than our own, life is a moral chaos? . . . Only desperation opens our eyes to God’s love.”

That is profound and very challenging, it provokes us to think about our lives and what it means to follow Christ.

Verse 9 says “but that was to,” other versions say “in order that,” so God is in control. God is sovereign over all life including the troubles and afflictions of life. There is always design in our distress, can you say that? Can you speak that out loud? Shout it out loud if you have to.

God so values our trust in him alone that he will graciously dismantle everything else in the world that we might be tempted to rely on. His desire is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence that he himself is all we need.

We sing, do we not? “You’re all I want, you’re all I ever needed” yet can live something utterly different. Paul found that God is the only one who could deliver and will deliver. The only one who will never fail or falter or prove untrustworthy. There is a divine peace that can be found in learning to rest in God alone when at our most tested. Paul’s affliction, as severe and unsettling as it was and continued to be, led him to one conclusion, God alone is able to deliver.

God is the Deliverer, and man is the delivered.  God is the Rescuer, and man is the rescued. One of the great concepts in the Old Testament is this concept of deliverance.  God the Deliverer, man the delivered, and God is the one who provides the plan and the substance of deliverance for you and for me.

 

Sharing the Divine Comfort

By From Nigel One Comment

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

I was listening to a young pastor recently taking questions. He was bright, clever and theologically sharp. As he answered questions on life, and all that life throws at us, what became increasingly evident was his lack of personal experience in the things he was speaking about. In fact his subject matter was very personal to me and I did contemplate contacting him and explaining to him the complexities of my own personal situation. I was a coward and chose not to, neither would I wish him to face my circumstances.

Yet I do find encouragement typically does come from people who’ve experienced the deepest trials and greatest loss. I may not know them but I look to them as an example of how to get through.

When I’m hurting or wallowing in self-pity, I don’t look to those who’ve been insulated from pain or who’ve never tasted disappointment, trials or heartache but rather, I instinctively look to those who have walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” and bear its battle scars. They are, to me, a greater inspiration than all the collective wisdom of those who remain safely isolated away from real life but can quote a scripture from Lamentations.

However, this isn’t something that is that easy. All too often we look at those spiritually pumping, saying the right things and conclude they must be walking close with the Lord whilst considering those who struggle, suffer and endure, what appears to be a succession of heartaches and pain, are lacking in faith, weak, and therefore disqualified from any meaningful spiritual help to others.

Two people come to mind when I look at the passage above. One was a man named Frank Gamble who served God against all the odds. At the age of 26, Frank was a fully fit, soccer-playing father of two, and then came the devastating news that he had an incurable disease that would attack every joint in his body, bending him over and confining him to a wheelchair. I met Frank on many occasions, he preached in the church I previously led. Frank was extremely funny and a man of great faith. He led his church from his wheel chair, discipled many people, wrote books, and spoke at conferences. He is now united with his Jesus and has a new body. Frank did not just survive his illness he triumphed in it and set an example to thousands.

The other is Joni Eareckson Tada. I was given her book to read in the late 1970’s. “Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression.” She was an activity girl, riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. On July 30, 1967, at just 17, she dived into the water in Chesapeake Bay, but she had misjudged the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and became a quadriplegic, paralysed from the shoulders down. Joni has spent nearly fifty years in a wheel chair. Yet her endurance and joy and resolute commitment to Christ have inspired millions, myself included. She is a an author, a radio host and a conference speaker.

I think I need to ground this in the passage! I think there is a sense in which both Frank and Joni have shared their divine comfort with us much like Paul describes in these short verses.

Let’s not be naïve. Frank and Joni , again like Paul, have each undoubtedly felt the pressure of trials and suffering. After all, few things have the power to turn us in upon ourselves as affliction and unmeasurable suffering. When we hurt, we rarely think of others but we expect them to think of us.

I don’t know this for sure, but I have met others in similar situations who have said that death was the easier option. They want to be free from an anguish that at times seems unending, senseless and unjust.

How does one explain the pain and constant battles? Surely this couldn’t be “God’s will”, or could it?

Take a moment to think about your own seasons of suffering and trials and consider the two most likely questions that come to mind: “Why me?” and “Doesn’t anyone care?” The first is directed at God and accuses him of injustice. The second is aimed at others and accuses them of insensitivity. But as I read this paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1, I hear Paul saying that there are two quite different questions that ought immediately to cross our lips: “Who else?” and “What for?”

I want to highlight two truths in this passage . There are loads of other things that could be said, but let’s focus on these, and in reverse order.

Paul clearly states that there is a connection between the intensity of human suffering and the availability of divine comfort. If there is an abundance of suffering, so too is there an abundant supply of comfort that is more than adequate to sustain the one suffering. See verse 5

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

No amount of human suffering can outstrip or exceed the resources in God’s heart to bring comfort, help and grace to see us through. You need never doubt whether God is up to the task of providing what you most need to survive, even thrive, in the midst of the worst imaginable pain and hardship. It was only because Paul was confident that God’s comfort matched and exceeded his suffering that he was able to pass on that comfort to others when they faced similar, perhaps even more severe trials.

Paul also discerned a divine design in his hardship. What might appear haphazard and strange to the human eye comes wrapped in the package of God’s eternal purpose. Look at Paul’s statement in verse 4 where he says that when God comforts us “in all our affliction” it is “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Pain threatens to immobilise and isolate us. It seems so senseless, so random, so utterly lacking in good but, Paul won’t hear of it. Whatever degree of suffering I’ve endured, says the apostle, it was to equip me to serve you who also endure suffering. Get it?

This doesn’t often resonate with many of us. We are by nature so selfish that we regard our own battle as the most important thing and see life through the lens of our own personal suffering

We struggle to see how our pain and hardship could possibly have any relevance for, or bearing upon anyone else. If nothing else, Paul’s confession calls into question the individualism of modern individualist Christianity. However, there is a vital lesson for us to learn in this truth. When afflicted, whatever its nature or source or perceived cause, stop and do two things: first, receive for yourself the supernatural comfort of Christ and then, lift up your head, look around, and ask: “Who else, Lord?

This is how Paul put it in terms of his relationship to the Corinthians. “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”

Nothing in Paul’s life was interpreted as existing or occurring solely for himself. It was for them! His suffering, affliction and endurance of trials ultimately benefited the Corinthians in that he was equipped to administer divine encouragement to them when they were afflicted and to ensure their preservation and spiritual well-being when they underwent trials. Who can I help? Let’s say that again, who can I help?

I’ll be honest, I’ve never found obedience to this passage an easy thing. To look up and away from my own pain to take note of others for whose sake God is equipping me, runs counter intuitive to the feelings of self that overtake me. That’s why I must constantly be reminded that God’s comfort is more than adequate to meet my needs so that he may meet the needs of others through me.

So, I hope the next time you, or I, are suffering, hurt or confused or perhaps are put upon unjustly, we’ll not ask, “Why me, Lord?” but rather, “Who else?” Then, from the deep abundance of strength that God supplies, we will become a divine comforter of the divine comfort that has been given us.

 

 

Father of Mercies and God of all Comfort

By From Nigel One Comment

Father of Mercies and God of all Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, – 2 Corinthians 1:3

Starting a new blog series was not really on my agenda as I had hoped we would be out of a lockdown and able to meet by now. That not being the case it’s blog number one then of a new series! I have left some of the Old Testament characters behind to look at Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth. This will not be an in depth exegesis but rather thoughts from my own devotions.

What does the church, or in fact the population need to know about God today, this week, this month, this year? It’s been been eight months since we were greeted with the onslaught of Covid 19 and thousands upon thousands have, and are, suffering emotionally and physically from the effects of this virus. Many have lost family and friends while others lives have been spared but not without resulting consequences and repercussions. We all have lived with restrictions creating anxiety and uncertainty. To the many struggling to make sense of what is occurring they are asking questions like; Where is God? Who is God?”

The answers we should give are very important therefore, they must not appear trite or as if they just ‘roll off the tongue.’

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Matthew 10:29

They, therefore, being “of more value than many sparrows” (vs 31). We may rest assured that this event did not catch God by surprise but that needs to be said gently. In James 4 we are reminded that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring (vs 14). In fact, James faces us up with some huge questions like, “what is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (vs 14). Instead, they and we “ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (vs 15). This shows that we can build our lives not thinking of how fragile life is, but again in expressing this we must speak with gentleness and sensitivity.

As Christians we should stand with confidence and with unshakable assurance on this glorious truth, that God orchestrates all things, both blessing and challenges, both triumph and tragedy, for the ultimate spiritual good of those who love him and “are called according to his purpose.”

But, perhaps most important of all, is that the Church and all the saints throughout the U.K. need to know what Paul believed “the Church in Corinth together with all the saints who were in the whole of Achaia” needed to know (2 Corinthians 1:1) that being, that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, (2 Corinthians 1:3) who will comfort us in our affliction (vs 4).

Paul didn’t write this in some isolated and insulated ivory tower or from the perspective of a detached and out-of-touch theologian who himself never encountered pain and suffering and the anxiety that tragedy so often brings with it. In fact he tells us he knew affliction (vs 8).

Paul and his companions were so utterly burdened beyond their strength that they despaired of even life itself (vs 8). They were on the edge. They believed their peril to be deadly (vs 10) which does put some of the things we ‘stress’ about into perspective.

It also seems that Paul was acquainted with the darkness of depression and how to deal with it.

5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn-fighting without and fear within.6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 2 Corinthians 7:5-6

This is a man who had suffered the physical horror of being stoned by an angry mob (Acts 14:19) and had felt the unending emotional pressure of responsibility for the care of others (2 Corinthians 11:28).

What we read in our bibles is not the account of a cold detached man but rather one who had endured “imprisonments” and “countless beatings” and was “often near death” (2 Corinthians 11:23).

Five times he had been beaten with thirty nine blows, three times he had been beaten with rods. He had been stoned several times, not to mention having endured shipwrecks and countless other dangers from both friends and enemies (2 Corinthians 11:25-26). The next verse carries on, he knew “toil and hardship and sleepless nights, even hunger and exposure to the elements” (vs 27).

So, when Paul the “apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” describes our Father as the one who is the source of mercy and the fount of all comfort, he knows what he is talking about and can testify to having received that mercy and comfort. In fact it seems to be what got him through.

I suppose that some in our nation might be inclined to curse God for what has, and is, transpiring in 2020. Paul dos not but rather, in verse 3, he declares God as blessed meaning one to be thanked, worshipped, adored and praised. As counter intuitive as that may seem, declaring God as blessed puts all other things into perspective. I wonder if Paul ever read the book of Job?

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” Job 1:20-21

Paul asks us to focus on two things:

When he says that God is the “Father of mercies” and “God of all comfort”, he means more than simply that mercy and comfort come from God. Yes, God most definitely dispenses these wonderful blessings, but Paul is more concerned to tell us something about God’s character, his personality, the disposition and the inclination of his heart. In other words, we should read this passage something along the lines of, “the Father who is characterised by mercy” and “the God whose heart delights in giving comfort.” This is the One who is dealing with us. Of course Paul is describing what God does. But even more foundational is what he says concerning who God is, and what he is like. This is his nature, says Paul, his personality, not simply his performance. What he does is a reflection of who he is, and he is above all else characterised by tender hearted compassion and gentleness and love and a passionate desire to encourage and strengthen those who are suffering hardship and hurt.

The next thing to get our head around is the breadth of God’s merciful and compassionate nature, for he is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (vs 3-4). The phrase points to the fact that comfort of every kind comes from the heart of our Father. Whatever sort of comfort is needed, you can trust in God’s plentiful supply. Some commentators say he is “ever ready to console” or whose “consolation cannot fail us” It describes the comprehensiveness of God’s compassion, “who gives every possible encouragement” as another commentator says. (Look at Psalm 145:9, Micah 7:19, Isaiah 40:1, 51:3, 66:13)

How does God do this? What could he possibly say to us that would have this effect? Perhaps Paul remembers David’s words “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no God apart from you’ (Psalm 16:2). Or the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Could what he was experiencing as he writes to the Church in Corinth have led to the promise he wrote to the Church in Rome a while later, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword, [or viruses]? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37). We only have One that can truly help, He is the only one you can trust.

I can’t begin to know or understand the depth of loss being felt in our nation, or the nations of the World, and I certainly don’t intend to say learnt pious words spoken from the comfort and safety of my own sofa but this I do know and can say with all confidence,

22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:22-24.

 

 

Thank You Ray Gaydon

By From Nigel One Comment

Thank you Ray Gaydon

1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. 8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. Exodus 1:1-8.

When I was made redundant from Rubery Owen in Darlaston, West Midlands I headed to East Sussex to find work where my brother and his wife were living. They attended a chapel on the outskirts of a village called Barcombe just outside Lewes. The then, part time pastor, was Ray Gaydon. One of his first words to me was “Nigel you are a died in the wool non-conformist with a lot to learn!” I owe much of what I am today to Ray. This is my journey and my appeal to the young leaders of this generation.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. Exodus 1:8

My family attended Little London Baptist Church in Willenhall. A strict and particular Baptist Church. If you look at the gravestones as you enter the church grounds, you will find Lloyds going back hundreds of years. Little London was the only church life I had ever known. These are some of my reflections looking back, not what I saw at the time. Before I do that I want you know, that it was a happy place, it was family. The church had seen some amazing times in the past but in my day there were only around thirty folk without a pastor.

In my late teens I was appointed as a deacon and I had particular responsibility for the fabric of the building. We, as a team, had the power to hire or fire the pastor! If, and when, we had a pastor, we were the team he would be subject to. We voted on agenda items and we pretty much ran the show.

Each Sunday we would have flowers at the front of the church. Flowers were good and they made the place look brighter and we would give them to those sick and struggling afterwards. The variations of flowers was much noted, from a bunch shoved in a pot to a fully arranged display. There was much discussion over the flowers from ‘tuts’ of disapproval to admiration.

On Sunday evenings we sang an introit before the meeting began: Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. To be honest, I am not sure what we ever would have done if the Spirit of the living God had fallen afresh upon us!

The church business meetings were often feisty and a bit scary. The sheep could block the shepherd by means of a vote. I remember a particular spirited discussion over the colour of the church front doors. We were democratic or a better description would be, if the body of the church didn’t like it, then it just wasn’t going to happen.

Sundays were the same, generally hymn, reading, hymn, prayer, hymn, notices, hymn, message, hymn. That was how they had always been, why change it? We sat in pews with doors and usually sat towards the back.

Communion was once a month after the service. Always the same format; bread cut up into squares, Ribena in tiny glass cups. If you were not a Christian you could not stay, you had to go into the back room or go home.

Hymn singing was led by a massive pipe organ, my father manually pumped air into it as child but by now it had an electric pump. We paid for it to be looked after and serviced regularly. We even paid to have an organist, it was important and there was a sense of reverence regarding its lofty position in the gallery.

Most of the women wore hats with their posh dresses on a Sunday, although my mum did refuse to wear a hat, and the men wore suits, jackets and ties. We were formal, stern, dressed to meet the king. When I was a little older I varied my suits from morning to evening.

We used Grace Hymns, previously we had used Hymns of Faith. There was a committee appointed to check the theological content of the new hymn book with much discussion about whether to have a red cover or a green cover. Green was finally decided upon as red was thought to not be sober enough.

We prayed using language taken straight out of the King James Version of the Bible. Thy, thine, thou, thee, hath, hither, and more. It was an art form, learnt language kept only for the meetings.

We were big on the puritans. People like Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, John Owen. I still have some of their books on my bookshelf. They were our model for life and service, our aim was to be like them.

There are many other reflections I could make, but that will give you a bit of a flavour. This was my background, my understanding of Church. It was what I had always known. Ray Gaydon however, was preaching about the church not of the puritans, but of the New Testament. A church that was a body, a bride, led by the Holy Spirit. I witnessed gifts of the Spirit, salvations, healings. Leaders who were gifted by God to lead and shepherd the flock who followed willingly and joyfully. The presence of God was tangible and sometimes fearful. Often called Charismatic, people flocked to the church and it grew supernaturally, we did not know week by week what God would do or say. Ray preached on Spirit and truth as we tried to hold our course on being as biblical as we could be.

So why am I telling you all this? Many years have passed since a church in Sussex and many other churches came together to restore New Testament life and values. Time can change things. We can be like the Egyptians where there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. We can replace our flower rotas and our pipe organs and our democratic viewpoints with just more modern versions of the same. We can become set in our ways, lose sight of the Holy Spirit and create new traditions. We may not have the sacred cow of a green hymn book but there can be other things in our charismatic churches that are just as bad.

I don’t believe we restored the church back to New Testament values and principles in the 1970’s and 1980’s I believe we should be constantly and consistently looking to restore the church to its New Testament values and principles. We may have to demolish modern strongholds, fight again for New Testament theology and practices. It’s not where we are today that matters it’s where we will be in a few years time that matters. Our aim, surely, is to be closer to the book of Acts not further away from it.

Is the end game restoration in the church? No, surely the end game is Revival. Now, I know you will state, and correctly say, that revival is a sovereign act of God and that is correct, but is not the church the vessel for God to pour his Holy Spirit into? Let me draw you to this verse.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. Hosea 10:12

Although God is the source of all revival, there are conditions that He expects His people to fulfil before they are ready to receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They describe the heart and the desire.

Hosea sets these before us in one of the most helpful foundations for revival to be found in Scripture. Not only that, but church history informs us of how God acts on such things (see the two ladies and their prayer life on the Isle of Lewis prior to revival)

“Break up your fallow ground” that is both the preparation of our heart and the desire of our heart.

“For it is time to seek the Lord” that is our urgent prayer and a deliberate decision.

“That he may come and rain righteousness upon you” that is a wonderful description of revival.

Here then are set before us the conditions; heart preparation, deliberate decisions and urgent prayer.

We get so lost in the process of church and the institutional nature of church we loose the simplicity of it all, to encounter God in all his glory.

What is fallow ground? It is simply ground which has, in the past, given fruit, but has now become largely unproductive through lack of cultivation, land that is lying idle. Oh! is that not the church.

However there is a promise. Seed can be sown in this ground in abundance, there is a promise of rain from heaven.

Stop for a moment and look at the state of the church today. Look within at the condition of our own hearts, we cannot but admit the accuracy of Hosea’s description. Vast areas of fallow ground in the hearts of professing Christians surely constitutes the greatest barrier to the rain of revival. Is it not time to seek the Lord?

This is a quote from a Duncan Campbell sermon preached in 1968 about the Hebridean revival.

“We got to the church about quarter to nine to find about 300 people gathered. I would say about 300 people. And I gave an address. Nothing really happened during the service. It was a good meeting. A sense of God, a consciousness of His Spirit moving but nothing beyond that. So I pronounced the benediction and we were leaving the church I would say about a quarter to eleven.

Just as I am walking down the aisle, along with this young deacon who read the Psalm in the barn. He suddenly stood in the aisle and looking up to the heavens he said, “God, You can’t fail us. God, You can’t fail us. You promised to pour water on the thirsty and floods upon the dry ground-God, You can’t fail us!”

Soon He is on his knees in the aisle and he is still praying and then he falls into a trance again. Just then the door opened, it is now eleven o’clock. The door of the church opens and the local blacksmith comes back into the church and says, “Mr. Campbell, something wonderful has happened. Oh, we were praying that God would pour water on the thirsty and floods upon the dry ground and listen, He’s done it! He’s done it!”

When I went to the door of the church I saw a congregation of approximately 600 people. Six hundred people, where had they come from? What had happened? I believe that that very night God swept in Pentecostal power-the power of the Holy Ghost. And what happened in the early days of the apostles was happening now in the parish of Barvas.”

Does this not quicken your heart to remove any obstacles in church life that hold us back from revival and to peruse God with all that we have.

 

That famous verse

By From Nigel One Comment

 

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21

Jacob was dead and the brothers had came to the conclusion that Joseph would hate them and exact revenge upon them (50:15). They begged for forgiveness (vs. 17). Joseph’s response can be seen in the scripture above, but it’s verse 20 I would like to focus upon.

There was no vengeance here, there was no hatred and there was no animosity. Joseph treated his brothers with mercy. He treated them with loving kindness. He treated them with undeserved favour, but the questions are these; how does kindness and love and mercy and grace become cultivated in the heart of one so wickedly treated? How does this attitude of complete forgiveness and compassion and affection and kindness come out of the heart of one so badly treated?

The answer is found in Joseph’s theology. He had a very clear understanding of the fact that what his brothers had done to him was evil, but that though they had meant it for evil, God meant it for good. He had a clear understanding that God was at work, and that God was in control, and that he could trust God with the outcome. It was his theology of the sovereign purposes of God that had generated this attitude of heart.

The big picture that Joseph saw was in the reality that although his brothers had mistreated him, it was in the purposes of God. He recognised that God’s purpose were so vast, and so all-encompassing, and so far-reaching as to be really, staggeringly amazing. Bottom line! The Lord used Joseph’s suffering and his subsequent circumstances to accomplish His own sovereign purposes, the far bigger picture.

God has a plan for the world, and in order to fulfil that plan for the world, He had a plan for the nation of Israel. In order to fulfil His plan for the nation of Israel, He had a plan for Joseph, it all was tied together. The plan for His chosen people included their survival – their survival during a seven-year famine. During that seven-year famine, there was no food in Canaan. This, in turn, brought them to Egypt where there was plenty of food, and when they arrived in Egypt, because of the greatness of Joseph, they were given a land of their own, the best of land, called the “Land of Goshen.”

Over the next four centuries, that group of people would be transformed from a family into a great nation. This was all part of God’s plan to fulfil His covenant promises of a seed and salvation that would extend to the whole Earth as He promised Abraham in Genesis 12. God was making all things work together for good by the accomplishment of His great plan. God intended that the trials of this one, very unlikely hero, would be for the good of his family, and then for the good of the nation that would come out of his family, and through that nation, be for the good of the whole World.

Joseph had suffered. He had suffered repeatedly throughout his early life, but the Bible never tells us that God was punishing him for his sin. Joseph did not suffer because God was punishing him for his sin, but he did suffer so that God could ultimately save people like you and me. There had to be a nation of Israel so that out of that nation would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

So, is this true or not?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

How really secure are we when things get tough? Here is the extent of our security in one simple statement, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”

This is the extent of our security. This is an incredibly comforting and reassuring statement.  There cannot be a more reassuring statement than this. No statement, made to a Christian, could contribute more hope, more happiness, more freedom or more joy to the heart than this statement, because what it says is, that no matter what pain, no matter what problems, no matter what failures, no matter what difficulties, no matter what disasters, no matter what sins, no matter what suffering, no matter what temptation, all things work together for good.

The extent of this is emphasised in the Greek word ‘panta’ meaning all things.  It is a comprehensive promise, meaning no limits. There’s nothing that qualifies the “all things,” nothing.  It means, absolutely what it says, all things work together for good.  God takes anything and everything that occurs in a believer’s life and rather than it having the power to remove our salvation or having the power to bring condemnation, God makes it work together for the believer’s ultimate good.  This is the greatest promise we can have in this life.  There are absolutely no limits on this statement. It is limitless.

In Romans 8:32 It reiterates the limitless nature of this security when it says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

In other words, if God would give us the best gift, which is His Son, to save us, won’t God do whatever is necessary to keep us now that we’re His?  That’s the point.  He will freely, without restraint, give us all things, whatever the extent, whatever the amount, whatever the intensity, whatever the overwhelming character and nature of our trouble, it all is woven together by God for our good.

Look back at the verse again.  The verse starts with this confidence, “And we know…”  This isn’t something that is ambiguous, this isn’t something that is a possibility, this isn’t something that is a potential, this is something that is a reality-and we know that God causes all things to work together.  The Greek word for ‘work together’ is ‘sunerge’ from which we get ‘synergism,’ which means ‘to work together.’  Everything is synergistic, everything blends together, everything operates cooperatively for our good.

So if this is true, surely we can trust God to work his purposes out.

 

 

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