It’s been a number of years since this blog was active, though the archives are still available. But more recently, I’ve updated the site with a number of lead sheets I’ve prepared for my church and for others to use.
For me, they mean something different. Fourteen years ago, I’d just arrived in Japan to work with OMF missionaries as a Serve Asia worker. My three months in Japan gave me a love for the country and its people, an awareness of their spiritual need, and a longing to return. Every spring when I see the cherry blossom on the trees here, I’m reminded of my time in Japan.
Spring is also a reminder of resurrection. I often return to this apocryphal “Martin Luther” quotation that he almost certainly never said, but sounds Luther-esque:
Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.
As with the spring, so with cherry blossom: it is a yearly reminder that death is not the end of the story. New life is born from the midst of death. Each flower points beyond itself to the infinite day of the new creation, where “everlasting spring abides” (Isaac Watts).
Yes, the blossom is fleeting. So is this life. But today, on Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate the defeat of death.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
The cherry blossom festival only lasts a few days. But Jesus’ resurrection means that one day creation will celebrate with us forever.
The new year comes with renewed attempts to get our act together, to pull our socks up, to do better. Our resolutions can be vague (“eat less chocolate”) or specific (“get up at 6.30am to pray”), expensive (“join a gym”) or money-saving (“spend less on clothes”). They can be realistic (“eat an apple each day”) or seemingly unachievable (“stop looking at porn”). They can all be good desires to grow in godliness, but they can also be dangerous attempts at self-justification – trying to save ourselves through our efforts.
By nature we try to gain acceptance from God, others and ourselves through performance. We ask ourselves whether we’ve achieved enough, worked hard enough, or improved enough. If we manage to keep our resolutions, we feel better about ourselves; if we fail, we feel guilty and despondent. Success makes us think that God loves us and is close to us; failure, that he’s angry and aloof.
New year’s resolutions can reinforce the idea that we can save ourselves. For those of us who are generally self-disciplined, we can become confident in our own ability to change, to become acceptable to God. For those of us who are weak-willed, our inevitable failure leads to hopelessness. Either way, we end up focused on ourselves.
Our problems lie deeper than mere behaviour. The eyes of our hearts constantly turn inwards, looking to ourselves for salvation and satisfaction rather than to Jesus. We may try to gain acceptance from God through performance, but we never will. Spiritually, we are dead and in need of resurrection. Resolving to do better by ourselves is like a corpse resolving to learn to tap-dance.
This is why God’s resolutions are such good news. He promises us that “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). He has raised us with Christ, giving us new, resurrection life in him (Eph 2:4-5), and has promised us an eternal inheritance, giving us his Spirit as a guarantee (Eph 1:13-14). He has resolved to bring us home, and he does not break his word.
How does this change how we think about new year’s resolutions?
First, we must accept that we cannot save ourselves from the death we deserve, but God has graciously done it all. Nothing we can do will change this certainty.
With this foundation, Paul says to “offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). We don’t do this to earn a relationship with God; we do this because we have a relationship with God that is unshakeable, and our new hearts long to serve their new master.
So this year, let us resolve to constantly look to Jesus, knowing all our salvation and joy comes from him; and consequently resolve to do our utmost to follow him daily, knowing that he has resolved never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). His resolutions are never broken.
One Forever, by Rory Shiner. An absolute peach of a book. How Rory Shiner managed to pack so much rich, joyous theology into a short and very readable book, I’m not quite sure – but he did. The book looks at what it means for Christians to be united to Christ, in areas such as justification, church, fighting sin, and the new creation, but it does so in a clearly understandable and practical way. Thoroughly recommended.
Christ Our Life, by Michael Reeves. I can’t do better than my friend Peter’s review: “For a newcomer to Christianity, or for a long-time follower of Jesus, this book will stir your heart and lift it toward Him. Five chapters in typical Reeves style: high energy, good momentum, great one-liners, on-target historical anecdotes and lots of biblical interaction. The fourth chapter on the Christian life is worth the price of the book, but be sure to take advantage of the rest too.”
A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards, by Dane Ortlund. A much more academic book than others on the list, but not by any means in the pejorative sense of the word! Ortlund gets to the heart (pun unavoidable) of the Christian life and Christian motivation, showing how Edwards (and the Bible) point to the believer’s awakened taste and hunger for God and his goodness as the motive force for growth in maturity and holiness. Looking forward to the author’s new book, Edwards on the Christian Life, too.
Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel. My first book by Flavel, but unlikely to be my last if this is a representative example. Sound exhortations to care for your soul, with that wonderful way of looking at so many different facets of the same thing to bring real richness and depth to the argument. Would probably serve as an excellent introduction to the Puritans in general – certainly a great example of the wisdom of the pastors of past generations.
The Schaeffer Trilogy (The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, He Is There and He Is Not Silent), by Francis Schaeffer. I should have read The God Who Is There in my first year of uni, though I doubt I’d have appreciated it as much. Reading it today I found it stretching and stimulating, and though written in the 60s is still incredibly relevant today. His analysis of trends in Western thought, and how culture and the church have bought into the huge misstep of separating “the upper storey” – faith – from “the lower storey” – reason – is revealing and perceptive. Once I’ve read a bit more in a similar vein, I will return to these and will no doubt benefit even more!
Honourable mentions go to Pleased to Dwell by Peter Mead (24 meditations on Jesus and the Incarnation) and Jesus on Every Page by David Murray (seeing all the ways the Bible speaks of Jesus, right from Genesis), as well as the short 10Publishing books Enjoy your prayer life by Mike Reeves and True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts. I read the latter two with a small group of friends and had some brilliant conversations off the back of them – and they’re short enough to read in an evening too.
Right doctrine is never an end in itself. It is a means. Doxology takes flight on the wings of theology. Knowledge is not the final goal, but an avenue to deeper depths of enjoyment of God. Who ever baked a chocolate cake in order to scrutinise its contents in the laboratory? Cake is not meant for the Petri dish. It exists to be tasted and enjoyed – relished! Glorious truth about God that enters the human mind is never meant to stay there. Its appointed destination is the heart, where such truth, where God himself, is tasted and loved.
— Dane Ortlund, A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards, p106-7
A mighty fortress is our God
with walls that will not fail us;
he helps us brace against the shock
of fears that now assail us.
The enemy of old
in wickedness is bold;
this seems his victory hour,
he fears no earthly power
and arms himself with cunning.
We win no battles through our might,
we fall at once, dejected;
the righteous one will lead the fight,
by God himself directed.
You ask, ‘Who can this be?’
Christ Jesus, it is he,
eternal King and Lord,
God’s true and living Word,
no-one can stand against him.
And though the world seems full of ill,
with hungry demons prowling,
Christ’s victory is with us still,
we need not fear their howling.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him!
His sentence has been passed.
We stand unharmed at last.
A word from God destroys him.
God’s word and plan, which they pretend
is subject to their pleasure,
will bind their wills to serve God’s end,
which we, who love him, treasure.
Then let them take our lives,
goods, children, husbands, wives,
and carry all away;
theirs is a short-lived day.
Ours is the lasting kingdom.
Last week I went to the funeral of a wonderful godly lady called Grace. She was born in the 1920s and spent many years of her life serving the Lord in the Middle East.
In the late 1950s, Grace committed to praying daily for 10 people she knew to serve Jesus cross-culturally – one only a baby. In the early 1980s, that baby, now grown up, became the tenth of the group to commit to a life of cross-cultural mission. That baby was my dad – and Grace, my great aunt.
She was called home on the 27th August after a lifetime of serving the Lord, not least through her prayers. She persevered in prayer throughout her life, with a particular heart for God’s mission to the world. I’ve no doubt that my own interest in mission in the UK and overseas is in part due to her prayers.
Who could you pray for like that? Or could you also be the answer to someone else’s prayer?
“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)
It was through His salvation of His captive people, and His decimation of the Egyptian gods that the One True God showed Himself to be “YHWH”, the LORD, the one and only Sovereign of the universe and the One to whom all worship is due.
However, nearly 1,500 years later, God would again – and more perfectly – communicate Himself to the world as YHWH, the supreme Savior and Sovereign and Satisfier of His people. Through His Beloved Son – Jesus Christ – God would again save His people from slavery…but this time the people would be from every nation, tribe, and language, and He would save them – not from slavery to people – but from soul-damning sin.
I’m sure some of you more distinguished theologians drink better whiskey than I do.
We’ll forgive Aimee Byrd for preferring Jack Daniels to Scotch. The rest of her article is good fun and good advice, particularly to young people in the church:
Often, when one first discovers the beauty of good theology, maybe sparked by the introduction of the doctrines of grace, they enter what has been referred to as the infamous “cage stage.” They want to proselytize all their family and friends. But it backfires because the overzealous enthusiasm can be a bit of a turn off. A good theologian needs to be mellowed for smoothness.
As ever, beautiful and poignant words from Cat Hartley:
The night that Berenger died was hot and sleep was scarce. I read Psalm 139 and was struck by two things: God has many many thoughts about us and he has all of our days mapped out for us, already. It’s an amazing combination of intimate concentration and attention to detail. He is in no way detached, he knows all of our days – but this does not make us old news. He still thinks about us. I guess it’s like being in love, when your thoughts gravitate towards a person again and again, not to get new insights or information, but because you really love them. Because thinking about them brings a smile to your face. Then in the morning, my phone flashed with a tear-choked voice mail message. Berenger’s days had been way shorter than any of us had thought.