Why in today’s disunited times, biblical unity matters

‘The times, they are a-changing’, so goes the familiar melody by Bob Dylan, and when you look both at the world we live in today, and how it might change in the future, it would be hard to disagree with Mr Dylan wouldn’t it? To me, this change is particularly characterised in two ways. First, we seem to be in a state of increased disunity. The changes thrust upon us in recent times seem to have exposed divisions based on colour, religion, politics, income, I could go on. Second, we live in a world of uncertainty. Of course, change of whatever kind often brings uncertainty, and events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are no exception.

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You may be pleased to read that I’m not going to spill any ink analysing policy, scrutinising decisions and their implications or studying the character and morality of figureheads. Plenty of this has been done already and will continue to permeate our screens in the days, months and years to come. Instead, in part 1, I want to argue that the disunified and uncertain times we live in should lead Christians to take heart, and perhaps surprisingly, rejoice. Part 2, focusing on the theme of uncertainty, will be published in due course.

Disunity

I’ve just finished looking at the book of Ephesians with my Bible Study Small Group. One of the things we saw was how both Jew and Gentile believers have been united as one body. This wasn’t done on the basis of race, income, politics or any human means, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. As such, Paul is saying that if people groups as different (and as vehemently opposed to one another) as Jews and Gentiles have been brought together by the blood of Jesus, then so have we today in all our differences.

And so, because we are unified in one body, Paul prays that:

‘Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’

This prayer shows us that the unity that has been achieved isn’t just any old unity, but an incredible, amazing unity so much better than anything the world can offer.

Paul goes onto say that if we have been unified in this way, we should act like it. Paul wants us to maintain this amazing unity we’ve been given, and one the ways we do that is by building up the body by speaking the truth (that is, the truth of the Bible) in love with another:

‘Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.’

Now, it goes without saying that we’re still sinners, and this unity won’t be fully realised in all its glory until Jesus comes again and ushers in the new creation. In addition, we as a body, in our own families, congregations and churches will sometimes find it hard to maintain this unity, and we won’t always feel that unified. It is true however to say that in Paul’s eyes, we are undoubtedly unified now. Further, as well-being able to know this factually, we’re also able experience something of the joy of this unity today.

In an increasingly disunified world, these realities should provide great comfort to us as a body today.

It isn’t just about us though. My hope and prayer is that as the church displays this unity, outsiders would see be attracted to it[1], particularly in today’s increasingly fraught environment.

Maybe they’ll notice the way which we actively seek to speak the truth in love with those who have different views about Brexit or Donald Trump, instead of segregating and sowing discord. Or perhaps they’ll be struck by the way we refrain from calling people who are different to us nasty names, instead affirming them as part of a closely-knit body. Alternatively, they might see the way we don’t merely tolerate those different to us, but cherish them as if we dearly need them in our Christian walk.

Needless to say of course that there’s more we as a body can be doing to pursue biblical unity, but the fact remains that to my mind, these things even only slightly demonstrated show the Church to be a more united institution than any man-made equivalent.

To sum up, making efforts to pursue and maintain unity is worth it for at least three reasons. First, it’s a biblical command. Second, it’ll do us individually and corporately as a body the world of good. Thirdly, this unity puts the majesty and glory of God’s church on display to both the ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’, and to the world at large. With all this in mind, let’s keep going in pursuing unity, in good times and in bad and whether it seems easy or hard.

[1] See 2 Cor 2:15-16, John 13:34-35

4 reflections on unemployment

I’ve just emerged from a time of unemployment, well, sort of. I finished a long-ish term position in April this year, and have now just been offered a full time role (praise the Lord!), having had a couple of intermittent short term temporary posts in the intervening period. Here are 4 reflections.

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1. Fundamental truths

You’ll maybe have heard and have believed the basic truth ‘God provides what his children need everyday’ or a variation of it for years. And yet, during the last few months, God has led me to believe this in a fundamentally deeper way as I’ve been unsure as to what the future holds. I think this has something to do with the fact that when a safety net like a job is removed, we (as was the case for me) are forced to trust in God’s providence in a more real way than previously. As we do so, we see the folly of self-reliance and the wisdom of God reliance.

Likewise, you may be familiar with the adage – ‘your value is in Christ.’ During this season of uncertainty, It’s been a real privilege to see more clearly how in a culture that screams at us ‘you are your job’, ‘your value is defined by your career’ and so on, how our value is actually defined solely in Jesus. This is to say that whether we’re a CEO, a cleaner, banker, lawyer, baker or whatever, when God looks at the believer, he sees Jesus – we can have no higher value! As I worried about my friends ‘getting ahead’ in the world of work, and how others might think of me now I was unemployed, God drew me back to this unconditional reality – enabling me in the process to perceive and appreciate this truth more acutely.

2. It’s not about me….

When jobless, it can be very easy to get caught up in ourselves. That is, as we expend lots of energy and time trying to find that job, I think we can become somewhat cocooned, as if the world revolves around me and finding my job. At church, we’ve just started studying Ephesians and one the amazing truths of the book is not only that as believers, we were chosen to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world, or that God has a plan to unite all things in heaven and earth under Jesus, but that the reason he does these things is so that he might be praised. We’re also told elsewhere in the Bible to do all things to the glory of God. Applied today, the Bible as a whole teaches us that life is not all about me and my life, but about God’s glory, and the praise of that. This acts as a real challenge to me!

3. How’s the job situation?

During the last month, I’ve been greatly blessed as friends and family have shown love and support through prayer, practical advice, offers of financial support and more. I’d like to think that as this has happened, we as the wider body of Christ have grown together in Godliness. As such, we shouldn’t see the joblessness of our brothers and sisters as a burden, or something to be ashamed of, but as an opportunity for love and service.

Having said that, I’ve been doing some thinking about the amount of times I’ve been asked ‘How’s the job situation?’ No doubt, I was asked this out of genuine loving concern. However, I wonder whether the frequency to which this question was put to me shows something of the sometimes unhelpful value we place on work and the employment status of our friends and family. In actual fact, I wouldn’t have minded if my employment position hadn’t been raised as much in conversations. Why? Firstly, out of slight social embarrassment on my part if there had been no change from the previous week, or feeling pressured to put a positive gloss on things when asked that question. Secondly, because our lives don’t revolve around jobs, nor, as discussed already, do they define us.

4. It could be you

In employment terms, we live in an increasingly short term, fragile and transient age. Gone for the most part are ‘jobs for life’, and in are short term temporary assignments, zero hours contracts and consultancy agreements. And while it’s still far too early to assess the consequences of Brexit, sizeable job losses may take place in certain sectors in the months and years to come. Even if you are on a relatively secure, ‘perk-tastic’ contract, many will tell you that an unjust boss, a hostile work culture, and sub-par personal performance could leave you out of work. Put simply, unemployment can happen to anyone. This should keep those of us currently in work humble – not in anyway thinking ourselves as superior as unemployed brothers and sisters.

Summing up

Overall, the last few months have led me to a deeper appreciation of certain biblical truths. I’ve been reminded that trials exist to refine our faith, and to help transform us into the image of Jesus. This time has also helped alter my perspective; in the grand scheme of things, my career really doesn’t matter that much! Finally, God has used the last few months to help me better understand how we can be helping those in the church who find themselves without a job.

Why I’ll be voting to stay in the EU

It’s hard to believe, but the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) is little more than a day away. Which way will it go? With the polls neck and neck, it really is anyone’s guess.

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Countless claims and counter claims have been made about innumerable topics, but to my mind two issues have stood out – the economy and immigration. Both these are well worth considering for sure, yet for the Christian there is something even more important to think about, the implications for the spread of the Gospel – the Great Commission to evangelise and make disciples of Christ. This could certainly involve the sending of missionaries and the planting of churches, but it could also entail individual Christians moving abroad to undertake ‘normal 9 to 5 jobs’, wishing to do their bit in building brothers and sisters up in Christlikeness.

Before I go any further, I don’t want to claim that whether to ‘bremain’ or ‘brexit’ is an issue of primacy where disagreement should lead to division. Many faithful Christian brothers and sisters are sure to disagree on this question, and that’s ok.

With that in mind, allow me to make my case as to why I will be voting to remain in the EU.

At present – I could move to European nations such as Spain, France, or Germany to work and it would be done. No visas, no restrictive domestic immigration rules, no fuss.

Now, if we do vote to leave, we could remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) or the single market and do a Norway or Switzerland respectively. This would mean that despite being outside the EU, we could still work and live throughout the EEA and single market which includes countries in the EU plus a few others, and with the same ease as is currently the case.

It’s worth noting however that the Vote Leave front men – Messrs Gove and Johnson believe we’d be better off out the EEA and single market altogether. The argument goes that once outside Britain will be able to negotiate it’s own deals with individual European nations regarding the free movement of labour. In other words, Britons could move and work throughout much of Europe as before even if outside the EEA and single market..

However, and bearing in mind that Vote Leave want to tighten the rules restricting the flow of migrants into the United Kingdom, how likely is it that the powers that be in Brussels will allow the British to move to other countries freely to work, yet will also allow Britain to impose tougher rules on who can come through it’s borders? Some may wish to take this chance, but personally I don’t view it likely that a complete withdrawal from the EEA and single market would mean things would go on as before. In fact, I think things would be tougher for British believers wanting to move abroad.

Why? Well consider the argument that because we are a major trading partner of the EU, we would be able to use this leverage to negotiate preferential labour movement terms vis a vis the above (we can move freely, and restrict the numbers coming in). However, this ignores the fact that the EU is an even more important trading partner for us. In other words, in terms of trade, we rely on them more than they rely on us.

Only God knows how things will go both on Thursday and in terms of free movement negotiations should Vote Leave prevail. However, given the above, I think the risk is too great. For the reasons given above, I think there is a more than reasonable chance that Brexit would make the spread of the Gospel throughout the Europe harder than it is now.

As a result, I will be voting to remain in the European Union on Thursday.

Who is Jesus anyway?

Christmas, great! Looking forward to chilling out, spending time away from work, with the family.

Christmas, great. Another Christmas having to endure Grandma’s farts, trying (but inevitably failing) to avoid arguing with Christina and putting up with Dad’s rants about Politics.

Christmas, great! Looking forward to eating, drinking and getting Merrah!!

Christmas, great. Another Christmas on my own, thinking about everyone and everything I’ve lost.

What does Christmas mean to you? Maybe you can relate to one or more of these scenarios.

Yet, when all is said and done, Christmas is about one person.

Jesus.

And when we think of Jesus, maybe an image like this comes into our heads:

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Yeah? So? Why does matter? Jesus is born, grows up, says some wise things, dies a tragic death, the end. Can we get to the presents and eating please? Casino Royale is on isn’t it?

As good as it is to lie back, relax and enjoy some good food, presents and TV in the presence of family and friends, doesn’t it make sense to spend a little bit of time thinking about the person it all goes back to?

As such, to get an idea of who Jesus truly was it makes sense to go back to the source text, the Bible. To begin with, the Bible says that Jesus was fully God (John 1:1-14). Ever wondered what God is like? Well, you could do a lot worse than to look upon the man Jesus as revealed in the pages of the Bible. Have a think about that when you’re tucking into your sixth helping of whatever it is people eat at Christmas these days.

Still, you might be thinking – ‘why does this matter?’ Or ‘how will this effect little Jonty as he opens his king size remote control fire engine complete with singing and dancing Fireman Rupert on Christmas Day morning?’ And you’d have a good question. Why does it matter that God came as a human being to earth? It all seems a bit abstract and dusty and quite frankly, all rather meaningless.

Except that it really isn’t. Eyewitnesses at the time tell us that (amongst other things) Jesus came to save us from our sin (1 Timothy 1:15), which is a short way of saying that we’ve all turned away from God (Romans 3:12), lived our lives with no regard to him, and are therefore deserving of judgement, or death (Romans 6:23).

Enter Jesus.

Without Jesus death and resurrection (God put Jesus forward to die on our behalf so that by faith we might not have to endure the punishment we deserve, see Romans 3:25) we’d be up a certain creek without a paddle, facing total separation from God and an eternity in Hell. If your answer to that is ‘my friends will be in Hell’ or ‘oh, at least it’ll be warm in Hell’ then might I humbly suggest that you haven’t really understood how bad Hell, or sin, really is.

Some people don’t like mention of all this Hell stuff, and in one sense, neither do I. Yet, without it the Bible says we don’t really get a sense of God’s love. That is, in order to understand God’s love for us, we surely have to understand what we’ve been saved from (Romans 5:8).

And yet there’s more. This fully God fully man Jesus also desires to know us. This again is only possible through Jesus death and resurrection, and knowing God in this way changes everything. From our human relationships, to what we live for in life, everything. To know God then is to live in a way God naturally intended, it’s what we were created to do (Genesis 3).

One last thing. Jesus, the supposedly sweet docile baby, grew up not only to die and resurrect (although that is quite something in itself) but is also now the ruler of heaven and our universe (Ephesians 1:22). As such, there are two options. We can either refuse to acknowledge Jesus rightful place as ruler of the world and our lives (Romans 3:10-12), or we can pledge allegiance to Christ, receive forgiveness for our rebellion and live under Jesus rule, with all the benefits that entails.

For Christians, Christmas gives us a chance to reflect on Jesus really is, what he’s done for us and what a privilege it is to know him as our king.

And if you don’t yet know him, why not spend some time in the next few days reflecting on who Jesus really is?

This talk by Jamie Child (minister at St Helen’s Church Bishopsgate) is as a good place to start. A Christianity Explored course would also be an ideal opportunity to ask any questions you might have.

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

Justification, sanctification and taking possession of what is already yours

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 I’ve been reflecting on the whole ‘justification vs sanctification debate’ lately and how we (myself very much included) can become tied up in knots about whether one cancels out the other, or how both interact.

On the one hand, it can be tempting to think that once we put our trust in Jesus Christ then we’re saved, that’s it, we can now live our lives as we please until eternity. On the other hand, I think we can beat ourselves up by thinking faith alone doesn’t make us righteous in front of God and that we have to demonstrate evidence of works in order to be saved. In other words, salvation isn’t by faith at all, but is salvation by works, or salvation by faith and works, or salvation by faith but made extra certain by works.

Many reformed commentators argue that Christians tend to fall into the first of these categories. That is, we take our salvation by granted and can take the ‘easy’ option of coasting along. Whilst I’m sure this is true for many, I think many of us can believe the second or third category. I know I can! We can doubt the fact that we’re saved by faith and think that we have to make our own distinct effort (i.e. works) in order to make our salvation absolutely sure.

Luckily, God in his grace hasn’t left us to flounder in anxiety and worry about this.  Jesus (God in human form) has given us the apostles to teach us on this issue. What is more, this teaching of the apostles is backed up with the authority of Jesus himself. We’d therefore be wise to listen to their words given to us in the New Testament.

As such, at the 10:30 am service at St Helen’s Church, we’ve recently been looking through the second letter of one of Jesus’ apostles, Peter. In a sermon three weeks ago, William helpfully brought out the fact that we’ve been saved by faith (as a gift from God by his grace), and that we are totally secure in this (2 Peter 1:1-4). William also brought our attention to what Peter says in the following verses, where he urges the believer to make every effort to take possession of what is already theirs. That is, the things Peter lists in verses 5-7 that pertain to Christlikeness already belong to the believer. It isn’t that we have to take part in some sort of theological treasure hunt to discover them, which in turn leads to the ultimate treasure of salvation. No, by his amazing grace, God has already given us all these things.

I don’t think I’d appreciated this in quite this way before. I knew (despite my sinful self/the devil sometimes trying to deceive me otherwise) that I’m saved by God’s grace through faith alone. I also knew that one of the main thrusts of the New Testament is to exhort the believer towards Christlikeness (i.e. sanctification.) Yet I suppose I never knew quite how to mete these two things together.

Yet the apostle Peter offers an inspired answer:

Knowing that we’re saved (through faith by God’s grace), let us make every effort to obtain what is already ours.

Here’s the text in question. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Confirm Your Calling and Election

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

Jesus’ agenda isn’t political, it’s so much bigger!

There’s an election on!

Or at least there will be come May 7th. And as was to be expected I suppose there’s been all manner of hype and insufferable tweeting regarding who’ll win, who won’t, who we should vote for and who we shouldn’t. For political nuts like me it’s easy to be swept up in election fever, and even if you’re not particularly into politics you may too be looking forward to seeing the swingometer swinging with abandon and the results coming in overnight. I know I am!

Christians too will of course not be immune from all this coverage, and I’m confident some fellow believers may even tell us who we should be voting for, what policy issues we should care about and so on. As such, Christians should remember this simple but important fact:

Jesus’ agenda isn’t political; it’s so much bigger!

This is a glorious and exciting truth whatever your level of interest and views regarding politics, and in what follows I hope to explain why.

Involved without losing perspective

Firstly, let me say that it isn’t wrong to be interested in politics, nor that Government (of whatever hue) is inherently bad and to be avoided. The apostle Paul says that Government has been instituted by God (Romans 13:1) and that we should pray for our political leaders -‘that we should live a quiet and peaceful lives’ (1 Timothy 2:2). These scriptures therefore encourage a certain degree of engagement in the political process; even it is just paying taxes, obeying government and praying for our leaders.

Some will, in tune with their individual gifts feel particularly motivated to get more involved in the political process. This is a good thing. We need a gospel witness in the social, cultural and political sphere as much as (but not more than) in the accountancy office, factory, school etc.

Yet we need to realise that no amount of political and policy intervention will deal with humanity’s biggest problem – sin, which has ever present in the world since the fall (Genesis 3). Jesus said as much when he said that from the human heart come all manner of evil (Mark 7:21-22). Indeed, the problems we see in the world today can be directly attributable to sin, whether indirectly through the broken world we live as a consequence of the fall, or via direct human action.

The only solution to this fatal problem is the gospel (which can be summed up as ‘Jesus is Lord’, click on the link for more details). Faith in the Lordship of Christ and not politics will ultimately save us from the judgement our sin deserves. Indeed, the reason Jesus came to dwell on earth was not to achieve political revolution, eradicate poverty or overthrow the leaders of the day, but to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). We would do well to remember this as we go to the polls on May 7th.

Living out the gospel

Ah, but what about when Jesus talked about proclaiming good news to the poor? Surely that shows that Jesus was concerned about tackling poverty and eradicating injustice right? Whilst I don’t think Jesus would have been immune to the plight of the poor, or not cared about injustice, I believe this passage where Jesus talks about ‘proclaiming good news to the poor’ helps reiterate Jesus core mission, to call sinners to repentance.

The fact Jesus used the word proclaiming tells us that his primary concern was to tell us something life changing, the gospel. In addition, whilst the ‘poor’ in this content certainly includes the materially poor, the Greek word concerned can also mean figurative poverty (that is, spiritual poverty.) Thirdly, Jesus acted in various ways to change people’s physical circumstances (in performing miracles for example) so that people would see that he was the one to come (Luke 7:21-23), no one less than the Messiah, Saviour of the World and Son of God.

All of this makes sense of what Jesus says in Luke 5:23-24 and 32

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home” (my emphasis).

And in v. 32: ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

An eternal focus

Very well you might say, politicians can’t deal with this fundamental problem, and Jesus might have primarily come not to bring about political revolution but aren’t we called to live out the gospel through changing our communities, cities and nations? Shouldn’t we use this amazing hope we now have to deal with the plethora of problems we see in the world? Surely the love of Christ in us motivates us to such action?

These are all very good questions. As said already, some of us will be called to be involved in such things, and even if we’re not, I think having concern for the problems in our world is by no means a bad thing; we are called to be stewards of the earth after all (Genesis 1:28). In addition, God clearly commends justice and fairness (Deuteronomy 15:11, 24:21-22, Galatians 6:10.) Yet in acknowledging this, we need to be aware of three things.

  1. Jesus (and indeed the Bible’s focus) is not primarily on this world but on the one to come (see for example Genesis 22 and 2 Corinthians 4:18). Christians are told to live their lives in light of eternity (Romans 8:23), set their minds on ‘the things that are above (Colossians 3:2-4), lose our lives for the sake of the gospel in order to gain life later (Mark 8:35) and invest in treasure that will never perish (Matthew 6:19-21.)
  2. As such, scripture promises a time when the ills blighting humanity and our universe will be no more (Romans 8:21, Revelation 21:4) and where we’ll be in perfect relationship with him (Revelation 22:1-5). Thus, whilst political and social interventions can and do (by the grace of God) alleviate some of the pain, injustice and evil we see in our world, the thing we truly long for (a permanent end to all imperfection) can, and will be solely achieved by God alone bringing in a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-24). It is vital we see all our political and social ‘good endeavours’ in this light.
  3. As a result, our primary concern should essentially revolve around the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) – reaching out to others sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and making disciples helping believers become more like Christ. This process, sanctification, is a major focus of the apostolic letters of the New Testament (see for example, Romans 6:13-18, Colossians 2:6-7, 3:12-17, 1 Peter 1:13-15.)

In summary, it is my hope that we’d see the upcoming General Election as an opportunity to remember:

  1. God cares about Government; he instituted it and expects us to obey it.
  2. That it is good for Christians to be concerned about various local, regional, national and international injustices for God cares about injustice and unfairness
  3. The greatest problem facing the World today is our own sin, something which can only be remedied through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  4. As such, Jesus primary concern during his time on earth was proclaiming and embodying his lordship, and thus, calling sinners to repentance.
  5. Our primary concern should be making disciples of Jesus Christ and pursuing Godliness in light of eternity.
  6. Whilst political and social interventions can have positive impacts of alleviating social and political problems, the new creation, which will exclusively be brought about by God (and not us) will be the only place where sin, evil, pain and injustice will be no more.

 

Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary

freely-10112Have you heard about the book about a boy who went to heaven and back? The ‘real life’ tale reads something like this; a six year old boy called Alex Malarkey is involved in a serious car crash, he is rushed to hospital and goes onto die. During his ‘death’ he arrives in heaven before coming back to life and making a full recovery. The account clearly resonated with many, with the book reaching the top of the New York Times bestseller list, selling copies by the million.

It now turns out though that the facts found within this story are more than a little spurious, with Malarkey (now 17) and his mother, now admitting he neither died or went to heaven (although he was seriously injured in a car crash.) The very fact that this bogus story was picked up by a Christian publisher and sold by Christian retailers surely says something about our increasing desire to digest more ‘miraculous’ and ‘extraordinary’ accounts of God’s power.

Interestingly, I’ve just finished reading a book called Ordinary, by Michael Horton. It’s a very helpful read and I recommend it. One of the many good points made by the seminary professor behind the ‘White Horse Inn’ podcast is that in seeking out of the ordinary signs and wonders we are in danger of missing the everyday yet extraordinary displays of God’s power and providence.

I’d like to draw on this point further in this piece. Before I do however let me say that I personally believe that in accordance with his absolute sovereignty, God can and has performed miracles such as physical healings. Further, Jesus when on earth performed acts which were quite clearly outside the laws of nature such as walking on water and raising people from the dead. In demonstrating his divinity, these miracles are indeed extraordinary, and different from God’s more everyday acts. My concern however is that we too often take these ‘ordinary’ acts as given and rather mundane, when in actual fact the opposite is true.

In what follows, I will take two ‘ordinary’ deeds and explain why they should be considered extraordinary, supernatural and sovereignly provided by God. It is my hope that in doing so we’d come to regard God in a more awesome, reverential and thankful way.

  1. The creation and sustaining of the universe

When we look at Genesis 1, we see a repeated phrase, ‘And God.’ This action, mentioned no less than 24 times in this opening chapter clearly demonstrates that whatever you think regarding whether the earth was created in 7, 24 hour time periods, or whether evolution was involved, God is the sovereign initiator and creator of the vastly magisterial and complex expanse we call the Universe. This awe-inspiring act is evident in everything we see around us, from stars light-years away, the beauty of the Chiltern Hills, the vivid rainforest of the Amazon or even the average house plant!

Moreover, God did not magnificently create the earth and all living things within it and then simply leave it to ‘do its thing.’ No, God not only supernaturally initiated and created, but also graciously and sovereignly sustains all life today (Hebrews 1:3.) As such, the fact you’re reading this now and have breath in your body is a cause for great worship and thanksgiving.

  1. The gifts of justification and sanctification

Secondly, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we do nothing to earn our justification (that is, having Christ’s righteousness credited to us by God) whatsoever. This fact shouldn’t be especially surprising given that we are born into sin (Psalm 51:5). Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Romans demonstrates that without God’ intervention, we would be enemies of God, set against him (Romans 3:9-18) In other words, justification is achieved through the gift of faith alone graciously provided to us by God. (Ephesians 2:1-9) It is therefore nothing less than absolutely extraordinary.

A believer’s sanctification (being progressively made more Christ like) is likewise a wholly extraordinary and magisterial act of our heavenly father. That is, whilst the Bible exhorts the believer to pursue holiness and godliness (2 Peter 1:5) this is only possible and is guaranteed by God’s amazing grace. In other words, this aspect alone fuels and powers our efforts in pursuing the above qualities (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.) In other words, both our justification and sanctification are guaranteed by faith, which as noted above is a gift from God, how reassuring!

Application – appreciating the ordinary

Overall, these two so called ‘ordinary’ acts are in actual fact anything but. Whilst the miracles performed by Jesus were unique and performed outside the laws of physics and nature, the two acts above are still entirely amazing, astonishing and God glorifying. My hope is that in realising this, we’d come to view God with more reverence and awe, being increasingly thankful for the everyday ways in which he acts for our good.

Further, in treating the above events as mundane, we can sometimes be in danger of treating God as if he has short changed us when in actual fact he has blessed us abundantly. This is how Paul can say that he’s filled with thanksgiving when hearing upon the salvation of others (Colossians 1:3-8). In addition, Jesus says that in the gospel and his Word we have all we need to bear fruit today (John 15:1-8.)

In short, God through his Son, Holy Spirit, Gospel and Word has sufficiently provided (through his miraculous power) all we could ever need. My concern is that too often we take this undeserved provision for granted, expecting him to do something ‘more’ when he’s already given us so much.

Romans 12:1-2 ESV: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.