This has been a tremendously blessed weekend, to which I invite you to share in the joy with the discoveries I had made here in England. This is one long post indeed, but God-willing, that it would spur us on to the Love of God in Christ. That it would spur us to understand more, the Greatest Love this world has ever known.
Wednesday’s TNT: On the simple faith of Mary that a Son would be born unto her…
Earlier in the week, I had attended my first ever Bible Study session with the TNT (Twenty’s and thirty’s group) at Christchurch Durham on a Wednesday evening. I had mostly remained with iFocus (the Bible Study for international students, a bit like the OCF – Overseas Christian Fellowship) in my three undergraduate years here in Durham, and this year, I had thought that I might like to see what I might be able to learn about God with others in TnT. It was a blessed time having met new brothers and sisters in Christ at the table, and we had looked at the passage from Luke 1: 1-80, on the foretelling and announcement of Jesus Christ’s arrival into the world. Reading through the passage, we were asked to compare the responses of Zechariah the Priest, and Mary, a young virgin woman then, as they received news from the angel Gabriel, that both families would conceive of a son each. In the family of Zechariah would come forth the baby John, who would be great before the Lord, “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (v15), who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (v16), and for Mary, who would conceive of a son who “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High”, to Whom would be given the throne and would reign for ever, and of His kingdom there would be no end. Whilst both had appeared very troubled in the beginning (for Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, was indeed very advanced in age which made the possibility of child conception almost, well, impossible), Mary’s obedient faith is indeed remarkable and one to emulate – She acknowledged her position as a “servant of the LORD”, and that it would be according to God’s Word as revealed by the angel Gabriel. Amazing.
We talked over the promises we might find hard to believe in this day and age, indeed the very promises which God had made to us in our faith in Christ – things as Eternal life, Transformation from a sinful self, being fully forgiven and accepted in Christ, Satan’s defeat and Hell, and the implications of belief/unbelief in our lives. For example, when one does not trust that one has been fully forgiven or accepted before God, that indeed “It is finished!”, one might see to it to rely on oneself/ good works/good behaviour to earn one’s position and standing before God. We then turn looked at repeated themes which had surfaced through the passage, and it was found that the theme of great Joy and rejoicing of One who is Redeemer and Saviour, had repeatedly surfaced through Luke 1. This might have been found to be strange because they had yet known nor seen the whole of what God is doing (if you would just think about it, all that has happened is prophecy (fore-telling) as well as the birth of a little boy!), yet Great Joy and rejoicing were found both in the beautiful song of Praise and rejoicing from Mary, taken from verses 46-55, and that the Spirit-filled prophesying of Zechariah, v68-79.
Mary’s Song of Praise, the Magnificat
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
We were asked to consider what could be the reason for this seemingly unexplained great joy in the Lord! Ah, the answer was found in v45 – “and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord”. Belief and Faith in a God who had proven Himself Faithful and Merciful as revealed to His people. Indeed, all that Mary had seen was that Elizabeth was really with child! So in some sense it would have appeared that all Mary and Zechariah had seen, was the top end of an iceberg, but she praises God for all that is going to happen – for the whole iceberg – as does Zechariah. You know how certain bits of the Bible passage would jump out at you and remain in your mind and keeps you in wonder in days on end? Verse 41 “and when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb” for joy, and this was quite something to behold – that the baby John, who was indeed filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, was already pointing excitedly to Jesus, in Mary’s womb! I find it fascinating, the growth of a baby in a woman’s womb, a period of nurture, a period of warmth, a period of Hope. Our Creator is one who works in marvellous ways indeed.
We were then harkened to consider how our situation of faith might compare in relation to what we had learnt in the passage, and my key takeaway, is to have the Simple, Trusting faith of Mary in the promises of God. We too, as children of faith, have been promised Eternal Life, have been promised transformation from a sinful self with the help of the Holy Spirit in us, have been promised that we have been fully forgiven and accepted before God in Christ, have been promised that we shall one day be with God in eternity – and for these promises we must have Faith that God is One whose promises to us in Christ are True, Solid and True. We must look back at the Cross and see that Jesus was born, lived a perfect life on earth, died, and had risen again to sit at the Right hand of God the Father. Let our faith be one based as an unshakable Rock, let not circumstances dictate the measure of our faith. That we must never forget, that the One who Promised, is Faithful.
Thankful, for one blessed evening in learning about God, His Promises, and the simple faith of obedience, here at TNT.
This weekend had proceeded to be an incredibly exciting one – Tim and I had departed from Durham for Newcastle in the early morning to meet with Aunt Cynthia, who had come to meet us at the train station. Aunt Cynthia is the wife of Uncle Poon, whose elder brother is an Elder at our church back home in Singapore. She had graciously offered to bring Tim and I around Newcastle and Northumbria in the weekend, and a great weekend we had had indeed, of fine sights in the Northeast region of beautiful England. We had a chance to visit the Baltic Flour Mill by the beautiful Quayside which runs along the River Tyne, now converted to a contemporary art gallery and which has a viewing deck offering a beautiful sweepscape of the city of Newcastle river. We also had a look around the Sage wall in Gateshead which had a smattering of graffiti-Art (I am well careful with my terms here, for Graffiti, some at least, is beautiful art!) We also witnessed the tilting of the Millenium Bridge, having its eyelid “opened” and the entire bridge, charged by hydraulic pressure, tilted a good 45 degrees at midday, and watched on in wonder as it tilted back again.
Above: A view of the “opened eye”, Millenium Bridge tilted
Above: “Graffiti” Art on the Sage wall, of the Bridge linking Newcastle and Gateshead
The later afternoon had been spent with good long drives by the coast, where we docked at St Mary’s Lighthouse (as old Ms Sheila had talked about earlier!), soaring tall and valiant in the midst of the North Sea. We then stopped by Seaton Sluice for beautiful views across the Ocean, the Port of Blyth to visit the wind turbines (those you would fly above across as you prepare to land in Newcastle Airport), and the Port of Tyne, all which allowed for us to soak in the wonder and expanse of God’s Creation in the Skies and in the Sea. And too, in human hands. Breath-taking were these views indeed, I look forward to taking bus journeys out on my own and to re-visit these places, if time would be so willing in this final year here. I recall, the amazing day out God had been gracious to give, earlier in May this year. Fond memories remain; I am excited for the year ahead.
Bay overlooking the North Sea:
Driving past Christmas trees:
Resting by the view over Tynemouth, looking across at a DFDS Seaways cruise, one which takes you across to Amsterdam:
On Saturday, lovely Aunt Cynthia had cooked up a warm English breakfast for Tim and I, thereafter which we left for an amazing drive (it was a beautiful Sunny day with cirrus clouds and stunning views of cattle-grazing countryside) up to Carter Bar and Jedburgh in Scotland. Carter Bar is the border between England and Scotland, and there is an inexplicable sense of accomplishment and awe when one stands at the border, looks to the left to see England, and to the right to embrace Scotland in its natural beauty.
A view of the skies and the flags mounted high, here at Carter Bar:
Couldn’t help but to jump on the fence overlooking the green field far beyond
& a picture with gazing sheep is a must, heheh.
Through the visit to the countryside I think to William Blake’s wonderful poems of the rolling green hills of England,
“And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England’s mountain green/And was the holy Lamb of God/on England’s pleasant pastures seen?
I will not cease from mental fight/nor shall my sword sleep in my hand/Till we have built Jerusalem/ in England’s green and pleasant Land.”
He who would valiant be, He would be valiant be indeed. How much the Christian faith has since evolved from those times. Let us persevere in good faith in our pilgrim journey to the land of Zion.
The scenes, were beautiful.
Indeed, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything that is in it” – Psalm 24: 1.
The little border town of Jedburgh was a little of a twenty-minute drive away, and it was and remains that Jedburgh Abbey is the best Abbey I had visited in my time here in England.
Views of Jedburgh Abbey:
Holy architecture in the Abbey is to be read as such: the second row of arches above the columns, were actually hidden within the church and were not windows, yet there were as many arches being built as possible, as a metaphor to allow for streams of light to flood the place – for God Himself is Light. As I wandered the huge church, towering in height and humbling to behold as my fingers traced the beautiful carved features and stones of the ruins of the Abbey, I thought to the Augustinian Canons (monks) who had embarked on intentional journeys of solitude from the world, who had lived, breathed and fellowship within the walls of the Abbey. I walked the cloisters and imagined brethren gathered in fellowship as they took bread in silent communion and as they devoted themselves to prayer and meditation, all in disconnect with the world bustling outside, the Abbot being the only ‘bridge’ to the world beyond. What a quiet monastic life that would have been. Yet, in a later chat with a friend, I am in agreement that I do not think that a child of God must be called to live aside from the world – We are called to live as salt and light “in” the world, but not being “of” the world indeed, not following its whims, desires and pleasures (not wrong to enjoy in their own, but entirely wrong when we make idols of them and when they cause us to lose increasing sight of God!) The problem is that the monastic life was never complemented with a “then go forth to shine as light in the world” bit which should have come after a quiet time away; perhaps some were too comfortable in lives away that they decided to stay in this manner for ever til death. I remain, however, greatly blessed with the writings of those as Thomas A Kempis who had written the very famous “The Imitation of Christ”.
Strange that it is a book written by one who spent nearly the whole of his long life in the cloister, and whom had intended his works primarily for his fellow-religious, and yet who had such power to guide and inspire – his deep and burning love of God, his deep humility, his profound knowledge of the Scriptures coupled with his understanding of human nature and its needs, which has made him a wise and trustworthy counsellor to all who seek to know and fulfill the true purpose of human life: To praise, love and serve God their Lord. His counsels have been said to be a proved guide and inspiration to men and women of every age and nation, and to this I do very much agree.
A reminder for each canon as they sat to eat at every meal:
A wander around the shop in the front and a conversation with dear old Valerie, who spoke with a lovely Scottish accent, helped in a greater understanding of what has been labelled the “Celtic” design – one of curvy, flowing and continuous lines which are said to represent life, in its continuous ebb and flow, with ups and downs. I now have in hand a Celtic Prayer book of Northumbrian community, one which I had thumbed through and indeed, remain greatly blessed in using it as my guide for daily reading. The book has a detailed history of many Celtic saints, as with the writings of other writers and thinkers down the ages, as George Herbert, George MacDonald. Amy Carmichael and C.S. Lewis. A book well worth indeed.
“Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6: 16
We had later taken a casual stroll around the quiet town of Jedburgh, where I had discovered treasures of fine china at a vintage second-hand store, each beautiful piece going at a pound; I add them to my tiny but burgeoning collection of things from Victorian age. There is a little shop off the corner which sold classic games of old – Among our collection we had a game of Noah’s Ark cards, and a wooden box containing Dominos. Beautiful drawings and artwork are sold locally, and I had found two of my favourite paintings in card form – One of a little lamb, yet weaned from its mother, and another of a softened little baby, sound asleep. They remind me of many a verse in the Bible, can you guess which they are? It was a calm afternoon, followed by a drive back home.
The little town of Jedburgh, where the flowers in the fore are really a silverish grey, peppered amidst red and maroon flowers! I know not their name! Ah, a pity. I must find out.
On Sunday in Newcastle, we were once again met with a fine Sunny morning. Attending the local service at Trinity Church, Gosforth was a blessed time indeed – We had sung familiar, beautiful songs of old through the worship, accompanied with a simple choir and a good old organ played by an old gentleman. The speaker Kate Laws, who had recently been ‘accredited’ (she had joked that it had been strange being ‘on trial’ of sorts), spoke clearly from Philippians 2. It was amazing to be reminded of the same things which I had been dwelling on a little earlier – that we as God’s children must live in a way which allows others to see Jesus’ Love in us. We must understand first God’s Love for us in order to be able to give Love to others. She spoke of a little child who upon hearing about how to live with “Christ in me” had come up to her asking how a ‘big God’ would fit into his little frame and that “Jesus would be sticking out all over!” Indeed Jesus must stick out of all parts of our lives, in our acts of love, our acts of service and our acts of compassion to others. We must seek to, importantly, to have the same mind as Jesus, one of Great Humility, who, “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant” (verse 5-7), “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (verse 8). So also ought we to imitate Christ in His humility in His Love. Jesus had in a sense taken off His robes of Glory (for He is Great King, the Son of the Most High!), and put on the cloth of a servant to serve, and so also, we cannot follow the example of Jesus unless we too, take out our ‘outer robes’ and humble ourselves before men.
Such ‘outer robes’ come in many forms – do we do our acts of service purposefully so that others may see that we appear ‘holy’ in ourselves and serve towards the twisted end to give our own selves glory, instead of the LORD? Do we continue to wear, inward, our outer robes of pride (for sake of being born in a wealthier family, race, or whatever that it may be that places us in a ‘position above the other’) as we serve others? What are our priorities? Do we put ourselves, our comfort, before the needs of others? The robes of righteousness that we have put on, we have put on because of our faith in Christ – indeed that this righteousness is that belongs to Jesus Himself are ones which we have done nothing to deserve! Our acts of love and servitude, must spring from a rightful understanding of God’s Love for us – only then, may we truly love whole-heartedly and sacrificially, that our good deeds only serve to glorify our Father in Heaven. We begin each day making choices about how we decide to live our lives. Let us prayerfully examine ourselves before we come forth to serve.
One excellent exhortation, of what it means to truly live and serve as God’s people here on earth. To love as Christ loved, so serve as Christ served.
Below: Wild red berries growing on the trees outside Trinity Church.. As do they, so should the fruits of the Spirit spring forth from our lives
This was then followed by a segment called “Minutes for Mission”, which raised awareness about the ‘Samaritan’s Purse’ Shoebox donations, in “Operation Christmas Child”, which seeks to bring love in a shoebox contents to children in receiving countries – Trinity church was preparing to raise money for children in countries in the former Soviet Union, such as Belarus and Ukraine, to reach homeless children and for the provision of drinking water for these children. Indeed in a report, UNICEF statistics do show that 4000 children around the world die each day through the use of dirty water and relatedly, poor sanitation. Often, the task to fetch water in poor areas is also taken on by young girls and women, which makes them susceptible and vulnerable to sexual harassment and attacks in their oft-long journeys to collect water. I am sad for my own ignorance and failing to contemplate more often, the greater issues of this world – every day, I discover new things which shock and sadden, and makes me think about where I am where God has placed me. I thought about how I could easily access drinking water, there in Singapore and here in England – thirsty, I simply cup my hands under any usable running tap and am able to quench my need, and yet over there in another end of the world, parched throats of young children without are painfully nursed for days on end. It is such which makes us think about how we may be more actively involved in what God is doing in this world. God is a God of social justice. We have a duty and spiritual birthright to be involved with what God is doing in this world. And we must, make a difference wherever God has placed us. Lest we not think nor dwell excessively on ourselves or our first-world problems, let us keep ourselves in the know about what is happening in the wider world and to see where we may be Christ’s hands and feet to meet the needs of this world. This must be done with the ultimate of seeing people come to the saving knowledge of Christ as Saviour, who promised in Scripture that whoever who drinks of Him, the Fountain of Living Water, shall never, never thirst again. We await a greater world when God shall come to restore, and it is with this Hope that we go out into the world in our acts of service, and this Hope must be made known to those who have never heard of the Good News. In suffering, in pain, we can rejoice because of this hope, and for this, I am thankful.
I am thankful to God, for a meaningful and eye-opening morning at Trinity Church, Gosforth.
This does not end here. After a good visit to the Angel of the North, remarkable in its stature and beautifully bathed in sunlight, our afternoon return to Durham was followed with hastened unpacking and then onto Christchurch Durham for the evening service and dinner.
Home to Durham, temperatures rise and everyone comes out to soak in the Sun.
God be so Gracious! It was a follow-up of the sermon given in the week before on “Why I am not an ‘Open Evangelical’”, which addressed the concerns of the church in our day where the infallibility, authority and inerrancy of the Bible is being increasingly challenged by societal interpretations and teachings, on subject areas such as that of Hell (Some teach that hell is not a present reality! But the Bible has indeed revealed that it is!), on women’s places in the church (that women’s position in the church is never identical to that as men.) Jesus’ death on the cross did not abolish gender distinctions (c.f. Galatians 3: 28) as interpreted by some, who would then go on to ordain women in positions of leadership which should only be taken on by men, but we must refer to Scripture as 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 continues, that a woman should also be seeking to learn quietly in submissiveness, not to teach or exercise authority over a man, rather to remain ‘silent’. To the adamant here I must add, not silent in a sense of muteness and ignorance, but as 1 Corinthians 5: 11 exhorts, that women are also given roles to pray and prophecy, to encourage other sisters, to be adorned not with gold or pearls or costly attire but make God known with godliness in good works. For sisters-in-Christ, let us remember these. We are equal in dignity with man as God’s creations, but we are clearly different in roles and it is good to remember our position before the Lord. We must be wary of liberalism within the Evangelical community, on areas as these, and how they affect the doctrines of the Trinity, of Marriage and homosexuality. (Note: As Christians, we are called to embrace and love brothers and sisters among us who struggle with such – that is God’s command to Love. However we are taught that before God’s eyes the practice of homosexuality is Sin, and we must not tamper God’s word to fit into the doctrine of salvation. We are not to be homophobic, but we should be encouraging our friends, brothers and sisters who struggle with such to a repentant faith before God, and trust in His Help to live a life pleasing to Him. Again, there is a Greater Hope of a better world we await, and we must hold on to this hope as we encourage one another to overcome sin and live in the faith. Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life, and as an evangelical we must be clear. We pursue clarity and unity in Love. It is being loving to be clear about our beliefs and what God has clearly revealed to us about Himself in His Word. It remains that the Bible must remain our sole measure, the Bible – and not Society, Experience, Institution or what we call in layman terms ‘Reason’- No, the Bible itself is our standard and the Standard. God’s Standard it is, and God’s Standard we must keep and never stray from, through our faith in Christ our Saviour. In a sinful generation of which we ourselves are not exempt and fall prey to, we are to speak up and stand up, humbly and lovingly in our faith.
God’s Word as clearly revealed in the Bible, must never be compromised.
This week’s sermon had continued on with “Why am I not a Charismatic”, (Yes, fairly strange yet very useful indeed, to hear such sermon series upon a return to Durham), where the minister Tony Jones expounded excellently on the passages of 1 Corinthians 12 and various other passages, of what it means to be “baptized” with the Spirit, “filled” with the Spirit, and as one may compare, Ephesians 5: 18, Joel 2 : 28-29, Revelations and in Romans. Tony began with the different waves of the Charismatic movement, comparing and placing these with Reformed Christianity and drawing parallels with Roman Catholicism, and discussed areas of confusion on Assurance (whether there is a need for a “2nd baptism of the Holy Spirit after conversion”), the place of spiritual gifts (that our focus should not be on gifts of the Spirit as healing, prophecy, tongues etc, but on Fruits of the Spirit! Amen!), a confusion about how God speaks today, and finally, a confusion on worship (We do not “meet God in atmosphere or moments of intensity”, we have Him living in us in Spirit which seeks to mould us into Christlikeness and lead changed lives. Indeed we worship God not just on a Sunday in a 2-hour session, but we worship God with our lives! Amen! I do have a clearer picture now of what ‘Spirit-filled’ living is meant to look like, in accordance with the Word. It is essential for us to get our theology of the Spirit right – indeed, John Calvin himself was dubbed the “Theologian of the Holy Spirit”. With friends who would love to engage in discussion about these issues, I take my stand as what Tony terms a “cessationist continuationist”, in that I do believe that gifts of the Spirit as tongues, healing and prophecy did belong in the apostolic age but that there is no need now, for such gifts to exist anymore, in light of the Bible, the Scriptures which reveal God and His Word to us. But! And a huge But, I do believe in the Sovereignty of God – you know, that God IS God, and God can do whatever He wants, the way He wants it, and so, Yes, I believe He may heal miraculously in ways He wishes to, Yes I believe He works in marvellous ways incomprehensible to the human mind. In sum, I find useful the words in Ephesians 5: 18-21 and indeed, its continuation through to Ephesians 6: 9, that to be “filled with the Spirit” must, must be evident and in relation to these – that we:
“address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” – Ephesians 5: 18-21,
in all the relationships we do encounter in the home, the workplace and as children of God.
To be filled with the Spirit is to lead one’s life as a Jesus-shaped, Christ-centred person, speaking about Jesus, singing songs of joyful praise to God above (in the words of Tony, one might as well burst out in jubilant song ‘And can it be? That I should gain!” whilst in the shower, heheh) and Giving thanks to God always and for everything – that should be the very opposite of bitterness, whining, grumbling, complaining or self-pity in life. God is GOD, God has sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for us, on the third Day He rose again, signifying our own death to past lives under the reign of sin, and so! Ought we not, dear Christian brethren, to be a joyful people of Faith, for Christ has come! and in Christ we have the Triumphant Victory, and Christ shall come again to take us Home! Amen!
Thus sums up what God has been teaching me thus, this blessed weekend. From journeying through His Creations, to the Promises in His Word, to engaging with God with my head, and down to my heart, as yours I believe too, I give praise and thanks be to God for a very Spirit-filled weekend indeed.
I close in the words of Spurgeon, his morning reading on the 22nd of September which had well stuck firmly in my head:
“Let Israel rejoice their Maker” – Psalm 149: 2
Be glad of heart, O believer, but take care that thy gladness has its spring in the Lord. Thou hast much cause for gladness in thy God, for thou canst sing with David, “God, my exceeding joy.” Be glad that the Lord reigneth, that Jehovah is King! Rejoice that He sits upon the throne, and ruleth all things! Every attribute of God should become a fresh ray in the sunlight of our gladness.
That He is wise should make us glad, knowing as we do our own foolishness.
That He is mighty, should cause us to rejoice who tremble at our weakness.
That He is everlasting, should always be a theme of joy when we know that we wither as the grass.
That He is unchanging, should perpetually yield us a song, since we change every hour.
That He is full of grace, that He is overflowing with it, and that this grace in covenant He has given to us; that it is ours to cleanse us, ours to keep us, ours to sanctify us, ours to perfect us, ours to bring us to glory—all this should tend to make us glad in Him.
This gladness in God is as a deep river; we have only as yet touched its brink, we know a little of its clear sweet, heavenly streams, but onward the depth is greater, and the current more impetuous in its joy. The Christian feels that he may delight himself not only in what God is, but also in all that God has done in the past. The Psalms show us that God’s people in olden times were want to think much of God’s actions, and to have a song concerning each of them. So let God’s people now rehearse the deeds of the Lord! Let them tell of His mighty acts, and “sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously.” Nor let them ever cease to sing, for as new mercies flow to them day by day, so should their gladness in the Lord’s loving acts in providence and in grace show itself in continued thanksgiving.
Be glad ye children of Zion and rejoice in the Lord your God.”
Rejoice indeed, and rejoice we will. For we have a Great Saviour, and our Eternal Hope of Salvation, and we await, in Good Hope, that Glorious Day of His Coming.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo.
The Angel of the North, face shining towards the Sun