Soldiers of the Cross, Ephesians 6.11-15

This headline caught my eye, “‘Bionic legs’ for military amputees” (BBC website). The courage of these men and women inspire me. They have sacrificed so much for little personal gain. Soldiers of war have much in common with soldiers of the cross. What can we learn from them?

  1. Recognise the True Enemy, “Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:11–12 NIV11-GK). There is nothing worse than fighting the wrong enemy. We hear of tragic ‘Friendly Fire’ incidents on the battlefield, but they also happen in families and the church. The enemy is real, but the enemy is not one another, non-Christians or difficult people. Who are you more angry with – a human being or the devil?
  2. Put on God’s Armour, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13 NIV11-GK). God’s plan is for us to be strong and stand firm. For that to happen we must be humble about our need for God. Then He can use us in our weakness.  We are to use the armour He gives us, and not rely on our intelligence, training or gifts. The easiest way to find out where our confidence lies is by examining the consistency and depth of our prayer times.
  3. Stay Awake. “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15 NIV11-GK). A sentry stays awake – or they and their comrades die. Soldiers are always alert. Are we growing in self-discipline? Self-control grows as we discover the peace that is ours through the gospel. Peace in the soul leads to alertness of spirit. Is your peace growing?
Let’s give the limbless soldiers their prosthetics – they have earned them.  But also let us soldiers of the cross make sure we are at least as serious about our mission as they are. Recognise the real enemy, put on the armour we need and stay alert.  Like the song says,
Onward, Christian solders! 
Marching as to war,
With the Cross of Jesus 
Going on before.
Christ, the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
See, His banners go!
Onward, then, ye people,
Join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices
In the triumph song:
‘Glory, laud and honour
Unto Christ the King’ —
This through countless ages
Men and angels sing.
CHORUS:
Onward, Christian soldiers! 
Marching as to war,
With the Cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Malcolm Cox

Archaeology and the Bible

Here is the audio for a talk I gave recently on Archaeology and the Bible. This one is focussed on the writings of Luke – both the Gospel and the book of Acts.

The next talk is on Monday 25th February, 1pm.

The Church Of St Edmund The King, Lombard Street, London EC3V 9EA

Nearest tube: Bank

All welcome

The Bells, The Bells!

 

We are buying a house in Croxley Green. A frustratingly slow process. Croxley is a lovely spot, and we are looking forward to moving there, but it is not often in the national news.

However, a story caught the attention of many last year. Someone made a noise complaint against All Saints Church. The bells were silenced, and much controversy ensued. The church considered appealing, but according to the Watford Observer they are dropping the case.

Whatever our personal views about church bells, all Christians can agree that our witness needs to be ‘clear as a bell’. What does this look like?  Here are three ways to make sure we sound sweet.

  1. Good News First. Those signs outside churches that say variations on the theme, “Prepare to meet thy God” (it’s always, ‘thy’) don’t seem very attractive to me. There is truth in the warning, but is that where you want to start?  How about a different approach, “Let your conversation be always full of grace,” (Colossians 4:6 NIV11-GK).  Jesus came to preach the good news of the kingdom, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14–15 NIV11-GK) Start with the good news.
  2. Flavour Second. What is the flavour of our conversation about our faith? Is it bland? Is it or tasty? Does the Christian life sound interesting – even exciting? It should. Paul urges us to speak as if “seasoned with salt,” (Colossians 4:6 NIV11-GK). In Greek thought speaking ‘saltily’ meant being ‘witty’. But the meaning here is more along the lines of talking common sense flavoured by the presence of God in the heart of the speaker. 
  3. Answers Third. People have questions about the faith. But we should not be too eager to impress them with our answers. Only after stages one and two should we progress to answers. Once here we need to be equipped to deal with questions. Paul says, “so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV11-GK).  It reminds me of what Peter said, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV11-GK) Are you growing in your knowledge of the Bible and how to answer questions?
Bells may be ringing or they may be silent, but the walking, talking bell towers that are disciples of Christ can continue to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ through grace, salt and answers.
 
Malcolm Cox

Viva the Villa Fan

My friend Ben is a Villa fan. For those of you not interested in English association football, that’s a team from Birmingham. They are rather poorly at the moment. Considering that they are led by an ex-Norwich manager they could be said to be sick-as-a-canary (sorry about that, it’s a bit of an obscure joke).

Anyway, in a more serious way my friend Ben is not too well himself. After two brain tumour operations he has a number of health challenges. I just spent the weekend with him in Edinburgh, where he serves as an Evangelist.

I can’t help but write about his courage. Not once during my visit did he complain about his limitations or fears for the future. His demeanour was one of joy. His conversation was filled with excitement about what God is doing and going to do.

I was refreshed by his spirit and not a little chastened in reflecting on my own tendency to complain at the slightest health challenge. What keeps him encouraged? I must ask him next time I see him. But I have a pretty good idea. There are many examples of people in the Bible who rose above their problematic circumstances. What can we learn from them? Let’s have a look at two people in particular – Paul & Silas, and learn three things from them. The context is what happened when they went to Philippi:

“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 16:22–24 NIV11-GK)

  1. Travel Together. Paul was not alone. Silas was not solo. They were together in the problems and together in the prison. When we travel together the tribulations lose their terror. My friend Ben has a devoted wife and loyal friends around him. Do you have a partner in the gospel?
  2. Sing Together. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25 NIV11-GK)  Simply being together guarantees nothing. But helping each other to be spiritually minded makes all the difference. Paul & Silas formed a two-member boy band and sang their hearts out – at midnight, in a jail! Who do you pray with and sing with?
  3. Teach Together. “They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” (Acts 16:30–32 NIV11-GK) Note it is not just Paul teaching, but Silas also. We would expect Paul to teach. He is the senior man and an Apostle. But they taught together. Do you teach the lost alone, or with a friend?
As a result of Paul and Silas travelling together, singing together and teaching together we see a great victory for God. The jailor and his whole household are baptised (v33), and “he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God” (Acts 16:34 NIV11-GK) 
I do not know whether Aston Villa will stave off relegation. But I am sure that whatever their fate, and whatever the state of Ben’s health he will continue to live a life of joy and inspire me. Viva the Villa fan!
Malcolm Cox

Unexpected Benefits of Restricted Choice

I am a wheat-free person. And I am a hopeless optimist. Hence I found myself on a train from London to Edinburgh anticipating that train buffet cars might have moved on a little. 5 hours of travel requires a little refuelling along the way. Lunchtime found me at the buffet bar searching in vain for wheat-free sandwiches, jacket potato options, even chips. But no.

Making the best of a bad job I set about putting together a wheat-free selection of whatever was at hand. Lunch consisted of: porridge, crisps, popcorn, a nut bar and coffee. Not my normal repast. At my seat I prayed a rather ungrateful prayer of ‘thanks’ and got on with it.

Surprise, surprise, I enjoyed it, and was satisfied. God taught me a parable of discovering that what I wanted was not what I needed. So much of the Christian life is like this. We pray for one thing, and God gives us another.

We pray eagerly like the Psalmist, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalms 5:3 NIV11-GK) Eagerness in prayer is good, but are we open to the idea that God will answer, but differently?

Paul knows how this feels. What did he pray? “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8 NIV11-GK)  To take away what? “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV11-GK) I think I would pray with passion if a messenger of Satan had been sent to torment me. So would you.  But it was not taken away. God answered the prayer, but differently. Three lessons from this incident:

  1. God had a good purpose. “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV11-GK) God knew that Paul was in danger of developing pride that could endanger his salvation. God’s ‘curse’ was God’s blessing in disguise. Has God allowed something into your life, or to persist in your life that feels like a curse but could turn out to be for your blessing?
  2. God had grace on offer. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV11-GK) God was not leaving Paul in the lurch. He provided what Paul really needed. Not the removal of the problem, but the grace, or strength, to endure it. In the process Paul experienced God’s power working through his weakness. Do you want to know God’s power? Then seek his grace to be strong enough for the challenges in your life.
  3. Paul has a mind-change. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV11-GK) The result of the differently-answered prayer is that Paul experiences God’s grace-strength. This causes him to be grateful for his weakness, and the opportunity to know Christ’s power on him. 
The next time you pray for something and God answers you differently, take a moment to enjoy the adventure. The different menu might lead to a more satisfying meal. The restricted choice might turn our for your deliverance and your delight.
Malcolm Cox