Editorial – Power for everything

Who reigns in your house – Christ, or Mr Fixit? Providence is not a job for amateurs…

Christian, have you died yet? If ever there was a redundant question…! Surely, if the answer is ‘Yes’, you should not expect an answer! But strange as may seem, this is truly a question for the living, not for the dead. The truth is, we are so preoccupied with the biological version of death, that we fail to see that Calvary’s saving bloodshed would never have happened unless Jesus had died before He died. And most of today’s western Church is much too alive to be of any use in the world. Only a crucified church has a saving message – and the authority to proclaim it…

So, are we commending a return to the medievalism of fagellation and multiple forms of religious self-harm that deny the sufciency of Christ’s full and fnal sacrifce? By no means! But the apostolic writers were very clear that true disciples share both in the suferings of Jesus and in His glory: “The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God. Think what that means. If we are his children, we share his treasures, and all that Christ claims as his will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his suffering we shall certainly share in his glory.” (Romans 8:14 – Phillips) This is simply the reverse order of Jesus’ own commitment to mission; He left His glory to taste death for us.

Next to the Lord Jesus, the greatest fgure in the history of Christian missions must surely be the apostle Paul. Here he is, attesting his own death as a living servant of His Master: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20)

Clearly, at this point in his life, Paul has not personally experienced the vicious, tortured death that Jesus endured outside the walls of Jerusalem – what then does he mean? The very idea seems a contradiction – how is it possible to live a ‘crucifed life’? Is it even desirable? O yes! Indeed Paul would say it is the very secret of God’s power invincibly at work in His children. Paul described his crucifed Lord as “the wisdom of God and the power of God“. Before we try to grasp his meaning, consider whether you might fnd yourself as a Christian man or woman in this modern scene or something similar…

Martha’s eyes rose heavenwards as if to synchronise with the rising tsunami of decibels from the living room. Her twin ten-years-olds covered their ears. Dad was shouting at the TV – again! “Have I missed something?“, he yelled. “When did Hitler win the war? When is someone going to tell this thought-policing government where to get of? Our parents fought a war to keep people like this from running our country…“. The tirade showed no signs of running out of steam, so Mum and giggling kids stole quietly into the garden, thankful for the longer daylight hours and warm evening sunshine; but more especially for the quiet distance between them and the frustrated assault upon political correctness…

The key word, of course, is ‘frustrated’. His laughing kids are not afraid of Dad’s famous rants. Mum just sighs with relief when the news gives way to the weather report. In fact, it’s precisely because he’s a caring Christian Dad – and a good husband – that he despairs of the direction the nation is turning and what that means for the future of their children. His occasional skirmish with the 6 o’clock news is the ‘Mr Fixit’ in his personality aching for power to fght the machinery of ideology that can reach right into a ten-year-old’s classroom, shape the kids’ minds against God, against decency – even against reason – and behave as though the children belong to the state and not to their parents. He knows enough about history to wish that some modern Cromwell would face down a godless Parliament with “in the Name of God go !” and lock the doors against the rule of wickedness. He longs to DO something!

Suddenly, an authoritative voice rings out across 2000 years: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) To an indignant 21st century man, relishing the adrenaline rush of his hot complaint, looking to gather sympathisers to his just cause, the apostolic command is like a massive roadblock on a hairpin bend – surprise is total, the tirade falls silent… Not least because last night’s study in church had brought a mighty challenge from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The ‘Rejoice’ verse was written from a Roman jail. No hope there of dislodging a godless government. Against that backdrop, Rome’s rejoicing jailbird makes no sense. At the very least his illogical cheer demands a respectful hearing…

Beware ‘false friends’

Powerlessness exerts a curious power. It generates truckloads of motivation, but the indignation, resentment, frustration, fear and anger which ofer comforting alliance to the powerless are Satan’s ffth column. The arch-enemy of all humanity is never far from the powerless. He’s a ‘false friend‘ who knows exactly how to manipulate emotions and injustices until his victims become perpetrators of harm against their perceived enemies. Frustration generates ill-considered action; resentment fuels anger; rebellion is easily pushed towards anarchy – and fear is often the womb of violence. In short, powerlessness generates an overpowering desire for CONTROL – the ancient hellish parody of the sovereign rule of God.

I say ‘parody‘ because divine sovereignty is exercised by a Gracious Father, not a Puppet Master. He does not compel 4 obedience but, in infnite wisdom, is able to turn all our tantrums and futile rebellions to serve His own purpose.

By contrast, the controlling fngerprints of Hell are multiplied across the godless cultures of the nations: regimes which negate the value of the individual, where free-thinking is a crime requiring ‘correction’ or elimination of the thinker; once-free democracies where thoughts are policed and the media and even law enforcement favour false victim groups to the stifing of free-speech and where ‘education’ has become a euphemism for the indoctrination of children – and future voters, of course; campuses where universities, founded on the concept of sacred learning and freedom (even ‘duty’?) to think and explore, now routinely close their debating chambers to speakers who don’t tick the politically correct boxes of the students’ union; and countless millions who are the helpless slaves of innumerable addictions, or the sex-slaves of human trafckers.

Every form of human helplessness and frustration creates a new market for Hell’s most successful export: CONTROL. Christians who lack discernment in such a world are in grave danger of becoming bargain-hunters on Satan’s terms – and there’s no need to visit the shops or a market or even trade ‘online’. You are already live-linked to Hell’s distribution network if you hate your enemies, embrace resentment or give way to fear, frustration, anger and the need to ‘take back control‘.

“All this …”

Paul had no hope of taking control from his prison cell – he didn’t need to; he had learned the secret of contentment! Was he blasé or uncaring about the Roman occupation of the land promised by God to his ancestors? Did he lack compassion for the babies left in the open to die by Romans – and others – who treated sex like entertainment and despised the helpless ‘consequences’? Did he spend his waking hours publicising his wrongful imprisonment? Did he campaign for Christians’ rights? We all know the answers to these questions. Clearly his contentment was expressed neither in emotional detachment nor activism. Nor was his contentment mere passive resignation to his circumstances. The man who seeded the Roman Empire with thriving churches and then wrote to encourage them from his prison cells (note the plural) did not sufer from “weak resignation to the evils we deplore” – but he didn’t vainly shout at the TV either (or wouldn’t have!)

Paul’s surprising joy is ‘in the Lord‘. If prison bars have any efect on that reality, it’s only to make His Saviour more precious, more commendable to believers in their hostile localities. Powerlessness is not an issue for the apostle. In his own prison testimony, he declares “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 – NIV) The text is often quoted out of context, as if Christ’s enabling produces siblings for Superman. The context, however, steers us away from any distortion. Interestingly, more recent versions of the NIV translate “all this” – as if Paul were gesturing around his prison cell, cheerfully rattling his chains as God’s sovereign order for his life at that moment: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength“. He is not claiming Marvel superhero status – otherwise we should not expect to fnd him in jail. The mighty power at his disposal has enabled him to fnd… CONTENTMENT!

Anything less would be ‘functional atheism‘. We are functionally atheist when there is a gap between the belief we profess in God and our shouting at the TV as if God has surrendered His throne to the devil. We know full well that His throne is everlasting. We know that He will never give His glory to another. We know that our sin and Satan were defeated at Calvary and in the empty tomb, and we know that He has promised never, never, never – under any circumstances – to forsake us; but still we yell at the TV… That’s atheist behaviour at odds with what we claim to believe. Paul the prisoner for Christ had no gap between belief and behaviour. He was content that, for now, God’s purpose was as surely served by his confnement as by his former freedom. Chained to soldiers of Caesar’s own imperial guard, the captive preacher had a captive audience!

Ban the amateur!

Unless we can personally fnd Paul’s comfort and contentment with God’s sovereign disposal of our lives and circumstances, we are unlikely to agree with Jesus, far less obey His commands. It’s not easy to pray for your enemies, let alone love them, when you’re shouting at the TV. Instead of pouring yourself into the Great Commission to ‘make disciples’, you are more likely to be diverted into the pursuit of the very temporal power Our Lord was ofered and refused. His kingdom was, and is, not of this world. If we waste our energies cursing the darkness, we will not light the candle of holy living that will shine all the brighter as, like Jesus, we prioritise the Father’s will and the Father’s glory – and accept the costly Calvary Road as the path of true discipleship.

It’s time to ban Mr Fixit from the TV room at 6 o’clock. Give your vocal chords – and your family – a rest. Providence is not a job for amateurs… Pray for whatever government YOUR GOD HAS PUT IN POWER. Your neighbours might even notice the unaccustomed nightly silence – and ask the reason for the hope that is in you…

Christian contentment is poison to the powers of darkness, a holiday for your vocal chords – and a clear signal that “Your God reigns!” Rejoice!

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