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Sunday, 25 March 2012

‘Do You See These Great Buildings?’

(CFRA broadcast date: Sunday, March 25th, 2012)
Broadcast Notes:
Do You See These Great Buildings?’
The Bible says: “Then as Jesus went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answered and said to him, Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them, began to say: Take heed that no one deceives you…” (Mark 13: 1-5).
1.      Nothing lasts forever! That is a statement most of us would agree with. Money doesn’t last forever. Neither does power, or influence, or institutions, or machines, or prestige, or health, or good looks. We live in a world in which things don’t last. Things are built or built up. They progress and develop. From small beginnings they grow and increase, often to considerable size and influence. But then, with the passage of time and the changing of circumstances, that which has been great and significant begins to decline. Decay sets in. What has been progressing slows down, comes to a full stop, and then regresses. Whether it holds in a certain state of remission of dissolves and becomes non-existent will depend on both the subject and the circumstances. But, without doubt, its former state is gone.
2.      History is littered with the ruins of great civilizations. Empires that once seemed impregnable have crumbled. Alexander’s empire collapsed when he died from fever prematurely, having developed little infrastructure and having appointed no successor. The Roman empire, which lasted for more than four hundred years, which conquered and united a vast territory from Asia Minor to Britain, and whose influence is still felt in law, art and literature, collapsed primarily for internal reasons. These defects were in it probably from the beginning. The ignorance of the nature and the destiny of man. A blindness to human rights and duties. Ethical savagery and political autocracy. Economic weaknesses, especially high military expenditures, The dependence of governments upon military support. The British empire. Probably the greatest of all the empires, owed its origin less to the spirit of pugnacity and acquisitiveness than to developing economics and the need for trade. Its decline has been less cataclysmic, subject only as it has been to the desire of countries for self-determination and the difficulty of defending its vast and diverse territories militarily! In our own time, we have witnessed the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union, the second largest empire today, the prime causes being economic, military and racial.
3.      Knowledge also changes. Old theories, once held to be the absolute truth, fall. New theories replace them. These, too, may one day be set aside. The earth, once considered flat, is now known to be round. The earth, once considered to be at the centre of creation, is not just one more planet, in one more solar system, in one more universe. Newton has given way to Einstein. Darwin, Freud and Marx are no longer so dominant as they once were. New discoveries replace old ‘facts’. In ethics absolutes are being challenged by relativities. In society, community is being replaced by individualism.
4.      Or, look at the people; they also change. Friendships fail. Marriages are allowed to die. Families are fractured. Society develops new attitudes. Character and integrity give way to indifference and popularity. Confidence is challenged by conflict. Hope is diffused and overwhelmed by catastrophe and circumstance. The seven wonders of the world disappear with the passage of time, civilizations are subverted by their own inadequacies, knowledge becomes obsolete, and people grow fragile. Nothing lasts forever. Only God!
I.                    THE TEMPLE OF THE LORD
1.      Herod’s temple was truly a wonder. Begun in 20-19 B.C., it was not yet completed in Jesus’ time. This amazing structure was built on the top of Mt. Moriah. Instead of levelling off the mountain and building the temple on top, a large platform was raised on piers, enclosing part of the mountain. Walls were built of huge stones, some 40’ long by 12’ high and 18’ wide. A magnificent entrance was constructed at the southwest corner. It consisted of a great bridge that spanned the valley between city and temple, 354’ in length, 50’ wide, and 225’ high. The bridge led directly to the royal porch. The porch consisted of a double row of Corinthian pillars over 37’ high, each cut out of one solid block of marble. We are told that the outward face of the temple at the front lacked nothing that was likely to surprise men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered with heavy plates of gold, and at sunrise reflected a fiery splendour making people turn their eyes away as though they were looking at the sun itself. But the temple appeared to strangers at a distance like a mountain covered with snow. It was this outstanding splendour that so impressed the disciples of Jesus. They were, after all, from Galilee and looked at the great buildings with the awe familiar to peasants’ eyes. It seemed to them to be the height of human achievements, the epitome of artistic and architectural genius and skill. These buildings were so vast and solid; surely they would stand forever! But Jesus said: All this is going to come down some day!
2.      There is no question of this being a story concocted by the disciples or by Mark. It has all the marks of an historical occasion. First, there is the vividness of the account, common to the testimony of an eye-witness, with particular attention being drawn as much to the greatness of the stones as to the building itself. Anyone who has actually seen some of the stones still standing in parts of the temple wall in modern Jerusalem will identify with the disciple’s amazement. Second, there is evidence in the text of Jesus’ gesturing at the site: “There will not be left ‘here’ one stone standing upon another…” Third, the disciples are not particularly shown in good light here. Jesus has been instructing them in the things of the Kingdom of God, which are deep inner and eternal matters, and here they seem to be caught up in worldly grandeur. Fourth, the comment of Jesus that the temple would fall is used against Him, though in somewhat garbled form, at His trial (Mark 14:58). Fifth, Jesus stands in line with some of the great prophets of Israel in predicting that the temple would be destroyed (Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 26:5). Sixth, no reference is made in the text as to the actual means by which the temple was destroyed. It was in fact destroyed by fire. One would expect that fact to have been included in the story if the later church had indeed concocted this episode. Nor should we take the history of the interpretation of Mark 13, which has sometimes been assumed to derive from earlier Jewish or later Christian apocalyptic writing. Certain characteristics of true apocalyptic are in fact missing here. The highly figurative language, featuring strange beasts and visions, found in the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation, is absent. Here in Mark 13 there is considerable moral exhortation. Which is usually not found in genuine apocalyptic. Moreover, Matthew and Luke follow Mark closely and place this episode at the same point in our Lord’s ministry. This suggests that the early church recognized and accepted it as part of the original tradition. The whole chapter stands as a unit and rings with the note of authenticity.
3.      Jesus said: “These buildings, grand though they are, will not endure. They will be thrown down.” In less than fifty years the prophecy came true. The temple precincts were destroyed by a fire which was set at the command of Titus Caesar, though afterwards he tried to have it put out on more than one occasion. But his soldiers could not be restrained. The cloisters, the gates, the treasury chambers, the holy of holies – all were burnt. Many Jews were killed. Then when the populace was destroyed, Titus gave orders that the entire city and temple should be demolished. The wall with three towers, to be used for a garrison, was left standing. But the rest of the wall was laid even with the ground so as to make those who came from elsewhere think that it had never been inhabited. The point is that the temple was not worn down by the weather, nor brought down by an earthquake or some calamity of nature. Rather it was destroyed by a human hand, by the hand of a Roman emperor. What man can build, man can also destroy. Men can build to the glory of God, and man’s temple can be another man’s object of derision. What one person cherishes another person can revile.
4.      The world is full of relics of past glories, not the least sacred sites where people used to gather to sing hymns and read the sacred books, but no more. Lannercost Priory, in the north of England, was built from stones from Hadrian’s Wall, and earlier relic. Now a relic itself, the priory has been reduced to the marks of a foundation and a few standing walls. Sheep bleat as they eat grass that grows in what was once the main aisle of the church as a priest conducts an individualistic communion, himself the only worshipper, his back turned towards both visitors and sheep. He needs to turn, put down his chalice, step forward and preach the gospel. Who knows what lost souls might be saved. But he is more interested in his relics and his traditions. And that is precisely what God has given him. Relics and traditions. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” The question needed to be put to the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem. “When was the last time someone was saved in this magnificent place of worship? When was the last time someone saw the light here? When was the last time someone was healed?” Surely there is nothing else that really matters.
1.      The pen is mightier than the sword. Words make men and women greater than do bullets than does conquering might. Persuasion is more effective than gunpowder and coercion. Anger begets anger, but a soft word turns away wrath. Integrity overcomes where insolence fails. Which is more impressive, the Eiffel Tower or a new-born infant? Which is greater, a great man or a man who is able to make other men great? What is our measuring-stick? Why are we so confused about what true greatness is? I knew a simple man, once. He was a farmer, with limited education. Yet he was full of contentment. He enjoyed people. He asked for little by way of reward. He had a deep but quick sense of humour. God was honoured in and by his life. He was always ready to help others where and when he could. There was a serenity about his life that caught one’s attention. I have throughout my life met many learned and influential men, but none greater than this man as a man. There was a mark of greatness about him for all his simplicity. We need to rethink our definition of greatness.
2.      Jesus was interested in true greatness. He believed in quality of life, not quality of material possessions or personal influence. He weighed the temple system on the balance of spirituality and ethics and found it wanting. Because it would not serve people’s spiritual needs, Jesus pronounced its doom. So with the wonders of the modern world. Greatness is not measured by size, but by genuineness. In the U.S.A. a 1993 poll of most respected people put Billy Graham and Mother Teresa on top. What have they got? Graham has a Bible and a few solid convictions, and he has been used by God to change the direction of thousands of people’s lives. Mother Teresa has loving hands and an overflowing heart, and she was used to bring comfort and hopes to thousands of outcasts.
3.      Jeremiah warned Israel: “Don’t put your hope in great buildings, not even the temple of God. Don’t say that we have the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. Rather, amend your ways and your doings. Live honest and just lives. Keep the commandments of God. Walk not after other gods. Do not turn the temple of the Lord into a house of thieves!” (Jeremiah 7: 1-11). So, when was the last time someone’s life was turned around? When was the last time a new life was begun? “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
1.      As Jesus came up to Jerusalem that last time, he declared by the dramatic act or living parable that the King had come (Mark 11: 1-11). And, we are told, he went into the temple and looked around. In other words, He surveyed it with all His divine authority. The Messiah was laying claim to the worship of Israel. He was to be its focus. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgement to the Son, that all should honour the Son just as they Honour the Father” (John 5:22f). The temple is not greater than He who reveals the Father. No church, however elaborate or costly, however illustrious its historical traditions, can lay claim to a greatness greater than He who gave it its only meaning and significance. Our allegiance must be to the Messiah not the minister, to the Master not the masonry!
2.      Then, secondly, Jesus cleansed the temple. He drove out the money changers who were committing extortion, charging exorbitant prices and defrauding pilgrims, especially among the Gentiles. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11: 15-19). Here is the Messiah making sure that there is a place for everyone in His church. No church deserves to exist unless it is open to all. It is not for the select few, but for all. All nations are welcome (Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11).
3.      Thirdly, Jesus commended the poor widow who gave sacrificially to the temple treasury (Mark 12: 41-44). The temple is not greater than the devotion and sacrifice of its humblest member. The Messiah, who gave His all for the sins of the world, sets the standards for every church that bears His name. No church deserves to stand that is unprepared to give itself completely in service for others.
“Do you see these great buildings?” Do they deserve to stand, because they promote genuine faith and righteousness? Or should they fall, because they represent a sham? Because they are not bearing a clear witness to Jesus Christ.

Will you pray with me? “Heavenly Father, give us the insight to grasp the meaning of true greatness. Point us to the locus of true greatness. To find greatness especially in those who have found in your wisdom the meaning of truth and honesty, of trust and what is honourable. We all need to go to the depths of true meaning and purpose. Point the way out to us. And, Father, make sure that we know the wonder of your love in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Amen”
Dr. Allen Churchill
To listen to the above broadcast, click on the following link:

Sunday, 18 March 2012


(CFRA broadcast date: Sunday, March 18th, 2012)
Broadcast Notes:
A Love That Is Compassionate and Tough

The Bible says: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave. Its flames are flames of fire… Many waters cannot quench love” (Song of Solomon 8:6). “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you…” (John 13:34).


1.      Love is the most popular word in the world, but the hardest to define. Most of us talk about love, while knowing very little about it. Without having thought much about it. We often define love, for example, as being kind to others. But what is being kind? Is it the willingness to oppose the questionable behaviour of friends, behaviour that we believe will diminish and perhaps destroy their humanity? Are we, out of love, willing to risk our friendship for the sake of genuine concern for truth and sound behaviour? C.SS. Lewis has said: “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” The one thing we must not do is to make love ‘God’. The Bible does not say “love is God”. That is idolatry. It is to define love in our own terms, which because we are a fallen people, the locus of original sin, is a very silly if not dangerous thing to do. As sinners, we tend to get our definitions not quite right. Lots of people make love ‘God’. And by doing that engage in behaviour in love’s name that harms others as well as themselves. Indeed, we are discovering that certain behaviour undertaken in the name of love has potential to kill. The most virulent plague of the 20th century is due largely to certain kinds of sexual behaviour done in the name of love. No, love is not ‘God’. Rather, the Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8). That is something quite different, as we shall see. What is love? That is what we need to define.

2.      Love is the most practical word in the world, but the hardest to live. We make a typical mistake in thinking that living love is easy. There are several television programmes and books on the market, all of a self-help variety, that urge us to love more. The purpose is usually self-oriented or self-focused. If you love others, you are likely to live a happier and healthier life! Well, we probably will live happier and healthier lives if we love people more. But not if we do it primarily for the improvement of our own lives. It is hard to love someone when you are thinking about yourself. The dominance of self ruins one’s love for others. That is why Jesus said: “You must be as perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The context of that saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is focused on loving others. Jesus is obviously exhorting his disciples to do the impossible thing. He did that deliberately, to remind them that they should try to love others but not to expect that they would be able to come anywhere close to God’s love for people. Indeed, Jesus’ words command the impossible to get us to throw ourselves on the mercy of God for forgiveness. In other words, we talk a good line about loving others but are hopelessly inadequate. Apart, that is, from God’s grace! Moreover, there is the problem of consistency. Our ability to love one person on a given day slides into impotence on another day, given different circumstances and our own changing attitudes and strengths. No, love is often very difficult to live. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. But we need help. And we need to be realistic.

3.      Love is the most familiar word in the world, and yet a stranger in the hearts and lives of so many people. This is seen in the confusion of love and sex, today. It is seen in the fact that it is always so much easier for us to love humanity in general than it is for us to love particular people. People who talk about love often miss the experience of love.

I.                    THE WORD OF GOD AND LOVE

1.      If God is love (1 John 9:8), then only God can define love. If God’s essential nature is love, that he loves not because he finds objects worthy of his love but because it is his nature to love, then he alone can set the standard for what genuine love is and must be. And not only has God set the specifications for love, but he has also demonstrated the nature of that love in Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world. “God is love. In this the love of God was manifested towards us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8-10). This is love, then; God’s free act of love for the redemption of his world that had gone wrong. That had gone bad, when it had started out with so much potential. That had wilfully rebelled against God’s person and purposes. Love is defined in terms of a free act of redemption to those who don’t deserve it. This love can only be described as holy! It is love that is undeserved. It is love that doesn’t have to give itself to anyone, but does so because it makes a sovereign choice to do so. It wills to do so, freely. It is love that is offered out of the transcendent independence of God.

2.      Not only is real love holy, it is also sacrificial. Jesus said: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). We are looking for the definition of love. Not any old definition will do. We need the best and most precise definition we can get. When God is allowed to define love, we learn that it is first of all holy. That is, it stands apart! Some say that love is necessarily erotic. It certainly may be, from time to time, erotic. But love isn’t necessarily erotic. It may be erotic, in the best Biblical sense, as defined in the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, in the marriage relationship. Otherwise, erotic love tends to use people for one’s own purposes. At that point it is obviously not holy. Neither is it sacrificial. Others say that love is friendship. It is mutual respect and beneficent companionship. As in the case of David and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:26). And this certainly can be a magnificent kind of love. Yet many bosom friendships are not redemptive. They fail to lead the persons involved to new moral and spiritual heights. Others think of love as affection. Such as that often expressed in families. I personally experienced that in my parents and grandparents. I was greatly blessed by family affection. Yet I did not know a higher love until I was met by Jesus Christ. What struck me about him was his self-sacrifice. “For God so loved the world, [that is to say “us”], that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Or as St. Paul puts it: “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we are still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is this sacrificial element of Christ’s that should catch our attention. He says to us: “I want you to love one another, as I have loved you.” The Cross was not just an event at the end of Jesus’ life and ministry. It was his whole life and ministry. The mark of the Cross ran throughout the duration of his time on earth. He was forever giving himself for others! That is love. It is sacrificial!

3.      We have seen something of the nature and character of love, as we are shown it in God and in Jesus Christ. But we can go farther in defining it. We are told something if its importance and dimensions in St. Paul’s great hymn of love, 1 Corinthians 13. First, the importance of love. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angles, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal… And though I have the gift of prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge… And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor… but have not love it profits me nothing.” The gifts of eloquence, of knowledge and faith and of philanthropic work and martyrdom are nothing without the underlying attitude and motivation of love. Holy love. Grace. ‘Agape’ is the special Greek word. In other words, the entire Christian life and ministry is grounded in love. Second, the dimensions of love are given in this marvellous chapter. “Love is patient and kind, is not jealous or boastful, is not arrogant or rude…” We mustn’t assume that his is an exhaustive definition of love. The great apostle is presumably aiming at the major faults exhibited in the Corinthian church. Nevertheless, the list is full enough to give us the idea that real love gives rather than demands, thinks more of the other than oneself, focuses on the truth rather than rejoicing in other’s faults, and possesses a faith and optimism grounded in a passionate love of and for God. Ethics and faith belong together and are grounded in a relationship with God established not only on the basis of our knowledge and love of him, but also on the basis of his knowledge and love of us (1 Corinthians 13:12b, 13b).

4.      Finally, the focus of love. Jesus is quite clear about this (Mark 12:31f): we are called to love God, ourselves, and others! Love is therefore three dimensional. This is the answer to the dilemma facing us in the current epidemic of narcissism and individualism. There is a place for love of self, but only in the larger framework of love for God and love for others.


1.      The inspiration of love, what inspires or initiates love, does not lie within us but within the Holy Spirit. St. Paul tells us that love is the first fruit of the Spirit of God at work in our lives. Not only are we incapable of defining love, we also are incapable of initiating authentic love in active terms in our lives and in our relationships with others. Just as we can know the things of God only when the Holy Spirit, who plumbs the depths of God, shows them to us (1 Corinthians 1:10ff), so we can put into practice the things of God only as the Holy Spirit kick-starts them within us. Love is not something we do automatically, nor easily. It needs to be generated within us. The Holy Spirit is the great teacher and the great regenerator who can get us going, as we read the Word of God and pray, asking for action.

2.      The power of love does not lie within us, but is let loose within us and through us as the Holy Spirit operates and initiates the things of God in our lives. St. Paul says: “Now hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). That is, the Holy Spirit makes God’s love effective in our hearts and fulfills our hopes for a satisfactory redemptive outcome. If that is true in terms of our relationship with God, it must also be true in terms of our ethic of love! “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). That is, free to love and live and laugh! The intensity of our Christian love derives from the Holy Spirit,

3.      The growth of love, that is the development of the habit of loving and the dimensions of love and the dynamic of love, does not rest with us. It is the Holy Spirit who augments and amplifies our love. We start out small and hesitant in these things of Christian love. We cannot expect to be adequate let alone competent or victorious in our Christian love at first. Indeed, all through our lives, there are bound to be weaknesses and failures, mixups, snarls and confusion. Jesus said: “The Spirit of truth… will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). That is not only intellectual truth, but also moral truth and spiritual truth! Love will grow within us as the Holy Spirit is allowed to move in our lives and implement the things of God within us.

II.                  THE ETHICS OF LOVE

1.      Love shows itself in an attitude of responsibility. Love gives. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Love takes its place in the community and does its fair share. Love is prepared to serve in the church’s work, when the congregation asks for assistance. Love goes beyond the call of duty. Love is responsibly intelligent, and sees the main points in an issue. Love goes beyond its own judgements and discernments, and sees the judgements and discernment of God. That is, love is responsible because it is teachable.

2.      Love demonstrates holiness and righteousness, and therefore fights for what is just. Justice flows from a holy and gracious love, grounded in the nature and work of God. Love should never get bitter. But love certainly can, and in some cases must get angry. There is a legitimate anger that is born of love. In fact, only anger that is born of love is legitimate. Justice is love in action. When we see the innocent suffering, when we see the disadvantaged left without hope, when we see the dispossessed left with nothing, then love must act. Justice must be done. And sometimes love must, for the sake of justice, become angry. But always to redeem the issue at hand.

3.      If love is responsible and concerned for justice, it will also be compassionate. Love cannot be callously indifferent. Compassion is the sign of a civilized society. Civilization and civility are based on love. Love puts oneself where the other person is and does something about it. That is compassion. In our day, compassion must be diverse. It will be concerned to provide bread for the body and the bread of life for the soul. It will not be a selective compassion, but meet every need as it appears.


1.      Love is not optional. There is a need for love. Others need love. People desperately need to know they are loved. Love is a human need. It is an emotional need. A psychological need. A relational need. A spiritual need. People need to know that God loves them and that we love them.

2.      We need love. We need to experience love. We need, even more, to give love. Jean Vanier says: “We need the wounded people of the world more than they need us.” His point is, that we need to learn to love others for our own sakes, as well as theirs.

3.      God needs our love. In one sense, God is complete within himself. He needs nothing and no one. On the other hand, love for God is a way of honouring God, of worshipping God, and of expressing our gratitude to God. God needs our love.


Love begins, continues and ends in God. We know we have been loved, in the coming of Jesus Christ and in his Cross. We are called to love others. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:8).

Will you pray with me? “Heavenly Father, help us to grasp the deepest meaning of love, that God alone can define love, help us to understand the toughness of legitimate love, and the wonder and sweetness of genuine love. Enable us to understand the sacrifice that love calls us to make. Help us to grasp the inspiration that opens up our hearts to the power and growth of love. Underscore the ethics of love; the interconnection of love and justice; and the need for love in all our hearts. Amen”

Dr. Allen Churchill
To listen to the above broadcast, click on the following link:

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Rev. Dr. Allen Churchill
by Rev. Dr. Allen Churchill    

Founder of Good News Christian Ministries

LINK to CFRA broadcast of Sunday, March 11th, 2012:

Broadcast Notes:
‘The Inspiration of the Christian Life’

The Bible says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God… truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘Ye must be born again’. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 3, 5-8)

The third article of the Apostles’ Creed introduces us to the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. It is not because of merely stylistic significance that at this point we are invited to repeat the words, “I believe”, with which the creed opens. It is almost a new beginning in the Creed. A bridge, if you like, between that which has gone on before and that which follows.
What has gone before, in the first and second articles, is the declaration of who God is and what he has done in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. What follows is the application of that to human life today. In this third article, then, what we are introduced to is the declaration that what God has done in Jesus Christ is relevant, that it can be experienced today, and that the agent who brings this about is none other than the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of putting theory into practice, since God’s person, presence and work are reality rather than theory. It is a matter of application. By the Holy Spirit, God and Christ begin to affect human nature. Forgiveness is conveyed. A community of faith is formed. Hope is assured. What the third article of the Creed does is to take the objective facts of the gospel and point to the possibility (which is certainly part of the good news) that these facts can make a major impact upon us in certain particular ways. The objective facts can have a subjective influence of major proportions.
This means that in the Christian thinking and experience, the Holy Spirit plays a pivotal role. This is one of the reasons why the only sin for which there is no forgiveness is the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29). He makes things meaningful. When the gospel remains no more than a recital of historical facts, the Holy Spirit can bring them alive into our consciousness. The penny drops. The light goes on. What we didn’t grasp before now becomes as plain as the nose on your face. Something or someone has opened things up. That which was formerly hidden and seemingly irrelevant now becomes personal and relevant. What was once a closed mystery now becomes an open secret. This is more than mere enthusiasm. More than another step in the process of being educated. Those who have experienced the Holy Spirit testify to the difference. They are able to distinguish between what they have learned by the exertion of their intellect or by listening carefully to a human teacher and what has come to them by spiritual intuition or inspiration. The latter is indispensable. And it has made non-believers, even very intelligent ones, very curious. Even Bertrand Russell used to go to listen to a particular preacher. “Even if I don’t believe in God, he does”, Russell said. I think we can attribute his action to a kind of holy curiosity. And there have been many others like him.

When the wind of God’s Spirit fell upon the little company of believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff), it was not something entirely new. The Scriptures link the creation of the world to the Spirit (Genesis 1:2). So also, the incarnation, the coming of God as a human being (Matthew 1:18). The formation of the Church and the availability of new life in Christ are consequences of the same activity of God’s effective presence in the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew and Greek words for wind (ruach, pneuma) are the words used to refer to the Spirit of God. The word is well-chosen, for the wind is personal (it affects every individual it blows upon), authoritative (cannot be checked or thwarted), and all-pervasive (cannot be excluded from any corner). “Where can I go from your Spirit” (Psalm 139:7)? So distinct is the Holy Spirit that the Church has in her theology (Nicene Creed) affirmed the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity, to be worshiped along with the Father and the Son!

Let us consider the Holy Spirit from a variety of aspects.

The birth of Christ is attributed in Scripture to the direct activity of the Holy Spirit. This is the witness both of Matthew (1:18) and of Luke (1:35). We should not be surprised that the Holy Spirit was involved in this special coming of God in human form. It was a part of the promise in the Old Testament. We are told (Isaiah 11:2) that when the Messiah was to come, the Spirit of the Lord would rest on him, giving him wisdom and understanding, counsel and power, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. We are told (Isaiah 42:1f) that the Servant of the Lord would bring justice to the nations and show compassion to the feeble because of the Spirit poured out upon him. The ancient prophet of Israel --at least the genuine ones, for there were many impostors-- received their ability and authority to speak a word from the Lord by virtue of having received the Holy Spirit (Numbers 11:29). The secret of the true prophet lay not in his own power, whether intellectual or otherwise, but by virtue of the fact the Spirit of God was upon him (Zechariah 4:6). Jesus could testify that He had been anointed by the Holy Spirit, even as the Old Testament bore reference (Isaiah 61:1ff), and that this Scripture had now been fulfilled in him (Luke 4:18ff). Jesus’ whole ministry was undertaken from this perspective. The Holy Spirit had come upon him at His baptism (Mark 1:10), and his attack upon the forces of Satan was undertaken in the power of the Spirit (Matthew 12:28). It was by exercise of such power that the Kingdom of God was now being introduced. And in the upper room, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the Church (John 14:36; 16:13) to provide direction and encouragement.
Is it surprising, therefore, that the Spirit of God should have a special role in the introduction of Jesus Christ to the world? Behind all ministry, whether human or divine, lies the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He promises, and then He fulfills.

The Spirit of God is also involved in the act of God in serving mankind. Here is underlined the effectiveness of the Spirit. Behind the reality of God’s redemptive work lies the Spirit, “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20f). The Spirit undertakes the work of God. He is God’s agent to bring about the plan and will of God. By the Spirit the demonic is checked. By the Spirit, new life is engendered in the hearts of men. “The Spirit gives life” (John 6:63). By the Spirit, the Kingdom of God begins to arrive (Matthew 12:28). The evidence of the agency of the Holy Spirit in saving humanity is found throughout the Church’s history. It is there in the once degraded life that now walks the road of victory. Wherever guilt and hopelessness and fear have been dealt with through the gospel and those who were once thought to be useless and unsavable are now putting together a new life through Christ, there is evidence of the agency of the Spirit of God in action.

The Holy Spirit is also the agent who makes the Word come alive. Here we witness the openness of the Spirit. He opens the channels of communication. The things of the Spirit are not easily discerned. When you are accustomed to living your life by a different philosophy, when you speak and think with a different vocabulary, when you have ignored God and ordered your life to go in an entirely different direction, you cannot be expected to grasp the possibility that there might be another way. Even the words of the Master fall on deaf ears. Are they not words echoing through the centuries from an age so long ago that they cannot possibly have any relevance for us today? Can the gospel really be good news?
Surely our modern knowledge has the answers to today’s dilemmas. How can we regress to believe that this Jesus of two thousand years ago has a message relevant to our needs today? To quote the Scripture: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). But when the Spirit pulls back the veil, we begin to see, and then to rejoice.

If Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). Rebirth is simply the normalization of human nature and life (K. Barth: Church Dogmatics, IV.4,28). The Spirit of God is the agent in this process. He is the founder and initiator of the Christian life. When the individual is given a glimpse of the new centre of focus and power by which a creative and useful life may be lived, that is a moment of truth. And it can lead to commitment, renewal and the greatest adventure anyone could ever enter upon. It is not, as some say, a taking leave of one’s wits, in a burst of wild-eyed enthusiasm. Rather, it is the discovery of one’s true self. It is called ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5). There are at least five factors involved in this process of normalization. The first is the impact made upon us by Christ himself. Second, there is a change in perspective, attitude, heart and mind. One cannot experience God’s grace and not be changed. Third, there is an ethical demand that is recognized and obeyed, and an inner gratitude that is created. Fourth, life is no longer closed to others. There is a desire for fellowship. Fifth, there is an emergence into life and the beginning of a spiritual pilgrimage. I once heard Stanley Jones say that ‘Pentecost Christianity’ is normal Christianity! What he meant, I think, was that when the Holy Spirit begins to work in your life, you are beginning a process of becoming the real and therefore normal person God intended you to be.

There are some specifics of this normal life, of this Christian life, that we should underline as coming from the Spirit. For example, faith and faithfulness. The New Testament teaches that faith is not a human quality. That is, it does not originate in us. Rather it is a gift of the Holy Spirit working in us (1 Corinthians 12:3). The same thing is true of faithfulness. Human nature, before meeting the Holy Spirit, is generally fickle. It follows its own agenda. It is undependable. By the Spirit, we are lifted out of ourselves. Now we begin to live for God. And since God is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; 32:4), as is Christ (1 John 1:9), so we will want to be faithful, ourselves, in all things (1 Timothy 3:11). When we speak of faith and faithfulness, we are speaking of a miracle. I know alcoholics and drug addicts who have been freed from their habit. I have met men who were once rough and violent, but who today are gentle and serene. I am aware of women who used to carp and criticize, but who now only bless and encourage others. I have spoken with those who once were selfish and thought only of themselves, but who today are selfless and concerned only for the well-being of others. We are not talking social evolution here! We are talking spiritual transformation of a radical kind! Faith and faithfulness are gifts of the Spirit.

Or, consider hope and courage. The reason that Christians are hopeful is because we have the guarantee of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22). We are heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ (Romans 8:17). We are not alone in the universe. We are not ultimately subject to the whims of the warlords of the world. We have drunk from the springs of living water. Love has captured us. Christ’s love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We are survivors in him! Because He lives, we also shall live (John 14:19). And we are encouraged, because the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us. It is precisely in the context of Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit that He then goes on to say: “Let not your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27; 16:33). It is this faith and faithfulness, this hope and courage, that is central to the normalization of human nature and life. They are also characteristics of a life that is free (2 Corinthians 3:17). Christians are not in bondage!

The Spirit who was instrumental in the incarnation (Matthew 1:18) and in the redemptive transformation of each individual Christian is also the Spirit poured out upon the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2). In relation to the Church, the Holy Spirit has three functions. First, he calls us into a covenant relationship. He calls us to ministry and service. But, take note, the Spirit never calls the Church out of the world. Rather, he calls the Church to be the light and salt in the world. The Church is the community for the world. It is in the name of the Holy Spirit that the Church is sent into the world (Matthew 28:19). In the world, though not of it, we are called to confess the Lordship of Christ and to live His life.
Second, if we are to be the light, then we as the Church must ourselves be enlightened. A lamp cannot give light unless its wick is trimmed, there is oil for the burning, and a continuous spark to light us up again when we go out. To be light in the world, we must ourselves live in the light (Ephesians 5:8; 1 John 1:7). That is, not in our own wisdom. But in Christ’s, unveiled by the Spirit.
Third, we are to exercise the power of Christ. To stand against the forces of darkness and temptation. To do this, we need to be strengthened continually. Only as the Church is renewed through the proclamation of the Word and the infilling of the Holy Spirit, again and again, can we be effective in the task at hand.

There are three elements for which the Holy Spirit is responsible in the world. First, love. The Spirit does not despise the world, only her worldliness. The Spirit seeks her salvation. Second, creativity. The Spirit is the inspiration behind all genuinely creative art, literature, music, science and philosophy. Third, redemption. The Holy Spirit continually throws light upon the one Person who can redeem the world: JESUS CHRIST.

It is absolutely essential that the same Holy Spirit that hovered over the waters in those early moments of creation (Genesis 1:2) or that directs the course of history (Isaiah 40: 13-14) should be understood to reveal Jesus Christ to us and lead us into faith in Him (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is also absolutely essential that the same Holy Spirit who gives the world a new beginning and a new opportunity to be more than a mere collection of atoms should dwell in our hearts and accompany us in the grand adventure of the children of God as we move through various intersecting worlds of human experience, guaranteeing us the fulfillment of God’s plan for our lives. Do we have the Holy Spirit resident in our lives? Is He there, moving motivating, manoeuvring us into a new and better life as Jesus Christ becomes formed in us? We must go beyond believing in the Holy Spirit to actually experiencing Him.
And so, the Creed says, "I believe in the Holy Spirit".

Will you pray with me?

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life and work of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. We thank you also for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We cannot find, or have, faith apart from the work of the Holy Spirit moving into the interior of our lives, opening us up to the insight and power available to us in Christ. Move into your Church, we pray, and bring your Church back to authenticity and to effectiveness, strong in faith and empowering in love. Move also into the world and open the world to faith. Amen”

Dr. Allen Churchill
To listen to the above broadcast, click on the following link:

Sunday, 4 March 2012


(CFRA broadcast date: Sunday, March 4th, 2012)
Broadcast Notes:
‘The Glory of Industriousness’

The Bible says: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. How long will you slumber o sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep – So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and you need like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6: 6-11).

1.            There are two major kinds of sin. There is the sin of commission, and there is the sin of omission. We can rebel against and offend God by what we do, and we can rebel and offend God by what we fail to do. There is such a thing as evil action, and there is such a thing as evil inaction. The Bible is quite clear about this. For example, we have been given by God the responsibility of warning our neighbour against any sin he or she might be about to commit. “You should surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). In other words, if we fail to do this we incur liability before God. Eli, the priest, was to receive punishment because his sons were guilty of blaspheming God and he failed to restrain them (1 Samuel 3:13). Ezekiel was made a watchman for the house of Israel. If the prophet gives the wicked no warning to turn him from his evil way and save his life, then, “that same wicked man shall die in his inequity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:18). It may very well have been one of these texts of Scripture that Jesus wrote in the sand with his finger when the scribes and Pharisees were about to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 6:6,8). The point would have been that her accusers had failed to warn her in advance. Their failure to act was a serious sin of omission. “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

2.            We need to contrast these two kinds of sin and see them for what they are. There is a heroic form of sin, a form of sin that is Promethean. Out of pride we react defiantly and rebelliously against God. This sin is characterized by aggressiveness. It is sin characterized by audacity. It is sin characterized by action. This kind of sin is arrogance unleashed. It is the attitude that lies behind murder, rape, and attacks against property. For example, there was the great English train robbery of several years ago, an attack against persons and property that left some members of the train crew physically and mentally damaged for life because of the beating they took and involved the theft of several millions of pounds sterling. On the other hand, there is a quietistic form of sin. It is the opposite of heroic. That is, it is ordinary, trivial and mediocre. Such sin is neither audacious nor aggressive; rather, it is withdrawn. It does not offend God by doing, but rather by not doing. It offends God by treating Him and others with indifference.

3.            Such disregard and indifference is manifested in one of the seven deadly sins. It is the sin of sloth. We observe sloth in those that are commonly described as lazy, sluggards, slow-coaches, good-for-nothings, and loafers. Sloth is composed of inaction. Yet, behind the inaction there is a kind of action. And this action consists of willful disobedience. It is intensive and persistent disobedience. It wills itself to disregard God’s claim on and rightful authority over oneself. It says ‘No’ to God. It refuses to love God. It refuses to listen to His Word, or accept His plan and purposes, or to trust God. Sloth may say ‘There is no God’; or it may say ‘It doesn’t matter if God does exist, I refuse to pay any attention to Him.’ The Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament addresses the problem of slothfulness. All our behaviour has consequences. Laziness has consequences. That’s why it is nothing short of nonsensical. It is stupid behaviour. Solomon warns against the stupid indolence of the person who follows the course of idleness even when disaster threatens. Sloth dupes people into taking short-cuts which often turn out to be the hardest way (Proverbs 15:19).
Sloth causes one’s strength to decline (Proverbs 19:24). It prevents a person from being able to give gifts (Proverbs 21:25f). Sloth leads to poverty (Proverbs 24:34; Ecclesiastes  10:18). The sluggard not only makes excuses, but puts on airs of wisdom without doing the study that lies behind sound wisdom (Proverbs 26: 13, 16). Sloth, it is clear, is not a wise policy. It leaves one flabby in mind and body. It prevents one from being generous. It creates a bad disposition. It leads to poverty. And it dishonours God and conflicts with the living of a righteous life.

4.            There is a virtue that offsets the sin of sloth. It is the virtue of industriousness. Virtues are ethical qualities that have an objective basis in God’s revelation and purpose for us. If God’s saving grace and plan is the foundation of our lives, His holy will is the framework of the way we are to live our lives. Virtues correspond to the holy will of God. They are not values. Values are subjective opinions as to what behaviour might be right or wrong. We need a way of life that is more than mere opinion. We need something more solid. We need also to keep in mind that we not saved by being or attempting to be virtuous. We are saved by grace as a gift. However, we are saved in order that we might be in such a close and right relationship to God through Jesus Christ that we might begin living the virtuous life that it might please God and bring honour to Him.

I               THE ETHICS OF ENERGY

1.            Industry or industriousness means to engage in an unremitting application of ourselves to both life and work. It is commonly applied to our business lives, especially as it relates to manufacturing, trade and commerce. But industriousness can also refer to the application of ourselves and others to study, experimentation, writing, teaching, homemaking, the arts, office work, pasturing and numerous other kinds of life and work. Industriousness means to apply ourselves diligently to whatever of importance lies before us. It may be the invention of some new device that will bring benefit to life. It may be the raising of children, one of the most important tasks to guarantee a good future. It may be the business of saving life, whether through medicine or by working with refugees to provide them with a safe haven and home away from the deadly machinations of some kinds of third-world politics. The point is that industriousness requires energy.

2.            But energy needs to be guided energy. Raw power and ambition on their own can destroy as easily as they can build. That is why power and energy and ambition need to be related to purpose; in fact, to good purpose. It is not enough to create things; we need to be creative. Creativity comes from the creative imagination. Creativeness means to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful. It means imagining something that is different, higher and better. To achieve this there needs to be a model, for the imagination may also be a conduit, if not a source of evil. The New Testament provides this most suitable model of all for the creative imagination to work towards. It is the Kingdom of God! In the first place, the Kingdom of God implies a King, Jesus Christ. He is the Person to whom all things are meant to relate and under whose authority all things come. Whatever we do, therefore, we must do it as unto Him (Colossians 3:23). The workman must do everything for Him. Not primarily to satisfy his ambition. Not primarily for money. We do not serve an earthly master. Everything needs to be undertaken for God. So that the world can go on. So that the world can be a better place. In the second place, the Kingdom implies a community. What we do must be done diligently and for others, The world today has great potential, but it’s too individualistically oriented. It’s every man or woman for himself, or herself. There is great merit in individuality. But individualism has no more merit than tribalism. We need to develop our personal gifts, but do it within community. Industry must be seen in our love for one another.

3.            If energy needs to be guided, and this by the model provided by the Kingdom of God, it needs to be exerted on the assumption that we live in a moral universe and will one day have to give an account to God. In other words, we need to remember that the work we do has eternal consequences. We have a clear echo of this in the story of the “wicked and slothful servant” in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 25:26). There are two paths we can go down. We can receive the gifts of God and invest them wisely, or we can choose to do nothing with the gifts of God. One is the way of diligence and application for a good cause; the other is the way of timidity, indifference and indolence. Those who choose the way of wisdom  and righteousness will be given the opportunity of participating joyfully in the end times in the presence of the Master and in the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Those who choose unwisely and fritter away their opportunity and gifts will be called 'unprofitable servants' and shall be cast into the outer darkness. God pays us the compliment of taking us and our actions seriously.

4.            The energy to be industrious emerges from the will. Nehemiah gives us the account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, following Israel’s return from exile in Babylon. They had to work against time and they had to work in the disturbing environment of heavy criticism. But the Israelites did it, because “they had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). Now this was not just the result of human determination. They had a will to work because they believed God was with them. And work they did. The story of their success is marvelously balanced. We are told that the people both prayed and set a watch (Nehemiah 4:9). With one hand they worked at construction, and with the other hand they held a weapon (Nehemiah 4:17). But it was against the background of faith and assurance. “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (Nehemiah 4:14). The will needs to be engaged. Before the engine of industry can start, the key needs to be turned in the ignition of faith; faith in God who is present and real. Jesus undertook His work of salvation for us with diligence. The will of God the Father became His will and He faced crucifixion for the sins of the world (and yours and mine) with resolution.

5.            The ethics of energy is grounded in a special and extraordinary love. We act out of love for God who has first loved us (1 John 4:19). The definition and purpose of that love is provided in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. If you and I know that love and have experienced that love, then we will want to work hard. Then we will, as though it were second nature, want to offer our work as unto God. That special love is the reason behind all true Christian diligence, and the antidote to indolence.


1.            Diligence must always appear in the Christian’s daily work. St. Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians that they were not to live in a disorderly fashion or become dependent on others. Rather they were to work quietly and eat their own bread (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 8, 10, 12). Personal responsibility and responsibility for one’s family are hallmarks of the Christian life.

2.            We must be diligent also in our stewardship. The Christian must accept appropriate financial responsibility for the church in both her local and in missionary work. We are reminded of the price paid for us and our salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, “who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor; that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

3.            We need to be diligent in our ministries of evangelism and social action. The Word needs to be proclaimed. The faith needs to be lived. The love of God needs to be applied to people’s lives. The brokenness of humanity today is at epidemic proportions. We must be more industrious in applying the good news of Christ’s saving and healing presence.

4.            We need to be diligent in the reformation of the church. We need to recognize the fact that the church can never grow or be influential in society unless she becomes credible. The church must become more obedient to her faith. The church needs to seize “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), and believe it with all her heart. The nebulous faith of an accommodating church can win no converts and encourage no members. Moreover, the church needs to demonstrate a  higher morality in her day to day behaviour. She needs to be more credible.

5.            We need to be more diligent in our spiritual commitments and in our growth as disciples. We must seek the things that are above. Have we come under the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29)? As young people (Lamentations 3:27)? Are we growing as Christians? Are we shedding the characteristics of the old man and putting on the new? Are we bearing and forbearing? Are giving and forgiving? Does the peace of God rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15)? We are the things we need to work at.


1.            The slothful person lives at the bottom! The industrious person is on the way up to the top where there is light, liberty and fresh air. To remain inactive and indolent is stupid. To change things, and become active and diligent, is smart. In our relationship to God through the work of Jesus Christ and the impetus of the Holy Spirit, we can make a new beginning. There is a different way! There is hope! There are possibilities. We can know and experience a better way.

2.            To remain indifferent, aloof, unengaged, and uncommitted is an offense against humanity: our own humanity, and that of others. Work is human. But it must do us and others some good. We need to revitalize our work so that it makes a difference to everyone.

3.            To be slothful is to commit an offense against creation. It is to live the dissipated life. It is to squander and fritter away the gifts locked up in us and all of nature. We need to exercise these gifts. We need to unlock the storehouse of creation and let more of her surprises flow into circulation. Not to destroy creation, but to enhance creation. The promise of a new heaven and earth, reclaimed out of the old, is a promise to be claimed.

4.            To remain slothful is to commit an offense against time. We are to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16). And to do this, we must live disciplined lives, walking circumspectly and understanding what the will of the Lord is.


                John Ruskin said: “The highest reward for man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it.” Industriousness is illustrated in the tiny ant which, working alone or in concert with others, can literally move mountains (Proverbs 6:6). If Christians were to set their minds to it, they could move mountains too.

Will you pray with me?

“Heavenly Father, help us to be hard and determined workers wherever we find our labours to be. We know that you are the God who works to build a universe, to sustain it in your daily work, to develop it, and to save it through the atoning work of Jesus on His cross. We need to be people of diligence: to put our hands to the task and to be grateful to have work to do. May we find work of importance to undertake and may our energy be up to the task of seeing our life’s work accomplished. Amen.”

Dr. Allen Churchill
To listen to the above broadcast, click on the following link: