Monthly Message Jul 2019

A further reflection from SWBF Chairman, Tony Mason

[First of all, let me correct a mistake I made in last month’s Message. There I said that God “delivered Daniel from the mouths of lions and the flames of a furnace”. But of course, it was not Daniel but his friends who were thrown into the fiery furnace. My apologies!]

Have you found yourself caught up in any of the dissatisfaction that seems to have been so prevalent of late? Does the mention of Brexit make you groan with boredom, or climate change groan with anxiety, or reports of suffering groan with compassion, or the spiritual state of our nation groan with despair?

Groaning can be very negative, unproductive, even destructive. But, rightly directed, groaning can be focused, fruitful and encouraging. In Romans 8:22-27 we have three very positive groanings.

Firstly (v22), “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” There have always been changes in the climate, and earthquakes and floods and droughts, and so on. The groanings of creation are like birth-pangs – painful but leading to a wonderful outcome! One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (II Peter 3:13).

Secondly (v23), “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” I have just got back from the doctor’s. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels are good; my blood-glucose and kidney-function are not so good. So, I groan inwardly, longing for the redemption of my body! The indwelling Holy Spirit assures the Christian that one day the mortal will be clothed with immortality (I Cor 15:53).

Thirdly (v26), the Spirit – yes, even the Holy Spirit – groans! But he does so on our behalf. “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. Faced with all that troubles us in our world and in our personal lives, how true it is that “we do not know what we ought to pray”(v26). But the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, literally, “wordlessly”. As John Stott put it “the Holy Spirit identifies with our groans, with the pain of the world and the church, and shares in the longing for the final freedom of both. We and he groan together”. (‘The Message of Romans’, IVF, p245).

So it’s OK to groan, provided the groaning is directed towards the sure and certain “hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (v21).

See you on the 21st September at the third Saffron Walden Bible Focus – and bring your friends!

Every blessing,

Monthly Message Jun 2019

A further reflection from SWBF Chairman, Tony Mason

“Kingdoms rise and fall, but…”

There is a verse at the end of the first chapter of Daniel which, at first sight, may appear to be saying nothing especially significant. Daniel was taken to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. He, along with his three friends, was selected for special training and responsibilities in the alien pagan culture of the Babylonian empire. The chapter tells how “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way” (v8). Despite the fears of the official in charge of his diet, Daniel and friends, far from suffering from eating only vegetables “looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food”. They entered the king’s service and in matters of wisdom and understanding the king found them ten times better than all his magicians and enchanters.

Then comes that final verse (v21): “And Daniel remained there until the first year of king Cyrus”. So what? Well, just this – it means that Daniel was most probably there in Babylon as a young man of around twenty until he was into his eighties or even nineties. So he would have been in a pagan environment and godless culture (does that sound familiar?) for some sixty years or more. Yet through all that long time he remained utterly faithful and true to his God, and his God remained utterly faithful and true to him.

But there’s more to it than that. What had been happening on the world stage throughout those years of Daniel’s stability and steadfastness, and while God was faithfully protecting and prospering him? Babylon, that mighty world power that had forced Daniel into exile was eventually replaced by the Medes and then the Persians (enter Cyrus) as the new rising super-power. In other words, all the time Daniel remained steadfast and true to his God over those eighty or so years, kingdoms were rising and falling – as they always do. Mighty men came to power and then succumbed to another, mightier power.

And what of us today? We too stand further down the line of rising and falling empires. The Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Ottomans have come and gone. In our own day we see nations threatening to gain the ascendancy – Britain, Germany, Russia, China, America. No human power has or will last for ever. But the kingdom of God and his redeemed people will endure through all the vicissitudes of human power. As I write we are facing the question of a new Prime Minister for Britain and the ongoing uncertainties arising from Brexit, and there is the scary possibility of an escalating conflict between USA and Iran. And what godless ideologies are currently permeating our own culture? Everything around us is precarious and in some ways a little frightening, perhaps. But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the same God who delivered Daniel from the mouths of lions and the flames of a furnace. He is not at all subject to the vagaries and threats of fallen humankind.

Do enjoy your summer, and I hope to see you on September 21st.


Monthly Message May 2019

A further reflection from SWBF Chairman, Tony Mason

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding” Phil 4:7

“The pursuit of peace”, wrote the late John Stott, “is a universal human obsession, whether it is international, industrial, domestic or personal peace”. [1] There is abundant evidence of this pursuit in our society today: in recent days both the Government and members of the Royal Family and parts of the media have focused attention on mental health issues; people’s worries, disappointments and sense of injustice often feature in TV programmes; news coverage brings the devastation, suffering and horror of war and conflict right into our living rooms day by day. In fact, one has the impression that, overall, people are rather unhappy and that unhappiness is fuelled so often by gloomy pronouncements about Brexit, climate change, plastic pollution and so on. Does the media reflect our unhappiness or contribute to it, or both?

The ways in which people try to obliterate anxiety tend to be short-lived, empty and even positively harmful. Some will take to ‘recreational’ drugs; or try to obtain more money through the false promises of gambling; others imagine that to indulge in sex, without the commitment of marriage, will lead to being valued and recognised. But not only are these quests for some kind of peace short-lived, they are thoroughly deceitful, vain and empty promises and grow out of a failure to consider the nature, and the promises, of God. To seek peace anywhere but in God is to do so on our own terms, in ways under our own control and, therefore, in ways that are within the scope of our own understanding. But God offers a peace that “transcends understanding” (Philippians 4:7) – because it is all of grace.

The Hebrew idea of peace is a precious and positive thing. ‘Shalom’ is not peace in the sense of the absence of trouble, disturbance or conflict. It is the presence of, and the fullness of, every blessing that God can bestow. When Jewish people greet one another with: “Shalom!” they are saying, in effect, “God bless you abundantly and fill you with every conceivable blessing, every good thing!” Now wouldn’t that be peace?

Paul writes, in Romans 5 that “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. ‘Justified’ means we are declared not guilty, but not because we are sinless but because God has laid on Christ the iniquity of us all and all the unsearchable riches of that justification are ours when we put our trust in him for full and free salvation.

We don’t need to, indeed we cannot, justify ourselves; we turn our back on the empty, deceptive promises of money, drugs and illicit sex; we do not place our ultimate hope in politicians and scientists, nor even in our own success and popularity but in God who has saved us from the past, keeps us in the present and will preserve us for a glorious eternity – and all that is in Christ! He and he alone is our peace.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7)

[1] John Stott: “The Message of Romans”  (BST) IVP 1994 p139