Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Discipleship Considered (Intro)

Discipleship Considered (Preface)

I was raised in a Welsh valley at a time when most people treasured a ‘good name’. They valued integrity, honesty, sincerity, goodness, fidelity, courage, justice, industry. It was important to be considered virtuous and kind. They had this in common with much of the U.K. and to some degree it was a reflection of Christian values. But now, in many ways, things have changed, especially in business. It seems for the majority of people, it is now thought more important to be successful, rather than virtuous. The wise man of Israel, Solomon, suggested that people usually pursue power, pleasure and possessions. Certainly, there are some who deem themselves successful leaders, and who measure it in these terms. The public often consider successful living in these terms also, although pleasure and possessions are highest on the list. Unfortunately, this culture has invaded the Church. Some ministers, who themselves seem to be successful, preach a gospel that suggests a Christian should be healthy and wealthy. They sometimes offer a God who will be your personal banker, doctor and counsellor and suggest there are actions that you can take that will unlock untold riches for you. There are experiences available that will turn you into a super-successful individual. And, in many cases, the people that offer these benefits have personality – they are good communicators; but some are not far removed from the charlatans that sold indulgences in the Middle Ages. At that time, and in that culture, sins could be forgiven for a sum of money. Make a few changes to that ancient heresy to accommodate the differences in culture, that is, don’t offer forgiveness but replace it with prosperity and the doctrine is still around today.

Personality does not compensate for lack of Christian character

One of our problems is that some of the flourishing churches with the largest following are led by people who, while they are personable and project a successful image, are morally weak. In those countries where the ‘health and wealth’, ‘name it and claim it’, doctrines have had their most fertile ground, evangelists arose who made large promises in return for a contribution towards what was loosely called, ‘the Lord’s work’. But, in the view of many, it was style without substance. Some have had very public falls. They had got by on personality for decades while inherent Christian character was lacking.

God looks at the heart

When Samuel was directed to Bethlehem to anoint a new king of Israel he made the mistake of looking at the outward appearance. Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, was a most imposing figure of a man, with a name that would suit a king of God’s chosen people. But he was not God’s choice; his heart was not tuned to the spiritual. Samuel’s mistake has given us a very memorable verse of Scripture. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The key to service has always been, and will always be, a heart that reflects the concerns of the Lord. As we are aware, God’s choice at that time was David, who already had a heart hunger for God. Paul interprets the Old Testament narrative in his speech at Pisidian Antioch. He said, God “raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will’” (Acts 13:22).

The problem, of course, is not new. Jesus complained that the Pharisees were totally concerned with appearance while neglecting inner righteousness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27, 28). So serious was this hypocrisy that a case could be made to argue that it was the root cause of the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. Certainly, both Sadducees and Pharisees pursued power, pleasure and possessions to the detriment of honesty, integrity, virtue, honour, and fair-play.

It is true that we need to have leaders who are good communicators, and who can influence people, but these are secondary, not primary traits. If the character is insincere and duplicitous, in the end no amount of rhetoric will help. In my opinion, only goodness gives energy to relationships, employment, family and church life. The lives of the Pharisees were focussed on the outward – “that they may be seen by men” (Matt.6:5; 23:5 (see also Matt.6:2; 6:16)) as Jesus said. A life focussed on the outward may fool fellow believers, even Christian leaders, but will only end in tears. You have to pay the price that Christianity demands, day in and day out, to achieve inner peace and benefit from the blessings provided by the Saviour

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Mercy of God (Continued)

Did Jesus show mercy?

We believe that Jesus was God incarnate, that is God in human form, walking the roads of Israel. If that is the case, did He demonstrate this divine attribute. In other words, did He show mercy while here on earth? The answer is ‘most definitely’. Many pleaded for mercy. The two blind men cried, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matt. 9:27) A woman also cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” (Matt. 15:22) And ten lepers also “lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13) This was repeated many times. (Matt.17:15; Matt.20.30 for example). All these received what they asked for.

A Comparison

If we have to compare ourselves with someone else, there was One who met the standard that God demands. He is, of course, Jesus Himself, the only One who lived a perfect life. God said of Him, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17; 12:15; 17:5) If we meet His standard then we might have stood a chance. But even that is out of reach, because He wasn’t born a sinner, but we were. Our problem is twofold.

1. We are not good to start with. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Our parents were sinners and we are sinners. (We sin because we are sinners). Everything reproduces after its own kind. Our first parents were sinners … “In Adam all die”. (1 Cor.15.22)

2. Secondly, we have picked up bad habits. We are such liars that we cannot even tell the truth to ourselves. The Bible says “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.(1 Jn 1:8) (We are sinners because we sin). “For all have sinned” (Rom.5.12)

A Well-Known Conversion

Although Charles Wesley had been trained for the Anglican church ministry and had been active in religious activities, there came a time when he realized that he had never personally experienced God’s love and mercy. He had a crisis experience on May 20, 1738, as he met with a small group of Moravian believers in the Aldersgate Hall in London. That evening he wrote in his journal: “At midnight I gave myself to Christ, assured that I was safe, whether sleeping or waking”. In 1741 he included in the Wesley hymnal a Stevenson hymn that reflected his experience:
Depth of mercy! can there be,
mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners spare?

I had long withstood His grace,
long provoked Him to His face,
would not hearken to His calls,
grieved Him by a thousand falls.

But then the verse:

There for me my Saviour stands,
holding forth His wounded hands;
God is love! I know, I feel,
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

Charles Wesley, composer of more than 6,500 hymn texts, entered heaven on the basis of the mercy of God. And he could point to a day (May 20, 1738) when it happened.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Christianity Considered 6 (Cont)

The Mercy of God (Continued)

In our last blog we mentioned that the only entry into heaven will be through the mercy of God. But there are some that might decide not to trust in the mercy of God but to rely on the value of their own lives - their character, their good works, etc. For example, many Jewish people believe God has a scales, and He will weigh their good works, and weigh their sins, and if their good works outweigh their sins they will be O.K. They are not looking for mercy, they are looking for justice. Be careful! This is a dangerous path and it leads to destruction. Shakespeare wrote: “Though justice be thy plea, consider this, that, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation”. Even the best of us cannot gain acceptance down that road.

Some examples of ‘good works’

Think of Mr. George Muller who gave himself to look after hundreds of orphans in Bristol.

Or Dr. Thomas Barnardo who did a similar work in London.

Or William Booth who dedicated his life to charitable works, and founded the Salvation Army.

Or Brother Andrew who founded ‘Open Doors’ and distributed Christian literature to those who needed it.

Or William Wilberforce who was a philanthropist and helped to abolish the slave trade.

Or Helen Roseveare who established maternity and leprosy care in Africa.

Or Robert Raikes who started Sunday schools which by 1903 were attended regularly by over 6 million children.

Or Andrew Reed, a London Minister who founded the Royal Hospital & Home for Incurables.

Or Dr. Annie McCall who founded the Clapham Maternity hospital in 1889.

Or Elizabeth Fry who started the Institute for Nursing Sisters in 1840.

All of these have gone to heaven, but not one of them got there because of their good works. They all asked God for mercy. And we are not even as good as them. If they couldn’t get in on the basis of ‘good works’ what chance have we.

A parable
Generally, when we compare our lives with others we usually make sure that the comparison is in our favour. Jesus told a parable to illustrate the problem. There were two men who went to the Temple to pray. One looked for acceptance on the basis of his good works. The other asked for mercy. The religious man prayed. ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ (Luke 18:11,12) Notice how he compared himself with those who were worse than himself (extortioners, unjust, adulterers or traitors). And notice how he lists those elements that he thinks will get him brownie points with God – fasting and tithing. He is seeking acceptance on the grounds of his goodness. But the other man … “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13) This man is not asking for justice – he is asking for mercy. And he is asking wholeheartedly, with eyes lowered and a knowledge of his condition. Jesus said, only one of them went home justified. Can you guess which one? That’s right, the tax-collector.

It is essential that we trust in the mercy of God.