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Welcome to Hearing and Doing

This site is dedicated to one purpose – helping God’s people to hear what God is saying to us through the Scriptures, and to encourage them to live it out in action wherever they are.

The site will have a combination of sermons and shorter blog pieces reflecting on the Scriptures and how we could respond to them obediently and faith-fully.

The approach taken to the Scriptures is accepting them as God’s Word to us, given to us to receive in the form they come to us, and breathed by God through his Spirit through the human authors, using and reflecting their personality. The Scriptures are given to direct us in the whole of all, all that we do, so that we will thereby live out our trust in God for the present and our hope for the future.

The approach taken to understanding the Scriptures is commonly called “Redemptive-Historical,” that is, that the overall approach of the Scriptures is to spell out how God has been at work since the beginning within human history to bring about the redemption of all things. We must pay attention to the context of the passages we are reading, as that will indicate how we are to respond to what we read. At its simplest level, we read the Old Testament as the account of God’s actions with the people of Israel, preparing them to receive the promised Redeemer. The New Testament speaks of the coming of the Redeemer and the accomplishment of redemption through his life, death and resurrection. It points to the growth of the kingdom of God under the reign of the King ascended to his heavenly throne, and the future yet to come.

Renewing our Christian political responsibilities

In Stimulus 26/2  2019, Mark Keown argues for a consideration of Christianarchy as an option for Christians reflecting on the question of their relationship to the state. He does this despite admitting that the way in which Christianarchy understands the Scriptures is defective in serious ways, including more or less abandoning the whole of the Old Testament. It focuses instead on some key passages in the New Testament, particularly the Sermon on the Mount.

This is not a new strategy for those seeking to critique the power-structures of the modern state, with a heritage including such figures as Tolstoy and Ellul, but also stretching back to the Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation of the 16th Century. We could say then that it is simply the latest expression of a particular approach to a Christians political responsibilities or engagement.

One of the most striking features of Christianarchy as Keown describes it is its a-historical character. That is, it is presented as an option which has no roots in the Old Testament. It then focuses selectively on parts of the New Testament, principally the Sermon on the Mount. The emphasis seems then to be on developing an ethicfor Christian life in the world, disconnected from anything the Scriptures teach about Gods ongoing work of redemption of the world. Christianarchy then seems to float above the messy realities of life, aspiring to a form of communal living that seems utopian and impossible to live out. Given that God has a plan of redemption for all things, a Christian vision for political life which is disconnected from that plan of redemption will fail to achieve its goals.

I claim, then, that Christians have specific political responsibilities which are part of their calling to live as humans together with others, whether or not these others believe, since we must establish a political environment in which all, regardless of religious convictions, can participate equally.

With a national election fast approaching, we need to seriously examine our political convictions, and in the light which the Scriptures shed on our path, also politically, to act in accordance with our calling to be responsible before God for all that we do.

I have given my alternative vision for Christian political responsibility here.

Renewing our Christian political responsibilities

The place of Esther 4:14 in the redeeming purposes of God

Esther 4:14b is often interpreted to mean that someone has had a special purpose given to them. The text reads: “And who knows but that you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?” This is taken to mean that anyone who has some opportunity to do something come their way has been given that opportunity by God. But this is to distort and misapply what the Scriptures teach us.

Esther was not just anyone having an unexpected opportunity to “do something,” but was placed in that role by God through circumstances which we would not approve of, if they happened today. That is, the king was moved by his drunkenness to demand that his queen flaunt her beauty in front of his drinking companions, but when she refused to do so (a perfectly reasonable response), his advisers told him that this would set a bad example to all other women who would be inclined to disobey their husbands. The king was urged to divorce his queen to reinforce the obligation of all women to obey their husbands. After he had sent away his queen, he then was urged by his counsellors to hold a competition among the young virgins of the kingdom to find a replacement. Each girl was sent to spend the night with the king so he could find the one who pleased him the most. Esther went through this process and was found to be the most attractive, and was then made queen.

She became queen by this process, when a vain and selfish king had his lusts gratified by being provided with hundreds of virgins to spend the night with each of them in turn – a process that lasted for several years, with the banquet which sparked the whole situation in the third year of his reign lasting six months, with each girl being groomed for his sexual pleasure in a beauty-treatment process lasting twelve months. Esther was taken to spend the night with the king in the tenth month of the seventh year of his reign. This would indicate that, allowing for the 12 months of beauty treatment to pass before the first girl went in to the king, around 1,200 young virgins spent the night with the king, and then returned to the harem to wait in case the king called for them again. Esther, then, was caught up in this effort to satisfy the sexual urges of the king in a process designed, it would seem, to make the king pleased with his advisers who came up with such a debauched plan, which among other things, resulted in over a thousand young girls becoming part of the harem after their one night with the king, and thereby being denied the opportunity to marry and have children.

Esther then became queen after being pimped by the advisers, in a process designed to gratify one man’s sexual urges. But God used this process to put in place the person best able to act so as to obtain from the king the protection of her people from a hateful and violent man who determined to destroy the Jews to satisfy his vanity.

There is no way we would approve of such a method of obtaining the ear of the king, and we should not assume that God approved of this method of selecting a new queen at the time, but nevertheless God used this situation for his purposes.

This, then, is the context in which Esther found herself with access to the king to appeal to him to protect her and her people, since God had a purpose for the Jews in Babylon, to return them to the land promised to Abraham, where in due course the Redeemer would be born who would bring new life to all who will believe and renewal of the whole of creation to show forth God’s glory.

Esther, then, was challenged by Mordecai to act to save her people even at risk to her own life, since “who knows but that you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?” Superficial use of this text to argue that any special opportunity to work for God can be seen in the same way both devalues the Scriptures into a collection of handy mottoes for various circumstances, and prevents us from appreciating the actual significance of the text in its original setting. There, God was at work even through a process which would warrant court action today for grooming, pimping, and sexual exploitation. Despite that, God’s purpose was achieved and the nation of the Jews was saved from extermination.

This episode takes an important place in the work of God to bring redemption to the whole of creation. It should not be cheapened by applying it to our ordinary, everyday activities which would then appear to indicate that these are on the same world-historical, redemptive level as that which God achieved through Esther.

God does lead us. He does put us in circumstances in which we can work for his glory. Things that look bad can be used for God’s purposes. But this is evident to us not from misapplying texts which speak to situations unlike those we face, but from the overall thrust of the redemptive message of Scripture by which we learn wisdom and discernment in order to know how to face the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We may indeed be put in the right place at the right time to work for God in a specific way, and we can learn from people like Esther who followed the right path in difficult circumstances, but we should not apply texts lifted out of their context to our own situation, which is unlike that which Esther faced, as we are called to the appropriate response in our own day and age. Therefore we cannot imitate Esther, but instead should respond in obedience to the call of God when this comes to us, as Esther also responded in obedience in ways appropriate to her situation and the desperate need of the Jews for deliverance from their enemies. God used Esther in a significant way. God can use us as well if we are also obedient to following him in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

© Chris Gousmett, 2020

 

Lament in a time of crisis – a sermon for Easter

In a time when the world faces a major crisis, is the church still too focused on “getting through” until everything returns to “normal”? Are we failing to hear the voices of the suffering, the hurting and the sorrowful? We should be lamenting before God and entering into the distress of others, not being triumphalistic about how well “we” are coping with what are, for many of us, relatively unimportant inconveniences, compared to the depth of suffering in many other places.

Easter 2020

Frans van Deursen on Amos 3:3-8 – God’s judgement in a time of crisis

We often think that terrible things which happen in the world are the result of the forces of “nature” (a secularised concept of God’s creation), but we don’t think that maybe God is sending his judgement on an unjust world. Rev. Frans van Deursen points us again to Amos 3 where the judgements which have come upon Israel are identified by the prophet as God’s punishment on Israel’s sins. Rev. van Deursen challenges us to ask ourselves whether what we experience might also be God’s judgement.

This sermon was from 2011 during a financial crisis, but it applies as much, if not more so, to our current situation with the sickness and death caused by the Covid19 corona virus extending worldwide.

Amos 3-3-8

The coming near of the Kingdom of God

When Jesus preached “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe” he did not explain what he meant by the kingdom of God. Rather, he assumed that his hearers would know what was meant from the Old Testament – the Psalms and the Prophets spoke extensively about the King and his kingdom. When he said that the kingdom was at hand, what was it that his hearers would have heard him alluding to?

The coming near of the Kingdom of God

 

Music for a hurting world in the midst of the corona virus pandemic

Several weeks ago I wrote a review of a song by Andrew Peterson, called “Is he worthy?” For various reasons I had not posted this, but now I am doing so as I believe it will be of assistance to others in this time of crisis. It’s message about the redemption of a hurting world is even more relevant now than when I wrote it, with the Australian bushfires as a recent searing event. I submit it unchanged from its original form.

Is he worthy? By Andrew Peterson

A great deal of contemporary worship music suffers from a lack of Biblical insight and sound doctrinal understanding, and consists largely of worn platitudes and sentimentalism. At its worst it collapses into romantic attitudes towards the Lord Jesus, with the frequent complaint that you could swap the name of Jesus for your current boyfriend and sing the same song. Some of this romanticised music is vaguely erotic in nature. No wonder many males are exiting the church, since they do not want to be caught singing such mush.

Lyrics often lack any significant structure, and can comprise of a string of epithets listing various characteristics seen in Jesus or God the Father, often lacking any Biblical connection or validity. Add to that the ennervating repetition and the stage is set for something other than true worship of God.

It is a relief then whenever we encounter something which goes against this cultural stampede towards the banal and the soppy sentiments of much of our contemporary worship music. An outstanding example is the song “Is he worthy” by Andrew Peterson, which you can listen to here.

This song is commendable for its simplicity, while at the same time offering considerable depth and insight into our faith. It is sound biblically, and in a few verses offers a breadth of vision for Christian life which much longer songs completely miss, in their focus on us and our experiences. This song also brings the light of faith to our experience, not in the sense of our “spiritual feelings” but in terms of life as it is lived in a broken world which awaits redemption.

The song is profound in its simplicity, with a question offered which receives a brief response. It is no accident that Andrew Peterson attends a liturgical church where carefully composed liturgy structures the worship, and this antiphonal structure (with statement and response) is common. In this song, this antiphonal format opens up the content to be not simply the proclamation of the musicians, but a dialogue and interchange between the singer and the congregation. It is a genuine joining in worship and not, as so often happens, something “performed” at the front while the rest of the congregation looks on and often struggles to join in music which was designed for performance and the display of the skills of the musicians. This is congregational worship. It is admittedly probably not an easy song to use in corporate worship, as its format and structure will be different to the usual material, but it would be well worth the effort to master it and enrich worship accordingly. It would perhaps be easy to over-orchestrate this song with a full array of instruments, but I believe it would work best with the simplest approach of a lead singer and keyboard, rather than overloading the music with additional rhythms and harmonies. Keep it simple to allow the power of the words to come through.

In the lyrics which follow, the response to each line is given in brackets.

[Verse 1] –
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

Many people feel the world is broken, with shadows deepening. We come to worship with heaviness in our hearts, seeking consolation and promise for the future, but often we are faced with relentless positivity and exhortations to be “cheerful” which simply slide off those who are hurting. Christians should not be afraid to admit that they are apprehensive and concerned about the world and all that is going on in it, let alone concerned for the fate of their fellow believers who face horrendous persecution in many parts of the world. A song that not only acknowledges our sense of brokenness but actually enables us to admit to that before our fellow believers is a sharp turn away from the subjective and self-centred focus of much of our worship music. When it asks do you “feel” the brokenness, it is not just asking about our current sentimental state, no call merely for a verbal assent, but whether we are gripped in the depth of our being by a sense that the world is not as it should be. This is a call to engage with our whole being with the hurt of the world.

But it doesn’t just ask whether we feel the brokenness, but immediately addresses that with the confession that “the dark” will not stop “the light” from getting through, and asking the congregation to agree that this is so (We do). It then builds on that by asking whether we wish to see it all made new. Here we have a vision for the renewal of the world as a whole, and not just for the salvation of individual souls off in some ethereal heaven, that is, the biblical focus on the renewal of all things. This is not just an incidental comment which otherwise gets lost in the song, but points to the fact that the hope for all things to be made new is what structures and directs the song towards its culmination.

[Verse 2]
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)

Here the comprehensive scope of the redemption of the creation builds further towards the climax. Is the creation groaning? It is. We have seen that already in the first verse, with an acknowledgement that we feel that the world is broken and cast in shadow. Now our vision is widened again from seeing it all “made new” (verse 1) so that we long for the creation as a whole to be renewed, where we no longer have the shadows and the dark of verse 1, but yearn for the light to be not just any light, but the light of the glory of the Lord himself, not just shining on us, to be the light in our midst. This anticipates the dwelling of God with us, spoken of in verse 3.

Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? Surely, it is, and we must do so, as Paul exhorted us when speaking of the return of Christ, “Therefore encourage each other with these words.” [1 Thessalonians 4:18] Often we can focus on the “last days” in such a way that the Antichrist gets centre billing while the coming of the Lord is seen simply as a way to defeat the Antichrist rather than the culmination of all that God has worked towards in redeeming his lost and broken creation. It is good, then, to be reminded, that we should remind ourselves of this.

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

The song then moves from the sense of brokenness and hope for all to be made new to focus on the one who will accomplish this. Is there anyone worthy to achieve this? Yes, the Lion of Judah, the son of David, the pure and spotless lamb who died for those enslaved to sin and death.

[Refrain 1]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is!

Often we can sing songs which proclaim that Christ is worthy, or words to that effect. Here, though, we are not simply repeating a common phrase, which can become banal in its familiarity, but we are challenged to think, Is he worthy? And then to join together in the proclamation which follows: He is!

[Verse 3]
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)

Here the song moves to a Trinitarian focus, emphasising the love of the Father, the Spirit’s presence, and the security of all those whom Jesus loves by being held in his care. The culmination of the Father’s love, the Spirit’s presence, and the security in Jesus, is that God intends to dwell again with us. Now we can see that the new earth will be full of the glory of God (verse 2) because God will be dwelling again with us.

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Bridge]
From every people and tribe
From every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

This redemption of all things, the renewal of creation, the presence of God with us, the glory that this will reveal, is shown to have a purpose which God has been seeking all along: that we should be gathered from every nation, to show the richness and the diversity of the creation, bringing the gifts of everyone to God, as our priestly service before him. Not only are we along with the whole creation to be ruled over by God (He has made us a kingdom, that is, God’s kingdom which embraces all who return obedience to Him), we are also called to reign with Christ over the renewed creation forever.

While this song is not triumphalistic, in that it acknowledges our brokenness and pain which needs to be healed, it ends on a note of triumph in that God in Christ has shown himself to be worthy of all blessing and honour and glory. What better way to “remind ourselves of this” than to sing this marvellous song in praise and honour of the Lamb who alone is worthy to open the scroll.

[Refrain 2]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
He is!
He is!

A version here sung live with a large choir:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMWrAqMWhWs

 

Isaiah’s prophecy of the lion lying down with the lamb

In Advent we reflect on the progress of God’s actions in history to bring redemption to his people and through them to the whole world and all of creation, freeing it from sin and corruption. Isaiah prophesied of the king who was to come, and spoke of the image of the peaceable kingdom to come, using the poetic image of the lion lying down with the lamb. This speaks to us of the nature of the kingdom which is to come, when Christ’s rule over all things will finally be realised on the earth.

Isaiah 11 – The prophecy of the lion and the lamb

 

Jeremiah’s Prophecy of the Righteous Branch – Christ the King Sunday

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the Righteous Branch speaks of the King whom God would raise up who would rule in justice and righteousness. This prophecy was fulfilled in Christ who having secured redemption for all creation, is now enthroned in heaven ruling over all things, waiting for the time when he shall return to give effect to his rule even over those who at the current time still rebel against their rightful Lord.

Sermon – Sunday 8 December – Christ the King