“Who will go for us?”

I just read this update on David Robertson from Becky Millburn (his daughter).

…have had a really positive few days, little steps of progress continually happening. He has been moved out of Intensive Care today to High Dependency Ward which is a step up. We have all really been moved by everyone’s prayers, and would ask you to keep praying for his continued recovery. We are really praising God for the way he’s looked after Dad and us 🙂

At the risk of being labelled a fawning hagiographer I think David is one of the finest Christian apologists of his generation. He could easily be making the big time in well sponsored ministries in the U.S., or hold tenure in the academy. But he has seen his calling to be a minister in the largely insignificant realm of the Scotland. Not only Scotland, but in the Free Church, where he’s been unfairly demonised by insiders; dismissed as a Wee Free by outsiders.

And Scotland needs his message. We stand on the brink of the moral abyss. Our politicians try to write social policy to suit minority groups with little care for the fabric of society. We stand on the brink of financial ruin. Our politicians try to appease the enemy – not bankers, but the incessant greed that’s rooted deep in each one of us – pretending our standards of living can go on rising. (“An end to boom and bust” – they laughed, but are Cameron, Osborne, Balls or Millbean acting with any practical difference to Brown’s folly?). These symptoms cry out: Scotland needs the Christian message David preaches. Scotland needs the Christian messengers David educates. The good of Scotland seems to demand these things…

And yet, it has pleased almighty God to silence his servant at this hour. I can’t stop asking myself, “Why?” Not the why of doubt, but the why of wonder – what is the reason for this?

Isaiah 6 holds some sort of answer. For a long while now, Christians have been busy talking to each other. The agenda of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland has not been counter cultural – the Church of Scotland presses ahead with conforming, the Free with worries, legitimate yes, but distracting too. Yet the message of Isaiah – not just the remedy he presents, but his diagnoses of the malady – that is missing. We’ve relied on specialists like David to speak into this moral chaos, while sitting back happy to watch, or worry about other things.

I wonder, is God asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Will you be sent, and will you go – that age old tension between God’s sovereign choice, and our will coming together, so delicately stated. The qualification already declared: not a sense of our greater righteousness, but our shared guilt with our fellows in their moral vacuum. And not a pride in our glorious heritage, but in the glory of the One upon the Throne.

There is also another side to Isaiah 6 – Isaiah was told that even if he went, few if any would listen. I don’t know if Scotland is in listening mood these days. But the messenger must still carry the message. Scotland needs faithful messengers. Who will go?

Please pray for David’s recovery, but also for an answer to this question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

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Applying the Lessons of Galatians

Occasionally, once a month or so, I’ve been preaching through Galatians on Sunday evenings. At the moment, I’ve reached Galatians 4, and have been struggling to apply it to my congregation directly – there are, after all, no people pitching up and telling them to ignore what I’m preaching on Salvation by faith alone. Or are there?

In Galatians 4 the case Paul contrasts the rule-bound minority of being under the law – the elemental principles – with the wonderful liberty of both the legal and experiential reality of adoption. In Christ, and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, believers really are sons of God. And we really do experience son-ship in meaningful ways.

It strikes me that in my context, this is about the path to maturing faith. It seems that returning to slavery of the elemental principles is all about living out discipleship constantly obsessing about rules. “Is it right to wear skirts just this length?” “What about the Sabbath – how do I keep it holy?” There are plenty believers around who will say that ongoing Christian growth depends on working hard make sure we “go and sin no more.”

But Paul sees the path to maturity in other things. The path from minority to maturity seems for him to be all about Christ – the Timing of his coming, his divine Origin, the Manner of the incarnation, the Conditions he lived under (i.e. the Torah), the Purpose for which he came (i.e. to redeem) and the Outcome of his coming (i.e. the reality of our adoption). That makes us sons! And no longer minors!

Not only is the work of Jesus vital to really making us sons, but the work of the Holy Spirit enables us to experience it. He is the one who confirms to us the loving fatherhood of God, so that we can cry with trusting affection, “Abba! Father!”

So, application time – do you learn more of what it means to cry “Abba! Father!” through obsessing about law keeping, or through meditating on what your Father has done, and resting on his provision for your life? I suspect it’s the latter.

And what of these elementary principles? Well, is it possible that Paul is talking about them the same way we talk about elementary math? You don’t obsess (normally) about the detail of what exactly happens when you add things. You just know that if you had two apples, and you buy four more, you have six. The same in the disciple’s life: if you are maturing, you don’t obsess about the rules of a Godly life too much. instead, you live them in the life the Spirit is working in you. Such obsession will reward you with frustration, because your life is in Christ, not in the rules he has taught you.