February 2019 - Pastoral Letter - Looking at the World with Clarity



‘If I were to ask you which two books of the Bible have been particularly used of God to fruitfully advance the church in China which would you choose?’

This was the question put to a group of us many years ago, by someone with first-hand knowledge of the church in that massive land, where it has, over recent decades, known astronomical growth. At the time, some of us suggested the answer could be one or more of the Gospels, others the Book of Acts together with a Gospel. We were all wrong.

The answer, we were told, was the book of Genesis in the Old Testament and the Book of Romans in the New Testament. The reading and teaching of these two books has had enormous impact. Why have these two books been of such significance? Because they teach a Biblical world view that exposes and challenges our own world-view. These books are particularly helpful in helping us see the world as God sees the world, rather than for us to operate unthinkingly with a set of assumptions we have stopped recognising.

Let me illustrate how it is that we can see things differently; depending on our upbringing and the assumptions we make unthinkingly. I have enjoyed visiting the great continent of Africa on several occasions: Ghana and Togo (with Wycliffe Bible translators), Malawi (to visit Helen in Ekwendeni) and, most recently, Rwanda (with the Scottish Bible Society). On one occasion, I had arranged to meet an African man who would share something of the Lord’s work in which he was involved. I duly turned up 20 minutes early (it’s a problem I know I have) at the designated place. My African friend turned up 35 minutes late. He didn’t apologise or explain.

It was an early lesson about ‘Africa time’. You see, many Africans count time with people more important than punctuality, and so they will regard time spent with someone to be more valuable than being on time for the next appointment. They see things differently - certainly differently from me, who often turns up at the railway station in time to catch an earlier train. I am guilty of clock-watching and allowing the artificial constraints of time to be the governing framework for my daily life. Learning about ‘Africa time’ not only exposed my own obsession with punctuality, but introduced me to an alternative which puts people first.

I am not citing this example in order to encourage bad time-keeping. In our culture that would cause a measure of chaos, but my point is that we make assumptions through life that are helpfully exposed when we are introduced to an alternative world-view.

Of course, a world-view is much more than time-keeping. It is a set of assumptions about life (which may or may not be true) which we hold (although we may not be aware of it, and we may not do so consistently). Let me give another example of this, which takes us into the Bible. The 19th century American novelist and poet Stephen Crane wrote of the sense of abandoned meaninglessness, alienation and even despair that afflicts many:
A man said to the universe      
‘Sir I exist’
‘However’ replied the universe,
‘The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation’

This could not be more different from the Psalmist, whose view of the world is governed by what we read in Genesis:
 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,

you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour. Psalm 8

These poems represent and illustrate two very different world-views. One has lost God, and so is without any centre in life, although perhaps longs for His return; the other, the Psalmist, has a vital faith in God. These are two very different ways of looking at life.

Your world-view will dictate your response to the basic questions we all ask about life, such as What is a human being? (no more than a complex biological machine? A person made in the image of God? A ‘naked ape’?) Another question: What happens when we die? (we become extinct because after life comes ‘nothing’, to quote Sir David Attenborough? Resurrection to eternal life?) Our world view assumptions will dictate where we lean on these, and other, questions.

This is where the Book of Romans is so very useful. It is a book which presents to us a magisterial statement of the Gospel and provides us with an ability to see the world from God’s perspective. Instead of unthinkingly reflecting what ‘everyone says’ and ‘everyone does’ or FaceBook dictates, it is a book which has the unique ability to help us think from a Christian perspective, and examine our cultural inheritance accordingly.

So, come along on Sunday evenings and join us in our journey through Romans! What better way to spend at 6.30pm on a Sunday than meeting to close the Lord’s Day in worship?

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
 to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
 and your faithfulness by night.  Psalm 92
The Book of Romans has been of singular importance in changing the lives of countless individuals - key historical figures such as Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Wesley and others. Of course, it has also been singularly helpful for countless believers whose names we do not know. You could be one of them!

The New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce once wrote:

‘there is no saying what may happen when people begin to study the letter to the Romans. So, let those who have read thus far be prepared for the consequences of reading further: you have been warned!’
There is great blessing in Romans. Come and share in it.
Your minister,



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