I was recently invited to a ministers’ lunch at Grace Baptist Church, Dunstable. The speaker was Rico Tice from All Souls, London. Around forty people had gathered as Rico spoke on the subject of ‘Personal holiness in leaders’.
I was reminded of some basic truths: the reason I am a Christian is because the God who exercised power in creating the cosmos also chose to exercise his power in saving my soul. It was not of my own doing.
What a great day is today: it is the day that my God has planned for me. Today, I have the opportunity of glorifying God and becoming more holy, and it is that prospect that makes me a happy Christian. Moreover, God feels about me today as he always has. He delights in me, because he delights in his Son, Jesus, and I relate to God through Jesus.
Today is better than yesterday, because it is a day nearer to seeing the Lord face to face. For unbelievers, today is worse than yesterday: they are one step closer to hell.
We also considered Joshua 7, the defeat of the Israelites at Ai. The reason for the lack of victory was the theft of gold, silver and a priceless garment by Achan instead of it being ‘dedicated’ to Jehovah.
Joshua was distraught at the defeat, lying prostrate for hours. God told him to stop praying and test the people. Eventually, Achan was singled out as the culprit; he and his family – presumably complicit in the offence – were put to death.
Rico related it to the Church of England today. He described it as dying. ‘I am an Anglican. I will always be an Anglican, but not always in the Church of England’. He told us that in 1954, on the eve of a Billy Graham crusade, there was a ministers’ meeting. There, Billy preached from this very incident in Joshua 7. Billy urged ministers to deal with their sin if they expected to have the Holy Spirit working in their midst. God said to recalcitrant Israel in Joshua 7:12, ‘I will not be with you any more’.
Rico resigned from the Church of England Commission on Evangelism. One concern behind his decision was the Bishop of Liverpool becoming a patron of the Gay Pride movement. Liberalism reveals itself most clearly not in what men say but in what they will not say. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, remains silent about homosexual activity.
Rico referred to an old Christian who kept praying in the weekly meeting, ‘O Lord, destroy the web of sin … O Lord, destroy the web of sin that the spider is weaving,’ until his pastor had heard it enough. The preacher cried out, ‘No Lord. Kill the spider!’
Often, professing Christians who do not practise sinful actions refrain from calling out such behaviour in Christians who attempt to justify or even glory in the same sins. Achan’s wife, for example, failed to respond and rebuke him for his error.
Rico reminded us that Achan was taken out of the camp and put to death for his sin, but the Lord Jesus was taken out of the camp and put to death for our sin.
In our battle with sin, Jesus tells us to pluck out the right eye and cut off the right hand. Are you reading the Bible each day? It is a rudder for our behaviour and beliefs.
Rico told us of a curate known to him who contracted HIV. His housemate told them that he was a homosexual. When they interviewed him he replied, ‘That’s my private life’. This misses the fact that we are to live our entire lives in the presence of God.
What can’t I live without? What idols do I have? What impact is my sin having on others? 36 men died because of Achan’s conduct. 36 widows and numerous fatherless children.
Achan’s children could cry out, ‘What has your sin done to us, daddy?’ Joshua asked Achan, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on us?’ Are you thankful for the justice and mercy of God or are you resentful?
Rico spoke of his friend Graham Daniel, a leader of ‘Christians in Sport’. One day, he was standing outside a headteacher’s office, waiting for him to emerge and accompany him to the hall in order to address a school assembly.
A teenage boy was standing next to him, a little agitated. Graham said to him, ‘How are you? You ok?’ The boy said, ‘Yesterday, as the children were leaving school, someone took a fire extinguisher off the wall and squirted it over them’. ‘Was it you?’ Graham asked. The boy paused and replied, ‘I don’t know’. The boy was still in the dark as to how the headteacher would respond.
We do know how God responds to sin. It is with justice, but there is hope for the guilty through the mercy shown in Christ. In Jesus our substitute, pardon is on offer.
Rico also spoke of a man who came to church and informed him of his conversion six months earlier. However, the man went on to say that he now felt he was not a Christian at all because of his sins. Rico said to him, ‘Right, after the service we will meet and talk and look at the Bible, particularly Romans 8 and 1 John 1’.
Some minutes later, that man’s twin sister spoke to Rico: ‘I have never been to church before but I have come today to find some explanation for the change that has taken place in my brother’s life’.
He had perceived his weakness; she had perceived his strength. The grace of God at work in a believing sinner’s life is truly wonderful.