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Saturday, 18 November 2017

Heaven is Christ

The value of homegroup Bible Study
Last week, the home group that meets in my home were studying 1 Peter chapter 1. We are going real slow, trying to meditate on every sentence and truth together.

What one person misses, another observes, and together we "teach and admonish one another" (Colossians 3:16).

This week one verses stood out:

    "Set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:13)

Place your hope on heaven
We are tempted and prone to set our hope on many things. Perhaps it's the answer to a particular prayer, perhaps it's the resolution of a family problem, perhaps it is the end of some kind of suffering, perhaps it's the prospect of a relationship to end loneliness - the list is endless.

All of these are understandable hopes, but Peter exhorts us to set our hope FULLY on heaven  - the grace that we will one day receive in the fullest measure in heaven.

That requires a real big dollop of mental effort and faith! To continually divert our natural tendency to hope in earthly things, up ten gears to heavenly things. 

Heaven is Christ
But what really struck me at our home group and has followed me around all week, is the next thing Peter writes. He says that heaven is when Christ is revealed. The joy of heaven, the reward of heaven, the centre of heaven is the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We, again, get things wrong so often. We imagine heaven to be about a perfect new powerful body, about perfect peace, about lack of suffering  - and all those things are true.

But supremely, heaven is a revelation of Jesus Christ in all his gracious glory, his love, his righteousness, his power, his sovereign rule.

This must be the hope that dominates our minds when we look the future. All other hopes must play second fiddle, all other visions subservient: heaven is Christ.

Face to face with Christ, my Saviour,
Face to face—what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ who died for me?

Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
  I shall see Him by and by!

Only faintly now, I see Him,
With the darkling veil between,
But a blessed day is coming,
When His glory shall be seen.

What rejoicing in His presence,
When are banished grief and pain;
When the crooked ways are straightened,
And the dark things shall be plain.

Face to face! O blissful moment!
Face to face—to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer,
Jesus Christ who loves me so.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Prophetic Side of True Preaching

The Prophets of Old
Elijah faces down the false prophets
The prophets of old were called to expose the idols and idolatry of their age. Not the idols of a different age, but the particular Baals and Asthtoreths of their own day.

On mount Carmel, Elijah exposed 850 false prophets, Ezekiel was called to expose the false shepherds of Israel, who cared only for themselves and used the flock of God for their own selfish ends as "meat" and "wool."

The prophetic element in preaching
In all genuine Christian preaching there must be this prophetic - speaking to the issues of today - element: I guess that's what the "pr" in preaching stands for. Along with the comfort, the encouragement, the exhortation, the binding up of wounds, and the teaching, there must be a prophetic element or note. Pastors must address the idols of the culture around them, the darling sins of the Christian world in which they find themselves and the particular sins of their own hearts and the hearts of the folk they love and pastor.

    In this way they faithfully preach the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

Today's Idols
So what are the idols that modern, western pastors are called to address?

(i) The idol of pleasure. Western culture is given over the pursuit of pleasure and this idol is worshipped by many Christians, whether revealed in sport, hobbies, holidays, whatever. There is nothing wrong with a hobby, but when pleasure takes precedence over spiritual matters, it has become an idol.

(ii) The idol of education. What matters most in the eyes of many parents is the educational standard of their children. Christmas circulars are filled with the achievement of their children - often without any comment on the spiritual advance of those precious little ones. Christians boast of their qualifications - most notably church leaders. Instead of boasting in Christ and boasting of their weaknesses, they boast in their daft PhDs and MAs and what nots.

(iii) The idol of individualism. This it the deep seated western idea that we should do what we please irrespective of the effects on others. It is the exact opposite of a love for others, and it is a curse in the culture and the church.

(iv) The idol of ease. This is just the opposite of  "taking up our cross and following Christ". We avoid difficult choices, avoid costly choices and opt for the paths of least resistance and greatest comfort.

(v) The idol of family. We are called to love our flesh and blood, but we are also called to put Christ first. Many prefer to love their families first and love Christ and his people second.

Prophets in trouble
But, and here is the rub for all genuine pastors, addressing the idols of any age will bring severe opposition, because you are touching what people love the most.  As a result, many pastors ignore this part of their duty. They studiously avoid the idols that fill their congregations lest they get into trouble!

True prophets will always get in trouble!

Big, big trouble!

Think of all the OT prophets, think of Christ the Great Prophet, think of the Apostles, the Magesterial Reformers, and even more the Anabaptist Reformers! Preach the truth and beware.

But God will protect his chosen ones, and that should encourage all true abd faithful preachers.

Support your Pastor-Prophet
With this in mind, pray for your pastor in his prophetic role. When he addresses an idol, thank God.  When he preaches a difficult sermon, thank God you have a man who is prepared to preach faithfully - something increasingly rare in our day of men-pleasers.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Date Night with my Wonderful Wife

Molvolio at the RSC
Date Night
Readers of this blog - whose numbers have vastly increased over the past two months (my thanks to whoever is responsible for that) - may be surprised to read this particular blog.

Yesterday I made a special deal of my wife's birthday!

I must add, immediately, that it was not a "special" birthday, numerically, speaking, if you know what I mean.

The reason readers will be surprised is because I don't do birthdays very much.

Why? For very good biblical reasons.

In our easy-going western church Christians will sadly miss a prayer meeting or a Bible study or serving in some vital ministry to celebrate a birthday. Instead of moving the birthday to another evening, if it's in our power to do so, or saying "I'm sorry I have a very important prior commitment", Christians in our laid-back culture miss fellowship and prayer meetings far too easily.

Our love for Christ and our love for his people is so small these days. 

Missing fellowship is not good for us, and it discourages others in the group.

Can we really imagine the first Christians emailing the home group leader "Sorry, I can't make fellowship evening, it's my brothers birthday today." Somehow I don't think so. The Anabaptists set one historical example which we can compare ourselves to and encouraged each other to meet 4-5 times a week.

And we read in Acts 2:46, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts." The Bible is our benchmark, not contemporary culture.

So for these very good sound biblical reasons, I tend to pay very little attention to birthdays. Someone has to move in the opposite direction to drag the pendulum away from one side.

After saying all of that, this little "rule" is mine and mine alone. No-one else has to follow it, for in Christ we are totally free from man-made rules, and I am sure that one day I will break this rule for the sake of love. 

Twelfth Night 
But last night I took my wife to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon to watch Twelfth Night together. We enjoyed a lovely meal at Wetherspoons beforehand (The Golden Bee, if you are nosy) and settled in for a 2 hour 20 minute performance.

Having been brought up without TV or films, I struggle to catch everything in plays or films, and when the language is KJV I find it even more difficult, but I loved the character Molvolio, played superbly by Adrian Edmondson (his debut at the RSC). The play is worth watching to see him alone act, in my humble opinion.

Molvolio is set up to believe that a particular woman is in love with him. He finds a letter written in letters that seem to come from her hand instructing him to dress up in certain (deliberately strange) ways and act in certain ways if he loves her and wants to woo her. It's all a brilliant set-up!

Well he follows the letter to a T, makes his appearance before the woman and a series of very funny scenes unfold, superbly acted by the cast. We had some good laughs together!  His hopes are of course dashed and his strange behaviour  rewarded with derision and prison. The cruel joke is eventually exposed.... No more spoilers.

Husbands and wives need time out
But seriously, Christian husbands and wives need to spend time together and a "date night" is one way to do that. Go somewhere different, see something unusual, talk about something extraordinary. And on the way, in the car, you can pray! 

Yvonne and I have been married for 29 years, and she is, after salvation, God's greatest and most precious gift to me, and I thank God for her.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Is God calling you?

The call of Elisha
The call of Elisha into the role of a full-time prophet sets a pattern for how God calls men and women into ministry. Here are five characteristics of a true call....

A true call comes from God
It was God who told Elijah to appoint Elisha (1 Kings 19:16). God must appoint you, you must know this in the clearest terms possible, in your heart, and for sure. If you know God has called you, then you will be able to persevere through all the trials of full-time ministry.

A true call of God is confirmed by others
But that internal call, must be accompanied by an external call - the confirmation of your church leaders. Elijah confirmed the appointment of Elisha, as did Moses the appointment of Joshua (Numbers 27:18-23). So did the 50 prophets from Jericho recognise the appointment of Elisha. There is no such thing as someone who is self-appointed to a ministry.

A true call comes to busy people!
Elisha is working in his father's fields when he is called, Peter, Andrew, James and John are fishing, Matthew is at the collecting booth. The ministry is not for people who can't hack it in the real world, but for believers who are doing very well in the real world. As Tozer put it, "If a donkey wiggles his ears in America, he will wiggle them in Africa." Work that one out yourself.

A true call is confirmed by a willingness to leave everything behind
Elisha left his family and his career, the disciples did the same. This is in the very essence of a true call - you are willing to leave familiar and easy surroundings for difficult ones.

A true call is confirmed by a teachable spirit and a servant-hearted attitude
For a number of years, Elisha became Elijah's servant, even humbly pouring water over his hands. This radical servant-heartedness is just the opposite of that rebellious spirit that says "I will serve when it suits me", "I will serve if I can serve in my way". Humble servanthood is the heart of a Christ-like spirit. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He did and spoke only what his Father told him. Humble servanthood is the name of the game in all Christian ministry. Not paper qualifications, not years spent at a Bible College, but Christlikeness.

If we feel God is calling us - do we match up to the above?

On saying goodbye to the biased BBC

The most secular corporation on earth?
Today I have switched my browser home page from the BBC. There was no particular straw that broke the camel's back, just a growing sense of disillusionment...

I have grown to question the BBC news coverage for the following reasons:

(1) Totally biased. On almost every issue, they take the view of secular humanists or the liberal community. Their radical support for the Democratic party in the recent US elections and their contempt for the Republicans,  had nothing to do with the qualities of the two respective leaders (neither of whom one could endorse) - but had everything to do with the fact that one side supported liberal values and the other side didn't.

(2) Anti-Christian. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the only related item of news I heard from the BBC was on Eddy Mair's "PM" news programme on BBC 4. It was a wholesale rubbishing of "Thought for the Day" - the only "religious" part of its morning sister show, "Today." I too find "Thought for the Day" unbearable most of the time (I often hit the off button for those three minutes), that wasn't the point. The point is that no time whatsoever is given to anything truly Christian. Our voice is completely silenced. (The BBC loves religion - choirs, smoke, bells, colour, robes buildings, etc - TV is a visual media; it's just true Christianity they hate).

(3) Much of what it calls "news" is not news. Much that passes for "news" on the BBC is nothing more than random events designed to propagate their PC agenda. Irrelevant stories and politically correct news gets far more coverage than  is due, by democratic numbers alone. I want to hear about serious important world stories, not tittle tattle. For example, the BBC might scour India for transgender communities which make up perhaps 0.000000001% of that population and present this as front page news to bolster their own transgender agenda. What is happening in the 99.99999999% of the ordinary lives of Indians is irrelevant. The impression they want to leave (a false impression) is that transgender is commonplace in India. One reason the BBC is so biased is that it employs, according to the Christian Institute, 6 times more LGBT employees than there are in the general population. The problem is that PC news is so tedious and boring - you could write tomorrow's articles today and simply get a secretary to do a "find" and "replace" on the names. The BBC should more accurately be called the PCBC.

See: BBC Employees

(4) Morally insensitive. Items of news which I do not want my children to hear are broadcast in the middle of the day. For that matter, I don't want to hear about the antics of a Weinstein or a Spacey. There is no moral sense or propriety whatsoever at the BBC, that a certain decorum should cloak certain items of news. Some news items can and should wait for the 10.00pm news. 

For these main reasons and many more, BBC is no longer my home page.

I am replacing it for a month with ITV, then I'll try Al Jazeera and then some of the American news companies and I will report on my findings in a later blog.

As a follower of Jesus I am committed to hearing the truth, not a version of lies propagated by a secular organisation.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

It's Reformation Day! HURRAY! HURRAY! HURRAY!

Much to celebrate!
Today is the anniversary of one of the most important days in the history of the church - and the history of Western Civilisation!

But there is NO mention of it on the BBC homepage and no mention of it on the 6.00pm news! And the best Google can do is to celebrate Halloween with a childish logo.

On the 31st October 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 talking points to the door of a church in Wittenberg. He was proper mad at the latest indulgence preached by the Catholic church - a moneymaking idea to rebuild St Peter's Basilica in Rome! John Tetzel and his crew had been pushing these indulgences like crazy to fill up the coffers of the Catholic church and Luther was cross about how these indulgences were perverting the Gospel. In simple terms, an indulgence was a way of getting some of your sins (or the sins of someone you loved) forgiven! Pay some money and get some sins forgiven! Ridiculous! Only Jesus forgives sins!

Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and many others had the colossal task of cleaning off centuries of grime from the pure Gospel! And under God, salvation by faith alone through Christ alone, by the grace of God alone was restored!

Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!

But let us remember, the Gospel will ALWAYS be under attack...

The Pure Gospel
What is the Gospel? In five simple steps, the simple Gospel is:

(1) Everyone knows there is a God - from the witness of creation (Romans 1:20)

(2) Everyone has turned from this God to idols - exchanging the truth of God for a lie and worshipping created things (money, hobbies, sex, sports, culture...)  rather than the Creator (Romans 1:22-25)

(3) As a result of this deliberate walking out on God, everyone stands under the righteous judgement of God (Romans 6:23)

(4) But God in his great love and mercy sent his beloved Son into the world to pay for our sin  (1 Peter 3:18)

(5) God calls everyone to repent and to believe the Good News - (Acts 2:38, 17:30, John 3:16)

And the moment ANYONE responds to the Gospel in faith and obedience they receive the gift of God's righteousness, the blessing of his Holy Spirit and the Hope of eternal life!

This Gospel will always be under attack! In Luther's day the satanic attack was to obscure, to cover up the Gospel with heaps of man-made traditions! That isn't our problem today...

Satan's attack today -make us "ashamed of the Gospel" (Romans 1:16-17)
...our problem is that we could so easily be ashamed of the Gospel, or at least aspects of it. Here is how Satan would love us to dilute the Gospel today...

We could easily become ashamed of the simplicity of the Gospel 
Men like Tom Wright have infiltrated the evangelical church with a complicated gospel so that we can gain intellectual respectability in a scientific age. At root, he says that you need a PhD in first century Judaism to understand Jesus. If you don't  have one, well at least you need a guide with a PhD (now, I wonder, who that might be..........) Utter Nonsense! Anyone can understand the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18), including a child.

We could easily be ashamed of the uniqueness of the Gospel
In a postmodern pluralistic age, the idea that there is only ONE WAY to God is regarded as folly. But indeed there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12)

We could easily be ashamed of preaching the punishment announced by the Gospel
Rob Bell is embarrassed by the words of the New Testament when it talks about hell. Paul isn't, for he says that evildoers will "be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord." (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

We could be fearful of preaching the repentance demanded by the Gospel
I am thinking in particular of those sins which through PC have become virtues and which we may shy away from mentioning, but if not repented of will banish is from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

We could become fearful of the suffering that may come through the preaching of the Gospel
Perhaps we will keep silent because we fear that in preaching the Gospel we might lose our jobs, honour, houses, wife, children, freedom.

This is Satan's attack upon the Gospel today - not to obscure it - but to make Christians fearful of preaching it!

And yet we should not be ashamed - we must not be ashamed - because this pure Gospel is the divine means, the divine power, for the salvation of all who believe (Romans 1:16-17).

Monday, 23 October 2017

Ashamed of the Reformation?

Recent BBC TV Programmes
I have recently commended the BBC for a fine documentary about the Reformation in England, highlighting the three books that were forefront of the Reformation here: Tyndale's New Testament, Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer. Available on iPlayer for a while this programme is well worth watching. (There was another BBC documentary by David Starkey, which did not get my applause because its title encouraged the viewer to liken aspects of the Reformation to ISIS type terror, "Reformation: Europe's Holy War.")

But we need to commend the BBC when it does things well.

I sense, however, that some church people are sort of embarrassed by the Reformation and very reluctant to "celebrate" it. Why should that be so?

First, the age in which we live, militates against talk of boundaries and differences. Every fascinating mountain peak must be reduced to form one single boring plain.  There is a war taking place against the biological fact of there being two very different sexes (let us obliterate that difference). There is a war against there being only one kind of upright sexuality (let every sexuality be normal). There is a war against any notion of differing roles in marriage (let men and women be the bland same), and so it goes on. Twisted and completely confused notions of "equality" have resulted in a culture that is against any notions of "differences". So a Christian is reluctant in our environment to say anything spiky, such as, "I am a Protestant not a Catholic."

Second, we live in a culture so blind to its own faults that it dares to judge all other cultures by its own norms. So, a typical modern westerner would decry the terrible violence of a present day tin-pot political regime and denounce the sins of slavery and religious war, but completely overlook the barbaric murder in his own country. Around 200,000 defenceless children were murdered last year in Wales and England before they had the chance to live one single day. In the one place where a child ought to be most protected, the most secure, the most loved, the most protected, 200,000 lives were savagely cut down last year.

That is over 500 human beings were murdered in England Wales every single day last year! 

Yet our culture has the absolute Pharisaical cheek to complain about the atrocities of a Mugabe or a Kim Jong-il.

The result of this culture blindness is that any movement that is connected to war or death is automatically written off, automatically embarrassing: without recognising that every culture, including our own, has terrible, terrible blind spots. The greatest blind spot of late medieval days was the inability to disconnect church and state - and from that fatal error flowed some wars of religion (far less severe - it must be added quickly - than the wars caused by atheistic Communism in the last century).

Wary of all human Reformers....
We ought rightly to be wary of blindly following any human reformer. Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were men of their times, prone to all the human weaknesses that we all fall prey to. The greatest of he reformers saw something of their weaknesses and dissuaded people from following them. Luther said:

"The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone. How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?”

We should not call ourselves "Lutherans", "Calvinists" or "Zwingli-ites" (if there is such a thing), because these men were all flawed like the rest of us. We follow Jesus, and Jesus alone.

....but proud of the Reformation
But a Bible-believing Christian ought to be proud of the Reformation. Proud of the remarkable recovery of the Gospel the Holy Spirit was pleased to lead the flawed reformers to understand, preach and die for.