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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Immanuel - and Facebook

The example of God
At this time of the year we remember one of the most wonderful titles of the Lord Jesus Christ - "Immanuel."

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel" (Is 7:14)

There is something amazing and profound about this name - God was not willing to stay aloof, stay away, stay apart from the people he created but was determined, out of his great love, to come among us - "God with us", "Immanuel", in the person of Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, the Son of God.

What had God done in the past? He had communicated through prophets and theophanies in visions and writings, but all of these were "inadequate" and "incomplete" communications. God had to come "in person", through his Son who is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.

How to talk
In our day, when we have many kinds of communication open to us, we need to learn afresh that the best way, the ideal way is not by phone, not by email, not by text, not by Facebook, but face to face. God has set the example of embodied communication.

There are good reasons for this. We use the whole body to communicate. When we are in the same room with someone we say things we wouldn't say if the communication is less direct, we avoid saying things that we might say if the communication was less direct. We read non-verbal signs - which may completely change what we are about to say. 

Facebook et al
And this is where Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and the rest of social media fails. Any communication that is only via those means will be hampered and stilted and open to misunderstanding. We might think we are communicating when in fact we are not at all.

We see through a glass darkly now, but it is God's will that one day we will see face to face. In the new heavens and earth, God makes it clear that he will be with us. "Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with the, and be their God." (Rev 21:3-4).

Face to face beats all other forms of communication, for it was and will be God's way of communicating with his people. We desperately need a theology of communication in an age of social media, and the incarnation provides us with that. God talks by coming to us in flesh and blood, not on Facebook but God with us, Immanuel.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Why were the Salvation Army Successful?

The Poor in the Victorian Age
I have no idea where the Salvation Army are today, but when they started, they were Gospel people led by a fiery Gospel man.

William Booth estimated that of the 30 million people living in Victorian England a good 10%, or 3 million, were poor. By poor he did not only mean "no money" - a very limited view of "poverty". The poor were not only materially poor, they were spiritually poor: they were without God and without hope. And Booth understood that it was impossible (and unwise) to separate both kinds of poverty.

In Booth's mind material poverty itself went much further than money: the poor were in every way poor. Crime, homelessness, addiction to alcohol, grime, illness, were all bound up together in this forgotten 10%. He knew that sin and poverty very often go togethe:

"Their vicious habits and destitute circumstances make it certain that, without some kind of extraordinary help, they must hunger and sin, and sin and hunger, until, having multiplied their kind, and filled up the measure of their miseries, the gaunt fingers of death will close upon them and terminate their wretchedness." (all quotes from "In darekest England and the way out")

Can you imagine that truthful - but perfectly politically incorrect - assesment being said by anyone today?

Few people, including the state, were doing anything effective for these desperate and poor people.

What did Booth do?
William Booth called together an army of Christians to help this destitute poor, "Now I propose to go straight for these sinking classes", he declared. He found them homes, found them employment, visited them in their distress and most of all.....

.....shared the Gospel with them. He was convinced that life in Christ was a poor man's only real hope:

"My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, eithe rin this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of thr Holy Spirit though Jesus Christ.." 

Every evening these folk would gather together for 2 hours and sing, hear testimonies and hear short good preaching. EVERY EVENING.

The success of the Salvation Army
There were three reasons why under God the Salvation Army under Booth proved to be so effective.

First, they knew that unless a man is put right with God through Jesus Christ good works are of little long term value to him. Put a drunkard in a nice house, give him a job, and money, and within a few months he'll be back in the gutter. Only the Gospel can change a man's life (starting on the inside).

Second, Booth knew that caring for a man's material needs paved the way for him being opened to the Gospel. The practical help given was never an end in itself but always a means to an end, that these people would be able to hear of the love of Jesus Christ.

Third, Booth shared the Gospel with them EVERY DAY. This is how lives are transformed, not by once a week, but by every single day being among God's people, hearing God's word.

So, in the end, Booth's Salvation Army turned out Christians: and that was the key to his success, nothing more, nothing less.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Adam's Sin and Every Husband's Potential Weakness

This one vast sin
Not surprisingly, the first sin ever committed by anyone in the human race ran deep and wide. Because of that one sin we all became sinners, mysterious though that seems - and sounds.

The more you consider Adam's sin, however, the more you see the failure of so many husbands and the temptation of every husband, and every wife.

The key to understanding this aspect of the first sin is in Genesis 3 verse 6 which tells us that Adam was there when the serpent spoke to Eve, he was watching, he could have stepped in. He didn't.

In this blog I want to examine the gender-bending nature of this very first sin....

Gender-bender sin
Adam's first sin? I thought it was Eve who sinned first! No, says Paul in Romans 6, sin came into the world through one man, Adam, not through Eve; that, as we shall see, is the point. So what happens?

(1) Eve is beguiled by being spoken to
First of all, Eve is flattered by the mere fact that the serpent addresses her. Satan has done this on purpose, of course. He is trying to turn upside down  God's design - men are called to lead the home. Eve is absolutely flattered that the serpent should address her rather than her husband.

(2) Adam is impressed with Eve's clever talk?
Adam, who is head over heels in love with the gal, is so impressed with the cleverness of his wife, that he completely overlooks what is goin' on. Why doesn't he step in and correct her wrong thinking and wrong speech? After all the word of the Lord about the trees in the Garden came to him, before Eve was even around: he knew better that Eve what God had said. Why didn't he step in when the serpent spouted error and then his wife spouted errors?  Was he overawed by this clever gal? Blinded by brains?

(3) Adam and Eve both transgender roles
The end result is what? Eve does what Adam should be doing - she leads the whole show, from temptation to eating. Adam does what Eve should have been doing - follows. In the end it was all Adam's fault, "Because you listened to your wife..."(3:17).

Husbands and Wives today
Adam's sin is still every husband's temptation. When his wife is going astray, instead of correcting her, and thereby demonstrating that he is her best friend, he just 'lets it all happen', 'can't be bothered'. Perhaps for many years she has got her way by throwing a wobbler and now he's just too weary of fighting. And Eve, instead of saying to the serpent "You're talkin' to the wrong person, speak to my husband", is flattered by assumed leadership and takes Adam's role.

Every Christian marriage should aim at reflecting the pattern and beauty of the Great Marriage between Christ and his Church. Christ leads his wife gently - but firmly (read the early chapters of Revelation), and his wife is called to follow her Lord respectfully and lovingly.

When this happens the world sits up and notices both love and respect, and children born into such a family are given the best start and example for their own future marriages.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Great - and Gospel - Value of Work

Created to Work
Adam and Eve were placed in a Garden  to work it and take care of it (Gen 2:15), as well as to enjoy it. They were created workers as well as enjoyers. There is something amiss in our lives if we are only enjoyers and not workers, takers only rather than workers too.

In one sense all work is gardening - all true work involves taking the raw materials around us (homes, fields, cloth, iron, etc.) and using our God given gifts of creativity to produce something beautiful and beneficial (homes that are functioning and warm, objects of art or usefulness, etc.).

After the fall work became somewhat laborious, but it is still in God's plan that all should work. Work brings in wealth and hard work leads to influence.

For a believer, work takes on new and greater significance. Our work is one way we please and serve the Lord (Col 2:23), and our work is one way we witness to the world (Matt 5:16, 1 Pet 2:12). Before we open our mouths and share the Gospel, unbelievers should have already noted the quality and faithfulness of our work.

The effects of Laziness
In Solomon's Proverbs, there are few human states more pitied (and frankly ridiculed) than laziness. Solomon even invents a word to describe the lazy man: "sluggard" is his name. The sluggard is slow by definition, does little work and is often found sleeping - the snooze button on his alarm clock is worn out. Four particular perils await the lazy man.

1. The lazy man ends up poor (6:10-11). This is not right-wing politics, it is a law of nature.

2. The lazy man's life is just plain old difficult. His path is blocked with thorns (15:19). This is a deep truth, but since we were designed to work, not working has profound consequences upon us physically, socially, mentally and bodily. For example, a lazy man will have too much time to spare and may end up a busybody, end up bitter as he ponders small offences which the working man has soon forgot, or end up addicted to sins that he has had too much time to think about and nurture.

3. The lazy man harms other. He is brother to a vandal (18:9), because through his slack work, people who buy his poor products are endangered. Captain Scott's ship "The Endeavour" was dogged by a leak deep down in the ship which could well have been created by a lazy man who knew his slack work would never be detected (Captain Scott beleived that's where the leak came from).

4. The lazy man's character is eventually corrupted. A lazy man with far too much time to think ends up building a fantasy world of his own, which becomes, as the years pass, more and more sureal and unreal. He finds himself making ridiculous excuses as to why he can't work (22:13, 26:13) - there's a lion outside, or a murderer in the street. The whole of his character is corrupted and he ends up living in his own fantasy world, no less fictional than Assassin's Creed.

Laziness is a sin, and will lead not only to financial ruin but spiritual ruin too, for to grow as a believer requires us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The Gospel is able to cure this terrible sin and give to a lazy man the power to labour and to restore him to the world of work. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Impostor "offices" in the Modern Church

One lesson from the Reformation
Protestants learnt some good lessons from the reformation (small "r" because it was only partial - little was done, for example, to reform the church's ecclesiology back to the New Testament's vision of the church as a body). We don't buy into everything the reformers, whether Zwingli or Calvin, Luther or Melanchthon taught or did - only One Man deserves that sort of following. But they did take us back to the New Testament in important ways - and that is what reformation is always all about (when it is genuine).

The reformers said that no man should be called a priest, rightly so. The office of "priest" is an impostor office, an office that imposes itself unlawfully on the church. Jesus Christ is our High Priest and we need no human priests any longer. For a man to call himself a priest (which means mediator between man and God) puts him in blasphemous competition with the Great High Priest. So away with priests.....

Two Lessons from Jesus and his Apostles
Jesus exhorted us to call no man "father" (Matthew 23:9), because we have only one Father, our Father in heaven. His apostles know of only two church offices, that of pastor (synonymous with bishop and elder) and deacon (1 Timothy 3, Philippians 1:1), and it is not even clear whether those men (in the case of elders) or men and women (in the case of deacons) should be called/named that, "Deacon Helen, Elder Bob".

So there are only two offices, elder and deacon and that's it. There are evangelists and apostles with a small "a" (sent ones - missionaries for example), but no other offices in the church.

A modern reformation needed
However, sneaking into the church by the false academy door, is a new office in the protestant church, or two. There is the "Scholar" and the "Theologian" - or even one I have recently seen "Theologian at large". The idea is that the church needs folk who spend all their time in books, and that these men should be given a voice in conferences and their books given precedence over those written by the mere plebs of the church - namely full-time Gospel pastors. This notion presides over many of the conferences that are held for church pastors: what dignifies the conference is the presence of some famous scholar.

But "scholars", "theologians" and "academics" are impostor offices in the church of Jesus Christ. There is no warrant for them in Scripture, and the sooner we exclude them from positions of influence and authority, the better. The only men who should be listened to authoritatively are those whom God has called by the Holy Spirit to the office of pastor (=elder=bishop).

We honour men like John Piper and Timothy Keller and John MacArthur purely because they are Spirit-anointed pastors (who, by the way, did you know?, spend alot of time studying God's word. But then, every pastor and every Christian should be an avid student of the Word).

Where does this come from?
Where does this foolish honouring of scholars, theologians and academics in the church come from? This crazy pursuit of man-made eternity-forgotten academic qualifications?  It comes from the seductive nature of the academy (i.e. pride) and the academisation of the modern church. To be a something in a scientific knowledge-based, knowledge-honouring culture, you have to be called Dr or Prof or some similar weird title. Such is the power of this seduction that pastors aren't happy with being mere pastors, so they embark on PhDs so that people might be really impressed with them because they will then be called "Dr." It comes, ultimately from Satan's first seduction - Eve was attracted by new knowledge; the fruit would give her desirable wisdom (Gen 3:6).

A great added tragedy of this pursuit of the academy, is that most of the modern errors in the church have come through men and women who hold these impostor offices and are not accountable to their/any local churches. In the most recent spate of moral errors the books propagating immorality are mostly written by Bible College lecturers over the pond.

The next reformation must take us back to fishermen and ex-tax-collectors and ex-scholars like Paul (who called all that academic jazz 'dung') and back to men who filled with the Holy Spirit are called to influence the church; and not because they've studied at some "prestigious" (but unknown in heaven - where it counts) institute of learning or have earned some higher degree, but because they have been with Jesus. "Scholars", "theologians", "academics" and what nots would be consulted when and if necessary, but with no authority whatsoever assigned to them.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Life on Mars?

Mars One
An ambitious project called Mars One is aiming at sending a crew to live on Mars in the year 2027. The team have been told that once they leave planet earth there will be no way to return home - it's a one-way ticket deal.

Six people have just started living in a dome in Hawaii in a NASA experminet to see if it's possible for people to live in Mars-like conditions for a year. They will not be allowed out except in a space suit to test the endurance of human beings for prolonged life on a Mars-like planet.



When living on Mars three obstacles must be overcome. First, bodily survival, food, water, air and climate. Second, in a confined space how will the members handle inevitable conflict? You can't run away and hide for a few weeks. Third, the spiritual dimension. How can human beings exist for long in an environment that is devoid of life and beauty?

Colonization?
Some western scientists talk about colonizing Mars, preapring the planet and the human race to live there should earth become inhospitable and inhabitable. There are good reasons to doubt that this will ever happen. It is likely humans will land on Mars, but I don't believe we will ever live on Mars, and here is why.

Problem 1: Physical life. The temperature and atmosphere of Mars mean that no human will ever be able to walk on its surface without a space suit. (Those who think that we can change the atmosphere of a planet are playing God.) There must be real questions over whether in the long term the necessary resources for life such as water and oxygen - and a secure habitation - could ever be sustained.

Problem 2: Confinement. The fact that the living quarters will be very small and no-one will be able to leave without a space suit on, makes the prospect of life on Mars claustophoic in the extreme. We were created to live in a garden, not an outhouse.

Problem 3: Psychological/spiritual. The greatest reasons for doubting the feasability of life on Mars are psychological and spiritual. We were designed to live on earth, placed in a garden for infinite delight and distraction. Without the need of a spacesuit we can run into forests and plains and explore the beauty of the world.  No other boring planet (and they are ALL boring without life) will ever satisfy the curiosity of the human mind. A man-made environment is simply not enough to sustain "life".

I predict that the end product of settling down to such an artificial life in a dome on Mars will be some form of madness.

Mars One plans to fund the project by "Big Brother" kind of access to the crew. Viewers are likely to get more than they bargained for.


Friday, 11 September 2015

Why I believe in Hell

The most terrifying doctrine in the Bible
There is surely no more terrifying, no more serious, no more difficult doctrine in the Bible than its teaching on hell - a place of eternal, conscious suffering, for those who reject the God they know exists from creation, or worse - reject the Jesus who they have heard about. No Christian should speak about hell without sadness and even tears.

In every age, this difficult truth will be undermined, spoken against, revised and denied - but there are particular reasons this truth will be denied today. First, we live in an easy world. By that I mean, we, speaking of the West, find ourselves in comparative comfort and ease. Any doctrine which implies discomfort will naturally be alien to us. Second, we are a minority-rights culture, where the thought of any group being treated poorly sounds just wrong to a modern ear. Third, we are a rationalistic culture, in which the mind is king  - this doctrine does not seem reasonable to the human mind (which is why liberals have denied it for yonks).

Reasons to believe in hell
I believe in hell, because (1) it runs against the natural mind of fallen human beings. This may seem to be a strange reason, and it's not a main one, but so much of God's truth is counter-intuitive, supra-intellect, beyond our ability to understand, that if a doctrine is automatically denied because it fights against reason, that is a reason to suspect that it may be true; for who can know the mind of God? If all a man believes is understandable to his intellect, his doctrine is very unlikely to have a divine origin. This is not to say that we should believe any doctrine that is irrational, but one good reason to consider as true a well-established doctrine, is that the small feeble and fallen human mind fights it.

I believe in hell because (2) it supports the justice of God. A God who allows Hitlers and Stalins to get away with monstrous sins, indeed allows any sin to be overlooked is not a just God: such a "god" is a monster - overlooking evil and wrongdoing.

I believe in hell because (3) I believe in the cross of Jesus Christ. The suffering of the Son of God who became sin for us and was therefore punished on the cross only makes sense if you believe that God is a just God who must punish sin. If God can overlook sin, if he can turn a blind eye to sin, if there is no hell, why didn't he overlook all sin and spare his Son from Calvary? Why did he send his Son to redeem us at such great cost if  he could have simply overlooked sin?

I believe in hell because (4) I believe in evangelism and mission. There is, frankly, no point in sharing the Gospel around the world, if everyone is automatically going to heaven. Why waste our time  - indeed this is why liberals don't bother with the Gospel, why upset people if there is no need to? Just feed their bodies, don't bother with their souls.

I believe in hell because (5) the Bible teaches it. Now of course we are getting closer to the core reasons. The only way to deny the Scriptures' plain teaching about hell is rip out considerable chunks of the Bible or do one of those pathetic revisionist interpretation. Take one example alone. Paul says to Christians who are being persecuted that one day God, "will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord..." (2 Thess 1:8-9). No amount of liberal hickledy pickeldy pockery "this doesn't mean that, that doesn't mean this" magic can alter the plain meaning of the words "punished", "everlasting", and "destruction".

I believe in hell, most of all, because (6) Jesus, the Son of God, the lover of souls, taught it.  In fact, it is a well-known and well-quoted statistic, that Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else. I believe Jesus when he says: "But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 8:12), and "It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell" (Mark 9:46), and "In hell where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham.." (Luke 16:23) and, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Mat 24:46).

The essential message of the Gospel is "flee from the wrath to come"; come to Christ who has paid hell for us, so that we don't have to bear it ourselves and instead become the recipients of the amazing grace of God.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Beauty of Change

The English drop in temperature
Here in England, we know that Autumn is on the way by sudden drops in temperature, often felt most acutely in the evenings. These temperature drops signal the onset of a long winter ahead with all the inevitable changes in clothing and behaviour the cold will entail.

The beauty of change
And yet how beautiful change is! Each season has a beauty and charm of its own, and God has designed the seasons to give us variety, hungry as we have been created for new things. We would be distraught if our children remained children, we would be disppointed if seeds remained seeds. Change is built into God's design of the world.

The seasons of life
As in nature, so in life. Life is filled with new seasons as age, family, providence and health all lead us into new pastures. How we respond to these changes is crucial. Most of us are naturally reserved and resistant - or even reluctant to change. Change will involve new challenges and we can so easily find ourselves settled in our old (comfortable) ways.

How to embrace change
The way to embrace change - and especially the winters of our lives - is first, to realise how important change and winter is. Vernalisation is a process in plants which enables them to flower in spring only after a prolonged cold spell. Without the cold spell, there can be no flowering. And so often that is the way change works in our lives, before spring must come winter. Many years ago I read a sermon by, I think a Puritan, called "Winter afore Harvest" in which he showed from the Scriptures that before there can be any spiritual harvest in our lives, the cold snap of God's humbling winter must be felt.

So if you are in the winter of spiritual life, take hope; spring and harvest will soon be here!

Secondly, remember that even in the winters of our lives, God is at work in our souls, pruning us, accomplishing his sanctifying work. In this season we often cannot see God at work, but we need to be assured that the good work God has begun he will bring to completion, and so often that is through  cold shivery winters.

Thirdly, remember that God is faithful even when we cannot see his hand at work. We worship a faithful God whose love is steadfast and enduring and whose love does not depend on our feelings, but on his majestic unchangingness. Let is trust in him at all times.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.


Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.


Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.


Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.


His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.


Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.


Monday, 24 August 2015

Family and Gospel - an unpredictable mixture

The Good....
Families can be a tremendous asset in the work of the Gospel. Jesus chose two sets of brothers (Peter/Andrew and James/John) among his disciples. Missions around the world have been started by brothers, and even more by husband and wife teams.  John and Charles Wesley worked together in the cause of the Gospel (though Charles complained that John was bossy - he was!), and many families have worked together in the cause of the Gospel.

...the Bad
But there is a problem with families - their love is often blind love. We tend to love our flesh and blood so much that we are unable to see a situation in our family in a neutral way. We all too easily big up small gifts and graces and play down big foibles and sins. Families cannot see a church issue objectively - if it includes a member of their own family.

Here is the heart of the problem: across close loving family relationships, not only does truth and good pass, evil and error can also pass unnoticed - or at least pass unchallenged.

The Bible illustrates this in many ways....

...and the Ugly
Adam is standing with his wife, Eve, watching the temptation proceed and instead of rebuking the serpent and protecting his wife by taking charge, he allows it all to happen. Was he charmed at Eve's clever responses to the serpent?

Solomon is so besotted with all those wives from foreign lands that he gave into their "can I have a little idol from my home country on the mantelpiece please - if you love me...." pleas and became an idolater.

Eli was unable to deal with the sins in his two wicked sons. He allowed them to serve in the temple even though they were wicked men! Surely he would have been outraged had he seen these sins in anyone else's family and would have complained if such wicked men were serving at the temple!

Barnabas was blind to the weaknesses of his cousin John Mark who was unsuitable for a church planting mission (because he had abandoned a previous mission - that's no small weakness when you're planting a new church!) and fell out over Paul over him. (Those who have ben involved in church planting know that a leader backing out damages the credibility of the whole mission in the eyes of new converts and is a stumbling block too big to handle).

Anyone who has been involved in church life will know that a large family in a church can strangle the life right out of it with "block votes" and all kinds of other political machinations: no move can be made unless the patriarch (or matriarch) approves - even though they might be blindingly wrong.

Safeguards
How do we safeguard ourselves and our churches against the negative sides of the family, from the blindness of our families?

1) Don't believe members of your flesh and blood family blindly. They may be wrong, totally wrong. Be discerning. Just because a member of our family says something or believes something is no reason for that to be true. Adam is blamed for listening to his wife - that was his fault. He should have corrected her, not lisetend to her.

2) If you are involved in a mission with a family member, beware of your family blind spots: no one single family can ever see an issue straight, they are simply too biased.

3) Learn to discern when your decision is shaped by family or by Gospel priorities, and at least be honest about your motives.

4) Look beyond your own family.

5) Church leaders must never give in to the demands of a family in the church - no matter who they are; the commands of Jesus must always trump the demands of a family, whatever the cost.

6) While it may be necessary to start a mission with members of one family, quickly diversify and include non-family members who will be able to see objectively.

7) It is better not to start any outreach work dominated by a single family. Jesus sets the statistic - he had no more than 2 out of 12 or 1 out of 6 - or 17% - of his disciples coming from one family. In a church plant for example, that's a healthy statistic to adopt - don't have more than 17% of the core from any one family.

One day all earthly families will be dissolved and all family blindnesses and prejudices ended. In that final and eternal family it will not be family blood that binds us and sometimes blinds us together, it will be a different blood that binds us together, the blood of the Lamb on the throne.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Lessons from Corbyn & Trump

Something is happening.....
...on both sides of the Atlantic.

People are voting for straight-talking plain-speaking "ordinary blokes", rather than smooth-talking career-minded politicians.

On this side of the Atlantic the labour party is trying to find a new leader. Three of the four candidates sound exactly the same - politically-correct, bland, polished smoothies. Standing out by a few light years is an old geyser who speaks his mind simply and tells it like it is. He "aint bovered" what the media think, he has convictions and tells it like it is. You may not like what he stands for but at least you know what he stands for. The other three might change their minds on everything, should some opinion poll come out against what they presently believe. (For all I know they may have changed their minds six times since I began writing this blog, that's only a few minutes ago...)

On the other side of the Atlantic something similar is happening. Though Mr Trump is making a thousand politically incorrect statements, he's gaining in popularity.

Why this yearning for plain speakers?
Because we are surrounded by leaders who have no convictions and only one ambition - to get votes at all costs. If they need to change a view of theirs - any view - because it is making them unpopular they are very happy to do so. Popularity leading to power is all that matters, not principles.

Our nations seem to be weary of such politicians and would prefer someone real who "aint bovered" what people think of him/her.

It is intriguing to watch how the old dogs (e.g. Tony Blair) and the establishment media (e.g. BBC) absolutely hate these guys - they are stepping all over their polished blue-swede shoes (the opposition of a pagan institution like the BBC in itself should make us stand up and listen).

And the church?
I notice that Jesus bypassed the polished smoothies of his day (Pharisees and Sadducees and the like) and choose rough ordinary blokes as his followers. The leaders of the early church were uneducated ordinary blokes, filled with the Spirit, rather than filled with Degrees. And if there is something lacking - seriously lacking - in the western church, it is leaders who come from the ranks of fishermen and tax collectors. Most of the top leaders in the Western Church today are highly educated smoothies, who, frankly, all too often sound just like one another. We look in vain for the Peters and James's.

One example: I went to a church planting conference this year "A Time to Plant." The highlight for me was a small side seminar led by Dai Hankey, a proper Welsh "fisherman" church planter. So I thought when it came to interviewing church planters in the main sessions, this Welshman would - of course - be on the stage. The conference organisers would, of course, want wide representation.  Not at all, they opted for, "he's safe for the small side meeting attended by very few, folks, but we only want safe smoothies for the big show."  

We need Pauls, don't get me wrong, I'm talking about balance, here. Can you name one single major leader in the Western church, who is just a 'regular guy' to balance the books?

No? Well then, that's the point.

And we wonder why such great swathes of our nations are untouched. They are untouched because they look and listen to the preachers of our day and think, "Those guys aren't like us", and walk away - and in rejecting a culture they don't understand, they reject the Gospel and the Christ they need. 

Friday, 7 August 2015

How the Gospel Changes Sexual Morality

Unfortunately, we can no longer dance around the subject of sexual rights and wrong in the western world we now live. We have to be plain - and sometimes this means saying things we would much prefer not saying; but if we are not plain, we will loose this generation who are being deeply influenced by a pagan sexuality.

An example from history - the Roman world of the New Testament era

In Kyle's Harper's excellent book, "From Shame to Sin" (in a Harvard University series of books) he describes the sexual code of first century Rome (the world of the New Testament):
  1. Adultery was defined as sex with a married woman - but a married man was not committing adultery if he had sex with slaves or prostitutes! And many married men did have sex with their slaves and with prostitutes, and nothing was thought about it.
  2. Women were to be chaste before marriage (at the age of around 14-16) and pure within marriage, but men could play the field in the decade before marriage (at the age of around 25) and then they could play the field afterwards - provided of course that they didn't play the field with an already-married woman. In other words there were double standards for men and women.
  3. Homosexual acts were divided into two groups - one allowed, the other not: Allowed: sex with boys or sex with male prostitutes. Not Allowed: passive sex.
The Gospel absolutely changed all of this, and soon after the "conversion" of Constantine (312 AD), this is what happened:
  1. Adultery was defined biblically - as any sex outside of marriage
  2. The standard before and after marriage was the same for both men and women: no sex before marriage and no sex outside of marriage
  3. Homosexual sin was redefined most radically: ALL homosexual acts were wrong, and that included acts between men and acts between women. What is more this sin was regarded as the one that demonstrated more than any other mankind's rebellion against God and his creatorily design.
Today's situation
In the world in which we now live, the following sexual mores hold true:
  1. After marriage, adultery and porn is OK provided you don't get caught for the former
  2. Before marriage, for both men and women, sex and porn are OK
  3. Homosexual acts are divided into three groups: not allowed: with children; sort of OK - promiscuous sex; totally permissible: sex in a long term partnership
In the face of this present (pagan) situation we must re-assert God's standards for Christian people: all sex outside of sex between one man married to one woman is sinful in God's eyes. All homosexuality is sinful and wrong. All pornography is wrong.

We're not called to judge those outside the church, but we are called to judge those within the church, and God's standard is very simple: sex is right within a heterosexual marriage, and outside of marriage sexual immorality is one of the sins which will bring down God's righteous wrath. 

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Birthday-itis

The Day I was on Facebook

Some years ago I went on Facebook - for a week or so. I must have joined near my birthday and was shocked to receive so many "happy birthdays" - clearly Facebook is programmed with the assumption that Birthdays are very important events to many people.

I left Facebook because frankly, I don't want lots of people saying "Happy Birthday" to me.

But Why?

 

Symptoms of  spiritual disease

For me birthdays have become a symptom of several spiritual diseases in the Western Church.

First, the love of pleasure, "In the last days... people will be lovers of themselves.... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Out there in the world, men and women get their kicks from earthly parties and so birthdays are a really big source of earthly joy; that's why so much time and money and energy are poured into birthday events. But we, surely, have more Solid and lasting Treasures and that should be reflected in the lower-key nature of our birthday events. But is this always so?

A second disease is the lack of sacrificial love for others. What do I mean? In the world birthdays are so important people will take a day off work (even if it's inconvenient for their colleagues or their company); if they have any other regular commitment to any voluntary organisation or person on that day, those can all go, because "it's my birthday and that comes first". Christians are called to think of others in all their actions, "How will this action impinge on my brother or sister? Will I discourage or encourage them if I am away? Will I build up or destroy?" The writer to the Hebrews says "Let us not give up meeting together together... but let us encourage one another" implying that our mere presence encourages or discourages (Hebrews 10:25). So if my absence from a Christian gathering or ministry - because it is my birthday - would discourage someone, then I will gladly forgo my absence for the sake of others. When we make a decision to be among God's people, what should come first in the mind of a Christian is the impact on others.

I don't know about you, but I am profoundly discouraged when a brother or sister in Christ puts a mere birthday above meeting with their brothers and sisters in Christ: it casts a shadow over the whole event. I think - and I am right to think this - "we can't matter very much to them."

The third disease is the priority of the earthly family. When we come to know the Lord, our church family becomes our main family, our true brothers and sisters, according to Jesus, because it is now our eternal family. "Who are my mother and my brothers?... whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:35). If there is a clash between meeting with our eternal brothers and sisters and meeting with our temporary soon-to-pass flesh family, that choice should be fairly easy to make.

The fourth disease is a failure of cross-bearing. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34). In other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters are sacrificing  jobs and homes, children and some their lives for the sake of the Gospel, but for us sacrificing a birthday is a step too far! If a mere birthday clashes with Christian service or a Christian gathering we won't give up that birthday for the sake of Christ! How far we have fallen! What small tiny sacrifices we are unwilling to make!

When it comes to birthdays, count me out!


So when it comes to birthdays count me out:  because birthdays have become for me a symptom of the spiritual poverty of so much of western Christianity.

Biblically, birthdays are zero events - they have no spiritual value. When mentioned in the Scriptures they don't come out well and prove how these events can so easily become opportunities for excess. Pharaoh murdered one of his chief officials on his birthday (Genesis 40:20), Job was worried about his children sinning on their birthdays (Job 1:4), Herod murdered John the Baptist on his birthday (Mark 6:21). No New Testament letter writer ever says at the end of his letter, "by the way, do wish John a happy birthday" or "don't forget my birthday."

Perhaps when it costs us to be a Christian then birthdays will automatically recede into the far background, where they belong.

So when it comes to birthday wishes, count me out. It's my small protest against excess. 

No redeeming features?

Are there no redeeming features to birthdays? I'm not saying that. It's good to spend time with family and friends. In the Old Testament God's people celebrated festivals - we need breaks and happy events. It's a matter of balance and priorities.

Let us think Christ-like when it comes to birthdays. If our birthday or the birthday of a loved one falls on a day when we are due to meet with our brothers and sisters, or due to serve the Lord in a regular ministry, let's either move the birthday to another day or forget the birthday that year altogether. Let's be moderate about our expenditure, above all, let's fix our affections on things above.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

We're all against "Christendom"

The "community of Christians" and "Christendom"
There is a world of difference between the community of Christians, which the Bible calls the Church - made up of every true believer in the world today and in all past ages - and Christendom (which we'll define for this blog as the marriage of the word "Christian" and the word "kingdom", meaning earthly kingdom.)

Christendom, is any grouping that calls itself "Christian" but possesses political power. A Christian who is a politician isn't necessarily part of Christendom  - that may be his or her life calling from God. But a bishop who sits in the house of Lords, and wields political influence because of instituted religious power, is.

From the days when the Roman emperor Constantine "became a Christian", Christians began to confuse the church and the state. From then onwards they began to wield political power over unbelievers. Time came when over generations these religio-political leaders ceased to be true believers and they began to abuse their power and use it to oppose unbelievers. 

From this confusion the name of Jesus has been dragged through a thousand pools of mud as He has been associated with the Crusades, Witch Hunts, Inquisitions, and numerous other atrocities.

In fact it is probably impossible to speak favourably of the name of Jesus to a secular historian, before first denouncing the heinous crimes committed in the name of Jesus. We need to explain that true religion can go to seed - and in Christendom is certainly has. We need to explain that we find true Christianity in Jesus and the New Testament, not in Christendom.

We need to disassociate ourselves completely from all alliances with political power, for Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world, and Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, and Jesus went to his death rather than calling down angels to protect him.

Here's the way it goes: 

In true Christianity, pagans persecute and Christians suffer. 
 In false Christendom, Christians persecute and pagans suffer.


Friday, 5 June 2015

The best book I've read this year....

The best till last

I've been reading many books on Gender and the Gay issue recently; this was the last book on my list, and frankly with an incomprehensible title, I was not looking forward to reading it.

Dreadful title, but an amazing book.....

What the book is about

Ed Shaw, the author, is a Christian who finds himself attracted to men - but he refuses to give in to same-sex temptations and lives a celibate life. This in itself, of course, is absolutely ludicrous in the eyes of the present passing western culture (denying yourself? - crazy, man) - but here's the value of this book - this book explains why such a life of celibacy is increasingly seen as crazy in the eyes of the church. And why so many  young Christians are falling for same-sex marriage errors.

What's happened is that the church (and I'm thinking of evangelicals) has failed to teach certain key doctrines or overemphasised other key doctrines, and the inbalance thus caused has resulted in Christians with a same-sex attraction falling for same-sex marriage errors. 

The moment you understand the lacks in certain teachings and the overemphasis in other teachings everything falls into place and the Christian who is of same-sex attraction can stay - blessedly, cross-bearingly, gloriously, freely, painfully, wonderfully - celibate.

So unlike all the other books on the gay issue I have read, either blatant attempts to argue that black is white or same-old same-old reminders of the "7 proof texts", this book is overwhelmingly positive and addressed as much to the church as to the struggling Christian. 

The missing doctrines

So  what's the church NOT been teaching in recent years?

(1) We have failed to teach that our primary identity is in Christ as a son or daughter of God. We have failed to big up our primary identity, which is the enormous privilege of being a child of God. And as a consequence allowed the world to answer the question: Who am I? with lies such as "I am gay" or even "I am straight." Our primary identity is nothing to do with our sexuality, and everything to do with our adoption as sons of God.

(2) We have failed to teach that our primary family is the people of God, not husband and wife + 2.4 kids. Jesus taught that his true family was made up of those who obeyed God, not his flesh and blood relatives. The NT radically downplays the nuclear family compared to the OT and bigs up the church as the new family of God. 

(3) We have failed to teach the doctrine of creation and fall. Our people have no theological tools with which to answer the "If I'm born gay, it must be right to be gay" tagline. They have bought into the world's teaching that "What IS is RIGHT", that you can argue from IS to OUGHT. But we know that what IS, is the consequence of the FALL and to determine what is RIGHT we need to turn back to Genesis 1-2.

(4) We have failed to teach that what makes us happy is what God says makes us happy, not what we tiny humans think makes us happy. Out there in the world what I think makes me happy is what I should pursue. But what if what I want to pursue actually won't make me happy (in the end)? What if staying in that difficult marriage might be the best thing for me? What if denying myself something my fallen self wants might be the best thing for me? Because God just happens to know better than little 'ol me? In failing to teach that "what makes us most happy is the will of God" we have left a vacuum which the world has happily filled.

(5) We have failed to teach that intimacy is more than sex (we have lost friendship).  It is possible, as David and Jonathan knew, to be very close to someone and yet not have sex with them. The world thinks this is mad and so reads sex in any and every close relationship. There is more to intimate friendship than sex. We need to teach friendships.....

(6) We have failed to teach the abiding differences between men and women. As we have bought into the "men and women are equal" mantra of the world, one of it's hidden corollaries has been that genders are interchangeable. Of course if a man and a woman are the same why not swap them over? A bloke and a bloke will do just as well as a man and a woman. We have failed to preach - and explain - the differences between men and women.

(7) We have failed to big up celibacy. Which I think we all have to agree is not a bad state, since both Paul, and more importantly, Jesus, were celibate. Paul says that he wants folk to be free of concern - a freedom which comes from being single. Some of the greatest Christians and some of the biggest contributions  to mission  have been made by single Christians.

(8) We have failed to preach the value and place of suffering. We have failed to teach that true Christianity is cross-carrying. So in not teaching this we have allowed our Christian folk to buy into the myth that if anything causes you to suffer (such as you imagine, celibacy will) run a mile from it.

I would add to these, the overwhelmingly heterosexual nature of Scripture. The case against same sex marriage does not rest on "7 fragments" but on the whole of the Bible, which is heterosexual because the Gospel is heterosexual - Christ (groom) died for the Church (bride).

The exaggerated doctrines

And what doctrines has the church been bigging up?

(1) We have exaggerated the heterosexual family.  We have - wrongly - held up the heterosexual family as the paradigm all Christians should aspire. In so doing we have undermined not only the church family (we are all brothers and sisters), but the single state.

(2) We have suggested that godliness=heterosexuality. Actually, godliness is likeness to Christ, and it is possible to find godliness in the life of a same-sex attracted celibate Christian as much as a heterosexual Christian. The effect of this identity (godliness=heterosexuality) has been a sense of real failure in the hearts of many Christians born same-sex oriented.

When all these teachings are put into place / corrected, you don't have to trot out the seven "Don't Passages" to make the case, you just have to live in a fellowship which preaches and lives the truth and automatically you will feel in your heart and now in your mind that same-sex practise is not the way to find true happiness.

Thank you Ed Shaw......

Monday, 1 June 2015

Raising Teenagers

Western Youth Culture is Pagan Culture

You don't need to be a prophet to recognise that the culture of our teenagers today is basically a pagan culture - pre-Biblical and post-Christian. Little of the Gospel - doctrine or practise - filters through the web to their smartphones or laptops.

This makes the task of raising our teenagers in the ways of the Lord all the more urgent and demanding.

The unique challenges of the age of youth
The particular challenges of youth, according to the Scriptures, are threefold. First, young people have the bodies and growing minds of adults without any of the experience of adults. The young prodigal runs off with half his father's wealth (Luke 15) but without the wisdom that comes with experience wastes it all.

Second, youth is a time when God can so easily be forgotten, because life is filled with so many new and exciting experiences (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

Third there are particular evil desires that inflict young people more than older people (2 Tim 2:22) - and these go further than sexual temptation and include vanity and zealousness - Saul was a zealot in his youth (Acts 7:58) -  what church has not experienced a young zealot going off the rails in their midst?

Youth, on the other hand, can be a time of great spiritual usefulness and growth. Samuel led God's people from his youth (1 Sam 12:2), David killed Goliath in his youth (1 Samuel 17) and Daniel plus his three friends stood up for the Lord in their youth (Daniel 1-3). Youth need not be a time of wastefulness and wandering - but it so easily can be.

So how should we guide our young people?
We ought to pray for them - and for ourselves so that we might be granted wisdom to bring them up wisely.

We ought to be patient with them, knowing the enormous changes taking place in their lives, not exasperating them (Eph 6:4), picking our battles and allowing many lesser things to pass by.

We ought to talk to them about God, since they so easily forget him in this season of life, but now seeking more creative ways to speak of him, such as those encouraged in Deuteronomy 6.

We ought to love them unconditionally, like the prodigal's father, who waits every morning for his son's return. Love must involve commending them for the good they do.

We must talk to them explicitly about gangs and sex and so on - if we don't talk explicit, we can be sure someone else will - and that someone will likely be the pagan WWW. Every Christian parent ought to make a detailed study of Proverbs 1-7 and there learn how to talk to their teenager. We have the experience they don't have, and we have an obligation to pass it on.

Finally, they need to be taught about and protected from the real dangers on the internet. Parents need to wake up to the wickedness freely available online - before their "dear pure child" is potentially polluted and corrupted by the world.

Some internet guidelines
Here are some guidelines to protect your child from the dangers online:
  1. talk openly about these dangers
  2. only have an ISP which will block evil at source - and then block it
  3. have accountability software on ALL devices - especially smartphones (Windows phones don't do accountability software well, so go for Android or Apple). "Accountable2you" and "Covenant Eyes" are two companies that will serve you well
  4. Install Google safesearch across all your browsers
Parents must do this first for themselves, of course, and then - and only then - can exhort their children to follow suit.

What we do in our home - one example

We have used Talktalk's Homesafe since it came out years ago - it stops evil at source




We use "Accountable2You" software which gives a report on all websites viewed with a simple colour coding system (red, orange)




We use Google safesearch which blocks any remaining images or websites:






Thursday, 23 April 2015

Powerful Prayer

Not all prayer is equal
Some prayers don't go further than the ceiling. If we "cherish" sin in our hearts God will not hear us, for example (Psalm 66:18).

Some prayers are diminished on their way to heaven by a husband's lack of consideration towards his wife (1 Peter 3:7). The prayers of uncaring husbands are weak.

Other prayers are powerful, however.

Before Daniel had even finished one of his evening prayers (Daniel 9) an angel was sent swiftly to tell him God had not only heard but answered the prayer as he began it! (9:23)

Steps to powerful prayer
What made Daniel's prayer so effective in heaven? Here are seven steps to powerful prayer:

Powerful prayers are serious
Daniel puts on itchy sackcloth, uncomfortable ashes, he fasts and he pleads with God (9:1-4). Some of this may be Old Testament attire, but the seriousness is for all believers.

Powerful prayers are planned
Daniel was a busy government worker who, because prayer was so important, had to schedule it into his life (6:10), three times day. This prayer was the third one of the day, it seems (9:21). We schedule into our lives all sorts of things we deem important: so too should we with our prayers and intercessions and petitions.

Powerful prayers arise out of Scripture
Daniel was "claiming the promises" of God. God had promised to restore his people to Jerusalem soon, Daniel prayed for it to happen. Daniel's prayer arose out of the writings of Jeremiah (9:2). He reasoned "God has promised it, I shall hold God to his promises". Powerful prayer, therefore, starts in heaven, comes down in Scripture to earth, and returns to heaven on the lips of his people. God could have planned history to miss this weak human dimension out, but he has willed that his promises shall be fulfilled through the prayers of his people. So when we are praying for loved ones, for example, rather than making up prayers, we could say to God, "It is not your will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), please save my son/daughter/wife/mother..." How can God not do what he has expressed is his will?

Powerful prayer is filled with adoration
Daniel's prayer is shot through with expressions of the greatness of the God to whom he comes, "the great and awesome God" (9:4), "the one who keeps his covenant of love" (9:4), the "Lord our God who brought your people out of Egypt" (9:15). Daniel is echoing what Jesus taught us to do, include in our prayers "hallowed be your name."

Powerful prayers are passionate for God's glory
What causes Daniel so much grief is not so much the poor condition of God's people in Exile, not the destruction of Jerusalem, not the broken up temple, but what all of these say to the surrounding nations, "Israel's God is pathetic." The honour of God's name is what disturbs this holy man most of all, "O Lord, hear and act. For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because the city and your people bear your name." (9:19).

Powerful prayer is penitent
Nothing is more prominent in this particular prayer than confession of sin, since it was the people's sin that led them into trouble. What is most notable of all, however, is that Daniel confesses the sins of his people corporately. Did Daniel really commit the long catalogue of sins he lists? No. But Israel's sins are "our sin" not "their sins." Jesus taught as much, "forgive us our sins" he taught us to say.

Powerful prayer is specific
Daniel does not ask God to "bless us", not that that would be inappropriate at times (Numbers 6). He asks for very particular things, that God would not be angry anymore (9:16), would restore his temple (17) and forgive his people (19). The sharper the arrow, the more effective it is.

It is possible to improve in the school of prayer. It is possible for our prayers to become more effective, for us to grow in prayer. And here, Daniel shows us how.






Friday, 10 April 2015

The Plague of Pornography (3) God's Cures for Satan's temptations

Get this sin into proportion
It would be all too easy to blow this sexual sin out of proportion. Yes, looking at pornography is a sin because it is sexual impurity.  Enjoying God's good gift of sex outside his decreed boundary - which is sex between a married man and his wife, alone - is sinful. We are called to flee sexual sin (2 Timothy 2:22) not flirt with it.

But it would be easy to get sexual sin out of proportion. It is surely no worse than pride ("I would never sin that way"), self-righteousness ("I have never sinned that way"), unforgiveness, ("I could never forgive her for that sin") or a judgemental spirit ("Aren't people who fall for that one pretty awful?")

This is not to deny the sinfulness of sexual impurity but to put all men and women on the same level - all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

It is very possible for we Christians who have been brought up in a pure Christian home to find ourselves self- righteously setting sexual sin up as the mother of all sins, and disregarding some good old-fashioned planks in our own eyes, such as unforgiveness, gossip or greed or pride.

1. Start out with a righteous hatred
Sexual impurity must be put to death in the same way as other sins, such as greed, ("Oh she's just off on another of her shopping sprees"), lying ("I couldn't come to home group because I was ill") or unforgiveness. It starts with seeing the sin as God sees it, not as the world sees it or as one might have seen it / overlooked it in the past. Sin is an ugly monstrosity. We must understand sexual impurity as Joseph did, who before it came along his path, had already made up his mind and so said without a second thought, "How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9).

Watching pornography is wickedness. Ask God to teach you that in your heart. Ask God daily to create in you a pure heart (Psalm 51:10). At this moment you may be unable to imagine that a sin your sinful flesh "loves", you will come one day to hate.
 
2. Set out to put an end to this sin
Secondly,  decide before God today, that you are going to war against sexual impurity. Many battles against sin take time, so the fight may take time: this is not to excuse falls along the way, but to recognise we have a powerful enemy, and if you have committed a sin on many occasions, you have sown according to the sinful nature seeds that will take a while to uproot; the sin is likely to have burned a path in your mind, which will take time to heal. Be patient with yourself, for God is patient with you.

3. Know that you have a Helper
No matter what secular help you might receive, it is very unlikely you will ever be delivered from besetting sins without divine help, for Satan has the whole world under his spell (1 John 5: 19) and Jesus alone can deliver you from sin. Be assured that the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. You have the Spirit of God dwelling within you, and with his omnipotent help, you can, you will win this battle. But don't trust one little bit in human helps or yourself.

4. Confess your sins to someone
You have already done that to God - many times, perhaps even with tears. It's time now to seek help from the body of Christ. Talk to a trusted Christian friend (who won't judge you) or your pastor - be assured he is more likely to weep with you than condemn. "Confess your faults to one another so that you might be healed." (James 5:16).

5. Begin to put this sin to death
No sin dies without its sustenance being removed. "Put to death the misdeeds of the flesh" (Romans 8:3). Write down all the sources of sexual temptation and begin to put them out of your life, one by one, or ten by ten. Are there places you go which now need to become 'no go'? Are there TV programs you can no longer watch? Are there people who you must say goodbye to - forever?  Perhaps you have to get rid of the TV, or come off facebook, or end all Internet use for a few years. A few years? How serious are you? "If your right hand / eye causes you to sin cut it off / gouge it out" - sounds like radical action to me.

Put in place layers of Internet protection: go for one of the increasing number of Internet Service Providers who block porn at source, use accountability software like Covenant Eyes or Accountable to you. Use Google's safesearchlock.

But do not do any of this on your own. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit - without prayerful dependence on the power of God - you won't succeed. Prayerfully put this sin to death.

6. Know that as you battle with this sin, you are loved and forgiven!
Astounding as it may seem, your sin hasn't altered how God sees you or how he loves you. Justification assures us of our righteousness in God's eyes - on account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and God's covenental love assures us that we are eternally loved, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This astounding grace is not an excuse to sin but an incredible motive to live a holy life! "You mean God still loves me in spite of my sin?! In response to such overwhelming love I want to work out my salvation with fear and trembling."

7. If you've been hurt, help and forgive
Finally, if you've been on the receiving end of this sin,  help your husband/wife to be held to account and help her/him put this sin to death. Know that his/her sin is nothing to do with you, and everything to do with her/his wickedness. "Every Heart Restored" will help you work through the pain.

(If after patience and help he/she stubbornly won't end the sin, consider divorcing him/her - because he/she is guilty of porneia and Jesus says you can divorce him/her for that (Matthew 5:32) You have no duty before God to put up with a serial-adulterer - for that is what a porn addict is).

There are now some wonderful resources available to help Christians through this particular besetting sin. Some are listed them below.  





Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Principles of Christian Parenting

#1 Bring up your children according to Scripture!
That’s what Paul means when he says in the second part of Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” 

In the first part of the verse Paul teaches that it is possible for parents to have a wholly negative effect upon their children: if it is done wrongly parenting will “exasperate” children. The positive way to parent is to do it in “the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Positively, this means that every parent should become familiar with the main parenting passages of Scripture such as Deuteronomy 6, the book of Proverbs, Ephesians chapter 6, Colossians chapter 3 and Hebrews chapter 12. 

Negatively, training in the instruction of the Lord means not following the parenting trends of our present age and being careful to assess the parenting methods which we were raised up in, according to the Word of God.  

#2 Love your children as God The Father loves
The first Person of the Godhead is called “God the Father” because of his loving relationship towards both his one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his relationship towards his adopted children, the church. And in these two relationships God the Father sets the divine role model for every Christian parent. And it is agape love that defines these two “Fatherly” relationships.

(i) The Father loves his One and Only Begotten Son
Jesus is just about to begin his daunting life’s work and God the Father said to him and to everyone who would listen: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

From these words we learn three parenting truths: First, tell your children you want them in your family, “this is MY Son”, that you are proud that they are in your family. Second, tell your children you love them, “whom I love”; don’t assume they know, tell them verbally. Thirdly, tell them you are pleased with them, “in whom I am well pleased.” The world will hammer them, they need to know that you are pleased with them.

(ii) The Father loves his adopted children
 God the Father has adopted children too, his church. He longs for them to be in his family, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) and has gone to great cost to achieve that adoption, “For God so loved the world,  that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16. Sacrifice is the characteristic of his love for us; and if we are to love our children in a Christlike way, we must be prepared to give up many things to love them too.  

#3 Set a godly example before your children
The golden rule of all discipleship is this: the amount of influence one person has upon another is proportional to the amount of time they spend with that person. That’s why 12 men turned the world upside down, they Acts 4:13, “had been with Jesus” - for 3 years, probably hundreds or even thousands of hours.

Since parents spend so much time with their children, they will inevitably be a vast influence on them.  There can be few greater motives for living a godly life in the home than this: our children will turn out like us. Our children will pick up on all our priorities and attitudes, whether for good or ill.

#4 Discipline your children in love
Discipline is the correction of wrong behaviour by some painful action. According to the Scriptures, discipline is necessary because children are sinners.  “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Pr. 22:15). The “rod of correction” need not refer only to corporal discipline but may also be a metaphor for any painful action to correct bad behaviour.  To discipline well, we must first  learn to distinguish between childish irresponsibility and wilful disobedience. Childish irresponsibility requires teaching while wilful disobedience requires discipline. Wilful disobedience requires some painful action needed to correct it. And in this a parent must be proportionate, controlled, followed through and consistent.

#5 Teach your children the Scriptures
The fifth Bible principle is teach your children the Scriptures. According to Deuteronomy
6:4-9, we are to impress God’s Word on our children at all sorts of different opportunities during the day. We may arrange time during the day – right after evening meal? - when we read the Bible to them and pray, making this short, to the point and winsome.  It is not the church’s responsibility to teach children, it is parents’ responsibility, Ephesians 6:4. Anything the local church does, must be regarded as “icing on the cake”, additional to the fundamental teaching in the home.

#6  Maintain order: children are children and parents are parents!
Paul insists on order, in Ephesians 6 when he says that parents are to bring up children, not the other way round.  In our culture where order has largely broken down and there is a great drive to so-called equality, parents are in great danger of treating their children as equals. This is a wrong – and dangerous move. Lead your children, you know best. Don’t tell them everything that is going on in your lives – they cannot handle adult issues. Don’t think of them as your "pals": they cannot handle an equal relationship with an adult.

#7 Remember that childhood is unique
“Train a child in the way he should go. And when he is older he will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6). The Bible teaches that childhood is a one-way street; that which is formed in the early
years shapes the character of the adult for life.  Everything we know from science confirms this, and it makes those childhood years so important and crucial. What a great opportunity a parent has to shape the whole future course of life in the first few years of a child’s life! How much help we need from the Lord.

#8 Remember, parenting is not everything
It is quite possible to make idols of our children and idols of parenting. But there is more to life than children. One day they will leave us, and if our world revolves around them, either we will be bereft, or worse, we will manipulate them to continue bringing us the fulfilment only Christ can bring. Some parents neglect one another as soon as children come along. Sometimes temptation leads one of them astray, or perhaps they just drift apart and become strangers – who then don’t know each other when the children have fledged. A God-pleasing Christian life is a life where every part is put into proper place. Where husbands and wives continue to have time for one another, where children are never given the impression they are the family idols, where the Lord is pre-eminently served and worshipped.

Happy the home that welcomes You, Lord Jesus,
Truest of friends, most honoured guest of all,
Where hearts and eyes are bright with joy to greet You,
Your lightest wishes eager to fulfil.

Happy the home where men and wife together
Are of one mind believing in Your love:
Through love and pain, prosperity and hardship,
Through good and evil days Your care they prove.

Happy the home, O loving Friend of children,
Where they are giv’n to You with hands of prayer,
Where at Your feet they early learn to listen
To Your own words, and thank You for Your care.

JB Dykes

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

"If it's in the book of Acts it should happen today?"

A good start
A Christan who makes the Scriptures his or her guide in all things, ought to say, especially of the New Testament, "if it happened here, surely it ought to happen in today's church" for we like those first believers, belong to the Gospel age of the New Covenant, the age in which the Spirit of God has been poured out upon his people.

So as a first take and as an instinctive response to New Testament Scripture, this approach is to be applauded.

Second thoughts
But as we begin to read through Acts - and the letters of that apostolic age, the New Testament - we begin to sense that there might be something unique about the age of the first Apostles, and hence about the period of time recorded in the book of Acts. 

For one thing, this age was foundational. Jesus founded no church directly, but left his Apostles to undertake the work of writing the founding documents of the church, inspired by the Spirit and preserved in the New Testament. An age that is foundational, might be slightly different from the house built upon it.

If we were to ask what made the first decades of the Christian church foundational, it was the existence of the Apostles, capital "A". These men were responsible for the writings of the New Testament - every one of the 27 books of the NT were written either by an Apostle (roughly the Twelve plus Paul) or by someone very close to an Apostle: that was one of the 'criteria of inclusion'.

So the Apostolic Age was unique because the Apostles were alive, the Apostles who wrote the New Testament Scriptures. 

How did an "apostle" demonstrate that he was an Apostle, capital "A", with divine authority to write or oversee a letter or book of the New Testament? He performed unique miracles, says Paul:

"The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance." (2 Corinthians 12:12)

What kinds of unique miracles?

"....people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on them as he passed by..... all of them were healed." (Acts 5:12-16)

"God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs that had touched him were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." (Acts 19:11-12)

So some of the miracles we find in the book of Acts, are "extraordinary" miracles which marked out the Apostle performing them as a Spirit-inspired man with the divine authority to write Scripture. A shadow or hankerchief could heal, for example.

I have been a "student of miracles" for many years, earnestly desiring to find true and real examples of present day healings (and there are some wonderful true examples), but I have yet to come across any miracle worker today or in post-apostolic history who performed anything remotely like the miracles of the Apostles.

Let's be realistic: if such a person truly existed today, the world would be flocking to them, and there would be extensive documentation of their miracles. If any miracle worker today had 1000 bonafide miracles to their name (I know it would be to the name of Jesus, not their name) they would be more famous than David Beckham, and they would be in demand across the globe. Such miracle workers simply do not exist: that is a humble challenge as well as a honest assessment. 

The character of the Apostolic miracles was radical: we're not talking about backaches going away and the like, we're talking about verifiable big miracles including raising the dead to life. And those miracles were performed to authenticate the Apostle.

Time for a second look
So now we go back the the book of Acts and we ask, with new eyes, enlightened by the Spirit of God, what  is unique and what is repeatable? We do not expect to see everything we read repeated in the church today, because that age was foundational.

Two extremes
Perhaps the greatest tragedy that can befall us is to find ourselves at either end of a spectrum. There are some Christians who truly "throw out the baby with the bath water." They believe that virtually nothing supernatural in Acts happens today.  They want nothing to do with the supernatural: indeed they are suspicious - and even frightened - of all miracles, all prophecies, and any event that cannot be rationalised away.

At the other end of the spectrum are believers who believe that absolutely everything recorded in Acts can happen today. Since it actually doesn't happen in real life they often live in a land of fantasy and delusion, reading into every apparently minor supernatural event or word something of immense supernatural  significance.

Balance?
No-one gets this balance right, but that is no reason not to labour at balance. We live in the age of the Gospel and the Spirit, but we don't live in the age of the Apostles. We need wisdom from God to work this  out from Scripture in our lives and in our churches.