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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.

Molvolio
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.

Monday, 16 October 2017

How to Get the Best out of Preaching

The Practise of Listening to Preaching
Listening to preaching does not come naturally for at least three reasons:

First, we live in an age of infinite distractions. I am thinking here the Internet. The bored human mind can flit anywhere it chooses, and quickly moves to a more engaging site. This lazy habit of mind applied to the things of God is counterproductive, because listening to God's word needs both concentration and mental effort: it's called loving God with all our minds (Luke 10:27).

Secondly, Satan hates God's Word. He must know that the Word is the "sword of the Spirit", so he will do anything he possibly can to keep us from it. And boy has he had a field day in the modern church. Sermons are kept as short as possible and passages not politically correct (kind of like most of the Bible these days?) are avoided like the plague. Satan will keep us from hearing God's Word.

Thirdly, our old rebel natures hate the Word. Although we have been renewed in our inner man, we carry around with us our old fallen husk until the day we die. And this part of us does not want to submit to God's Holy Law.

For these reasons - and no doubt more - listening to preaching does not come naturally.

How then should I prepare?
First and foremost, pray. "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." (Psalm 119:18). Before we listen to preaching, we ought to pray for God to do what we can never do, to open our eyes to the glories of his Word, by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Second, humble ourselves before God. It is impossible to eat without opening our mouths, without being receptive, and it is impossible to hear God's Word without humbling ourselves before God's mighty Word, "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." (Psalm 81:10). Many people do not hear because they are too proud to hear: they know better than God. 

Love the preacher. The pharisees learnt absolutely nothing at all from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, because they hated him. No-one will hear a word from God if they hate the man God has appointed. Pastors are to be loved and honoured as servants of  Christ, "Hold them in the highest regard because of their work." (1 Thess 5:13).  Love your pastor, and part of loving your pastor is to pray for him in his great task of feeding the sheep - and then you will profit from God's Word through him. 

Fourthly, concentrate - take notes if possible. No preacher should be boring; a boring preacher may simply be one who does not have the gift of preaching. But when we hear God's Word, it is not novelty we seek, but truth. So we need to concentrate. Some people find it easier to concentrate by taking notes.

Finally, obey the Word. This is the ultimate way of hearing the Word aright. "Blessed are those who keep his statutes" (Ps. 119:2). If we go every week listening but not obeying the Word, soon we will no longer hear the voice of God and our hearts will grow hard and cold.

What an awesome privilege we have listening to God's Word. Still, in the West, our sermons are not monitored by the state. We can listen in freedom and respond in joyful obedience. May we not take such an awesome privilege for granted: it is likely one day to be gone.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Was the apostle Paul a Misogynist?

Sheffield University
What did Paul look like?
I had the enlightened misfortune of studying Biblical Studies at Sheffield university. Enlightened because I became aware of how unbelievers interpret the Bible. Although we are not called to judge the heart, most of my teachers were probably not believers because they had little or no respect for the authority of the Bible. I choose my words carefully. They had respect for the Bible as a literary composition (and indeed they should: Hebrew narrative, for example, is remarkable for its skillful composition, as men like Robert Alter have explained) but they had no respect for the divine authority behind Scripture. The Bible for many of them had no more authority than Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Paul-loathers
What was very interesting during my years there was the particular loathing many lecturers had for the apostle Paul. John was cuddly, Peter OK, James a bit dodgy, but Paul - he was beyond the pale.

Apostle to the Gentile world
Understanding why he was loathed begins with a recognition of  Paul's specific role as "apostle to the Gentiles"(Romans 11:13). While cuddly John and Peter worked largely among Jewish circles, Paul's very specific task was to explain the Gospel of God's remarkable Grace to the Gentile (pagan) world.

There can be no greater message of love than the Gospel, which offers free pardon to undeserving sinners, so whence the loathing?

John and Peter did not have to say much about gender or sexuality, because in a Jewish culture that was assumed: there is a divine order between the male and female and any sexual behaviour beyond heterosexual marriage was sin.

Paul preached in a radically different environment, one where the ethics were unshaped by the Bible and where "anything goes" was the order of the day.

So it fell on Paul's shoulders to outline God's universal creation ethics to a pagan world ignorant of how God made men and women.

So when Paul says things like, homosexual practise is shameful, indecent and unnatural (Romans 1:26-27), or, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2:12) or, "Wives submit to your husbands" (Ephesians 5:22), he is simply bringing the newly converted Gentile Christians into line with the ethics of God's unending created order.

Because these ethical standards and codes are so different from those of the world, Paul is hated above all the apostles!

But we must hold onto the authority of the apostle Paul, for, as an apostle of Christ, when Paul writes we hear Christ speak.

What is astounding is that no New Testament writer so exalts or cares for women like Paul:
  • Men and women are equal in salvation - "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28)
  • Men and women both may serve Christ in the church - Paul's list of Gospel helpers in Romans 16 is filled with the names of sisters in Christ
  • Paul extols the caring role of a mother, "we were gentle among you, like  a mother caring for  her little children" (1 Thess 2:7)
  • Paul orders special provision to be made for widows (1 Timothy 5)
  • Most dramatically of all, Paul's insistence that Christian husbands love their wives in a sacrificial way (Ephesians 5)
The charge of misogyny against Paul is radically unjust, and you wonder therefore why it sticks.

Here's the reason: Satan hates the order God has wired into the created world and so he hates anyone who upholds that order.  He hates the Gospel and so he hates those who preach that Gospel and it's life-fruits. Above all Satan hates Christ and so he hates the apostles of Christ.

Anyone who preaches the Gospel faithfully today will also be called a misogynist
Any preacher who decides to be faithful to the Gospel message and its ethical outworkings  in the home and church  will alos be called a misogynist - and that is very costly. It explains why so many preachers are running away from Paul - in the end they don't want the reproach of Christ.

But Christ will honour those who are faithful to Him, even though they are despised in this passing world.

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Incarnation of the Son of God - and Social Media

Someone needs to write a short play
Talking to a friend of mine who is studying theatre the other day, we realised the potential for a (short?) play to illustrate the limits of all social media - and the relevance of the incarnation of the Son of God to this modern problem.

During the very same conversation we met a friend who has teenage children: he bemoaned the distraction of his children by social media; social media's boast to connect peopled together was in fact causing anxiety and distress.

The blessings of social media
No-one can doubt that social media has brought benefits. We are able to "keep in touch" with friends and family near and far in the same way that letters, telegrams and the telephone did in a bygone age. The problems with social media are when it is used as a substitute for human contact, and here is why.

Three Big Problems 
(1) Social Media can easily be misunderstood. Electronic means of communication, and most especially short sections of text can be easily read wrong. There is simply not enough information for the reader to get a full picture. This is the central fault with every form of social media, all the way up to and including Skype/Facetime.

(2) Social Media is too intrusive. We can find ourselves at the mercy of anyone who wants to contact us, rather than having control over when we have the resources, the time and the energy to talk.

(3) Social Media is open to deception and manipulation. Since the information content is so limited, anyone can deceive. A family in chaos could give the impression to the world that everything was at peace through selective posts - and consequently give the impression to those that read the post that their own family life was poor by comparison.

The Incarnation of the Son of God
A Christian once wrote, "God has yet more light to bring forth from His Word", by which they meant that God's Word contains untold gems for the whole history of mankind, which would be unearthed at the appropriate time. A sentence here or a truth there, which we can simply not see the value of today, suddenly shines in a new world setting. This is one reason God's Word is timeless and eternally relevant.

It contained all the seeds for the destruction of slavery for example so that in the fullness of time, Wilberforce and others could see clearly the abhorrence of the new world slavery of their day.

Here is another example: on first reading, Paul seems pedantic - "But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (1 Cor 7:2). Why the "each man" and "each woman." Why didn't Paul say, "But since there is so much immorality each one should have a partner" and assume people would read husband/wife from the rest of the chapter and Bible? Because Paul was writing for all time, and for our time when homosexual behaviour is not seen for the wickedness that it is. He is being as pedantically specific as it is possible to be - no misunderstanding of that text whatsoever: a man for a woman and a woman for a man, not ever a woman for a woman or a man for a man! He wrote for our times.

The Word of God is eternal. "Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens." (Psalm 119:89)

The doctrine we need to restore for Social Media is the Incarnation of the Son of God in human flesh, and here is why:

(1) Speaking through words is good
God has spoken through the Scriptures, and words are good. 

(2) Speaking through other people (ambassadors/ prophets) is better
God used his prophets - real people -  to communicate his message. Rather than a purely written word, God sent real men who by their lives, words and often their actions added to the "bald" word. Ezekiel, for example, symbolised the siege of Jerusalem in a little play (chapter 4) involving a clay tablet and an iron pan.

(3) Speaking through yourself is best
As good as words and messengers are, the very best way to communicate is by yourself, your own, visible, bodily presence. A letter or an ambassador are secondrate to the presence of a king. God sent his Son in human flesh to communicate most effectively to us:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In the incarnation of the Son of God lies the greatest theological and philosophical resource mankind has to advocate face to face communication. Jesus spent three years with his disciples. He didn't write letters to them or ask them to attend talks, he lived with them day by day. This is what discipleship entails and requires - deep meaningful communication with others. 

Back to Social Media
No form of social media - including Skype - can contain the amount of information required for effective communication. God has given us faces and body language which communicate emotions to add to  pure words which can only communicate  propositional statements of fact or information. 

Texts can be misunderstood and used to manipulate because I can say in a text "I am feeling rotten" whereas in fact if you were in the room with me you could see I was fine from my face, my body language and my circumstances.

Physical body to physical body is the only way to communicate effectively: that is what the incarnation of the Son of God teaches us.

We all know that the only proper way to talk is face to face, but Christian doctrine provides the reason: God used face to face when he spoke to us. And heaven is wonderful, not merely because there will be no mourning or death, but primarily for this reason:

"Now the dwelling of God will be with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." (Rev 21:3)

 That short play must be written, and when it is, it will be a Gospel play.



Thursday, 5 October 2017

Fishermans Press - why we need a new Christian Publisher

Many good Publishers
There are many good Christian publishers out there, catering for different needs, but there is a niche in the market, and we prayerfully hope that Fishermans Press will meet that need.

Here are the gaps:

(1) Very cheap. We plan all publications from Fishermans Press to be at the lowest possible prices - what many people do not realise is that printing books is very cheap these days.

(2) Very Simple. Some Christian books are too complicated for the ordinary Christian. All books we publish will be aimed at "the man in the street" - in other words the biblical church category of "not many noble, not many wise."

(3) Easy to translate. We mean, not only in language style, but permission wise. Since we ain't interested in making money, we won't tie up poor Christians in poor countries with "legalese" which will prevent them translating our materials. We hope these materials will be translated and go all around the world, should it please the Lord. 

(4) Written by real church people.  In our day, too many Christian books are being written by self-styled experts, rather than by ordinary Christians with a writing gift. All books published by Fishermans Press must be written by people with the following real Bible titles or credentials, "saint", "pastor", "deacon", "evangelist"  "slave", or "servant."

If an author wants to boast about their earthly achievements we will happily use biblical categories such as "suffered at the hands of", "despised and rejected, "shipwrecked" or "beaten three times."

But all worldly personal titles or achievements such as "Dr", "Professor", "Director", "Founder of" and anyone wanting to be known by these worthless passing titles will be banned from Fishermans Press.

(Of course if someone happens to have such titles, is godly, and possesses a writing gift, we would be glad to include them as an author - providing they leave the worldly titles behind.)

Sounds radical? Only if we are wired to our secular culture rather than the world of the Bible.

We pray that God will use this new humble press in the years to come, to encourage the church all over the world.

fishermanspress.com

If you want to write for Fishermans Press please let me know.... 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Can Satan influence a Christian?

The answer is: Yes and No

No

When someone is "born again" they move from Satan's "dominion of darkness" into the "Kingdom of God's Son." Before they were converted they were under Satan's authority, since the "whole world is under the control of the evil one" but now they have been gloriously set free by Christ Jesus who defeated him on the cross. Praise God!

Yes

But can Satan influence a believer after he or she has come to Christ? The answer according to the New Testament is a resounding tragic yes. A believer cannot be possessed by the devil but they sure can be oppressed by the devil - and they can give Satan the "green light."

Here's a half dozen ways.....

(1) Sometimes God allows a Christian to be tested by the devil for a season
This happened to Job - a season of intense testing. The purpose is to glorify God and to refine the saint. The Lord Jesus himself was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one, not to refine him for he was perfect but to gain the victory Adam lost.

(2) Sometime God allows a believer to experience a long-term thorn "messenger of Satan" to lead them to rest in God's power
The apostle Paul was given a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor 12) so that he would not become proud about the incredible insights he had been given but rather trust in God's almighty power. He called this thorn a "messenger of Satan" and as far as we can tell, it clung to him like a shadow.

(3) Anger gives Satan a green light
When a believer is angry, they give to Satan a foothold in their lives, according to Ephesians 4:26-27. We all know what this means: angry at one person can easily spill over to cross at everyone / unhappy with everything. 

(4) Disorder gives Satan a green light 
Satan hates the order God has wired into creation, and where ever there is disorder he finds a crack. If a man refuses to lead his wife, for example, or if a woman takes the lead in a marriage, Satan has found the perfect avenue of influence. Genesis 3 records the first of these opportunities. Eve took the lead, Adam backed out and Satan found his opportunity to pounce - and pounce he did. A disordered marriage is a green light for Satan.

(5) Opposition to church leaders makes a believer "captive to Satan's will"
A lesser-known way a believer can be influenced by Satan is if he or she opposes the leaders the Holy Spirit has appointed to lead the church. Paul says that all such must be gently instructed "in the hope that they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Tim 2:25-26). That is pretty serious! A Christian can become not a captive to Satan, but a captive to his will.

(6) When we rebel against God's will - especially God's will for suffering
Good disciple Peter told Jesus that he would not suffer the agonies of the cross. Jesus replied to him, "Get behind me Satan." At that moment, when Peter resisted God's will for Jesus' life - and especially his will for suffering  - he became a spokesperson for Satan.

In our western evangelicalism whose rationalism can easily filter out all talk of the supernatural, whether of God or Satan, we can easily disregard the influence of Satan upon us. But these six avenues of influence reveal how pernicious the evil one is and remind us of our need every day to pray "Deliver us from the Evil one."

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Our Biggest Errors (& the Water We Swim In)

Reformation Errors
You and I look back at the European Reformation and can see - with the clarity of distance - what enormous mistakes the great reformers made. Along with the amazing triumphs they were childrne of their time and could not see what we now can see as big mistakes, according to the Scriptures.

 In Switzerland, Zurich was the heart of the Reformation and Zwingli the main reformer. Zwingli was unable to see that it was wrong for the church and the state to be intimately connected. For a man who loved the NT this seems absolutely incredible to us. There is no hint in the NT that church and state should work hand in hand. In the NT the only relationship between church and state is, if anything, a hostile one - the state persecuted the church. From the church's point of view obedience, from the state's point of view persecution. Light vs darkness.

Zwingli's great error was manifest perhaps most unpleasantly in his ruthless persecution of the Anabaptists who he was pleased were hounded to death because they wanted to start a New Testament church separated from the state. 

Zwingli was heir to that monstrosity, "Christendom". For over 1000 years the church and state had become one confused single entity. Such a union did the state good, but did the church much harm. 

This was the "water" Zwingli swam in. Now if you ask a gold fish what water is, they will say "Water, what water?" Fish are completely blind to the water they swim in, and so it was with Zwingli.

Zwingli could see the errors of the mass, he could see the error with putting up idolatrous images in church buildings but he could not see the error of infant baptism because this error was intrinsically connected with "the water": when a human being was born they naturally entered society, when they were baptised, they entered the church, and these two events, only separated by a few days welded the church-state monstrosity called Christendom together.

We learn two things from the good man Zwingli. First our biggest errors are ones we cannot see, and secondly, those errors are structural but sinful ways in which our culture of the day works.

Our biggest errors?
What are your and my biggest errors? Most likely things we simply cannot see in ourselves - and hence the need for pastors to help us and brothers and sisters to admonish us, and most of all the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word to convict us.

What about the biggest errors of our evangelical churches today? If we think that we are beyond the reformers we are gravely mistaken. In a 1000 years, should the Lord tarry, Christians will say of us "they surely did not believe or do that did they?"

What, I wonder, are those big errors?

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Two Big Books from the Reformation

Books from the Reformation
Many important books emerged from the Reformation of the 1500s. Some are well known, some now forgotten. Two of the most important were....

(1) John Calvin's Institutes - 1541
One of the most famous of them all was John Calvin's Institutes. Calvin was, perhaps more than any other of the reformers, a great "systematiser" of truth. He wanted to put together a comprehensive book full of Christian teaching. His desire was to share the Gospel with his french countryfolk. Whether a 1000 page book was quite what common folk were looking for is up for debate! The book is worth reading even today and remains in print. Get the new translation by Robert White.

(2) Van Bright's Martyrs Mirror - 1659
Many of my readers will have heard of Calvin's Institutes, but my guess is that none of them have heard of "Martyrs Mirror." And that is a tragedy of history. Martyr's Mirror (or to give it its unsellable title "The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenceless Christians") is a massive book - over 1000 A4 sized pages. Unlike Calvin's doctrinal book, this is a book full of the stories of Christians who have been persecuted from the days of the apostles to around 1660. In other words it's an expansion of the book of Acts (but not inspired, of course).

What drove Van Bright to put it together was in particular the savage persecution levelled against the Anabaptists of the 1500s. He shows that true Christians of all ages are persecuted. In point of fact "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:12).

Persecution is a mark of a true Christian and a true church.

In our day, and in particular in the evangelical churches of the west, many attempts are being made to avoid persecution and the reproach of Christ.

Here are some of them:

(i) Run with the culture on gay issues. Tony Compalo and Eugene Peterson are two of the latest "leaders" who have sided with same-sex marriage to avoid the reproach of Christ. For men like this, it is much more important to be respected and accepted by the world, than to be faithfully persecuted by the world. In a smaller way, churches are embarrassed to preach about the sin of homosexual practice (which like the sin of theft or adultery can be forgiven and left behind).

(ii) Run with the culture on gender issues. This is far more subtle. The central gender issue in the church today is the divine created order between men and women, not the transgender confusion. Do the commands of the NT that men alone lead and preach in the church stand or can they be ignored? It starts in the home. Do men lead their families and their wives?  Or has Adam and Eve's gender-disordering disobedience become the norm?  Many churches are too afraid to preach these things and too afraid to follow them up in practise.

(iii) Run with the culture's addiction to man-made titles.  In the NT servants of the church were defined by spiritual characteristics such as  "slaves", "servants", "filled with the Holy Spirit." When Paul boasts he boasts about his sufferings and beatings and rejection by the world. But read today the blurb on the back of any Christian book and it will be full of earthly and useless titles, "President of", "Professor of", "Founder of", "Doctor of" and so on. Why? Because the church is deeply affected by the spirit of the world and desperately wants the approval of the world.

Can you imagine the following blurbs todsay:

    John Smith, pastor of a small church in Nothing-hampton
    Simon Nobody, slave of the church in Backwater
    Henry Jack, imprisoned at the pleasure of  HM Government and despised by many

The Evangelical church would laugh at such titles!  But if the truth be told, they are far far closer to the cross-carrying spirit of the NT than any of the clap-trap Dr / Professor types.

If the church stood up against the sin of homosexuality, stood up for God's creation order in the family and the church, and stood against the foolish addiction to passing fads and titles she would be persecuted.

And to be sure, churches and pastors who stand for the truth will be lied about and persecuted.

But persecution is a cause for rejoicing!

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the Prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

Institutes vs Martyrs Mirror?
So which tome tunes in with NT Christianity best? We need both. We need the good doctrine of the NT, and we need the true living of persecuted Christians.

But if I was marooned on a desert island with only one to choose from, after the Scriptures, Martyr's Mirror would be the more useful.