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Thursday, 28 December 2017

Christmas Letter with a Difference

It's that time again....
Every year at this time I dread the Christmas family letters - most especially, strange as it may seem, the ones from Christian friends.

Why?

For one thing, as a general rule, Christian annual letters gloss over all the difficult stuff in the last year and like Facebook, portray the past year as one long season of bliss.

(It's why so many people who live off social media are depressed. They read about the lives of their friends who have air-brushed out the ordinary disappointments of life and they become unhappy by the contrast with their own troublesome lives.)

Another reason I despair of those annual letters - and this is the most tragic reason - is this: they are generally full of earthly achievements and devoid of any spiritual ones.

Parents boast about their kids like yea:

   "John passed Grade 7 Oboe"

   "Susan got a new job as a manager"

   "Fred graduated with a 2:1 degree in XYZ"

When these earthly achievements are mentioned without any reference to the child's spiritual condition or spiritual growth we must be truly saddened.

Should not a Christian parent write something more like this?

   "My middle son has grown in grace this past year and is serving Christ in his local church with the gifts the Lord has given to him."

  "My third daughter gave us great joy in 2017 by being baptised in the spring, giving witness to the faith she has in the Lord Jesus."

   "Please pray for my youngest son who remains backslidden."

Someone needs to say OUTLOUD that what grade John has achieved in Oboe, what high-faluten job Susan may have found, what degree Fred graduated with - all of these are totally and utterly insignificant compared with the spiritual condition of the child.

In the world to come these worldly "achievements" won't matter one single half hoot and will be completely unknown.

So I dread reading the Christmas letters, and rarely do I come away from that annual sitting without a sense of profound sadness at our upside down priorities.

A Christmas Letter with a Difference
This year, however, we received one Christmas letter which cheered our hearts. Here's what one member of this family said:

"This year will go down in my books as a year of the Lord drawing near to me. Through some special times of prayer and worship, I have felt God increasing my faith and courage to serve him in some challenging situations. I am discovering anew that the real Blessing in life is More of Jesus."

This believer was honest about "challenging situations" in life. And this believer made their personal contribution to the letter all about knowing God better.

What we speak - and what we write therefore - reveals the true state of our hearts, and our true priorities for both ourselves and our families.

What really matters to you, to me, to us? Temporary, passing matters, or spiritual and eternal ones?

This unusual Christmas Circular Letter ended with the following Bible verse:

"I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good thing apart form you.'" (Psalm 16:2) 










Friday, 15 December 2017

What shall we make of Christmas?

Every year I - an evangelical Bible-believing Christian - struggle to know what to make of Christmas, what to do with Christmas, why I should bother about Christmas. I know that this sounds so unsentimental especially since there are some genuinely good aspects to this season of the year.


OPTION 1: Opt Out Completely?
I have a good Christian friend who has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas. He sends no cards and gives no presents. On Christmas day he stays at home on his own. His reasoning is two-fold: that Christmas is nowhere commanded in Scripture and secondly he does not wish to be associated with the excesses of  "Christmas" as it is celebrated in the world.

We must say that this is a valid Christian option and no-one can or should judge a believer who deliberately opts out of Christmas. It's not only the heretical JWs who opt out of Christmas, true and genuine believers can also - with a clear conscience - give Christmas a miss.

(I have yet another Christian friend who opts out of Christmas because he has no earthly family and since in the media Christmas hype is all about "great family times" he feels he can have nothing to do with it).

The problem with opting out completely is that it can be read wrong by our non-Christian friends.

OPTION 2: Act just like the World?
The second option is to "do Christmas" like the world does. Christmas means different things to different people in the world, but there are two widespread attitudes that pervade our culture's approach: Christmas is an opportunity for excess (in every area of life) and Christmas is the time to spend / waste great sums of money. Yes, mixed in with these two attitudes are better elements, such as spending time with family, giving to charities and attending the annual  Carol Service, but those ingredients don't sweeten secular Christmas enough to warrant this as a Christian option. 

OPTION 3: A Sober Annual Assessment
The third option is a sober assessment of Christmas in the light of Scripture and conscience year by year. Here are some questions that may help us on our way...

Do we really need to spend/waste so much money on presents?
Do we need to buy and eat so much food?
How does self-control, one of the fruits of the Spirit, shape our attitude to Christmas?
How can we spend time blessing the lonely?
How can we bless family members who are not believers?
How can we use the time evangelistically?
How can we use the time to build ourselves up spiritually?
Could we not spend some of the extra time we have knowing Christ better?

There is no single Christian approach to Christmas. Within the church we should expect to find many shades of opinion and none should judge the other:

"Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat and drinking, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon Celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however is found in Christ." (Col 2:16)
 

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Noble Tim Farron



Image result for tim farronThat red face
Some of us will remember the pain of Tim Farron before he resigned as leader of the Liberal Party. He was hounded by the press to say the sentence which the western press insist you say if you are to be regarded as one of the "in crowd", the sentence, which if you refuse to say, makes you roadkill.

Here is the litmus-test sentence, by which everyone is judged today - if you agree with this sentence you are "in", if you disagree, you are clearly and obviously wicked: 

        "Homosexual practise is not a sin."

Those of us who love Christ and want to be faithful to him are not ashamed to say that homosexual practise is a sin. The Bible calls it a sin both in it's radical affirmation of heterosexuality and in its condemnation of homosexual practise.

The Apostle Paul calls homosexual practise unnatural, indecent and a perversion (Romans 1).

All sin is wrong, so we who love Christ do not put ourselves one wit above anyone else, nor do we condemn practising homosexuals, for the love of God has even reached even us and all who repent of their sin and turn to Christ find hope and new life.

We remember the embarrassment  of Tim Farron, as relentlessly hounded by one journalist and then by another, he was forced to say on TV the modern day equivalent of "Caesar is Lord."

The retraction
Tim Farron has now written a long article which in effect is his retraction, and also a spirited attack on the illiberal society we now live in.

If you think we live in a culture of free speech, think again - and read Farron.

Well done, Tim, well done our brother in Christ. 

It's worth reading in full:

Tim Farron's Lecture