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Thursday, 28 November 2019

Why I could not vote Labour

Christians and Politics
Some say that it is not wise for church leaders to comment on politics in case they offend half their congregation. But sometimes the stakes are so high that we feel obliged to wade in.

That one sentence
All three main parties are drifting away from Judeo-Christian values, but one line from the Labour manifesto ought to send shivers down the spine of any Christian.

Here it is on page 48:

 "We will uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions." 

All the commentators, including the highly reputable organisation Right to Life agree that this means murder on demand (abortion on demand). Anyone, for any reason, right up to birth could demand a child to be murdered in the womb. This would give the UK the most murderous abortion laws in the world.

(See Right to Life Analysis)

Why Abortion is an Evil
Abortion is wrong for a million and one reasons:

(1) Abortion is the very worst way to treat a pregnant woman
Every woman carrying a child becomes attached to that child: it's nature's way. To callously say to that mother that she can "dispose" of her human child without any future fearsome conscience issues is to lie to her. Abortion is the cruelest way to deal with what are sometimes called "unplanned" or "unwanted" pregnancies. What a woman who has a child within her needs to hear is first, that the child does not "belong" to her, is not a "part" of her, rather the child is a separate living human being. And then she needs compassion to help her deal with the life situation which led her to this point. She does not need someone to most cruelly and callously say "let me help you murder the child."

(2) Abortion is the taking of human life: it is murder
No longer is this debatable. From the very moment of conception a separate human being comes into existence. The mother merely provides food and a home. That's the way nature brings about new human beings. The child (we must avoid using the deliberately non-emotive, non-human word foetus and use the real, biological, factual word, "child"), the child, is not "part" of the mother. The mother is merely the temporary home, and the mother and father have no rights whatsoever over the child, any more than they have rights over the child after the child is born.

(3) Abortion is a barbaric form of death
Abortion is barbaric. I shan't print here how children in the womb are poisoned or ripped to shreds in the foul process of abortion - you can Google that for yourself. Hitler treated Jews more kindly than Abortion clinics treat unborn children. When Jews went to the gas chambers they at least had the option to fight or protest (those that realised what was about to happen). An unborn child has no opportunity to protest, fight or resist.

(4) There are no such entities as "unwanted children"
Every single child if allowed to come into this world could be adopted. The great spin-off would be that the young (often) pregnant manipulated girl would be spared of later years of torment, "I have killed a son or daughter."

(5) Abortion has devastating repercussions
Abortion does not stand alone in society; every legalised barbaric act has repercussions. The most devastating of all is that it says "there is such a thing as a life not worth living." The moment you say that sentence, it can be applied elsewhere.

Recently, a company, Exit International, has invented a machine which anyone can use to kill themselves - in style. The capsule produces, they say, "a rapid decrease in oxygen level, while maintaining a low CO2 level, (the conditions for a peaceful, even euphoric death)." Euthanasia is the natural daughter of abortion.

And what hypocrisy! Allowing abortion up to birth! As if there is any difference between that precious life one minute before birth or one minute afterwards! Today our culture would be appalled if a mother or father was allowed to stab her baby to death as soon as it was born (this is called infanticide).  But our culture is perfectly happy for a medic to stab it to death one minute before it is born.

What hypocrisy! We grant legal protection the moment the child is born but zero protection one second before birth!

The ancient Romans practised infanticide, and infanticide could easily become the next step in our own culture's murderous journey. For sure, infanticide is no worse than abortion.

(6) Abortion is a litmus test for a society
How a society treats the weak - of all kinds - is a litmus test for how civilised it is. And if it kills the most vulnerable it is not worthy of the title "civilised."

Western nations like ours arrogantly look down on tin-pot regimes that kill thousands of children and adults, but in the grand scheme of things, aborting nations kill many more people than those they look down on. In the place where a vulnerable life is developing and should be most safe, it is murdered: last year we killed 200,000 babies in England and Wales. What tin-pot regime killed 200,000 of its citizens last year? Future history is most likely to judge Western civilisation as far more barbaric than the likes of Saddam Hussein. Just because the murder is hidden, just because it is the murder of as yet unnamed persons and yet-unknown persons doesn't make it any the less barbaric.

Are there no grounds for abortion?
No, none whatsoever. What about when the life of the mother is at risk? That is not abortion. When a surgeon is faced with a situation where both lives would be lost if left alone, and he must make a choice, mother or child, then choosing to save the mother is not aborting the child: that is the wrong nomenclature. The surgeon is like a lifesaver who finds two drowning people but can only save one. We would not say he has killed the other, we would not call him a murderer. No we would call him a saviour for he has saved one. In the same way we do not say of the surgeon who has saved the mother that he has aborted the child, no, we say that he has nobly saved the mother.

What about the case of rape? One evil cannot be undone by a second. Allowing the child to live and be adopted is far the best way to counsel. 

Back to Labour
It would be hard to imagine a Christian, whose Master said "Let the children come to me", voting for a party that is planning to allow even more murders in our nation.

That line on page 48 alone writes Labour off as unfit to govern.

Whoever you vote for, don't vote for Labour.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Kanye West - what shall we think?

We're not called to judge
Kanye West
On the one hand, we are not called to judge whether or not the rapper Kanye West is a true believer. We actually can't make that judgement, for the Lord alone knows the heart.

It would be wonderful if he was truly converted and if "Jesus is King" turns out to be his own personal testimony, for real.

For myself, I was intrigued and encouraged by his interview with James Cordon on an aeroplane. Listen for yourself, and make up your own mind, here Interview.

How to respond
If we are not to judge this or any other man or woman, how should we respond to his recent confession of faith?

In the first place we should never think as the world thinks: that the conversion of a world-famous rapper will result in greater impact than the conversion of an unknown country boy.

You hear this kind of thing all the time, "What a global influence he will have!" But that is exactly the opposite of the way the Bible speaks and opposite to the way the Holy Spirit works. Jesus chose nobodies - either fisherman types or gifted-but-then-humbled-before-useful-Saul-turned-Paul types - so that God's mighty power might be evident in them.

It is a secular myth that converted wealthy or educated or influential people - as the world defines them - have more influence than ordinary folk in the kingdom of God. It is a myth to think that influence perculates downwards - as if there is a downwards in the church! If anything, the NT teaches that influence perculates upwards, from those regarded as weak and foolish in the eyes of this world.

So we are not to think, "If this is true, there will be global revival among his fans!"

Secondly, if his conversion is real, he is likely to receive not praise, but hostility from his fan base. For what company does light have with darkness? People who enjoyed his past lyrics (many of which are unprintable here) are not going to revel in his new ones. When Paul was converted his old pals turned out to be his greatest enemies! A truly repentant Kanye may discover that his fans desert him in the droves.

Thirdly, and tragically, we have other examples of superstars who went through a religious phase - even a Christian phase - but are seemingly nowhere today. When Bob Dylan was supposedly converted he came out with albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved, Infidels) whose words were unbelievably mature, (and often far surpass modern Christian song writers) but where is dear Dylan today?

So, fourthly, we should simply pray, wait and see. Before very long the fruit of the Spirit will emerge and evidence will abound: by their fruit shall you know them.

Fifthy, what a young believer needs is to be hid away for a few years, not put on a pedestal. For Kanye's spiritual growth and benefit - not to mention his ego - he should be kept miles from all platforms, all pulpits and all Christian TV channels, taken under the wing of a godly group of believers in a local church and taught the ways of Christ - discipled - for perhaps five or even ten years.

He should be advised to give no interviews and sort out what it means to follow Jesus Christ in his heart, family and local church.

Please, please don't ruin him!
Recently a famous American preacher has put Kanye West on his big fat stage. This is emphatically not good news, for this kind of exposure could easily ruin Kanye.

May the Lord give wisdom to church leaders, and especially to Kanye's local church - wherever that may be.

Can Satan Possess a Believer?

Protected by divine power 1 Peter 1:5
Absolutely not!
No way. The Spirit of God who is within us is greater than he who is in the world. Satan is a defeated enemy. We are protected by God's divine power.

However, Satan can oppress a believer - and tragically, a believer can even allow Satan to have a foothold in their lives. This is a teaching we don't hear much these days, but a true believer can allow Satan to have an influence in their lives, in at least four ways.

We give Satan a green light when we deny that suffering can be used to accomplish God's sovereign purposes.
Peter said to Jesus on one occasion that Jesus would never be crucified, that Jesus could get to glory without suffering. At that moment Jesus said something absolutely extraordinary, "Get behind me Satan" (Matthew 16). When Peter denied the purposes of God through suffering, especially the salvation purposes of God through the cross, he was talking as Satan talks and thinking how Satan thinks. Instead of helping Jesus, at that moment he was a stumbling block.

Whenever we deny that God all-sovereign can use suffering in our lives, we in some way give Satan a green light.

We give Satan a green light when we won't forgive someone.
Paul said, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold." (Eph 4:27) Unforgiveness, and ongoing anger against someone who has sinned against us gives Satan a green light in our hearts and lives.

We give Satan a green light when our marriages are upside down
Genesis 3 gives us the account of the Fall of Mankind, a complex multi-faceted event. Yes, it was a rebellion against God, yes it was arrogance in the face of his good commands. But the Fall was also   a disordering of marriage. Adam, who was present, refused to take responsibility for the situation, and Eve instead, wrongly, took the initiative. This is exactly marriage upside down. Both Adam and Eve failed, with Adam taking the greater blame. Whenever a marriage is disordered Satan finds a way into that home. A man either leads his wife or is led astray by her: there is no third way.

We give Satan a green light when we oppose the Holy Spirit's leadership.
The third way a true believer can allow Satan a foothold into their lives is when they set themselves against godly leadership. Paul says to pastor Timothy that he must gently instruct those who stand in opposition to him (lest he stirs up Satan who is at work in them)  in the hope "that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses" and then the remarkable sentence, "and escape the trap of the devil who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

A believer who sets themselves in opposition to the Holy Spirit's appointed elders sets himself against Christ and against God, and becomes a captive of Satan, doing Satan's bidding. What a somber doctrine!

But any church leader who has been around the block a few times will know by experience how  people who oppose godly leadership have lost "a knowledge of the truth", are "out of their senses" and having been taken captive by Satan actually do his will!

But no Christian needs to come under Satan's oppression.

By living a life submissive to God's sovereign will, a life of daily forgiveness, and a life of humble submission to undershepherds, we are protected from Satan's devices and can live instead in the power of the pure Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Why should the Devil have all the Good Music?

The Fisherfolk and Larry Norman
The early days of Christian Rock
Some of us remember the early days of Christian rock music (the '70s) when contemporary music first entered the evangelical church and began to replace the hymn-organ-only diet.

I remember those heady days very well and I even played in a Christian Rock band from Wolverhampton called Eyewtiness! (we were not very good!)

Two things happened. First, there was an outburst of new songs. Secondly, to accompany these new songs there was the introduction of new musical instruments.

The new music ranged from the more gentle and folksy "Fisherfolk" (Remember, "We really want to thank you Lord"?) to Larry Norman's full rock and roll concerts (with the anthem, "The rock that doesn't roll.")

Resistance from the traditional church was immediate and often negative. Consequently some of the young "rebels", probably went over the top in their criticism of the old! Larry Norman overdid it when he sang, in the song, "Why should the Devil have all the good music?"

I ain't knocking the hymns,
Just give me a song that has a beat.
I ain't knocking the hymns,
Just give me a song that moves my feet.
I don't like none of those funeral marches
I ain't dead yet!

but this was his reasoning...

I want the people to know that he saved my soul
But I still like to listen to the radio.
They say rock 'n' roll is wrong, we'll give you one more chance.
I say I feel so good I gotta get up and dance.
I know what's right, I know what's wrong, I don't confuse it.
All I'm really trying to say
Is why should the devil have all the good music?
I feel good every day
'Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away.

Today contemporary music has entered the church and has become the new norm. What are we to think?

1. Music style is not Gospel, it is tradition
Some years ago I was worshipping with some young Indian Christians in India and was shocked at the  songs they were singing. They had an English song book in their hands and were singing the most traditional English hymns and songs. Instead of singing Indian songs with Indian instruments, they had been not only evangelised by the West, they had been traditionalised. English missionaries had brought not only the Gospel but English music to their shores and failed to distinguish between Gospel and Tradition. Gospel is the message, Tradition is the cultural package. Indians and Africans and Chinese should be able to worship in their own language and their own musical style. There is absolutely nothing "Christian" about hymns, organs and pianos. To fail to see this is to fail to make the elementary missionary distinction between "Gospel" and "Tradition."

So the move in churches to contemporary music is exactly the right thing to do. Why should a Christian who enjoyed Keane, Kanye, or Vampire Weekend on Spotify have to change cultural gears to worship? (There are lots of other repentance gears he has to change, for sure).  Sure, there will be some styles (and lots of lyrics) which a believer leaves behind, but the music which a bass guitar, electric guitar, drums and keyboard produces is neither intrinsically good nor bad; like writing, computers and mobile phones it is spiritually neutral.

There are no biblically coherent arguments against contemporary music. Music style is entirely a cultural and traditional thing, not a Gospel thing.

2. Lyrics are (almost) everything
The resistance to contemporary music from the more established wings of the church was largely caused by the quality - or rather lack of it - of the new lyrics. Here is a typical fisherfolk song, which in my youth I must have sung a thousand times:

We really want to thank You, Lord,
We really want to bless Your name,
Hallelujah! Jesus is our King!
We really want to thank You, Lord,
We really want to bless Your name,
Hallelujah! Jesus is our King!

We thank You, Lord, for Your gift to us,
Your life so rich beyond compare
The gift of Your body here on earth
 Of which we sing and share.

We thank You, Lord, for our life together,
To live and move in the love of Christ,
Tenderness which sets us free
To serve You with our lives.

There was a real freshness about the words - here were newly converted pagans wanting to worship the Lord in their own fresh words, and what they lacked in depth they surely made up for in sincerity and living reality.

But the problem was that over time, the new lyrics did not deepen as they should have done. And therefore the seemingly endless "mindless" (a common objection) songs of the new were rejected by the old, who then dug their heels in and turned a secondary or even tertiary issue (music style) into a primary test of faithfulness (are you a proper Biblical church- do you sing hymns?).

But in the last 20 years, everything has changed! There are so many excellent modern hymn writers around that the argument-from-poor-lyrics is now defunct. From the Gettys to Stuart Townend to Graham Kendrick, a lot of biblically and doctrinally solid words are being written today. I have personally recently loved and worshipped with and appreciated the new Getty song, "Is he worthy?" sung by Andrew Peterson (see here).

Instead of feely-weely songs about the Holy Spirit which focused on our emotional state, we now have deep hymns which mention the Spirit's work in our hearts and lives, leading us to greater sacrifice - not greater highs:

Holy Spirit, from creation's birth,
Giving life to all that God has made,
Show Your power once again on earth;
Cause Your church to hunger for Your ways.
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise.
Lead us on the road of sacrifice
That in unity the face of Christ
Will be clear for all the world to see


Instead of subjective songs about how much I love Jesus (at the moment), we now have deep songs about the promises God has made to us in Christ:

In Christ alone my hope is found, 
He is my light, my strength, my song 
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand. 


The primary test of a good hymn is how much it is in tune with Scripture, both in doctrine, and if possible even in language. For example, although  Jesus is the light of the World (John 8:12), the Scriptures never encourage us to tell Jesus to shine, so for that reason, "Shine Jesus Shine", takes a second place on my list! (Though I greatly honour Kendrick and his many fine songs).

3. Allow time to filter
So what then should we sing? In the Internet age, where fashions both in the world and the church can change in a moment, Christians need to pause before they automatically adopt the latest songs. I have been to Christian weddings and meetings where I did not know a single song, because they were singing the latest wave - and I am sure in some cases, doing this to show off how cool or contemporary they are.

A wiser approach is to allow time and the church to filter songs. We sing only a fraction of the Wesley output and only a small amount of Kendrick's songs have become mainstream, because the church, over time has filtered out the dross.

This can be a real problem when switching on Christian Radio stations, because they often have a policy of playing the latest albums - you get gold and dross all mixed up!

4. What shall we do?
Here are some guidelines for what we sing in church and for what we listen to:

1. Is the song God-centred? A legit criticism of latest wave songs is that they are so me-centred, focused on our subjective here and now emotions and feelings, rather than the glory and love of God in Christ. (Indeed in some cases I have wondered if the song was written for the author's husband / wife rather than about the Lord!)

2. Is it congregational? This criteria is for songs we sing together. I have found that some of my favourite Christian songs are not congregational. Can the song be easily learnt and sung by a congregation, or is the tune or the arrangement so complex that it can't be picked up or remembered by the average believer.

3. Is it accurate?  Lyrics that brings comfort and help must be doctrinally accurate. They may be short or they may be long, but they must be accurate. 

4. Is it Biblical? Not quite the same as (3). We could express a truth in non-Biblical language, but is there not power in the very wordings the Holy Spirit has chosen to reveal the truth? As far as possible let's express the truth in Holy Spirit language.

5. Is there a mix of old and new?  "Sing unto the Lord a new song" (Psalm 96:1) is not a command to ditch all the old hymns. There is something unbalanced about a church that sings either only the latest wave or only the oldies.

We should thank God for the many wonderful contemporary songs which enable us to express the God-placed feelings of our hearts and the Scriptural  thoughts of our minds in a contemporary way and thus fulfil the Scriptural commands:

"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." 
(Colossians 3).  

"be filled with the Spirit speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." 
(Ephesians 5)

Monday, 4 November 2019

Was Jesus "Harsh?"

Recent Trends
In recent years, I have heard it said, increasingly, that Jesus was "harsh." Of course, few people say those exact words, "Jesus is harsh," - but some do - instead they  accuse faithful ministers of Jesus who pass on his words of teaching and warning, for being "harsh."

(And when faithful servants are passing on their Master's words, then calling those servants harsh is indeed exactly the same thing as saying "Jesus is harsh.")

To be harsh is to be cruel or severe and of course Jesus was never cruel or severe, and nor must we.  I have never personally met any church leader who could remotely be described as "harsh." Instead all the leaders I have known are Christ-like, caring and sensitive (though, no doubt they have all had their share of foibles). 

So where does this charge of  Jesus being "harsh" come from?

Jesus rebuked, therefore he must be"harsh"
The first reason people call Jesus harsh is that he rebuked people, told them off, told them where they were going wrong. And since this is just a total no-no today, if a church leader follows Jesus' example, they'll be called harsh too. No matter how gently or wisely this is done, one person is not permitted to tell another one that they are wrong, today. But Jesus did:

"But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." (Mark 8:32)

"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline" (Revelation 3:19)

"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him." (Luke 17:3)

"...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2)

So any Christian leader who lovingly rebukes will be called harsh by the arrogant because we live in a "don't tell me what to do" culture.

Jesus was critical of the "church" leaders and the mass errors of his age, so he was "harsh"
Jesus was out of tune with the religious leaders and religious culture of his age. Pointing out their foibles - ever the work of a true prophet - made him look "harsh."  The number of verses we might quote here are extensive, here is one famous example from Matthew 23, where Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of the day:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees ... tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others."

The "prophetic" edge of all true preaching must include a critical look at the many blind spots we Evangelicals posses. We western evangelicals have so  many blind spots and these, we must recognise and acknowledge. But to do that could call down the criticism "harsh."

Jesus addressed personal errors, so he was "harsh"
This, I am convinced, is the main cause of the allegation that Jesus is harsh. Imagine someone listening to preaching which points out a direct error or sin in their lives. For example, here is a husband who sadly refuses to take responsibility and lead his family, or here's a wife who refuses to submit to her husband. The preacher faithfully passes on the words of his Master from Ephesians 5. The will-not-lead husband doesn't like it, the "I will rule my husband" wife  is offended! But instead of shooting the Message-Giver, they say of the preacher, "he's harsh telling wives to submit to their husbands, he's harsh telling husbands to get a grip and take responsibility for their families." It's a lot easier to label Jesus's words about marriage "harsh" than to repent of a decades-old sinful habit.

As the Master, so the servant must be
My guess is that as our culture cowers increasingly from all truth-talk; as we move into an era in which people have to apologise every day for a word misunderstood here, an unPC pronoun spoken there (scarcely a day passes by without someone innocently being tripped over the truth), true Christian leaders, as they follow their great loving Master, will increasingly be charged with being "harsh."

In Pilgrim's Progress the wisened pastor introduces us to Flatterer. Flaterer is a man who only says nice things to Christian and Hopeful. He is totally insincere and has one thing in mind - he wants to lead Christian and Hopeful astray. True pastors have to say difficult things to sheep from time to time.

What should true pastors do?

They could become luke-warm, cease all rebuke, take the edge off all their preaching and begin to sound like some woolly half-baked bishop (I sense the accusation rising again...) who doesn't hold any convictions and believes whatever the present culture - or present company - believes. Yuk! Or they could decide to be faithful to Jesus, whatever the cost.

True and loving pastors need to be aware and to be fore-warned that they will be charged thus, but they need to pay no attention to the criticism of harshness, as they love, care for, admonish the flock, in the footsteps of Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

Jesus isn't harsh, the problem isn't with Jesus. The problem is with our present culture which is so soft and compromising, it has defined "harsh" as anything that is out of tune with its version of "truth." And for sure, Jesus is out of tune with all human cultures.

People who call Jesus harsh reveal how compromised they have already become with the culture around them, and how far they are away from Jesus, who came full of grace and Truth.