Commitment in the 21st Century

In todays culture the concept of commitment seems nonexistent. We are in a pic’n’mix, individualist society where our ‘Freedom of Choice’ has become our god. Today’s concept of loyalty could be redefined as ‘committed only when convenient’ or “I do, until something better comes along”.

The tragedy is, we are applying this consumer ideology to our human relationships, sacred life-long unions such as marriage are now disregarded 42% of the time. We jump from person to person to get the best deal we can find. The word of the ‘enlightened’ secular citizen can only be trusted 58% of the time. We move house more regularly, change jobs, cars, phones, pets and schools, as we constantly try to satisfy our vacuous soul’s to seek the elusive concept of ‘happiness’. As a result nothing remains constant and nobody is ever content. It is no wonder that we have become such a litigious nation, nobody can be trusted in a world of constant flux. 

Our societies post-Christian ideology teaches that ‘happiness’ can be found in freedom from the shackles of commitment. But this fickleness is clearly not working. NHS Digital reported a 108.5% increase in antidepressants being dispensed in just ten years, in 2016 this cost the NHS £9.2bn. Our post-Christian society clearly causes conflict with our wellbeing. Despite what car we drive or what iPhone we own we are not happy.  The human condition needs; real relationships, real accountability, unrivalled love and commitment. Queue the church!

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The church should be the counter-culture of such fluidity. It should be the home of patience, endurance and sacrifice (1 Corinthians 13). Church should be the one place in our modern society where you can guarantee commitment. A place where our Yes’ means Yes and our No’s mean No (Matthew 5:37), a place of loyalty and trust as we come together to worship an unchanging, eternal God, who stuck around even when things got tough (Ephesians 5:25), who keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5) and committed Himself to you in a covenant of His own blood (Matthew 26:26-28).

Sadly 21st century fickleness is creeping into the church and many excuses are given by Christians to justify a non-committal stance in regards to membership. I hope to lovingly address these points in this paper to encourage the saints to unite and commit to each other so that we can fight the good fight of faith against our divisive superficial society.

The main objection I hear about “church membership” is that the term cannot be found in the Bible?

Well neither can the term “Trinity” but we do not doubt it. We come to the conclusion that God is three and one because the scriptures tells us so. It is very dangerous to justify any position by whether it was explicitly argued for or against in the Bible. Jesus never spoke directly against Pedophilia but we all know that it is wrong based on the many other principles Jesus taught that would directly appose such a vile crime. In the same way the term “church membership” is not clearly mandated in scripture but there is clear evidence to support the process in the application of what was achieved by the early church.

Paul’s letters were all addressed to churches (Philippians 1:1), local bodies of believers that were all in one mind (Philippians 2:2), someone needed to be responsible to receive them and to distribute to people within the church (members). 

The scriptures show a clear distinction between those who are in the church and out of it (Romans 12:15, 2 Corinthians 6:14), people were chosen from within the church for special tasks (Acts 6:3)  and we are told that their numbers were being added to (Acts 2:41 and 47).

Now you may say that such tasks can all be achieved by a congregation without a formal list? Well Jesus keeps a list (Revelation 20:12) and a good shepherd counts His sheep (Luke 15:1-7, John 10:14).

Without such formalities as church membership, the microcosm of the local church and thus the wider body, would be in the same chaos as the world. Nobody would know who is in or out affecting pastoral care, teaching, mission and accountability.

In scripture we see the local church collected funds (Philippians 4:15-16) and distributed them to other local churches (Acts 11:29-30). We know that gifts were brought to the leaders and recorded (Acts 5). Local churches sent out teams to support other local churches (Acts 12:22), and they welcomed transfers between local bodies (Romans 16:1-2). Local church made provision for widows (Acts 6:1-6) and organised meetings and feasts. They created an administration (1 Corinthians 12:28, Titus 1:5) and had clearly defined functions within (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12:28). They had leadership (Hebrews 13:17) who were accountable to the local body (1 Timothy 5:20). People were met with ordered discipline (Matthew 18:17) and were also cast out (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Church leaders were given responsibility (Acts 2:42-47, Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 4:2, James 3:1) to ensure the spiritual health of the flock and members were encouraged to meet (Hebrews 10:25) and respect those God has called to care for them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:7).

This would all be impossible to manage without any administrative formalities such as a membership list of believers, who were willing to commit to the church, following Christ’s example by sacrificing their individual needs for the greater good of others (Romans 12:5, Titus 3:12-14). 

As a church Elder and Pastor I know first hand the security and benefits such commitment from the saints brings to the local church. Having committed members that you can rely on allows the ox not to be muzzled as he treads out the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4), but this is not the reason why I write this today. It is out of genuine concern for the souls of those missing out on the joy of church membership.

Living in exile is desperately unhealthy for the Christian soul. By not joining a church you are living in direct conflict to the Bibles teaching (which is God’s letter to church). The Bible is full of information of how to relate to each other and to the world outside, it shows us how to corporately love and care for one another. The message of the Bible is about having life together, sacrificially loving each other through trials, sickness, sin and pain, building each other up as we walk in Christ’s footsteps to the eternal church that is Heaven. 

God Himself is in community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by a covenant of redeeming Grace He has saved us to commit to His bride the church (Ephesians 5:25-33,  2 Corinthians 11:2, John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:2,9-10). Many of the Bible’s commands for the Christian can only be fulfilled in the context of the local church. If you are a Christian and not involved in a local church, how are you knowing the joy of breaking bread (Acts 2:46), evangelising, baptising, teaching, discipling (Matthew 28: 16-20), sharing and caring (Matthew 25:40), giving (2 Corinthians 9:7), serving (John 13:1-17) and submitting and praying for elders (Hebrews 13:7), how are you being fed by the word? (1Peter 2:2), how are you corporately praying? (2 Corinthians 1:11), how are you subjectively sharpening iron with iron? (Proverbs 27:17), how are you visiting the sick? How are you meeting with Jesus? (Matthew 18:20). You are missing out on so much joy in the Christian life, you are missing out on significant family time!

There is no getting away from it, “church” is the vehicle of human fulfilment, ordained by God to be the bride of Christ Jesus. If you are living the Christian life as an individual, in isolation, I weep for your soul, as no Christian would choose to live out their faith in solitude. Those to sick and infirm to come to church long for visitors and in areas of mass persecution, Christians are risking their lives to attend private meetings, just to have a taste of fellowship that we in the west so easily take for granted.

Choosing to live out your faith alone, choosing to not be accountable to other believers (however flawed and broken we maybe), is the same call for independence in Genesis 3. It is a desire to seek and define the knowledge of good and evil on your terms and not on God’s terms. For your own wellbeing, you need to join a local church. It is the constant your soul needs to survive in a world of constant flux.

Green Welcome

Now some will agree with all of the above but say “I can’t find a church that is right for me”. Well to be ruthlessly direct, church is not about you, it is about God. Do not let such consumer ideology creep in! Yes, you have to make sure you are going to a church that can cater for you (to some degree). If you have children, do they have a Sunday school? Is it a Bible church (5 Solas) and does the ministry grow good grass for you to feed on? These are the questions you should be asking. But if you are waiting for the perfect church, you will not find one, because they are all filled with imperfect people. Yes there will be difficulties and heartbreak but this is family life and in it we share in all the joyous experiences to.

Friends, the local church is biblical and has a significant part to play in God’s redemptive plan. Christ is returning publicly to take His bride, we are the one body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:27) that He is coming for.

I pray that this blog encourages you to formally commit to your local church and become a member. I pray that you will stick with it through times of trial just as Christ has stuck with you. And let the witness of your commitment to the church, be a witness to the gospel in our superficial and chaotic times.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” Hebrews 10:24-25

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Being in the presence of God – EMW Camps 2018

I am broken, exhausted and emotionally drained as I write to you all. This last week has been both a battle and a joy.

Last year I wrote a blog on my first camp experience as chaplain and the blessings we received. I encourage you to read it if you are thinking of supporting or getting involved in the camps. “Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp

This year I am not going to write about all the great activities we did with the campers, as far greater things were done by God.

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Australia was the camp theme

I enjoyed my time with the campers last year and listened to their pains and anxieties as they struggle to live the Christian life amidst the hostility of our secular age.

I hoped to address these issues this year with the theme of “Assurance”. 

I arrived on the Saturday afternoon with my notes and Bible studies prepared.

Every morning and evening we would go through each of the Beatitudes and study how salvation is expressed.

To summarise the weeks teaching;

  • Those who know their own spiritual poverty, grieve their sin and hunger and thirst for God are blessed. 
  • Those who have dealt with conflict at the cross and have made peace with God and who face persecution for living for Christ are blessed.
  • Christianity is expressed by inward reflection, outward action and outside reaction (we even had dance moves for this).

The officers seemed encouraged by the notes and came loaded with several questions. I am grateful for how seriously they took the task in hand.

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The first service felt lifeless, the wind was heavy on the tent and was distracting those who needed no encouragement. The projector fell mid way through the message and I knew I had lost them. 

The first few days were restless, their was conflict, tears and tiredness between the campers. The Devil was clearly attacking! It was going to be a tough week!

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This years camp was different in many ways, but the most significant was in prayer.

From the first night we all met as officers and leaders to pray for God’s blessing upon the week, we prayed for each child until the early hours and then we woke and met again to do the same.

Camp leader (Joshua Slade) lead the morning devotions taking the officers through Colossians. We prayed right up to the breakfast bell each morning and could have gone on all day.

Last year I was encouraged by the handful of campers that came to the early morning prayer meeting (comprising mainly of duty bound ministers children), but this year the early morning prayer meetings peaked at 21 souls desperate to see God work.

We prayed as officers again before the dorm Bible studies and at the very end of the day after the officers epilogues, when we were all exhausted, the officers and leaders still all met to pray again until the early hours ……..and the Lord was pleased to answer!

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As I have already said, the first couple of days were incredibly challenging (the enemy knew what was coming). But from Monday evening (where we truly felt God’s presence in our late night prayer meeting) things began to change.

I had preached earlier that day on Matthew 5:4, using the illustration of a life boat. “Only those who mourn their sin, know the desperate situation they are in and will accept the offer of rescue.”

This analogy struck a chord with a number of the campers, several stayed after the meeting to pray.

As we continued through the Beatitudes we could see a change in the Spirit of the camp, a number of the difficulties were ironed out, foes became best friends, the restless began to sleep and prayer was being answered.

God was with us!

At meal times, we were not singing dorm theme tunes or popular music, but Hymns to God’s glory. 

During the activities, campers were reading their Bibles, whether they were on the beach, or sat on the floor in the crowds at the zoo. They could not get enough of God’s word.

After each morning service half of the campers stayed to pray for the lost, one young girl even wept in utter confusion that there were campers who could leave the service seemingly unaffected. (This challenged me greatly)

Throughout the week we could physically and tangibly see God move through the campers.

In total we welcomed nine professions of faith (compared to zero last year) and several showed clear signs of growth and have gone home assured.

What excited me the most was that each profession was made secretly, personally and reverently.

None of the children were following the crowd, but spent days praying and speaking to the officers to make sure in their own hearts that they were not riding a superficial wave.

One young lady was walking back from the day trip to the farm on her own, praying I would retreat to her so she could discuss her conversion. She was not seeking attention, far from it, she distanced herself from the crowd to speak with me alone. She knew she was saved and had everything in Christ.

One young man who was not in the prayer meetings at the beginning of the week, started coming by the end. I asked him why? To which he proclaimed “Christ died for me”. I would not have known about his conversion if I had not asked. 

None of the converts were attention seeking, neither were they appeasing me. They called officers aside individually to share what had happened to them and although humbled in Spirit all were excited to return home to share their good news with friends and family.

Camp veteran and leader Joshua Slade said he had never known a camp like it.

We had all the fun of previous years, but the spirit of unity (that came out from a potentially difficult week) was clear. 

God drew these young souls to Him through the entire team on camp, every officer had a significant part to play as commitments were being made. Grace (our ladies leader) spent many hours with our young ladies.

On the last morning a number of the converts (and those who were significantly strengthened in their faith) came to me for an unplanned prayer meeting before they went home. I read from Mark 4.

“You can return home assured, knowing that you are in the lifeboat, but storms will come and Jesus will seam silent, but know that He is in the boat with you, have faith that He can calm the storm” 

The reality of the blessing we shared this week has already been evidenced by the storm, with various attacks that I have returned home to. I would value your prayer……

I asked the campers to write where they were at with God on Day 1.

I asked them to answer the same question on the last evening.

Here are some examples.

A loving reply to an Easter challenge

I have been handed back one of the cards that we (as a church) have been distributing to the community over Easter.

The card was sent out with the standard invite and warm welcome with a Bible verse and some points of interest.

This year I listed eight verifiable historical facts that support the gospel truth. Hard data that I hoped would assist people to at least question what they know to be true.

I accepted the returned card with great joy as it came with additional notation, giving me valuable feedback from the mission field. I am sure that this one voice represents thousands of people who feel the same. All of which I have a deep respect for although we would not agree on this matter.

In the greatest love I wish to address these comments. Not for a tit-for-tat debate on whether God exists, (the Bible is clear that we cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom).

I simply hope to show that our Christian world view is as logical, rational and evidenced as any other alternative (I assume atheism for the purpose of the blog).

Neither is this an attack on the author of the responding notes. I am sure that he/she is an intelligent, wonderful human being, doing the best they can to make sense of this crazy world like everyone else.

I respond simply to show a wider audience who may think the same as the Author and hope to show that Christianity carries a lot more weight than it is given credit for today.

The data

Just as the “primordial soup” theory has been dismissed and Darwinism is now being questioned, the argument for intelligent design continues to be explored across all academic communities.

Many of our greatest minds debate endlessly such fundamental truths as to why and how we got here. All of them have the same expertise behind them, they all review, test and contemplate the same data but they all come to different conclusions.

My case to those that take the same data as we do but disregard God owing to “the alleged lack of evidence” is that they contradict their argument simply by agreeing with many other non-empirical truths.

Those that disregard God still get married, they still have funerals (humanist or otherwise), they shun wrong doing and live for meta-physical concepts such as hope, dreams, ambition, love, grief, morality and justice. They support various ideologies, including atheism – which their is no conclusive evidence for either.

None of these concepts (that define personage) can be quantified in a lab, yet everyone attests to them. You can measure the release of Oxytocin, but you cannot measure the wonder of love and its application in our lives. You can’t measure your sorrow when grieving the loss of a loved one.

If you were to apply the same “lack of evidence” arguments that you quite happily hold against God to your own existence, you would cease to believe in the emotions that make youhuman.

To quote Professor Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

 

Statement/Reply/Response

  1. The resurrection gives hope and meaning to 2.2billion people around the world today.

Assuming here we are talking about people who identified themselves as Christians including those coerced into Catholicism. Bit of a stretch to say the resurrection gives hope and meaning to all those. The majority of whom don’t attend any type of church.

The figure states that 2.2billion (or 31.2% of humanity) associate themselves as followers of Christ. Statisticians predict this will grow to 2.9billion by 2050 – I pray for even more.

These people come from all different cultures and far more advanced social, economic and academic societies than our own.

Christianity is booming in places such as South Korea (home of Samsung), Silicon valley (home of Google and Facebook) where billions of dollars are being made, but the spiritual void is not being filled.

Countries that are developing have seen huge growth, such as China where despite great persecution from a secular state there are 115 million protestants attending underground churches.

In 1979 there were estimated less than 500 Christians from Muslim backgrounds in Iran, today there are over a million.

They all identify themselves with a saviour who beat death and evidences eternity in His physical resurrection.

Whether Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or Pentecostal, their hope is based on the same truth.

It is sad that many do not come to church or worship services, despite the Bible’s explicit teaching to do so. But this is not the point. I was reasoning a shared hope, not a roll call.

Furthermore, there are many professing “atheists” that when faced with tragedy deny their belief system and start praying. “There are no atheists in foxholes”.

When we come to the end of ourselves, we usually find the beginning of God.

The argument raised also implies coercion among these numbers, as it were a cultural indoctrination into the faith?

If a Hindu is only a Hindu because they are Indian, a Muslim because they are Iranian, then you could argue that “your” atheism has been born out of our secular, consumerist, post-war culture.

If you desire to undermine ones truth based on cultural inference, you undermine your own stance.

  1. Jesus’ teaching has defined our culture’s morality that we all live by today. Love, justice, charity and forgiveness.

Implying those outside this concept have no morals????

This implication is not made anywhere.

The Bible teaches us that bad people go to Heaven and there are lots of good people in Hell. Being a Christian is not about being good (although this is a welcome bi-product – read James 2:18). Those who think their good deeds put them right with God are misled and are not following the Bibles teaching (read Ephesians 2:9).

Christianity is not about being good, it is not a philosophy, neither an ideology or a system of governance. Christianity is about a person, whose followers can be in relationship with Him despite their failures.

Christianity teaches of a God who has revealed Himself in a Messiah who bridged the gap between God and Man and redeemed a people for Himself by faith. Morality does not come into salvation. It is all about Grace!

With that said, shared morality from a “higher source” is vital for human society to function. Without it we have chaos because nobody would have any authority to define or impose right and wrong on others.

Western culture is just about holding together through a thin veneer of a shared concept of consumerism and a “try not to kill anyone” ideology. But when tested, a godless society falls.

The proof of this (sadly) comes during tragedy.

Take for example the recent terrorist attacks on our shores.

Our cultures secular atheism, if taken to its logical conclusion would state that the lives lost were meaningless accidents of a natural selection process, that any trauma caused was simply a chemical imbalance in the brain, of no meaningful consequence.

But this viewpoint does not work. Everyone agreed that the needless loss of life was tragic, everyone seeked justice and for that moment secular atheism was abandoned as we all got on Twitter to #prayfor…..

Our society’s ideology that “Truth is relative” is simply an oxymoron as the statement itself is an ‘absolute’ and thus a contradiction

A ‘relative truth’ simply sounds nice as it works for people in the short term, because it justifies a life without the challenge of their being an absolute judge (God).

This argument is not a modern phenomenon, it is innate to the human condition, and can be best explained in Genesis 3.

To quote one of our finest academics C.S.Lewis

““All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

You can of course have morality without God.

But without God, you have no higher authority to defend or protect a view of right or wrong (whatever that may be).

If truth is relative to the individual, how good is good, how bad is bad? If a paedophile is not hurting anyone, do their thoughts become ok? If someone did something “bad” to you, but they felt it was “good” how can you defend the injustice if morality is subjective to personal opinion and not a higher authority?

The Nazi’s thought they were right to commit genocide and if you apply a Darwinian world view to Auschwitz then they were! An external observer (with no moral compass) would simply see one “animal” dealing with a perceived threat to its survival. More on this here

Now you could argue that morality has evolved and is a natural consequence of our advanced brain. But again this is a philosophical contradiction as evolution by definition is deterministic and morality is not.

You could also say that we can uphold moral principles in law without the need of a deity, but history would disagree.

Chairman Mow tried this and killed 45million of his own people in just four years, Stalin did the same and killed 25million. When humanity becomes the product of natural accidents, the powerful can dispose all those who cease to be productive without any moral consequence.

Furthermore I politely request that you read your history books before any generic comeback that “religion causes death”. Statistics say otherwise and it is humanity that causes death, because of the very ideals that the Gospel seeks to free us from.

  1. Over 500 witnesses saw Jesus resurrected and stood by their testimony even unto death

all of who had vested interest”.

Becoming a Christian today in our liberal democracy is hard. We are mocked and disrespected. Professionals, politicians and academics are discredit because of their faith – where is the vested interest? Being a Christian is hard!

History tells us that the early Christians lost their homes, families, jobs, they were imprison and tortured, fed to beasts, turned into human candles, placed on hot seats and giant frying pans to be cooked alive.

Even today we are the most persecuted people in the world with an estimated 90,000 murdered each year, for our faith. Where is the vested interest?

To quote Charles W. Colson

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

  1. Rome spent 300 years suppressing Christians when all they had to do was present Jesus’ body (that they were in charge of) to the end the church. Jesus’ body was never found.

Suppressed Judaism as well”?

Yes, but in the time that Jesus walked with us, the Jews did have freedom to worship and freedom to demand from Pilate that Jesus was Crucified.

Christians were an offence to Rome for three centuries as they would not bow the knee to Caesar. The church (and all of its problems it caused the state) could have vanished if they simply presented the body that they were in charge of.

  1. The Stone was moved and the tomb really was empty

Says who

Well the Bible. Without going into a rant about its inerrancy, it is the source text of our faith and for much of human history. It is supported by innumerable archaeological, scientific and third party evidence. Outside of the miraculous, the dates, the kings, the battles they all add up. The Bible is used continuously as source material for other historical events during its time that you would never question.

The New Testament was written in the lifetimes of the eye witnesses and authors, so they are considered as primary sources. Compare that to any written account of Muhammad that did not occur until (at best) 70 – 200 years after his death (secondary sources).

The written evidence for the Battle of Hastings is based on a few lines in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1066 and part of a letter sent by William of Normandy in 1070.

William of Malmesbury, gives a better account in the Deeds of the Kings of the English, but this was written in 1140, 70 years after the event took place.

I am not questioning whether the battle of Hasting happened, just showcasing the treasure trove of evidence we have to support the Christian claim.

  1. Jesus’ body was buried, secured and guarded by the worlds superpower (Rome).

Allegedly

The previous answer covers this. You can also read, non-Biblical, non-Christian historical accounts such as Josephus “Antiquities of the Jews”, Tacitus “Annals” , Pliny the Younger, the Babylonian Talmud, Lucian of Samosata and many others that support the Bibles claims.

  1. Jesus really died on the Cross

Romans never crucified on a Cross

 

This is the most surprising reply of all, because they did.

Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus crucified 6,000 as reported by Appian.

In the Dolaucothi Gold mines in Wales have evidence of Roman Crucifixion.

Roman Emperor Constantine banned crucifixion in the 4th Century that proves it was functioning prior.

Sadly Crucifixion was a “thing” in Rome.

But, the issue may not with be the torture but with the cross itself? By this I mean the cross as depicted in Christian artwork throughout history?

Now there may be a case for this.

The Bible does not describe the cross, and no Christian claims that renaissance art has an authority on this matter.

What we know, is that the cross could have been two planks of wood crossed in the centre “crux immissa” (X) or as traditionally assumed a “crux commissa” (T) or even just one poll. The ankles could have been affixed on the front plank, or to the side, the hands pierced above the head or horizontal to the body.

The term for such a punishment (however delivered) was “stauros”, or stake, known and translated as the Cross.

The cross is not described in detail in the Bible because it was a known colloquialism for the punishment. We can guess it was crux commissa (T) because of the practicalities of the sign. In John 19:21 it states that “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.”

So Jesus did really die on the Cross.

However this torture was administered, His death by the collective means known as “the cross” fulfilled many distinct prophecies that predated the event.

700 years prior to the crucifixion

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,    stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5.

Pre-explicitly (580 bc)

“Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” Psalm 22:16-18

  1. Jesus really lived

I agree

I am pleased. To deny Jesus’ existence would be to deny all historical figures of that era. The question then is, is Jesus who He claimed to be?

If He is not, then you have to justify how an impoverished Palestinian carpenters son, who spent His first night on earth in an animal feeding trough in Bethlehem, who grew up in a relatively unknown village in the deserted Middle East, with no formal education and was homeless at the age of thirty, a person who clearly had severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia and Dissociative identity disorder and died a criminals death…how did this person come to change the world? Explain that!

Why are we talking about Him 2,000 years on, 6,000 miles away in our remote Welsh Valley?

Why does His message of love, grace and forgiveness still cause so much of an offence?

How has His teaching built our legal system and our cultures morality (that allows for atheism)?

How has His ministry caused billions of human beings (that can’t all be crazy) to give up the trappings of this world to follow Him?

How has He convinced rational, educated people from all cultures to give up everything to travel across oceans to share His good news?

For me these are far bigger questions that need to be answered if the truth of the Gospel is rejected.

Why does His teaching cause millions of people who reject Him to give up their time debating well meaning people who are at least motivated to share His Good news?

To quote Professor Lee Strobel “To continue in atheism, I would need to believe that nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I simply didn’t have that much faith.”

Conclusion

What I wrote in this card were the cold hard facts of the Easter events, I left out the spiritual or circumstantial, yet they still caused offence.

To dispute our claim that Jesus is the Son of God who in sacrificial love gave all for His people, this is one thing, but to deny the historic evidence is another. With that said, I thank the author of the comments for it.

As I said, I cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom, this blog could push you away or raise further questions and rebukes.

Only God can draw you in and without His sovereign work in your life, we can never agree on this subject, although I am sure we would on many others. So I wish any doubters every success and pray that you will one day share in the joy that I have received by Grace in Christ Jesus.

Music and Worship

You have all heard of the expression “if a tree falls in a wood and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a philosophical question about perception that can be asked with music to.

Some of you may wake up to birds tweeting and perceive it as “bird song” others may hear it as just noise. Is the Bird singing a song or is it simply a vocalised tic or a natural defence mechanism? To quote the Philosorapter; “What if birds are not singing, they’re just screaming because they’re afraid of heights?” (I would hate to think that was true – poor birds).

Some people may hear the sound of a rushing river and relax; others will run to the toilet. When I hear death metal “music” I want to hit my head on the wall until it stops, but I can rest content listening to the Delta Blues for hours on end. Music, however it is defined, can be equally endearing as off putting. Whatever your perception, it always causes a reaction.

Recent studies have shown that when listening to music every part of our brain is engaged, you could say that as a species we were built for it. Like us, music functions as both body and soul, it is transcendent and meta-physical but can only exist within and through a medium. Even a mere memory of a song can lift us up, or bring us down. Music can promote joyful motion (Ecclesiastes 3:4) or send us to sleep (1 Samuel 16:23 and Daniel 6:18). A song can inspire armies to war and it can anthem a nation. Music evokes memories and expresses transient truths into physical reality.

The appreciation of music is unique to the human experience.

Without a human being present to define and enjoy it, Handel’s Messiah would be no different to the noise produced in a traffic jam. Both circumstances are just vibrations.

To listen, love and appreciate music is one of the unique privileges of humanity. Music is found in every culture in every country, so no wonder our instruction manual (the Bible) is full of references to it.

Music is first mentioned in scripture as early as Genesis 4:21-22 with Jubal the father of one who played the pipes (an organist for a traditional Welsh chapel goer). Moses wrote a song in Exodus 15 that Israel sung in celebration over the triumph of Pharaoh. The longest book in the Bible is the book of Psalms which contains a 150 songs, many written by King David who was a musician in King Saul’s court. In the Old Testament we have clear evidence of music prescribed by God to use in worship (2 Chronicles 29:25-28). In the New Testament Angels sang at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13-14), Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn at the last supper (Matthew 26:30), Paul and Silas sang hymns whilst in prison (Acts 16:25), Paul teaches us to sing to God’s Praise (1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), in James we are also told to sing (James 5:13) and the Angel’s were singing in Heaven holding harps (Revelation 5:8-11).

Music is a huge part of the human experience so it is obvious that it should be a huge part of our worship. But like everything else we do in God’s service it must be undertaken reverently, seeking only to do the will of the Father in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24). We are not to worship God how we see fit but follow His perfect will (Cain and Abel – Hebrews 11:4).

You can see from the references above, music with instrumentation was clearly prescribed by God in the Old Testament. However in the New Testament we do not have such a command, all we are told is to sing with gladness in our hearts (Colossians 3:16).

The clear distinction between the Old and the New would imply that instrumentation in worship was a facet of the formal religiosity of Judaism and was thus made redundant in the New Covenant church (Hebrews 7:12 and 10:9). With that said, when you look at the context of the early church in the New Testament they were under great persecution and had to worship in home groups or underground, so having a ten piece band would not only be impractical but also life threatening as it would attract attention, thus (you could argue) instrumentation was omitted from practice just for that season.

It is true that the New Testament only commands singing, but neither does it condemn instrumentation, whether organ or guitar, panpipes or bagpipes. So the principle I would take from the scripture is that instrumentation is fine, but should be moderate and tasteful, with the sole purpose to encourage the church to sing with gladness in our hearts. Instrumentation should not overpower the believers praise or unnecessarily add to it. God is glorified when the saints are in one voice (Romans 15:6).

Scripture is clear, music (playing or hearing it) in itself is not worship, neither is music a tool to get us “in the mood” for God. Music is one method that enhances worship, it gives opportunity for Musicians to use their God given talents and the church to honour and Praises God together in song. All in preparation for word ministry which must remain the central and most significant part of the service, for it is only by the word of God that we are saved and edified (Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 15:2, Hebrews 4:12).

There is no biblical justification for music to be used to create an atmosphere of worship; this would be to substitute the Holy Spirit with a tinkling of the ivories. To say that you could conjure the presence of God by playing an instrument would imply a priesthood and it is a claim of sovereign control over God. To credit the Holy Spirit for creating an atmosphere that can easily be achieved at any worldly event, whether a concert or gig is simply blasphemy (Matthew 12:31). If you leave a service saying “I love that song” and not “I love the Lord” you are worshiping the vehicle of expression and not God’s revelation of Himself.

To use music to manipulate emotion or to entertain is to manipulate the church by worldly means. Marketing companies use the very same techniques to draw and entice the masses to increase sales (1 John 2: 15-17). The church is to be counter cultural (Matthew 5:13), we do not need such gimmicks and extravagances when we have Christ! (Philippians 4:19).

This now brings us to the type of music to use as a means of worship.

I am a conservative when it comes to hymn choices; I love the older hymns; Wesley, Newton McCheyne, Watts, Havergal etc. It takes significant time for me to prayerfully choose the hymns for each service, I make sure the words resonate the truth and put across more succinctly the message for the day. With that said, I am also aware that I come to these older hymnals with history on my side. Time has wiped away from memory the tripe that was also produced in their era. So I am of course not put off by contemporary hymns, as within today’s tripe there are many superbly written pieces that contain deeply profound gospel truths that will stand the test of time alongside the classics. I like a mixture of both, whatever fits best with the message – no prejudice.

I enjoy a good old fashioned hymn sandwich, but I have no biblical premise to support this position, other than it breaks up the service in an orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:33 and 1 Corinthians 14:40) and encourages times between where we can be still with God around His word (Psalm 46:10, 1 Kings 19:11-13).

The Bible teaches that the word is our authority (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and this is true in all forms of worship. So if you like a Christian song whose lyrics have been written to fit a catchy tune with endless repeated choruses and a three minute guitar solo, then enjoy it in the home or in the car. It is a pop song about our saviour – Praise God for it- but it is not a hymn. If the melody fits lyrics with clear Biblical doctrine that encourages the congregation to sing God’s praise (as commanded in Scripture) then use it for worship.

Music is a uniquely human privilege given to us as a gift from God, and when performed well in humble spirit and in good taste, for the purpose of encouraging the believers to sing words that venerate our Saviour with gladness in our hearts, then it is God glorifying and thus a truly wonderful thing.

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

Can Christians serve in the Military?

This question is very popular, more so from conscientious teenagers who see Military service as a viable career choice, but have many concerns over serving an institution that seems to contradict one of the moral imperatives found in the Ten Commandments – “You shall not murder”.

On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also clearly tells us (Christians) that we are not to murder (Matthew 5:21) and in the face of evil we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42).

People have used such teaching to justify pacifism in the assumption that Christians should be meek and mild and not fight in or support any conflict, but simply live in peace.

“They say peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

I have a lot of respect for pacifists and know that such a stance is often the bravest course to take. I also know that many have abused this stance to get out of front line duties and such cowardice has tarnished the reputation of others who have acted in the utmost integrity with a real conviction and a deep love for their fellow man (Matthew 5:44).

But such a stance (however respectable) is not what Jesus taught on the mount, so such verses should not be used to defend this case.

Is Military Service Biblical?

Before we answer this questions, we need to remember that God cannot stand sin (Isaiah 59:2), He cannot lie (Hebrew 6:18), He is unchanging (Revelation 1:8), and His words are perfect (Psalm 12:6).

In Genesis 14:14 we read that Abraham forms an army of 318 men to bring back Lot from the four Kings. In Exodus 17, Israel beat the Amalekites in battle, God Blessed when Moses raised his staff into the air. In Joshua 1 the Lord speaks to Joshua telling him to be strong and courageous (v6) as he goes out to take the promised land, the Lord also told Joshua when to attack Ai (Joshua 8:1).

King Saul had an army (1 Samuel 13:2) and so did King David. The Lord even gave him battle strategies (2 Samuel 5:23). David had mercenaries fighting for him (2 Samuel 15) and a part time army working on shifts (1 Chronicles 27). People were also commissioned to provide weaponry and chariots (1 Kings 10:26).

We also know that Jesus is not going to be a pacifist on His return (Revelation 12:7) and throughout the Gospels we see many instances of soldiers being praised as Christians, God-fearing men and of good character (Matthew 8:5; 27:54; Mark 15:39-45; Luke 7:2; 23:47; Acts 10:1; 21:32; 28:16).

Jesus did not shun or rebuke the centurion but showed respect for his sense of leadership (Matthew 8:5-13). When John the Baptist was asked by soldiers what they should do (in light of the gospel) they were not told to stop serving in the Military, but to be content with their wages and not abuse their power or authority over civilians (Luke 3:14).

All this evidences to the truth that you can be a soldier and lead a godly life. You can be a Christian and serve in the Military.

So what did Jesus mean on the Sermon on the Mount, if it were not an argument for pacifism?

We know that Christians are not to kill or murder, but we also know that Christians should neither sit back and allow injustice.

Throughout scripture we are told to defend the weak (Proverbs 31:8-9), seek justice (Isaiah 1:17), and if necessary lay down our lives for others (John 15:13).

We are to love our neighbours (Mark 12:31) but if your neighbour broke into your house and desired to rape your wife and kill your children, you are not simply to turn the other cheek and hope that this witness would lead to conversion. Call the police! And when they arrive pray that they are not pacifists. Christians all have a Biblical mandate to protect our families (1 Timothy 5:8), our society and to defend the weak (Psalm 82:3).

I went to Auschwitz last year and will be forever horrified by what I saw. If our nation took a “pacifist” position to Hitler during the war, the genocide of the Jews, Polish, Russians and Gypsys would have continued, millions more lives would have been lost to evil forces. The Nazi’s had to be stopped and doing so would honour the Christian values of Justice, defence, law and order.

“There is a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:8)

Even Jesus chased everyone out of the temple courts with a whip and overturned the money tables. (John 2:15).

So what was Jesus teaching on the sermon of the mount?

Well, to fully understand we have to look at the context……

Jesus was giving life lessons to individuals in society.

Jesus was teaching His followers not to repay evil with evil in the context of our daily lives.

If someone aggressively beeps the horn at you in a Tesco car park, you are not to get out of your car and seek retribution, but simply turn the other cheek, or even better, show them kindness (1 Peter 3:9).

If a relative is being malicious behind your back, do not react, but leave it with the Lord, for such things are His to revenge (Romans 12:19).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount does not apply to institutions that require Military intervention, He is talking to individuals, not heads of state.

As Christians we are to do what is right, live by God’s law and the law of the land, respecting the authorities who are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:3-4).

We are to submit to those God has put in charge to defend, preserve and protect our societies freedoms (1 Peter 2:13-14), a freedom that allows us to turn the other cheek in our daily lives.

We now have an understanding of the context in which Jesus was speaking on the Mount and we can see how the teaching should be applied to us (individually).

Jesus is not promoting pacifism, neither undermining the authorities or services that protect and defend our freedom.

On the Sermon of the Mount Jesus is teaching that we are to be good and loving citizens by not taking the law into our own hands, by not seeking revenge or retribution on those who have harmed us. Instead we have to trust the authorities to deal with the wrongdoer and leave any ill feeling towards our assailants with God.

Scripture proves that you can be a Christian and serve in the Military and the Sermon on the Mount does not contradict this.

If you are a Christian called to such a duty, you must live by Jesus’ teaching and be honourable in your service as a “sword bearer” for the Authority God has bestowed. Do not abuse your power but be a tool of justice as you fight against evil.

If the authority sends you into war to punish the “wrongdoer” and you kill an opposing “sword bearer” in battle, you have not committed murder, you have not taken the law into your own hands but have followed orders given by the state who were appointed by God.

However, if you abuse your dominance, act cruelly, go beyond just retribution, act in revenge, knowingly attack innocents or seek any unjust gain from your position then you are being unchristian in your service, you need to repent, confess your sin to God and accept the grace of Jesus Christ.

Final points to consider

The state authority has been established by God for the good of the church and we are to submit to it, unless it becomes the “wrongdoer” and goes against Biblical teaching (Acts 5:29).

The government is God’s vehicle for Military action, not the church, we are to rend to Caeser what is Caesars (Mark 12:17) whilst living in Christ’s Kingdom (John 18:36). For our battle is not against flesh and blood but evil forces (Ephesians 6:12), as soldiers of Christ (Philippians 2:25) each day putting on the full Armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) fighting with our divine weapons (2 Corinthains 10:4) and join in Christ’s suffering (2 Timothy 2:3).

The Honesty of Delta Blues

“You know that people
They are driftin’ from do’ to do’
But they can’t find no heaven”                       

Skip James Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues

 

Today my eldest boy asked me about the blues. A question I have been waiting to hear for many years and one I could never fully answer adequately. I simply delved into a box that had not seen the light of day since my conversion. I pulled out an old CD, blew off the dust on the casing and played it in the car.

Delta1

As we listened I began to weep and my son asked me why? After a contemplative pause my reply was “Christ”.

The Blues (specifically Delta) was once my secret passion, hidden behind my headphones on the long commutes to work.

Before I came to Christ, my identity was lost in the deceit of this world, a pressure that I once revelled in. I would happily hide behind a mask of falsity and would judge myself (and others) based on my lusts, greed and pride (the common drivers of fallen men). The Delta Blues did not fit the arrogance of “my brand”, the “me” I wanted the world to see, so my passion for it remained my little secret.

I listened in solitude and it gave me a welcomed escape.

There is nothing like the Delta Blues, no genre so honest, rough and raw. The recordings are pure and capture not only the instrumentation but the soul of the room. There is no falsity to the music, no added production, special effects or synthesised noise. Nothing between the microphone and my cans, nothing between me and the artist.

After a long day I could be stood cold and wet on a dark winters evening, hungry and tired awaiting for a replacement bus service, but with my eyes closed and simply listening, I was sat in the warm in front of; Skip James, Robert Johnson or Sonny Boy Williams. The recordings I had on my playlist gifted me each breath before a harmonica bend, preserved every crackle of the throat and retained the sound of every finger lifting up from the fret board. This rich honesty captured in sound gave me a welcomed break from my fake life and a bogus world that defines us all by what we consume and produce.

Fast forward to today, by God’s Grace I am now a Christian. I am sat in the car next to my eldest son, listening once more to Furry Lewis and I was taken back to that time of need and the man I once was. A man so far from God and desperate for truth.  I wept under the forgotten yet familiar sound of the Delta Blues. But not because of its honesty, purity, or soulfulness, no! I wept in the understanding that all of this beauty that I was hearing (and all that it once meant to me) is nothing compared to the wonders of what I now have in the God man Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus the Christ is life and serenity, purity and peace, the personification of all that is good, He is the embodiment of mercy, the quintessence of sacrificial love and the light in the darkness of this corrupt word. He is the answer, He is the escape, He is the way and the truth and He is mine.

He is the message of Christianity, a message often ignored by common assumption. Christianity is not a religion, or a philosophy, neither a state of mind, it is not a feeling, or a list of laws and principles, neither is it a corporation or bureaucracy. Christianity is a person, a real person to love and have a relationship with, a person to share and cast your burdens on, a person who gave His all to save you from yourself and this world. A totally unique, historical and living person whose love can flow into the most broken of vessels (such as I) and pour out in such abundance that He can even take hold of you, the reader, through these humble words.

I pray that you will see the world for what it really is and Come to love the one who loved us first (1 John 4:19).

I will leave you with some Furry Lewis (not the song that we heard today, but more fitting for this blog).

The End of the World

This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. For the practices of the peoples are worthless” Jeremiah 10:2-3

The world is set to end this weekend, according to David Meade and others who follow him.

This theory has had wide coverage on all of the red tops, TV stations, Facebook news feeds and millions of YouTube hits. If you have not heard about it, you must already be in your bunker!

If I understand it all correctly, the theory is based on “Planet X” hitting the earth on said date in line with the “prophecy” found in Revelation 12.

And in fairness, the movement of the constellations from our relative position on earth, combined with recent natural disasters and world events can match an interpretation of Revelation 12.

The woman clothed with the sun is the constellation “virgo” and the crown of nine starts “leo”. Jupiter’s movement (again from our relative position) is slowly working through virgo at the rate of human gestation (42 weeks) and this could symbolise the pregnancy spoken of in Revelation 12. The apocalypse/rapture or whatever your eschatology is…will then start, on Saturday! Leaving us to do all the ungodly things our hearts desire between now and 11:59pm Friday where we can then repent and be a good Christian just in time! As you can see by my jest, I obviously have great concerns over this theory (and others like it) that I hope to address in this blog post.

  1. The entire theory relies on astrology.

Astrology teaches that the position of natural nuclear fusion reactors (stars), light years away determine whether you will meet the “man of your dreams” today, or what numbers to pick in the lottery. When in truth, short of one hitting the earth or dragging us out of orbit, they have no say in world events or your romantic prospects (see Daniel 2:10 and 27).

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:25

For this reason the Bible clearly teaches against astrology (see Exodus 20:1-15, Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3, 18:10-14,  2 Kings 17:16, Zephaniah 1:4-5, Isaiah 47:13-14,  Romans 1:25, 1 Thessalonians 5:22) and under the guise divination (horoscopes) (see Leviticus 19:26, 1 Samuel 15:23, Isaiah 8:19).

Yes, the Bible does speak of the stars. God created and grouped them (Job 9:9 and Amos 5:8), God uses them as illustrations (Genesis 15:5),  and their purpose is for signs and seasons (Genesis 1:14). The Hebrew here for sign, is “Oth” which means to flag, or beacon or token (see Strong’s concordance 226), not sign the end times! The Bible tells us that God made the stars to tell mankind what time of year we are in, so we can ready the harvest, and to help us navigate when crossing the ocean or desert (Matthew 2:2).

I argue that this end time prediction is based more on interpreting the stars than the Bible itself, which means it is Astrology, and thus should not be practiced or acknowledged by Christians. We are to interpret scripture, God’s Word, to know more of the word made flesh, we are not to interpret the heavens!

  1. This is not the first “Christian” prophecy of the “end times” and sadly it will not be the last.

Hundreds of examples of note have been declared throughout history. Pope Sylvester II took the literal interpretation of the millennium and predicted the end in the year 1000 AD – which in fairness was a more plausible idea. In 1843 a Baptist Minister (don’t trust a Baptist*) William Miller predicted from his reading of Daniel 8 that the world would end on October 22nd 1844. This lead to what is known as “the great disappointment” that started on October 23 1884. The consequences formed the seventh day Adventist movement. Charles Taze Russell predicted that 1914 would be the year of apocalypse and with the war effort at the time, a number believed it. This movement lead to the Jehovah Witnesses.

planet x

  1. Adding our baggage to Biblical interpretation

There are many scriptures utilised throughout the Bible, by various people to predict “the end”. Daniel 2:38 is a prime example. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that Daniel interprets. It involved a statue with different layers that symbolise empires or epochs throughout time that is smashed to bits by a rock cut out, not from human hands (Daniel 2:34). The rock obviously being Christ setting up His kingdom that will never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). There are many arguments as to which section means what and predictions often come from this. The Golden Head was Babylon, the Silver Breast, the Persian empire, the Bronze mid section Alexandra the Great (Daniel 8:5). The Iron legs Rome, and then the Iron and clay, post Rome. Which could be today? We still live in a unified Europe, governed under Roman law, economic principles and governing systems, mixed with the clay of all other civilisations entering in. However, other would say that the Iron legs represent Islam, as this was the only power to actually crush the other previous kingdoms geographically (Daniel 2:40). But then again in 1689 when the Baptist confession was being written some would have interpreted the break-up of the Roman Catholic Church as a sign of the end times. The Pope was decreed as the anti-Christ (Chapter 26:4) and they were no doubt thinking the rock would burst through imminently and put an end to the suffering! Yet 500 years on, we are still waiting!

And this brings us back to my concerns.

A lot of these predictions come with the baggage of our relative position in time, space and culture. “We” often make the mistake of applying our predicament or ‘signs’ of our day into the scripture, rather than exegete what the God’s Word is saying. This mistake has caused endless false doctrine throughout history. The western view of history is a lot different to that of an Asian, whose ancestors battled against various dynasties, empires and colonialist, some we would never even have heard of and their scholars would attribute much of the Biblical prophecy to their experience of the world. So who is right?

  1. The Bible code

I have to admit, some of the ‘end time’ theorising is quite clever and it does inspire many to appreciate and love God’s word. But the scripture is clear, we are not to get bogged down into such minutia of prophecy, we are not to get obsessed with “Bible Science” or “Bible Numerology”. As they can distract us from the word made flesh Jesus Christ who said Himself regarding such signs “Do not go running after them” (Luke 17:22).

I am a firm believer that if God wanted us to know the exact date and time of the end, the Bible would have told us plainly. But this is not the Bibles purpose. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself, it is a Historical work, as well as being a guide to living (an instruction manual), it teaches us how to cope amidst trial, how to know and love our God and eachother, it is a rescue plan and a love letter at the same time. The Bible does not hide from the cruelty of this world, the failures of man and it speaks frankly on taboo subjects. If God wanted us to know the date and time of “the end” it would have said. But by God’s Grace it does not, as Christ’s bride, His church (and all the benefits of it) would simply not exist until seconds before said time. We’d all simply carry on in chaos, until the final moment, ready for our death bed repentance.

Yes the Bible does include many prophecies that have been verified and fulfilled and yes it does speak about the end, but such teaching is always given in the context of ambiguity, and this is for a reason! Because we are not to know when and this should impel us as Christians to live as if the end is today, to be as the persistent widow, petition to God, so that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth (Luke 18:1-8).

When Jesus said there will be wars and rumours of wars, persecution, famine and pestilence, nations will rise upon nations and these are the beginnings of Birth-pains to God’s new earth (Matthew 24:8) He was speaking about His return being imminent, as there is not a period in human history where such things have not happened. If Jesus was being “precise” He would not have closed with the statement “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

Ask yourself, if the angels and Jesus (the word made flesh) do not know when the end is coming, ask yourself how unlikely it is that the Father would reveal it to David Meade or anyone else for that matter?

  1. The Christian witness

The shame of it all is that come the 24th September, the Christian witness from those who predict or promoted such “end time” theories will also be undermined. We should all stay clear of such end time predictions, they are murky waters to get into and they unnecessarily hinder the gospel. They undermine our integrity to a world that does not need our help to ostracise us.

  1. Do not fear

Jesus spoke many times throughout the Gospel about not fearing the future. A fear that can be conjured up by such needless predictions.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26

Yes, the Bible teaches us to be aware of the judgement that is to come, so that we can witness to the lost and pray for them with great urgency. But we are not to be distracted from our Saviour, by such prophecy. (Matthew 13:49, Matthew 25:31-33, Acts 17:31, Romans 14:10-12, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27, 1 Peter 4:5, Revelation 19:11). If we are in Jesus Christ, it should not matter to us when the time comes, or what happens after it, because in Him you will be safe.

Conclusion

The texts often used to prophesy the end (Matthew 24 and others) actually tell us that each epoch in human history has its own fears and anxieties that people will try to rationalise by reading their experience into scripture. In the west, the reformation five hundred years ago marked “the end”, seventy years ago it was the holocaust, thirty years ago the cold war, sixteen years ago 9/11 and this weekend it is because of planetary movements mixed in with a hurricane, BREXIT and an argument between the Rocket Man of North Korea and the tycoon President Trump.

The sobering truth is that for the victims of the recent genocide in Rohingya, Bangladesh, or those being systematically killed by ISIS militants in the Middle East or those who have died of Malaria in Africa, or those that were lost in the recent hurricanes and floods, or Dave down the road who just lost his battle with cancer, or Margaret who collapsed in town and never woke up. For them, their last day has come (Luke 13:4), they have met their creator and have faced judgement. 

We all could face the same at any moment! None of us know when our time is up!

So the question is….Are you ready to meet your maker? If you do not have the protection of Jesus, I can tell you categorically that you will not stand.

The message of scripture is that we are not to be concerned about when the time will be as these are all distractions that take us away from our saviour (1 Thessalonians 5:3), rather we are to be ready to face God at any moment, trusting that whatever will happen in the future will be for His glory and the benefit of His people the church (Romans 8:28).

I hope to see on the 24th September, worshiping Jesus in church, or in Glory!

A message on Revelation 12

*this is a joke, by God’s Grace I am a Baptist Minister

 

 

 

 

Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp!

EMW Camp

Two years ago at the EMW Aberystwyth conference I was accosted by a dear brother, regarding my potential involvement in the youth camps. He told me that they were “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory).

At the time I was juggling a full time job as well as the Ministry. I politely declined the offer to assist with the promise that if the Lord allowed the Ministry to be self supporting, I would give it a go.

Well the following year, the Lord provided and within days of leaving secular work I was contacted by the EMW (efficient as ever) and I agreed to be a chaplain at this year’s 10-13yrs camp (6).

I did not have a Christian upbringing (at all). Camp is an alien concept and as a result I was terrified. I was sure that my lethargic, miserable demeanour would simply not appeal to the children. I am way out of touch with today’s youth (despite having four children of my own) and I grappled with God for many hours to prepare what I hoped to be relevant messages and studies.

I had already met with the team earlier in the year, at a day conference for the camp. This made me feel a lot better. All but a few of them had grown up together through the camp system (and never left). They were a solid, tight, friendly and professional outfit. I could see that the Lord had blessed me with a unit that was strong enough to support my weakness!

I arrived at the elegant Pentrenant Hall, already exhausted and we began to welcome the families in. As the children settled the parents disappeared. It had begun!

Each camper joined a team and “we” came up with a theme song that would anthem every activity of the week. I was a proud Seahorse!

The typical day started early with a camp officers meeting followed by a time of prayer and devotions. The early bird campers then came down for prayer. Breakfast was served followed by announcements and the odd letter from home publically read (the parents knew this and made them extra embarrassing). After each meal a different team was assigned with the clean-up duty. “Seeeeeeeaaaaaa – horses”!

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We then went into the marquee for the mornings worship. We sang hymns, read God’s word, prayed, the children were recommended books and then I preached. We went through Ruth together looking at identity (more on identity here).

After the service we would invite the children to stay and pray. The officers were always on hand to discuss spiritual matters/concerns with them.

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The mornings worship was then followed by a plethora of activities; craft, swimming, archery, sumo, gladiators, table tennis, table football, pool, air hockey, volley-ball, football and wide games. Split by a healthy lunch that gave us time to rest and regroup before the afternoon shift.

Day trips to the beach, the farm or the lake for water sports were accompanied by a packed lunch and ice-cream/ fish and chips were also provided. The children also enjoyed seminars on biblical inerrancy, mission and Q&A.

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The evenings were spent in dorm groups where camp officers worked through the bible studies I had prepared. All were parables of Jesus that mirrored the morning’s message in Ruth. These intimate discussions gave the children opportunities to open up in smaller groups, among friends, pray and ask questions. We would then all meet up in the marquee for fun and games before settling with a hot chocolate and an epilogue from one of the officers. Then bed and repeat.

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I had to leave camp a day early to conduct the wedding, so I unfortunately missed out on the BBQ and the fancy dress on the Friday evening. You should have seen the costume that I had prepared!

It was a delight to serve the Lord in such a way with an amazing team. The camp leaders were so organised and caring. The officers were all young professionals or undergraduates, with a great heart for the Lord and gospel service. They were all fine role models and their evening testimonies made God’s working in their lives real to the children.

The children’s physical and spiritual wellbeing was of the utmost importance. Officers were staying up until 3am with some children (homesick or simply naughty) and then awake again at 6am, fresh and smiling to begin the next day. On the longer coach trips through the windy country lanes, they were the ones lovingly holding back hair, rubbing backs and scraping the sick from the seats. Whatever situation, they kept spirits high, always singing, playing games and always willing to join in. Despite their love shown, none were “soft touches” and they made clear boundaries so that everyone could have fun in a wholesome manner. All the officers were simply marvelous.

 

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Moments of any contention were few and I put this down to the food. I must have gained at least a stone in weight. Each meal was two courses, cooked in love. How they kept to budget I will never know. The meals were of the highest possible quality and offered a balanced diet with amazing desserts. They really went beyond the call of duty and there was little waste – the kids loved it. With filled tummy’s, the children had no room for arguments, and their minds could focus on the spiritual food.

The camp gave me several fantastic opportunities to speak with the children. Although having to sit in a minibus, facing backwards, through those country lanes, whilst answering 20 questions to some very inquisitive young ladies, did cause my stomach to turn.

During the down time, I was often sat with a book in the grounds, but this did not stop the children coming across to ask questions about the message, the Bible study, their life and their faith. We would pray, encourage one another and lift up Jesus together. The outings gave us all a real opportunity to bond and share. Often walking around in groups I had endless opportunities to speak and engage with these young minds at a deep spiritual level.

What shocked me the most was how tough it has become for these children to practice their faith today. Many said they were not willing to commit (although they did believe) because they felt that they would have to let Jesus down at some point to survive school. Others confessed that they were bullied at school for attending church, others were mocked publically by their RE teachers for believing in the Bible. Many told me how other religions were “tolerated” and thus respected and encouraged in their school, but this was at the cost of Christianity and as a result they did not feel comfortable enough to profess their faith in Jesus to their friends.

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Such conversations were a huge wake-up call! They brought me to my knees! For the first time I began to realise the utter importance of this ministry. These children that I had the privilege of spending a week with are our future! They are tomorrow’s church members, deacons, elders, missionaries and Pastors and they are already being ostracised and undermined by the world. Their faith is already being tested to its limits.

The EMW Camps are a most important provision for our next generation. They should never be viewed as secondary to any other ministry. They give such a unique opportunity for ‘our future church’ to take a week away, to rest in the Lord, to make memories and be with friends their own age who share the same trials. The camp allows ‘our children’ unrivalled access to spiritually mature Christians who can answer the questions they may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask at home or in church. The week equips campers with answers to take back to school, it strengthens them as they face hostility and I pray it encourages them to share the gospel with their friends and family outside of the kingdom.

In the second letter to Timothy (2:1-2) Paul tells Timothy to take what he has heard (the gospel) and pass it on to reliable people for them to tell others. Paul is preaching with four generations in mind. For the survival of the church and the gospel witness in Wales, we must prayerfully do the same. We must embrace the EMW camps, pray for the work and financially support it.

We need to make every effort to send our children and encourage their friends to go with them, and if you have no children (or they are grown up) please help others send theirs. It is simply an unrivalled opportunity for these young minds to come and know the Lord as their own, for them to hear the gospel and share it with others back home, so that one day they may tell.

We can rejoice that by God’s Grace those who came to camp professing faith, left in greater assurance and those far off, grew closer to God in Jesus. By God’s Grace…camp works!

The day after camp, I went down to my study, I began to prepare my notes for Sunday, but I could not resist browsing through the uploaded pictures of the week. I was quite emotional as I realised that I was already missing the team and the children. Camp was truly “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory). I have clearly caught the bug! 51 weeks to go!

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Random Open Air service on the Beach

Identity Crisis

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Sadly today’s youth are being raised in a secularized society that has widely dismissed God and the church community.

From a young age our children are taught that human beings are simply randomly evolved accidents. The concept of a human ‘soul’ has been widely discredited and replaced with a consumerist ideology that defines happiness with ownership and material/physical pleasures.

Hunger for such vanity drives a consumer culture of constant change; as a result people are becoming more insular and divisive. We are already seeing evidence that this dissatisfying environment of endless instability has limited the secular child’s capacity to lay down roots for themselves and build support networks (real friends).

Our nation’s youth cry out “who am I and why am I here?” And our post-Christian society answers “you are a randomly evolved accident defined by what you consume or produce, in a godless society, void of meaning and purpose”.

It is fair to say our modernity has created an unnatural period in human history.

Church attendance has dropped to below 2% of the population and as a result our widely accepted moral framework has decade leading to the breakdown of family.

The number of children raised outside of marriage has increased by 29.7% in the last decade and there are over 2 million children in the UK growing up in single parent homes. There is no coincidence that in this same period, prescriptions of anti-depressants have increased by 50.4% as humanity wrestles to define ‘self-worth’ and ‘community’ in our godless nation.

The world moves so fast today, anyone would struggle to identify themselves with anything. Nothing in life is certain; not marriage; a home, even your gender is now up for debate. There is no such thing as a job for life; music, fashion, politics and technology are all rapidly changing to meet the demands of our culture of consumption.

With no real community to align to and no real meaning given to their existence, our youth are at a loss. Change is the only constant and as a result everything is perceived as interim.

Our youth are growing up in a world that offers; instant, on demand gratification. As a result they will never be content, their relationships (sexual or platonic) will become empty, vain and un-trusting and their decision making defined not by morality, but by the democratic desires of a virtual community.

So what is the answer to this gloomy diagnosis?

In short – the Gospel!

Our nations youth have been born into a unique age of constant flux and we have a responsibility to share with them the eternal and unchanging word of God, the solid foundation of the word made flesh (Jesus Christ) and the real love and community found in His bride the church.

As Christians we must prayerfully embrace every opportunity to share the Gospel with young souls, and give them time, so they feel comfortable to ask us the question “who am I and why am I here?” so that we can answer with great purpose and meaning “You are a child of God, you have a purpose.

To have an identity in Jesus Christ means total contentment and a better life. He is eternal and His work unchanging, Calvary cannot be undone!

Only Jesus can fill the void caused by today’s social ideology and only He can offer the stability, permanence, purpose and community of love (the church) that every human being needs to thrive.

Knowing Jesus will be of the greatest benefit to today’s youth, as they grow up in this ever changing world and it is our job to tell them the Good News!

Gird up your loins!

Wonder Woman a social commentary

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I finally got my act together and went to see the long awaited and much anticipated film, Wonder Woman.

The DC franchise is my favourite. ‘Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice’ raised the bar, it was superb and had several philosophical and theological themes under the narrative that I discuss in more detail in the link above (for those that are interested).

I think I am the last person in the world to have seen Wonder Woman, so a “spoiler alert” is probably not necessary.

Wonder Woman (played by the phenomenal Gal Gadot), is Diana, princess of the Amazons, who lived a privileged and protected life on a tropical island created by Zeus, where despite (her mother) the queens restraint, trained to be an unconquerable warrior.

An American pilot (Captain Kirk – Chris Pine) crashed into this closed ecosystem by chance whilst escaping from ‘ze Germans’. He then informs Diana of World War 1. Convinced that Ares god of war is behind the atrocity, she feels it is her destiny to stop the threat. Diana leaves her home for the first time, fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, where she finally discovers her full potential and true destiny as the “god killer”.

David Thewlis is one of my favourite actors and I was surprised to see him in the film. Knowing his type cast, it sadly made the “twist” predictable. He played the aging freedom fighting politician and supporter of Wonder Women’s crusade – but he turns out to be…….you guessed it!

The film was excellent, but I did leave disappointed as the obvious plot made it somewhat slow. (It still gets a 9.5/10).

There were some idiosyncratic moments where Wonder Women questions the American pilot during a bathing scene on how “men are governed by such a little thing” referring to his watch and of course the obvious “no-man’s land” triumph. But there was a more profound theme (outside of the justifiable women’s lib comments) that I would like to discuss.

The film is about Wonder Women’s personal journey to find out her destiny. She embarks leaving the protection of the island to save mankind from evil (echoes of Christ’s condescension). Wonder Woman fights in a ruthless war alongside a band of misfits (an Apache Indian an Arab and a Scott) and learns about the reality of evil. To her surprise it does not simply come from a single source (Ares god of war) but is innate to every single human being. (Genesis 6:5 and Romans 3:10).

Wonder Woman quickly learns the tragedy of the human condition. Those fighting against the evil of ‘ze Germans’ are also the very same people that were committing awful genocide to the Apache’s kin. She witnesses geopolitical effects of evil in the gassing of a town and the ramifications of evil to self, in the deceit of Sameer (Arab) and the social problems of Charlie (the Scott).

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Throughout the journey Wonder Women witnesses the total depravity of mankind, but during this turmoil experiences love from the pilot, charity from the Apache, sacrifice from Sameer and a chorus from Charlie. She learns that these uniquely human qualities are worth saving despite our innate evil. This realisation drives her on to battle Ares, who takes the opposing view that creation would be far better off without the human race. Wonder Women wins the battle, but the fight for evil continues!

As a viewer I was bought in (momentarily) to Wonder Woman’s naive view of evil and faced the same dichotomy shared by all humanity. That evil is not simply from a single source but innate to every human being, even the best of us.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts this innate sickness of man perfectly in his book the Gulag Archipelago.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

The film reminds us of the truth of our total depravity which contradicts our capacity to love. This paradox is beyond our comprehension so as a species we deal with it in mythology, telling stories that try to articulate the spiritual truths of our very being in a digestible way.

This is why millions of people flock to the cinema’s to see such tales unfold, because they express the reality of the complex battles within. Battles that secularism does not and cannot answer, as they are beyond the empirical, they are metaphysical. Which is why when we (as a society) face the reality of such paradoxes, during times of crisis, where good meets evil, it is the church that is often turned to, and prayer that is requested, because secularism does not have the answer. The atheists worldview of existence being time+matter+chance cannot explain love and grief.

The truth of our inner conflict between; the physical and spiritual, determinism and morality, love and hate and our fight for justice cannot be justified without divinity, a being who created existence for a purpose. For if there is no creator, there is no meaning, so concepts such as justice, morality, love, fear and grief do not exist, they are as much fiction as Wonder Woman herself, meaningless conditions evolved from the complex neurons of advanced apes.

So why adhere or uphold them? Why pay to see such concepts materialised in film?

Like all superhero films, Wonder Woman conjures up such mythology and audiences have rushed in to see it because they are based on a truism. Yet our churches who battle with the very same story of good versus evil each week will remain empty this Sunday….why?

One of our countries greatest academics (and former atheist) C.S. Lewis answers this question.

If I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story (such as Wonder Woman) I didn’t mind it at all: If I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself/herself. . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: the idea of a dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) moved me, provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant’. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.

What C.S. Lewis was saying is that the fiction of Wonder Woman is enjoyable because it demands nothing from you the viewer, you simply pay your money and be entertained by her victory against immorality (portrayed to be beyond your grasp), meanwhile the truth of her battle (good vs evil) lives on in your personal journey and in the world around you.

In contrast the reality of the historical person of Jesus the Nazarene and His real defeat of evil on the cross requires you “the viewer” to grasp this battle (Matthew 16:24), you have to change, you have to love your enemy, you have to commit yourself to helping the poor and sick, you have to live a life of faith, go to church and worship, you have to be a force for good in your world – which seems to be too much effort, especially on a Sunday morning for the masses!

Wonder Woman highlighted the propensity of evil in mankind, an undeniable truth that can only be logically explained (in light of the paradox of our ability to love) by humanities transgression from a loving creator, an explanation given clearly in the Bible.

In the final clash Ares god of war tempts Wonder Woman with the beauty of a world without humanity (echoes of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness Matthew 4:1-11). This was a final attempt to convince her that our innate evil warrants our extermination. As Wonder Woman delivers her final blow she says “only love can save the world”. This is a truth that we all embrace and know deep down, it is not based on fiction, love does conquer all. And I can tell you in light of this reality that love did save the world!

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this,that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

It is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:17-18)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)

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