Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The top five.

The following five titles are the most read articles on my blog. Click the links if you would like to read them.

On husbands who abandon their wives and children.

On leaving Churston Grammar.

Leaving a legacy for Christ.

Here's why people won't listen to Jesus.

My theory on pub and churches. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Trust not in princes!

Well, once again we find ourselves in election time, and once again I am reminded of the fact that, as a Christian, I have citizenship in a kingdom far greater than the United Kingdom. My older brother is the king of Kings! The Bible tells us that God raises up kings and rulers, that he lifts up and pulls down nations.

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
for he has all wisdom and power.
21 He controls the course of world events;
he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the scholars. (Dan 2 - NLT)

That being the case, whatever the outcome on Friday, it will be the one the Lord has decreed right for this nation. 
Taking this view makes casting (or not casting) my vote a much more peaceful process. However I vote, God in his sovereign power will make sure the result he wants is the one that comes about.
As Paul told the Athenians, the God who made heaven and earth does not live in temples, as if he needed anything.
Applying this to elections, God does not need my vote to get the result he wants. 

Having said that, I am called to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, and to his glory. To that end, believing as I do that God’s ways are the best, and that the best possible society would be one based on New Testament morality, I have for many years now felt the wisest thing to do is to vote for any committed Christian, of whatever political party, who clearly worships the Lord Jesus and would seek, if elected, to pass legislation based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Every election, and this one is no different, I email the candidates and ask them if they are Christians, if so, how and when did they become one, and to what extent they think the Christian faith should inform their work.

Now as it happens, my electorate has representatives from the four main UK parties and also the Greens, with no independent candidates. So my choice is between five candidates. But as it turns out, none of them are Christians. One of them said he was, but he also said he only went to church once or twice a year, and that faith should have no place in politics, so I do not think he would be a trusty representative for Christ at Westminster. So what do I do now?

Some would argue that its best to choose from the least worst option. If I go down that route, I know for whom I would cast my vote. 
But the problem is that if I, as a Christian, am willing to vote for non-Christians, then parties will never feel the need to put forward Christian candidates. Furthermore, its unreasonable for me to expect a non-Christian Member of Parliament to make or uphold Christian legislation (except inadvertently - the blind cannot make good laws for those who can see).

So I feel that, in good conscience, I cannot vote for any of the candidates. In the form of democracy we have in the UK, I believe my vote says more about who will represent me in Parliament than it does about the kind of party I wish to govern. I cannot, in good conscience, vote in the name of Jesus Christ, for an individual who does not honour my older brother, the King of kings, nor respect him, nor obey him.

Now it may be that with a ‘hung’ parliament we are forced to have another election within the next 12 months. And will it be that I again have nobody to vote for? Should I, in that case, run as an independent? It will cost me £500.00 then for the privilege of having someone to vote for (myself)! 

What are the arguments for a Christian standing for office as an independent? I’d be interested to read your thoughts…

Saturday, 31 January 2015

On Stephen Fry’s comments…

The Bible says that God shows himself tortuous (froward or contrary) to those who are crooked. Its worth remembering that Stephen Fry is a man who has engaged in homosexual activity for many years, recently publicly declaring to the world that he wishes to live until death with another man. It therefore neither surprises me nor shocks me to find him making such comments. Obviously his lifestyle is contrary to the will of God, and he has to justify his sin somehow. He tries to do this by saying that the God and father of Jesus Christ is a wicked god. His outburst reminds me of Adam’s attempt to blame God for his sins, by saying it was the fault of his wife ‘whom you gave me.’ (Genesis 3:12)

Fry’s objection to God is simply a form of the old question ‘why is there death and suffering?’ 

The Bible declares that God made the world very good, but because Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin and death has entered the world as a result. Just as we cannot know what a pear tastes like unless we eat it, so we cannot know what evil is like unless we experience it. Which is what now happens on earth. The simple truth is that God is not responsible for the deaths of babies with cancer, mankind is responsible.

Because God cannot lie, and because he had told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die - they had to die. We are told the wages of sin is death, and so we all must die. All illness, even thorns in the garden, are there to remind us that our days are numbered, that the world is not as it should be, and that we need someone to redeem the world and make it (and us) new. We find this person - the saviour of the world, in Jesus Christ.

What Fry forgets to consider is this. Suppose God removed all illness and disease from the world, would we then live in a perfect world? Would the removal of disease have stopped World War II from happening? Would the removal of disease and ‘natural’ death mean that men loved each other truly, and that the world would be a happy place, that men would no longer cheat on their wives or abandon their children?

We all know the answer to that question is no. The sin of mankind is responsible for the overwhelming evils that take place in this world, and the Bible reveals that this all stems back to the garden of Eden. It also demonstrates why we need to be born again into God’s family, and start anew.

Fry’s final comments illustrate the problem we have until we come to know God as Jesus reveals him (i.e. as a loving father). Fry refuses to enter God’s kingdom on God’s terms. This is the ultimate reason there is pain and suffering in the world - we insist on disobeying God and rebelling against him. God is not responsible for messing the world up, our ancestors were (and we have also had our hand in making the world unpleasant, every time we have sinned).

Jesus says that any death is to remind us that unless we repent, we too will perish (Luke 13). If a child dies of a terrible illness, God takes no pleasure in that, for he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezek 18:32). But any death should remind us that this world is not right, because we are not right, and so we ought to look to the Lord for forgiveness, and seek to follow his ways, because we know that disobedience only brings sadness and suffering, and that in the world to come there will be no more of these things.

In short, I think the Christian response is simply to say ‘I used to think like you, that God was responsible for all the evil in the world. But now I see that my view of God was wrong. I came to see that I have caused my fair share of pain and suffering in other people’s lives, and that if God were to remove me as I might want him to remove cancer, then I would no longer exist. Indeed, it seems that with respect to evil God will either wipe it out, or redeem whatever causes the evil so that it may become truly good. That is why I came to Christ for forgiveness and to ask him to give me his Holy Spirit, that I might be changed, and made ready for the kingdom that is to come. This kingdom is promised to all who obey God, instead of disobey him - as my ancestors did, and as I used to do.’ I hope that helps. 

Hopefully that helps. (Sermon three in my book 'The First Eleven' expounds these thoughts further).

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
For you save a humble people,

but the haughty eyes you bring down. (Psalm 18:25-27)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

On taking oaths.

I have been called for jury duty in the coming months. Apparently, as part of the role of juror, I must take either an oath or affirmation. The oath is as follows:

'I swear by Almighty God that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.'

This raises the question of whether I, as a Christian, can take the oath, considering Jesus' instruction in Matthew 5. Viz-a-viz:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn. ’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil."

It would seem at first glance that Jesus is outlawing all oaths here. However, this may not be the case, given two things which occur later. Firstly, Jesus' own behaviour under trial, and secondly, the actions of the apostle Paul.

Considering the first point, under trial, it seems that Jesus is put under oath by the High Priest. Jesus recognises his authority to ask for and expect an honest response, which he does. The account reads:

62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Matthew 26)

Considering the second point, Paul calls God as a witness on a number of occasions. To cite three:

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you. (Romans 1:9)

But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. (2 Corinthians 1:23)

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:8)

As is often the case, I turn to other wiser heads for counsel. Thomas Arnold wrote a letter to a former student and later clergyman about this issue. Here is the text:

'I honour and sympathise with an anxiety to follow our Lord's will in matters of real moral importance, as much as I shrink from the habit of exalting every notice of what was once done in matters of form into a law, that the same [thing] ought always to be done, and that Christ has commanded it. But I do not feel your objection to taking an oath when required by a lawful and public authority.... It is quite clear to me that the evil is in requiring an oath, - when we speak of solemn oaths, and not of those used gratuitously in conversation, to which I believe our Lord's words in the letter apply. I would not do anything which would imply that I thought a Christian's word not sufficient, and required him to make a distinction between it and his oath. But if an authority in itself lawful says to me, "I require of you, though a Christian, that same assurance which men in general have agreed to look to as the highest," I do not see that I should object to give it him, although in my own case I feel it to be superfluous. And it appears to me clear that our Lord did Himself so comply with the adjuration of the High Priest. It is a grief to me that the Church in this, as in many other things, has not risen to the height designed for her; but it seems to me that the individual's business is not to require oaths, rather than not to take them when required by others. The difference seems to me to lie, as I think our Article implies, not between oaths voluntary and involuntary, - for no oath can be strictly speaking involuntary, "Commands being no constraints" - but between oaths gratuitously proffered, where you are yourself enforcing the difference between affirmations and oaths, and oaths taken on the requisition of a lawful authority, where you incur no such responsibility.'

If I've understood him rightly, Arnold is saying:
a) its good and right to follow the Lord's teaching;
b) Christians ought not require oaths of one another;
c) if a lawful authority requires an oath it is lawful to give one (on the basis of Christ's example) - even though in his case (and the case of any genuine Christian) its quite superfluous.
d) that the 39th Article of the Church of England correctly implies that vain and rash swearing is forbidden by the Lord, but is lawful when required by a magistrate.

I think I agree with Arnold, and also must think T.R. for his insights into this matter. But if any other Christian has a comment to make on this matter, I should be grateful to hear it...

Post Script: A friend (JW) contacts me and reminds me that it is possible to take a simple affirmation. I am inclined to think that this is what I will do. While my comments above I think are probably correct, I am also aware that Satan's chief tactic is to say 'Did God really say...' So for the avoidance of doubt, I will follow the Lord's revealed will, and not take an oath.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Reasons or excuses?

What’s the difference between a reason and an excuse?

A reason is the explanation why something has happened, while an excuse is an explanation why something has not happened.

For instance: ‘Mr Cameron, thank you for getting to our meeting on time. How did you manage it?’
‘Well sir, I got up extra early and gave myself additional time to get here.’ (Reason)

Contrasted with: ‘Mr Cameron, thank you for coming to our meeting. I’m afraid we started ten minutes ago.’ ‘Yes, I’m sorry, the traffic was worse than I expected.’ (Excuse)

Or another example: ‘I was given the job. The reason I was, was because I was the best qualified.’
Contrasted with: ‘I didn’t get the job, I’m sure I was the best qualified, but they obviously wanted to employ a woman, to make their office look politically correct.’

Reasons, generally, are explanations for why something successful has happened and why the credit should fall to us, while excuses are generally explanations for why failure has occurred, and where we try and shift the blame onto somebody else.

Biblically we see excuses first given in the garden of Eden. ‘The woman you gave me to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’

Here Adam tries to excuse his sin by blaming God for the woman he had given her. A very typical excuse. It’s not my fault Lord, its my wife’s. Actually, its yours, the one you gave me, she is at fault.

Here lies many of the problems in marriages - even Christian ones. The husband is unwilling to look for reasons to make the marriage successful, instead he brings forth excuses for why the marriage is struggling.

‘It’s because she’s not a Christian (or at least, not a Christian that agrees me) that we’re having trouble. She doesn’t follow what the Lord explains wives should do in 1 Corinthians 7:4,5.’

This is just an excuse for a failing marriage. Husbands are the heads of the household, if a marriage is failing we husbands are responsible, even if we are not at fault. It’s too easy to play the victim.

At the end of time, when the kingdom comes, and the hearts of all are revealed, the truth is that no excuse will justify our sins. As we stand before Jesus, what’s he going to hear from us? Excuses for our sins, or reasons why we lived for his glory? 

I trust we want him to hear reasons for success. We don’t want to have to give excuses for why the churches we were involved in did not advance, or why our children stopped following the Lord, or why our spouses were unhappy.

Knowing the difference between giving reasons and making excuses helps us understand why things happen in the world. If God is disciplining us, for example, its because he has our good at heart. A good father always disciplines his children if they stray. Attentive and wise children stop and consider the lessons we need to learn from the discipline. Foolish children look for excuses to continue in their sin. They blame God for their problems, just as Adam did in the garden.
And so, as they persist in their sins, the discipline continues, and the problem does not go away.

To put it another way. There is a reason for everything. If things aren’t going well the reason will probably be sin, of one form or another. The solution is to recognise our own part in causing the problem, and repenting of it. Then we will learn the reason for the discipline was because God wanted to get us back on the right path, and we will thank him for his correction.

But if we persist in making excuses we will find that we end up losing the kingdom. Consider, for instance, what happened to Saul in 1 Samuel 15. Instead of destroying the Amalekites and their livestock, Saul kept King Agag alive (probably to obtain a ransom) and he also preserved the best of their livestock. When asked to explain why he had disobeyed the Lord, Saul blamed the people for his sin.

We find excuses everywhere. My child got into drugs at school (well, who sent him to school, or at least, that particular school?) I didn’t get my homework done (the dog ate it). My child got ill (unspoken thought - because God is mean).

But we do better to look for reasons. Why is your marriage successful? (Because I sought, as much as I could, to glorify God in my marriage. I tried, as much as I could, by God’s grace, to be as Christ is to the church). 
Why are your children so well mannered? (Because the Lord said, ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ and so we really strove to train them). 
Why did your child succeed at school? (Because I paid close attention to his friends, protected him from the dangers of the internet by not giving him a computer or internet access phone).

Jesus warns us about making excuses. In the parable of the ten talents, the wicked servant does nothing with his talent, and when he makes his excuse (‘I knew you were a harsh man’) he is not excused by his reasoning, but thrown out of the kingdom. So it will be with all who think God is harsh, perhaps because he’s only given us one talent while others have ten. (Matthew 25:14-30). 

Likewise, in the parable of the great wedding feast, the man who had not changed (repented of sin), who thought he would be fine at the wedding, was thrown out speechless (that is, he could not think of an excuse which would spare him).

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment? ’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22)

So what’s the big lesson in all of this? 

Simply that excuses count for nothing. Excuses prevent repentance occurring and forgiveness taking place. On judgement day they will count for nothing. God’s children must look for reasons to bring their Father glory, not for excuses why we did not.

Monday, 15 September 2014

On Scotland's referendum...

I have refrained from commenting on the upcoming referendum in Scotland, but a brother in Christ (who incidentally, was my welcome link to Oak Hill College) has written an excellent piece which I would urge all to read. The link is here.

Remember what Jesus said. 'A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.'