Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Life

Custom is stubborn, isn't it? I remember my mother, when I was a boy, being utterly scandalised to discover that my aunt sometimes served up fish and chips for Sunday lunch. “I mean, its just not done!” Those of a certain age will remember that Sunday lunch wasn't Sunday lunch if it wasn't a roast and two veg. I do wonder what she would make of people having Sunday lunch out, and choosing to have curry, sushi, or pasta.

We painted our bedroom ceiling green and when a friend saw it she was stunned, blurting out, “But ceilings are white!” She didn't know where to look, poor thing. Actually, it is a very delicate green, picking out some of the ivy my wife lovingly stencilled on the walls, very arboreal, very calming after a stressful day. Maybe we're odd. I do hope so.

How much of what we do simply because that's what everybody does is called, custom, culture, tradition, or some such thing. I wonder what we would do if we didn't have these ruts to follow, that mule track to meander along.

2013-10-29 19.11.18We can deceive ourselves in thinking someone – the mysterious “they” - is in charge and it “wouldn't be allowed” if it was wrong. My mother, again, once remarked, “I like it when 'they' have Christmas on a weekend.” It hadn't occurred to her that it was simply a function of the calendar, that there was a certain inevitability in the scheme and, if she just hung on, a Saturday/Sunday Christmas would come around again. The next one is in eight year's, if your interested, while the next Sunday/Monday Christmas is in three years (you must take leap years into account - 'they' said)

So we follow custom, do what we always did, what others always do, what 'they' have always done, finding comfort and assurance in the familiar, in the crowd.

But what if we didn't follow the crowd, hide behind custom and orthodoxy, allow 'them' to decide for us? What if we had a vegetarian Christmas dinner, went to bed early on New Years Eve, bought someone else a gift on our birthday, wandered purposefully off the mule track, jumped out of the rut made for us by others, stopped waiting for something to happen to make it all mean something and simply made something happen?

Its New Year's Eve as I write this but only according to the calendar, and only according to one calendar. All that will happen tonight is 31 becomes 1, Tuesday becomes Wednesday, December becomes January, and its all been decided for us.

It is a time when people make resolutions, because that's what 'they' do, and they will sooner or later go out and break those resolutions. People will make promises to themselves they will more than likely not keep. The hope of a new start will slowly but inevitably trickle away and the impact of this on the rest of the year can be, for many, so discouraging.

What if we did it differently? What if we accepted that some traditions are good and helpful but, when it comes to time, the past is a bucket of ashes, tomorrow is no more than a promise, and we only have today? How would we live today if we realised it is all we have in this life? What would we do differently today? What if we took all those promises, prioritised them, got rid of the empty ones we are just bound to break and put our energies, not into regretting yesterday, nor into worrying about tomorrow, but living today in light of “the most important things in my life?”

What would be important to us today if today was all we had? Thrilling idea, right?2013-07-31 14.29.12

Happy New...Life?

Monday, 30 December 2013

10 Reasons for Reading your Bible in 2014

Christmas is over, thank goodness. Isn't it a minefield of custom and etiquette? Did we send an appropriate card to this or that person? I hope they didn't feel it was preaching at them. On the other hand, I do hope it wasn't too frivolous, was a clear “witness.” Did someone we sent a card to not send one back? Did we get a card but forget to send one? Is anyone coming off our Christmas card list? (No one comes off mine)

And gifts! Does anybody understand this new technology that seems to be obsolete as soon as it hits the stores? A book is still the safest bet in my view. You don't have to switch it on, it won't run out of power, it will pass airport security without any trouble, and you don't need teenagers to show you how it works.

A friend wishes you a merry Christmas and you shake his hand in a manly fashion, but what about his wife? Do you simply nod, shake hands in a manly fashion, or do you kiss her? Do you kiss her, or does she kiss you? Is it a peck on the cheek, an air kiss, and how many? One, two three? How many is polite and how many is bordering on predatory?

And the greeting! How are we to greet each other? If you say “merry Christmas” you simply know someone is going to look disapprovingly at the connotation in that word “merry.” “That’s the kind of Christmas you have is it? And you an elder of the church!” On the other hand, if you say a sober “happy Christmas” someone is bound to reply with a loud, “Merry Christmas!” as though to make the point, “cheer up you miserable so-and-so.”

Do you think we might be worrying about the wrong things though? The best place in my Christmas was the carol services. They took me away from the hurly-burly of Christmas mania and focussed my mind where it should always have been. Thank God for his church.

New Year Resolutions

But it is over for another year. Although, we now have New Year's resolutions to contend with. I expect the diet companies will get a sharp rise in membership in January followed by a depression by March, in more ways than one. Gym membership will rise for a bit, but how long will it last? The roads of hell are paved with good intentions. Are we thinking about this in the wrong way as well? Is there a better way of finding resolve, of making and keeping the promises we foolishly make to ourselves this time of year?

I have one piece of advice when it comes to New Year's Resolutions – don't make them!!! “From now on...” statements just rise up and embarrass us, remind us of our folly and failures.  The problem is that once we tack a resolution to a day and time it becomes absolute and we are so discouraged the moment we fail because the failure is absolute.

“I said I would do this ‘from now on without fail,’ and I have failed, and what a miserable, discouraging experience it is.”

My advice to you is, don't make this type of resolution. Can’t we find different, more realistic, reasons altogether for adopting the disciplines that so often evade us?

Some of you will decide to follow a Bible reading plan in the coming year.  With the right motivation we can start a plan any time, resume it with renewed resolve when we fall down, and witness real progress even as we occasionally fail. Reasons that have nothing to do with the date but everything to do with how we benefit from reading our Bibles.

Let me share some thoughts on why starting a Bible reading plan – any time – is a good idea and give you reasons for persevering, guilt free, in that plan.

1. EncouragementBible falling apart

I am encouraged to read that the apostle Paul needed to encourage his young charge, Timothy, in applying himself to reading and teaching the Bible. In one of his letters to  Timothy Paul writes this familiar text,

As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim.3:16)

Even church leaders need to be reminded to read, teach and live the Scriptures. This should encourage us to persevere, knowing we are in good company when we sometimes struggle. In persevering we can be a blessing and encouragement to others – even our leaders.

2. Blessing

There is blessing in reading and obeying the Bible. God said of Abraham,

I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." (Gen.26:4)

How did Abraham hear God? You might be surprised to know he read God’s word. We like to think of those times when Abraham heard directly from God but he also had a written record of God's statutes and commandments. The word translated statutes means a written record, an engraving in fact. Certainly, written records go back that far and further. So Abraham read and obeyed God's written word and, we are told, there is blessing in hearing and obeying God. Following the example of the “father of the faithful” includes Bible reading.

3. Personal Application

The Bible is for us and applies to us personally.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb.4:12)

What's on your heart today? What is burdening you? A good place to start is with God's Word, which can help straighten out your thinking, read your heart and show you a way through. Look again at that note from Paul to Timothy:

As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim.3:16)

How often have we thought how we would like to have spiritual wisdom, to know thorough equipping, and to grow in the things of God? What better motivation could there be for opening our Bible to read in the coming year?

4. Inheritance

We are charged with faithfully passing on Bible truth. King David, in his old age, wrote:

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Ps.71:15-18)

Scripture tells us this is what Abraham did, “Abraham gave all he had to Isaac” (Gen.25:5) Just like Timothy, Isaac had learned and inherited God's truth from childhood. In the Bible we see God’s truth being passed on from one generation to the next. From Abraham to Isaac  to Jacob, to Moses and the prophets, to David and from him to those that followed and to Timothy from his mother. We too have inherited that same truth from our spiritual parents. What better way to do the same than by the good example of faithful Bible reading?

5. Covenant

We are told in Exodus,

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do." And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. (Ex.24:4)

Just as with those people of God in the desert, when we become Christians we enter a covenant relationship with God and the terms of that covenant are recorded in the Bible. Why wouldn’t we want to read that exciting account of God’s dealings with his people, of God’s promises to us and ours to him?

6. Tradition

We read of the first Christians that “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

As we read, ponder, set our minds and hearts on the word of God we are doing what was done by our spiritual forebears in the early church. In the privacy of our room, in our quiet times, as we read, ponder and apply the word of God to ourselves we are following in that unbroken tradition given us by God.

Do you want to know what it is to be a biblical people, to be “church?” It starts right here, with Bible reading.

7. Prophecy

Before he ascended to the Father Jesus said to his disciples,

These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Lk.24:44-45)

Warning his disciples of false Christs Jesus said, “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” (Mk.13:23) The things that happen to the people of God are the fulfilment of the purposes of God. Have you ever thought of that? Ours isn't a blind faith but an informed faith, wonderfully informed beforehand by Scripture. Who wouldn’t want to delve into God’s declared purposes?

8. Instruction

Paul reminds us in his letter to Christians in Ephesus,

You also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph.1:13-14)

Did you get that? You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, when you believed. Now look at what John says in his gospel about believing,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

In the Bible we have that “word of truth” and in believing that word we are included in God’s great plan for mankind, sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Why wouldn’t we want to open up the book and read what God has to say to his people?

9. Example

Writing about the experiences of rebellious Israel Paul wrote,

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Cor.10:11)

Some people are in the Bible as an example, others as a warning. This is instruction to us as we anticipate Jesus coming again. Why not learn from the wisdom and folly of others, reading their stories, allowing their lives to either guide us on or warn us?

10. Assurance

Finally, in a glorious description of the City of God, John writes,

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed-- on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.

The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement.

The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass.

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there.

They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations.

But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Rev.21:10-27)

You see, there is another book and our names are recorded in it as citizens of God's city and kingdom. We are written there if we have believed and obeyed, like Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, John, Paul, Timothy...who believed because they read and trusted God's word and walked by its light (Ps.119:105)

Who wouldn't want to read the Bible this coming year, to be reminded of God’s sure promises to those who trust him? And if, like Timothy, we need encouragement, if we get distracted, who wouldn't be encouraged to take up the word again, persevere and continue in trusting and obeying, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [pressing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Php.3:13-14)

Happy New Year, and may God draw us ever closer as we devote ourselves to his word in the Bible and allow it to shape and mould our lives, to his glory.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Christian in Armour

Clothed in Christ (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Paul, in his letter to Christians in Ephesus – probably a circular letter to churches in Asia Minor, modern Turkey – is a helpful overview of Paul's thinking. It covers many major themes before coming to the familiar text about the armour of God.

Paul begins by reminding faithful Christians that we are “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Verses one to fourteen of chapter one are one sentence in Greek and form a doxology, an expression of praise to God for his many and generous blessings, first through the Father (v 3) then through the Son (vv 4-13a) and finally through the Spirit (vv13b-15)

The Christian, we are told, is chosen (4,11), predestined (5,11), redeemed and forgiven (7), made wise in God's purposes (vv8-9), included in Christ and sealed to him (13), and has the Spirit as a guarantee of future inheritance in Christ (13,14)

Paul's prayer is that we understand, “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” He is anxious to impress upon us the eternal significance of his message for us (1:15-23 cf 3:14-21) a message of:

  • Spiritual resurrection 2:1-10
  • Cultural and religious reconciliation 2:11-22
  • Entry into God's eternal truth 3:1-13
  • A place with Christ in heavenly places 2:4-10

He encourages us in how we are to live in light of these great truths:

  • In the church in unity and maturity 4:1-16
  • In the world in love and as light 4:17-5:21
  • In the home in love, kindness and mutual submission 5:22-6:9

We have every reason, then, to “be strong in the Lord” as Paul writes in 6:10, because our strength is in God's “mighty power” and the armour he now writes about is, “the armour of God.” It is only so armed that “you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” Indeed, it is because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against...the spiritual forces of the evil one...” that we must put on the armour of God's providing.

The belt of truth indicates that we are settled and firm in our conviction and character, not force, is is what wins the battle. Jesus said “I am truth” (John 14:6) When we understand the truth of Christ there is no lie that can bind us.

The breastplate of righteousness reminds us we are not righteous in ourselves but because we are in Christ we are justified, God pronounces us righteous and treats us as such. There is no condemnation in Christ (Ro.8:1); this breastplate protects us against all the accusations of Satan

The shoes of the gospel represent a readiness to tell the good news of Jesus and equip us to stand firm in the gospel. Our feet are protected by the gospel of peace (Ro.5:1)

The shield of faith is utilised by trusting on God's promises that protect us from our enemy. The shield of faith is the only movable part of the armour and can cover any area to protect us from the fiery darts the enemy sends. Faith in the finished and complete work of Christ (Ro.10:9).

The helmet of salvation is vital because our minds need to be renewed from the way of the world to the way of Christ (Ro.12:2). The helmet guards our minds, reminding us of God's promises for our future.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God by which we can destroy every false argument. But this is not a blunt instrument to hit people over the head with. The Spirit makes real the word of Christ in us and we share from that reality, bringing a life changing word to others (John 16:13).

This is not literal armour, each piece is an aspect of the completed work of Jesus Christ; to know the armour we are to know Him. We do not seek the armour but we seek the Christ and realise what is ours because of the complete work of Christ. This is the fully equipped Christian standing firm in the armour of God, clothed in Christ.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Atheists using the Bible to “Convert” Christians?

YouVersion is a wonderful Bible app for your phone, tablet, or computer. It offers different versions of the Bible in different translations, is very intuitive with the capability to highlight, bookmark and make notes, as well as offering a selection of reading plans. Its the sort of thing you might be surprised to find on the tablet of your regular atheist. Yet, it seems atheists are finding it helpful in winning arguments with Christians and even winning those Christians over to their Godless view of the world. You can read about it on the Religious News Service (RNS)

Converts?

The first question that occurs to me is why are atheists bothering to make converts? Are they so determined to turn people away from a gospel of hope (gospel means Good News Mark 1:1 GNB) to their counsel of despair? I hear atheists complain that Christians speak of hell, yet here they are making hell on earth, robbing folk of the very hope of escaping a lost eternity. Nice one atheism!

Then, of course, there is a certain perverse delight taken in making converts. With apparent glee, one atheist said, “Nothing makes you an atheist faster than reading the Bible. It’s one of those beautiful side effects of having these Bibles free and easily accessible.”

When a Christian sees someone come to Christ they delight in their having stepped into the light of God’s love. It appears that these atheist delights in the reverse journey, taking great pleasure in having deceived a believer into the bleak darkness of their Godless world; and its not as though their arguments deserve consideration, much less respect.

Breaking the Rules

Some time ago I stopped into Waterstones bookshop to buy Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth, an excellent volume, spoiled only by the regular snide and irrational asides about Christians, all of whom are put in the same category of mindless, insane, young-earth-creationist blind believers. Anyway, as I say, otherwise a good book.

When I took the book to the sales point two members of staff stood there and immediately entered into a conversation about the book. Oh, one exclaimed, has he brought out a new book? Yes, the other drooled, isn’t it absolutely marvellous, I must get one and read it.

Oh dear! Clearly, this wasn’t something they thought about, rather more something they subscribed to because it suited them; and they criticise Christians for being mindlessly unthinking!

People can be like that, don’t you find? They decide what suits them and order their thinking, such as it is, their lives,  their reading, conversation and their company accordingly. Of course, in many areas of life it doesn’t matter one jot. Getting your haircut, choosing a hobby, going to parties, planning a holiday. One man’s meat, as they say…

There are, however, some areas of life where it isn’t wise to ignore the rules, otherwise you can get into all kinds of trouble. Of course, it isn’t for me to lay down rules for others but there are rules in life and it is well worth giving them some consideration. For instance, when driving your car, crossing the road, wiring your house – gaining a clear and accurate understanding of the Bible.

Break the rules of society, of culture and of manners, and the consequences may not be the end of the world; indeed they might be fun. Break the rules of the road, of simple road sense, of electrical wiring, and you can end up very dead indeed. Break the rules of Bible reading and, in your death, you may end up…well.

Take the remarks of:

“Lauren, a 22-year-old chemistry major from Colorado, is not interested in the app’s mission to deepen faith and biblical literacy. A newly minted atheist, she uses her YouVersion Bible app to try to persuade people away from the Christianity she grew up in.

‘I know of a lot of atheists who have come to their nonbelief by actually reading the Bible rather than just the fluffy stories they choose to tell you about in church,’ she said. ‘Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’ At least it did for me.’” (quoted in the RNS article)

Oh, Do Grow up!

Dear Lauren, she speaks of ‘the fluffy stories they choose to tell you about in church,’ of the shocking things she discovered when she read the Bible for herself, and this is a characteristic of all those taking pleasure in parading their atheism, “travelling across land and sea to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, [they] make him twice as much a child of hell as [themselves].” (Mt.23:15)

The story, it seems then, is that these muddle-headed people have read their Bibles for the first time and, acting on their first impressions, have turned their backs on God. Having been more than satisfied with ‘fluffy stories,’ for which others are always to blame, since they never take responsibility for themselves, they turn to the Bible and, having consulted no one in particular, make of it what they will. That is breaking the rules.

You hear it in Lauren’s remark, ‘Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’ At least it did for me.’”

The atheist of this low calibre simply takes what they think the Bible means, and compares it with, ‘what I believe,’ dismissing what doesn’t suit them and feeling quite smug about it into the bargain. Oh, dear!

These people really should grow up, take some responsibility for their folly, learn and apply the rules. For instance, it is utter folly to compare the mores of our society with that of societies some two-thousand and more years ago.  This is a simple rule of historical research. But who needs rules when you have already made up your mind?

Not a Book of Instructions

Furthermore, the Bible is not a simple book of instructions. In many different literary styles it is a collection of poetry, parable, philosophy, theology, history, and of stories covering over 3,000 years. Some stories are examples, some are warnings. If you take the warnings for examples, well, of course you are going to be shocked. If you take the culture, practices, errors and sins of ages past as God’s ultimate ‘norm’ then you are going to be disappointed.

Even in the Bible, stories are culturally bound, so attitudes cannot be, and we should not expect them to be, so foreign to the surrounding society as to be completely alien and irrelevant. On the other hand, it is true that the Christian religion is, in its own way, most peculiar for its time, blazing a trail in cross-cultural harmony (Eph.2:11-21)emancipation for slaves and women (Gal.3:28) setting the bar high on issues of morality and civilised society (Mt.5-7). Indeed, the Judeo/Christian tradition laid a solid foundation for what we so take for granted today, Western concepts of freedom, equality, morality, justice and mercy.

The Bible is God’s Word and it only makes sense, it is a rule if you will, that you should allow God to speak for himself in his word. What does God mean by this? rather than, What words will I put in God’s mouth, what charge shall I lay at his door? It is wicked to caricature Bible lessons as ‘fluffy stories’ and, while it is commendable that someone should read it for themselves, it is a mistake to read into it our own prejudices, preconceptions and misunderstandings.

It is foolishness to think that, having nothing but what you regard as fluffy stories to draw upon, you should think yourself capable of fully understanding a document that has proved the better of generations who have tried to dismiss it, ban it and burn it, that has comforted and encouraged, educated and equipped countless Christians to acts of great courage, philanthropy, sacrifice and service . The 19th century preacher C H Spurgeon famously declared, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

But then, if you come to it with your mind made up…

 The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ (Ps.14:1)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Complete Christian

What completes a Christian (James 1:1-4)

The James of this letter is probably the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem Church. This most practical of all the letters in the New Testament comes from a man who knows about having his faith tested by the enduring of various trials. Some of the soundest advice for the practical Christian life can be found in these five chapters.

If we were asked if we wanted to be a complete Christian, being perfect and lacking nothing, I am sure there would be an immediate positive response. We may not be quite so ready to go through the process James describes to get there!

These verses are so foreign to the thinking of many of us as Christians. We always expect God’s blessings and we always expect Him to give us exactly what we want. If the trial we receive is in the guise of hardship that could not be God, some would say, because we are not being “successful.” If the trial we receive is in the guise of illness that cannot be right, some might claim, because God “always heals”. However I think you can see the difficulties we can get into if we look at things in that way. And the message of James reflects that of Jesus who declared:

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

There is a pattern here, beginning with the prophets, continuing with the experiences of Jesus and His disciples, and carrying on with a promise that much the same will be the lot of all those who believe - and encouragement. We are told to count it all joy when we encounter these trials because they will work a depth of spirituality in our lives that nothing else can.

We are also to draw from this that these trials may even come direct from God (Gen.22:1-2 c.f.) who knows all things and certainly will always seek to do what is best for us - He is on our side! Indeed, it is the embracing of these trials, whatever their source, and the permission given to God to let them work in our lives what he wants to work, that brings us through to a position of perfection and completeness.

The converse will also, therefore, be true. If I reject these trials as not coming from God, or not capable of being used by God, and refuse to let them do His work in my life I will inevitably be shallow and lacking so much in my Christian life. Tragically I believe we see that the result of a “bless me” mentality in the Christian Life is a lack of depth and knowing Christ as we really should.

James later writes:

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (v.12)

The writer to the Hebrews encourages us with these words:

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained…There fore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:10-11, 28)

For someone with a vision of the kingdom every trial, every test of our endeavour and every discipline will met with joy and determination.  Crowns await the Christian determined to be complete in their faith and devotion, crowns of righteousness and peace and life, a kingdom and acceptance before a God who disciplines those he loves.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Spirit of Christ

The Promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Ephesians chapter 1 gives us a helpful picture of the Godhead in the work of salvation. It is against this background, in the course of his work, that we come to understand the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus spoke of the Spirit he promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

The Greek translated ‘another’ is allos, meaning another of the same kind. If Jesus had intended another of a different kind he would have said heteros. Last time, we saw how Jesus was there in the beginning, created ‘all things,’ is eternal and divine in nature and is to be given the same honour as the Father. Now, Jesus promises to send the Spirit, describing him (note ‘him’) as ‘another of the same kind.’ Here is the Christian God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is variously known as The Holy Spirit, indicating his divinity (John 14:26); The Eternal Spirit, indicating his eternal nature (Hebrews 9:14); Lord, showing God’s glory and Lordship in the lives of Christians (2 Corinthians 3:17); Power of the Almighty, meaning the very power of God (Luke 1:35); God, for to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God (Acts 5:1-4)…

The Spirit of Christ

The expression ‘the spirit of’ is used in the Bible to express similarity of nature. The Son of God is, by nature, God. The Spirit of Christ has the same nature as the Son, who has the same nature as the Father, he is the Spirit of God (Matthew 3:16) the Spirit of the Son (Galatians 4:6) the Spirit of Christ -

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9)

Note in this reference that he is ‘the Spirit of God’ and ‘the Spirit of Christ.’

In our Ephesians text we see all three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working together in the salvation of mankind:

Verses 3—4 show us that the Father is the originator of our salvation. It was ‘He who chose in in him before the foundation of the world.’

Verses 4—12 show that Jesus is the one who makes it all possible.  ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…’

And verses 13—14 show that the Holy Spirit is the one who equips and makes it real within the lives of God’s children who are ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.’

The fullness of our salvation has not yet been fully revealed but it will come because of the Holy Spirit within our lives.

Gifts and Fruit

We may not always feel that we are filled to overflowing: the widow who spoke to Elisha certainly did not (2 Kings 4.) She had to be reminded that she had the small jar of oil tucked away in some dark cupboard. Then she was encouraged to use it under the direction of Elijah, and what a miracle! The small amount of oil became a house full. Oil in the Old Testament is a picture of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we only have a small amount tucked away somewhere but we need to pour it out at the Lord’s command. We, too, will find it will keep pouring until the need is met.

The Holy Spirit also distributes gifts as he pleases (1 Corinthians 12:11). These enable us to bring the reality of the life of God to people in this world. When we see the Lord face to face we will not need the gifts, but until then they reveal God to people, and we should be seeking the Lord to release them through us.

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’ (Galatians 5:22-23)

Paul goes on to urge us, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’ (v.25)

Welcome the Holy Spirit into your life and give him the oppor­tunity to produce the fruits. Fruit is not just for you to hold and say how wonderful it looks. Fruit is to be tasted. Others will see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in you and will want to taste and see what it is.

Here is a remarkable truth. If you have believed and been saved it is because God chose you (vv 3-4), Jesus redeemed you according to God’s plan (vv 4-12), and the Holy Spirit sealed you in him as God’s possession, guaranteeing your inheritance in Christ (vv 13-14). We should exercise gifts and produce fruit according to the Spirit who gives them.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Christ of God

In the Beginning, the Word (John 1:1-14)

John, his brother James, and Simon Peter formed an inner circle around Jesus. They were among Jesus’ first followers and witnessed some of the most significant events in Jesus' life, including the transfiguration (Mark.9:2) and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark.14:32-41). Of the four gospel writers, John shows us the heavenly Jesus, the eternal Son of God. He does not begin his gospel with the birth of Christ on earth but with a picture of His eternal nature from before creation and time.

The phrase, ‘In the beginning,’ is the same as the Greek phrase used in Genesis 1:1 in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) - See my last post In Genesis it literally means, “when the beginning began God was already there.” John develops this to show Jesus' eternal nature saying, “when the beginning began the Word, Christ, was already there.”

John leaves us in no doubt from the outset of his gospel that Jesus is God. Neither God the Father, nor God the Son is created, both were in existence before creation. The writer to the Hebrews confirms this, stating that the Son of God had no ‘beginning of days or end of life.’ (Hebrews 7:3)

This is further affirmed as John writes, 'all things were created by Him.' (John 1:3) The Word of God offers no exceptions as the emphasis in this verse shows, ‘apart from Him nothing came into being.’ He is the originator and the sustainer of all created things.

It is significant that John uses an Old Testament term to describe Jesus’ coming to dwell among us. He employs the term “tabernacled” to describe Jesus’ coming in the flesh (John1:14) an Old Testament term for the dwelling of God among His people. In the desert the tabernacle was the dwelling place of God (Psalm 90:1; Exodus 40:34-35) Now God dwells (tabernacles) among men in the person of Jesus.

Jesus is also described in John 1:14 as 'the only-begotten.' (KJV) The Greek word here, monogenes, is contrasted with the word for born, gennao in verse 13 where all who believe in Jesus are described as ' born of God.' Christ is the unique (monogenes) one, not born (gennao) as we are but begotten.

We can only rightly understand this phrase ‘only begotten’ when used of the Son in the sense of an un-originated relationship. This “begetting” does not mark the place in time when Jesus was born into this world. This is to do with the eternal nature of the Son, there was never a time when He was not, never a time when He was not the Son, never a time when He was not God.

Yet this Jesus was revealed for us all to see and come to know. The beginning of this gospel, the good news about Jesus, takes us back into eternity, gives us an eternal perspective, and demonstrates his eternal nature. How should we think about this Jesus?

John tells us:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:21-27)

We should honour the Son “just as you honour the Father”? Consider the power of the Son, as Judge, Saviour and Life-giver – God.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Christian God

In the beginning God (Genesis 1:1)
In the economy of these 10 words we are introduced to the all-powerful, sovereign God of the Bible.
Here is the beginning and, as we meditate on these words, what hope it gives the Christian. Before anything was created God was already there. People sometimes ask, who created God? In everyday terms we can translate the first part of the Genesis 1:1, “when the beginning began God was already there!” The first lesson we have from this verse, then, is that God is eternal, He has no beginning.
The psalmist helps us here by declaring, “Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity” (Ps. 93:2). Everything in existence flows from Him and His life. God's reign is eternal and isn't part of creation, creation issues from his eternal reign. The psalmist declares of Him, “With you is the fountain of life” (Ps.36:9). The Eternal is the source of all else.
How wonderful it is for the Christian to have an intimate relationship with such a God. Jesus declared, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
The Christian can approach the eternal throne of God with confidence. “Let us then [because of Jesus] with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
God doesn't think, see or judge things as men do. God himself declares, through His prophet,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher then the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
As for God, His way is perfect…” (2 Sam.22:31)
Christians know the assurance that our lives serve the greater purposes of the eternal God. We also have the assurance about the time we leave this earth and step into eternity, because God is already there. The faithful Christian can declare with the psalmist,
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps.27:1)
This God is greater than the greatest enemy we face. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) In him is our security.
We also see that what He created is separate from God. (Isaiah 40:22) The Bible story of creation shows that, while so many seek the creation, such as the sun, moon and stars, to worship and for guidance, there is One who is above all creatures and every part of creation.
We are told in Hebrews 1:3 that all creation is held together by His powerful Word. Christians have peace and rest because we keep our eyes on the Creator God who holds all things in the centre of His will.
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:1-2)

Monday, 7 October 2013

Jesus, Yes! Church, No!

Have you heard someone say that? “Jesus, yes! Church, no!” It is so easy to be impressed by Jesus, so difficult, sometimes, to be impressed by his followers. “Call themselves Christian!” people say when they see us fall short, sometimes spectacularly, of their expectations.

When you hang out your shingle you can expect the world to be watching. That’s why its important for us to be humble, to be seen to to acknowledge our failings (repent) and to demonstrate integrity even when we fail. We also need to be able to deal with people’s misconceptions about church, what it is and why it is less than perfect.

Church must be one of the most controversial and divisive doctrines in the Christian faith. Perhaps that is why so many avoid the subject, except when they speak of it in the most general terms. Most Christians are quite comfortable with the idea of the church triumphant, the final and complete picture of the church in heaven. However the idea of the church militant, the church as it is now on earth, presents apparently insuperable problems.

So we fudge the issue and settle for the idea of the church invisible, that is all Christians in all places and at all times whether here or gone to glory and, most importantly, known only to God. Of course this is a good definition. The church certainly comprises all, whenever or wherever, who have and will yet put their trust in Christ and become born again into his kingdom. However, it will not do simply to think of "you in your small corner, and me in mine". Scripture teaches that "Christ loved the church and gave his life for it" (Eph.5:25)  We should be able to define and describe the object of his love and invite people to enter with us into that love.

Not a Building

Christ did not die for a building. We have so often heard it said that the church is the people and not the building (see my last post) and we believe that. Yet we still refer to "the church on the corner" and speak of "going to church". These conventions, not to mention buildings, are useful as long as we don't allow them to mislead us and, more importantly, mislead those to whom we have a responsibility to give a clear witness.

Neither did Christ die for an institution. Christians, of necessity, need to organise themselves and so we have church organisations. We need to have some form of government and order so we choose leaders, hopefully by inspiration of the Spirit, who will teach and counsel (1 Tim.3:2-3:8.c.f.) It is worth noting that church leaders are servants, not bosses! Inevitably out of this organising activity institutions grow, which is good and helpful so long as the institution serves the church and not the church the institution.

The Christian life begins with a change in our relationship with the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christian baptism is into God and not into an organisation. At Pentecost, when the conscience-struck people cried, "Brothers, what shall we do?", Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38). Repentance is a turning to God in genuine sorrow for sin, baptism is into, or "in the name of" Christ, who is God.

After listing, in Ephesians 1, all the marvellous spiritual blessings we enjoy in Christ, the apostle Paul wrote, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…" (V.13). Everyone sealed this way is added to the number of believers, those who are being saved (Acts 2:47)

The Church is…

This "number of believers" is the church which is made up of "living stones" for, "As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him - you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…" (1 Peter 2:4-5). Paul also reminds us that we are "God's building"; that we are "God's temple, and that God's Spirit lives in [us]" (1 Cor. 3:9 & 16) All these references are plural by the way. There is no place in the body of Christ for lone believers.

Church is not an organisation but an organism; not a structure but a body; not marked by offices and hierarchies but by the life of the Spirit in true believers. An obvious question is,  Why don't we see in the church the fruits of such an intimate relationship? In his book I Believe in the Church David Watson wrote, "Those who have recently declared that…the church is redundant…must know little of the God of history, the God who raised Jesus back to life, and the God who is able to work through human suffering and sin to reveal his reality to the world".

Until…

In Ephesians we read:

"And he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God's people to works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:11-14)

Now what will the church look like "until we reach a unity in the faith…and become mature?” Unity is not something that falls out of heaven into our laps. It is something that develops as we give ourselves to "works of service" and apply ourselves to the apostle's teaching (Acts 2:42) "so that the body of Christ (the church) may be built up until we all reach a unity of the faith".

Of course there is no room for complacency and every Christian seeks that maturity in the church. But since the church is living stones and not Portland stone, and since we are " being built into a spiritual house" there is need for grace as we become what we are destined to be.

There is a biblical precedent for such a view of the church - Israel, God's chosen people in the Old Testament. When you read the account of God's dealings with them they often looked like anything but the elect of God. Consider the account at the time of the judges when "everyone did as he saw fit". (Judges 21:25)

Or the time when Eli's sons showed contempt for the Lord's offering (1 Samuel 2) Or the times when Israel had to be punished for following other gods and worshipping in the high places (Ezekiel 20) Think of Samson who went straight from a brothel to do the work of a judge amongst God's people (Judges 16:1)

Or Saul who, with bitterness in his heart and evil intent, nevertheless could not help but prophecy along with the prophets of Israel (1 Samuel 19) Consider further the dividing of the kingdom and the warring factions within Israel. Good times, bad times, Israel never stopped being Israel - and the church never stops being the church.

Archbishop William Temple observed:

"What we must completely get away from is the notion that the world as it now exists is a rational whole; we must think of its unity not by the analogy of a picture, of which all parts exist at once, but by the analogy of a drama, where, if it is good enough, the full meaning of the first scene only becomes apparent with the final curtain; and we are in the middle of this. Consequently the world as we see it is strictly unintelligible. We can only have faith that it will become intelligible when the divine purpose, which is the explanation of it, is accomplished." ( F. A. Iremonger, William Temple [London, 1948], p.22)

The church is also in the middle of the drama. What a great picture!  It is a drama, in process, and the full meaning will indeed become apparent with the final curtain. Meanwhile we must recognise what we are in the middle of, and to what end it is taking us. Times test us and prove us and the world see this. Much is not right and we need to be vigilant in declaring truth, correcting error, seeking to know more intimately the mind and will of God, and becoming what we ought.

For this we have scripture and, "all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim.3:16), W have the indwelling Spirit who gives life (2 Cor.3:6); helps us in our weakness (Rom.8:26); helps us bear fruit (Gal.5:22); and will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

But we must trust that the building work continues and that God's plan for his church, despite the dire pronouncements of those who would write us off and start afresh, continues apace. For it is his church and his work and "He who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philip.1:6).

Monday, 30 September 2013

God Hears Your Questions

When we come to Christianity for the first time, or take it seriously for the first time, we bring with us preconceptions, cultural baggage. This is not unusual, it happened in the first century too. When one of Jesus' first followers, Philip, told Nathanael about Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

We, too, can make assumptions. Our idea of church, for instance, is of a building, or an institution. We talk about the church on the corner, we talk about the responsibilities of the church in the same way we talk about those of the government.

Buildings can be considered irrelevant because they are often old, frozen in time, and we imagine old things going on in them. Here in the UK we are often the victims of the Victorian misguided fascination with neo-gothic architecture and we pay the price. Institutions – well we all know how we feel about those. They can be impersonal, self-serving and out of touch.

But the church is not the building, its people. When I hear some ask whether the church is relevant in the 21st century I think of the 21st century people who are the church and wonder what on earth they can mean. I often recommend that people visit a Christian bookshop and see for themselves the issues addressed in this 21st century, by 21st century Christians, to speak to our 21st century world.

We can't help our misconceptions, its just part of the culture we grew up in. But we mustn't be complacent about these questions, we know from experience that we can have cultural blind spots. There will be things we are sure we “know” because we have grown up with what we have heard, and we have had no reason to question that - until we begin to look closer because we have decided to find out for ourselves.

The Bible say, “The fool despises teaching, but whoever listens to correction is wise.” (Prov.12:1) If you are taking that step of finding out for yourself, of testing your own ideas as well as Christian claims then you are, according to the Bible, among the wise.

Church

God hears your questions, he really does, and it is the church that can begin to provide answers. Once we know that church is people just like us, we gain confidence in asking those questions; after all, if its only you and me, what is there to worry about?

Here are like-minded people, seeking answers themselves but with the experience of having already found answers and who are now growing in their understanding and, more importantly, in their relationship with God.

The Bible makes church very important. It describes for us the 1st century church and, fundamentally, church hasn't changed that much in 2,000 years:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And all who believed were together and had all things in common...And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Three clear things come out of this passage:

  1. They learned about God
  2. They shared what they learned
  3. It changed the way they lived and looked at life

Bible

For a Christian, it is significant when God tells us something in the Bible. The first century church leader Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” ( 2 Timothy 3:15-16)

Another way we get our questions answered is by going to what God has already said in the Bible. The Bible is a manual for life, a guide to eternity. We consider it a trustworthy account of God's purposes, of his dealings with people, and we trust that the way he has dealt with people in the past – justly and mercifully – is an indication of how he will deal with us. It is also a clear guide to God's purposes for the future.

God

God provides answers and we must finally come to a place where we ask him. If I can't say, “If you seek him you will find him,” (Deut.4:29) we may as well all pack up and go home. One 20th century Christian commentator wrote an influential book entitled, He is There And He is Not Silent. (Francis Schaeffer) The Bible says something about this when it tells us:

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son in the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God's nature...It's crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we've heard so that we don't drift off. If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation?

First of all it was delivered by [Jesus] then accurately passed on to us by those who heard it from him. All the while God was validating it with gifts through the Holy Spirit...” (Hebrews 1:1-; 2:1-4 The Message)

Through ancient Israel, through prophets, through faithful teachers, through his word in the Bible and, finally, through his own Son, and by the Holy Spirit, God communicates himself to us.

But this is not a simple game of twenty questions, it is about relationship, a relationship in which we begin to understand why he made us, what has gone wrong with our world, what God has done to put things right and how we can enter into the good of what God has done. Its a story of tragic loss and scandalously generous redemption, of fallen mankind and a God who gives to the uttermost to save us from ourselves.

Where are You?

But when we ask we must also be prepared to hear some questions too. God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways...For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

In the Bible we read the story of Job, a man who suffered more than we can imagine. Christians often get asked about suffering and there is a lot to be learned from the story of Job. Job and his three friends spend 37 chapters discussing the question of suffering, and with good reason. In the 38th chapter God answers Job – with questions:

Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much! Who decided on its size? Certainly you'll know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured and who set the cornerstone...?” (Job 38: 4-7 The Message)

It seems like a strange answer and, of course, it is picture language, poetry, rather than a literal description of creation. You get a clearer picture of what God is getting at when you see the verses preceding these:

Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about?”

God begins his reply by reminding us of how limited is our knowledge; talking without knowing what you are talking about. This is not a satisfying answer, perhaps its not meant to be. Rather, its meant to help us start from the right perspective, acknowledging our limited understanding and our dependence on God. As you approach him with questions, he hears; do you recognise your relationship to your Creator? He is God, I am man.

There are no simplistic answers, he wouldn't insult you that way. There are answers, and one supreme answer in Jesus, our Saviour/King. We all have questions, and God hears them and has responded in his Son, the clearest message from God, his very image. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.

Two questions he wants to ask you remain. The first is the question he asked of man in the Garden, right at the beginning, when man hid from God, “Where are you?” Are you looking for God? God is looking for you.

The last question he asks is the one Jesus asked his first followers, “Who do you say I am?” It all hangs, finally, on what we make of Jesus. God ask us, “What do you think of my Son? What have you done with his name? How do you regard what he has done for you?”

So the invitation is there now. Come and see, ask your questions, let Christians serve you, show you what we have found, and may God bless you with his light and truth.

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Tears of Jesus

Jesus Wept – John 11:1-41

We know the story of Lazarus but why did Jesus weep? He knew what he was about to do, RaisingofLazarusBlochthat very soon Lazarus would walk out of that tomb, so why did he weep? We will return to that question but first some background.

In our house group we are reading the letters of John and we are currently in 1 John 4, where we learn most emphatically, “God is love.” Two questions have issued from the discussion:

How can God possibly love us when we are, in the great scheme of things, so insignificant? The more science discovers, it seems, the smaller we make God and the more doubt can enter our hearts. The truth, and what we discovered in house group, is that God is not too great to bother with us but so great he can be bothered with each of us individually. In our eagerness to call him Father, which for Christian believers is quite correct of course, we must remember he is Almighty God.

The second question, and one that is familiar enough to each of us is:

How can there be a God who loves when we look at the state of the world? This is, in many minds, a more pressing question and is as old as man it seems. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah asks, “Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” (Jer.12:1)

The psalmist writes, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives...they don't have trouble like other people; they are not plagued with problems like everyone else....These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others...

Look at these wicked people – enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?...I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!” (Ps.73:3-8, NLT)

Does this sound familiar? Can you identify with those words today? Are you confused by the prosperity of the wicked? When will there be justice on the earth? Is there any hope? In addressing this question there are three things we must know:

We were created for better

  • Man, in his original state, was made to reflect the image of God. In Genesis we read, “God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let him rule over the fish of the seas and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen.1:26, cf Ps.8:3-9) Who do we think of when we read the psalmist's words, “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet?” This text has been used, and quite correctly, as prophetic of Jesus. But in its original context speaks of mankind.

Jesus, of course, is described by the writer to the Hebrews as the image of the invisible God. The difference between Jesus and us is that he is God in the flesh, the exact image, the very imprimatur of God, while we are creatures, made originally to have a history with God that increasingly reflects his image as we grow, multiply and are fruitful on the earth.

  • We were to be stewards, co-regent, with God, of the earth. To rule, as described in Genesis, means to enjoy delegated sovereignty under God. Stewardship means being responsible for those things placed under our care. This is who and what we were made to be.

  • We were to represent God on the earth. That means running things as he would run them. Doing things his way. Genesis reminds us we are to be creative, fruitful, productive, living and reigning according to his rule.

  • We were to relate to each other in a way that is honouring to God and to each other. Adam says of Eve, “This is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh...” so to harm her is to harm himself. John Donne famously wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Paul describes the church in a similar fashion in his letter to Christians in Corinth, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor.12:26-27)

The church is to be a reflection of this original plan, to show God's purposes to the world. To demonstrate that to be authentically human is to reflect God's image, be God's representative on the earth, to grow in the things of God, to relate correctly to each other, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos. By contrast our society has brought chaos out of order.

All around us we see selfishness reaching new lows as people clamber over each other to get to the bar, as Swansea's council leader declares that the growth of pubs and bars in Swansea has reached saturation point; “Enough is Enough,” according to the Evening Post.

Talk to the Street Pastors and they tell stories of the folly of men and women in their headlong drive to waste themselves in “me first” pleasure whatever the cost. It is currently costing the police over £500,000 a year to police Swansea city centre. That is besides the human cost in health, violence, crime and broken relationships.

We have fallen far

When we see where we have fallen from then we can see how far we have fallen. If life disappoints us it should! Life doesn't fit and this is why; we are a fallen people. But when we consider our lot in this world we must realise we are not simply the playthings of the gods, as some societies would have us believe. Neither are we helpless pawns in the hands of a blind and capricious fate, nor are we the products of a mindless evolutionary process. Mankind was made for relationship and responsibility and we – are – responsible....What of our part in this tragic drama of life?

Neither is it simply a question of punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous, as we naively think, there are no righteous! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Ro.3:23) It is a case, rather, of restoring the order, fulfilling God's original purposes. John's revelation tells us of, “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea[chaos]” (Rev.21:1) In this restoration we are yet to be stewards of God's new creation, those who reflect his image and glory, represent him on the earth and bring order out of chaos like our Creator/God. But how do we get from here to there?

The problem of sin looms large and apparently unchallenged in our world, unassailable it seems in our lives, alienating us from the God who made us and making us less than we were created to be.

Jesus tells us:

"What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

(Mk.7:21-23)

But we not only make God too small in our thinking, we make the problem of sin to small. We are so blind to our own part in this, we call what the other person does “sin,” but when we do it we call it something else; weaknesses, faults (“Who hasn't got them?” we ask, not realising our question is a confession). “Being human,” we say but, as we have seen, being truly human is something else altogether.

The idea of sin is not the product of a less sophisticated, more superstitious time. Sin is a disaster of epic proportions. It lies at the root of everything that is wrong with this world. A massive problem, all-pervasive, staining and spoiling everything. Every depravity, every injustice, every cruel act, every lie, theft, betrayal and defamation results from the influence of sin in our lives.

When celebrities abuses children it is sin destroying the kind of relationships we were created to have; when a train driver speeds his passengers to a terrible death it is sin corrupting his judgement and bringing chaos out of order; when people in positions of power face charges of corruption it is sin taking stewardship and twisting it into exploitation and unrighteous dominion. Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Gal.5:20-21)

How embarrassing! Our sin is “obvious!” Lets not fool ourselves now, the situation is dire and we are all in that list somewhere. Paul writes to Christians in Rome:

Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Ro.6:16)

It is sin that brings death and death stalks our every waking moment, invades our nightmares boasting of its eventual victory; the death rate in this world is still 100%. Paul reminds us, “The wages of sin is death” (Ro.6:23) We laugh at sin today, mock it, regard it as quaint, and we make death something regrettable but natural and manageable. God sees these things quite differently and he offers us real and sure hope.

We have a sure hope

And so we come to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus had raised the dead before; the daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler (Mk.5:38-42), the widow's son at Nain (Lk.7:11-16). He knew beforehand what he intended to do for Lazarus, yet he wept?

Were these tears of sorrow? Perhaps so, Isaiah prophetically called Jesus, “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Is.53:3)

Were they tears of empathy as he saw the inconsolable grief of Mary and Martha Lazarus' bereft sisters? Again, perhaps so, Matthew tells us in one place that, “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” (Mt.9:36) Jesus was, after all, fully human and capable of fellow feeling.

It is tempting to think of this in this way, as a local incident. Jesus, who went about doing good, doing good for his friend Lazarus. But nothing Jesus did was incidental and this was an event of eternal significance. Jesus' tears were not primarily those of sorrow, or of compassion. We read in verse 33 of our passage, “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”

There is more here than sorrow or sympathy. These words could as easily be rendered, “He was enraged in spirit and troubled himself.” There is indignation here, a sense of outrage and the object of his wrath is death itself. The Prince of life walked the earth and death had the audacity to come this close. Jesus, moved to indignation by the unnatural and violent tyranny of death, advances to the tomb, in Calvin's words, “as a champion prepared for conflict.”

This is a clear demonstration of Jesus' conquest of death and hell. Not in cold unconcern but in flaming anger against the enemy of us all, Jesus strikes a mortal blow in our behalf. Jesus approaches our graves in the same spirit of outrage and divine determination. He suffered the same agitation of spirit, magnified many times over in Gethsemane as he anticipated Calvary and the cross on which he would pay the price for sin and defeat what Paul calls the last enemy to be defeated, death.

When Lazarus comes out from the tomb Jesus says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

This is where the new life starts. Like Lazarus, we are dead. Paul describes our situation well:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Just as Jesus raised Lazarus so God raises to new life those who trust in Jesus. Paul goes on:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--” (Eph.2:1-6)

If you want to be truly human, to be what you were created to be, there is hope for you today if you put your trust fully in the Christ who saves and who, when he knew his time had come, said, “Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn.12:31-33) Will you be drawn to the one who, in our passage declared with confidence and divine determination, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (Jn.11:25-26)

He calls you to new life, to become authentically human through his sacrifice for you on the cross, to grow in the things of God, to reflect God's image, to be God's representative on the earth, to relate correctly to others, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos. How could anyone settle for less?

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Jesus Wept

Doug in Colour

We attended the funeral and memorial service this week of my good friend and ministry partner of more than twenty years Doug Harris. Doug founded a ministry to cults, Reachout Trust, in 1982 as a result of seeing Jehovah’s Witnesses streaming into their annual conference near his home in Twickenham, England. In 1989 my wife Ann and I got involved having come, ourselves, from a Mormon background.

Since then there have been many conventions, conferences, seminar and preaching engagements. We have written books and articles, made films, shared trustee responsibilities and been about as involved in the ministry as it is possible to be. Family members and friends have joined us, sometimes speaking, often playing instruments in times of worship, always enjoying Doug’s good company and wise counsel.

It is a strange world inhabited by “colourful’ characters. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, witches, pagans, new agers – the list seems endless. But for Doug the goal was always the same, sharing the Jesus of the Bible with the lost. Pointing out the error by holding it up to the light of truth and allowing people to make comparisons and come to their own conclusions. Doug trusted if he played his part God would always play his so ministry simply involved telling the good news.

I shed more than a few tears at his memorial service and, I think for the first time in my life, seriously asked that question – why? I believe the Lord gave me an answer and put in my mind the story of Lazarus.

If you recall, Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus. When word came that Lazarus was dying Jesus seemed deliberately to delay his coming to his friend’s bedside. Finally, he arrived only in time to comfort Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, because Lazarus had died.

“Lord,” cried Martha,” if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” You can read the story in John chapter 11. Later we read:

“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him'?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord.’ they replied. Jesus wept.”

Here are those wonderful but puzzling words, ‘Jesus wept.’ Wonderful because they appear to speak of God’s complete identification with our sorrows, yet puzzling because the story goes on to tell how Jesus’ intent all along was to raise Lazarus and demonstrate his power over sin and death.

The words translated, ‘Jesus wept,’ do not carry the meaning of loud grief. What was in those tears was not sadness and regret at loss, nor simply sympathy with those around him riven with genuine grief. His tears were tears of rage, indignation at the audacity of death. Jesus was enraged, as am I, that his friend should be so stricken so. B B Warfield puts it like this:

“It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words, ‘as a champion who prepares for conflict.’

The raising of Lazarus thus becomes, not an isolated marvel, but…a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest of death and hell…not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought out our redemption.” (The person and Work of Christ, quoted in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, John.)

Why? we ask. Why do we have to stand by and watch our loved ones die? Because of sin, that brings death. And Jesus was as enraged about Doug’s death, and finally yours and mine - for the mortality rate in this world is still 100%. But, what Jesus’ achieved temporarily  for Lazarus – because Lazarus was raised not resurrected – he would, on Golgotha, achieve for all who trust in him.

He approached that gibbet with the same determination with which he approached the tomb of Lazarus. He views our tombs with the same rage and indignation and his set purpose is to free all who trust in him from the curse of sin, death and hell. We may feel today that death has its small victory, but in eternity death is conquered by life and Doug enjoys fully now the life won for him at Calvary. To wish him back is to rob him of the prize to which he has looked all his life.

See you there Doug.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Diversity, not Jesus, Saves…Really?

Bishop JeffertsThe Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has denounced the Apostle Paul as mean-spirited and bigoted for having released a slave girl from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34.

In her sermon delivered at All Saints Church in CuraƧao in the diocese of Venezuela, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori condemned those who did not share her views as enemies of the Holy Spirit. You can read a report on Anglican Ink.

Is this an Episcopalian thing, or is it a woman thing? I am a traditionalist when it comes to women in leadership but anyone who knows me will tell you I am always ready to be wrong and I have changed my position on many things in my Christian life.

I am currently sharing leadership responsibilities  with men and women, elders and deacons, and, despite my reservations, I am learning from the experience. Then I read all out liberal heresy like this, which always seems to come from women or feminised men, and find myself agreeing with the remarks of Samuel Johnson:

"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

It would be bad enough if she was saying this was her spin on things but others see it differently (indeed, this “interpretation” of Paul is so novel as to be fresh out of the box) But this bishop is effectively saying that her liberal agenda best reflects the heart of God. Most disturbing is the despotic tone in her words when she characterises dissenters as “enemies of the Holy Spirit.”

Surely, this is the Achilles heel of liberalism, which wants to embrace, promote and generally allow any and every view – except the view that disagrees with liberalism. Then the liberal becomes intolerant, uncharitable, chauvinistic.

There is plenty of good commentary on the bishop’s sermon as well as correct teaching on the text she mutilates. Timothy Fountain neatly explains the situation on Stand Firm the comments following his piece giving a flavour of the outrage of Christians who actually believe what the Bible clearly says.

A fuller explanation of the text as well as some wry comment can be found on the Not Another Episcopal Church Blog It always seems to come as a surprise to liberals that others may have actually thought about whatever the issue and come to different and often quite convincing conclusions. Rather like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they believe they are the first to come up with an idea.

It worries me that people today go with what they feel rather than what they think about objective truth. People begin statements with, “I like to think of God as…” and then they put in whatever “feels” right. That is not how the Christian Church has operated for two-thousand years

Of course, there is and has to be interpretation. The Bible is not a child’s primer, it contains myth, parables, poetry,  laws, history gospels, letters, examples and warnings and cultural references we must strive to understand. But preachers, teachers, scholars, theologians and ordinary Christians have wrestled with these things over millennia and some pretty trustworthy commentary is available. You can’t simply cut out what doesn’t suit you, because it doesn’t “feel” right to you.

The Bible is perfectly capable of interpreting itself in most cases and those who help us with the more difficult passages must adhere to an already established orthodoxy. If we read our Bibles we will learn something of that orthodoxy and if we encourage each other in these things we will be in a position to “tell a hawk from a handsaw.” Otherwise these heretics will play on us any tune they please.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Doug Harris–With the Lord

DougThis morning at 9.00 am the best and wisest man I ever knew departed this world and entered glory. He was a friend, a brother in Christ, a mentor and I miss him more than I can say.

Please pray for his wife Noemi, his family, his church family, close friends and the countless folk to whom he ministered and who will mourn his passing.

Doug Harris founded Reachout Trust in 1982, initially as an outreach to Jehovah’s Witnesses but it quickly grew as a ministry to the cults, the occult and New Age movements.

Doug’s work, of course, involved so much more. He had been a church elder since 1963 and for the past five and a half years was a key member of the team at Revelation TV. He and his wife, Noemi, had only last year moved to Spain as the TV operation moved its main office and studio over there. I am sure Revelation TV will soon publish its own account of Doug’s work with them but it has been every bit as substantial as anything he did with Reachout Trust.

Doug was instrumental in guiding our transition from Mormonism to Christianity, allowing Ann and I to “purge” old and unhelpful ideas by talking about our journey in seminars, and by writing on the subject for Reachout. We learned from him the value of grace, the importance of patience and the skills involved in sharing our story in a way that challenged Mormon teaching while loving the Mormon to whom we were witnessing.

We worked together for over twenty years he as chairman and Ann and I as trustees of Reachout. We shared platforms, developed the ministry, wrote and published together.and lead in twenty or so Reachout Conventions. They were great times, challenging times and he will be missed more than words can say.

About thirteen years ago I suggested I interview him for a short history of Reachout that was eventually published in booklet form. In 2005 this was updated and is still the most recent account of an exceptional work started and driven by an exceptional Christian man of vision and grace. I reproduce it in part here:

 

The Reachout Story

The Story So Far

It is sobering to reflect that the day you stepped out with some tracts and a handful of friends you started something that would grow to national proportions. Reachout Trust began in 1982 as a local outreach to Jehovah's Witnesses. From a single initiative, by a handful of people, at a Witness convention in Twickenham the Trust has grown to become a nation wide ministry to those in the cults, the occult and the New Age movement.

Over the years we have taken on responsibilities, met needs, and developed in ways that were never envisaged in those early days. No one sat down and said, "why don’t we see if we can achieve this?" The ministry can truly be said to have evolved until, today, we are one of the foremost Christian groups in our field.

The first newsletter was produced in 1984, was four pages long and photocopied, and had a run of a few hundred. Today's newsletter is sixteen pages and growing and goes out to several thousand individuals and churches across the country. It is our main organ of communication and seeks to keep people informed and equipped for what they face on their doorstep or high street.

Doug Early Reachout

The first Reachout convention was held in New Malden Baptist Church in 1984. After that it moved to Kingstanding Elim Church until 1991 when we held it at the Wycliffe Centre at High Wycombe. Having outgrown that venue we moved in 1996 to the Pioneer Centre near Wolverhampton. From a handful of 'interested' people at that first meeting we have grown to over a hundred attending a full weekend of seminars every November.

2004 saw a landmark 20th Convention and proved successful with seminars on Developing the Ministry, Defining “Salvation”, True Christian Communion and the need to be a peculiar people. In 2005 we found ourselves moving back - or is that forward? - to the significantly expanded Wycliffe Centre and it has been a little like coming home.

Seminars and workshops typically cover all the main cults including, of course, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but also other groups such as the Children of God, Freemasonry, Moonies etc. We also provide instruction in dealing with the occult and the New Age and have included counselling workshops and teaching on deliverance.

A landmark in the growth of Reachout was the introduction, in 1988, of the Action Pack. This has been a special blessing over the years and has contributed significantly to meeting our financial needs. Especially gratifying has been the fact that it gives us the opportunity to give something practical to those who give to us. This partnership scheme means that the giver is entitled to receive regularly free or discounted Reachout resources from books to videos to regular publications.

The Task

Ours is a ministry of discernment and apologetics and our primary role is 'truth-telling'. However, we have developed beyond simply publishing and distributing information. One area in which we have been particularly successful and effective is in recruiting people, many from cult backgrounds themselves, to represent Reachout 'on the ground', to be Reachout in their location.

Our system of having Associates is unique in this ministry in the UK and is a major contributory factor in our growth and success. These people who represent Reachout in their locality are a help to the local church and a first point of contact for those seeking the help Reachout provides. Through their different talents and experiences Associates are able to provide training for the local church, specialised insights into the world of the cults, and sympathetic support for those seeking freedom and truth.

 

Our spiritual forebears fought hard for the
eternal truths cherished by today’s believers.
Similarly, tomorrow’s believers will inherit
what we contend earnestly for today

 

Where possible our Associates are encouraged to work closely together in their regions under a regional leader who co-ordinates their efforts and is responsible for training etc. Praying together, sharing problems and ideas, and encouraging one another builds strength, encourages commitment and makes Reachout a real local resource.

Reachout continues to evolve and we face new challenges almost daily. Managing and training a growing number of people, and maintaining and enhancing the reputation of Reachout in an increasingly demanding ministry, means finding new, more efficient ways forward. In these challenging times we seek to define more clearly what we do and how we do it. To help in this work a 'ministry team' is being developed to look at all aspects of the ministry, from literature to training to how we should respond to developments in the constantly changing world of the cults.

2004 saw the publication of Should Christians Apologise, a book that shows every Christian that apologetics is something we all need to learn, and that equips every Christian to begin that process of learning and gaining in confidence in their witnessing. The Reasoned Defence series of booklets begin to address some of the key issues Christians might meet and have proved a handy reference tool.

We also re-published Audrey Harper’s testimony book Dance With the Devil, a harrowing account of one person’s experiences in the occult. It has been controversial and we have had our critics but we feel it is important that people like Audrey have the opportunity to tell their story, and important that others hear them.

We also continue to find popular Doug Harris’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, Their Beliefs and Practices as well as, Mormonism, a Gold-Plated Religion, the definitive British books on these groups. A full catalogue is available from Head Office.

In 2004 we also saw an increase of 30.8% in the number of people reached. Much of this is accounted for by the continuing development of our web site. A new version of the web site was produced in 1994 and has proved very popular. Our presence on the world-wide-web can now be said to make a significant difference in the number of people we can reach. 1998 saw us reach 104,746, while 2001 saw this figure increase to 188,337. In 2003 we reached 221,028 but this latest increase has seen us reach a record 289,158 people in 1994.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone
who asks you to give the reason for the hope you
have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 PETER 3:15 (NIV)

Reachout Trust has a good relationship with the media and undertakes a number of media interviews each year, being called on by researchers for a wide range of subjects. Representatives appear regularly on news items, 'chat shows' and documentaries covering all areas in the cults, occult and new age.

When stories, such as the first 'approved' Satanist in the Navy are reported on, many newspapers and TV programmes request information and interviews. These do not always bring direct responses to Reachout Trust, although it does make us known. It also enable a 'Christian' perspective to be placed on the items of news people are talking about. This is a demanding avenue of work and we would welcome the help of people who feel they would like to join us to work in this area.

The Church

We are sometimes referred to as a para-church organisation. As an organisation, of course, that is what we are. Reachout is not a church, but neither are we separate from, or in addition to the Christian community. We are Christians first and foremost who see our role in the body as that of watchmen. The way we fulfil that role is in organisations like Reachout, just as those called to mission form missionary societies.

People who escape the cults need a new spiritual home. God's provision for all new Christians is the church. Members of Reachout Trust are members of the local church and Reachout always seeks to work closely with local church leaders. From the beginning it has been very important to have a network of church contacts across the country.

As people have come to Reachout for help we have in turn sought to 'plant' them in an appropriate fellowship. Reachout is often simply a first point of contact leading to more appropriate ministry within the church and even professional help in a counselling setting.

The Need

There is an urgent need for Christians to be equipped to meet the challenges of the modern world. People are needed to act as comforters to the hurt and wounded, bringers of fresh hope to the disillusioned, friends to the betrayed and truth-tellers to the deceived.

Churches need to act as communities of refuge where there is shelter and safety for the vulnerable, life and hope for the lost, and sound teaching and gentle discipling for the many who need correcting and direction.

Reachout Trust seeks to provide that equipping through a training programme designed to teach individuals and churches. Through seminars and workshops we bring to the Christian community specialist knowledge, gained from first-hand experience, that will arm Christians for the battle for truth that rages in our society

By means of newsletters, fact sheets, books, audio and video- tapes, as well as the internet, we share our knowledge and understanding and keep the church informed of up-to-the-minute developments in the ministry.

We are, then, those who in Christian love, often having experienced ourselves life in a cult, wish to come alongside, advise, pray with and otherwise help cult members and their families and friends.

As far as our experience and knowledge takes us, as God leads, we help and minister.

Doug Monotone