Interesting piece in the guardian from an atheist who describes her faith in rejecting God.
Here’s a great new video highlighting why Birmingham is on the rise. And in case you think it’s all just hype check out this study by PwC that ranks Birmingham as the most investable city in the UK and the 6th in Europe.
Having just read through Urban demographics: Where people live and work in England and Wales a report published today by Centre for Cities here are my top 10 facts I think we need to know about the changing face of city centres in England and Wales.
1. One in three people living in our city centres are aged 20-29.
2. In the UK’s larger cities (550,000+ but excluding London) nearly 50 percent of the city centre population are aged 20-29.
3. Just under 50 percent of people in city centres are single and only 22 percent in some form of live-in relationship.
4. Over 70 percent live in flats or apartments
5. Students account for 44 percent of that population (London 16 percent).
6. One third of working age living in our centres have a degree and over half have A-levels.
7. Over 50% of those who work and live in the city are professionals.
8. The population of our cities grew by 37 percent between 2001 and 2011. The suburbs only grew by 8 percent over the same time.
9. The larger cities (550,000+ but excluding London) doubled in population size between the 10 years 2001 to 2011.
10. Student populations increased by 188% in the UK’s larger city centres between 2001 and 2011
Last night American golfer Zach Johnson won the Open at St. Andrews. I then discovered that he is a Christian with a living faith in the Lord Jesus.
Here’s something of his testimony given in 2012.
In Early in the winter of 2002, I gave my life to the Lord.
Since then, my priorities have certainly changed. It’s not Zach’s agenda anymore. I refer to the years after high school and before making my decision as my “blind years.” Now, I can see.
Before I was one, I always thought being a Christian would be boring. In reality, it has been the complete opposite. There is joy, fulfillment and even fun! There also are challenges and trials, but knowing that my foundation lies in Jesus and what He has done for me is what is important. It’s all that matters.
And here’s an article in today’s Daily Star (a newspaper that has never featured in this blog before now!)
Here are two excellent articles on how the church should respond to the challenge of same-sex marriage and the marginalisation of Christian beliefs.
This first piece by Canadian Carey Nieuwhof serves as a reminder that it’s not actually a new idea that Christians are called to be counter to the culture!
And here is a thoughtful and compassionate response from British pastor Sam Allberry
It’s easy to complain when an election doesn’t go our way. How can we as Christians find reasons to be content whoever wins. Here are 5 answers;
In giving us government that has enables us to live lives relatively free from the threat of violence, oppression, injustice and poverty God has given us better than our sins deserve.
2. In Britain all the main political parties, whilst imperfect, seek to govern according to high standards.
In giving us government that is accountable to the nation and that seeks to government well we do better than many who live in countries where government is corrupt and the people live in fear.
We should give thanks then whoever gets in!
3. Take confidence that God is sovereign over government and the nations.
‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.’ Romans 13:1. This is the government that in his wisdom he has given to us.
All government – good or bad – cannot thwart his perfect plan but only aid him in all he seeks to do c.f. Psalm 22:28, 75:6-7, John 19:10-11, the whole of the book of Daniel!
4. Do not expect too much.
Our country is not a Christian country and our leaders will govern without reference to God. We should pray that God would work through them but we should not expect too much.
5. Remember the gospel
a) All authority belongs to Jesus- Matt. 28:16-20
b) His kingdom alone will be one of perfect peace, justice and righteousness and will endure for ever! Rev.5:13
c) We need new hearts far more than a new government. Ezek.36:2-27
d) We too were ignorant, foolish, hostile to God and his ways until he had mercy on us. Eph. 2:1-10, Titus 3:3
(With help from Oak Hill Lecturers of old!)
Here are my notes from a recent seminar at City Church on the upcoming election
1. We must be committed to the welfare of our nation
a) We are ‘resident aliens’ in the world. The Christian recognises that this world is not our home but we are not to despise it either. Jeremiah 29:7 ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (NIV).
b) Government is God’s idea. To punish wrong and commend good
1 Peter 2:13-14 – Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men. Submission to authority is part of our witness to the world. It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the talk of foolish men.
Romans 13:1-7 – v.1-2 The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.
We should be better citizens than unbelievers because we have a higher motive than they. They submit to authorities because they fear punishment if they do not. We submit because we want to honour God – recognising that they are his means of common grace to restrain evil.
1 Timothy 2:1-3 ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour.’
When Paul urges us to pray for Kings and all in authority. John Stott comments ‘this was a remarkable instruction, since at that time no Christian ruler existed anywhere in the world.’
What to pray for? That we may live peaceful and quiet lives. Stott: ‘only in a well-ordered society is the church free to fulfil its God-given responsibilities without hindrance.’
What are these responsibilities government are to uphold?
• Freedom of religion – that enables me to grow in godliness and holiness
• Freedom of speech – that allows me to proclaim Christ through evangelism
Wisdom on government from Proverbs:
When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; When the wicked rule, the people groan – Proverbs 29:2
By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down – Proverbs 29:4
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, For the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; Defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9
Conclusion We cannot expect, so we must not ask, a secular government to govern according to Christian principles. But we should pray that government will protect the vulnerable, reward good and punish evil and allow Christians to get on with being Christians without interference from the state.
2. The privilege of democracy
Many Christians in other parts of the world can only pray for a change of government. We have an opportunity to shape government!
3. Should Christians vote?
Yes. By voting:
a) we can demonstrate that Christians make the best of citizens because we recognise that government is a gift of God
b) we can give thanks to God for the good government that we enjoy. Under any of the main parties we will enjoy fundamental freedoms and privileges that many Christians are denied elsewhere.
c) we should take the God-given opportunity to elect a government that it will govern according to God’s purposes for it.
B. How do we decide who to vote for?
1. Look to elect government that will function according to God’s standards: Here are just SOME of the questions you could consider.
a) Protection of the vulnerable
• Do you believe that marriage provides the most secure and loving environment in which to raise children? Should that be reflected in the tax system?
• Should euthanasia be legalised? What care should be provided for the elderly?
• Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?
• What legislation do you propose to limit the damage caused by harmful greenhouse gases and other causes of environmental damage?
• What is your policy on Asylum seekers and on migration?
• Do you agree in principle to the idea of shared days off for families? Should there be legislation to enable this?
• How do you define an ethical foreign policy and do you think that the UK should pursue one? What commitment can you make that further progress will be made to ensure that developing countries can be genuinely set free of the burden of debt?
b) Protect religious liberty
• Do you believe churches should be free to employ only Christians?
• Should there be a law against incitement to religious hatred?
• Should the right of Christians to freedom of speech be protected?
c) punish wrongdoers
• What solutions do you propose to violent crime in our society?
• What steps should be taken to rehabilitate young offenders?
• Do you support the reintroduction of the death penalty for murder?
d) prevent the spread of sin
• Do you think the law on cannabis should be liberalised?
• Are you in favour of compulsory sex education for primary school children?
• Do you support tougher controls against the broadcasting of pornography?
2. Try one of the websites designed to help you see which party manifesto is most aliened with your own convictions.
3. Consider the character of the candidates
a) For a list of your candidates visit https://yournextmp.com/
b) To discover if there are any hustings you can attend visit http://meetyournextmp.com/
c) Personal beliefs and practices cannot be separated from public life. Do they have a record of lying, adultery, misleading parliament, etc… If you want to know how your last MP voted on a range of ethical and moral issues then visit www.christian.org.uk/election and follow the links.
In an earlier post we reflected on the fact that the virtue of compassion belongs, properly and uniquely, to a Christian worldview. In this second and concluding post we consider our response to the call of the gospel to live out lives of compassion.
Compassion: Our virtue
No wonder Brian Borgman in his book Feelings and Faith insists the Lord Jesus is our pattern for compassion. We need not only to see people as he saw them but feel for them as he felt for them.
How is compassion something that we can cultivate? Without doubt it is a deep reflection on the gospel of Christ that produces and promotes compassion within us. Tim Keller argues ‘to the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.’ Once I consider that Jesus was moved to meet my need I begin to see that others share my neediness and I can choose to cultivate compassion wherever I see need.
A Christianity without compassion is a Christianity unmoved by the gospel and where there is little or no concern for a world in need there can be little of Christ in our hearts. It’s quite possible for even a prophet of God to fail in this regard. Human nature, unmoved by the gospel will, like the prophet Jonah, place limits on those for whom we ought to be concerned. Jonah was indifferent to the fate that awaited the people of Nineveh when sent by God to warn of impending judgement. That God was a God of compassion was a cause of complaint because the heart of Jonah was not shaped by the heart of God. So much so that when the Ninevites repented and God’s anger was assuaged Jonah’s anger only grew! As far as Jonah was concerned God’s compassion ‘ seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.’ (Jonah 4:1-2, NIV). My problem, Jonah concedes, is that you are a God of all compassion.
Compassion: A unique opportunity
Bruce Sheiman isn’t the first to see something unique in the kind of love shown by Jesus and his followers. Emperor Julian (332-363 AD) was the last Roman Ruler to persecute Christians yet even he could not fail to recognise that a love shaped by the cross of Christ is radical. He wrote of how the cause of Christianity ‘has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.’
Brian Borgman invites us to join him in praying; ‘May God the Father, who is full of compassion, and the Lord Jesus who is our model of compassion, fill us through the Holy Spirit with the holy emotion of compassion that compels us to relieve suffering, misery, loneliness, and lostness wherever we can. When we do that, people will see Jesus.’
Richard Dawkins can’t stay out of the headlines for long. Mostly recently, Dawkins has caused a stir when tweeting in reply to a woman expressing her moral dilemma. What would she do if she discovered she was pregnant carrying a child with Down’s syndrome? Dawkins volunteered his judgement and his answer is a sobering one; ‘abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have a choice.’ A considerable disquiet ensued and Dawkins offered a speedy clarification writing it would be ‘immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.’ There is an obvious and evident lack of compassion in Dawkins’ reductionist argument. But as he is quick to point out his argument is a rational response from his atheistic perspective. ‘Those who took offence because they know and love a person with Down’s syndrome, and who thought I was saying that their loved one had no right to exist, I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one.’
Compassion: An unexpected virtue
At the other end of the Atheistic spectrum is author Bruce Sheiman. His book, An Atheist Defends Religion, certainly has a title designed to grab your attention and Sheiman’s book is unusual in its defence of religion. We might go so far as to say a lone voice amidst the hubbub of a more militant atheism vocal in its refusal to recognise that religion is capable of making any positive contribution to advancing the welfare of human-kind. So why is Sheiman moved to write a more generous estimation of a life lived for God? Not least because he recognises that Christ’s coming into the world paved the way for a brand new view of humanity. Apart from Jesus the world would have looked very different. In his historical survey Sheiman concludes that before Christianity ‘a commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in any other culture.’ It was a distinctly Christian view of humanity that led to a radical acceptance of the place and need of others. ‘Once we see ourselves as free individuals, and to the extent that we understand that we are all creatures of one God, we understand that freedom and dignity are the right of all people.’ Here’s an observation from outside of the church – Jesus’ followers committed to seeing the world differently and that included how they chose to view and treat others, especially those in need. In this article I want to explore briefly one particular expression of that impact – the place of compassion. Put simply, the gospel calls on us to feel something for those who are less fortunate than ourselves and that in turn leads to action.
Compassion: The supreme virtue
Jesus saw people as no-one had ever seen them. C.H. Spurgeon said ‘If you would sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence, “He was moved with compassion.” And J.C. Ryle observes ‘It is a curious and striking fact, that of all the feelings experienced by our Lord when upon the earth, there is none so often mentioned as “compassion”. Nine times over the Spirit has caused the word ‘compassion’ to be written in the Gospels.’ The Bible word we translate as compassion describes, first of all a feeling, an emotion that comes from the heart (or more literally the bowels!) and so Jesus was moved by feelings of concern and sympathy. Those feelings compelled him to come to the aid of those in need. A quick word-search and we might remember the compassion Jesus showed an ostracized leper when he not only healed but first touched the unclean man (Mark 1:40-42), or his decision to delay his entrance into Jerusalem because of the cry of two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34). Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus (John 11:32-36) and he is moved more by the fate of those who stood under God’s judgement than his own on his journey to the cross (Matt.23:37). There never was a heart like his.
What one journalist discovered when accompanying University of Birmingham Christian Union volunteers witnessing to students on Birmingham campus.
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