The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images-of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed.
It is with a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters –when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out! ” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back–I would have done so myself if I could–and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God” -well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads –better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap –best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband-that is quite another matter.
There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
John Stott as a young man was a pacifist even going so far as to join the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship during the second world war. Reflecting on that time he said:
I was sent to at least three clergymen to be sorted out, and looking back I am really horrified at how badly they dealt with me. Not one of them introduced my mind to the concept of the just war. I had never heard of the just war theory.
But as Timothy Dudley Smith records, The day would come when his own study of the Scriptures would carry him beyond any simplistic viewpoint and he would resign his membership [of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship].
What Stott discovered is that when it comes to what the Bible teaches not all killing is forbidden. All death is a tragedy but not always a breach of the 6th commandment. Stott rooted this theology of just war in Romans 13:1-7 in which Paul teaches that God has given authority to the state to act as an agent of his justice in this world which extends to taking life. In his Bible Speaks Today commentary Stott argues from Romans 13:1-7 that the state has an authority from God to act as his agent to take life. In summary form he argues;
The state has a God-given authority and a God-given role (v.1)
(remember than when Paul was writing there were NO Christian authorities)
To rebel against the state is to rebel against God (v.2)
Three times Paul tells us that the state is God’s servant (v.4a, 4c, 6)
That role includes rewarding those who do good (v.3, 4)
That role includes punishing those who do evil (v.4)
The punishment extends to taking of life (v.4)
Christians should submit to the authority of the state not only because of fear but conscience (v.5)
Turn the other cheek?
What then should we do with passages of the Bible that seem to suggest that Christians are to turn the other cheek? Passages to which Stott himself appealed as a young man? In his book Issues facing Christians today Stott addresses the issue of just war and focuses our attention on the fact that the very verses that preceed Romans 13:1-7, are a call for Christians to love their enemies, Romans 12:17-21. Clearly Paul is not seeking to contradict himself here.
The reason why wrath, revenge and retribution are forbidden us is not because they are in themselves wrong reactions to evil, but because they are God’s prerogative, not ours…It is better, then, to see the end of Romans 12 and the beginning of Romans 13 as complementary to one another.
And here is his key conclusion:
Members of God’s new community can be both private individuals and state officials. In the former role we are never to take personal revenge or repay evil for evil, but rather we are to bless our persecutors(12:14),serve our enemies (12:20) and seek to overcome evil with good (12:21). In the latter role, however, if we are called by God to serve as police or prison officers or judges, we are God’s agents in the punishment of evil-doers. True, ‘vengence’ and ‘wrath’ belong to God, but one way in which he executes his judgement on evil-doers today is through the state.
Stott then sees a natural extension of the same Scriptural principles when the disturber of the peace is not just an individual or group but another nation. The state’s God-given authority encompasses restraint and resistance of evildoers who are aggressors rather than criminals, and so the protection of its citizen’s rights when threatened from outside as well as from inside.
And so John Stott came to change his mind. We cannot say that war is wrong in itself. War has sometimes been, and maybe again, the weapon of God’s wrath and righteous judgment.
If someone grabbed your cash-point card from your bag and demanded you gave them your pin-number would it be sinning as a Christian to give them a made-up number? If it’s wrong to lie then as Charles Hodge point out are you not lying when you leave the lights on in your home to deter a thief when you’re away ?
Is it always wrong to lie or can it ever be right to withhold the truth or even lie?
The 9th commandment reads ‘you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’
Given that God is a God of truth (John 14:6, Romans 3:4) and who does not lie (Titus 1:2) can it ever be right for Christians to lie? Over the centuries Christians have wrestled with the question of whether we are always required to speak truthfully. Do we owe everyone not just the truth but the whole truth?
When we read stories in the Bible we do find passages where God appears to praise those who deliberately deceive others. One famous example is in Exodus 1:15-21 and the story of the Hebrew midwives. In the account Pharaoh tells the midwives to kill the Hebrew boys but Shiphrah and Puah let the boys live. When questioned by Pharaoh they fabricate a story about the Hebrew women giving birth before they arrive.
Twice in the story we are told that their motive behind their action was that they ‘feared God’ in v.17 and v.21. Indeed they risked a great deal to cover-up what was really going on and faced extreme punishment in their attempts to protect the children.
The principle we find at work in the Bible is that God’s people are commended for their deceit when they use deception to a) protect innocent lives and b) prevent evil such as murder.
So is it a sin to lie? The passage suggests that not all deceit is ‘false testimony’ because not all deceit should be thought of as a failure to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’. When we lie to promote ourselves or inflict harm on our neighbour we are sinning but some deceit is a necessary action to show that we are willing to love and protect our neighbour in the face of evil. Just as we saw earlier in our series that not all killing is murder because for example killing in self-defence was allowed by God so now we see that not all deceit is false testimony.
It is surely worth remembering that although these cases offer fascinating case-studies of what it actually means to lie it is not likely that we will ever need to use deception in such a way in the course of our own lives (unless our role is in the military!)
But such stories do suggest that it might be necessary and appropriate to withhold information where that information would be used in a harmful way. We do not therefore have an obligation to speak all that we know when asked to reveal it if to do so would promote evil or fail to protect someone. Indeed when someone asks for information in order to commit a crime or to inflict harm they have forfeited their right to the truth.
As the nation celebrates Christians, in particular, have reason to give thanks. For we recognise that governing authorities are put in place by God. Paul says in Romans 13v1, there is no authority except that which God has established.
And there can be few countries in the world where Christians have enjoyed greater freedoms and blessing than we have under the reign of our Queen. Anyone living in the UK during the past 60 years has, by and large, enjoyed peace rather than conflict, economic prosperity rather than decline and freedom of worship.
Paul calls on us to pray for those in authority – 1 Timothy 2 reads:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Around the world today many Christians are living under leaders who refuse to acknowledge God let alone honour him and as a result they live under fear. I wonder whether we stop to think and stop to thank God for the privileges we have enjoyed during the past 60 years.
In her coronation vows 60 years ago the Queen promised to govern with fairness and mercy and she has. She may be a figure-head for our nation but she is a figure of consistency and of Christian character. John Stott was an honorary chaplain to the queen for over 30 years and spoke of the reality of her Christian faith. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that she may be the last monarch who is Christian in my lifetime.
I want to finish with a quotation from her Christmas Day message in 2011
The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
‘For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.
It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
So even if you don’t intend to wave flags or dress in red, white and blue I do hope you’ll join in giving thanks to God for a Queen who for 60 years has fulfilled her duty before God and the nation with utmost consistency.
Preaching through the 10 commandments I sought out some advice from friends and family on what it means to honour our parents. Here’s what we came up with.
20 practical ways to honour your father and mother
- Show gratitude for the ways they have shown love – however imperfectly — thank them for their love in sacrifice, commitment, care, concern.
- Visit often
- Phone home. One guy said to me ‘ I phone both of my divorced parents at least 3 times a week during my walk home from work it’s because I know that communication and keeping in touch is important to them and makes them feel valued. This doesn’t come naturally to me (difficult relationship with my parents sometimes) but I continue because honouring is important.’
- Continue to seek out and then listen well to their advice – even if you choose a different path. Mark Twain once said ‘When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.’
- See they are well cared for in their old age (that may mean saving for their future, moving your home, etc.)
- Pray for them (if they are Christians ask how you can be praying for them).
- Tell them how great Jesus is (if you and they are Christians they will be blessed more than you can imagine…if not their salvation!)
- Say you’re sorry if you can look back and see ways in which you did dishonour them and thank them for their patience with you
- Repent of any attitude that wishes they were out of the way…to free up more time or because you want your inheritance now!
- Encourage and facilitate active grand-parenting! Let them in to your lives even more as grand-parents.
- Don’t talk negatively about them behind their backs or grumble against them to others.
- Speak positively about them to others
- ‘Value your parents as most parents give their best to their children. I know this isn’t always the case but as a mum myself, I know we do the best we can’
- Expect the relationship to improve. ‘The beautiful thing about growing older is that my mum and step dad have become my friends.’
- Ask her Dad’s permission before you propose.
- Value what is most important in them especially if they prayed for you and encouraged you in your faith.
- Remember important dates…birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s day, Father’s day
- Place photos of them in prominent places in your room
- Accept them for who they are even if you wish they were different.
- Don’t take what you have been given for granted – a secure, loving, lifelong relationship
Ask yourself: ‘would we be happy if our young children treated us like we, now grown, treat our parents?’ Kevin DeYoung
Very helpful 20 minute discussion from a T4G panel discussion between Mark Dever andAl Mohler.
Why people in their 20’s are struggling with church
At our church we have started a ministry to 20somethings. Recognising that the transition out of teenage years and student life into the world of work and grown-up church brings great challenges for many.
Here are the 10 most likely reasons to struggle as compiled by Rob & Hosanna who head up this new ministry.
We’ve grouped them into four categories
Anonymous & unsupported:
- You used to be known by everyone in your parents’ church; now it seems like no one knows you.
- You were previously in a church where you felt you belonged and were valued. Arriving at your new church it might have been welcoming and friendly but you rarely see the same people Sunday by Sunday.
- You used to belong to a smaller church; now you feel lost in a bigger church and don’t know what to do about it apart from find a smaller church.
Under-used & unappreciated:
- You had a lot of leadership responsibility as a student; now it feels like you are bottom of the pile again.
- You were used to leading bible studies every week; now no one seems to want you to lead any.
- You did a year working for a church and felt invested-in and trained; now you are a ‘normal’ member you feel stagnant and under-used.
Frustrated by how other people are so very different to you:
- When in a student bible-study group, everyone seemed on the same wavelength and enthusiastic; now those around you seem more tired and perhaps a little apathetic.
- You felt challenged, encouraged and you were continually gaining new knowledge and skills; now you feel that those around you are old-fashioned and you find it difficult to engage in bible-study.
- You looked forward to getting to know non-students; yet you now find that you don’t really know anyone very well and it is taking ages to get to know people at a different age and stage to you.
Lacking in time and energy:
- You used to have plenty of time to go to lots of meetings/events; now work/life is so busy you can’t manage to get to things/feel pressured to go/guilty if you don’t/too tired to engage if you do/resentful and longing for things to finish so you can get to bed
Great article by Steve Cornell. Does not say everything that would need to be said in such a situation but is a very helpful starting point.
(HT: Tony Lane)
Words then and now on the indescribable mystery of God made man.
Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother’s breast.
He is both great in the nature of God,
and small in the form of a servant.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD)
We have a 5 year old son who attends our church twice on a Sunday. In the mornings we spend the first 15 minutes together in the service before he heads next door for Kidz Sunday School but he also attends each evening service where he sits through the full 80-90 minutes. He’s not the only child there and as a church we are slowly developing a culture in which our children feel welcome and included in the evening service so that families can worship together.
Here are a couple of quite excellent posts by Jen Wilkin on why worship together as families and then how to make it work.
She writes of the excellent children’s work at her church;
We see it as a rich and relevant worship environment for a child, as a vibrant supplement for “big church”. But not as a substitute for it.
She also recognises that things are far from simple when you bring your kids to big church;
Together hasn’t always been easy. I recall long worship services with four elementary-aged children scribbling with crayons, begging for gum, and contorting themselves like miniature yogis in the pew. Just remembering it makes my eye twitch. But over time, with clear participation expectations, creative activities and the right cocktail of punishments and rewards our kids have grown to see “big church” not as a place they tolerate but as a place they belong.
But she is full of practical wisdom too on how to help your child sit through the service and participate in the service. Her tips on debriefing after the service are terrific too;
After attending Big Church together, remember to talk to your child about how it went and what could go differently next week.
In our service on Sunday evening I preached on Exodus chapter 4-5 and we wrestled with the issue of who was responsible for the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. I asked the congregation mid-way through the service ’so who was it; Pharaoh or God?’ A five year old shouted out ‘God’ loud enough for the whole church to hear as she continued to colour her picture next to her father. That was quite possibly the highlight of our evening.
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