This sunday morning I’m preaching on Psalm 137. It’s my own fault because I chose to do so. The reason I’m a little bit concerned is because this Psalm is a psalm full of the spirit of vengeance. It’s a hymn of praise that celebrates the thought that God will destroy his enemies;
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us –
he who seizes your infants and dashes then against the rocks.
It’s not called the ‘baby-bashing’ Psalm for nothing! So I’d appreciate your prayers as I prepare.
In my preparations I came across this blog post by Kevin deYoung Is it Okay for Christians to Believe in the Doctrine of Hell But Not Like It? It asks and answers some of the concerns I’ll be covering this Sunday.
The sentence that stood out to me became the title for this post; It’s never safe to dislike the truths God has revealed.
The more I think about that the wiser it seems to be! Why? Because deYoung is hihglighting that to accept God’s word whilst disliking it is still to say ‘I wish God were other than he is’. It is to prefer a God of our own making to the God of the Bible.
It forces us to consider the real issue which is ‘who should change?’ when we come against something in the Bible we don’t like (even if as evangelical Christians we are willing to accept it).
The natural inclination of my sinful heart is to make God in my image. God’s plan and purpose is to remake me in his image. Every sermon is an opportunity therefore to demonstrate our willingness to change not just in our thinking but in the affections of our hearts as we discover why it is good not only to agree with what God says but to learn to love what God loves, to be grieved by what grieves God and to glory in what God glories in.
For the many of us who live with the reality that most of our family are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ it can be an emotional as well as an intellectual challenge to our faith and our lives.
Here are four practical tips adapted from a new book on witnessing to family Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
1. Recognise that there is something uniquely difficult about witnessing to those closest to us.
When it comes to family the relationship dynamic makes for a challenge. Maybe it’s their familiarity with our faith that means they stopped asking questions years ago that makes it hard. Alternatively it’s that they see our many failings because they see us up close that leads them to question the reality of our faith. Whatever the issue it makes it tough!
2. Find grace to move from fear to boldness
One of the things that stops us speaking for Christ is an underlying fear of a negative reaction of our family. At times it takes courage to speak for Christ and to stand for him.
We need to be clear about our faith and bold in our stand. But the secret is not ‘to muster up courage. That’s what many people try – with little or no success. Instead soak in grace.’ Newman reminds us that fear of our family and their judgment of us can only be overcome with a greater desire to live in the light of God’s judgment of us, his covenant love for us in Christ.
3. Deny the guilt.
There is a guilt which is decidedly not from God and yet many Christians live with a great sense of underlying guilt that those closest to them don’t believe. Despite faithful witness, love and prayer Christians are still tempted to think they have failed.
The appropriate emotion to feel in such circumstances is not guilt but sadness. Just as Jesus wept for unbelieving Israel so too we are right to feel pain but we are wrong to feel guilt.
4. Accept that truth divides.
However painful it may be, Jesus warned that his message would divide even family members.
We need to anticipate that our faith brings new loyalties, new priorities and new desires that may lead to a distancing of what was otherwise a close relationship. In some cultures truth divides even to the extent of being disowned by unbelieving family.
The temptation in the face of losing a relationship with those closest to us is to compromise. We need to anticipate that danger, seek God’s grace and the love and support of our church community to help us remain strong in the truth in a difficult situation.
In a later blog I’ll be bringing another 4 ideas to help dealing with issues of love, humility, time and eternity.
Barnabas Fund encourage us to pray for the Christians of Sudan as the South of the country after gaining its independence today.
Sharia is in force in the mainly Muslim North, and the president has threatened to change the constitution to make Islam the country’s only religion, sharia its only law and Arabic its only official language. Pray that the Lord will protect His people in the North from even more severe repression.
Pray too for the Christian majority in the South, that independence will bring them lasting peace and the opportunity to rebuild their land, which was shattered by decades of civil war. Pray for unity among the churches there.
Mike McKinley, author of Am I really a Christian? gives 4 great reasons why we would want to meet with God’s people week by week and all in just over 2 minutes.
Did you spot them all?
1) As Christians we have a new status. We have a new Heavenly Father and so we are also members of a new family. Our new status implies new relationships with other Christians. 1 John 3:16-18
2) It’s a natural impulse for Spirit-filled Christains to want to meet with God’s people. To learn from God, to praise God, to pray with others and to express love for one another as an expression of our love for God. See Acts 2: 44-47, Heb.10:23-25
3) God has designed the Christian life to be lived in community. He has given me gifts for the benefit of others. They are given that I might love and serve other Christians. 1 Cor.12:7ff.
4) Church is the place where I can experience the gifts given to other people for me. 1 Cor. 12:7ff
Prof. H. Allen Orr is an evolutionary geneticist. He is University Professor and Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester. He was one of only thirteen winners (alongside Stephen Jay Gould and John Maynard Smith) of the Darwin-Wallace medal presented every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London for “major advances in evolutionary biology“. He’s also an agnostic.
Surely he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want reviewing your book if your name was Ricahrd Dawkins. Wrong. Writing in The New York Review of Books Orr is scathing about Richard Dawkins;
The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labelled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur…his book makes a far from convincing case. The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkin’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way…One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it.
The criticism [of The God Delusion] is not primarily, it should be pointed out, from the pious, which would hardly be noteworthy, but from avowed atheists as well as scientists and philosophers writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, not known as cells in the cast God-fearing conspiracy.
On the back of Dawkins book it reads ‘The God Delusion – timely, impassioned and brilliantly argued‘. It would appear that a growing list of philosophers and scientists who share his skepticism when it comes to religion are not persuaded, they’re just a little embarrassed.
A recent poll invited people to suggest their perfect job. The results probably won’t surprise anyone. In reverse order they were as follows;
5. Interior designer
4. Scuba diver
3. Ski Instructor
2. A hotel proprietor in a far off place
1. A bar owner in a far off place
Where on the list do you imagine caring for needy relatives would come?
In an excellent book If its not too much trouble: The Challenge of the Aged Parent Ann Benton offers a Christian perspective on caring for an elderly relative.
Just maybe she argues this is the perfect job for a Christian because it is in such a life of giving that we find ourselves most likely to imitate Christ. It is a huge challenge to offer full-on care for someone in need whether new-born baby or elderly relative. As Christians very few jobs call for such an understanding of what it means to work in God’s strength allowing God’s gospel to transform our thinking and empower our living. But perhaps the greatest challenge provides for the greatest opportunities.
In chapter 2 of the book Benton presents six gospel mindsets that can help us be better carers. They help us serve precisely because they each remind us of how God has served us in the Lord Jesus Christ. We can care because the God who has cared for us is at work transforming us into his likeness.
Whilst Ann Benton is focusing on caring for elderly relatives in the chapter each of the applications seem to work well when it comes to caring for babies and young children too.
1. Money cannot buy it
How easy it is for us to only value the things we can put a price on. We quickly translate the words ‘what is my work worth’ into ‘how much will you pay me?’ Caring for those we love offers no financial reward and thus robs many of any incentive. But for the Christian it presents a perfect opportunity to learn;
the principle of self-interest does not have to rule our lives…the lives of all of us are enriched by something which will not appear on any bank statement.
And so it is with the gospel. We have been freely served by our God.
Come, all you who are thirst come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! – Isaiah 55:1-3
Money cannot buy peace with God, forgiveness of sins, entry to heaven or everlasting life but God freely offers these things. He so loved the world.
2. It cannot be reciprocated
How much of life is an ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine’ relationship. We feel an obligation to return the favour when others have been generous to us. We are disappointed when we have given much and feel taken for granted.
No wonder it is hard to keep on giving when caring for a needy person who cannot give back in return.
But the gospel of Jesus Christi is a non-reciprocal arrangement. We do nothing, Jesus has done everything; he gives, we receive.
When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:14
3. It is lowly work
It is lowly work to clean and replace dentures, wipe a dribble from a chin, scrub at a stain on the carpet. Especially to those whose hands are more accustomed to tapping at a computer or turning the pages of a book.
Yet no task that we may be called on to perform for the sake of another can possibly compare to that of our Lord and master. If we call ourselves Christians then this perhaps is how we learn that
‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; Who, being in very nature God, Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.’ Phil. 2:6
4. It is hidden work
How many carers work with little or know recognition let alone reward. It can seem so utterly insignificant. How easy for resentment to build and for life to seem a wasted life.
But now the gospel challenges and changes that mindset.
Most of us will not make a name for ourselves; we will not be remembered on earth one generation on. But our secret deeds will have made a difference and our Father will have seen them and smiled.
When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:4
5. It uses our gifts
Benton begins this point with a striking example.
‘I’m a teacher, not a nurse,’ I sometimes muttered to myself as I emptied urine out of a catheter bag.
But there is a much more significant gift which all Christians have received. That gift is the love of God the Father lavished on us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is this gift of love that we are to pass on.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. – 2 Cor. 1:3-4
6. It respects the image of God
In a culture where we discriminate against all sorts of people on the basis of education, ability, age, gender or colour the Christian gospel calls on us to view everyman with every dignity.
The motive for care and concern for elderly people is that each one is made in the image of God. And though time and wear and tear has made some of these folks unattractive or cantankerous, they still are worthy of respect because they remain God’s creation and bear his image.
Thank God I’m a Christian
It’s not that it’s impossible for non-Christians to care for the needy it’s just that we have so many more reasons to care and we have a divine power at work in us resourcing us for the task.
Of all the jobs you could chose would you ever chose the role of a carer. And yet as Benton concludes
What job is more suitable to those who follow the one who died for them?
When the BBC decided it was time to broadcast another attack at the foundations of Christianity in the form of Bible’s buried secrets I wrote a letter to Mr Aaqil Ahmed the Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC. My concern was not that Christianity should enjoy a protected or privileged status beyond contradiction but rather that Christianity should not be singled out for such critique when other religions, at their foundation, are free from critique. I received a reply from someone at BBC Audience Services which was far from satisfactory. Here is my second letter to Mr. Ahmed.
Dear Mr Ahmed
I am sorry that you were not able to reply personally to my letter sent regarding the concerns of many over the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ broadcast on BBC2 earlier this year. Having now received a reply from a Mr Roberts of the BBC Audience Services it is important that I write again in light of the errors contained within his letter.
The programme ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ was a deliberate attempt to challenge the credibility of the Christian holy book and sacred text. As the review in the Daily Telegraph highlighted;
The programme’s findings, said Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, would “rock the foundation” of Christianity and Judaism. She must have been very keen to press home this point, because she used the phrase again and again, although, perhaps worried we were tiring of it, she did once switch to “undermine the basis”
Michael Deacon goes on;
If you hadn’t already guessed from its subtitle, “Did God Have a Wife?”, you could tell this programme was trying hard to shock the moment you heard the music its producers had chosen to play in the background.
I very much want to make clear that I believe that programmes that question the origins and basis of religious traditions have a place in public broadcasting. I am in no way seeking a privileged place for religious belief and am certainly not seeking to exempt Christianity from critique on the grounds of personal offence. That the series was frustrating in both the manner in which the claims were sensationalised and perhaps more importantly in the way the views of a few on the fringe of academia were singled out for such a high profile is something perhaps I simply have to accept. Sensationalist claims boost viewing figures after all.
My original complaint, as Mr Roberts summarises accurately, is ‘that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity, and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religious beliefs’.
Given that he clearly understands my concerns it is Mr Roberts’ defence of the BBC’s position that cause great concern and warrants the need for a second letter. As a public service broadcaster the BBC must not only value, but be seen to value equality and fairness in its broadcasting and Christians ask for nothing more and nothing less. All we seek is a level playing field when it comes to world religions. Mr Roberts offers little if no assurance that the BBC is seeking to provide this.
He makes three responses to my letter.
Firstly he writes, ‘The BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christianity across TV and radio’. I’m sure it does and that is not at all at issue so let us move on.
Secondly, he argues ‘It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam’. Again this is not in dispute and not a matter I raise in my letter. That the BBC has made programmes critical of radical interpretations of the Quran is neither here nor there.
The key issue, and my chief complaint, does receive the briefest of answers in Mr Roberts’ third point and it is here that the bias at the BBC seems to surface again.
In response to my complaint ‘why does the BBC attack the foundations of Christianity in programmes that rubbish the Bible in a way that it would never do to Islam in programmes that question the very authenticity of the Qur’an’ his reply makes a strange defence.
He argues that Channel 4 have already made that programme! It’s strange because firstly it’s not true and secondly it’s strange because Channel 4 is not the BBC!
In my earlier correspondence I pointed out various academic studies that if given the same sensationalising treatment as the ‘Bible’s buried secrets’ received would also ‘rock the foundation’ of Islam. Mr Roberts’ seems to think that these studies were reflected in a Channel 4 programme which he says ‘question(s) the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an’.
As Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming at Channel 4 when this programme was made no doubt you share my concerns that Mr Roberts should have made, no doubt mistakenly, misleading claims as to the nature and content of the programme.
The Channel 4 documentary, entitled The Quran and broadcast in July 2008, categorically does not do what your correspondent maintains it does. It emphatically does not address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an. As you know its concern was to focus on the issues surrounding the diverse interpretations of the book not the book itself. At no point did the programme criticise the Qur’an or mention any academic work that suggests the Qur’an is based on pre-Islamic texts. In other words, the programme at no point suggests in any way at all that the Qur’an might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ does of the Bible.
So when Mr Roberts wrote in reply to my letter ‘This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present’ he is either ignorant of the Channel 4 programme or ignorant of the academic work or both.
The reality is, as I’m sure the forthcoming BBC series on the life of the prophet Mohammed will demonstrate, that Islam enjoys a privileged status at the BBC in being protected from criticism at its foundation. The BBC has never broadcast a programme questioning the behaviour of the prophet Mohammed nor critiquing the origins of the Qur’an. No such privilege is given to Christianity. In fact it’s quite the reverse. The corporation is quite ready to spend licence payers money on mocking and ridiculing Christianity, whether in light entertainment programmes such as Vicar of Dibley, and it’s indefensible airing of Jerry Springer the Opera or in sensationalist programmes undermining the credibility of the Bible but there is no level playing field and I suspect we all know why.
Should the BBC be free to mock Christianity? Yes. Should the BBC provoke our thinking and challenge our assumptions? In the name of education, absolutely. But should it single out Christianity for attack whilst protecting Islam? This is the big question and on this matter I look forward to receiving your answer.
God cannot be happy until you are with him in heaven – why we ignore the doctrine of election at our peril
Wherever we find the doctrine of election in the Bible we find worship. For men and women of the Scriptures election is a doctrine not for debate or disagreement, nor even awkward embarrassment but profound and heartfelt gratitude.
Because in it we find a great assurance and a certain hope that the God who has of his own freewill set his love upon us cannot be happy until we are with him.
God always gets what he wants and what he wants are his people to share his glory, every last one of them. Whilst our troubles may threaten to overwhelm us and whilst we find the future to be so uncertain and unsure we know that He cannot be happy until all those who know and love him are with him forever.
Jim Packer in Knowing God writes.
If a father continues cheerful and carefree while his son is getting into trouble, we wonder at once how much love there can be in their relationship, for we know that those who truly love are happy only when those whom they love are truly happy also. So it is with God in his love for us. God’s happiness is not complete till all his beloved ones are finally out of trouble – in William Cowper’s words,
Till all the ransomed church of God, Be saved to sin no more
God has set his love on particular sinners, and he will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till he has brought every one of them to heaven. Thus God saves not only for his glory but also for his gladness. The thought passes understanding and almost beggars belief, but there is no doubt that, according to Scripture, such is the love of God.
The Lord you God is with you, He will rejoice over you with singing – Zephaniah 3:17
Let us learn to rejoice in the sovereign love of a God who chose us in Christ, before the world began, all for His glory.
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