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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

7 False Teachers in the Church Today

I take the unusual step of directing my readers  to a faithful blogger, Tim Challies, and his latest blog - well worth a read.

7 False Teachers

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Mission to Nuremberg - Christ died for the Ungodly

How the West treated its worst Criminals
In the aftermath of the second world war some western leaders - including Winston Churchill - called for summary justice. They wanted the Nazi leaders to be merely recognised by those they had tortured/imprisoned and then shot, all within 6 hours. In other words don't listen to evidence, don't hear both sides, no fair trial, presume they are guilty, at least by association, and then punish them with death.

Had this method of (in)justice taken place at least three men who were acquitted (out of the 21) would have been served great injustice (von Papen, Fritzsche & Schacht) and six other men who received varying prison sentences would have also suffered injustice.

Listening to both sides
Fortunately, the western tradition of a fair trial prevailed. Evidence was heard. Both sides were able to speak and argue their case.

True justice, of course,  proved to be very costly, financially. Around 160 British staff and over 1000 American staff manned the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg.
Palace of Justice Nuremberg

This fair treatment of the accused is the direct fruit of Christianity where both the just nature of God and the infinite value of a human soul contribute to a justice system where the accused is not summarily condemned without hearing the other side of the story, but the accused is given opportunity to defend himself fully, and both sides of the case are heard - no matter what the accusation. 

Another way care for the accused was shown - even towards Nazis - was that they were given pastoral oversight.  Since 15 of the 21 men identified themselves as protestant, a Lutheran Pastor, well-accustomed to caring for prisoners, was assigned to them.

Henry Gerecke - the pastor who loved lost men
When Henry Gerecke, an American chaplain who knew the German language, was asked to take on this role he agonised over it, but remembering that in the Gospel, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6) - which includes all of us - he accepted the task.

His "flock" now included some of the most notorious killers of all time. Men like Goering and Ribbentrop and Speer.

The 21 men on trial at Nuremberg
Little by little he encouraged them to come to a weekly service he held every Sunday and before long 13 of the 15 men in his charge (the remaining 6 were Roman Catholic) were coming every week.

What is more, in the year he was given to care for their souls, Gerecke saw changes in some of these men before their sentences were meted out (most were to die by hanging). By the end of the whole ordeal, Gerecke was convinced that at least 4 of the 15 men in his care had become true believers: Speer, Fritsche, Sauckel and Schirach.

Gerecke's work was not liked by some who called him all sorts of names. But he believed in an amazing Gospel which teaches that "Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6).

The story is well worth reading and is a tribute to the amazing grace of God, which teaches that no-one is outside the grace of God, no-one beyond grace.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Reformation Gave Birth to Science

Before the Reformation
There are all sorts of reasons why science was born in the West in the 1600s - and most of them are connected to Christianity. Peter Harrison explores one important reason in his book, The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of Natural Science. 

Before the rise of modern science, Aristotle - Greek science - reigned. (In fact if you criticised Mr Aristotle in a British university all the way til around 1650 you'd get your knuckles wrapped!)

The Greek view of nature was related to the Greek view of books, of texts. Embarrassed by their myths and heroes they decided to explain them away by allegorising the texts: those terrible heroes weren't real and their stories weren't real, they only referred to something or someone else.

In a similar way, nature, they said, points away from itself. Nature is symbolic. So the two lights in the sky are really symbols for our two eyes, and so on.

Therefore, don't pay too much attention to the natural objects themselves, just work out what they refer to.

Biblical literalism and the Reformation
Along came the reformers! They taught that the literal sense was the real and most important sense of the Bible. Away with the four-fold interpretations of Scripture they said. Tragically many of the church fathers had bought into the Greek method of interpretation so the reformers had to wave good be to a good deal of them also!

The result of this new attitude towards the Bible was that it flowed over into the West's new attitude towards nature. Nature was not there merely to act as a reference to other qualities or objects, it was there to be studied for its own value. Now lots of attention was given to nature.

And hence a new attitude towards nature emerged form the reformation's new attitude towards the Bible and produced the soil in which science could flourish.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Joy of a Forgiving Heart

The Peril of an Unforgiving Heart
Let's start with the opposite. According to Scripture, it is possible to possess a "bitter root" - a heart in which bitterness of some kind or another has taken hold.

Just as a plant's roots take hold in soil - bindweed, the gardeners curse, for example - so some past bitterness can infect the human heart - and be the cause of much trouble..........

"See to it that no-one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Hebrews 12:15)

That bitterness may be against God - perhaps we feel he let us down in the past - or it may be against some human being. Whichever, this root has never been dealt with, never purged, never dug up and cast into the fire, this offense never forgiven.

And the result is that it causes trouble and spreads to many other people, "defiles many."

An unforgiving heart not only affects the person, but spreads its defilement wherever it goes. By gossip or slander against God or man, the embittered soul pours out their sour story of woe to all who will listen.

What is the cure to an embittered heart? 

The cure to a bitter heart
The Scriptures provide us with many resources to help us cultivate a forgiving heart. In the first place, we must tell God that we forgive those (which may include God!) who we feel have sinned against us in our daily prayers (Matthew 6).

Secondly, we must realise the mountain of our own sin, and how the Lord has forgiven us billions and by contrast contemplate the pennies others have sinned against us by comparison and extend forgiveness for those tiny sins (Matthew 18).

Thirdly, we decide to leave all revenge to God, and free ourselves from the awful burden of being the Judge (Romans 12).

Fourthly, we remember that one of the very properties of divine love is that "it keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13). God himself has put away our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103) - an astounding feat for Holy Omniscience.

The Joy of a Forgiving Heart
Nothing pollutes a heart more than unforgiveness - in essence it is the polar opposite to the Gospel. And few things bring joy to a heart more than forgiveness and forgiving-ness.

Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.
(Romans 4:8)

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Uncontrollable Mystery on the Bestial Floor

William Yeats
The poet William Yeats wrote a strange enigmatic and unusual short poem called "The Magi" which ends with this well-known line, "The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor." He was referring to the incarnation - the uncontrollable mystery -  the baby who was born among the beasts in a humble stable. I am not sure what Yeats meant by "uncontrollable" and the word "unfathomable" would be better.

With the glitz of Christmas over, it may be time to ponder this remarkable mystery - God made flesh.

The greatest miracle?
Of all God's many acts of power and wonder, the Incarnation must rank as the first. When it comes to mysteries, the Trinity comes first - the union in One of three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the Trinity was Something that always was, whereas the Incarnation was an act of God whereby the Son of God took on human flesh at one point in time and space - surely the greatest of all God's many mighty acts of power.

Let's ponder this miracle and worship......

The Son of God became a real man
The Son of God did not become a "sort of human being", he became a true human being like you and me. While his father was not Joseph, his true mother was Mary. The power of God overshadowed Mary and the Holy Spirit performed a miracle in her womb, but Jesus Christ was a true man, who came, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:3, in "the likeness of sinful man." That is, Jesus was as close to us as it was possible to be  but without sin.

As a man Jesus could get tired, become ill, injure himself and be tempted as we are but always without sin.

The Son of God continued to be God
Although at the point of his conception the Son of God became a true man, yet he continued to be God. The angel Gabriel made it clear that the one to be born would be called the Son of God - his divine title.

The Son of God was One Person with Two Natures
And so this is where the mystery runs deepest. In One Person, the Son of God combined two natures. He was at one and the same time, true man and true God. These natures did not mix so that a third nature arose, but were combined in One Person, with One Will and One I, forever! Who can ever begin to understand such a thing? How can Someone be both all-knowing and limited in knowledge? How can Someone be both limited to one point in space and time in his human nature and yet be omnipresent in his divine nature?

All kinds of errors have arisen over time in regard to this point of doctrine. Some have said that Jesus was only part God and part man. Some have said he became a new nature - a mix of human and divine. Some have said he wasn't really man or that he wasn't really divine. But Scripture - and orthodox tradition going back to Chalcedon - teach that Jesus Christ was both true God and true Man in one Person.

"He became what he was not (a man) and continued to be what he always was (God)."

The only thing that changed when the Son of God took on human flesh is that he laid aside the trappings of his divine majesty and humbled himself. Once risen and ascended into heaven he regained the glory he once had with his Father.

The Reasons for the Incarnation
The Son of God took on human flesh to save us. To pay for the sins of men he had to become a man, but to pay for all of our sins, he had to be God. To become the mediator between God and man, he had to be a man to represent us and he had to be God to represent Himself. All for love's sake he became man! What a wonder and what love!

The Son of God took on human flesh so that God could understand our plight. God knows from the inside what pain, sorrow, bereavement and loss are all about because in heaven, at this very moment, stands a true human being, who is our advocate. The claim, "God does not understand my situation" is now and forevermore a lie!

The Son of God became a man to set an example of self-giving for the sake of others. That is the meaning of the beautiful poem in Philippians chapter 2. Paul introduces the highest doctrine imaginable to sort out the most mundane problem  - Christians seeking their own will. What did Jesus do? He gave up what he wanted for the sake of others.

When we pray, let us remember that in heaven there is a man who understands our lot as men and women living in a broken world. He understands all the trials and temptations of this passing world, yet without sin.

Meekness and majesty,
Manhood and Deity,
In perfect harmony,
The Man who is God.
Lord of eternity
Dwells in humanity,
Kneels in humility
And washes our feet.

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Christmas Letter with a Difference

It's that time again....
Every year at this time I dread the Christmas family letters - most especially, strange as it may seem, the ones from Christian friends.


For one thing, as a general rule, Christian annual letters gloss over all the difficult stuff in the last year and like Facebook, portray the past year as one long season of bliss.

(It's why so many people who live off social media are depressed. They read about the lives of their friends who have air-brushed out the ordinary disappointments of life and they become unhappy by the contrast with their own troublesome lives.)

Another reason I despair of those annual letters - and this is the most tragic reason - is this: they are generally full of earthly achievements and devoid of any spiritual ones.

Parents boast about their kids like yea:

   "John passed Grade 7 Oboe"

   "Susan got a new job as a manager"

   "Fred graduated with a 2:1 degree in XYZ"

When these earthly achievements are mentioned without any reference to the child's spiritual condition or spiritual growth we must be truly saddened.

Should not a Christian parent write something more like this?

   "My middle son has grown in grace this past year and is serving Christ in his local church with the gifts the Lord has given to him."

  "My third daughter gave us great joy in 2017 by being baptised in the spring, giving witness to the faith she has in the Lord Jesus."

   "Please pray for my youngest son who remains backslidden."

Someone needs to say OUTLOUD that what grade John has achieved in Oboe, what high-faluten job Susan may have found, what degree Fred graduated with - all of these are totally and utterly insignificant compared with the spiritual condition of the child.

In the world to come these worldly "achievements" won't matter one single half hoot and will be completely unknown.

So I dread reading the Christmas letters, and rarely do I come away from that annual sitting without a sense of profound sadness at our upside down priorities.

A Christmas Letter with a Difference
This year, however, we received one Christmas letter which cheered our hearts. Here's what one member of this family said:

"This year will go down in my books as a year of the Lord drawing near to me. Through some special times of prayer and worship, I have felt God increasing my faith and courage to serve him in some challenging situations. I am discovering anew that the real Blessing in life is More of Jesus."

This believer was honest about "challenging situations" in life. And this believer made their personal contribution to the letter all about knowing God better.

What we speak - and what we write therefore - reveals the true state of our hearts, and our true priorities for both ourselves and our families.

What really matters to you, to me, to us? Temporary, passing matters, or spiritual and eternal ones?

This unusual Christmas Circular Letter ended with the following Bible verse:

"I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good thing apart form you.'" (Psalm 16:2) 

Friday, 15 December 2017

What shall we make of Christmas?

Every year I - an evangelical Bible-believing Christian - struggle to know what to make of Christmas, what to do with Christmas, why I should bother about Christmas. I know that this sounds so unsentimental especially since there are some genuinely good aspects to this season of the year.

OPTION 1: Opt Out Completely?
I have a good Christian friend who has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas. He sends no cards and gives no presents. On Christmas day he stays at home on his own. His reasoning is two-fold: that Christmas is nowhere commanded in Scripture and secondly he does not wish to be associated with the excesses of  "Christmas" as it is celebrated in the world.

We must say that this is a valid Christian option and no-one can or should judge a believer who deliberately opts out of Christmas. It's not only the heretical JWs who opt out of Christmas, true and genuine believers can also - with a clear conscience - give Christmas a miss.

(I have yet another Christian friend who opts out of Christmas because he has no earthly family and since in the media Christmas hype is all about "great family times" he feels he can have nothing to do with it).

The problem with opting out completely is that it can be read wrong by our non-Christian friends.

OPTION 2: Act just like the World?
The second option is to "do Christmas" like the world does. Christmas means different things to different people in the world, but there are two widespread attitudes that pervade our culture's approach: Christmas is an opportunity for excess (in every area of life) and Christmas is the time to spend / waste great sums of money. Yes, mixed in with these two attitudes are better elements, such as spending time with family, giving to charities and attending the annual  Carol Service, but those ingredients don't sweeten secular Christmas enough to warrant this as a Christian option. 

OPTION 3: A Sober Annual Assessment
The third option is a sober assessment of Christmas in the light of Scripture and conscience year by year. Here are some questions that may help us on our way...

Do we really need to spend/waste so much money on presents?
Do we need to buy and eat so much food?
How does self-control, one of the fruits of the Spirit, shape our attitude to Christmas?
How can we spend time blessing the lonely?
How can we bless family members who are not believers?
How can we use the time evangelistically?
How can we use the time to build ourselves up spiritually?
Could we not spend some of the extra time we have knowing Christ better?

There is no single Christian approach to Christmas. Within the church we should expect to find many shades of opinion and none should judge the other:

"Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat and drinking, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon Celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however is found in Christ." (Col 2:16)