Monday, 6 January 2020

The Complete Rule of Faith

The Knowledge of God in Christ
Escape from Corruption by Grace
Adding Virtue to Faith
Trusting the Word

People can struggle, especially in the current church climate, with the question of what does being a Christian look like. So many claims and counterclaims are made on our lives it can be daunting trying to simply walk in faithfulness. Two areas in particular are problematic for people, Bible reading and prayer. I will have something practical to say about that, but first I want to build on the question I addressed in my last post; where do you stand in the daily battle of faith? (Eph.6:13)

Of especial concern throughout the New Testament is the threat of error from within the church. Paul, in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, warns of false prophets who will arise ‘from your own number,’ (Acts 20:30); He warns the church in Corinth not to be taken in by ‘false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ,’ (2 Cor.11:13)

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes of some who will ‘abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons’ (1 Tim.4:1) Jude solemnly warns of ‘certain men…who have secretly slipped in among you…godless men…’ (Jude 4) Jesus himself warns, ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ (Mt.7:15)

Peter’s second letter warns of false teachers and evildoers within the body of Christ: ‘But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…’ (2 Pet.2:1) Perhaps you agree with the many who say the greatest threat the church faces today, as then, comes from among our own number. We need hope, a solid foundation on which to stand.

The Knowledge of God

Peter prays in his opening greetings, ‘May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.’ (2 Pet.1:2) He goes on to write:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…’ All we need to stand is granted to us in the knowledge of Christ, who has come so ‘whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (Jn.3:16) Peter gives us three things necessary to life and godliness, three things to hold on to.

Escaping Corruption

It is in God’s power that we are saved from this world’s corruption (vv3/4) Paul makes it clear in his Ephesian letter that sin kills us, ‘you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you once walked,’ but grace saves us, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ (Eph.2:1, 8/9) This is the only way to gain the true knowledge of Christ and the power of God.

As Paul writes to the Galatian Church, ‘But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed’ (Gal.1:8) This applies to our pulpits, small groups, and teaching programmes every bit as much as it does to the cults. We need to apply there, as anywhere, Jude’s counsel, ‘to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3)

Gaining Godly Qualities

Having established the foundation of saving grace, ‘having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires’ (1 Pet.1:4) Peter goes on to describe how we build the Godly life:

'make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective, or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1:5-8)

What is striking in Peter’s letter here is his determination to keep teaching these same things, knowing repetition builds us up, while continual novelty, surely, confuses and misleads us:

‘Therefore, I intend always to remind you of these qualities though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in the body, to stir you up by way of reminder…’ (12/13)

Trusting the Word

Finally, Peter goes to lengths to ensure we understand that the truth about Christ, our knowledge of him, is anchored in the sure word, the prophetic word of Scripture. He assures us his testimony is not based on myths and fables but on eyewitness reports:

‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made know to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (16)

Nevertheless, he goes on, ’we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which we would do well to pay attention as to a lamp in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…’ (19)

Most significant to our present concerns is Peter’s ranking Scripture over experience, even his own on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is Scripture that Christ fulfils, Scripture that brings us God’s ‘precious and very great promises,’ and Scripture ‘to which you would do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…’
Bible Reading and Prayer
Have you broken any New Year's resolutions yet? I don't make them myself, I don't like them. They tend to be resolutions of the 'from now on' kind and, making them, we set ourselves up for failure and its attendant guilt. If they are not that for you then bless you, but I don't make them.

My wife and I, however, have been concerned for some time about these issues we are discussing. We decided on a course of action that sees us paying attention to the Scripture 'as to a lamp shining in a dark place.' You must find your own way, of course, but I encourage you to do it. Every day we read together a chapter of the Bible; we started with Acts.

Once a week we spend an hour or so of an evening looking at something from our own reading that has struck one of us as encouraging, or challenging. Several things happened as a consequence of this simple exercise:
  • We spent more time together because we spent more time together in the Word.
  • We found we were rediscovering truths we hadn't thought about for awhile, rather like meeting old friends we hadn't seen for some time.
  • We discovered new insights we hadn't considered before, rather like making new friends that made us richer in their company.
  • We found ourselves better equipped to discern truth from error, to identify and avoid false teachers.
  • We decided initially to pray only thank you prayers. This focussed our minds on what we had just read, reinforcing it in our hearts.
  • We had something to pray about beyond the usual shopping list prayers so common among Evangelical believers.
  • Our daily walk became less about me and my needs, more about Him and his calling on my life.
I pray you find sufficiency in Spirit-led Bible reading, for the Bible is alive, it reads our hearts, lightens our way, and leads our feet in the way of Godliness. It gives us all we need for a complete rule of faith. I pray you find much to be prayerfully thankful for in the time ahead, as your attention to the Word 'as to a lamp in a dark place' brings to you anew the grace, power, and precious and very great promises of God in Christ.






















Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Called, Beloved, and Kept

I have found myself coming back time and again to Jude. It is a short letter, just 25 verses, yet it is packed with both faith strengthening encouragement and serious and timely warnings. Contending for the faith, an unpopular idea today, is practically defined by Jude 3, echoing Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim.4:7.

There are parallels with Peter’s warnings of false prophets, false teachers, and destructive heresies (2 Pet.2) and we are reminded of Jesus’ own instruction to his disciples, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter but will not be able.’ (Lk.13:24)

A pity it is, to be sure, that we live in an age when the church seeks conciliation, co-operation, and common cause with the world rather than being prepared to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude 3) I do wonder what some have for a foundation.

Paul, in his famous passage about the armour of God, writes:

‘Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.’ (Eph.6:10-13)

Jesus tells the parable of the man who built his house on a rock, ‘and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.’ (Mt.7:24-27)

As Jude warns so he seeks to reassure his readers who prove to be faithful and genuine followers of Jesus, who have built on a rock, who know to stand firm. These are people who, having done all, are called on to stand, and Jude wants to remind them of the trust they can have in Jesus. So he addresses himself,


‘To Those Who are Called…’


No one simply wanders into being a Christian. It is a cardinal error to think of Christianity as a lifestyle choice, a mere custom defined by where you were born, a social behaviour. Christians are ‘called’ by God to be Christians. Paul writes to, ‘those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.’ (Ro.1:6) To Corinth he writes of, ‘those who are called, both Jew and Greek…’ and charges them, ‘consider your calling, brothers.’ (1 Cor.1:24-26) In Hebrews we read of, ‘holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling…’ (Heb.3:1)

This has been the pattern with God’s people. God, through Isaiah declares, ‘I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you,’ and goes on to explain the purpose of the calling, ‘I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light to the nations.’ (Is.42:6)

Christians stand in a noble line of succession with all who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to actively serve his purposes. Fom Abraham, through Moses and the Old Testament people of God, on through the apostles and the church to the end, when the promised inheritance of glory in Christ becomes ours, Christians are a called out people.

‘Beloved in God the Father’


We often hear of God’s love. Scripture tells us, ‘God is love,’ and John gives a wonderful treatment of God’s love in 1 John 4:7-21. God, we know, loves us but Jude here goes further in writing, ‘beloved in God the Father.’ I am reminded of Ephesians 1, that wonderful passage describing how we are blessed by God, ‘who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…’ (Eph.1:3)

I encourage people to read that chapter and carefully count how many times the thought ‘in Christ’ or some expression of it appears. It is an astonishing passage, full of encouragement, Finally, the full purposes of God, the mystery of his will, is revealed as being, ‘to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.’ (Eph.1:10)


'Kept for Jesus Christ'


In the first of Peter’s letters that we have Peter writes of God’s great mercy that has, ‘caused us to be born again to a living hope…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.’ (1 Pet.1:3-5) But Peter, like Jude, is a pragmatist and recognises the various trials through which the saints must go before that inheritance is fuily theirs (vv 6-7)

So Jude shasres an urgent concern for the saints as we walk through trials that test our faith. Jude, like Peter, recognises the immanent threat to the church from false teachers, the theme of his letter. In the Bible Speaks Today commentary on Jude, the situation is described like this:

‘In particular, Jude wants us to know that when we see churches flooded with wrong teaching about God, and leaders making money out of peddling quack religion, Christ will keeep a firm hold on his people.’ (BST, Jude, p.169)

Thomas Manton famously put it like this:

‘Jesus Christ is the cabinet in which God’s jewels are kept; so that if we would stand, we must get out of ourselves and get into him, in whom alone there is safety.’  (Quoted in BST on Jude, p.169)

‘Called, Beloved in God the Father and Kept for Jesus Christ’


As we approach the work of faithful witnessing we must be sure of our own security. Before we challenge those false prophets, false teachers, and destructive heresies Peter writes about, Jude goes on to warn about, we must be sure we are able to stand in the battle in the full armour of God.

Whatever the storm that rages around us, we must know ourselves called, beloved in God the Father, kept for Jesus Christ. As though to emphasise further his confidence in God’s promises, Jude goes on to puncuate the end of his letter with the familiar doxology:

‘Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.’

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Anatamoy of a Cult

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Jesus' attitude to the lost is summed up perfectly in John 3:17, a verse perhaps not as familiar as the one preceding it: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.” (NASB)

In any and every aspect of the Christian life it has become commonplace to ask, “What would Jesus do?” But how does this text work out and what would Jesus do in relation to the cults? Did Jesus meet and interact with any cults? People usually think of the Pharisees here but, while they certainly did display classic cultic characteristics – such as a strong legalism, judgementalism, controlling leadership, adding to the Law – it is well to remember that the Pharisees were part of the orthodox religion of the day.

We see the same in today's church, where a particular group may be a little legalistic, judgemental and disapproving, may make past tradition into a creed for today and so forth. But this does not disqualify such a group from the wider body of Christ.

Anatomy of a Cult

Jesus met a cult when he met the Samaritans. As we look at the history of the Samaritans we build up a profile of the typical cult, identify the characteristics to look for, and the pitfalls as well as the opportunities in witnessing.

2 Kings 17:21-23 - Here we find the roots of the Samaritan culture and people. These verses are an overview of what happened to Israel after the reign of Solomon. From the death of Solomon Israel was ruled by kings who compromised. The situation is described more fully in 1 Kings 12. Here the kingdom is divided under the rule of Solomon's son, Rehoboam. The northern kingdom is ruled by Jeroboam who, fearing that Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the temple and Jewish festivals might turn back to Rehoboam, built altars and established worship in his own kingdom:

So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."

And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.

Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.

He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.

And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.

He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of- Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:28-33)

Power and Control

Cults, and cultic churches, are not about truth but about power. Like Jeroboam, their concern is controlling and holding onto their constituency. There is usually a power centre, just like Shechem or Bethel in the story of Jeroboam, and a figure who sets up alternative worship, feasts and special days “devised from [their] own hearts.”

They create their own centres of worship

The identify another focus of worship

They establish their own methods of worship.

Some things develop, evolve with time in a church. Mode of dress, language and idiom, types of activities, organisation but there is always a sense of continuity with the past, of tradition. But the cult makes a clean break with the past. What has gone before is invariably swept aside to make way for the new. It is revealing to compare this attitude with that of Jesus who said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Mt.5:17) Going on to give the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reinforces what has gone before.

Ad Hoc Development

2 Kings 17:7-20 - Eventually Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria, a permanent exile.

2 Kings 17:24-41 - We go on to read that Samaria was resettled with foreigners (24), a strategy of the Assyrian king who would exile conquered people's in foreign lands. These were punished by God for not fearing him (25-26) but the king of Assyria had a solution (27-28) and brought back one of the priests exiled from Israel. This, however, was no solution because “Every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. (29) and they ended up with a corrupt mixture of Israelite and foreign gods and abominable practices that were a sin before God.

When exiles returned to rebuild Jerusalem, as recorded in Ezra (4:1-3), these were the people who came down to Jerusalem and offered to help. But they were rejected and so set out to discourage those who had returned (Ezra 4:4).

As with the Samaritans the ideas and practices of a cult are often developed in an ad hoc fashion. Improvised solutions to local problems build up to a confusing collection of contradictory teachings and ideas. Future generations face the challenge of making sense of doctrines and practices that cannot be reconciled because they were never developed with any plan in mind. Like the Samaritans members can end up with their own version of the cult built around some basic central ideas.

The Ezra Strategy

As with the Samaritans at the time of Ezra, cults sometimes attempt to be accepted as part of the orthodox religion. When we reject these overtures we are simply doing what Ezra and the people did in keeping our orthodoxy free of confusing and deceptive ideas that would ultimately hinder the work of God.

By the time of Jesus the Samaritans were a mix of races with a questionable history and questionable and unorthodox practices. They rejected much of the revelation of God, their scriptures were restricted to the five books of Moses and they disputed the true place of worship with the Jews in Jerusalem. They had even built a rival temple on mount Gezirim, about 400BC, which the Jews destroyed in 128BC.

The Samaritans were leftovers from the Northern Jewish kingdom who had intermarried with foreigners after the chiefs and nobles were taken into exile in 722BC” (John Piper)

  • Temple on Mount Gezirim

  • Rejected OT except selections from Moses

  • Mixture of truth and error

This was a cult and we can learn a great deal from Jesus and his encounter with the woman of Samaria.

The Samaritan Woman John 4

4:9-15 Jesus offers “the gift of God...living water” but she can’t see past her immediate circumstances. Her view of the world is circumscribed and limited but Jesus perseveres. In the same way the cult member can't initially see past their own world-view. Don’t give up on people too soon.

4:16-18 Why does Jesus reveal her sin? (John 3:20) We can’t, as Jesus, read people’s hearts but we can and must bring people by way of the Cross and the gospel message is always the same – man has sinned and God calls us to repentance. Romans 7 is helpful here as Paul describes the human plight in Rom.7: 7-25 (esp. Rom.7:19-20)

4:19,20 The universal response to conviction is avoidance, changing the subject, talking a little religion. Jesus patiently uses the opportunity to talk about truth. Where we worship is not as important as how and who we worship. We mustn't be sidetracked by discussion of relatively minor issues.

4:21-24 Jesus points out that Samaritan knowledge of God is deficient and their worship, therefore, deficient, so he deals now with the error (v22) We mustn't be afraid to correct error.

He brings out three things in this conversation:

  • Sin blinds us and we must allow Him to deal with our sin and recognise this problem for others

  • Religion, per se, is no good if we have the wrong God and come to Him the wrong way and we must be prepared to demonstrate the right way

  • As witnesses we must understand why people’s understanding is so deficient and show patience and persevere in our witnessing, using God’s priorities

Where else do we find Samaritans?

We find them in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and of the faith and gratitude of a leper (Luke 17:11-19). You can see why the Pharisees hated Jesus when he compared them unfavourably with Samaritans! Paul writes about those who obey the law for conscience sake (Romans 2:14-15) and people from all sorts of backgrounds can and do work good works. This doesn't mean they don't need saving or correcting; the “Good” Samaritan needed Jesus too. It does mean that we should value them for who they are as we seek to bring them into the good of what God has for all who turn to him in faith and stop trusting in their own good works.

How would you feel if it was the parable of the Good Mormon? Or the thankful JW? Are you grateful for such people in the world even as you seek to evangelise them? Conversely, do you allow their good conduct to blind you to the problems in their faith and does this stop you witnessing? Can you love and value them and share boldly the gospel truth?

Sunday, 11 August 2019

How to Start a Cult


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If I was to start a cult these are the steps I would take:
  1. Reinvention: Every cult leader worth his salt has an image that he/she must work hard to maintain, from the clothes they wear to the way they conduct themselves. Saffron or white robes, smart casual western dress, formal wear, (a white suit is effective, as are robes, turbans, etc.) all will be determined by the image you want to project, but it must be consistent, people must recognise you instantly from your appearance and persona. Maybe this is why so many cult leaders choose to come across as still and contemplative rather than active and energetic.
  2. Novelty: It is important to have a message. The best messages have some novelty, revolve around issues of Revival, Renewal, Restoration, Transformation. It’s good if it is a ‘lost’ message, or something misunderstood until you came along to explain it. You can look really good if you can compare yourself favourably with ‘corrupt Christendom; the confusion of the churches is a puzzle only you can solve. But some tradition must be worked in because it is familiar and a role for Jesus is essential. You may bring new Scripture or, if you don’t want to take the risk of being branded heretic from the off, bring new, fresh commentary to established Scripture. You are going to recapture the best of the past, put it together with your new revelation, and make a better future.
  3. Simplicity: The message must be simplified and presented in sound bites. People laugh at politicians for repeating the party line on news programmes but if you repeat something often enough it becomes the truth. 'Strong and stable government,' 'A new day is dawning,' 'God is doing a new thing,' 'New wine skins,' 'Follow the prophet,' etc. These become a mantra that makes it easy for your followers to articulate your message and feel good for doing so without actually having any depth of understanding.
  4. Target Have a target audience. This is typically young people and intellectuals. Young people because they are old enough to have realised the world is a mess, naive enough to think they can 'make all the difference,' but young enough that they don't have the wisdom and discernment to help them make sound judgements when they hear your mantra. Intellectuals because they are older, educated, convinced they can take their education and make a difference in the world if only they could find a way; you provide the way. They also mistakenly think only stupid people join cults and so their guard is down. They can be won by flattery and a sense of purpose like everyone else.
  5. Hierarchy: Restrict access to yourself, dividing followers into groups and individuals that compete for your attention. By all means speak to crowds, but allow only a select few access into your inner circle. This makes them concentrate on how to get closer to you as the source of meaning for them. It constructs a cohort of followers that is most faithful in doing the work for you, putting out your message, reassuring the ordinary members, modelling the best and most faithful example for others.
  6. Exclusivity: Restrict access to the world. We conduct our lives according to the social norms of wider society. By restricting access to those norms of behaviour you create in them a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which you can write your own social norms. This is sometimes achieved by physically removing people from the world into a community, which has the added advantages of constant, direct control. Having members in community makes them more easily controlled and encourages them to spy on each other for any dissent. It is more usual to separate peopl socially, spiritually, and intellectually by holding a lot of meetings, to which they 'must come' if they are to grow, having them spend time reading, meditating, etc. suggesting they cut ties with old friends until they are rightly emebdded in the group.
  7. Popularity: Accept that not everyone will like you. Play to the crowd that does, demonise those that don't.
  8. Grooming: You should be able to groom key people, an exhausting and demanding process but essential if you are to build an inner circle and competition to enter it. This involves active listening, making someone feel they are the most important person in the room, even in a crowd. This means keeping eye contact, having a listening posture, mirroring (reflecting back their own posture and expressions), cutting out all distractions, quickly picking up on concerns, hopes, and fears and speaking to those specific points, or distracting from them with a picture of a better world where these things won't exist. 'Keep the faith friend.'
  9. Proselytising: Keep an emphasis on recruitment, calling it evangelism. This achieves two things; (1) it focuses followers on repeating the message, reinforcing their own conviction, and keeping them busy (2) it gets new recruits to replace those who are bound to leave the fold.
  10. Contest: Create competition for succession, making vague promises to various members of the inner circle, making them vie for your attention.
What would you add to the list?

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The Bible: The most precious thing this world affords

'The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.' (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on 2 June 1953. She would spend her life living in castles and palaces. She would sit on thrones, ride in gold carriages, and leading designers would line up to make her the best clothes, She would wear the finest jewellery, eat the finest meals, and travel first class.

At her coronation in Westminster Abbey, amidst all the pomp and ceremony, lords and ladies, dignitaries both spiritual and secular, she was handed a Bible with these words:

Our gracious Queen:
to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.

What is true for princes is surely true for everyone. This is the rule for the best life, the life we were made to have. It is to the Bible we go to understand something of what that life looks like and of God's purposes for me and for you. I wonder what the Bible is to you?

In Psalm 119 we read, 'Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.' (v.105)

When you are struggling to find your way do you look to the Bible to be a lamp to your feet, a light to your path? When you are trying to negotiate the challenges of this world do you go to the Bible for illumination?

For some, the Bible is like the convenience store, the corner shop. We're glad it's there, we go to it for our bits and pieces, we run to it in an emergency, but we do our main shop in the supermarket.

So with the Bible. We go to it for our bits and pieces, for those things that encourage us (23rd Psalm, John 3:16), at those times when we want comfort and reassurance, but when it comes to how we think about the big issues, the knotty issues of life - science and faith, moral and lifestyle choices, the ideas the world presses on us and urgently insists we embrace - we too often go to the supermarket of the world. We allow the world to shape and influence our thinking, shape our world-view.

We say, 'that's what people do today, that's how the thinking goes today.' The problem is, not so long ago people thought and acted quite differently, and in the not too distant future people will think and act differently again.

In the TV documentary Back in Time for School, fifteen pupils and their teachers time-travel as they fast-forward through more than 100 years of school life. As they move forward in time attitudes and philosophies change, from celebrating empire, to preparing for war.

Girls start in classes with the boys doing science, then they are separated as the boys do science and the girls do domestic science because this was thought to be the best way to prepare them for the brave new post-war world of the twenties and thirties. It is well said, who marries the spirit of the age will end up widowed in the next.

How will young people deal with the changes that are bound to come, when they increasingly find they don't understand the world any more? When the issues they thought were settled are churned up again and a younger generation, with different attitudes comes to very different conclusions?

The speech to the queen ends with these words:

Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.

The Bible gives an eyewitness account of Jesus. John writes so that we, his readers, should have fellowship in knowing what they saw, looked upon, heard, and touched, 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life...that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us...' (1 John 1:1-4)

The Bible brings us hope. Paul reminds us, 'Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.' (Romans 15:4)

The Bible teaches, reproves, corrects and equips. In a letter to Timothy Paul writes, 'All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.' (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The Bible calls us to action. James writes, urging us, 'Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.' (James 1:22)

The Bible calls us to defend the truth. In their book The Identity of the Church Anthony and Richard Hanson observe: 'God's word is not anybody's word. The church has a right to be protected from heretics, cranks, and fanatics...'

Jude reminds us, 'beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed...ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.' (Jude 3-4)

We cannot have that fellowship John writes about, we cannot know hope, be instructed in the things of God, identify to what actions we are called, or understand clearly the faith we are called to defend unless and until we have and apply ourselves to the word of God in the Bible. In the earliest account of Christian fellowship we have the example from those who, 'devoted them selves to the apostle's teaching...' (Acts 2:42-47)

The most precious thing this world affords.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Mormon Church is Not Changing it’s Name - Again

Russell M Nelson

The Mormon Church is not changing it's name again, it is making a 'correction.' In an official statement in August new president, Russell M Nelson, said:

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring

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ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.”

Call me cynical but I have the suspicion this is not so much an impression from the Lord as a long-standing issue for the man. I imagine all those leadership meetings over the years where he tried to raise the subject - 'Oh, Russell's on his hobby horse again. Mormon is popular Russell, listen to the tech guys.' I imagine the rolled eyes when this was announced, 'He's only gone and done it!' But then what's the point of being president, especially after so long a wait, if you can't have your own way, as Donald Trump might have said.

The Mormon Church has long had a style guide to help us ignorant folk speak properly and respectfully about the church. The style guide , which is found from a link at the bottom of the Mormon 'Official' Newsroom page, has been updated to reflect this change correction. To indicate the trouble this 'correction' has caused, I simply point out that at the time of writing the official web address for the style guide, that discourages every mention of the term Mormon, is www.mormonnewsroom.org/style-guide. The Mormon Newsroom is now officially the Official Newsroom, but it retains it's Mormon Newsroom web address. The web address where I found this story is lds.org/church/news. Aren't you glad we cleared that up?

This is a mammoth project, you can get an idea of how big here and here. Look here to see typical search results when you type 'Mormon' into your search engine. It raises an interesting question. If the Mormon Church does go to such lengths to expunge Mormon and Mormonism, LDS, and more that is so familiar from it's official terminology, how will that effect their search engine rankings? If they follow through on this policy will the only thing left with the name 'Mormon' be the Book of Mormon? If they continue to rank high on the first page of a search engine with 'Mormon' does it mean they are cheating and using the name that must not be named in tags, web addresses, etc? What happens to your SEO when your most familiar name in the world largely drops out of official statements, on official sites, in articles and conference addresses?

What will happen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Or the Mormon Tabernacle itself? The Mormon Trail? The Mormon Story? The style guide explains, “Mormon” is correctly used in proper names such as the Book of Mormon or when used as an adjective in such historical expressions as “Mormon Trail.” But 'Mormon Church' uses the term as an adjective. Adjectives become the get-out clause, but isn't that cheating?

Someone has had to sit down and think this through, and others have the task for years to come of continuing to 'correct' members and leaders alike. What it is to be in a church where your every utterance is checked and correlated to ensure everyone adheres to the newspeak. How many Mormons on the doorstep will check themselves halfway through Morm...before coming up with the correct, official, mandated language. What is that by the way?

The official style guide comes, once more, to our rescue:

  • In the first reference, the full name of the Church is preferred: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

  • When a shortened reference is needed, the terms “the Church” or the “Church of Jesus Christ” are encouraged. The “restored Church of Jesus Christ” is also accurate and encouraged.

If it is the “Church of Jesus Christ” where do over 2billion Christians around the world fit into the scheme of things?

One correspondent wrote of, “The difference between ‘Christians’ and the Church of Jesus Christ…”

I wonder if Mormons realise how very peculiar this will sound to people outside the Mormon Church, especially where I am, outside the geographical areas where Mormonism predominates.

Of course, we know the chequered history of the Mormon Church’s name; Church of Christ - 1830; Church of the Latter-day Saints - 1834; and variously 'The Church of Jesus Christ', 'The Church of God', and 'The Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints.' The original 'The Church of Christ' chimes with the restoration narrative and might have stuck but for the fact several US churches used the name. The change to Church of the Latter-day Saints in 1834 happened simply to avoid confusion. In the end, and contrary to people's fond notions, it's pragmatism that drives much of what goes on in a cult. The Mormon god does seem to have been slow in sorting out this whole business. Meanwhile Mormons, from local wards to the presidency, have proved stubbornly reluctant to drop these useful monikers.

Meanwhile official sources continue their efforts to make the Mormon Church sound and look more mainstream and 'orthodox,' at least at first glance. That, after all, is what counts. I am fully aware of what their “style guide” is trying to do, i.e. if people hear something often enough they come to accept it as fact. If what you continually hear is 'The Church of Jesus Christ' you accept the claim of Mormonism to be Christian, 'the only true church.' Surely, though, most people would define the Church of Jesus Christ as the sum of Christians, and a Christian as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps Mormons feel that just because I am a Christian that doesn't mean I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ, which they clearly equate with the Mormon Church. Are we to make a distinction between The Church of Jesus Christ and The Christian Church? If so, how would you define and justify that distinction? There is no warrant for it in Christian Scripture, and even convention does not allow for such a distinction to be readily understood. I am trying to understand where I fit if, as a Christian, I do not belong to The Church of Jesus Christ.

I am a Christian and, therefore, consider myself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Does that make me a Mormon? If I am not a Mormon and, by implication, not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, am I not a Christian? This turns out to be complicated, confusing, and insensitive. In thinking about where Christians fit, and indeed where Mormons are trying to fit these days in the great scheme of things, there should be an attempt at achieving clarity, but not by robbing Christians of their identity in the Church of Jesus Christ.

The earliest Christians identified themselves as followers of 'the Way' (Acts 9:2) They were also 'disciples' and 'were first called Christians in Antioch' (Acts 11:26). Our faith is the Christian faith, founded on the Word of God in the Bible, on Christian doctrine. Our church is the Christian Church, we are disciples of Jesus Christ and followers of the Way. Maybe 'Christian' has stuck for these reasons.

Perhaps Mormons have been Mormons for so long, perhaps the name has stuck, because they are followers of Mormonism, which is squarely founded on the Book of Mormon, on Mormon doctrine. Their church is the Mormon Church, they are followers of Mormonism's founding prophet, Joseph Smith.

My wife and I recently took a break in Stratford-on-Avon. We had never been before so we made sure we visited the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, there to see a production of Romeo and Juliet. The balcony scene is what everyone thinks of when this play is mentioned. Juliet, not realising she is overheard by Romeo, asks:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

There is a lot in a name. The Bible tells us there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved, except the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12) The second prophet of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, preached a different gospel (Gal.1:6-9)

Brigham Young

'Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the veil in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians who have slain the Prophets and butchered and otherwise caused the death of thousands of Latter-day Saints, the priests who have thanked God in their prayers and thanksgiving from the pulpit that we have been plundered, driven, and slain, and the deacons under the pulpit, and their brethren and sisters in their closets, who have thanked God, thinking that the Latter-day Saints were wasted away, something that no doubt will mortify them—something that, to say the least, is a matter of deep regret to them—namely, that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are—I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation—the keys to rule in the spirit world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven.' (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses. vol.7 p.289)

If Mormons want Bible salvation they need to change more than their name.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Christian Fundamentals: Confessing Which Christ?

King of Kings

People don’t believe in miracles, not because they haven’t witnessed a miracle, but because their world view will not allow for miracles. Even though someone they otherwise respect should relate an account of a miracle many will not believe it. They will, rather, reconsider the esteem in which they hold their friend.

Neither will showing them a miracle guarantee their conversion because they may make every effort to explain it away and we have seen this. So it was with the people who saw the miracles of Jesus and his disciples, who drove out demons, healed the sick and preached the kingdom message. They saw Jesus feed five thousand (John 6:1-15) and ate their fill, but this did not guarantee their accepting who Jesus was.

When the crowd later sought out Jesus in Capernaum he said, ‘You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.’ (vv26-27)

Jesus then launched into his controversial Bread of Life sermon (John 6:28-59) The result was ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.’ (v66) Many today are pleased to feed the five thousand, but are not so eager to preach the Bread of Life. But this is the test of the true disciple; are we seeking to have our fill today, or are we seeking ‘a better country?’ (Heb.11:13-16)

The message of the gospel is, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ (Mark 1:15) The beginning of our journey into that kingdom is acceptance of who Jesus is, what he came to do.

When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say I am? They replied,

Some say John the Baptist

Others say Elijah

And still others that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life’”

A person’s response to Jesus is a sort of tipping point in either coming to a deeper knowledge of the things of God or increasingly failing to understand at all. Jesus spoke plainly and demonstrated his authority but seeing, they did not see, and hearing they failed to understand.

The Christ of God

Some of course did see and understand and when Jesus asked, “’But what about you? Who do you say I am?’

Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God’” (The predicted Deliverer. Lk.9:19-20, c.f. Lk.2:11; Jn.4:25)

At Pentecost upwards of three thousand saw and understood (Acts 2)

This is crucial because those who see, confess and order their lives accordingly will go on to grasp the mature vision of Christ portrayed by Paul, for instance, in his letter to the church in Colossae. Here Paul places Jesus at the centre of Creation, its cause, keeper and purpose (Col.1:15-20) and of the New Creation. These verses are believed to be a quotation from an early Christian hymn and so represent how those first Christians thought of Christ as the God of Creation and of the New Creation.

Christ is:

  • The image of the invisible God (Col.1:15a) and the beginning (Col.18b, c.f. Rev.3:14; Jn.1:1)

  • The firstborn of all creation (Col.1:15b) and the firstborn from the dead (Col.1:18c, c.f. Ro.8:29)

  • Preeminent because he is before all things (Col.1:17a) and the head of the body, the church (Col.1:18)

  • The one who holds all things together (Col.1:17b) and who reconciles all things to himself (Col.1:20a)

  • Everything in Creation is by him, through him and for him (Col.1:16b) and so everything in the New Creation (Col.1:20c)

This is mature teaching, requiring deep contemplation and those who accept Jesus as the Christ of God, the promised Deliverer, the image of the invisible God (Col.1:15) have much to ponder. But those who ascribe to Jesus the lesser role of prophet, teacher, great man, or exemplar fail entirely to see him. They fail to understand why Christians insist on his being God made flesh, Creator and Saviour.

The King

This Jesus is King, and the gospel is the gospel of his Kingdom (Mark 1:15). The invitation of the gospel is to enter into the Kingdom, and the way we do that is to recognise Jesus as King, repent, and turn to him as the one who brings us Kingdom life (John 6:40) As we have seen, and as church history demonstrates, he is not going to make us popular in the world. But then his Kingdom is not of this world.(John 18:36)

Such blessings as are to be had from this great hymn in Paul’s letter are not accessible to followers Jesus the ‘good guy.’ Such faith as they have is not in the Christ Paul preached or the disciples witnessed to. Jesus’ question and Peter’s answer place Christ in his rightful place and in our witnessing that is where we always seek to put him. Otherwise we rob people of that wonderful knowledge of him that awaits them as they trust him and grow in him. Any message that does not have Christ as the cause, keeper and purpose of all things is not the Christian message.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Christian Fundamentals: The Bible, Why Aren’t We Reading It?

Bible and marker

The Evangelical Alliance recently (2018) published the results of a survey of people’s attitudes to the Bible. Among Christians it was discovered:

  • 57% believe the Bible should shape their daily lives "a great deal"
  • 35% said they read the Bible everyday
  • 73% said the Bible actively challenges them to live in a way which runs counter to the present culture in Britain
  • 60% believe the Bible provides moral guidance, sets out God's rescue plan for humanity and shows God's priorities
  • 78% believe the Bible is divinely inspired and 34% believe that it is free from error
  • 68% say the Bible is regularly taught at their church

Stop and think about that second statistic; 35% said they read the Bible daily. Perhaps because 73% said the Bible actively challenges them to live in a way which runs counter to the present culture in Britain? It is true that taking the Bible seriously today can seriously make you stand out from the crowd. But it has always been God’s purpose that his people should be holy (set apart, dedicated or devoted to the service of God). Bible reading is integral to that service.

The experience of the Israelites during the captivity in Babylon shows how important God’s Word is; when they were to return to the land we find in Ezra and Nehemiah that the study of (Ezra 7:10); reading of (Nehemiah 8:1 8); and obedience to the word of God (Nehemiah 13:1-3) was vital.

The Book of Chronicles is often a seesaw story of good king, bad king, good king. Jehoshophat was one of those who sought to walk with the Lord. We find in 2 Chronicles 17:9 that one of the first things he did was to send out his officials to teach the people the Law of the Lord.

They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went round to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.”

In the New Testament, in 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul reminds Timothy that he has known the sacred writings since his youth and that these lead to wisdom and salvation. They are vital because they are for teaching, correction and training. When we move away from the Bible as our basis we miss God’s teaching, correction and training, and so errors must come in.

Bible falling apartDo not allow the enemy to tell us that it does not matter, learn from the story of the wise man and the foolish man in Matthew 7:24-27. Unless we hear the word of God and act upon it we are simply building on sand. The building will survive in the calm weather but the moment the storm tests it the building will be no more. We may appear to be fine when things are well with us, but there is nothing like a fierce storm to test the reality of our faith.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

This parable in Matthew also explains why there are some people who have heard the word of God for years but who are still not growing or able to stand; our calling is not just to be hearers only but also doers of the word. We can hear God speaking but, as the parable of the sower shows, we can allow other things to take the place of God’s word. If we are to be strong in God then we need reality.

The asdvantage of reading the Bible for ourselves is we come to know for ourselves. We will not just believe what someone else has said but we will have experienced the reality of that word. From our lips will come not the third hand information about Jesus whom Paul preaches, but the reality of Jesus within our lives.

Learn from the example of the experts in the law in Luke 11:52.

‘Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’

The problem was that the lawyers had theology but had not entered into the reality of the Word, “the key to knowledge”, and they were hindering those who wanted to enter.

Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-17:

But 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 complete, equipped for every good work.’

Are you convinced of what you have learned of Christ? Are you allowing the Holy Scriptures to make you wise? As you seek answers from God, are you turning to Scripture so that you will be thoroughly equipped and trained in righteousness, for every good work?

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Jesus Wept John 11:17-44

the-raising-of-lazarus-2069644_1920We know the story of Lazarus but I want to pose a question: Why did Jesus weep? He knew what he was about to do, that very soon Lazarus would walk out of that tomb, so why did he weep?

In the very next chapter (12) we have the extravagant anointing of Jesus by Mary, 'for the day of my burial,' said Jesus. It is in chapter 12 we read of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. These events are that close to Easter. When we think of God's love we consider the events of Easter it's clearest expression, 'For God so loved the world...' (John 3:16)

When we speak of God's love to the world that God so loved, this question arises:

How can there be a God who loves when we look at the state of the world? 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 was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind...Behold these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence...” (Ps.73:3-8)

Sound familiar?

There are three things we must know as we approcah Easter:

1. 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)

The Psalmist asked:

'What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands...' (Ps.8:3-9)

This text has been used, and quite correctly, as prophetic of Jesus. But in its original context it speaks of mankind in our original creation..

Jesus, of course, is described as the image of the invisible God (Heb.1:3) The difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus 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 created for better.

We were made 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 the creation mandate. This is who and what we were made to be. We were created for better.

We were made to represent God on the earth. That means running things as he would run them if he were directly in charge. Doing things his way. Again, Genesis reminds us we are to be creative, fruitful, productive, living and reigning according to his rule. We were made 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 meant to be a reflection of this original plan, to show God's purposes to the world and tell people there is a better, a godly way that fulfils us completely. 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.

When we see where we have fallen from then we can see how far we have fallen. If life disappoints us it should, and this is why; we are a fallen people, and we were made for better.

2. We have fallen far

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?

We have fallen far. It is not simply a question of punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous-there are no righteous! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:9) It is a case, rather, of restoring the order, fulfilling God's original purposes. 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?

We have fallen so very far and the problem is more than skin deep. 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)

We are so blind to our own part in this, we make the problem of sin too small. 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. Like putting a red garment in a white wash. Every depravity, every injustice, every cruel act, every lie, theft, betrayal and defamation results from the influence of sin in our lives.

When children are abused it is sin destroying the kind of relationships we were created to have; when a 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.

It is sin that brings death and death stalks our every waking moment, invades our nightmares and assures us 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. 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 widow's son at Nain. 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 evoking fellow feeling and sympathy. 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 Lazarus’ 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.”

Do you want to hear those words uttered for you? 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.” (vv 25-26)

It is popular with some to believe the gospel is simply about getting us into heaven because of the blood of Jesus. It is so much more. It is the gift of forgiveness and of a new heart, a call to new life, to become authentically human through Christ’s 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 each other, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

From Joseph to Jesus, a testimony

ANN:

Book of Mormon 3Before I was taught by the Mormons in my teens, I only knew what I had learned at Sunday School as a small child and in R.E. lessons in school. Like many people, I thought that a Christian was someone who tried hard to do good things, read the Bible, and prayed to God.

I learned from my Mormon friends that Jesus had paid for the fall of Adam, so that we are all born sinless and are held accountable only for the sins we ourselves commit. Because Jesus died for my sins, I could work to be acceptable to God and hope one day to be judged worthy of heaven. It certainly sounded right, and I looked no further.

I was introduced to the Mormon church via a card through the door offering a free copy of the Book of Mormon. I had been asking a lot of questions about God and the purpose of life, so I sent it off. The book was delivered by two Mormon missionaries when I was out, so my mother made an appointment for them to come back and speak to me. Through their teaching, and visits to the church, my whole family were eventually baptised in March 1968.

MICHAEL:

I was eighteen years old when I first encountered the Mormon church. I have always maintained that the first thing that got my attention was the fact that they paid attention to me and valued my opinion. I knew nothing about religion although I had felt for some time that there must be more to life than the little I was experiencing then. This feeling had been increasingly distracting for me and so by the time the Mormons came along I imagine I was ripe and ready for picking.

I took the missionary discussions, all the time feeling quite embarrassed about my ignorance of spiritual matters. I had had no religious upbringing except the usual Sunday school and certainly my family were not churchgoers. This was an adventure and the missionaries presented answers to questions I had never considered. Everything was new and everything seemed right. So I joined on 29 September 1972.

I mostly enjoyed being a Mormon. I had experienced the "burning in the bosom" promised to all true seekers and, as a shy boy with nothing outstanding to boast of in my life, I felt special for having the inside track on truth. I was ordained an elder in the church on 25 February 1973 after over a year of study and faithful application, and had more reason to feel good as I was assured that I now had more authority than any of the so called spiritual leaders in the world.

It was through the church that I met Ann and we both had many happy times as Mormons. Our family started there and we found the church most helpful and supportive as we struggled with the usual difficulties encountered by young parents. Together we had gone to the temple and had been "sealed for time and eternity" and together we continued to enjoy the "blessings" of temple worship.

There were, of course, down times. However the church was always there for us. Looking back I feel perhaps we needed them more than most but they did not let us down and we have much to thank them for. Indeed it seems natural to ask, if it was so good why did you leave?

ANN:

I didn't know that what I had found was not the real thing, but a counterfeit, a deception. It took me 18 years before I finally had the courage to admit that my faith wasn't working, and that all my efforts to please God only left me feeling inadequate.

MICHAEL:

For all the church had going for it there was one area in which it singularly failed me. I was looking for something when I joined and, with hindsight, I can see that it was the one thing the church was incapable of delivering. Peace with God. When Ann and I became dissatisfied we really did not understand why. We just knew - I knew - that something fundamental was missing from our spiritual experience. It was only as we began seeking with a determination we had never known before that we saw how radical would have to be the change in our lives if we were to go on with God. We were genuinely surprised to be faced with the choice of God or Mormonism.

Romans 8

ANN:

A Christian friend asked us to read the book of Romans in the Bible, in a modern English version, and with no Mormon commentary. There we discovered the grace of God. I realised that the one thing I had never done in my life was to submit in obedience to Christ and ask Him to be my Saviour. I had believed in Him for 18 years, but I had been taught that the way to salvation was by obedience to the Mormon Church. They had effectively put themselves between me and God.

When I set out to read the book of Romans I was looking for a solution to the problems of my faith in the Mormon Church. I wanted to get right with God so that I could be a better Mormon. I certainly got more than I bargained for! Now I was faced with a dilemma. Could I give up some things that had been very precious to me, had been my whole life for 18 years, and leave all my Mormon friends? Or could I compromise and stay when I knew their teaching was false? You know, Jesus promised us abundant life, but He never promised it would be easy.

So many people think obedience is about the ten commandments and that sort of thing. Really it is about attitude. What really is the most important thing in your life? When I thought about it like that, there was no other choice I could make. I chose Jesus and the true gospel, and left the Mormon church. And I can honestly say that I have never regretted it. My life since really coming to know Jesus bears no comparison to all those previous years when I only thought I knew Him.

MICHAEL:

We made the right choice I believe and discovered a God who truly proves his faithfulness. So many scripture promises came true for us when we sought him and discovered that 'If you seek him, he will be found by you' (1 Chron.28:9). Coming from a system that saw obedience to law as the way to God we were brought to rejoice in the fact that 'a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify' (Rom.3:21). The law that had been written in books, that condemned us at every turn, was now writtern on our hearts, and we now knew the difference between conviction and condemnation.

romans-8-1

The assurances of God's word were, and are, a blessing to us beyond anything we could hope or ask for. We know that through faith in Jesus we have eternal life as a present possession and a guaranteed inheritance (John 5:24).

I suppose the biggest surprise was that Christianity, far from being the hopelessly confused and frighteningly confusing religion painted by the Mormons, actually makes sense. In all its expressions and in every aspect it is a beautifully harmonious faith. If it is seen by the power of the Spirit, seen for what it really is, it is irresistible, and for honest seekers the Jesus we found is irresistible.

It was the friendship of a faithful Christian that opened us to the influence of the Spirit and brought us to Christ.

[Having moved from Josep to Jesus Michael is now Chairman of Reachout Trust, a UK Christian ministry founded iin 1982 by the late Doug Harris to reach out to those in the cults]

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Cults, The Internet, and The Church

Shadow or RealityMany years ago a friend and work colleague gave me a copy of Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Mormonism, Shadow or Reality? It is a big, red hardback book which would have proved daunting for most people. But for me it became essential bedtime reading, a treasure trove I still reach for when researching.

I had no idea such a book existed. Indeed, here in the UK, I had barely heard of Jerald and Sandra Tanner. In the days before computers and the Internet, information was scarce if you lived remotely from the geographical/cultural centre of the organisation you had left. As a Mormon I had easy enough access to teaching manuals from the church but as a critic I had to send away for materials as I discovered them; and if you don't known what you're looking for how do you find it?

There was no Amazon, no browsing the Internet for the latest titles. There were no forums, or discussion groups. When you did find quality material you were in a small minority, becoming the one to whom others might look for a lead on what is 'out there' and how to obtain it. For many people, the only sight they got of good books and tapes (remember tapes?) was when attending conventions, where there might be a book table, or from reading about them in newsletters.

Today its all available, overwhelmingly, staggeringly, confusingly available. Through web sites, blogs, forums, social media, online book stores, self-publishing, paperbacks, PDF, E-publishing, the list seems endless. Where before the challenge was tracking down good material and reliable sources, today the challenge is sifting through the mountains of information, discerning the helpful from the hopeless. When you do find quality material you are still in a minority if you have gone the extra mile to find and identify it. Indeed, sifting and curating quality material is more than ever a major part of the work of information and teaching based ministry.

These developments have not changed the basic vision and purpose of ministry, but they have changed somewhat how ministry is delivered. Online newsletters are much easier and cheaper to produce, E-books have made materials more affordable. Web sites, blogs, and social media make the work more immediate. Ministries can respond almost instantly to breaking news, which news is itself readily accessible. Email makes 'conversations' more real time, as do social media and discussion forums.

Some things haven't changed. Nothing takes the place of speaking face-to-face, and nothing will ever take the place of the local church, where we find like-minded people and grow as disciples of Christ. When someone leaves a cult it is vital they find their way to a place where there is life, grace, and sound, reliable teaching from people you can come to know and trust.

The picture of Christian community painted for us in the Bible cannot be replaced but must be replicated. The writer to the Hebrews urged, 'Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.' (Heb.10:25)

Luke, in his second letter, describes the New Testament Church:

'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.' (Acts 2:42-47)

We must be more discerning than ever as we find and use the mountain of information available on the Internet. The best place to practice that discernment is among people with the experience and calling to teach and lead the church of Christ. By all means take advantage of the riches available to us today, but bring it to the test of Scripture, to the local church, and to prayer.

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