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Tolle, Lege – Not Just for Church Fathers!

One week last year our Friendship circle had “a good read” as its theme – and that is a good theme indeed! In times gone by, Baptists in Sweden were sometimes called “readers” because they read more than other people, both the Bible and other publications. It’s somewhat sad to think that it was actually meant as a put-down; but they were proud to be called “readers”, and so should we.

Obviously every Christian should read the Bible; since God has made sure the story of his salvation plan has been written down, we would be foolish to ignore it! But there’s a lot of other good books around, that will help you grow in your faith. Some are just inspiring, others deal with difficult topics, some are amusing and others dead serious… Here are some of my favourite Christian books:

The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel): great defence of the reliability of the Bible.

The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (Andy Bannister): funny and convincing defence of our faith.

Mere Christianity (C S Lewis): well, yes – obviously!

The Shack (W P Young): a gripping novel about wrestling with why God allows tragedies.

I sold my Soul on eBay (Hemant Mehta): an atheist goes to church every Sunday for a year, and describes how it seems to an outsider. Challenging!

Last year I read Paradoxology (Krish Kandiah), which deals with all the paradoxes of the Christian faith, and Inventing the Universe (Alister McGrath) about the (non-existent) clash between faith and science…

My favourites so far this year must be Pete Greig’s God on Mute and Dirty Glory, both about prayer and compassion and what a great God we serve.

The list goes on, but this space doesn’t. So to conclude: keep reading! Books, magazines, online blogs – it’s always worth it, and you will be blessed!

(PS: “Tolle, lege” is Latin for “Take and read”, the words which St Augustine heard in the garden and which caused him to pick up and open the Bible, which led to his conversion.)


God, Genocide and Good Friday

Every now and again, atheists debating Christians play the old morality card: how can we worship a God who committed genocide through the Flood and through Joshua? This came up again last week, and I decided to put down some thoughts about this.

My first thought is (as so often): this bypasses the question of what is true. God’s existence can’t be determined on whether you approve of him or not… You can’t really go from “I don’t like this” to “this can’t be true” – that’s a logical fallacy, and atheists tend not to like logical fallacies!

But since this particular argument is quite popular with atheists, I still felt I needed to address it. So here are my arguments why those two events can’t be considered “genocide”.

  1. Sometimes evil becomes so strong and ubiquitous that it has to be dealt with forcefully. That was surely the motivation for World War II, as well as the current war against ISIS and many other attempts at curbing various atrocities. It’s true that some of those attempts turned into spectacularly misguided failures, but the thinking behind them was the same as with God wiping out an increasingly evil humanity through the Flood. And since with God isn’t a fallible human being, we know he acted with full knowledge of the consequences and with full conviction that this was the only way to safeguard humanity’s future.
  2. The number of Flood casualties was very limited, compared to most modern wars. The whole human race probably consisted of no more than 50,000 individuals at the time of Noah, based on the fact that Noah was the tenth generation after Adam. (And if somebody say, “Surely you can’t take Adam and those genealogies literally”, then you don’t have to take the Flood literally either, and the whole genocide problem disappears.) Twice as many died in Hiroshima alone, but very few have accused the US of genocide… Not to mention how many died in WWII, on either side of the conflict. War is nasty, and there will be casualties – but sometimes that seems to be a price humanity is willing to pay, even with our limited knowledge of the present and non-existent foreknowledge of the future. Isn’t it possible that God, who has perfect knowledge and perfect foreknowledge, also sometimes has to go to war against evil and injustice?
  3. The only offensive war God sanctioned in the Old Testament was the Conquest of Canaan (and the battles that arose on the way there). All other wars were either self-defence, or initiated by Israel but not by God. And as for the Conquest, the Bible gives a two-fold reason for that: 1 – God’s plan of salvation required a nation dedicated to him to prepare for the coming Saviour, so Israel had to be given its own land. 2 – the Canaanites were depraved and ripe for God’s judgment, just as Egypt had been when God stuck them with the ten plagues.
  4. God has the right to judge. This point is probably the true crux of the matter: if God had the right to judge the Canaanites or indeed the entire human race, then he has the same right towards each one of us. And that is exactly what the Bible tells us. One day each and every human being will have to face God and answer for the choices they’ve made during this life. According to the Bible, God has the right and the power to sentence us to death if that’s what we deserve – and according to the Bible, that’s exactly what we deserve.

But the Bible adds something we would never have guessed: God doesn’t want to kill us all. He wants to rescue us; that’s why Jesus died on the cross. The Bible explains he took our punishment, and offers every one of us forgiveness instead of judgment.

That’s where you have to start: the love of God as expressed on the cross of Jesus. Everything else has to be understood in that light. If God was a bloodthirsty tyrant, the cross makes no sense. But if God is the righteous judge who loves us and wants to rescue us, but also sometimes has to act decisively against evil, both the cross and the Flood make sense.

Don’t Cross Out the Resurrection!

This month we celebrate Easter, and for good reason: without Easter, there would be no church. So it’s not surprising that Satan’s attacks on the Gospel have focused quite heavily on Easter.

The Easter weekend has two focal points: the cross and the empty tomb. And both of those have come under constant attack ever since the apostles first started proclaiming the arrival, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

The cross was “foolishness” from the very beginning: surely the true Messiah should be able to avoid such a fate? In fact, Islam still insists that it wasn’t actually Jesus who was crucified!

In more recent days, some people have tried to change the significance of the cross. Instead of Jesus taking on himself the righteous punishment for our sins, the cross simply becomes a symbol of God’s great love for us; it doesn’t actually change anything…

It’s of course true that the cross is a sign of God’s love for us – but if it didn’t actually achieve anything, how does it show God’s love? But if the cross is God’s way of dealing with the problem of sin (he has to judge sin, but chooses to take the judgment on himself rather than punishing us) then the cross does indeed demonstrate God’s love!

Then, our joyful proclamation of resurrection has been subject to equally misguided attempts at “correction”. The most common one is of course that Jesus didn’t rise at all, because “dead people stay dead”. Well, we know that; that’s why we call it a miracle!

A more sinister error, however, is the idea that Jesus only rose “spiritually”: his body decayed, but his spirit appeared to the disciples, encouraging them to keep propagating his teachings. This is more or less what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, but sadly the same falsehood can be heard in mainstream churches as well.

The problem is that a) this isn’t what the NT describes, and b) this would mean Jesus actually failed. He kept predicting that he would rise, and by doing so he would defeat death once and for all. If he didn’t actually exit bodily from that tomb, he didn’t succeed, and we should close all churches: as Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile”.

However, the Son of God didn’t fail in his mission. The tomb was indeed empty. Jesus died to take the penalty for our sins, and he rose again to guarantee our redemption and eternal life with God. Don’t let anyone try and tell you otherwise!



They’re Wrong – What Should I Do?

Last month I posted a tweet, asking a deceptively simple question: “wouldn’t it be nice if all followers of Jesus would simply focus on following Jesus and inviting others to follow Jesus?”

The fact is that there is a lot of heresy-hunting within the Christian community, detracting from our main task of proclaiming the Gospel to those who haven’t yet surrendered to King Jesus. Must following Jesus involve telling other followers they are wrong?

Then I thought about it and realised that the answer to that is actually “yes, sometimes”. The fact is that there is an awful lot of false teaching around, and even though correct doctrine isn’t a prerequisite for a ticket to heaven, false doctrine is one of the tools Satan uses to keep people from getting there.

The Bible is quite concerned to make sure people know the truth, and the idea that the categories “true” and “false” don’t apply to “spiritual truths” would have baffled Jesus and the apostles.

This doesn’t mean all errors are equally harmful. We can happily disagree on liturgy, clerical robes and which Bible translation is the best. What we cannot allow is for the core truths of the Gospel to be compromised. When a Christian leader denies the divine inspiration of the Bible, or condones sexual immorality, or claims that we are all Sons of God in the same way as Jesus, we have no choice but to say, “Well, actually, no”.

Some people think this is a violation of Jesus’ command not to judge others. It can be, if it involves personal spite or unwarranted condemnation; but Jesus also tells us to tell our fellow believers when they sin, so that they may repent; and teaching heresy is as much a sin as adultery or embezzling the steeple fund.

There’s also quite a range of less erroneous beliefs, derived from misunderstandings or popular ideas. Should we correct those, or is it better to leave people with their unimportant but nevertheless mistaken beliefs?

I think that depends on the circumstance and the spiritual maturity of the person in question – and to what extent it affects their understanding of the Gospel. If it becomes a distraction from simple discipleship, it might be better to ignore it…

Still, even if we don’t always correct others, our personal desire should always be for a better understanding of reality, both the physical and spiritual side of it. Satan is constantly spreading lies about us, God and the world, whereas Jesus is the Truth personified. So why should we his followers settle for less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?


Prayer Matters

After last year’s emphasis on our 200th church anniversary,  I’m going to emphasise prayer in a more deliberate way this year. And so I decided to give you a couple of good quotes to chew on from Pete Greig, the founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement, and also the author of several books on prayer (God on Mute, Red Moon Rising, Dirty Glory – all worth reading!). Here’s what he says in Dirty Glory:

“Prayer (in which we harness our wills with God’s will to resist Satan’s will) is our greatest weapon of defence as well as attack.  People sometimes ask why God requires us to pray, as if it was merely a form of relentless begging… But to pray is not to plead from the sidelines; it is to invade the field of play. In prayer we join the team, actively shaping the outcome of the match, challenging and occasionally outplaying an aggressive opponent …” (p. 101-102)

“It can be troubling to recognise the militancy of prayer and the level of authority we may wield to affect the outcome of spiritual battles. But the truth is this: there are terrible evils that will only be restrained, and wonderful blessings that will only be unlocked, by our prayers. … The Lord’s purposes are contingent upon our prayers because he has chosen to work in partnership with our free wills. … He is love and love liberates, love trusts, love risks, love collaborates. It does not dominate, control, coerce or enslave.” (p. 102)

Frail, fallible humans working with Almighty God to see his will done and his Kingdom come – incredible, humbling, scary – but also amazing and exciting. Let’s make sure we all join in!

(Not my own stuff, but very good)Songs of Praise, the Island of Lewis, Donald Trump and the Religion of the BBC

(I’ve nicked this from the Wee Flea’s site because it’s interesting and very spot on…)
It was wonderful to hear that Songs of Praise, the flagship BBC religious programme, was to come from the Island of Lewis – the home island of my wife and apparently more significantly the home isl…

Source: Songs of Praise, the Island of Lewis, Donald Trump and the Religion of the BBC

Sovereignty and My Understanding

A new year… Is that really necessary? What was wrong with the old one?

Very few people ask that question, especially as we don’t really have a choice in the matter. This time, though, I imagine quite a few people will be looking back and wondering what on earth last year was all about. 2016 contained more plot twists than an Agatha Christie mystery… and we will probably all disagree on which of them was the worst or most unexpected.

One thing we don’t need to disagree on, though, is that none of us knows what will happen in 2017. And I hope that we can also agree on another, more comforting fact: God does know what will happen in 2017.

The events of the past year have had me reflect a bit more on God’s sovereignty and his involvement in the world. I had to conclude that I had a somewhat skewered view of what God might and might not do. Basically, seems I didn’t expect him to do anything I couldn’t understand or explain…

Which of course is rather ridiculous. God is sovereign, and his ways are not my ways. I don’t have to understand everything – I wouldn’t be able to, anyway – and he doesn’t have to justify himself to me.

I also discovered that the Bible is adamant that God is not only watching from his throne, but actively involved in human politics:

There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

[God] changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. (Daniel 2:21)

The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. (Daniel 4:17)

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. (Psalm 33:10)

What does this mean? I think it means two things:

1) Somehow God is more involved in elections, referendums, coups and revolutions than I might be willing to believe;

2) As a follower of Jesus I either have to trust that God the Father knows what he’s doing, even if I don’t – or start looking for another god who will run the world my way. And when you think about it, that probably wouldn’t be a very good idea…

So let’s just wish each other a Happy New Year, and remember: whatever plot twists 2017 may have in store, they will not catch the Lord Almighty by surprise – that’s for certain!