Category Archives: Reflection.

What are the Real Issues with the Shack?

It’s not surprising that with the success of the book (with sales of over 10 million) ‘The Shack’  has now been turned into an incredibly successful film with takings of over $96 million on a $20 million budget!

The story, in brief, revolves around Mack,  who four years previously  suffered the brutal murder of his  young daughter.   Mack suffers from what he calls his  ‘Great Sadness’.  Yet, during the course of the story, a meeting with God   (at the shack of the title)  brings him to a point  of resolution concerning his pain and anger.  The story seeks to deal seriously with suffering. It shows God as compassionate and that ultimately sufferings and heartache can only really be healed through meeting and knowing him.  But opinion has been divided concerning ‘The Shack’.  Some Christians have embraced it  as a positive tool for outreach.  Others have  called it   a work of heresy!   But what are the real issues ?

Firstly, its representation of God.  Any time we  portray God as we imagine him we run the risk of being  in violation of the Second Commandment.  The story also downplays the use of the Bible  with personal experience being more important.  Christ’s work on the cross is side-lined, hence the holiness of God  and the issue of sin being an affront to him  is sacrificed.  Christianity, depending as it does on this, is pushed to one side to present a more ‘Universalist’ view.  Even when ‘The Shack’ is at its best, as some Biblical concepts are well illustrated, very often a strong sense of ambiguity  prevails.   In the end we are  left with a ‘touchy-feely’ God who is  a completely user-friendly re-invention!

Those embracing  it as a tool for outreach prove the Church is in retreat  in this country.  It has become  concerned  with its image, seeking to have what it sees as a more user-friendly  and politically correct one,  Hence ‘The Shack’ ticks all the right boxes!Yet when writing to the Galatian Church the apostle Paul refused to accept any other purported  Gospel  regardless of who preached it  (Galatians 1:8-9).    The issue of sin  and the cross  is central  as: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’  (Galatians 3:13).  This demonstrates the seriousness of sin.  It’s such an affront  to a holy God  that we are  literally cursed  and, true to his nature, he would have to  judge us as such!  But this, and the willingness  of Christ, by his  voluntary  obedience to his father, to become a curse  for us makes the Gospel all the more remarkable (Philippians 2:6-8).   I’ve recently been reading ‘Preaching – an Awesome Task’  by  Eryl Davis.   Its subtitle ‘Wrath, Final Judgement, Hell  and the Glorious Gospel’,  struck me as really appropriate as the Gospel’s is the remedy to the first three.  And that’s what makes it glorious!  Its message  of Christ’s sacrifice for our wrong doing  is the  only way that  we can ever possibly be  reconciled to God who, because of his  holy nature, could never   coexist  with our sin!  No wonder  Paul would accept  no other Gospel!

In the end we all  need the authentic Gospel and ‘The Shack’ with it’s strong sense of ambiguity falls short!   At best to use it as such  could be interpreted as  sincere   but misguided.  Let’s be bold enough  to believe in the power of the true Gospel with the centrality of the cross as the remedy for sin.  And let’s repent of the times we’ve been tempted of depart from it in our witness!

The subject of  Gospel integrity  is dealt with in the sermon  Accept no Imitations! (Galatians 1).

What’s the Real Issue with an openly Gay Character in a Disney Film?

Perhaps its with a sense of inevitability that we greet the news that the live action remake of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is to feature the first openly gay character in a Disney  film.  Bill Condon the director of the film has stated that this is a ‘watershed’ moment for Disney in that it will convey to children everywhere that being gay is perfectly normal.[1]  Hot on the heels of this was the announcement that the new ‘Power Rangers’ movie is also to feature an openly gay character.  Director Dean Israelite told the Hollywood Reporter: “she’s questioning a lot about who she is. She hasn’t fully figured it out yet.”[2]  Added to that, now ‘Doctor Who’ is now going to have an openly companion.   Now there is much that we can say about this starting with the obvious that the Bible teaches that the right and best place for sexual intimacy is within marriage between a man and woman (Genesis 2: 20-24 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-5).   And no doubt these issues may have been exaggerated  to generate publicity!   But I wonder whether that’s the main issue here?  After all, for many years there have been films and television programs that have set out to promote the gay lifestyle.

What I feel is the real issue here is that these are aimed at children!  As such, they are just another example of the increasing sexualisation of childhood.  Coupled with concerns about possible new legislation concerning sex education in schools, it seems more and more children are being force to engage with adult themes!

Now before someone tries to raise the old cliché that the Bible takes a negative attitude towards sex, it’s worth noting that the Bible  contains one of the most beautiful, and sensual, celebrations of love and sexual intimacy ever written in ‘The Song of Solomon’.  However, what is interesting to note among the heady mix of romance and frankly erotic imagery in the poetry is the recurring phrase: ‘I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases’ (The Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, and 8:4).  One might wonder what bearing that has on the subject of the sexualisation children.  But Tremper Longman rather helpfully notes that: ‘the daughters of Jerusalem are surrogates for the reader.  We too are to learn the same lesson: Wait for love to blossom; don’t try and stimulate it artificially.’[3]  Surely what these filmmakers are doing is the complete opposite by trying to force such issues into the medium of children’s entertainment and make children engage with sexual themes whether they want to or not!

The Bible makes it very clear that the gift of children is a blessing from God (Genesis 1:28).  It is notable that Eve acknowledges this with the birth of Cain with the words: ‘I have produced a man with the help of the Lord’ (Genesis 4:1).  That being the case we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible also has a lot to say about the raising and instruction of children.  One particularly relevant passage is Deuteronomy 6:4-9 with its emphasis on the instruction of God’s law within the family and the home.  When doing Dedication Services I have used verse 7 with its instruction: ‘You shall teach them (God’s laws) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.’  The point being that there is nothing unusual or freakish about having God’s Word at the centre of family affairs, it’s completely natural.  After all it has a bearing on the moulding of a child’s character.

The apostle Paul when writing to the church at Ephesus gives this instruction: ‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4).  Here’s a warning not just that fathers should not treat their children unfairly or harshly, but also that they should allow them to develop naturally within the framework of biblical teaching.  A rather good example of this balanced approach was found in the attitude of JC Ryle (the first Bishop of Liverpool) when bringing up his sons.  A friend of his sons noted that Ryle, with his gigantic figure and stentorian voice, appeared rather formidable, but that he was  actually  kind and hearty.  He noted that: ‘the atmosphere of the house was devotional; daily Bible readings, somewhat lengthy family prayers, and a good deal of religious talk.  But all was quite wholesome and unpretentious.’  Ryle coached the boys at cricket, football and fostered their love of books and wrote wise and interesting letters when they were away at school.[4]

This is surely the balanced approach that Christian parents would do well to emulate as it allows children to flourish, enjoy growing up and develop to their own personality, with consideration to Christian values and lifestyle.  It is not about them being a carbon copy of their parents or what others are trying to force on them.  And it runs contrary to the agenda of these film makers and a society that is trying to force children to grow up too soon.  It’s about time we let children enjoy their childhood as they used to be able to do.  We should let them be  free from adult obligations and pressures as that is the Christian way as it is God’s way and therefore,  the best way!

[1] http://attitude.co.uk/world-exclusive-beauty-and-the-beast-set-to-make-disney-history-with-gay-character/
[2]http://www.msn.com/en-gb/entertainment/movies/power-rangers-movie-features-first-gay-screen-superhero/ar-BByuzKK?OCID=ansmsnnews11
[3] Tremper Longman, Song of Songs, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company,2001) 115.
[4] Marcus L. Loane, John Charles Ryle, 1816-1900 (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1983), 52.

What’s the Real Issue with Terrorism?

Sadly, once again, London has been the target of a terrorist attack. The shocking thing is that, in some ways, this should no longer surprise us.  It’s a fact that there are elements out there that want to attack our democratic system of government  and way of life, and whether we can understand it or not they believe they have a perfect right to do so!  No doubt there will be much said over the next few days and weeks, in connection with this attack and others that  are occurring around the world.  The Prime Minister Teresa May, responding to the attack of 22/3/17 called it a: ‘sick and depraved terrorist attack on the streets of our Capital’ and no doubt that is how the vast majority of people will see it and react to these attacks.

Let’s be clear, all these attacks are terrible events and our hearts and prayers are with those who have suffered loss or are concerned about loved ones who have been injured. But what is the real issue that leads someone to attack someone else’s ideology or to try and force their own ideology on them?  The Bible hits a nerve in the way as it sums up the reason for this kind of evil behavior.

‘What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions’ (James 4:1-3).

These verses really sum up the human condition, whether it’s manifested in  the extreme nature of acts of terrorism, murder, stealing or in the petty grudges that people sometimes harbour (sometimes for years) against neighbours, former friends or even family! In the end the issue  is the one behind all sin, self! Our sin always leads to us putting our self first regardless of other people’s feelings or rights!  As we have already noted, much is going to be said about the nature and causes of terrorism, but in the end the issue is the destructive and rebellious nature of the human heart.  As the prophet Jeremiah notes: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9).However the good news is God has given us a cure for the human heart. This is a cure that works for the terrorist, several former IRA terrorists  have been converted when they sought forgiveness for their  sins during their time in prison and have renounced their violent pasts, right down to those who’s petty squabbles and grudges can so sour their and others lives for year after year!  So the wonderful thing is that this cure can work for anyone!

‘For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ (Titus 3:4-7).

It’s God’s grace and his action that is the solution to the problem of the human heart. In the end that is a cure for every kind of sin that can separate us from God and so sour our lives and bring heartache and division in this damage world! Much will be said to do with this  atrocity and other incidents of terrorism in the days, months and years to come.  But the real and  lasting  solution to the human heart’s  rebellion against God is found in the saving work of Christ  on the cross!

 The subject of suffering is dealt with in more detail  in the book ‘Where is God when Things go Wrong.’ You can  find this   on the Any Questions? page if you would like to order a free copy.   The sermon The Storm Subsides.  also touches on the subject as does A Response to the Terrorist Attack of 22/3/17: What did Jesus say when Questioned about Evil and Suffering?

Should Christians always Obey the Authorities?

Last month we looked at the Christians attitude to authority as: ‘there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God’ (Romans 13:1). But we also noted that those in authority are: ‘God’s servant for your good’ (v4). So is it ever right to disobey the authorities if they in some way fail in that role?

The early Church, when facing opposition from the Jewish authorities, faced a stark choice. Were they to continue preaching the Gospel or stop as they had been commanded to (Acts 4:1-22)? But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,  for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”’ (Acts 4:19-20). Having witnessed Jesus’ teaching, death and resurrection the answer was obvious! Although Peter commends obedience to rulers and authorities in his epistle (1 Peter 2:13-15), their experienced and conscience compelled them, in this case, to disobey them in obedience to Christ’s command to be his witness starting in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8).

The role of ‘hate crimes’ for the protection of individuals in society is something that all Christians should feel able to support. We should want to see people protected regardless of their race and should deplore violence against anyone due to their sexuality. However, what if something supported by law is contrary to scripture?

I believe we can learn from the attitude of the apostle Paul. When in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) the number of idols in the city was detestable to him as a Christian and a Jew. But his approach was respectful as his purpose was to reach the: ‘Athenian mind’.[1] So when given the chance to proclaim the Gospel he does so in: ‘a convenient and customary place for public speaking’.[2] By this approach the Athenians hear the Gospel in a culturally accessible way.[3] The message is very direct! But the approach is gracious and loving, as Paul wants people to understand the ‘good news’, whereas some zealous Jews might have felt a God given right to take a hammer to the nearest idol! So we have the Scriptural principles, but how should they be applied in this day and age?

Firstly, we present the whole ‘Counsel of God’. For example, the Bible teaches the wrongness of any sexual relationships outside of Heterosexual marriage.   But a Christian at a Gay Pride event with a placard quoting Leviticus 20:13 is hardly doing that or showing a loving approach! If preaching on that passage, references to Isaiah 61:1-3 (the year of the LORD’S favour), 1 Corinthians 6:9-11and Romans 3:23-24 would present the right balance with an offer of forgiveness for all who have sinned and repent.[4] Secondly, we must stay as much as possible within the law. We have a perfect right to make a stand against abortion, but not to act intimidatingly, knowingly causing distress or obstruction outside an abortion clinic! God is the higher authority, but we are still called to submit to the ruling authorities where we can! The question we must ask is what are the necessary laws to break and when does protesting fail to be a constructive and loving witness? This is surely what is being taught in 1 Peter 3:15-16 where Peter puts an emphasis on: ‘gentleness and respect, having good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who recall your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame’ (v16).

Lastly, we must show great wisdom. The court case against the Australian Pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot was rightly over turned.[5] However, during their seminar on Christianity and Islam, although in many instances they quoted the Quran accurately, it was reported (in otherwise favourable reports) that some remarks were unwise and over the top. The case was a travesty in a country that prides itself on free speech, but it demonstrates the need for Christians to take care.[6]

In conclusion, the route to necessary law breaking should always be a long one and wisdom must be sought in the process of responding to laws that limit Christian liberty. When authorities fail to act as: ‘God’s servant’ (Romans 13:4) by producing laws that are contrary to Scripture the Church should preach against them in the most appropriate and robust manner! But that should be the last resort and other than that there are no excuses! In the end we are called to be good citizens who pray for those in authority so we might have good government and live peaceful lives (2 Timothy 2:2).

[1] J A. Alexander, Acts (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth 1963), 146.

[2] Alexander, Acts, 149.

[3] N Logenecker and N C. Tenney, ed F E. Gaebelein The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9, John and Acts (Grand Rapids, The Zondervan Corporation, 1981), 475.

[4] Something we all need to do!

[5] The incident was a seminar in March 2002 to instruct Christians on the teachings of Islam.  Unknown to the organisers several Australian converts to Islam attended and lodged a complaint.  The writer of this article does not want to be seen as over critical of these fellow Brothers in Christ, the example is used just to express the need for care.

[6] http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/02/13/who-danny-nalliah-and-what-rise-australia

What should be the Christian Response to the Election of Donald Trump as President?

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America has caused deep division as during his campaign he clearly polarised opinion.   At his inauguration it seemed that as many people came to protest against him becoming President  as to support him!  A common slogan of those who protested against him, despite the democratic process by which he has been elected, has been: ‘he’s not my president!’  But how should those of us who are Christians react?

In the early days of the Church, being a Christian in the Roman Empire meant that you were very often living under authorities who would not  be at all sympathetic to your beliefs.  However, when writing to the Christians in Rome the apostle Paul gives these instructions:

‘Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves’ (Romans 13:1-2).

However Paul also highlights the responsibility  that those in authority have, as he goes on to  write:

‘For he is God’s servant  to do you good.’ (Romans 13:4).

Those who are in authority  have a responsibility, whether they acknowledge it or not,   to serve God in a fitting way.   As they serve under God, they are  obliged to  protect, serve and seek    justice for all  in the circumcises in which they  are governing!    Therefore, we should be able to see the wisdom and the rightness  of Paul’s command  to Timothy  when he instructs him  as to what should be part of Christian  worship and individual practice:

‘I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’  (1Timothy 2:1-2). 

In the end,  Paul surmises   that this attitude is right simply because: ‘This is good, and pleases God our Saviour’ (1 Timothy 2:3).   The bottom line is that we are all under  God’s authority.   To conduct ourselves in any other manner is sinful  because it is to make an Idol of self.   Whatever our feelings, whether we like or dislike him as a person, like or dislike his politics, or are concerned  with   his attitude towards women, or human rights and immigration   Donald Trump has become President democratically.  And it is our duty to prayerfully support him by praying that God  would guide him  to do what is good and right.   And we should also pray,  and let’s not forget this,  that he would  have, or come to, a trust in God to guide him in every area of his life.   Let’s not add politics  to the list of idolatries (see: The Second Commandment) that we can become so easily subject to.  After all, the Bible instructs us:

‘Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save’  ( Psalm  146:3).

When all is said and done only the Lord Jesus Christ can save, and we should never stop proclaiming that wonderful truth!

 

A Time for Reflection? Some Thoughts on the Deaths of Rick Parfitt and George Michael.

No doubt for many people Christmas 2016 was overshadowed  by the death of Status Quo guitarist and vocalist Rick Parfitt on Christmas Eve, and the sudden and unexpected death of George Michael on Christmas day.  There’s a sense, that something  pulls us up short when  rich and famous people, or in this case musicians, died before their time whether we’d been a fan of them  or not!

There’s no doubt that in the past Rick Parfitt’s lifestyle  left a lot to be desired. His heart problems were well documented and some years ago he had undergone a massive heart bypass. However, I for one admired Status Quo’s work ethic with their constant touring and it seemed that Rick had managed to adopt a healthier lifestyle until a heart attack during a concert  earlier in the year. But George Michael’s death comes as a complete shock. By his own admission, he adopted a lifestyle that was liable  to be dangerous and one that  could invite health problems due to its promiscuous nature.[1]  He had also had issues with  drug use.  However, his music brought joy to many people and his death typifies the tragedy of a life cut short!

 Although my sympathy goes out to their families and friends, it strikes me that for the rest of us this is good opportunity  to reflect  on where we stand at this point in our lives.    I know this is a bit unsubtle, but are we ready to die?   In other words,   have we taken our mortality seriously?   After all, if this proves anything, it proves  none of us can be sure how long  we have got left.  The Bible has some good advice concerning this:

‘Remember your creator in the days of  your youth,  before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ” I find no pleasure in them”‘ ( Ecclesiastes 12:1).

The bottom line is this,  it doesn’t matter whether we’re  counted among the great and good in this world or whether we are counted as  rich or poor.   What we do now in terms of our attitude  and the lifestyle we adopt matters!   The writer of Ecclesiastes  concludes on an ominous note:

 ‘Now all has been heard;  here is the conclusion of the matter:   Fear God keep his commandments,  for this is the whole duty of man.    For God will bring every deed to judgement,  including  every hidden thing,  whether it is good or evil’  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

But the message of Christmas  is one that can last all year.    There is  a possibility of reconciliation with a holy God who should, by rights, judge us  and banishes  us from the goodness of his presence  to a place  where all the benefits  we see of his ‘common grace’  are  removed.   This would leave us with a future  of no-hope  whatsoever!   But Jesus has  obtained something that should be impossible, but is made possible only   through   his life, death  and resurrection when we seek his forgiveness!

‘Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your mind because of your evil behaviour.   But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death  to present you holy in his sight,  without blemish and  free from accusation’  (Colossians 1:21-22).

If you would like to know more as to how this might be possible, you can order a  free booklet from me  on our  Any Questions? page

[1] Gay and Lesbian Times, 10 August 2006. Retrieved 28 October 2009.

What did Jesus say when Questioned about Evil and Suffering?

Rather sadly we have witnessed even more atrocities and suffering due to terrorism and the depravity of mankind since the events that inspired this article.  But that does not change Jesus’s teaching on the subject.  That being the case I have decided to leave it unaltered for the moment.

There’s no doubt that the shootings in Orlando  and the  killing of the MP Jo Cox have been both extraordinary  and shocking!  But sadly they seem to be just  another example of the atrocities that we  are bombarded with in the news each week!  Our hearts go out to those who have suffered these and other terrible events, but  what conclusions, if any,  can we draw from these  sad events?

Interestingly enough Jesus was once approached with a similar question.

‘Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

The context of the verses above  is that  some people had approached Jesus concerning  an atrocity carried out by the Roman  governor Pilate.   But Jesus detects a hidden  agenda.  The inhabitants of Jerusalem would have seen Galileans as  sinners  rather  than good religious people  like  themselves.  So Jesus  points out that this terrible atrocity did not happen to them because  they were worse sinners than anyone else.  What  those asking him the question  should be thinking about is their standing before God!

He then brings the subject  uncomfortably close to home by referring to  a building accident which had  killed some of the ‘good’ people  of Jerusalem!  Again his approach is very direct, were these people worse than anyone else?  The answer is no! Once again Jesus urges those who have asked the question to consider where they stand in relation to God!

 So what are we to conclude,  was Jesus just  praying on human misery  and suffering to make some  twisted theological point?   That doesn’t seem likely as  any reading of the Gospels  shows him to be  the most loving and compassionate man  that ever walked on the planet.   So the alternative is this, he says it  because we really need to hear it!

The Bible tells us:  ‘all have sinned  and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).   Yet that passage goes on to assure us  that forgiveness for our  wrongdoings can be found  in the  death of Jesus Christ  (Romans 3:24).

In his book ‘The problem of Pain’ CS Lewis wrote: ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures,  speaks in our conscience, but shouts in  our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’  Whatever our worldview,  religion, lifestyle, job  or social standing  events like these should direct our thinking not just to an outpouring of compassion (although there is no doubt that is the right and proper    attitude), but also to the spiritual matter  of our own state before God.  Have we sought the forgiveness that is granted through Christ’s death for us?

This subject is covered in much more detail  in the booklet ‘Where is God when Things go Wrong’  which can be found on our Any Questions? page.   The subject of suffering is also touched on in the sermon The Storm Subsides.