Tuesday 2 October 2012

Jane Grey

Recently I read Five Women of the Reformation by Paul Zahl. I was challenged by the story of Jane Grey - the "nine day Queen".  After examination, where she had skilfully defended the reformation doctrines of sola scriptura, sola fide, and the sacraments, her Roman Catholic examiner, knowing that she would be sentenced to death, expressed regret that they would never meet again. The SIXTEEN year old Jane, not counting her own life above giving faithful testimony of our Lord, replied with great faith, courage and single-minded purpose: "True it is that we shall never meet [again], except God turn your heart; for I am assured unless you repent, and turn to God, you are in an evil case; and I pray God, in the bowels of his mercy, to send you his Holy Spirit, for he hath given you his great gift of utterance, if it pleases him also to open the eyes of your heart".

Wednesday 8 February 2012

A time to speak up

"For everything there is a season ... a time to weep, and a time to laugh ..." (Ecc 3)

The last week or so has had its ups and downs. I will be honest, it has not been easy. But I am so thankful that God has taught me (and continues to teach me) about His sovereignty over all things. Even in times of great difficulty, I know that God loves me and will ultimately work all things for good and that He uses those trials to turn me from trusting in myself to find rest for my fearful, hungry soul in Him.

Being thankful for these wonderful truths leads me to be angry at those who, through their public ministry, would pervert them because, not only do they lead many astray, they leave those who are the Lord's in bondage and give them no comfort in the inevitable trials of life. Jesus said "in this world you will have trouble" and who can deny that this has been their experience? It is bad enough that the world seems obsessed with self-help and self-fullfillment from fitness to beauty, and relationships to success in business. Yet there are those claiming to be ministers of the Gospel who teach such nonsense as saying that if you have enough faith and don't sin you can have a wonderful happy, healthy and wealthy life.

I read that Joel Osteen's book "Your best life now" sold over 3 million copies and his second book "Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day" sold over 4. How sad that so many can be deceived. Do they even read their Bibles? Consider Joseph - he was sold into slavery by his brothers then imprisoned for years due to a false accusation. Or Jeremiah who was imprisoned in a dried-up well. Or the apostle Paul who was imprisoned and eventually killed and countless other prophets, priests and men and women of God who suffered for Christ's sake.
"Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."
(Heb 11)
They didn't get their "best life now" why should we think we should?

What we all need to hear is a call to endurance and selfless living - I know I need to be challenged regularly about this - and the only way we will respond to such a call is by hearing of and delighting in the Lord Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice for our sake. The one who "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame". Now there's a pattern for life. It won't be easy but it is the only thing that brings true meaning to our lives and provides the strength and hope to endure the storms of life.

Ecclisiates 3 also says that "there is a time ... to speak". Today was such a day.

Monday 6 February 2012

How can suffering be 'good'?

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8)

3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5)
I've been considering these two passages in light of each other. I suspect most Christians will find themselves reflecting on Romans 8:28 at various times in their walk. It can be a cause of both encouragement and consternation. Consternation because often when we're in the midst of a trial what we experience feels far from good. Yet encouragement because we know that our great Saviour who endured the ultimate trial so that He could call us according to His purpose is at work for our good in all situations. Since Jesus demonstrated His love for us by dying on the cross for our sin we can be sure that He will never leave nor forsake us and, since we know that God rules over all His creation, we can be sure that the same love is actively at work when God allows suffering and tribulation into our lives. We may not understand what He is doing but we can be sure His motive is love.

Of course, it takes faith to believe all this and that is not always easy when our circumstances and emotions scream for our attention and our doubts and fears seem more real to us than God's promised presence. God may want to use it to develop in me endurance, character and hope but, if I'm honest, I'd rather He did that without me having to suffer! Besides isn't this the wrong way round? I mean, if I must endure suffering, then can't God give me the hope, character and endurance I need first? Then I'd be better equipped to cope with suffering! Why do I have to suffer in order to develop the sort of character that can endure suffering? That sounds like an employer who says you can't have this job without already having experience of doing this job! As if that's not enough, I'm talking about coping but Paul expects us to rejoice in our suffering! You have to be kidding, right? Sometimes God's ways can seem so hard to us.

As I reflect on these verses I have to admit that my experience of rejoicing in suffering is very limited. Naturally, I would rather not suffer at all, but, since scripture tells me to expect it in so many places (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:21) then my goal has to be to endure it well and seek to glorify God through it. It is quite humbling to think how often I have sought to escape suffering rather than embrace it as part of God’s necessary plan of working all things for good. No surprise then that I know little about rejoicing in suffering.

This brings me to why I am considering these two passages together. The problem with Romans 8:28 is what we do with the word 'good'. It is very easy to read into it whatever we want to define as good. Thoughts of a life of comfort and ease may readily come to mind. Certainly it’s hard to think of suffering as being good. Then there's the danger that we may happily endure a season of trail only because deep down, we expect some sort of reward from God in this life. The truth is, it may never come.

So, what is the 'good' of Romans 8:28? And, if suffering is a necessary part of our walk with Christ that is to be embraced, how does suffering work for this good? Drawing from Romans 5 we can see that suffering is a necessary part of being transformed to become more like Christ for it produces character and character in turn produces hope. This hope is a confident trust in Christ. It's a hope that will not disappoint because it’s not based on anything this world has to offer but on the rock solid promises of God. However what I am learning is how hard it is to have this kind of hope when we are also secretly trying to trust in our own performance, seek approval from those around us, control people and circumstances or satisfy the longings of our souls with worldly pleasures. These are all false saviours and gods - idols. Thus any suffering that takes these idols from us is a mercy because it leads us to trust in Christ alone who is our true treasure in heaven.

So one answer to the question how do we rejoice in suffering is because we know that through suffering we will be further stripped of our dependency on the things that we would trust instead of Christ so that we may rest and rejoice in Him alone. Since we were made for God, that is, to find our purpose and satisfaction in Him, all created things are meant to be pointers to lead us to thank and worship Him. The problem is we turn created things into ultimate things that we value above the God who made them. Thus anything which leads us further into the purpose for which we were made and into the loving embrace of the God who is love and who will never reject us and who is the only one who will truly satisfy the longings of our souls is a far greater 'good' than anything else we can imagine. This is a 'good' worth suffering for.

So, in summary, I put these two verses together to remind me that the good I really want is the one that God has planned for me. A good where I am always looking to Him, rejoicing in Him, being satisfied in Him and counting all things as rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. Though this will involve suffering, in fact, it will require nothing less than me dying to all my own selfish fantasies about how my life should go, yet, because God is working that good in me, it will be worthwhile because the ultimate goal, to borrow the language of John Piper, is for God to be more glorified in me through me being more satisfied in Him.

There is a line in the song "It was Your grace" which goes "You stripped me of everything I would depend on, so I’d depend on You". I am realising that this process has a long way to go in me but I have tasted of His goodness and am thirsty for more. May God who gave His son for my sake and who has poured His love into my heart through the Holy Spirit work all things for good in me for the glory of His holy name. Amen.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Union with Christ and hope

Just enjoyed The Plan (Gospel Coalition Booklets) by Colin Smith.

He quotes Martin Luther:

"Faith . . . unites the soul to Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage . . . it follows that everything they have, they hold in common. . . . Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own."

I think there's a danger this analogy can be pressed too far but, for the believer, it could be said that:
  • As Christ is perfect so, in the Father's eyes, are you;
  • As Christ has infinite riches so have you;
  • As Christ is the Father's son with a guaranteed inheritance so are you.
Later in the booklet, when Smith speaks about our common doubts and fears he writes:
"We love Christ, but we feel the pull of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. We trust Christ, but we struggle with many doubts and fears. We have new life in Christ, but at the same time our bodies are subject to sickness, aging, and death.

Christians are a mass of contradictions, but it will not always be so. Your love for Christ will be complete, your faith will be turned to sight, and you will experience the joys of everlasting life in a resurrected body. You will be with Christ in glory forever."

What a hope we have! How easy it is to forget that "I am my beloveds, and my beloved's mine" (Derek Webb).

Thursday 5 January 2012

Calvin's Institutes - Book 1, ch. 4

Though deep down we know there is a God, we try to supress what knowledge of Him we have - "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" Rom. 1:18). For Calvin, the consequence of this for many is that they "fall away into superstition". Those that "set up a fictitious worship", he warns, "merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies". Or, as Romans 1:22 says, "Claiming to be wise, they became fools".

Not surprisingly, those who will not revere God hate the thought of His justice more than anything else. On the one hand they try to deny it yet on the other, because of the guilt deep within, they imagine they can appease His wrath by doing good deeds of some sort ("a few paltry sacrifices" and "punctilios of no value"). At the same time they will "defile themselves with every kind of vice". In short, says Calvin, instead of fixing their confidence on God, they trust in themselves. The eventual outcome of this is that "they bewilder themselves in such a maze of error, that the darkness of ignorance obscures, and ultimately extinguishes, those sparks which were designed to show them the glory of God".

Yet, in all this, the conviction that God exists cannot be completely extinguished. Calvin demonstrates this by reference to when some great calamity threatens them, those who previously had nothing to do with God, will suddenly resort to prayer in their despair. I am reminded of the saying: there are no atheists on a sinking ship.

Thanks be to God for His mercy for rescuing a God-suppressing, justice-hating sinner like me!

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Calvin's Institutes - Book 1, ch. 3

The knowledge of God has been naturally implanted in the human mind.

Everyone, even the most "barbarous" or those in some tribe far from civilisation, have some sense of a deity "indelibly engraven on the human heart" says Calvin and this leaves them without excuse before Him. This is because God has "endued all men with some idea of his Godhead". No matter how much man may harden his heart in hatred against God, this sense of a deity "now and then breaks forth" and "gnaws" at his conscience. Calvin argues that, since we are "born and live for the express purpose of learning to know God" to fail to seek Him is to fail to live in line with the very purpose for which we were made.

Monday 2 January 2012

Calvin's Institutes - Book 1, ch. 2

What it is to know god and the result of this knowledge.

In Ch. 2 Calvin says that only those who love and revere God will have true knowledge of Him:
"Until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity."
How true that is. We will cling so tightly to the slenderest of threads rather than surrender completely to God.

For Calvin, knowledge of God necessarily involves trust and reverence:

If we know that God: We will:

· Governs all things

· Confide in Him

· Trust his faithfulness

· Is the source of every blessing

· Trust His care in any difficulty or need

· Is good and merciful

· Rest in God with supreme confidence

· Has all authority as both Father and Lord

· Love and revere Him

· Aim to glorify Him

· Obey His commands

· Is a just judge who will severely punish all sin

· Restrain ourselves for fear of provoking His anger

· Embrace God as much for His justice as for His mercy

Blogging the Institutes - Book I, ch. 1

The knowledge of God and of ourselves are mutually connected.

It's a new year and I thought it was about time I resurrected the blog. I can't promise how long I will keep it up though. :-)

Having started a few years ago I also thought it was about time I got round to finishing Calvin's Institutes so I decided to use the blog to record memorable quotes and reflections along the way.

Calvin begins with the thought that without knowledge of self we cannot really know God. It is only though an awareness of our imperfections that we will seek the one who alone is perfect. We will not seek after God until we are displeased with ourselves he says. I must admit, even as a Christian, I find this principle still at work in me all too often. How easily we think ourselves to be God!

Calvin continues that it is equally true that without knowledge of God we cannot really know ourselves. For,

"Since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white."
Again, I am reminded how easily we will compare ourselves to others and think ourselves not so corrupt. Why do we want to settle for a righteousness of our own instead of resting in the perfect righteousness that is ours by faith in Christ Jesus?

Thursday 15 July 2010

An example gospel presentation to someone who is shy/insecure

In previous posts I’ve been considering how we should present the gospel to postmoderns. I’ve argued that asking questions and listening is an important first step to try to understand what drives/motivates people. When we understand their idols we can present the gospel in a way which exposes the inadequacies of those idols.

Here's an example of what I might say to someone who seems shy and in need of approval from others. I might talk of how we were made to be in an exciting relationship with God but, because we are all selfish and self-seeking, God has withdrawn Himself from us. Yet that need for a relationship with God is still there, albeit now corrupted. As a result we end up insecure and yearning for acceptance but look for it from people instead of from God. Thus we are always worried about what people think of us or say about us. We need their approval. We need them to like us. We need to know we're 'ok'. That deep need is in all of us. But because we're all messed up we don't get the acceptance we crave. What little we get doesn't satisfy our need. We're still worried about what people think of us the next day. This is because we're trying to satisfy what we were made for with something that wasn't made to satisfy that need. The problem is because we've rejected God, we deserve His punishment, yet, because God loves us, He sent His Son Jesus who was perfect in every way, yet was killed for our rebellion against Him, so that God could be both just and merciful. Now you can have lasting acceptance with God, through faith in Christ Jesus. He will never reject you. Even in your darkest day, He will always accept you. After all he died for you for that very purpose. Man will never give you the ultimate acceptance and affirmation you long for because it requires them to be good to you and you to earn it. People make unreliable and crummy gods and, even if you do a great job some days, there's no guarantee you get the acceptance you think you deserve or desire. Even if the people from whom you seek acceptance are just and give “credit where its due”, what if you mess up? It’s a constant struggle hoping you’ll be accepted. It’s a form of slavery. To God, all our sin, including things that nobody else sees such as worrying about what people think of us, is adultery. And God is a God of justice. He has to do what is right. Justice has to be done. He has to punish sin. Yet He is also a God of perfect love. That is why Jesus bore the punishment we deserve, so that God’s justice is satisfied and He can have mercy on us. God is the only one who is truly good and loving, the only one would did all the perfect hard work for you and died for you so that you could be accepted for ever. Why would you reject that? Why worry about whether people accept you when you could rest in the perfect, unquestioning, unfailing love and acceptance of the God who never forgets about you or gets angry with you and who only ever works for your ultimate good?

Too much evangelism either glosses over the problem of sin or focuses on outward behaviour. Jesus said that it is what comes out of our hearts that defiles us thus the aim is to go after the motivations of their hearts not their external behaviour. Make sense?

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Does desire really follow duty?

For some time I have understood that, when it comes to self-discipline, there are two types of people in the church: those who can and those who can't. I'm definitely one of the latter! Before I started to understand the implications of the gospel on every day life I used to beat myself up thinking I'd be never be a 'good' Christian like those organised folks. I think I knew that it was a motivational issue but my understanding of the Gospel was so limited that I didn't realise that it was the only God-given power to motivate me. When discussing this with other Christians who seemed so much better organised and committed than me I'd often be given the advice that "desire follows duty". In other words buckle-down and do your duty then you'll get the desire to do it! This felt like telling me that the way I could jump ten feet in the air is to jump ten feet in the air! I didn't know what to say at the time, but now I do: Rubbish! This is to get it exactly the wrong way round. The biblical way is always "duty follows desire".

The question we should ask is not, what duty do I need to perform, but how does my heart get so transformed that my greatest desire is to serve and glorify God? To answer this we need to start by recognising that we are born to worship. If we don't worship God, we will make our own 'idols' to worship. An idol is anything which we think we have to have in order to feel satisfied/accepted/valued. So, if we lack the desire to live the way God calls us to its because we have other desires which we love more than Him. Therefore the only way our hearts will be transformed is when we see the futility of chasing after our idols and see God as more desirable. How do we do that? Through the Gospel. The gospel reminds us of God's great love for us in dying in our place. It reminds us of His faithfulness and mercy and of our unconditional acceptance and adoption as His son or daughter and of our hope in Him that will never perish or fade. Transformation has two sides to it: we root out our idols and we replace them with love for Christ. To paraphrase Thomas Chalmers in his expulsive power of a new affection, the only way our hearts will relinquish their idols is when they are replaced by a greater love. A love born out of a deepening undertanding of the depths of our sin and the riches of His grace. So, in answer to the original question, in the words of Jonathan Dodson :
"until we clear the shelf of our hearts of subtle idolatries, discipline will not give way to desire".

What about you? What are you chasing after?
May Jesus be the treasure of your heart.

Monday 28 June 2010

The Gospel for postmoderns (Part 2)

How do we present the gospel in a way which is uncompromising and yet culturally relevant to postmoderns? Some major on relevance others on doctrinal faithfulness. Few seem to wrestle with both at the same time. As a result, for those who concentrate on relevance, style becomes more important than content whilst, for others, content is king and style is largely overlooked. Unfortunately many gospel presentations trying to be culturally relevant end-up compromising the content of the message in the process. Yet those committed to representing the gospel in a way which is faithful to the scriptures often seem to assume that compromise is doing anything differently to how they’ve always done things.

However, this is not merely to argue that some happy middle ground must be found between these two camps. They are not two opposing views which must be reconciled. Rather they are both equally important. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. To compromise is to rob it of it’s power. If Paul needed to warn Timothy to guard his doctrine, how much more should that warning apply to us? Yet the gospel must be intelligible to the hearer (1 Cr. 14:6-9). Consider Paul’s presentations of the Gospel throughout the New Testament. Each one is different, suited to the needs of his audience. Contrast how Paul presents the Gospel to the pagan / pantheistic men of Athens in Acts 17 with his sharp contrast of law and grace to his Jewish readers in Romans. It is not just about the language used or even the style in which it is presented, the message must make sense to the hearer. And that means more than merely defining terms. Presuppositions that will prevent the hearer from understanding may need to be identified and challenged. For example, it is of little use trying to explain how someone has broken God’s law if, to them, there are no moral absolutes. First we need to challenge that presupposition. To fail to understand and deal with objections rooted in the other person’s worldview will more than likely lead to charges of arrogance or irrelevance and the conversation will reach an impasse.

I am not, however, arguing for extended apologetics that trades arguments for and against the existence of God and so on. Instead it is a call to go after the motivations of the heart. After all, what is a breaking of any commandment other than a failure to honour God as Lord in your heart? The essence of sin is to go after another ‘god’, by thinking, for example, that the thing or neighbour’s wife we covet will satisfy the longings of our hearts. It seems to me that churches either hardly grapple with how to see holiness develop in their people or, through the omission of the gospel as the only motivation to holiness, they effectively teach that holiness is about outward conformance. It’s our hearts God wants to transform not our behaviours. Don’t get me wrong our behaviour should change but only as the result of a transformed heart not as a means to gaining one.

So what does this look like? How do we tell someone who has no belief in God nor in His laws that they have broken His laws and deserve His wrath? There is no right or wrong way but the key is to try to understand what makes your listener tick. What is the thing or things to which they have ascribed ultimate meaning? The thing which they just have to have? From what or whom do they get their sense of identity and purpose? The answers to these sorts of questions reveal the idols of people’s hearts. The things they worship in place of the Lord our God. Exposing how people’s idols do not satisfy their deepest longings can lead to a greater openness to hear what we have to say and begin to sow seeds of doubt in their own worldview.

In the next post I’ll give an example of what that might look like.

Monday 21 June 2010

The Gospel for Postmoderns?

(Yeah, I know it's been a long while since I wrote something. :-)

If you go back a few decades in most western cultures, there was a time when most people knew something about God and His law. They may not have believed upon Jesus Christ but nevertheless they would tend towards the view that there is a God and would have known something of the Ten Commandments. In that context you could preach the gospel by reminding people of God's law and getting them to see they had broken it. You could then explain how Jesus had perfectly kept God's law and had been crucified for their sins. You could then urge them to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, assuring them that their sins will be forgiven and that they will be saved from eternal damnation (hell). Of course all was not rosy in the church garden, a decline had already begun in the 19th century with the advent of enlightenment thinking which claimed that science had all the answers and that man didn't need God or religion any more. Nevertheless, basic knowledge of the bible was widespread and the gospel could be presented this way.

Today it can no longer be assumed that people have even the most basic bible knowledge. In fact, western culture now seems to generate people who are predisposed to be opposed to Christianity - despite knowing very little about it. The irony is that, at the same time, the enlightenment thinking that led to the decline of traditional western Christianity is increasingly being rejected. God is no longer "dead", contra-Freidrich Nietzsche. Powerful arguments against aggressive opponents of Christianity such as Richard Dawkins are beginning to be raised from non-Christian philosophers. Soon Dawkins and his ilk will be 'dead'. (Unfortunately much of the church, as ever behind the times, doesn't see this so they're still expending their efforts vainly trying to counter Dawkins, disprove evolution and so on. In effect, relying on science instead of the Gospel.)

Though spirituality is good again, the 'god' that now 'reigns' in people's minds is manifold. At the centre, of course, is 'me'. What matters most are my feelings, my wants, my needs and my rights. Materialism, fame, self-gratification and wanton sex are the gods we worship. Just add in a bit of Oprah or some self-help pop-psychology with a hint of eastern mysticism to complete the mix. Relativism and pragmatism (what works for me) is the order of the day. Now spirituality is fine. Just as long as you don't make any exclusive claims of course. So is that it? After thousands of years on the earth, is that the pinacle of man's ability to answer the most fundamental questions like why are we here? or what happens when we die? Seems so!

So just how do we present the gospel in this context? How do we present the gospel in a way which engages with people? In a way which is relevant to the culture? The old ways just don't work. How do we engage with people in a way which isn't going to result in them immediately switching off? I say we need to listen to people, without confronting them, to understand two things:
- why they think Christianity has nothing to say to them, and
- what matters to them.

Increasingly with postmoderns, in understanding why they have dismissed Christianity, we find that the reason given isn't because they think science has disproved Christianity. Rather, they will have fundamental intellectual and philosophical reasons why they have dismissed it. Often, we'll find that what they have dismissed is not the gospel but religion. Religion teaches that we must do good works in order for good to accept us. But the gospel teaches that God accepts us, therefore good works will follow. Religion in effect puts God in your debt, he owes you, whereas, in the gospel, we owe God everything. As a result it is vital to spend time explaining the difference between the gospel and religion.

I hope to explore these issues further and suggest some example ways in which the gospel can be presented to postmoderns in subsequent posts.

Sunday 4 April 2010

In Christ alone my hope is found!

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
From life's first cry to final breath

I love the Page CXVI version of this classic. Listen here: http://www.last.fm/music/Page+CXVI/_/In+Christ+Alone+MP3?autostart

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Bringing God into discussions about Quantative Easing!

Discussions about the solution to our economic woes are everywhere. Opinions are plentiful.

Has Quantative Easing avoided the worst of the recession? (That's printing money to you and me. Obviously the Government wouldn't want to call it that else we might question why they're allowed to do it and we aren't ;-) Will any benefits of QE come at the cost of a long and deep depression and eventual high inflation? Should Banker's bonuses be curbed or should the Government have never intervened in the first place (thus bankers would have been fighting for their jobs instead of fighting for their bonuses and the taxpayer's debt would be a fraction of what we now face)? The list is almost endless. Everyone has an opinion. Discussion heats up. It is tempting for the Christian to turn away from such debates.

Yet, underneath the opinions and arguments, different shades of the same worldview underpin them all. For everywhere it is assumed that man is in control of his destiny and that his destiny is to make money, make a name for Himself and have fun! Very few Christian voices can be heard in such discussions. Those that do enter in, invariably argue for ethics derived from the Bible. Whilst this is not a bad thing per se, I would argue that little headway will be made if this worldview remains unchallenged. I would liken it to a group of Doctors arguing about the treatment of symptoms before they have identified the cause of the illness.

The following is an example of a recent post I made at a financial website where I tried to do this. I don't hold it up as a good example, nor do I expect anything to come from it, yet it was offered for the glory of God. Imagine if christians everywhere were to start asking questions like this at every level of society? If people could no longer just assume that the underlying worldview driving all they say and do is the only valid one?

In the discussion contributors were lamenting the decline in our culture and arguing for less government intervention and a return to a time when people were less self-centred and short-term gain focussed and when good quality, hard work was rewarded - presumably in contrast to the current debate about bankers, who are perceived as those who have got us into the mess, receiving bonuses. Here is what I wrote:

That our work ethics and, indeed, whole culture, have undergone significant transformation in a matter of a couple of generations is undeniable. The emerging implications for our future economic prosperity are disconcerting. More important, however, yet seldom asked and then hotly controverted, is the question: what is the cause?

Any solution seeking to limit the increasing desire for fast, easy gain - whether through tightened regulation at one extreme or a return to full, free market forces at the other - is to attempt to treat the symptom not the underlying cause. All the while the symptoms are screaming at us just how far gone the sickness is!

The reality is that we have bought in to the dominant yet bankrupt worldview of our day - for whom we have blind, so-called 'enlightenment', and post-modern humanist philosophers to thank. Ironically just as the gaping flaws in their reasoning and the recognition that humanism is no less a blind faith than Christianity is alleged to be become apparent, so, at the same time, have the
masses unquestioningly bought into the 'opium' of self-worship. As the Apostle Paul so incisively pointed out, we have refused to honour God or give Him thanks and have preferred to supress the truth about Him. Thus He has given us over to the futility of our own thinking (Romans 1:18-21).

Like the Romans to whom Paul wrote, unless we repent, our downfall is inevitable. We reap what we sow.

Shining light in a dark culture

Secular humanism is all around us. As Christians we must seek to challenge it not flee from it. All too easily we can throw up our hands in despair, feeling powerless. But too many Christians keeping quiet for too long is what got us into the mess! We must speak out against all ungodliness as beacons shining in the dark. We must resist the unbiblical division the world tries to put on us that faith is a private matter to be kept at home and in the church and that it has no place in the public realm.

God rules all His creation! There is nothing that is not His and there is no creature that does not owe Him everything. Every law, every policy decision, everything in the public domain actually procedes on the basis of assumptions about the purpose and common good of mankind. The reality is that everyone has faith in something yet most people just assume and never stop to question the reliability of the object(s) of their 'faith'.

Christians need to start engaging in matters of public interest at all levels of society and exposing the bankruptcy of the faith assumptions that underpin secularism. And they need to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of all, including politics, the arts, commerce and the law. This is NOT a calling reserved for the elite and powerful. Each of us move in circles in which opportunities present themselves to us, whether it be the workplace, a local fund-raising committee, public debates and so on. In fact widespread internet access means almost all of us have such opportunities. Yet how many Christians restrict themselves to 'safe' Christian websites and only contribute to discussions in safe Christian environments? Why is that?

Are you frightened that you will make a mess of it?
Did not Christ die for you precisely because you do make a mess of everything you do!? And, is not the outcome the Lord's and nothing to do with how good a job you do!?

Are you afraid of people's rejection?
Was not Christ rejected so that you could be accepted by Him!?

Are you afraid of persecution?

Did not Christ face the fiercest of persecution and surrender His life that you too may know the joy of losing this life in order to gain life eternal!? To live is Christ and to die is gain! (Phil 1:21) Has He not promised to be with You always?

The times we live in may be evil, godlessness, greed and "Me-ism" may abound, but consider the Israelites when they went in to exile in Babylon. They too, like many coming from Christian backgrounds in our day, had forsaken their God and so He had given them over to the rule of the Babylonians, just as He had warned them (2 Chron 6:36; 7:19-20; Jer. 25:8-9). The Babylonians wanted to supress Israel's spiritual identity and make them conform to Bablyonian culture. Yet God did not say to the exiled Israelites 'have nothing to do with them', He told them to seek the peace and prosperity of the city and, in so doing, they would find their own peace and prosperity (Jer. 29:7). Likewise, instead of lamenting the times we live in we must engage with and seek the peace and prosperity of those around us.

Of course, true peace and prosperity is not found in the fleeting pleasures or treasures of this world so this will involve confronting the dominant worldview and presenting the risen Christ as the only hope for lasting peace and prosperity. He is, after all, THE way, THE truth and THE life. To the extent that we believe that, so should we proclaim it as we have opportunity.

The next post will give an example of what this could look like.