Anglican update: A hard pill to swallow


The Church of England has now entered another turbulent period of debate over sexuality, which threatens to tear it apart from the inside.
The Pilling Report on Human Sexuality came out at the end of November and will be discussed by the House of Bishops in January. It contains worrying evidence and worrying recommendations.
Like the apostle Jude, I’m sure that we would all prefer to discuss the good news of Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers. We are constrained, however, as Jude was, to respond to the teaching of those who are changing the gospel into an affirmation of cultural change.
At its publication, the Archbishops were keen to stress that this report is not a new official policy document for the Church of England. This should be borne in mind during any future discussions of it. The report will, however, have quite an impact on Anglican politics over the next two years.

Some good things…
There are some good things in it, such as a repudiation of homophobic attitudes which the church has too often failed to rebuke. It is also good to have it on paper that ‘no one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same-sex relationships’. Sadly, however, there are problems that need to be addressed.
The most pressing issue is that most of the report’s authors have lost touch with genuine Church of England doctrine, as crystallised in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. They downplay the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and make a case that it is unclear on the central issue at stake, that of the acceptability or otherwise of sexually-active same-sex relationships. This is not classic Anglican teaching as reflected in our formularies, which are consistent with evangelical convictions and remain our gold standard. As John Stott said in Christ the Controversialist: ‘according to its own formularies, this church is reformed and evangelical.’
The Pilling Report calls for two years of  ‘facilitated discussions’ on the issue, so that we can listen to each other. But such processes, set-up to reach negotiated compromises, are a non-starter for evangelicals who are more convinced that we should listen first to God, then obey him without equivocation. God the Holy Spirit continues to speak through his unchanging word, but we are encouraged to ask: ‘Did God really say…?’. A worrying echo of Adam and Eve’s fall.

Gospel opportunities
The opportunity here is that evangelicals in the Church of England have a chance to continue their mission to the nation. It is not the time to throw in the towel just because a loaded committee wrote a deeplyflawed report.
The courageous ‘dissenting statement’ in the report, by Bishop Keith Sinclair, is an excellent rallying point for supporters of authentic Christianity. It sets out biblical teaching on the authority of Scripture and the subject of sexuality, clearly, respectfully, attractively. Repenting of any timidity we may have had in wanting to avoid the subject, all of us should follow his episcopal lead and do the same in our churches. If we believe 1 Corinthians 6.9-11, then souls are at stake. There is only one way to save the lost and it is not to turn inwards or run away.
Now is the time to speak of God’s goodness and his glorious design for human flourishing through costly counter-cultural commitment to the Lord Jesus. It is time for evangelicals everywhere to engage in bold proclamation of the Bible’s life-transforming message, in every pulpit we are able to enter. We must give no ground away, but use every platform we have for the sake of our needy nation. God works through his word, as it is winsomely taught and prayerfully expounded, to soften hearts and change minds. We must never trust to political tactics alone, or despair of making an impact for Christ while we have his word in our hearts and our hands, but engage the world, and the worldly church, in an evangelical way — with the unerring, life-giving word of God on our lips.

Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society and co-author with Peter Adam of Reformed Foundations, Reforming Future: A Vision for 21st Century Anglicans (Lost Coin Books).

 

This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Prayer fuel: News in the UK


Here are a handful of news-bites from around the UK included in the January issue of EN. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.

Scotland: homegrown?
A report in November said that only one in ten Grace Baptist churches is pastored by a Scot.
In a fiercely nationalistic country, this is an increasing problem. The Grace Baptists in Scotland are encouraging people to pray for Scottish men to train for Christian ministry. Grace Baptist Scotland

Synod paves way
The General Synod, meeting in November, has voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation which will pave the way for women bishops next year.
There were 25 recorded abstentions; 378 voted in favour; and only eight members voted against the motion. The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Revd. James Langstaff, said: ‘The train is on the track and moving forward, and we know there are some stations to pass through along the way, but we can see the end of this particular journey.’ Bible Society’s Newswatch

Mission accomplished?
The Swansea mission, involving 11 churches over 10 days, (reported on in early November) had one aim – to make Christ known.
Around 26,000 newspapers were distributed and over 35 evangelistic meetings, from coffee mornings to curry nights, were held across the region. Mission organisers are grateful to God for the gospel clearly preached through testimonies and talks. The gospel work continues. Evangelical Movement of Wales

Watching The Bible
Over a million watch The Bible on Channel 5.
The Bible television drama was watched by 1.5 million people on the first Saturday night of screening. This is over 5% of the total viewing audience. Christians seemed very divided on the content and how accurately it depicted the Bible. This lead to some heated debate on Twitter #TheBibleUK. Bible Society’s Newswatch

 

For more news and prayer fuel from around the UK, subscribe to EN for monthly updates.

Editors commentary: Scots missed?


I don’t know if the Scots will vote for independence.

But the break up of Great Britain after hundreds of years of beneficial union would surely be another sign of a sick country.
A referendum on Scottish independence takes place next September and the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, recently unveiled his government’s white paper describing what they hope an independent Scotland would look like. They hope the pound would be kept. 30 hours of childcare per week in term time and a secure pension scheme were pledged. But it seems Britain’s deterrent, the Trident submarines based on the Clyde, would have to go somewhere else. In the UK, government concern is not to see Scotland cut itself loose; already shipbuilding at Portsmouth has been sacrificed in order to keep Scottish yards open.

Christian opinion
Both the Church of Scotland and the Free Church hold to the established church principle. A spokesman from the Free Church of Scotland said: ‘The white paper does not explicitly discuss the historical compact between the state and the church to work for the Christian good of Scotland. We hope that this is because the Scottish Government does not propose any alteration to the current arrangements’.
One minister of the Free Church told me: ‘I think that all feel that the existing Scottish Parliament has led the way in secularism and same-sex-marriage and we see no betterment if there is an independent parliament.’ He went on: ‘I am all for a sense of national identity, but nationalism can be “selfism”.’ Another Scot, living in England, feeling that financial arguments would be crucial, said: ‘I get the feeling that people don’t think Scotland will be better off without England’. But Christian opinion is divided. The figures at present seem to indicate the ‘No’ vote will prevail in the referendum, but we shall have to wait and see.

Scattering and gathering
How can we understand the dissolution of a nation theologically? Perhaps a place to start would be Christopher Ash’s excellent book Remaking a Broken World. It is an overview of Bible history which traces God’s judgement and salvation in terms of scattering and gathering. ‘Adam and Eve were “scattered” from Eden in judgement for disobedience; the people at Babel were scattered as punishment for pride; Israel was gathered by God at Sinai and then again at Jerusalem, but scattered to Babylon in judgement. The cross is the place of gathering (John 12.32) and Pentecost is the gathering reversing the scattering of Babel.’
Surely, in a democracy, godless secularism, with its exalting of the self and the ‘rights’ of different interest groups, must inevitably lead to conflict and the break up of communities. As Britain has grown more secular so the drive for devolution, and now independence, has accelerated. The SNP, founded in 1934, saw its first real breakthrough when Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton byelection in 1967, just as secularism in Britain was gaining real momentum.
Maybe we should see that the Christian ethos of both nations in the past did more to keep us together than we might have realised. But ultimately it is not ‘Britishness’ or wealth which brings people together, but the gospel of Christ. In an ordinary local church, so despised by the world, people from very different backgrounds of class, nationality, colour and culture are gathered, humbled and included by the astounding grace of God. If our nation breaks up, God is still gathering his people and bringing about the miracle of unity which politics and finance can never achieve. And the angels are astonished (Ephesians 3.10).

John Benton

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Church planting among Muslims


Witnessing to MuslimsSeven years of church-planting can teach you a lot.

We were involved in such ministry in and beyond the remote little town of Mpanda in the west of Tanzania. It taught us much about Tanzanian culture and values, about the Africa Inland Church of Tanzania and about who we needed to become as missionaries with AIM International in order to play our part well.

Being very isolated as expatriate missionaries for those years meant enormous challenges, but also meant countless important lessons learned which enabled us to serve there and prepared us for ongoing ministry elsewhere. How God then led us to the Digo, a Muslim people near the Tanzanian coast, is a story in itself and this article can only relate a small but significant part of a work which continues today and includes a team of people other than ourselves. But at least some of what God has been doing among the Tanzanian Digo should be told or we dishonour God by staying quiet about how he has answered the prayers of many, his work for which he deserves praise.

Seeking permission

In 2002 when we set out to seek permission of the Digo to live among them, the Tanzanian Christians we shared our plans with were incredulous. The Digo were known for their resistance and even Christians of other tribes in the vicinity of the Digo villages were doing nothing to reach out to them.

From a Digo perspective, to be Digo means to be a Muslim. Their culture, while retaining some practices of traditional animistic belief from their pre-Islam days, is Islamic, imposed on them generations before as an alternative to slavery. Evangelism in the early 20th century had made some inroads, but most of the converted Digo were pulled back and, among the hundreds of village mosques, we only found one tiny Christian community in a different part of Digo territory from our own. Even there, when Andrew preached in the church and referred to Jesus as the Son of God, an elderly leader who had wept with joy when we first arrived, objected angrily.

‘Let them come’

December 2002 saw just the two of us (my wife Rachel and me) standing in a Digo village before a crowd of local people, being introduced by a village chairman as people who wanted to come and live among them. The scene was almost overwhelming and is deeply embedded in our memories. We were open about being Christians and some were hostile, raising their voices in objection, saying we would be like poison working its way through the people. The door seemed to be closing against us and we knew that if it did other villages would say no. It was the local imam who then stood and announced that he was secure in his faith and that if others were sure of theirs then they should allow us to stay. A chant went up: ‘Let them come, let them come!’ and the following day two more villages also said yes. God had opened a door for us and our TIMO team* which joined us a year later.

God’s Word breaks through

Isaiah 55 speaks of God’s Word accomplishing that for which it was sent and it was God’s Word which began to draw a few men to us in that first year, secretly expressing interest in the teaching of the Bible. Later, it was God’s Word which caused the handful of brave seekers in those villages to attend our team’s house church and listen week by week as we used our still halting Chidigo to teach, using Chronological Bible Story Telling. It was God’s Word which brought the first believers to their knees in submission before God and to baptism, which grew the local opposition into something more, bringing Islamic leaders out of the city to name and shame those who had ‘changed their religion’.

It was John’s Gospel — produced in Chidigo by those who were working with Bible Translation and Literacy (EA) across the border in Kenya among the Kenyan Digo — that the men building the large and elaborate mosque a few villages down the road read in their chai breaks. Later, when the Chidigo New Testament was finalised and given to every household who would accept it, God’s Word was the only published book they had in their own language.

Best practice

We have seen over and over again how the best evangelism flows from relationship. As God enabled our team to live very closely with the Digo and to become like them in every way possible, opportunities opened up and Bible storying groups met secretly in homes and fields across the villages. It was very hard for those first few believers as they bore the first wave of anger and opposition and, even today, most of them struggle significantly. Yet they blazed the trail for others to believe and, in spite of opposition of many and various kinds, a church was born.

The believers wanted a place to meet for worship, so, when a local man offered to sell us a large plot of land at one end of our village and braved the criticism aimed at him, the reality of a church now being present in the area could no longer be hidden. We were determined that the church should bless the community from the outset, so, although the clearing of the dense bush could have been more easily done by machines, we employed local people in need of work and they felled the trees, dismantled the vast termite mounds and carried sand for the foundations of the Pande Gospel Centre, two buildings which were familiar in design to local people because we saw no reason to build unfamiliar structures.

In one of those buildings we met as a gospel community learning to worship in culturally appropriate ways, watched at a distance by a wider community which was both appalled and intrigued that there was now a Christian presence in their midst.

A Tanzanian pastor, Matinya, himself a believer from a Muslim background, and his wife Milka have led the church since 2007. Matinya has now identified a Digo man who has shown characteristics of a leader and is now attending a Bible school course, a few months there, a few months back home. The church has grown slowly, drawing a few Digo, and some non-Digo people as well, as God’s Word is preached faithfully. Our team mates who carried on after we left partnered with the few Digo believers and established story-telling groups in other remote Digo villages. These are now slowly emerging as worshipping communities. There are only three expatriate workers left now, in villages an hour or more from the main church, and they will soon leave. We must pray that the Digo will carry on the work of reaching out to their own people.

Vision for a school

Pastor Matinya and Milka had a clear vision for a church school and it has now been running for five years, over-subscribed by mostly Muslim families. Registration took a long time, but at the official opening in June 2012 the men and women who did that early work of clearing the land were celebrated and their pride was evident, even though they are still Muslims. Some people who were outraged a few years ago now send their children to the school which we pray will give the next generation a choice like never before. The Standard 4 children, most of whom live extremely poor and basic lives, have recently sat national exams in English and have excelled almost beyond belief. With entrance to secondary school being dependent on use of English, this opens wide their chance for ongoing education. How we thank God that those children and many more are so much more likely now to be able to extend their thinking and lives in many directions, including, we trust, into a greater freedom to choose Christ.

Praise the Lord indeed!

So a community of people, known for their resistance, has begun to witness the impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2008, when told about the church with its school, a Christian official in our nearby city slapped his hand down on his desk in delight and exclaimed: ‘A church among the Digo — well praise the Lord!’ Indeed.

Andrew and Rachel Chard

Andrew is now European Director of AIM International and Rachel is a Staff Worker for Friends International

TIMO* — Training In Ministry Outreach, the church-planting training wing of AIM International. See http://www.timo-aim.com

  

This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Jesus, name above all names


The great significance of what the characters of Scripture were called

 

Jesus name above

Generally speaking, names have far greater significance in ancient society than in Britain today.

Exploring the meaning of the names of biblical characters and how that relates to unlocking theological truths is a fascinating exercise. Here then is a snapshot survey of some key Scripture names culminating with the Lord Jesus Christ, the name above all names.

The family of Adam

Some words in Hebrew and Greek are almost impossible to describe with a single English word. The name Adam means ‘red earth, dust, clay and man’. ‘Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living’ (Genesis 3.20). The Bible teaches that Adam was the first representative of the human race, formed from the dust and that the Lord Jesus is the Second Man and the Last Adam and that, as a result of Adam’s sin, sin entered the world and death spread to all men, yet through the Second Man, grace abounded to many (1 Corinthians 15.45-49; Romans 5.12-15).

Interestingly, the family of Adam, listed in Genesis 5, down to Noah, appears to outline the gospel message.

Adam Man; Seth appointed; Enosh mortal ; Cainan sorrow; Mahalel the blessed God; Jared shall descend; Enoch teaching; Methuselah his death shall bring; Lamech the despairing; Noah rest. Putting together the meanings we get, ‘man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the blessed God shall descend teaching, his death shall bring the despairing rest’. The inspired Scripture is very rich.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

Abram was one of several individuals whose name God changed. Abram translates aslofty father, while Abraham means father of a multitude. Meanwhile, Sarai became Sarah, formerly a princess but becoming a princess of many nations. God named their son Isaac laughter, an on-going reminder of their reaction to his sovereign intervention. Isaac was one of the ‘seven’ who received a name by divine prophecy prior to birth, the others being Ishmael his half-brother, Solomon, Josiah, Cyrus, John the Baptist and Jesus. Not only would the previously-barren Abram and Sarai beget innumerable descendants, more crucially, the world would be blessed through the birth of the Messiah from their family line (Genesis 12.3; Acts 3.25-26).

Jacob received his new name while engaged in a wrestling bout with, as I understand it, Jesus in pre-incarnate form. For many years, Jacob lived up to his name as a crooked deceitful supplanter or trickster. Jacob spent most of his life wrestling with others. When he was born, he immediately grabbed Esau’s heel and then tricked him and their father to obtain the birthright. He almost met his match when Laban made him labour 14 years to obtain Rachel and he had his wages altered on no less than ten occasions. Interestingly, when Jacob struggled at Peniel (Genesis 32.24-30) and insisted on knowing his opponent’s name, God blessed him and Jacob’s name became Israel, which can mean straightened by God.

A friend like Ruth

What her name was, so was she. Ruth, the Moabitess, was faithful to her mother-in law saying: ‘Entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be My people’ (Ruth 1.16).

Ruth’s great-grandson was David. His name means beloved and he is a type of Christ (God’s beloved Son), and a man whom God described as ‘a man after his own heart who would do all his will’ (Acts 13.22). In addition he was born in Bethlehem, and from his seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel the Saviour, Jesus.

Samuel and Eli

Do you ever struggle to hear from God? Ironically, Samuel the prophet (and the function of a prophet is a spokesperson or mouthpiece for God), whose name means heard orasked of God, thought his master Eli (which translates as my God) was calling him when it was actually God who was communicating with him!

This helps us to understand the confusion at Jesus’s crucifixion when he quoted Psalm 22.1 saying: ‘Eli, Eli, lama, sabachthani, that is, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27.46). Some present thought he was calling on Elijah, which translates as Elohim my Yahweh or God my God.

If you think God may have spoken to you, it would be wise to take a leaf from Samuel’s book, so to speak, and say: ‘Speak, for your servant hears’.

The root of salvation

The names Joshua, Isaiah and Hosea all have their root meaning salvation, which speaks of the Lord Jesus. Moses elected to call ‘Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua’ (Numbers 13.16). Hoshea denotes salvation though the name Joshua, has greater purpose and identity, Yahweh is salvation. Isaiah contains the highest number of Messianic prophesies and, in particular, Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering servant who was silent before his accusers, wounded for our transgressions, died with the wicked and was buried with the rich at his death. Hosea depicts God’s faithfulness to Israel and his call for them to repent from their idolatrous practises. God commanded Hosea to marry a harlot, demonstrating Israel’s spiritual adultery.

Before Joshua commanded Israel to take Jericho, he encountered the Commander of the army of the Lord in a similar way to that in which the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, instructing him to remove his sandals since the ground was holy (Joshua 5.15; Exodus 3.5). Like Samuel, Joshua did not immediately recognise the true identity of his visitor.

Notice that, in addition to Joshua being a clear type of the Lord Jesus, taking the children of Israel into the Promised Land, God met Joshua the leader and commander as his Leader and Commander. God promised Joshua that he would never leave him nor forsake him (Deuteronomy 31.6-8; Joshua. 1.6). It can seem overwhelming when Jericho approaches. Though whether in heaven or on earth, the Lord is ever present and will never leave nor forsake us also (Hebrews 13.5). If Joshua had been capable of providing rest, he would not have spoken of another day (Hebrews 4.8), hence the promise to enter into God’s eternal rest in Christ.

Jesus name above all names

Isaiah foretold a day when ‘Immanuel’ God would be with us and that he would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 7.14; 9.6) Noticeably, Joseph called Mary’s firstborn son Jesus, meaning Saviour.

Indeed, there is no greater name and Jesus’s claims caused great offence. When the Jews asked Jesus whether he was greater than their father Abraham, Jesus replied: ‘Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8.58). Not surprisingly they took up stones to throw at him since he was identifying himself as Yahweh who sent Moses to Pharaoh explaining himself as ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3.14). When Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd’, the Jews tried to stone him again because Psalm 23.1 states: ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. They sought to kill him also in John 5.18 deducing that saying that God was his father made him equal with God.

Jesus truly is the name above all names and ‘there is no name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4.12). ‘Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2.9-11).

Jon Taylor is a member of the FIEC Pastors Association and a researcher for the Reachout Trust.

  

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

The Ascension (book review)


THE ASCENSION The Ascension Book
Humanity in the presence of God
By Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow
Christian Focus / Porterbrook Network. 94 pages. £4.99
ISBN 978 1 781 911 440

As I write, it is Ascension Day, and it’s a Thursday — it always is. Perhaps this fact alone is one reason why so few sermons are preached on the doctrine. It’s also superficially implausible in an age bored by space flights. And precious few books have been written on it.

This outstanding little book is a counterweight to all those problems. It is written (mostly) at an accessible level, but Chester and Woodrow have read those salient works and digested them for us.

It is structured around Christ as Ascended Priest, King and Man, explored theologically and pastorally, supported by robust exegesis and insightful biblical theology. Because this book is slender I made the initial mistake of thinking I could skim it quickly: not at all. Many times I stopped reading, awed by a biblical connection I had never seen before.

I think it might have one weakness. The authors have thought hard, and occasionally they fish in extremely deep waters. There is nothing wrong with that, except that in a brief book most people might assume something more introductory was on offer. For instance, the discussion of T.F. Torrance and Einstein, on the issue of space and place, was breathtakingly short. I was taught by Torrance and so have an advantage, but even so pages 62-64 were densely packed and arguably over-ambitious. That section felt simultaneously incomprehensibly dense and yet superficial. I hope there is a much bigger book in here, waiting to come out, and I look forward to some of these rich but mind-bending ideas being given room to breathe.

The book concludes with a specially written hymn, structured around the themes of the book, which would be a joy to sing through at a home group working through it. My only recommendation is that the pastor prepares a study guide to help the group feed on this rich banquet.

Chris Green, 
Vice Principal, Oak Hill Theological College, and member of Grace Church, Highlands

 

(This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Waiting on God


Waiting on GodLet’s be realistic and honest: waiting is a difficult and frustrating test in life.

But there are ways to cope and grow in testing times. Knowledge apart from application falls short of God’s desire for his children. He wants us to apply what we learn so that we will change and grow. We grow as our understanding of God’s Word increases, and as we apply what we have learned.

We tend to replace waiting on God with hurried attempts at pursuing growth on our own. We use chemical fertilisers in our gardens to force growth. So we settle for shallow roots destined to yield only mediocre growth. We have grown so accustomed to fast food restaurants that they are a way of life. We graft this attitude of hurry into our pursuit of God and it stunts the growth of our inner being. Trees that grow slowly are stronger and their annual rings are more densely compacted.

Biblical examples

God told Noah to build the ark in preparation for a great flood. Enduring his neighbour’s derision and perhaps his own doubts, Noah waited 120 years before that rain finally came.

Job lost his family, his wealth, and his health. One by one the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual supports for his faith were removed. But Job chose instead to wait on the Lord.

Abraham

At the age of 75, a very prosperous and settled Abraham left his native land. He was guided only by God’s promise to make him a great nation. Abraham waited on God a long time before the fulfillment of that promise became evident.

These ordinary people became spiritual giants because they chose to wait on God. If we are to grow in spiritual stature we must learn to wait on God. That stretches us.

Joseph endured 14 years inside a dark Egyptian prison cell for a crime he didn’t commit. But rather than withering and dying, he waited on God and trusted in his sovereignty.

Moses

Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, was well educated. But at the age of 40, he killed an Egyptian and was forced to flee for his life. For the next 40 years this leader lived alone in a desert learning to wait on God. It was a time when Moses learned to replace trust in himself (to get things done) with trust in God and waiting.

Paul was one of the greatest men the religious system of the Pharisees could produce. He zealously led the persecution of Christians. But Christ had other plans for Paul and intervened in his life on the Damascus Road. Paul spent the next three years alone, growing in his knowledge and understanding of his Saviour.

The Lord Jesus

Just before Christ’s public ministry began, Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world if he would only worship him. Jesus endured three tests. Satan tempted Christ to receive glory and power in a way other than God’s way, which was to be through the cross. Christ, however, was willing to wait, to endure suffering, and to become the sacrifice for our sin, before exaltation.

Waiting is the rule

Waiting on God is the rule instead of the exception. When there are no open doors, we try to force the locks. All of us have a natural tendency to make waiting on God the exception and trusting in our own wisdom the rule. This seems to be our default mode. But we need to re-programme our settings to conform to God’s ways. Waiting requires confidence in God that is based on an understanding of who he is. Let us trust him in the silence and darkness.

We must learn to accept the fact that, in many areas of our lives, waiting will be the very process God uses to mature us.

Waiting on God is resting, not hurrying. The difference between waiting and worrying is focus. When we are truly waiting on the Lord, our posture and attitude are like Mary’s (the sister of Martha) as she sat at the Lord’s feet, giving him her undivided attention. When we worry, we’re more like Martha, who, although busy serving the Lord, was distracted and anxious. We may feel trapped and we may be hurting but we can join Mary at the Saviour’s feet at any time.

Scripture counsels: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4.6-7).

There are times when we must wait for God to direct our steps. We need reminding of this when we feel our hearts beginning to grow restless. Trust God to provide for your needs. Our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. This is especially true when it comes to trusting God to provide for us. We’re only too happy to lift up needs in the areas of our weaknesses. But when it comes to the areas of our strengths, our needs are reluctantly lifted up, only after we have exhausted all our skills in trying to provide for ourselves.

Waiting is not easy. It seems unnatural in a world where everything is expected immediately. So we need the supernatural grace of God to help in such times of testing. We grow strong through waiting. ‘They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength’ (Isaiah 40.31).

Two ways to wait

There are two ways to practise waiting. First, we can wait in silence. Some of the best times we may ever spend in prayer are the ones when we stop talking and simply listen. These are times when we meditate upon the things of the Lord through his Word. During these times God may bring to mind a needed truth or something to be thankful for, or a practical application of his Word that we had been missing.

Secondly, we wait with hope and confidence. A student once asked a teacher if there was a course he could take that was shorter than the one prescribed. Many of us, while waiting on God, have asked a similar question. Lord, isn’t there a shorter, less difficult route I could take?

But it’s only by waiting on him (trusting, praying and resting) that our roots will go deep enough for us to be as solid as an oak. Waiting involves trusting. How can I exercise greater trust this week? Waiting includes praying. How seriously have I poured out my heart to God? Waiting implies resting. Am I anxious, tense and worrisome? In what areas can I practise resting this week?

We need to confess our shortcomings in approaching our situations and ask God for help in being still. Ask him for the wisdom to wait. Daily duties continue while waiting on God. Difficulties may increase while waiting on God and so we can become impatient. Delays do not mean God will fail to come through. Never question in the dark what God gave in the light.

Take the advice of the psalmist: ‘Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!’ (Psalm 27.14). Let us be faithful while waiting. Let us expect God to come through in his time.

Kieran Beville is a Baptist pastor in Ireland and visiting professor at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Amsterdam.

 

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: Itsy bitsy teeny weeny


‘I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety’ (1 Timothy 2.9).

A hot summer saw many of us dashing to the shops in search of new swimwear.

But who says it has to be itsy bitsy? That’s the question Jessica Rey is asking. The Catholic actress-turned-author launched a swimwear company in 2008 and simultaneously started a personal campaign to promote modesty. One of her YouTube videos on the evolution of the female swimsuit — posted in mid-June — has already been viewed over 800,000 times.

She’s obviously touched a nerve. How have bikinis become so popular and what does it say about our society’s approach to the issue of modesty?

A brief history

The bikini arrived with a bang in 1946 when it was unveiled by its creator, the French engineer Louis Réard. Its name was a reference to ‘The Bomb’, a recent design of Réard’s rival Jacques Heim. It also paid tribute to the atomic bomb testing site ‘Bikini Atoll’: Réard was sure that people’s reaction to it would be more drastic than their shock after America bombed Japan.

He was right. Made from four triangles of fabric totalling a mere 30 square inches, his bikini was so scandalous that no model would wear it. Réard was undeterred and hired a 19-year-old nude dancer called Micheline Bernardini to preview his itsy bitsy newspaper-print-patterned two-piece. It was a hit with the media and the men: Bernardini had soon received fan mail from over 50,000 of them.

For the next 20 years the bikini remained the preserve of the few, who were considered to be both tactless and licentious. Then came the sexual revolution of the 60s, which made the bikini a symbol of women’s emancipation and power. Now it is, perhaps, a new power symbol in the world of fashion; according to the New York Times, the bikini is ‘the millennial equivalent of the power suit’.

The tide is turning

However, new voices, like that of Jessica Rey, are promoting a different view. Rey says: ‘My goal is to disprove the age old notion that when it comes to swimsuits, less is more’. Writer Joan Jacobs Brumberg agrees that it is imperative for us to move away from the bikini and the way it promotes bodily exposure, which can ‘exert a noose-like grip on the psyche and physical health of girls and women’.

These are strong claims, but will they be enough to discourage the shoppers who spent $8 billion on bikinis last year? According to Rey, there is hope that the tide may turn.

She believes that women have a natural, God-given ‘sense of modesty […] that has been stripped away by today’s culture’. Indeed, the woman in Brian Hyland’s 1960 novelty song ‘Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ is the original proof. Wearing her bikini, she is ‘as nervous as she could be’ and constantly ‘afraid that somebody would see’. Why is she so concerned? Not just because the bikini is a controversial item of clothing, but because she has an innate sense of dignity and modesty which make her feel uncomfortable exposing so much of her body in public.

Revealing our dignity

Modern society has anesthetised many to this kind of concern. But, in Rey’s definition, this sense of modesty is what we need to recapture. As those made in God’s image and likeness, women need to reclaim their true source of beauty: ‘Your beauty should not come from outward adornment […] Instead, it should be that of your inner self […] For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful’ ( 1 Peter 3.2-5, NIV).

It is not about hiding our bodies because they are bad, but about revealing our dignity. It is not about dressing frumpily and rejecting fashion, but about reclaiming our images as daughters of God. It may not be a popular view, but it is essential that we continue to live by it and promote it. Who knows, it may be that such a view could become as explosive as the bikini itself. Jessica Rey’s book on modesty, entitled Decent Exposure, is due to be released soon.

Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN and works as an events planner and freelance writer in Cambridge. More of her articles can be found at www.rachelthorpe.com

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

The foolishness of atheism – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Psalm 14:1


Foolishness of Athiesm 1 What is a fool? He is a superficial person.

The fool is a man who does not think. He acts in an impetuous manner and does not consider the consequences. That is the biblical meaning of the word fool. And Psalm 14.1 says: ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’.

‘Dear me’, says someone, ‘surely that is a most extraordinary statement. Is that true today? Is that your contention?’ Yes. I believe in the depth of my being that those who say there is no God are just fools. And my business as a preacher is to enlighten them, to expose their folly. I do so out of love and concern for them. This is the vital matter of all matters.

Controlled by desires

Atheists are fools and the first respect in which this is true is that they are people who listen over-much to their hearts. The fool says in his heart. The heart is the seat of the sensibilities. They are governed by what they desire and by what they want to do rather than by certain other things.

Why is this a foolish thing to do? Let me put it in the form of a number of contrasts.

First, they are fools because they listen to their desires instead of listening to that sense that is within them (it is in every man and woman born into this world) — a sense of God. Now people, of course, may try to stifle that and argue it down. But I am asserting that in everyone there is a sense of God. You can study anthropology and investigate the most primitive peoples. Many of them worship stones and trees and find spirits in animals and so on. But they all have this sense of a supreme being, of a God who is at the back of and beyond all the other gods they worship. Men and women who brush aside this innate part of their very being are, I suggest, fools.

Second, in the same way, such people go against the voice of their conscience. We all have a conscience within us. The voice of conscience says: ‘That was wrong! That isn’t true! That’s against God!’ But the atheist sees another kind of life that he has conjured up; he sees people living it. He wants to live it. But his conscience condemns him. So, to live that life, he has to say: ‘There is no God’.

But, thirdly, and I particularly emphasise this, such people are fools because they do not listen to their understanding. The average person today, hearing a statement like that, would respond by saying: ‘Do you know that you’re preaching in the 20th century? Why, it’s because of their understanding that they don’t believe in God!’ That is the argument today, is it not? It is said that these people do not believe in God because of their knowledge and their great brains and the only people who still believe in God are either primitive types or people who deliberately put their heads in the sand and will not look at the evidence.

So let me meet that argument. ‘The LORD looks down from heaven…to see if there are any who understand (v.2).The psalmist’s contention is that atheists are fools because they do not act on their understanding, but on their desires. How do I establish this? Let us ask: Is this disbelief in God confined to the learned and knowledgeable? You see, if this argument is right, then all ignorant people would believe in God but all learned people — especially scientists — would not. But is that so? We know perfectly well that, for every intelligent atheist you can show me, I can show you one who is unlearned and ignorant. Oh, it is wonderful to hear these distinguished intellectual atheists speaking on the media. But people on the street say exactly the same thing as they do. Is denial of God based on learning? Then why do ignorant people say exactly the same thing?

Modern knowledge?

Disbelief in God is not primarily a matter of intelligence. The facts prove it is not.

But let me put that in a still stronger form. Not only can I show that illiterate people who have no culture do not believe in God, I can on the other side show you men of knowledge, learning, and science who have been some of the greatest believers in God and in Christ. For instance, think of Isaac Newton, a scientific genius, or Blaise Pascal, the brilliant mathematician. These men, renowned for their intellectual abilities, believed in God. I could go on. But it is clear that, whatever the explanation may be for the failure of men and women to believe in God, it is not due to knowledge and learning.

But someone might say: ‘Well, of course, all that you have just said might have been quite right 200 years ago, but the reason for atheism is our recent knowledge. There is Darwinism now, and our knowledge of psychology and the study of comparative religions’. But the simple answer to that is that in the time when David wrote this psalm, around 1000 BC, 3,000 years ago, people were saying the same thing. There is nothing new about not believing in God.

Lunatics with brains

Is it not clear then that this has nothing to do with knowledge as such? No it is a question of understanding, and that is a very different thing. People may have great knowledge. They can be aware of many facts, but be fools in their personal lives. Have we not known such people? I have known men in some of the professions whose opinion I would take without a moment’s hesitation because of their knowledge. But sometimes those same men have been utter fools. They have behaved like lunatics. They drank too much even as a less educated man did; they were guilty of adultery even as he was. There is all the difference in the world between knowledge and wisdom, real understanding. Though people may have great brains, they may still be governed by lusts and desires. That is why they are fools.

Foolishness of Athiesm 2
Jumping to conclusions

But let me come to a second point. These people fail to exercise true understanding, and this is something I want to demonstrate in two ways.

First, they arrive at momentous conclusions on insufficient evidence. This is to behave like a fool.

What are these arguments such people bring forward? We cannot, obviously, deal with them all, but let us look at some. Thousands of people say, ‘I don’t believe there is a God’. When you ask, ‘Why not?’ they reply, ‘Well it’s quite simple. If there is a God why are there wars?’ Or, ‘If there is a God, why are there disabled children?’ Or again, ‘If there is a God, why are there earthquakes and things like that?’ And on that kind of reasoning alone they come to the conclusion, ‘There is no God’.

Now it is amazing how intelligent people can argue like that. I had a conversation once with an intelligent professional man who told me the reason for his unbelief was that his wife, for a while, had to endure a very painful illness. And that to him was proof that there is no God.

He had arrived at that tremendous conclusion on that one bit of evidence alone. I asked, had he ever thought that perhaps God had a purpose in allowing this in order to bring something else to pass? I said: ‘How have you and your wife normally lived with respect to God? Have you worshipped him regularly?’ He had to admit that they had not.

‘Has it occurred to you’, I said, ‘that perhaps God permitted your wife to have this pain to make you both think seriously about God and perhaps come to have this conversation with me? So perhaps God has chastised you now in order to bring you to your senses.’ He had never thought about it at all!

I cannot stay with this argument, but there are many people who do not believe in God because of the problem of pain, and yet the answer is a simple one. The Bible gives it in many places. It is so easy to explain, and yet people say, just on that one bit of evidence, ‘There is no God’.

Then people bring forward what they see as the evidence of psychology, and comparative religion, and of course the great question of evolution. And in every single case the answer is the same. All these things are but theories, based on suppositions, ideas conjured up in the minds of men to try to explain the facts. None of them is adequate, all of them are criticised, and there are rival theories and rival schools. And so I maintain that anyone who draws the momentous conclusion that ‘there is no God’ on that sort of evidence is a fool.

Avoiding tremendous evidence

But look at it the other way round. Such people are doubly guilty. They take little bits of evidence and draw this atheistic conclusion; but they do not face the other evidence, the vast, tremendous evidence on the other side. ‘What do you mean?’ asks someone.

First of all, I mean the evidence of creation. I mean the world, the cosmos in which we live. Where has all this come from? And how does it all consist and hold together? Is all this ordered universe, this amazing cosmos an accident? That idea, I say, is unthinkable. As a man privileged to learn a little science and who still has an interest in it, I must say my mind cannot accept such a statement. It is madness.

Second, look at man himself. Are you really satisfied that man is an accident who has come into being, we know not why, nor to what end? My dear friend, you are insulting your humanity. Man stands up as a protest against it all. There is only one explanation for man and that is God! Man is too big to be explained in human terms. He is more marvellous than the cosmos itself.

Further, have you ever considered the evidence of history? Read your secular history, and read the Old Testament history. Can you explain it all apart from God? Can you explain the Jews in particular? Why have they persisted? Where have they come from? How do you explain their whole story, in the Old Testament and since? I say there is only one explanation of the Jews and that is God!

Have you ever considered the evidence of prophecy as we find it in the Old Testament? Have you ever considered the fact that events were foretold 800 years and more before they ever happened? Have you ever written down on a piece of paper the facts concerning the birth and the life and the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you gone back to the Old Testament and, as he himself said, have you found those same facts there? There is only one explanation: God sees the end from the beginning and orders all things after the counsel of his own eternal will.

Jesus of Nazareth

But over and above all this evidence I ask you to look at Jesus of Nazareth. He belongs to history. We all recognise that by numbering the years as we do. He did live. And he died under Pontius Pilate. How do you explain him? Can you get rid of him? There is only one way to explain him, and that is God!

And, indeed, how do you explain the Christian church herself? How did this despised sect become the official religion of the Roman empire after three centuries? How do you explain the mighty revivals in her history — like the Reformation and others — which are acknowledged by secular history? Can men and women bring these things to pass? Of course they cannot. It is God!

That is some of the evidence these people ignore and dismiss when they say: ‘There is no God’. They draw their conclusions out of the flimsiest evidence, and they neglect and ignore this mighty evidence.

Prove that you are wise

But, finally, my third reason for calling such people fools is because they do not hesitate to risk their whole eternal life and their whole eternal future. ‘Ah but’, they say, ‘I don’t believe there is anything after death.’ Well, you may not believe it, but can you prove it? I say that, in the light of the evidence I have just been adducing, anyone who is prepared to risk it is a fool.

You cannot prove there is not a life after death and yet you say: ‘I’m prepared to risk it’. Are you? What if the Bible is right and after death men and women who do not believe in God go on to an eternity of misery and wretchedness — endless, useless remorse, kicking themselves because of their folly?

But look at what they have rejected. Consider what they have refused. There is no life, even in this world, that is comparable to a godly life. It is a clean life; it is a pure life; a life lived in fellowship and communion with God and with Christ. It is a life lived among the people who have done the greatest amount of good in this world. I would simply ask you to read, secular books as well as others; even they prove and demonstrate this. You see, that other life is so empty. I read recently a statement by a certain popular novelist who is now facing the end. He has always been cynical towards the godly life, and there he is now, at the end of his, with nothing. But the life of trust in God has joys and pleasures to give us that the world does not know, even here and now. And as you go on, it gets better. And as you begin to contemplate the end, you are not frightened of death. You do not say: ‘It’s the end of everything’. Rather you say: ‘I’m going on to spend my whole time with Christ in eternity’.

So can you not see the folly of saying that ‘there is no God’? It is the absence of understanding, the absence of true reasoning. Be wise, I humbly beseech you. Come to God to acknowledge your folly, your sin, your shame. Ask him to have mercy. He will tell you he sent his only Son to die for you and your sin and that he will forgive you freely and give you a new life and make you his child. Prove that you are wise!

This article is a heavily edited chapter from Seeking the Face of God: Nine reflections on the Psalms by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published by Crossway (2005), and is used with permission.

 

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

What’s coming up in the January issue of EN


January 2014 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the January issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday December 20. Of course you can always e-mail subs@e-n.org.uk as well if you’d like a complimentary copy or if you’d like to subscribe!