Blame for Wars?

13 03 2014

In many ways this is a follow on to my previous writing about who was to blame for World War 1.  To even attempt to write this blog I have to confess my ignorance. Not only am I painfully aware of so many areas of ignorance about life in general, but specifically, here at least, I need to confess my ignorance about the two world wars of last century. I guess that this ignorance is shared by a great many, and many would say, does it matter? I suggest it matters if for no other reason than it should make us think (and pray) and learn from such times.

Aware that we were going into a centenary year this year,  in respect of The Great War, I determined it was time to remedy some of that ignorance and started with World War 2, simply because I had run across Max Hastings’ book on it entitled, “All Hell Let Loose.”   It is a meaty tome of some six hundred pages and I grab a few pages when there are a few minutes spare – which is not the best way to read such a book – and I am about half way through.  It is not all about strategies etc., but about what went on affecting ordinary people and ordinary soldiers and as such is, I suggest, compulsory reading for anyone with romantic ideas about wars. It was a most terrible time in history if for no other reason than the shear numbers of casualties and the ways they died or were injured or were treated.  If Max Hastings is half right no one comes out it whiter than white; in fact the exact opposite.

As I have picked up this book, again and again as a Christian I could not help thinking, “Where is God in all this?”  Now I know I covered much of this in the previous blog but it bears repeating or expanding upon.

The crusading atheists berate a God who is supposed to be love, and when it comes to examining the last century, a God who apparently either caused it or sat on the sidelines and laughed.  No the atheistic viewpoint gets two-faced at this point because if you don’t believe there is a God you can’t blame ‘Him’ for such events, and if you can’t blame Him then you are left with a simply miserable view of mankind.  All of the humanists’ optimism is revealed as complete bunkum when you examine the history of the last hundred years. You can’t just blame Hitler or Stalin, because they both had powerful underlings who could have stopped it all early on.  But more than that, the record shows that vast numbers of ordinary Germans were just as excited about their nation’s imperialistic aims as Hitler was.  The things happening in Crimea today indicate that Russian nationalism is as strong in ordinary people as it is in Putin and his leaders.  Little changes.   I think the optimism of the Humanist Manifesto has to be  one of the best examples of self-delusion that you can find on the planet.  Go to virtually any continent on the globe and you find self-important people being unkind to other people (the nicest way I can put it.)

Put aside the atheists for a moment, for they are a minority grouping.  The majority  grouping believe in a God, even if many of them think He is either impotent or not concerned with us.   But what are the options that you are  left with if you do believe there is a God, when you come to consider these two wars?  At first sight, there are just two: either that He caused them or that He just sat back and did nothing about them. Perhaps we need to consult the Bible for a parallel example to help us. The apostle Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and speaking about how Jesus had died, declared, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  In other words Jesus’ death had been part of God’s plan and He foresaw the way events would work out as sinful human beings rejected His Son and eventually crucified him.

Now let’s take a mundane example from everyday life. You are a school teacher of a primary school and as you watch them play in the school playground you see they constantly fight. You go outside and tell them off and tell them to stop fighting. After this happens three times, you call them all in and they are all made to sit in their classroom in silence for half an hour.  So far no one is objecting to that.  Now, to change the picture, supposing some cattle or sheep contract a contagious and virulent disease. We know what happens, we’ve seen it in recent years.  The government order whole herds or flocks across the country to be destroyed and burned. Suppose a wounded soldier’s foot injury contracts gangrene. The only way to save his life is to cut off his leg.  Suppose ten terrorists take hostage a school full of children and start shooting them, one an hour until their demands are met.  We watch as the SAS go in and the body count of dead terrorists is 100%.  We all cheer.  We measure these things against the harm that will be caused if such drastic action is not taken.

OK, I’m speculating now.  Suppose God could see the direction and outworking of the 18th and 19th centuries and could see that in response to His enabling/allowing the advancement of science and technology, our foolish response was to reject Him and turn to godless atheism (examples of which were seen in Hitler and Stalin and many others). And suppose the logical response of that was to lift off all restraint which, if left unattended, would result in inhumanities beyond our present wildest dreams that would affect the entire planet and rob us of our very humanity.  If we had the eyes to see that, would we not stand in awesome silence and say, “God is just, God is wise, we are so stupid, this was the only course of action that could have happened to save us as a world.”

Of course we have not learnt and we are still so tainted by this self-centred godlessness that we probably laugh at such an idea, but it is the most rational one around. As with what Peter said about Jesus, suppose God knew the path that foolish and wicked men left to their own devices, would go down resulting in World Wars, and if that is what they chose, maybe, just maybe, they might learn from it and the future of humanity be saved.  But have we learned? The signs are not great.

If God allowed us a financial crash (brought about by the greed and folly of men) with some longer term effects, has that brought us to our senses?  The signs are not good.  Is God gently lifting off His hand of restraint again so that foolish and godless imperialistic semi-dictators can do their own thing yet again?  If not Moscow, might it be some other ‘power’?  Gloomy talk and I don’t like gloomy talk, but when will we come to our senses?  Have the various movies coming out of Hollywood portraying a nuclear disaster ending, been a warning?  Put this all aside if you like but the key question still stands – are you, are our leaders, is our nation, demonstrating godless, self-centredness, and if so, then what hope is there for our future?





Who’s to Blame for The Great War?

25 01 2014

As we moved towards and into 2014 we started hearing references to the centenary remembrance of the start of what we now call World War 1, otherwise referred to as The Great War.  But no sooner has the new year arrived than voices are raised debating who started it off, who caused it, who was to blame for it?  My understanding, which may well be over-simplistic is that a number of people agreed with a number of other people to support and defend them if others raised hands against them and when it appeared that someone was doing just that, everyone found themselves embroiled in a fight that produced images of “trenches, mud, wire and poets” (Max Hastings in the introduction to ‘Catastrophe – Europe Goes to war 1914’).   Although the numbers killed or seriously wounded were horrific in that war, statistics tell us that the numbers killed in the Second World War make that number almost pale into  insignificance. To say that we had learnt nothing in that intervening period would be unfair because the ambitions of a little German with a moustache didn’t give the rest of us much option but to fight. Yet the first stage of that second war seemed to indicate that just possibly after the initial battles, the fighting might have slowed to a trickle if one man by the name of Churchill had not said we will not be overrun and raised his voice to rouse the rest of us to freedom.  Again that might be too over-simplistic but there is a lot of truth there.

But I am a Christian and we try to make sense of the world with the help of God, and when I read the book of Revelation  (putting aside all the difficult detail for the moment) I see God’s warnings come again and again to a foolish mankind who, just like Pharaoh of old, refuse to take note of the awful things happening and refuse to come to their senses and desist from their godless, self-centred, self-destroying ways of life.  And then I read in Romans how there are times when “God gives them over to…” even worse self-destructive practices and I realise there is a form of God’s judgement that is worse than Him bringing bad things to happen; it is Him standing back and saying, “Very well, I lift my hand of restraint off you; you are free to do whatever your sinful hearts want to do,” and to quote the title of Max Hastings book about the Second World War, “Hell Breaks Loose”.

Was that, I wonder, what happened in the twentieth century? Did God step back and allow humanity to move forward in its folly and do things that brought forth utter destruction?  Don’t blame God for the Wars because there are very human elements in both First and Second World Wars that are observable  that brought both about. Did we come to our senses after those times? Clearly not. We are still, here in the West at least, still as godless and still as self-centred as ever. Was the financial crisis that has engulfed so much of the world in these recent years been another instance of God lifting off His hand of restraint to allow the folly of mankind to prevail? Have we learnt from it?  Be quite clear, these three things I have referred to have been the work of humanity let loose.  In my previous blog, almost a year ago, I wrote about facing the truth of our situation. The book of Revelation shows the folly of mankind failing to learn from the things that happen. The last hundred years show us the folly of mankind failing to learn from the things that happen.  The question should not be so much, who was to blame for World War 1, or who was to blame for World War 2, or who was to blame for the financial crisis, but have we learned that as a godless human race we need help?

Is God standing on the sidelines impotent? Most definitely not. He works in and through His Church and He works in and through His world to say ‘Thus far and no further’.  (Was Churchill one such agent?)  Where people do start coming to their senses He is there – as always – instantly ready to be our Saviour, in little things in our personal lives and in big things in our national lives.

Psalm 2 asks, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”  Still the presence of sin in the human heart says, “We don’t need God. We can manage,” but the evidence clearly points otherwise.  As the old song goes, “Oh when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”  ‘They’ is you and me. The evidence for God’s love is there for those who want to go looking, there is plenty of it. The evidence for the folly of living without God is piling up. Every now and then a Hollywood film postulates a future after a Third World War and it is never a pretty sight. May we come to our senses and turn to our God before the next idiot or bunch of idiots provoke such a scenario – but it starts with you.





Disillusioned with Humanity?

7 02 2013

Disillusioned with Humanity?

Job’s wisdom came with an interview with God. I often think how different we would all be if we each had ‘an interview with God’ and would thus be able to realise how great He is and how small we are, but it’s not like that. It seems that the Lord in His wisdom allows us to go our own way but then He either brings or allows (and there is room for debates in individual occurrences) things to cross our lives that make us question the views that we had of ourselves as almost divine-like beings.

But real life for us begins when we proceed along, to use a picture that Jemima Khan has recently used in respect to her attitude to Julian Assange over the principles of WikiLeaks, “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”.  So much of the time we live with self-admiration but we only come to a place of reality when we become demoralised over what we are really like. Then we come to God for help.

Our society in the UK is going through a journey from admiration to demoralisation. We, as a society at least, abandoned God back in the last quarter of the twentieth century and became a self-admiring society that, free from its religious shackles, could now grow up and reach its full potential. Yet the truth is that in any and every area of our society over the last ten years we have been found to be drastically wanting and demoralisation is setting in.

Being cut free from the strictures of absolute morality, government authorities and media, all made up of self-admiring individuals, have opened the doors to liberal freedoms –  but these chickens are now coming home to roost.

In the financial realm, the mockery of the bankers continues unabated after over five years of mismanagement. I recently came across a comment written by Clive James a couple of years ago that seemed to describe it all so well: “Even the legitimate financial system had all the trappings of a racket, including a wonderful mechanism whereby which the banks that lost your money were saved from ruin by being given more of your money so that they could award it as bonuses to the very people who lost your money in the first place.”  That is the bizarre nature of the world without absolutes that we have created.

If we move into the realm of relationships and sexual freedom, even the most liberal of writers is now forced to concede that it is not going well.  In a world freed from absolute morality, it is no wonder that promiscuity so often undermines marriages and committed cohabitation alike, it is no wonder that many men struggle with sexual imagery in their minds that drifts into reality and produces sexual abuse, rape, child abuse and so much more, it is no wonder that teenage pregnancy rates, abortion rates and STD rates are at almost epidemic proportions, it is no wonder that young people and old alike despair at ever finding that elusive quality called love.

It takes a Sunday journalist to state it clearly: “Children fare best, and are less likely to be a problem to society, if they are raised by married parents. Those married parents are far more likely to remain together – and so provide a stable home life for their families, as well as being a socially cohesive force in the community – than are those who are unmarried. These are just bald statistical facts.”  But it seems most of us don’t like the facts.

Perhaps the icon for demoralisation should be Jimmy Saville. If he was guilty as so many seem to claim he was, wasn’t the guilt also spread through those who turned a blind eye to him. Expediency was obviously the name of the game in the world freed from absolute morality. Only now, it seems, after he is dead, is the curtain being drawn back and the magnitude and extent of the sin revealed.

Demoralisation is striking in every quarter. In the realm of politics, in recent weeks I have now twice heard, from what were once staunch Conservatives, about both Prime Minister and Chancellor, the equivalent of “This man must go!” and yet the alternatives seem equally bad. Moral ethics appear to have no part to play in modern politics, only what is expedient or seems good at the time to an unanchored mind. Much of the malaise experienced within this society today must be laid at the feet of politicians and media people alike who have their own present-day agendas built on nothing less than what seems good to them today. Already we have said, the chickens are coming home to roost, but still they plough on opening further doors to future social chaos. Today’s laws thus create tomorrow’s chaos.

I have heard a few comments of “There must be an alternative to all this,” but generally society acts like the frog in the saucepan of water bring gradually brought to the boil, and seems unaware of just how bad things are. Self-admiration is a difficult thing to overcome; indeed it often takes crisis to shake our self-sufficiency. Whether we are suffering from the effects of global warming or from a cycle of unpleasant weather systems, as a country we have been getting pounded by the weather for the last few years.  Perhaps it is only those who suffer flooding again and again who begin to face the reality that they are small and puny and have little or no power in the face of such things. We will eventually learn to build flood-proof houses but we are slow to learn how to do that, and to recognise our own frailty and need of God’s help.

Perhaps the process would be accelerated if London was seriously flooded. That would be a wakeup call! But would that bring such people as our national leaders to their senses? The book of revelation shows crisis after crisis but still the stupidity of mankind meant they failed to turn to God for help. Self-admiration can be both the most blinding and the most stunting characteristic of the human race. How tragic.

In the midst of the process that I have referred to as “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”, we fail to face the truth that all of us are human beings prone to getting it wrong.  The recent classic case of Chris Huhne, a man who found himself getting caught doing one relatively small thing wrong (speeding), shows the folly of self-admiration that desperately seeks to cover up any failing. In his case he sought the help of his wife, but when the marriage broke down, found himself exposed and then had to tell lie after lie for years to try to cover it up. One sin (speeding) + one sin (conspiracy with wife) + multiple sins (lying and denial) = rejection of an MP by society. How much more simple would it have been if he took a driving ban originally and the whole thing passed into obscurity. Instead self-admiration dragged on for ten years before demoralisation set in and the truth was faced.

At a corporate level we are hearing yet again of the failings of the NHS, this time because of deaths occurring while in NHS care. Yes, of course we can do better but for the moment we are going through the media frenzy yet again where truth is hazy. Only this morning I read of nurses who dropped an 86 in the ward and two weeks later the lady died. Whether the two things were linked is unclear, but people (nurses) are human beings and from time to time they get it wrong. Did they drop that lady purposely? Of course not!  In fact so fearful were they of repercussions that they pretended it had not happened. Self-admiration seeks to cover up and avoid truth.

The recent snow brought many school closures and with them, criticism about wimpish schools. One good article on the subject suggested it was nothing to do with that, but more that head teachers were fearful of litigation. The payouts that have been paid in recent years by education authorities for even minor natural injuries, things that happen in day to day living, like tripping over, have been incredible in both numbers and size. This is a society failing to handle its demoralisation by blaming whoever it can – except yourself – and, along the way, making capital out of others. Greed and selfishness walk hand in hand with self-admiration. And all the while, God in His goodness, is quietly working to bring people to their senses. As I’ve asked before on these pages, how long will it take?





Putting the Old Year to Rest

30 12 2012

It is the time of the year, with just two days left in it, when you tend to look back and reflect on what has gone on. Perhaps the reality is that we are more concerned with the year ahead to bother about the year that has gone and if that is so, it may be that we leave the old year with unresolved issues. Now ‘the world’ is good at leaving issues unresolved  and so often when someone becomes a Christian they find there are a whole raft of issues that Jesus wants them to deal with, bad attitudes held on to, bad relationships still festering, and so on.

If we trouble to look back over the year that has just been, and really take time to do this as an exercise, we will find a variety of things that we feel uncomfortable about (yes, there will be many things to be thankful about but we’ll come to them later).  There are, first of all, our failures, the things lurking in the background that we try to forget about, things where, at the very least, we didn’t handle it very well.  Now the simple evangelical response is to suggest that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9) and that is right and proper but, I might ask, why did we fail in the way we did? Why did we say the things we did? Why did we give way to the temptation we gave way to? I ask these because saying sorry doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t do it again. True repentance, I suggest, does mean that we are so convicted by what we did, that we will be too horrified ever to do it again. Yet, so often it is not that simple. What was it in me that made me open my mouth and say the wrong thing? Now we each one have to ask the Lord that for ourselves and the answer may be different for each of us. It may be we spoke out of a lack of sensitivity for others. It may be we spoke out of our insecurity? It may be we gave way to that temptation because we lacked relationships whereby we can talk out our wonderings and see them in the cold light of discussion for what they are – wrongs.  That’s enough to start you wondering. The point I am making is that if we look at the reasons for whatever it is we feel uncomfortable thinking about, things where we know deep down we got it wrong, we will see how to avoid the same thing in the coming year. It does bear thinking about in that way. Dare we pray, “Lord I bring my failures to you to ask for your forgiveness, but please will you also show me why I did what I did and help me not to repeat it in the year ahead.”

But then when we look back on the year that has been, for many of us there will be questions or doubts about things that happened that were beyond our control, things that were not good.  Why did the Lord let that thing happen? What about…..  If we are able to be honest, there are many Christians with questions that they try to push down and ignore because “good Christians don’t have doubts!”  Well no, that’s not true.  We all have doubts at some time or other because walking or living by faith (which all Christians do, in some measure at least) means everything is not clear and sometimes we aren’t shown the ‘why’ until a long while later.  The fact that everything is not always absolutely clear, is something the Lord allows to happen because He wants us to learn to trust Him, to trust that He is a good God and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).  I have often said in the past, I am sure that when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back over our lives and see them with the comprehensive sight that He has, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything He said or did, or didn’t do.  Now I am absolutely convinced of that  but that is a very different thing from the experience I can have when the sky seems to fall on my head and I am left wondering ‘why?’.  The reality of that is that there are only a limited number of answers: it was as a result of my or someone else’s folly, it was Satan at work, it was just part of this Fallen World where things now ‘go wrong’ because of the presence of Sin in it, or the Lord brought it.  Now more often than not, it will not be the latter one, but at least He allowed it.  So why did he allow it, why didn’t He step in and prevent it happening? Because He gives me and you free will and is loath to override it. Why did He allow Satan access to my life or the world to ‘break’ so as to upset me? To strengthen me, to point out a weakness or vulnerability in my life that He wants us to remedy. It was part of that famous ‘learning curve’ that we’re on as Christians.  So our prayer at the end of that has to be something like, “Lord, I trust you, that you are here for me. Please show me what you are trying to teach me through these things.”

But then, when we look back on the year that has been, for some of us if we can allow it to float to the surface (because we don’t like facing up to this one so it remains almost hidden just below the surface) there are fears that we had. Fears in this context tend to be built on bad past experience and so often the fear is of a repetition of that experience – that something might go wrong with another person, or in a job, or just in some life situation. May be it was the fear of health breakdown or fear of losing a loved one. In each case it is linked with the fear that perhaps we will not be able to cope, that we will not be able to handle whatever it is.

Now of course the thing about fears is that they are always about the future, about what might happen. Have you ever come across that verse, “Perfect love drives out fear“? (1 Jn 4:18)  Because we have a memory of it not working out well (whatever it was) we worry (fear) about it happening again and of us again not being able to handle it. Well, you’ve grown since it last happened, you’ve learned a lot and you’ve learned that God is there for you in it! His perfect love  IS here for you, whatever comes. His perfect grace IS sufficient to help you handle it and, the truth is, it may never happen again anyway. The prayer here, has to be something like, “Lord fill me with your prefect love that I may just rest in that love knowing that you are here for me, guarding me, protecting me, providing for me, so that whatever happens in life, we can handle it together.” Maybe, before finishing with this one, it’s a good thing to share your fears with a wise older friend if you have one and ask them to pray for you.

Finally, as we look back, it is worth sitting and remembering the year and remembering all the good things that happened and give thanks to the Lord for them. It does take time to do because our memories aren’t always wonderful, so why not get balance in your memories, and take the time to sit down and think back over what has happened in the year and thank God for them.

If we can do these things, we are better equipped to look into the year that is coming, the New Year. May it be so!

 

 

 





Silent Night, Holy Night

25 12 2012

Six o’clock in the morning and the house is silent.  The potential of the day is just lurking, waiting to come alive. It is Christmas morning. No doubt in many homes with young children, parents have been forced into wakefulness already.  For us it is yet to come. My mind has already wandered over the preparation of the potatoes, the parsnips, the brussel spouts and much more. And it has put those thoughts aside for those things, by necessity will push their way to the forefront later on. Now is a time for reflection. Yes, the presents have been wrapped, the food has been bought in and we can do no more, so now relax, sit back for a few minutes and ponder on the wonder of this day.

The Christmas accounts of the Gospel are amazing. It is no wonder that some are trying to push them off Christmas cards, no wonder they try to challenge this day saying silly things like, “Well it was a pagan festival that you Christians hijacked.”  Smart move whoever did it. Now we’ve anchored this day to act as a particular day of remembrance. So it could have been January 10th, May 15th July 6th, who cares! It’s just a day when we remember something incredible – a baby cried (almost certainly) and God was suddenly out in this world in human form.

We can’t cope with that really, the thought of a baby expressing God, or even later on of a grown man being God while still man. My wife and I have been reminded recently of the illustration of the meal offering in Leviticus where flour and oil mingle together to form one material – you cannot distinguish between the two but they are still two materials blended together. Thus God clothed in humanity revealed himself to us.

I have sometimes pondered on why He didn’t just occupy a grown human body but that would have required one of two things. Either he would have to invade the will of an adult human being (and God never invades our free will) or He would have had to create a unique human figure at the age of say thirty (but God doesn’t do magic and anyway such a being would not have thirty years of human experience  and it seems that God made the most of this unique time in HIS experience by entering into so much of what we experience.)

So often when we say, “But Lord, you don’t understand what I feel, what I’m going through,” He replies, “But I do, I’ve been there!”

But there’s an even more mind-blowing thought and it is that which we see particular in John’s Gospel where Jesus speaks about having come down from heaven where he had existed before.  This baby born on whatever day it was, was containing the incredible third person of the trinity, the Son of God, who has always existed as one expression of those three expressions of that one God. We’ll never understand it this side of death, but that unique expression of God that we call ‘the Son’ had always been, and now was in human form.

I recently heard Christians testifying at a Christmas service and was saddened that they could only focus on Jesus coming to die. As critically important and real as that was, they missed the sheer wonder of God putting Himself in human form so that He could reveal His character to us through this human being. How do we know we have a loving and good God? Look at Jesus. Read the Gospels with an open heart and see the wonder of this ‘man’ and marvel. Every life he touched, he touched with love and goodness. He healed thousands, he even raised the dead and all he did was an expression of God’s goodness and love and, yes, eventually he died on a Cross to take the punishment that was due us for our sins.  Those of us who have been Christians a long time tend to lose the wonder of this person who ministered in Israel for three years some two thousand years ago.  Pause afresh and reflect and wonder.

I like the nativity stories because they are so blatantly supernatural – angels turning up all over the place, dreams given to guide, and a supernatural man-less  conception. Awesome! I recently heard someone trying to explain what the ‘star’ was that guided the wise men to Bethlehem, and was left thinking, “Well I suppose that’s what it might have been – but it might have been something else, but who cares – somehow God managed to guide these astronomers cum astrologers to Bethlehem where He used them to be the supplies of the finances that the young family needed.”  Why is it that we feel we have to explain every detail of HOW it all happened. Sorry, I can’t explain virgin birth, I can’t explain angels and lots more, but if God says this is what is, then OK. There is sufficient that I do understand, that I’m happy to rest in the bits that I don’t understand.

It’s like Christmas is a time (whenever it actually was) where God says, “Here you are. Here are my gifts to you – a massive pile of evidence for you to unwrap and think about, to help you believe, and when you come to the bits that you can’t understand, don’t worry, I do!”

A baby in a manger, angels, shepherds, wise men. It’s just the start of the story and there’s nothing else like it in all of history, in all of the world. So ponder on it, think about it, marvel over it and don’t let the opening of presents or preparing food  or whatever other practical things force them on you this day, detract from the wonder of it. Whatever else you do, stop and say thank you.





Declining Christianity – Clear your head

13 12 2012

Declining Christianity – Clear your head  (December 13th 2012)

A Statistical Bulletin from the Office of National Statistics of the UK included the following in its ‘Key Points’ that has just been published:

“The number of residents who stated that their religion was Christian in 2011 was fewer than in 2001. The size of this group decreased 13 percentage points to 59 per cent (33.2 million) in 2011 from 72 per cent (37.3 million) in 2001.”

What is remarkable about that is not the fact of fewer people declaring themselves Christians but that the figure is as massively high as that. I say this because other figures suggest that less than 5% of the population are in a church on a Sunday morning. Be generous and say there are people who work, can’t be in church or others who are Christians but disenchanted with church and it might be reasonable to say that there are say 7 or 8% of the population who have a faith worth expressing in some corporate form. (In the USA the figures are larger but the same decline IS taking place).

That bastion of liberal thinking, The Times, in its first leader yesterday, under the heading “Change not Decay” had a sub-heading, “The decline in Christian affiliation noted in the Census, is a challenge to the Church. It should respond by embracing, not rejecting, modernity.”

Now of course the Times, in a world where we value free speech, is entitled to pontificate on church matters but whether the editor is qualified to do so is another matter. It’s a bit like saying to Nick Clegg, “You know the Lib-Dems ought to think differently and lose the values they have campaigned on for the last twenty years” and of course papers do just that, but we accept that such political  ‘bodies of belief’ have come to such an organisation after careful thought and, although in Nick Clegg’s case it varies from Labour or Conservatives (or Democrats or Republicans), we accept that that is their way of thinking and their beliefs – and we accept that; we may not agree with it but we accept that that is where they are.

Now when it comes to the Christian faith we are in slightly different ball game because here we have a body of beliefs that start from the fundamental belief that there is a God and He is the One who communicated what we now have as our beliefs. So if we start, as no doubt many of the writers for the Times start, with a belief that there is no God, then you are wasting your time arguing baldly against the Christian faith because you fail to understand the basics.

If we are part of that declining majority, or are someone wanting to seriously think about the real issues here, may I suggest some key points of belief and then make some key suggestions to remedy that declining number.

Key Beliefs

1. Belief in the Bible

The vast majority of critics of the Christian faith, experience shows, have very little or no knowledge of the Bible or of its background. They therefore have never bothered to find our that, contrary to much public opinion, what you read in the Bible is quite reasonable and portrays a lifestyle that is better than most exhibited by modern culture. More over they have never bothered to look into the history of how the Bible came into being, and how it is made up and, therefore, do not realise that of all ancient documents it is the best attested and that there are very good reasons to accept it as it stands and it is not full of errors, contradictions etc., that modern society like to suppose. Modern society is largely ignorant of these things.

2. Lives based on the Bible

Moreover these cultural critics have failed to understand and choose to ignore the facts that:

  • Those with a strong faith, with strong beliefs in the validity and claims on them of the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, are statistically (yes, statistically, surveys again and again show it) likely to be healthier, more conscientious workers, more conscientious parents, more likely to remain in committed relationships, and be more likely to be contributing to the well-being of society.
  • Those churches that hold weakly to those beliefs, are the ones declining and actually they only exist because of the strength and financial well-being of those churches who do hold strongly to those beliefs, and declines in belief come from those have been part of such weak churches.

3. The Uniqueness of the Christian Faith.

As I have recently written elsewhere, let us not have any silly talk, as those in the secular world might assert as they look in from outside, that all religions are the same. That is born out of ignorance; all religions are different. For the outsider, you may look at the claims of the particular ‘religion’ and make your own assessment, but never say they are the same.

Christianity is unique in its claims that:

  • God has come to this earth in human form (Jesus Christ),
  • lived on this earth for some thirty three years in the land of Israel two thousand years ago,
  • the last three of which were spent teaching and performing signs and wonders to reveal who he was to those with eyes to see.
  • At the end of that period he was killed and after three days rose from the dead and a number of weeks later ascended bodily into heaven.
  • The claim is that in his death, the Son of God took the punishment due to the human race so that whoever may come to God and receive forgiveness and enter into a life of love and goodness,  empowered by God, a life that is all about, not trying to win God’s favour but simply receiving it.

Suggestions for Recovery

For those of us with faith, we are to reject the temptation that puts on sackcloth and ashes and bemoans the awful times we live in and declining church figures, and instead reclaim who we have been and who we are, and when we do that, we will find sensible people coming to their senses and returning to God! .

1. A People of Assured Beliefs

Now obviously from what I have said in the earlier part, a starting point has to be a people who are confident in their beliefs and confident that they know WHY those beliefs are valid. Sentimental ‘thoughts’ or mushy ten-minute meditations on a Sunday morning do nothing to equip a people to realise who they are and what they have going for them!  The church needs to return to the historic role of teacher of truth as clearly seen in the New Testament of the Bible. When we do that, the rest can follow.

2. A People of Love and Concern expressed in Goodness

Listen how one historian speaks about the church in the past. He said it was known for its care of widows and orphans, its alms houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies and so on.”  Yes, down through the ages it has been the church that has worked into society providing the things that today the Welfare State tends to provide. When there was no Welfare State, when no one particularly cared for the needy, it was the Church who stepped forward, expressing the love of Jesus to his world.

The world looks for a church that is not introspective but moves with the love, care, and compassion of Jesus Christ, to bring God’s goodness into the society round about it.

3. A People of Revelation and Power

The early Church of the New Testament reveals a people who were not afraid to say, “God says,” because they were a people who heard God. We need to teach all new believers to learn to listen to God through the various means He has given us, and then live our lives and perform our serving on the basis of what we hear. That will change the world.

But Jesus and the early church also exhibited the power of God to bring (good) change to lives. Millions of testimonies down through the centuries have been, “I came to God through Jesus Christ and my life has been utterly transformed,” or, “Well, I’m not sure I understand all this but all I know is that He has healed me,” or “All I know was that I lived a life of addiction, and when I came to Christ he set me free, and life is now wonderful,” or “I was lost, lonely, drifting and without meaning in life, but when I came to Jesus Christ I found, love, friendship healing and purpose in life and now I feel utterly fulfilled.  Those are genuine testimonies that have been repeated millions of times – because God IS, and God is ALIVE, and God DOES STUFF when we come to Him – and it is good!

Well there we are. Think on this and see where it take you.

 

 





The Power of Encouragement

6 08 2012

The Power of Encouragement

The Olympics have been quite remarkable from a British standpoint. As at the beginning of the second week, China leads the medals table with 61, followed by USA with 60, followed by UK with 37. If you want a fun exercise compare the populations of those the leadings nations and proportionally the UK is doing staggeringly better than the other two (it may change by the end).

It seems it hardly matters which event you watch, the crowd encouragement factor has been enormous. Again and again the competitors have commented how incredible they had found the roar of the crowd for them and how encouraging it had been. A dictionary definition of  ‘encourage’ is, “to give courage, hope, or confidence to; embolden; hearten,” and we’ve seen the fruits of that with our athletes and sports men and women.

In life generally this should not be surprising for any observer of the educational scene will tell you that children who are encouraged by their parents tend to do much, much better that those children whose parents care nothing about education and do nothing to encourage their children.

The church in Thessalonica had been started by Paul, who had had to flee that large city because of persecution, and the new converts were left a little bit hanging. Perhaps it is no wonder that when he writes to them Paul says, We sent Timothy…. to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,” (1 Thess 3:2). They needed support; they needed encouragement, so Paul sent Timothy to help them in this way.  Let’s insert our definitions words into that verse: We sent Timothy…. to strengthen and give courage, hope, and confidence to you, and to embolden and hearten you in your faith.”

Later he wrote, “Therefore encourage each other with these words,” (4:18) referring to the Lord’s return. They needed encouraging to hold on until the Lord came. Later he adds, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that….  we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” (5:9-11) Living in a dark world, and experiencing persecution meant they needed encouraging to stand up to it all.

So whether it was simply to stand as Christians, to wait and remain faithful until the Lord’s return, or to resist the darkness that is all around us, these Christians needed input that would bring courage, hope, and confidence to them and embolden and hearten them in their faith.

The writer to the Hebrew had the same idea: “encourage one another daily,” (Heb 3:13) and “let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25)

So here is a simple question, provoked by what we have been seeing in the Olympics: in our local churches, do we input to one another in such a way that brings courage, hope, and confidence to one another, and emboldens and heartens one another in our faith?  I have a feeling we could have a transformed church if we all made this a regular practice.

Homework: think about how you can do that in a practical way. How do you actually do it?

 

 





The Folly of a Godless Society

22 07 2012

I once thought that as our society here in Britain degenerated,  people would cry out for an alternative and turn to God.  Well it may be that we have got to cry some more before we will come to our senses.

These days I only write on this blog when it seems my level of frustration has reached such a peak that, like a boiling kettle, I need to vent.   The past five years have been a revelation but it seems that for most of us we don’t have eyes that can see. Every single major national institution has been discredited during this time and the reason for that is because people have been exposed and shown to have been acting unrighteously – government, media, police, the money-world, people generally.  Again and again our papers and TV news channels have been full of the failures of people.

On one recent political analysis programme recently two journalists both asserted that that nation is in a state of giving up and both warned that this could have repercussions in the collapse of society.  Increasingly people are asking, “What is wrong?” The answer of obvious but unpalatable for godless men and women.

I have written this before but it bears repeating.  Thirty four years ago I started teaching Law and for seventeen years I started off the course (which in those days meant two hour periods!) by getting the class of usually 18 to 23 year olds to imagine a new society, and I asked them to consider in small groups whether they needed rules, and why and who should make them. After an hour of deliberation they then fed back their answers. They always agreed we need rules to protect the weak. The crucial point was that at the beginning of that period, thirty four years ago, 100% of the class always said they believed in absolutes so there were some thing that were definitely right and some wrong. Over that seventeen year period they were a gradual shift until by the early 1990s probably only 5% believed in absolute right and wrong and the majority now believed it was just what you thought it to be.

A variety of writers (apart from me) have linked good ethical behaviour with belief in God, and declining ethical behaviour with a loss in belief in God. Humanist optimism has been proved to be hollow and empty and our society is proving it day by day. When you remove the one base for ethical standards is it any wonder that we are left with an ‘anything goes’ mentality.   You can scrabble around for whatever temporary fix your can dream up, but it won’t be a fix. We are learning that a society reaps what it sows, and if you sow godlessness, you find that unrighteousness, greed, injustice and folly spring up.

Those are not necessarily the primary reasons for turning back to God, but they certainly point us in the right direction. We are about to start the Olympic Games and yet again – but now with ordinary people – we are being exposed as a shallow, self-centred, greedy people.  The fiasco of the security firm failing its mandate is only made worse but many of those supposedly being employed not bothering to turn up for the work. On the other hand we have passport control staff threatening to strike just before the Olympics start. Greed and self-concern rule OK!

No, not OK, but we are reaping what we have sown but I suspect that it will need the grace of God for those in authority to have their eyes opened.  In the meantime, get ready for the next plug to be pulled to let flow away any self-confidence we have left. When, oh when, will we come to our senses and realise that actually, God’s design and God’s way works

Consider for a moment what is found so often in ‘the world’, see it through some of the things we’re warned against in the New Testament,  for example, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, …. anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.” (Col 3:5,8)  Which sort of community is it best to be living in, that one or one that is described as with, “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive … put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3:12-14) It’s pretty obvious really, isn’t it!

Those are two glimpses that the New Testament gives of the two possibilities; we could have used many other similar verses. The first Colossians quote cites just some of the things seen in our modern godless society; that’s the lifestyle we’ve chosen as a society, egged on by the media. The second is the world of the Christian believer, a world that works because it is how God has designed it.  So, I ask again, when, oh when, will we come to our senses and realise that actually, God’s design and God’s way works, and is best?

 

 

 

 





Not more???

23 11 2011

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s there were various Christian commentators, Francis Schaeffer being one of the most notable who said, as more and more our Western societies become godless, the moral base will be eroded and we will see more and more examples of human greed, selfishness and so on. Now I know I have rumbled on in this blog about this many times already, but until something changes I’m going to keep on rumbling about until hopefully my voice, alongside others, will stir consciences and generally add to God’s voice speaking to the nation.

These thoughts have been provoked yet again by this morning’s Times newspaper with the headline, “Rotten culture at heart of England rugby” and the comment about the failed England World Cup Ruby team, “Many of the England players … were motivated by greed rather than ambition”. Also on the page is the story of yet another cabinet member in a lobbying controversy, the second in the last month. Meanwhile on the inside pages the investigation into press phone tapping continues. The concerns over grooming young teenage girls for sex work continues as a worrying story.

All told we have ongoing echoes of self-centred behaviour (that the Bible would call ‘unrighteous’) that emanate from a godless society – and the two thing DO go together. This will be sufficient to just tap in another of those markers that say to this society, “Weighed and found wanting”.  The thing is that wherever you look in our society here today, these self-centred and godless markers are appearing, in every level of society.

 

 

 

 

 

 





Three Levels of Christian Experience

31 10 2011

There is a song that goes with a mine that i have have seen a couple of times over the year called, “Sitting at the Window Praying” and is all about Ananias, a Christian  who lived in Damascus minding his own business until the Lord sent him to meet Saul.  I have the feeling that I’ve gone through a period of life when I’ve just been, “sitting at the window praying” and minding my own business and wondering what God was about. I’m probably still there but something has been seeping through to me.

We are at an ‘interesting’ time in our nation (rather like the Chinese curse – ‘may you live in interesting times’). We are in financial difficulties but I hear calls for rich people to become givers. It set me thinking. There are three levels of the Christian experience that we ought to be aware of – and you’ll see where this is going in a minute.

The first level is the foundational level – the basics of the Christian experience, founded in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Without that nothing else makes sense.

The second level of that which is our response to that level and what happens to us. This level is the level of testimony. The epitome of this  is the blind man of John 9 – “One thing I know – I was blind but now I can see.”  This doesn’t try to rationalise it, but simply state it. We’re often not very good at this – recognising the amazing changes that take place when a person is born again and becomes a new being (as Jesus put it in John 3).  The reality is my life has been dramatically changed and, if you’re a genuine Christian, so has yours been. We just to stop and give serious thought to the various ways they have changed so we can verbalise it when challenged.  There is an ocean of testimony out there that is of immense value.

The third level is the good life that I can now live and, again, we’re often not very clear about this or very good at working it out I may risk saying. The truth is that God has saved us to be salt and light and we are that when we express His love and goodness to the world around us. Now this is actions far more than words.

When I consider my Christian experience of the past forty years, I think we in the Christian world have  focussed on level 1 a great deal, level 2 of little bit and level 3 not much – there are notable exceptions –  but for the vast majority of us, we have been happy to tell about Jesus life, death and resurrection, but haven’t been  very good at articulating the changes that have come about within us, and therefore have had little confidence to be major players in bringing goodness to the world.

Briefly yesterday I heard Baroness Cox on an early morning radio programme and was struck by her brilliant clarity to speak some of what I have been saying here. Very often we Christians have focused the “Good News” on the historical events involving Jesus but it is staggeringly more than that – it is about life transformation and then even more of bringing God’s goodness into this world.

And that’s what bring me back to this whole question of giving or, for that matter, bring goodness and help in whatever we can into our ailing society. When Israel were carried into captivity into Babylon, God’s instructions to them were,  “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.”  (Jer 29:7).   The call was to look for the good of this godless nation and through that God would work.

So what talents and abilities are we sitting on that God can take to bless this nation?  What resources do we have – money, possessions, talents, businesses etc. – that God can take and use to enable us to be salt and light. When the world sees our genuine goodness (not that done to impress) they will ask, what is it about you that has you doing this? Then we will testify about the life changes that we’ve experiences (WHEN we’ve genuinely thought through what they are) and then they will be open to believe the level 1 foundational information which will then start the process off in them.

Jesus did the good (healed and changed people) THEN taught (testified of his Father’s love) and THEN gave his life as a ransom for us all, and on which we now focus our faith. Let’s genuinely love and serve this world and then they might ask questions and then thing might change. Have a good week!