Christians and the Brexit by Gordon Walker

On Thursday 23rd June everyone registered to vote will be asked the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

Some might ask, what does that have to do with us? Didn’t Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)? Shouldn’t the Church and the state be separate?

voter-1519381But how separate should individual Christians be? Does being a citizen of another kingdom, mean we owe no allegiance whatsoever to secular powers? That’s the question that Paul seems to address directly in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities”.

Remember that Paul was aware of political diversity: he was the citizen of an Empire; he had preached in Athens, a primitive democracy; and was intimately familiar with the theocratic rule of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. That informs this deliberately general phrase, “governing authorities”, because, without endorsing any particular form of government, Paul is saying that government is ordained by God. Not all governments are good, but government of some kind is necessary and, since that is the case, as Christians, we must play our part in the form of government that providence has placed us under.

So what does submission to the ruling authorities look like in a democracy?

In Romans 13 Paul twice calls the ruler, “God’s servant”, implying that he is responsible to God – he will be judged based on how well he punished the guilty and commended the innocent (vv. 3-4). But in a democracy … who rules? The answer is, we do. The word ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek words for ‘the people’ – demos, and for rule – kratia. Democracy is the rule of the people and so, on election day, you and I are among God’s servants – commending that which is good, and condemning that which is wrong.

So what about Brexit? It would rather undermine everything I’ve said about taking individual responsibility to suggest which way we should vote, but I want to suggest some principles.

It’s not all about you

At any vote, people seem to get very self-centred. It’s hard to avoid, one of the key indicators going around is the idea that you personally will be £4,600 poorer off if you vote to leave.

Whether that’s true or not, is that really the most important issue? Paul says, in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition … Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”. As Christians, we in particular should approach such a question, not in terms of how it will affect our job, our livelihood, or our bank balance but in terms of the great issues of justice, accountability, and compassion. If, in the conversations we have about this topic with our friends, we emphasise these, instead of small parochial issues, we will show the practical outworking of our faith.

It’s not the end of the world.

We should respond to the issue of the UK’s remaining in the EU as neither a matter for our national salvation, nor as a matter for despair. It may well lead to huge changes in our nation’s wealth, its place in the world, its relationships to the other powers and therefore it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if we vote the wrong way, we will doom our country.

However, no matter what way this referendum goes, it won’t surprise God, and no matter whether we make a wise decision or a foolish one, God is still the ultimate ruler. Even if we make a foolish decision, God is fully able to use the outcome for his own glory.

Exercise your obligations wisely, but don’t act as if the future of the world hung on this vote.

It is important

While it’s not the end of the world that doesn’t mean that voting should be approached casually. The question is, what does it look like for a Christian to take this seriously?

Voting should be accompanied not just by a careful weighing of the facts, but also by prayer. If it seems strange to pray about an EU referendum remember that Paul says, in 1 Timothy 2, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour”.

I don’t expect God to tell me what to vote for, but I know he expects me to pray for the cause I choose, he expects me to pray for those who are going to have to execute the decision, whatever it is. Because, as surely as Scripture requires me to accept that government is necessary, and instituted by God for our good, it also requires me to remember that no ruler is perfect. And commonplace as it is to write off all politicians as corrupt beyond use, they are no worse than you or I, and they, because of their office, require our prayers more than most.

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18th Century Wisdom for the Digital Age: Christians and Social Media by Mark McClean

As a young Christian teenager in the mid 1990s I set a personal goal to read through the unabridged version of Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible– all 2500 pages of it! A formidable endeavour for anyone. Needless to say, it was a spectacular failure. laptop-computers-1446068-m I don’t recall exactly how far I got before I stopped but something I read early on really stuck with me and is helpful for us as we consider how Christians should make use of social media.

In the opening paragraph of the Preface to the first volume of his commentary Henry shares a great piece of wisdom which I believe will serve  Christians well today whenever it comes to using social media.  His approach is one that I try to follow as a way of doing things when it comes to posting on Facebook, tweeting, or writing a blog post. Henry writes,

Though it is most my concern, that I be able to give a good account to God and my own conscience, yet perhaps, it will be expected that I give the world also some account of this bold undertaking; which I shall endeavour to do with all plainness, and as one who believes that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write.

Taking to social platforms on the internet is certainly no “bold undertaking” equal to Henry’s prestigious and illuminating piece of 18th Century literature, however, it still is an influential social sphere where millions, if not, billions of people like to “congregate”  and exchange words,  thoughts, ideas, photos, videos or find expression for their gripes, criticisms, fears, hopes etc.  In the mix of this cyber milieu there are a lot of “vain and idle lines” written by Christians, young and old. I’ve contributed my fair share of “idle writ” to this vain cause. Nevertheless, I try to uphold a Christ-honouring trend of commenting, tweeting or blogging “as one who believes that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write.

Knowing very well that one day I will have to give an account to the Righteous Judge of all, for not only the good and bad things I speak but also the good and bad things I write, keeps me grounded, sober minded and focussed on things of eternal significance as I seek to redeem my time for Christ on social platforms. I find interacting with others on the internet in view of being accountable to God serves both as a great encouragement and a cautious warning to be a responsible, God-fearing, social media user. And for those moments, which inevitably come, where I haven’t particularly honoured the Lord by what I have written or how I have interacted with others online, I remember the psalmist’s comforting words of truth:

“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4 ESV)

Anxiety, Depression, and the Christian: Counsel for Sufferers and Those Who Love Them by Paul Ritchie

SONY DSCWhen I was in my late teens and early twenties I started struggling a little bit with anxiety.  That anxiety became especially severe one summer, and persisted to various degrees over the following years.  At times that anxiety turned into bouts of depression.

The nature of my anxieties changed slightly in my thirties, as I began to struggle to keep certain thoughts out of my mind.  When I found out that my grandmother had suffered severe mental health issues, I began to wonder if my anxiety had a medical root.

So, at a time when my thoughts seemed unmanageable, I went to the doctor.  In God’s kindness there happened to be both a couple of General Practitioners and a Psychiatrist in the church where I was working.  Rosie could see that I was struggling, gave me some tablets and arranged for Stephen, the psychiatrist, to visit me that night.

Stephen heard what I was saying and immediately diagnosed the problem.  He described my thoughts as being ridiculous, resistant, repetitive and repulsive to me.  He said that I was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  He told me to take two months off work, prescribed some special tablets and recommended that I take a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is much better than it used to be.  The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy taught me how to understand my thoughts, and I still take tablets every day.

We are going to look at the issue and depression and anxiety, from a Christian viewpoint, by answering a number of questions.

  • What causes depression?

Ed Welch writes, ‘Depression is a form of suffering that can’t be reduced to one universal cause.  Many factors may cause depression, and often more than one of these factors is at work in the depressed person.’

Depression can be the result of other people.  People hurt us in a variety of ways.  Many victims of abuse struggle with mental health issues in later life.  Many people carry the wounds caused by an unloving parent, a harsh teacher or a school bully.

Depression is the result of living in a fallen world.  The book of Genesis teaches that, because of human rebellion, God has subjected humankind to decay and death.  Our bodies ache and deteriorate, and we are prone to physical and mental illness.

Sometimes we are the cause of our depression.  For example, anger is a notorious cause of depression.  We can’t expect a joyous life if we are critical, bitter and unforgiving.

False beliefs can be a factor.  If you think you are of no value, you will be prone to feeling depressed.  If you believe that God does not love you, you will suffer from morbid fears.

Satan is a factor in depression.  Not in a wacky sense, but in the fact that he will remind you of past guilt, tempt you towards bitterness and seek to implant in you doubts about the goodness of God.

In Psalm 32, David links a time of depression to God’s discipline.  He refused to face up to his sin, after his adultery with Bathsheba.  So God’s hand was heavy upon him until he acknowledged his guilt.  Never assume that someone’s depression is God’s discipline, but always examine your heart to see if God might be drawing attention to issues he wants to deal with you.

Finally, there is a sense in which God stands behind all our depression.  After all God rules over all that takes place in the universe.  Enemies may wound us but God could shut their mouths.  Similarly, our brain chemistry is not beyond his control.

  • Is it unspiritual to be depressed?

Is it unspiritual to be depressed, after all the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes joy?

The first response to this question is to point out that there are many godly people who have passed through times of immense sorrow.  The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, struggled with depression throughout his life.  What seems to have ignited this was a specific tragedy.

Spurgeon was preaching to a huge congregation—of over twelve thousand people, at the Exeter Hall in London—when someone yelled, “Fire!”  In the chaos that ensured seven people were killed, and Spurgeon was inconsolable.  Other factors contributed to his depressions, including his struggles with gout and his concern for those he pastored.

He exclaimed that there are dungeons beneath the Castle of Despair, and that he had often been in them.  ‘I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for,’ he recounted on one occasion.

In the book of Psalms, we often hear the psalmists crying out to God in despair.  ‘All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.’   These laments are given to us by God, in part, to help us express our pain.

We must also remember that Jesus was a man of sorrows familiar with grief.  Spurgeon wrote, ‘No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of the heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.”  There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in his depression.’

However, I must give you one warning: in your depression do not sin!  Depression does present us with particular temptations.  Most obviously, depression tempts us towards self-pity.  Indeed, some people try to find comfort in wrong ways like over-eating, overworking and alcohol abuse.

But, what about the fact that one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is joy?  Am I less spiritual when I am depressed?  I put this question to a friend of mine, who is a lecturer in a leading evangelical theological college.  He replied, ‘I guess joy is not simply an emotion.  And so someone with depression can still (though it would be harder) rejoice – have confidence in the Lord.’  He then says that Psalm 31:7-9 might be worth looking at:

“I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.”

Here we seem to see an example of being sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).

Ed Welch writes, ‘Joy is not the opposite of depression.  It is deeper than depression.  Therefore, you can experience both.’

Joan Singleton lectures in pastoral care in the Irish Bible Institute.   At one stage, when she was depressed, she wondered if her depression inhibited her witness as a Christian.  Then she realised the powerful testimony in the fact that she was still hanging on to God and believing his truth, even though her life was filled with pain.

  •  What about anxiety, isn’t it wrong to worry?

I am not disputing that worry can be a real sin, but I think that anxiety can have many roots, some of which are not sinful.

I see a parallel between anxiety and doubt.  On certain occasions Jesus rebuked the disciples for their doubt, because it revealed a stubborn refusal to accept the truth.  Yet in the letter of Jude we read that we are to ‘be merciful to those who doubt.’  Those to whom Jude was referring doubted, not because they stubbornly refused to believe, but because false teachers had infiltrated the church and upset their faith.   There is doubt that deserves a rebuke and doubt that needs gentle pastoral support.  Similarly, there is anxiety that deserves a rebuke and anxiety that needs gentle pastoral support.

Sinful anxiety is rooted in a failure to trust God or in the fact that we have made peripheral things too important in our lives.  David Powlison observes that, ‘if what you most value can be taken away or destroyed, then you have set yourself up for anxiety.’  However, not all anxiety is condemned in Scripture.  For example, the apostle Paul experienced anxiety related to caring for the health of Christian churches (2 Cor. 11:28).  In many of the psalms, God gives us words to express our anxiety.

When our anxiety has roots in a distorted view of God, we need to be gently instructed in the truth of his gentleness and grace.  We are told to cast our anxieties on the Lord, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), but some people need help in coming to understand that he really does care for them.  The person with an anxiety disorder may not even be fully aware as to why they are so anxious.  Their worries may have more to do with imbalances in brain chemistry than the actual issues they are focusing on.  It would simply be too harsh to tell them just to stop worrying.

  • Is it okay to take anti-depressants?

John Piper was asked the following question from a listener:  ‘What do you think of Christians taking anti-depressants—I have been on them, and have been accused of not relying on God?’

In his answer, Piper takes a drink from a bottle of water and then asks, ‘was that sip a failure to rely on God?’  After all, God could simply keep his throat miraculously moist!  Piper’s point is that God has given certain means to provide for our physical well-being, and these are to be taken with thanksgiving.

He then explains that he has reached the conclusion that there are profoundly physical dimensions to our mental conditions.  Since that is the case physical means can be used to help people out of their depression—just as medications are gratefully received in the treatment of many other illnesses.

  •  How can we deal with our depression?

Have faith in Christ

Do you remember the ad that the British Humanist Association placed on the side of buses in England—‘There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’?  Actually, people tend to enjoy life more with God rather than without him.

Professor Andrew Sims, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, comments that:  ‘The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally.

Compare the Christian gospel with society’s teaching on self-esteem and ask yourself, ‘which has more potential to help the depressed person?’

Society tells us to seek our value by searching for the hero inside ourselves.  The problem is, when I examine my life I see many things that could make me feel ashamed.  Self-esteem is a poor foundation to build our sense of worth upon.

The gospel tells me that I am a flawed and rebellious person who is loved by a kind and forgiving creator.  This creator has given each of us intrinsic worth, making us in his image.  This God cares for us so much that he sent his Son to die for our guilt.  This God treats me, not as I deserve, but according to his loving-kindness!  Now I can examine my life, see things I wish were not there and be secure in the fact that my relationship with him is not about earning his favour but living in the light of his undeserved, unmerited and unearned grace.  In fact, because of his grace in my life, I can delight in the fact that he is in the process of changing me and transforming into the likeness of Jesus.

Grow in your confidence in the character of God

One of the cruel things about depression is that when we are depressed we are vulnerable to believing lies.  We must combat these lies with the truth.  What many sensitive people need is to realise that God is a loving Father who always seeks the good of his children.  Ed Welch writes, ‘Just think what it would be like to be certain that the God of this universe loved you.  That alone would probably change the contours of depression.’

Examine yourself

We mentioned the importance of seeking to deal with any known sin.  We need to ask the Lord honestly to search our hearts (Psalm 139:23-24).  But never forget that God is compassionate and gracious.  Even when he disciplines us, he does so as a loving Father who has our best interests at heart (Hebrews 12:6).

Look after your body

The apostle Paul told his young disciple Timothy that bodily training is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8).  We must not ignore the connection between the body and the soul.  John Piper copes with his proneness towards a low mood through regular exercise.

Pray the Psalms

A great source of comfort can come from the psalms.  In the psalms we see every sort of human emotion, including depression.  You may only be able to identify with the sorrow in them at the beginning—but take comfort, for these are spiritual people whose sorrow matters enough to God that he records them in his word.  Hopefully, after time, as you cry out to God you will experience the progress towards confidence that occurs in many of the psalms.

Put your faith into practice

It is always important for us to put our faith into practice.  You may need times of rest, but be careful that this does not slip into inertia.  Indeed, there is healing power in doing things for others for the glory of God.  Listen to the healing words of Isaiah (58:10):

“and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”

Talk

When Doctor Elijah Chila was doing a question and answer session with us at Café Church he reminded us of the need to talk.  I always encourage depressed people to talk to a doctor.  We also need to be able to talk about our feelings to family and friends.  Find gracious and loving people that you can share your burdens with.

  • What about those living with someone who has depression?

The book, Dealing with Depression, by Sarah Collins and Jayne Haynes, includes the story of Andy, a pastor whose wife suffers from depression.  He says that the following things have been helpful for him.

Be real about what is happening.  There will be a sense of loss.  Your spouse may become withdrawn, and so you receive less warmth in your life.  They may have less energy and be less fun.  You may need to take on board extra responsibilities at home.  Andy says that it can be lonely living with a depressed person.  The relationship may feel emotionally one-sided.

But, he warns, resist the temptation of simply trying to fix your spouse’s problems.  It is more important to be genuine in your sympathy and listening.

Andy says that you have to ensure that you look after yourself and don’t get burned out.  Exercise, take breaks, do fun things (and don’t feel guilt about having some fun just because they can’t share your mood).

Find someone that you can share your feelings with, but be careful not to look for too much care from someone of the opposite sex (in case you develop an emotionally inappropriate relationship).

Above all, Andy says, seek God in your situation.  ‘A loss in any area of your life opens a door for more of him.  More direct reliance on him … It is hard to read this, I know, but it really is a chance to know Jesus better.’

  •  How can the church help those with depression?

Be there

According to psychologist, Deborah Serani, “when I was struggling with my own depression, the most healing moments came when someone I loved simply sat with me while I cried, or wordlessly held my hand, or spoke warmly to me.’

Remember that small gestures help

Maybe you are uncomfortable about the fact that you don’t know what to say, you can support in other ways.  You can write a card, cook a meal, send a text or offer other forms of practical support.

Don’t just fire verses at them

Many years ago a friend of mine suffered a breakdown.  One of the things that upset her, during this difficult time, was people who would fire Bible verses at her.  She knew that ‘God works all things for the good of those who love him.’  But it was unhelpful when people, who hadn’t the love to listen and engage with how she really felt, pawned her off with a verse.  Brian Borgman writes, ‘it is a dangerous physician who throws a few Bible verses at those who are depressed and tells them just to have faith.’

Don’t say, ‘I know how you feel’

Similarly, in the last church I worked in, a person came to me and shared how painful they found it when someone belittled their suffering with the words, ‘I know how you feel.’  She doubted that they knew how she felt.  Even if you have also suffered from depression, you cannot really know how their depression is affecting them, unless you take the time to listen and find out.  We actually banned our pastoral team from using the phrase ‘I know how you feel.’

Don’t tell them to ‘snap out of it’

Someone with depression shared with me their frustration with people telling them to ‘snap out of it’.  If only they could, they would love to!

Model the kindness of God

Depressed people need to know that God is good and kind.  People draw many conclusions about God’s nature from watching those who claim to know him.  Someone paid tribute to a man I used to know saying, ‘he influenced me in the beauty of godliness.’  People saw God in his life and what they saw showed them that God was good, loving and kind.

 Create communities of grace

If churches are to be helpful towards those who are depressed then they need to be communities that are infused with grace.  It is a tragedy when people are fearful about being vulnerable because of what critics and gossips will say.  It is an outright denial of the gospel when you think that you always have to pretend you are strong.

Be a genuine friend

The proverbs teach, ‘a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity’ (17:17).  That friendship is best shown in listening carefully and being there in bad times as well as good.  A good friend will challenge the depressed person about some of their false beliefs about God and self.

Conclusion: The fellowship of suffering

Before I finish, I want to remind you that depression has a variety of causes, often at work in any one person, and therefore needs a variety of cures.  I have been helped in my struggles with depression and anxiety by medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, time off work, Christians who reflected the grace of God and a supportive family.  I would have to say, that through all my anxieties God is at work humbling me, helping me to lean on him more, causing me to seek to understand him more and giving me a little bit more empathy for others.

I want to finish with some wise words from Bible commentator J. B. Phillips.  He wrote in a letter:

“These periods of spiritual dryness which every saint has known are the very times when your need of God is greatest.  To worship him may or may not bring back the lost ‘feeling’, but your contact with God in prayer and praise will strengthen you spiritually whether you feel it or not … Times of spiritual apathy are the very times when we can do most to prove our love for God, and I have no doubt we bring most joy to his heart when we defy our feelings and act in spite of them.”

~

Used with permission. For more blog posts by Paul Ritchie check out his blog: To Whom It May Concern.

“How Should The Church Respond To Homosexuality?” by Gordon Walker

The Church’s Position on Homosexuality

How the Church should respond to homosexuality is a question that can only be answered once the Church has taken a position on homosexuality. However painful, clarity is a necessary prerequisite for compassion.

question markThe Bible’s message about sexuality is wonderfully positive. The Bible teaches that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman combining companionship, mutual support, and faithful affection, all crowned with the closest physical intimacy of which the human body is capable.

“a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24 NIV)

 It is only after enshrining that positive ideal that the Bible goes on to make clear that, consequently, all sexual behaviour outside such a marriage is morally wrong. That means that homosexual practice, along with all other kinds of extra-marital sexual conduct, is prohibited de facto. But, as if to avoid ambiguity, homosexual practice is also explicitly condemned, particularly in Romans 1 where it is described as an abandonment of this natural ideal.

The Church’s Response to Homosexuality

But it’s not enough to take a position on this issue, because homosexuality is not just an ‘issue’ – it’s people, it involves people’s lives, their hopes, their desires. So when we ask how should the Church respond to homosexuality, we are actually asking how should the Church respond to people who are attracted to others of the same sex.

So let’s be very practical. You have a friend who is attracted to people of the same sex: what do you do?

Response to a Christian with same sex attraction

If they are Christians (and there are more in this situation than you may imagine), then above all else, they need our support.Gordon

If you are a Christian, and are attracted to people of the opposite sex, I want you to ask yourself: what kind of sexual sins have you committed? Fantasising? Going ‘too far’? Actual sex outside marriage? If we’re honest, we’re all on that scale somewhere, so let’s be clear – they’re all sinful. We cannot permit ourselves any excuse – it was wrong.

I’m saying this because we’ve got to be clear about our own sexual morality, before we can be of any help whatsoever to our friend. Because, when they stumble, what kind of sins do you expect them to commit? The same kind you do, except with different kinds of people. The object of their sexual sins may be different, and in that respect it is a different kind of sin, but it is as natural for them, and as enticing, and as difficult to resist, as your own opposite sex sins are for you.

That’s the attitude we need when they talk to us: whether they’re blissfully unaware they’ve done anything wrong, or whether they’re wracked with guilt. If they ask us, we need to be able to tell them that it was wrong … as wrong as our own sins. That’s the first and critical element in the Church’s response – remembering that we, too, are sinners and that we are all required to come before God humbly and repentantly.

The second element is an awareness of just how hard it is for a Christian to talk about this. We need to make it easy for them to do it – so don’t be in the habit of making cheap jokes about homosexuality and, no matter how provocative the more militant wing of their community is, don’t allow yourself to go off on a hateful tirade. You don’t know whose faith you are burying with those words. And, if someone does tell you about their struggles, thank them for the trust that they have placed in you, be aware of the courage that it took, and then live up to that trust.

Because, for a Christian with same sex attraction, even a kiss is wrong, any romantic relationship is tainted. That means that a Christian who is attracted to people of the same sex may be facing terrible loneliness, a sense of isolation and sexual temptation. Our friendship and support are critical. They need us to help them obey Christ.

Response to a non-Christian with same sex attraction

But what if your friend is not a Christian but is considering, or actively pursuing, a gay or lesbian lifestyle?

If they aren’t Christians they need to hear the good news about Jesus Christ – not because they’re attracted to people of the same sex, but because they’re human beings. All human beings need to hear the gospel because all human beings are sinners. Gay and lesbian people live in a culture that often tempts them to define themselves by their sexuality, the last thing they need is the Church reinforcing that message. That last thing they need is you and I acting as if the first conversation they need to have is about their sex life, as if that is all that separates them from God.

The subject is going to come up, it has to, but it’s not the first conversation we need to have, because what Paul describes as being of first importance is this,

“… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV)

The starting point of the gospel is Christ’s cross and we shouldn’t act as if it’s their bedroom.

The bottom line is that there is no special gospel for homosexuals, there is no special way to share the gospel with homosexuals. Jesus didn’t die to save them from their same sex attraction, he died to save all of his people from all of their sins, whatever they are.

Conclusions

The position the Bible takes on sexuality is unpalatable to our society, that much is obvious. What we often forget, however, is that the Bible’s teaching about sexuality is difficult in our society. In a culture as sexualised as our own, the stark choice between heterosexual monogamy and celibacy seems not only arduous but laughable. The Church has a huge part to play in restoring the place of sex as a good thing, but not an essential thing. It’s not enough for us to just say that, we have to live as if it were true.

We need to restore the mangled image of friendship, restore the value of celibacy, cherish the value of sacrifice, and, above all, undermine the lie that without sex, life is not worth living. We need to refute that by the lives we lead, and the relationships we build. That means that we need to be a community where Christ and his glory are paramount, where the wounded are welcome, where the fallen are restored, where the purposeless are given hope, where sins are overcome in an atmosphere of honesty and mutual support, and where we tell one another the truth whether it’s easy or not.

In other words, the Church’s response to homosexuality … is to be the Church. That’s where we have failed most conspicuously in the past and where we must focus our repentance and our passion in the future.

~

Gordon Walker is married to Suzie. He also has three daughters. Currently Gordon serves as the pastor of Carryduff Baptist Church and guest lectures for the Irish Baptist College.

 ~

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Guest Post: Suzie Walker Shares How Taking Notes During Sermon’s Has Been A Blessing To Her

A few years ago I attended an Irish Baptist College commencement service at which Rico Tice spoke.  I remember feeling challenged, it was a good service and an excellent message.  But honestly, if I hadn’t written it down I wouldn’t remember the content. “Choose self sacrifice above self serving, choose service above power and choose suffering above security.”  What a great challenge contained in these headings.  But having a poor memory (for some things), if I hadn’t noted these headings down, I would still have been blessed, but I wouldn’t remember why.

But does that matter?

I must admit to feeling a little naked if I listen to a sermon without a notebook and pen.  I feel like the content may be lost to me, even if I benefit from the message in the moment.  Time passes and I can’t remember why I felt blessed.  Some people might say it doesn’t really matter, it just matters that there was blessing.

notes 3I disagree.  For me, the experience of sitting in a congregation of people and listening to a sermon is all about challenging my thinking and transforming my actions and learning all I can about the Scriptures and what they teach us about God and how we can serve him.  Without note taking I struggle to remember, I am less able to retain and apply the lessons.  It is true that I don’t always revisit my notes.  However I go to a church where there is often consecutive teaching through a Bible book.  My notes are such a useful tool to be able to flick back through weeks of notes to grasp an over-arching thread or revisit something which becomes more relevant in later chapters.

I was recently told a story of an elderly Christian couple who had dinner with relatives each Sunday.  They were always so positive about the pastor’s sermon, what a wonderful message and what a great blessing.  However, if asked what the message was about, they couldn’t remember.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  We all have those memory lapses.  Often that “good feeling” you get when blessed, or “uncomfortable feeling” when challenged, is part of what a sermon is supposed to do.  I love and value that feeling too.  But with notes I take so much more away, a journey through a book of Scripture with my fellow believers, a focus, a stepping stone to delve deeper. Note taking is definitely not a substitute for personal study, but can be a tool to help it.

I can appreciate that a lack of eye contact could be discouraging for the message giver, but better a congregation of heads down scribbling the message, than eyes engaged but minds elsewhere.  Most encouraging and beneficial to the church as a whole, is a congregation who hunger for God’s word, and use what they hear to deepen their knowledge of Christ and what he requires of them, to change their lives and the lives of those they meet, notes or no notes.  A ‘good feeling’ that lasts until lunchtime, is not a bad thing, but a set of notes, or simply a robust and reliable memory (if you are blessed with such a thing) will serve better to make our sermon listening transformational and long lasting.

Note taking is a matter of personal preference, but I sincerely hope that the top of my head is not seen as a discouragement to the sermon giver, but an assurance that I mean to make this message count in my life.

Guest Post: Pastor Trevor Brock Answers the Question, ‘Is it Beneficial to Take Notes During a Sermon?’

This is a good question, and one that I’ve came back to over the years because at times I’ve made it my practice.

I have many Bibles with tiny comments – too small for me to read now! – added in the margins and jotted down next to the relevant text, from times when a speaker said something truly noteworthy.

I’ve also tried keeping more detailed notes, putting them in my Bible where they’ll help me when I come to various passages.  As technology has improved I’ve even made use of various electronic devices for note taking (A Psion Revo and an HP Ipaq for those old enough to remember them).

notes 3But now I’ve stopped being a note taker altogether. Some people might put this down my failing eye sight, my inability to multi-task, or simply that I don’t hear what is being said.

Nevertheless, here are three (real) reasons why I have stopped taking notes during sermons.

Firstly, I have discovered that I rarely revisit the notes taken and when I do, they rarely seem as earth-shattering as when I first jotted them down.

Secondly, I feel for preachers who look down on a room full of people keying in information on their latest smartphone.

There are moments when preachers feel terribly impressed when it appears that every last word they say is being committed to someone’s cyber cloud for the rest of time.  A wee bit of self-satisfaction creeps in when a casual phrase sends listeners into a frenzy of writing, and the preacher knows that before the message is finished, that phrase will be appearing on social media with the preacher’s name tagged to it!

But as a preacher, I want to see faces not scalps. I want to see eyes that look attentive – eyes that show response – eyes that let me know that truth has penetrated.

I want to see eyes that are alight with the joys of God’s blessings, or are wet with the moisture of grief or failure; eyes that are pondering things too wonderful for us, or eyes that are shouting a genuine, ‘Amen’.

So as a preacher listening to another preacher, I prefer to show active engagement with what is being said by looking at him rather than my notes.

Thirdly – and most significantly – I have done some pondering on the “message” process!

Is the sermon just a process by which a truth is taught, which needs to be memorised lest it be forgotten?  Is the sermon an experience, in which the momentary emotions need to be captured before they evaporate?  Or is the sermon a conversation with God which requires constant interaction for the message to be understood, retained and responded to?

During 40 plus years of marriage, I have been given an occasional written shopping list by my wife Barbara.  However, I have no written, photographed or electronically recorded details of our intimate conversations with each other!  And I can just imagine Barbara’s annoyance if I reached for the notebook next time such a conversation begins!

I am not on a crusade to banish note-taking from our churches.  For some taking notes helps them to engage effectively with God’s message through the Preacher.

But, I continue to be, and I would encourage you to be, in the throes of an honest investigation into its value.

The Shepherd Psalm by Paul Ritchie

Along with John three sixteen these are surely the most famous verses in the Bible.  But I want suggest that they are also very much misunderstood.  We haven’t understood these verses until we see that they promise that we will have troubles in life; we haven’t understood these verses until we feel a renewed sense of peace and confidence; we haven’t understood these verses until they point us to the cross; we haven’t understood these verses until our greatest hope lies beyond this brief journey; and we haven’t understood these verses until we acknowledge that they point to the magnificence of God the Son.

  1.  TOSHIBA Exif JPEGWho is my shepherd?

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
h
e restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
For his name sake. (1-3)

In the book of Isaiah we read that God tends his flock like a shepherd. ‘He gathers the lambs in his arms and he carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young’ (40:11).  It is a very intimate picture.  In ancient Palestine the shepherd lived with his flock and was everything to it.  The shepherd guided the flock, protected them and looked after them when they were ill.  God loves us so much that he wants us to enjoy an intimate relationship with him.

Then along come Jesus, such a compassionate and courageous man, and he takes this title of shepherd for himself.  In John’s gospel we read that Jesus is our good shepherd.  The reason Jesus so often takes titles that the people used for God and applies them to himself is simply because he is God the Son.  Jesus gathers lost sheep and brings them into his flock, he takes broken sheep and binds up their wounds, he takes distressed sheep and holds them to his heart, he takes weary sheep and restores their souls, he knows his sheep by name, and had promised that he will never leave us.

Note where our good shepherd guides us: in paths of righteousness, for his name sake.  In ancient Palestine the shepherd did not drive the sheep from behind but instead he went ahead of the sheep and they followed him.  When we follow him, when we keep in step with the Holy Spirit whom he has given us, then we will live lives that bring him glory.  When Christians talk about guidance they generally are thinking of such questions as ‘what job should I do?’ ‘should I marry?’ ‘where should I live?’  But to God those aren’t the biggest issues for our lives!  His guidance is primarily about who we are rather than just what we do!  His call is to live a life that honours Jesus.  Everything else is secondary!

  1.  Will he be with me?

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (4)

There is nothing here that promises you, me or anyone an easy life! There are events that cause the psalmist to need to have his soul restored, there is the valley of the shadow of death and there is mention of evil and enemies. Being a Christian is no bed of roses!  We follow the good shepherd who endured suffering in his life so that he would know glory in the life to come.

In this verse we read of the valley of the shadow of death (or the valley of darkness).  Christians know what it is to lose loved ones.  Christians get sick and die.  Some Christians die at the hands of their enemies.  However, we have a comforter, we have a Lord who watches over our circumstances, and we have a saviour who has passed through death and removed its sting.

David Watson was a well known speaker who died of cancer in 1984. He wrote about his struggle with that disease in a book entitled “Fear no evil.” In it he says, “The actual moment of dying is still shrouded in mystery, but as I keep my eyes on Jesus I am not afraid.  Jesus has already been through death for us, and will be with us when we walk through it ourselves.  In those great words of the Twenty-Third Psalm:

Even though I walk
through the valley Of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me . . .

  1.  Where will he take me?

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (5-6)

The picture changes in the last two verses.  God is no longer pictured as a shepherd but as a host.  The host is putting on a feast.  A meal is spread out on a table.  Enemies are defeated.  It was customary for an honoured guest to have their head anointed with oil.  There is plenty to drink.

When I read these last two verses I think of Jesus.  Who went through the suffering of the cross and then was raised in glory to the right hand of God the Father.  Jesus who set the pattern of suffering followed by glory!

This life is a mixed bag.  There are times of happiness and sorrow.  There are both green pastures and valleys of the shadow of death.  There are opponents and calm waters.  Yet our hope lies beyond the brief and fading life.  We are sustained by God’s presence and anticipation of our heavenly home.  I don’t think we will ever thrive in the Christian life until our sights are set on the world to come.  We tend to be so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good.  One day we will share in a heavenly feast and dwell with our Lord for ever.

Conclusion

Writing on this psalm Sinclair Ferguson tells the story of the first physician to die of the AIDS virus in the United Kingdom. He was a young Christian. ‘He had contracted it while doing medical research in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  In the last days of his life his powers of communication failed.  He struggled with increasing difficulty to express his thoughts to his wife.  On one occasion she simply could not understand his message.  He wrote on a note pad the letter J.  She ran through her mental dictionary, saying various words beginning with J. None was right.  Then she said, “Jesus?”  That was the right word. He was with them.  Ferguson points out, ‘That was all either of them needed to know. That is always enough.’

If all you want is an easy life then don’t follow the way of the good shepherd, he leads us in paths of suffering now and glory to come.  If all you want are the riches of this world then don’t follow the good shepherd, his greatest riches await the end of the journey.  If all you want is popularity then don’t follow the good shepherd, for his enemies seek to harm his flock.  However, if you want something far greater—the shepherd who travels with you and ensures you make it home—then this psalm is for you!

~

Used with permission. For more blog posts by Paul Ritchie check out his blog: To Whom It May Concern.

Guest Post: Pastor Johnny Carson Answers the Question, “How Can I Challenge My Pastor without Sounding Critical or Judgemental?”

Editors Note: We asked Johnny Carson, Pastor of Whitehead Baptist Church, to answer the question: “How Can I Challenge My Pastor without Sounding Critical or Judgemental?” We are very grateful for the time he has taken to provide us with a wonderfully helpful answer to this difficult question. We pray that you, and your Pastor, are blessed by Johnny’s wisdom.

~

Paul David Tripp has summed up discipleship well when he said that it is: “People in need of change helping people in need of change” (See his book, Instruments in the Redeemers Hands). The fact of the matter is that pastors fall into this category as well; so although their main task is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12), they do so as needy men themselves. Pastors may be shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-5) but they are also sheep in need of the great shepherd. This is easily stated but how this works out in the life of a local church can be quite tricky. These are the two truths we have before us:

  1. Pastors have the privileged task of leading the local church in the context of a plurality of elders. Because of this; they are due honour, respect and submission from the church (1 Cor 16:15-16; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17)
  2. Pastors are sometimes in need of correcting themselves and are therefore still to be held to account in light of the qualifications required for the role (1 Tim 3:1-7; 5:19-20; Titus 1:5-9)

Seeing that the latter is the case; how can you challenge your pastor without sounding critical or judgemental? The following are a few biblical and practical guidelines as to how to go about this.

Motive

Firstly, stop and consider whether this is something that actually needs raised with your pastor. What is your motive in this? By and large, searching your motives will reveal your criticism to be one of 3 things:

  1. challengeThe issue is a legitimate issue to bring up. Your pastor has sinned in some way, either against you personally or more generally and he needs to be aware of it. In this case it is a Matthew 18:15-20 scenario; something which Paul alludes to and applies to elders in 1 Tim 5:19-20. Has he lied? Does he say one thing but do another? Has he been lording it over the congregation? In short, is his character not matching up to the qualifications laid out in 1 Timothy and Titus? In this case there may be sin and defaults in his character he needs to repent of.
  2. The issue, when all is said and done, is not a sinful one but one of taste. Are you going to criticize the way he dresses in the pulpit or the way he preaches from the pulpit? Some people find animated preachers engaging; others find them distracting. Some find more reserved preachers to be reverent; others find them boring. In this case, it is a matter of taste and more than likely it is not worth bringing up.
  3. You may find you illegitimately want to criticise. I heard of a church member who once criticised his pastor once for spending too much time in the sermon exalting Christ. This was a wrong criticism.

Method

Assuming you have considered your motives, how should you go about criticising? How you communicate criticism can determine the way it is received.

Do NOT criticise in written form (i.e. written letter, e-mail, text message). Writing is not only impersonal but is also very difficult to discern tone and thus communication can be clouded. The very medium is cold and emphasises the criticism over and above any good motivation behind the criticism. It is extremely tempting to write an email because most people do not like face to face confrontation of any kind. Paul himself expresses his concern over written criticism and valued face to face conversation (2 Cor 10:9). Indeed, in total he wrote 4 letters to the Corinthians; partly due to the fact that they did not fully understand some of the criticisms and commands being given in written form (1 Cor 5:9ff).

There is also a time and a place. It is very unwise to raise your criticism on Sundays either before or after the service for two main reasons. Firstly, people will always be in ear shot. Secondly, your pastor has A LOT on his mind on Sunday morning. He has a service to lead which may include doing the announcements, leading the intercessory prayer and above all proclaiming God’s word. 1001 things are already rushing through his mind:

  • “So and so looked upset; I must speak to them afterward…”
  • “I must emphasise this announcement for it is very important”
  • “I have to mention Mr ? in my prayer as the family are out and I don’t want to offend by leaving them out”
  • “Do I know my notes well enough? I am still not sure about the introduction…”

The last thing he needs is for someone to bring him over for a quiet word and give off about how rude he was to them last week.

Speaking after the service is no different. A preacher is never more vulnerable to attack than after he has preached the word. Instead, pick a time during the week and phone to organise a time where you can meet up and talk.

Mannerism

Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:1-5 He gives guidelines in how to judge. If you see a speck in your brother’s eye, first of all deal with the plank in your own eye before you confront your brother about his speck. As noted in our first point; self-examination is due before confrontation which in turn leads to a humble approach and mannerism when judgement is handed out (Gal 6:1).

Since the gospel is of grace, God’s people should have both humility and confidence when handing out and receiving criticism. Our humility stems from the fact we never forget how needy we are and our confidence stems from the fact that God has promised that he who began a good work in us, will complete it. He is intent in conforming all of us (pastors included) into the image of Christ, the one in whom no fault was found and yet died with all our faults laid upon him.

The Church and Revelation by Paul Ritchie

The word translated ‘church’ in the New Testament means ‘an assembly’ .  Church is people rather than place.  Church is community not buildings.  The New Testament never speaks of the house of God but does speak of the household of God.  Look around at the Christians gathered here this morning and you see church.  Look around at the walls and roof of this place and you see the rain-shelter in which the church meets.

This morning we are looking at the church in Revelation.  The first thing that we see is that the church consists of people who are loved by Christ (1:5).  Yet in the world not everyone shares Christ’s passion for his people.  The book of Revelation speaks of satanically-inspired enemies of the church. The church will be persecuted in the world.  But we do not lose hope because we are journeying through this world to a wonderful home.

1.  The church needs to listen to Jesus (1:9-3:22)

In 1997 I went on a holiday with my parents.  We visited the sites of the towns mentioned in the first three chapters of this book.  They were in the Roman province of Asia which is now in modern Turkey.  Ephesus and Pergamum are still amongst the most amazing places I have ever been to.

revelationWhile the church is made up of every Christian it consists of local groups of believers meeting together.  Jesus addresses seven of these local churches.  It is worth noting that the number seven is symbolic of completeness and that there were at least ten churches in Asia at that time.  Therefore it is safe to say that these churches are chosen representatives and that these words are for every church at every time.

When we read these letters to the churches we should ask:  Are we like the church at Ephesus, with its sound theology but lack of love?  Are we like the church at Thyatira, which was hard working but tolerant of immorality and compromise?  Are we aiming to be like the church at Philadelphia, who kept Christ’s word and would not deny his name?  Are we wanting to be like the church at Smyrna, which was materially poor and spiritually rich (unlike Laodicea, which was materially rich and yet spiritually poor)?

While these letters to the churches call for community repentance notice that they finish on a note of individual repentance (3:20).  ‘If anyone hears by voice …’  The church is not made more beautiful by members pointing to the faults of others.  A critical spirit never made the bride of Christ more lovely.  Revival of the church begins with individual Christians repenting, opening themselves up to more of the influence of Christ, and inspiring others to do likewise.

2.  The church is persecuted in the world (4:1-20:15)

I believe the book of Revelation has a message for every generation of the church.  While the beast-like powers, of chapters thirteen and fourteen, may have a particular fulfilment in the period immediately preceding Christ’s return they have their equivalents throughout the ages.  The first hearers of Revelation would have had no trouble relating these figures to the government of the Roman emperor Domitian as he presented himself as being divine and persecuted those who would not worship him.

The beast from the sea represents religious or political ideologies that oppose the gospel.  This beast delights to see us keep our mouth shut about Jesus.  This beast would have us deny that Jesus is the only way to God.  This beast would have us water-down a gospel that proclaims the desperate need all people have to be forgiven and restored to God.

The beast from the land represents political regimes and economic structures that persecute the church.  This beast delights when he sees us compromise for financial gain.  This beast would enjoy seeing Christians distort their tax returns and work outside the tax system.  This beast would approve of unethical business practices and the black market.

Ultimately the beast from the land and the beast from the sea want our total allegiance.  They will stop at nothing to get their way.  The powers that be will kill to get their way.

Why does God allow the church to suffer in this world?  He allows the church suffer in this world because as the church stands firm she is being refined and made beautiful.  In this world the church is a bride being prepared for her wedding day.

Will we survive all the tribulations we face in this world?  Christians may die but they will remain faithful.  Tribulation, persecution, danger and sword can not separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8).  Christ has sealed those who are his (7:4).  God will keep us firm to the end.  Those who love Christ will face the allure of materialism, the pressure to compromise, the temptations of affluence, and the danger of spiritual complacency.  But we will show that we are his as he gives us the power to overcome.

3.  The church is on a pilgrimage to a land of love (Chapters 21-22)

While the church faces pressures in this world she looks with anticipation to what is to come.  The final chapters of Revelation show us Christ’s people gathered together in a world of love.  In the 1700s, referring to the closing chapters in Revelation, Jonathan Edwards wrote: “The glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens [the sky] in a clear day, fills the world with light.” (Rev. 21:23).  “All the saints in heaven love God for his own sake, and each other for God’s sake, and for the sake of the relation that they have to him, and the image of God that is upon them.”

While pride and selfishness hinder our love for God and his people in this world in the New Heaven and New Earth all such barriers to love will have been torn down.  Even now the love we experience for God and his people gives us a taste of what is to come.  “That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven.  The soul that in this world had only a little spark of divine love in it, in heaven shall be, as it were, turned into a bright and ardent flame, like the sun in its fullest brightness, when it has no spot upon it.”

“And oh! what joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of the saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this!  Here is joy unspeakable indeed, and full of glory — joy that is humble, holy, enrapturing, and divine in its perfection!  Love is always a sweet principle; and especially divine love.  This, even on earth, is a spring of sweetness; but in heaven it shall become a stream, a river, an ocean!”

Conclusion

I remember listening to a speaker who asked what our favourite picture of the church was.  I think I said mine was the bride of Christ.  In Revelation we see that the church is a people loved by Jesus.  He allows us suffer in this world but gives us the grace to endure.  In this world the church is being prepared as a bride for her wedding day.  The pressures we face purify and refine us.  Like every bride we look forward to the wedding.  For we are on our way to a world of love.  We are going to join Christ forever.  The book of Revelation finishes with a reminder of our evangelistic task.  We see the bride of Christ issue an invitation to all.  ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price’ (22:17).

~

Used with permission. For more blog posts by Paul Ritchie check out his blog: To Whom It May Concern.

The Gospel and Revelation by Paul Ritchie

I am sure that you have all heard about twitter.  Twitter is a social media site where you post your opinions in one hundred and forty characters or less.  A number of years ago a controversial Christian leader decided that he would post his understanding of the gospel in a tweet.  He wrote: “The gospel is the counterintuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us”.  I don’t see anything wrong with that except for the fact that it uses big words and lacks content.

A better tweet came from a friend of mine who wrote: “The gospel is the news that God, in great love and at great cost, has provided the effective means of rescue for a world that is doomed” (David Blevins).  I like another tweet of the gospel which points out that “our sin is so serious that nothing but the death of God’s own Son could deal with it; which is what God has done for us” (adapted from Randy Newman).

How would you tweet the gospel?  You might look to the book of Revelation for help.  For Revelation is a gospel book.  We are going to look at the gospel in Revelation and then try to write a tweet about what we have learned.

‘Tell me the old, old story’

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’  Humankind has a special place in this creation, we are uniquely made in the image of God.  God put the first two humans in the Garden of Eden and lived in relationship with them.  So we can speak of God’s people, in God’s place enjoying God’s blessing.  But this human pair rebelled against God.  Now sin separates us from God, we no longer live Eden, our world is under God’s curse and we are subject to death.

revelationHowever God set about restoring what humankind lost.  He made a promise to a man he would call Abraham.  This promise spoke of a new people, who would live in a new place and experience God’s blessing.  Indeed he promised that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world would be blessed.  The whole of the Old Testament is the outworking of this promise.  We see a chosen people, trying to live in a promised land and enjoy relationship with God.

Like Adam and Eve that Old Testament people continued to sin.  Like Adam and Eve they were kicked out of the promised land.  Yet God was not finished with his promises.  At just the right time he sends Jesus who gathers a new people and brings them into a new creation.  We see the fulfilment of this in the book of Revelation.  Here we read of a new heaven and new earth and see God’s people, in God’s place, enjoying God’s blessing.

We hear echoes of Genesis in the book of Revelation.  The heavens and the earth become a new heaven and a new earth.  The tree of life is there (22:2).  We see that God has undone the curse that followed the fall, there is no longer a curse (22:3).  While death followed the initial rebellion in Revelation we read ‘blessed or those who die in The Lord (14:13).  God had promised he would bless the whole world through Abraham’s seed; in Revelation we see a multitude gathered from every tribe and tongue (7:9).

The first part of our tweet: ‘God restores what humanity lost.’

‘Nothing but the blood of Jesus’

I once read a blog post where the blogger was giving out about all those hymns that are obsessed with the blood of Jesus.  But the blood of Jesus is essential to the gospel.

The first announcement of the gospel comes immediately after the fall.  In cursing the serpent, which Revelation tells us is the devil, God says ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (Genesis 3:15).  A descendent of the woman will be bitten by the devil and yet will finish the devil off.  Just like the whole of the Old Testament is a working out of the promises to Abraham it is also a great search for this serpent-crusher.

In Revelation we read of the strike and the crushing.  On the cross, wicked people, inspired by the devil, crucify God’s beloved Son.  Yet that apparent victory signals defeat for the devil.  For Jesus is the one ‘who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood …’ (1:5).  It is only a matter of him before the devil is thrown into the lake of burning and tormented day and night for ever and ever (20:10).

So we continue our tweet: ‘God restores what humanity lost. His Son dies freeing us from guilt.’

‘Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place’

We should all know that becoming a Christian is all about what God has done for us not what we do for God.  We are told that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works, so no person can boast.  We see this portrayed in Revelation.  There we read about being freed from our sins by Jesus’ blood (1:5b) and of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7:14).  But while we are not saved by good works we are saved for good works.  God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us brings inevitable change.  Our changed lives serve as proof that we have been rescued from sin.

‘And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books’ (20:12).  On one hand we will stand on the day of judgement simply because of the mercy of God.  He has put our names in the book of life and washed away all our guilt by the blood of Jesus.  On the other hand we will be saved because our lives demonstrate the transforming power of the Christ’s indwelling presence.

‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city’ (22:14).  We are people who been sinful and yet we have been forgiven.  ‘Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood’ (22:15).  It is not just notorious sinners who are left outside.  Jesus equated lust with adultery and hatred with murder.  The apostle Paul called greed idolatry.  It is is not that Christians never fail, the blood of Jesus goes on cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7).  But if we don’t take God’s call to be a holy people seriously and if we refuse to let him tell us how we should live our lives then we are demonstrating that we have never been born again.

So we continue our tweet: ‘God restores what humanity lost. His Son dies freeing us from guilt.  Transforming our lives in the hope of eternal joy.’

Conclusion

I would want to finish our explanation of the gospel in Revelation with an invitation.  Revelation invites us to repent.  The gospel calls us to repentance.  It tells us to turn around and place our trust in Jesus.  This book contains two of the most open and gracious invitations in the whole of the Bible.

So our tweet of the gospel according to Revelation is: ‘God restores what humanity lost. His Son dies freeing us from guilt.  Transforming our lives in the hope of eternal joy. So repent and live.’

~

Used with permission. For more blog posts by Paul Ritchie check out his blog: To Whom It May Concern.