None But The Brave!!!

If there is one thing I am not, it’s brave! Indeed, I am an accomplished practitioner of cowardice in all it’s myriad forms, and courage is as alien to me as is flying to your average prairie dog. And if there is one thing I try to avoid even more than putting myself in harm’s way, it’s putting Belinda and Bethany in harms way too. Yet with that said, I can honestly report that we have just spent three whole weeks in the most complete and perpetual danger. Indeed, never more than a few feet away from both imminent and painful death.

“Were you smuggling Bible’s into North Korea?” I hear you ask. “Or preaching the gospel to cannibals in the Amazonian wilderness?” “Did you climb Everest to give out tracts at the summit?” Well, no! It was actually worse than any of those things. We were – prepare to gasp in horror – with a church in…….Western Australia! That land down under where the ten most most deadly everything-in-the-world were lurking in both the undergrowth, and ocean, wherever we walked, paddled or swam.

Our hosts assured us that it was perfectly safe, but of course I didn’t believe them for a moment. Their assurances that they had never even seen a snake, or a red-back spider, counted for nothing as just about everything that was dangerous in the antipodes – the deadly blue-ringed octopus included – either slithered, skulked or swam in front of us pretty much wherever we went.

So hey! Maybe I’m not such a coward after all!  I have, let’s face it, been for many years in close contact with Americans, and can now add Aussies to the list. I can only say, “Strike a light Cobber! Let’s get some Sheilas in with a couple kegs of the amber nectar and we can dig into our tucker bags down by the billabong!”

But seriously though! It was both a great joy and privilege to spend time with a fairly newly formed church of the Lord’s people who truly are committed to living every aspect of their lives purely on the Word of God in obedience to their Saviour! It is a rare thing, to be sure, and we were greatly blessed to be a small part of it for three wonderful weeks.

The family whom the Lord primarily used to start this church – Gary and Helen, Dan, Becky and Rachel – were friends of ours here in England before they emigrated. They pioneered a biblically based church in their home whilst still living in Yorkshire, but England being England, it just never took off as it should. However, the Lord eventually led them to Australia, and although at the time it was sad and perplexing for us (why would the Lord remove one of the very few families in England who actually understood church life?) it is both wonderful and encouraging to know that such a church now exists down under.

Being with Gary and Helen and the kids again was brilliant, and getting to know the folk in the church there was just the icing on the cake. We never know what the Lord is going to do next, and our loss here in England has certainly turned into Perth’s gain. I am increasingly of the conviction that the Lord has pretty much finished with the UK, and that the judgement of a famine of the Lord’s Word is now the result. But I am thrilled to be seeing encouraging things happening elsewhere, and having the privilege of being a tiny part of it.

So thanks for having us Yanchep church! It was great! I hereby welcome you to the rather small and completely non-influential company of Christians whose burden it is to live as comprehensively as we can according to scripture, including church life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now there’s a thought…!!!

As both an elder and a Bible teacher I would rather deal with, and be the victim of, the abuse of the freedom biblical church life grants the Lord’s people, than the perpetrator of spiritual retardation and damage amongst them through the exertion of a completely unbiblical hierarchical authority and control.

That the entire edifice of the church life of the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians should be built on a system of leadership and hierarchy that is itself entirely unbiblical beggars belief!

As for me and my house, we will go by scripture!

 

Home Sweet Home

I’ve been doing some much needed fixing up around the house lately and can be seen from time to time vanishing upstairs with a chisel in one hand and a paint brush in the other. The look of fear on Belinda and Bethany’s faces when this happens is matched only by their groans at the thought of the clearing up they have to face when I’m done; and I have notice too that Belinda will check our house insurance documents to make sure the premiums are paid up and that we’re properly covered for any damage that might result. I have always thought this a bit unfair of her, but then I do concede that there was that little hiccup with the blow torch and a downstairs carpet a couple of years ago. (Don’t ask!) But it doesn’t change the fact that I can be a useful old sausage here and there, and such am I currently being!

My limited practical skills are put to the test all the more though given that the house we live in is a bit….now how can I put this…a bit…higgledy-piggledy! It’s a council house, you see (that’s ‘government rental’ to my American friends), and was therefore constructed for practicality as opposed to any aesthetic considerations. Although we have lived here for nearly twenty years we have yet to find a proper right-angle where the walls and ceilings meet. None of the walls are actually flat and the doors don’t hang properly because the frames and lintels aren’t accurately parallel with each other. It’s all a bit of a challenge really, but although the thought of living in a better built abode one day is tantalising, this is still our home and we are nevertheless very happy in it. It is truly our home sweet home, notwithstanding the practical challenges entailed regarding ongoing maintenance.

And this is, I think, a nice little illustration of the relationship between our lives with the Lord down here and what awaits us after death. Although knowing and trusting the Lord brings us great contentment and peace, life is definitely, like our home, on the higgledy-piggledy side. Nothing fits quite as it should (sin will always cause disjointedness), and some bits, like our front door that has a gap at the bottom where the north wind pours in throughout the winter, are just downright disastrous. It’s good, yes! Even great sometimes! But man, it could be so much better! And of course the good news is that although there are no guarantees that Belinda, Bethany and I will ever live in a house with right-angles, flat walls, fully vertical doors and horizontal ceilings – oh yes, and a front door that shuts properly – we nonetheless know that, because we know the Lord, we are guaranteed that something infinitely better, in every way, awaits us after death.

The contrast for the believer between life here and life after death is the difference between living in some hovel with a roof that doesn’t even keep the rain off your head, and moving into a specially built palace on the most beautiful beach in the world in which every room has been designed, and then exquisitely crafted, just for you and for your complete personal satisfaction. There will, of course, be a 65″ 4K HDR TV in the man-cave to watch Star Trek re-runs on, and an entire rail network of full-size trains to play with and drive in the quarter of a million acre back yard

Of course, such an illustration doesn’t even begin to do justice to what I am trying to say because it’s limited entirely to material considerations, but it’s a start. Indeed, Jesus spoke promisingly of our eternal homes with Him the other side of death, so He obviously thinks the comparison is a good one too! I am therefore buoyed at having written this!

Do pray for Belinda and Bethany though. I’ve still got stuff to do and they look so worried when they see me with a blow torch in one hand, a box of matches in the other, a bow-saw between my teeth and a look of grim determination on my twitching face. But all will be well. Not necessarily because of the improvements I am making – well, I think they’re improvements – but because one day we will be with the Lord in the utter perfection of righteousness; and therefore of complete happiness and contentment. Even Star Trek and trains will fade into inconsequential oblivion in comparison!

Heaven…quite literally!

I have long been perplexed by the fact that just about everyone, Christians included, spell Heaven with a small h. Heaven is, if I am not very much mistaken, a place, and places, if I am not even more mistaken, are proper nouns which should always be capitalised. This fact can’t just be put down to the fact that most people don’t believe that Heaven is a real place because most people don’t believe in such places Asgard, Valhalla or Narnia either, yet such are nevertheless always capitalised. No, the presumption of a place being fictitious doesn’t change the fact that it should be still be spelt with a capital letter. Whether it be Thomas More’s Erewhon, Dylan Thomas’ Llaregub or Gene Roddenberry’s Vulcan, places, whether believed to be real or fictitious, are always started with a capital letter. So why not Heaven? And especially, why don’t Christians capitalise it?

At least most people get Paradise right, even though it’s only a part of Heaven, much as London is only a part of England. So wouldn’t it be strange if I were to capitalise London, yet spelt England with a small e? What on earth is going on?

Well, I actually have no idea, this adding to the sheer extent of my perplexity. So all I can do is put forward a tentative theory, and it is this: What if it’s part of a ploy by the enemy to minimise the reality of Heaven in people’s minds by reducing it more to a state of being than an actual place? I talk a lot about the Early Church Fathers in my teaching because their thinking has had a monumental effect on the Christian faith over two millennia, partly good, but partly too a complete disaster. And one of the more disastrous aspects was the influence they laboured under from Greek thinking and philosophy which understood the physical material universe as being inherently evil. This led, quite logically, to the idea that anything really spiritual must also be non-physical, hence the traditional Christian art that depicts Heaven as comprising non-corporeal-type beings floating around on clouds. To the modern mind such a notion quickly translates into the idea of an almost metaphorical spiritual state of being as opposed to an actual place. So what does the Bible say?

It is simply not possible for us to get our minds around the idea, in any significant way, of there being something outside of the Universe, but that is precisely what we are dealing with when we speak of Heaven. The Lord has lived there throughout eternity, the angelic realm having come into being and living there too before the creation of the actual Universe. So Heaven, this place God calls His home (it even has a garden), is therefore somewhere completely other than in the cosmos in which the rest of God’s creation exists. What we can, or at least vaguely, get our heads round though is that just as Jesus got a resurrection body which, although physical (he ate and drank in it), was so much more than that, being a vessel perfectly fitted for a human being to be able exist in God’s home outside of the Universe, so too will we, as God’s people, eventually get the same type of body. But there is just so much more!

Not only will we one day be physical beyond our comprehension, but the Lord is actually going to create a completely new Universe made from the same ‘stuff’ as Jesus’ resurrection body (I call it ‘miracle matter’), and Heaven is going to actually enter that Universe and land on the newly created Planet Earth, the Lord thus making His home with us as promised in His Word.

Let’s get this straight once and for all. Heaven is a literal place outside of this literal Universe, and should therefore, as a place, be capitalised when written. Jesus is literally God become a man, and He was literally raised from the dead in a literal physical ‘miracle matter’ body, being now literally back in the literal place outside the Universe called Heaven. Believers literally join Him there when they die; and folk who don’t believe such to be literally true, and who just laugh and scoff, are in for a terrible shock when they discover, when they die, that Hades and the Lake of Fire are literal places too!

What a wonderful salvation and eternity Jesus has won for us, and for any who will yet humble themselves, repent of their sins and simply receive it as a free gift from Him. I am literally cock-a-hoop about the whole literal thing!

In Praise of the X Files!

Over the last couple of years I have, thanks to Amazon Prime video, re-watched the entire X Files. To say I have greatly enjoyed sharing in Mulder and Scully’s ongoing paranormal adventures would be somewhat of an understatement, and I can only thank the Lord for granting even unsaved writers such amazing creativity. Bringing together the genre of global conspiracy with a virtually invisible alien invasion floats my boat no end, and I am truly grateful to it’s creator, Chris Carter, for giving such full reign to the imagination God has given him, even though it appears that he remains entirely ignorant of where it came from.

And of course the point I wish to make is that such conspiracy theories are entertaining precisely because they are not actually true. As C S Lewis once observed, the notion that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden is only fun in so far that you don’t actually believe them to be real. And so with the X Files, and every conspiracy theory that has ever entertained those of us with a fictional penchant for such. Whether it be hobgoblins, vampires,  the existence of the Illuminati, the notion that the CIA masterminded 9/11 or that the Earth is flat and the moon landings were faked, gullible people will always be taken in by the self-deceived promulgators of fantasy-mistaken-for-fact-type thinking. Failing to distinguish between fact and fiction they are taken in by nonsense and irrationality devoid of common sense, pertinent facts and reality. Not only is it sad beyond words, it brings good fiction, and especially good science fiction, into undeserved disrepute!

But of course the reason that I am such a complete and utter skeptic when it comes to conspiracy theories is because scripture not only reveals their basis to be complete nonsense, but shows us how they actually pail into insignificance when compared to the ongoing conspiracy that actually is for real, and which is truly cosmic in every sense of the word. The idea that any conspiracy could take place on a global, or even just a national level, is just too far-fetched to pass the test of even basic logic. Human beings are notoriously bad at keeping secrets, and for all kinds of reasons too. The idea, for instance, that covert forces in the US orchestrated 9/11 so as to make it look like Islamic extremists were responsible is just too ridiculous to contemplate. That everyone amongst the hundreds of individuals required to pull such a thing off could be relied upon to not break ranks in any circumstances, be it through guilt or simply selling the story for financial gain, is just too ludicrous to contemplate. No! You may rest assured that such things as the 9/11 theory, werewolves, the Illuminati and alien conspiracies remain purely in the realm of fiction.

What people do need to get their heads around, however – though they probably never will – is that the truth of the matter is that there is a conspiracy in full swing that is not merely global but actually cosmic in its scope. Indeed, a conspiracy of both divine and angelic origin that even the Chris Carters of this world wouldn’t even begin to be willing to accept as being the case. Scripture makes perfectly clear that men and women who have not repented of their sin and turned to Jesus for eternal life are fully at one with the desires and intent of Satan and his legions, and are therefore, though completely unbeknownst to them, easily manipulable pawns in his cosmic scheming and machinations. Conspiracies of sorts are a reality, though not global ones engineered by human beings or some shadowy organisation headed up by some sinister mastermind.

That the Lord will win out in this cosmic battle with humanity as the unwitting pawns isn’t in question, but in the meantime men and women nevertheless remain subject to a conspiracy and control they will never be willing to admit to. Humanity is indeed in subjugation to the demonic principalities and powers in the heavenly places! The end of the conspiracy will be a one world government based on the ultimate rejection of the Lordship of Jesus and the acceptance of a political power both originated and upheld by Satan himself; but one that will be crushed out of existence when Jesus returns to this planet in order to rule it Himself. This order of events will be followed by the creation of a completely new universe in which believers will live with the Lord and those angelic forces who have sided with Him.

Wow! How’s that for an X File, then?

Him!!!

According to scripture the most profound analogy in human experience regarding what following the Lord is all about is marriage. If we therefore understand the marriage relationship, and we can to a significant extent, we will also understand more clearly what we need to know regarding our Christian lives. And I want to home in on what I believe to be the single most important thing that goes wrong for us in both regards.

Because we are sinful everything is skewed, and the work of the Holy Spirit is, in part, to un-twist that twisted-ness and be all the time returning us to the straight and narrow of clear thinking. And one of the ways our thinking is lacking is our tendency to miss the whole by mistaking it merely for the constituent parts. Let me explain.

With marriage comes a great many duties and responsibilities. There are, of course, all the fun bits, the cuddly bits and exciting bits, but there are the less fun, and cuddly and exciting bits too. Marriage takes a lot of hard work and commitment, to say nothing of stuff like bringing home the bacon, raising the kids, painting the house, getting the car serviced, putting the fences back up after a storm, visiting Auntie Flo often enough…and a gazillion other things! Such are the numerous constituent parts of marriage. But none of them, however important, right and necessary they may be, are what a marriage actually is, or about. My marriage is about one thing and one thing only….though of course it’s not a thing at all! It’s a person! My marriage is solely, completely and one hundred per cent about Belinda. It’s about my wife! It’s about the woman I fell ridiculously head over heels in love with and couldn’t imagine ever being without! Everything else, that is, the resultant constituent parts that go to make up that life together as man and wife, are purely secondary! They are merely what loving my wife means in practical terms! My marriage is decidedly not about them! My marriage is about one thing, and one thing only….my wife!

And of course our parenthood is likewise solely, completely and one hundred per cent about our daughter. It’s about Bethany. Raising her has meant, and still means, that there are a gazillion resultant constituent parts involved in the practical outworking of that parenting, but none of those resultant constituent parts comprise what we are actually about as parents. No! Our parenting is about Bethany herself! It’s solely, completely and one hundred per cent about her! I trust you can see where I am going with this!

In the summer of 1971 Jesus revealed Himself to me, and I was utterly undone! In a moment of time I went from not knowing Him to knowing Him as if I had never been without Him. Ever since then my life has been about one thing and one thing only…Him! The relationship we have together results in a great many duties and responsibilities that fall upon me, and I have known much failure over the years in seeking to carry them out. But not one of those duties and responsibilities must ever become what my life is actually about. My life must only ever be about…Him! Following the Lord has many resultant constituent parts, but just as I seek to fulfil my duty as a husband because marriage is all about my wife, so anything that ought to result from following the Lord should do so solely because it’s about Him, and not merely for it’s own sake, or because it’s right or proper in itself.

Possibly the most subtle idolatry of all is when the duties and responsibilities of Christian discipleship actually replace the Lord in our lives, and our focus becomes our discipleship (a subtle manifestation of the very self we need to crucify) as opposed to Jesus Himself! Just as we sometimes need to fall in love with our wives all over again, so do we, as followers of Him, need to return to our first love.

That night I came to know the Lord I started to both believe and do all the right things. Not perfectly, of course, and all these years later I still have a very long way to go. But everything nonetheless changed that night and I began to think, live and behave completely differently. But I did so not because I had embraced some new philosophy, or been persuaded by a doctrinal position or some attractive morality. No, I changed because I had come to know Him, and I have ever since had to battle my tendency to let even the resultant and constituent aspects of following Him usurp His place on the throne of my life. How easily, and how sadly my discipleship becomes about me and what I believe, think and do, rather than solely, completely and one hundred per cent about Him!

As a husband I am faithful not because I want to be a good husband, but because I love my wife! It would be a nonsense, of course, to say it’s therefore OK to be unfaithful, or to be a bad husband. Indeed, such would be a complete and total betrayal of the very thing marriage is: that is, loving your wife! But we must nonetheless be careful lest we mix up the resultant constituent parts of the outworking of married life with marriage itself! Marriage is solely, completely and one hundred per cent about your spouse! Indeed, if you didn’t have one then you wouldn’t be married in the first place, would you?

Should a Christian, then, seek to live a holy life in obedience to the comprehensive teaching of scripture? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Him! Obedience to scripture and living a holy life is just the result of understanding that and following Him! Should a Christian seek to be a light to the world by way of being a witness to unbelievers? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Him! Being a witness to unbelievers is just the result of understanding that and following Him! Is it important to be well grounded in the objective doctrinal truths of scripture? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Jesus! It’s about Him! Being doctrinally or theologically sound, or however you want to put it, is just the result of understanding that and following Him!

So there you have it! Being a Christian isn’t about believing the right things, or doing the right things. Neither is it about not believing and not doing the wrong things! It’s simply about Jesus! It’s about Him! Believing and doing the right things, and not believing and doing the wrong things will follow on as the resultant constituent parts of ongoing discipleship; but none of that is what being a believer, in essence, is actually about. Being a believer is actually about the One in Whom we do believe! It is about Jesus Himself! Just as my marriage is about my wife and my parenthood is about my daughter, being a Christian is about Him!.

When we start to think in terms that following the Lord is about us and what we do, our obedience, works and faithfulness, we have fallen into a trap. We are then, as scripture would put it, walking after the flesh; and to the extent we are ever thinking that it is about us and what we do by way of serving the Lord, then all we can do is perform in our own strength, inevitably experiencing the failure and sin which will always result! But when we are simply looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and realising that it’s all about Him, and not us at all, then that is when the constituent parts naturally fall into place, and His life becomes manifest in us. It is a truth sadly un-comprehended by many believers, but holiness (sanctification) is not something we are meant to produce in or of ourselves. Holiness is Jesus just being Himself in and through us, with us out of the way.

Should there be obedience, good works and faithfulness in our lives? Of course! But not because we think that such things are what being a Christian is about, because they aren’t! No! Being a Christian is the realisation that what it’s all about is Jesus! That it’s solely, completely and one hundred per cent about……Him!!!

 

Rapture Ruptures

We had a really good discussion at our church gathering yesterday on the subject of the timing of the Rapture relative to Jesus’ future bodily return to earth. Two views were represented: the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position and the understanding that the Rapture coincides with the Lord’s bodily return; that is, the Post-Tribulation view! (We were careful to ensure that the Mid-Tribulation and A-Millenial views got a mention as well, even though none of us hold to them.) Perhaps not surprisingly no-one was persuaded by an opposing view to their own, but it was, as usual, a joy to be able to talk about it together with mutual respect and honour, plus the freedom to be able to agree to differ, relationships being thereby strengthened, instead of, as is so often the case with Christians, being put at risk.

It is of great sadness to me that so many such secondary matters become the cause of Christians falling out with each other and even saying unpleasant things about each other, and both as a brother in the Lord and because of my function as a Bible teacher, I have always crawled over broken glass in order to try to help folk understand how wrong it is for such things to happen. I have further become aware over the last two or three years that a veritable war of words has broken out over end times issues specifically between believers who hold to either the Pre-Tribulation or Mid-Tribulation positions, some of whom I have known personally and who were previously at one in both fellowship and ministry. But I now hear the language of ‘heretic’ and ‘leaven’ being used of people simply because they have a different understanding of the timing of the Rapture relative to the Lord’s bodily return. There are some things which I think really do need to said about this.

Firstly, it is simply a fact that no-one knows when the Great Tribulation is going to start. There are Christians who think they know, of course, but they are as deceived as were those who similarly predicted that it would happen within a particular time-frame now actually gone and in the past. And should any such prediction of a particular time-frame end up being proved correct, then it will simply be in the same way that broken clocks tell the right time twice a day. Let us be clear, these events might begin tomorrow, or they might not happen for another hundred years…or even longer! The only thing we can now with certainty is that these events are closer now than when scripture was written! So here, I would argue, is the deal!

If the Great Tribulation and Rapture don’t happen in our lifetime, and they might well not (they hasn’t happened for the last two thousand years, so what are the odds of it being us who are alive when it does?), then the issue as to whether or not the Church goes through the Great Tribulation is a bit irrelevant as far as we are concerned. So in the light of that simple fact the idea that Christians should end up falling out over it becomes just ludicrously ridiculous! But say it does happen in ur lifetime, what then? Well, if I am right and it turns out that the Rapture does come first, then those Christians who currently believe that the Church goes through the Great Tribulation will be absolutely delighted, to say nothing of extremely relieved, to be Raptured instead. (No losers there then!) But if it’s me who’s wrong and I wake up one morning to find that the Great Tribulation has started and that I was therefore, by definition, completely wrong about the order in which it’s all going to happen, then I will look to the Lord for grace and mercy to endure tribulation and difficulty just as I do every day anyway and have always done! (So no losers there either!) And even if that means I have to then face the worst tribulation I have ever known, then how would that be any different to the many Christians suffering imprisonment, torture and martyrdom in various parts of the world even as I write?

Don’t get me wrong here though: I make no claim to being anything other than a fully rehearsed coward, and I may well fail the Lord in being willing to die for Him. (One of my favourite verses in the whole Bible is when Jesus says that if we’re persecuted then we should flee, and I shall have little trouble being a good example and leading the way on that one! If you’re unsure what to do just follow that trail of dust; it’ll be me taking the lead like a good elder should and running away faster than anybody else!) But whether the Church goes through the Great Tribulation or not is absolutely irrelevant to the simple fact that any believer could be persecuted at any time, and that we have no guarantee of immunity from such ever happening to us. All we can do is to trust that the Lord will give us the grace we need to go through whatever we have to at any one time, persecution included. Just remember that whatever happens to us we are going to end up with the Lord in glory! So absolutely no losers there either!

May we be mature enough not to let such secondary matters divide us, and to learn respect for honourably held differing understandings regarding issues that just aren’t as clear cut in scripture as some like to imagine they are. I heard it put well by someone recently who said that belief in the future bodily return of the Lord is a camel, but the order of events leading up to it, the Rapture included, are gnats in comparison. And of course the conclusion is obvious: when believers who are united in their belief that the Lord is going to return one day end up separating from each other over the secondary issue of the timing of the Rapture, then they are indeed straining at gnat’s and swallowing camels. The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is biblically just so much more important than having to have agreement concerning things such as the timing of the Rapture, and there is no legitimate reason for believers breaking fellowship and separating over such. There needs to be separation over unrepentant sin, of course! And for serious heresy too, by which I mean denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith! But separating over the order of end time events and rupturing over the Rapture? Man, it’s time to get serious!