On Supporting Christian Bookshops

On Supporting Christian Bookshops

I’ve come to believe that Christians ought to support their ‘local’ Christian Bookshop. At least more than they do already. I put local there in ‘quotation marks’ because ‘local’ doesn’t necessarily mean where you live anymore (see below).

Bookshops are Closing

Speaking to a rep recently I learnt first-hand that Christian Bookshops are closing all over the place. At least two not so far away have closed. The rep I spoke to used to supply them, but not anymore. When I’ve been serving in the shop, customers here on holiday are thankful we are open. Why? Because ‘the one near us has closed’ they say. It’s not uncommon to hear that. Local Christian bookshops are closing!

As a Christian book buyer, I have used Amazon, like many of you, quite extensively. I’ve bought a lot of books from them. Two things have changed my thinking on this.

The Amazon Factor

The first was when they (Amazon) banned Ryan T Andersons book (When Harry became Sally) from their website. In fact, it looks like just about everyone of the main booksellers (e.g. Smiths & Waterstones) in the UK have followed their lead. To my knowledge, you still can’t buy it anywhere over here. However, I ‘read’ it on Audio, but on principle I’d buy a copy if I could get hold of one – from a Christian bookstore. I admit, some books you just can’t find anywhere else but on Amazon so I’m not advocating a ban. They have huge buying power and independent bookstores find it difficult to compete. Actually, it’s virtually impossible to compete on price – though on rare occasions it can happen. Things have changed, or become clearer. Despite the convenience, and they are convenient, Amazon are not our (Christians) friends. It’s that simple.

The Community Factor

The second reason was an article I read some months ago about local bookshops. This was in the US, but the principle was the same. The principle being that as a local business they supported the local community. The article demonstrated how they slotted into the life of wherever it is they are situated. Like everything in the US, as my Dad used to say, is BIG. So I think a small bookshop over here cannot compare to small over there. Context is everything I guess. The principle holds though. Small over here does more often than not mean small.

Providential Bookshops

The Bookshop in Rugby

In addition to that, was my own experience that hadn’t quite registered until very recently. When I first became a Christian through the witness of a friend one of the things I realised was that we needed to get Bibles and find a church. As strange as it may seem, we thought we were the only Christians in the town (we can discuss that another time). Here’s the thing, somehow or other, I knew there was a Christian bookshop in the town. So with my raggy old jeans and unkempt beard I made my way to the Christian bookshop in Castle Street, Rugby. (As far as I know it’s still open.) I went in, held my hands up in the air and proclaimed, ‘I’m Saved!’ Wally then proceeded to tell me of a church where I would get good teaching. And he sold me a Bible. That’s why (and how) I went to Railway Terrace (Evangelical Free Church) where Peter Jeffery was the Pastor. Going there was absolutely foundational to my Christian life. I can’t stress that enough! Isn’t the providence of God amazing!

Then Sue, my first wife, through the witness of a friend, in great distress went into her local Christian bookshop in Leamington (now closed). There she met David Arnold, a lifelong friendship emerged through this – especially with their daughter Ruth. David was an elder in the church in Rugby. Funny that isn’t it. Sue started attending the church in Rugby with David & Fi and their family. We then met at the church and were married, and the rest as they say is history. Isn’t the providence of God a wonderful thing!

The Conclusion of the Matter

The point being, as I said to someone recently, is that bookshops are ‘more than the sum of their parts.’ Here in Aberystwyth, we get people come in that just want to talk. It isn’t always convenient, true, but they come in. If Christian bookshops aren’t there no one can come into them. We are just a tiny tiny part in the scheme of things. But in the providence of God, we are a part. Like most Christian bookshops, we aren’t just a shop – it’s a ministry.

Here’s my conclusion then, and something for us all to consider: If you, we, don’t buy our Christian books from local Christian bookshops they will close. It’s that simple.

Thoughts on the Church in Afghanistan

Thoughts on the Church in Afghanistan

You may not necessarily agree with this, and if you have some knowledge of the church situation there, I’d appreciate your input.

I realise it’s very easy for me to make the following comments from my centrally heated home where I have plenty to eat and drink and live in a very peaceful part of the world. I also don’t have to wonder if the door will suddenly burst open and my children and wife will be taken away, or wonder if I’ll be taken outside and beheaded because I’m a Christian and have a Bible app on my phone. I do not fear for my life. I’m fully aware of all that. And I’m thankful for that too. I shouldn’t despise the providence that God has been pleased to bless me with.

Having said that, here’s my thinking on the situation of the church in Afghanistan. Few would deny the withdrawal has been handled with anything other than total incompetence. Even wickedness. But this too has been brought about by the Sovereign Lord. It isn’t a mistake. As a Christian I’m sure your thoughts turned immediately to the church in that truly awful situation. I do not in any way wish to, or mean to undermine, or trivialise the situation of our brothers and sisters there. Maybe you read some of the reports of Afghani pastors. Perhaps you read about their determination to stand for the Lord Jesus. One can only say, ‘Of whom the world is not worthy (Heb 11:38).’

This is where I might need some specialised help. The Lord Jesus has his people everywhere so we know there must have been Christians in Afghanistan before the US arrived 20 years ago. Probably very few and known only to a few on a need-to-know basis. But it seems to me that the church in Afghanistan, though still small, is a lot larger than it was. And is vocal and visible. I shared this with a friend (originally from Lebanon) the other day who thought it made sense. I asked him this ‘What makes the church grow more than anything else?’ His answer was ‘Persecution.’ Which is exactly right. Was it Tertullian that said, ‘The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the church?’

If that is true, and church history confirms that it is often the case, then the arrival, or return, of the Taliban, far from destroying the church could in fact be the means by which it will grow and be strengthened. Jesus has said, ‘I will build my church (Matt 16:18).’ It’s His church!

What I’m saying is that for the past 20 years the church has not been dormant. They weren’t 20 wasted years. We’re being told they are wasted years because world governments have no interest whatsoever in the church. Their concern is entirely materialistic. It’s purely utilitarian. So if you are in the military, and a Christian, or even if you are not a Christian, your service there was not in vain.

With all the above in mind then, here are some things that I will be praying:

Pray the Lord of the church with keep them and watch over them.

Pray for the Church that they will remain faithful (even unto death (Rev 2:10).) – and if some of them don’t remain faithful, pray for their restoration.

Pray that even under those terrible circumstances the church, and especially the Pastors, will be bold for Christ.

Pray the church will receive good sound teaching that will build them up in their most holy faith: and for the availability of the Bible, in print, and electronic. And for good literature.

Pray for a real and powerful visitation of God by his Holy Spirit. Upon the church and upon the people.

Pray that God will also visit the Taliban and convert many of them. Pray that their zealous opposition to the Lord Jesus will be turned, like the apostle Paul. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” Acts 9:21 & 22; Galatians 1: 23 & 24.

Pray that God will open the hearts of the Afghan people to the Gospel and for opportunities to hear the message of life.

We should also thank God that he has a people in Afghanistan at all.

It is a truly terrible situation. Of course it is. I do not minimise that for a moment. But these things, it seems to me, are the things of first importance. Obviously, much could be added to the above that are not unimportant (health, safety etc.).

There’s an irony in that the Taliban think they have come to destroy the church. But God may have brought them to help build it.

And let’s not forget, God will not leave those sins of the Taliban, or of wicked evil Western governments that abandoned them, to go unpunished. God will not be mocked, not by Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, the Taliban, or by anyone else.

I don’t have a direct line to the secret plans of the Lord God, but I pray this is so. I could be completely off on this. But why can’t God do it? Let’s pray He will.

Am I talking nonsense? I hope not.

‘The dearest idol I have known’

It’s a funny thing how just one passing thought can change our perception. I can’t remember where it was (a Travelodge I think), but a few weeks ago I mused on the line of this well-know hymn:

O for a closer walk with God

and came to a different conclusion. Probably nothing new. And you might well wonder how come it took so long to see it.

In our better moments we do long for that closer walk. And we do lament having a ‘closer walk’ in times past but not so much now and so we also say with Cowper:

Where is the blessedness I knew

Unless you are a Christian, and have experienced that closer walk, you won’t have a clue what I’m on about. One of my favourite hymns expresses it as ‘one transient gleam of loveliness divine.’ (Anonymous; from Stockwell Gems)

A Christian can live for a very long time on ‘one transient gleam‘ such is the power of ‘loveliness divine.’

In verse five then of Cowper’s famous hymn we have these words:

The dearest idol I have known’
whate’er that idol be,
help me tear it from Thy throne,
and worship only Thee.

(William Cowper, 1731 – 1800)

Just the other day in our prayer meeting we heard of the various idols that even as Christians we have. I’ve always thought of it in that way. The many idols we have. But not anymore. Of course we do have idols a plenty, and Calvin, I think quite rightly, describes the heart as an ‘Idol factory.’ (See below) But if you think of a factory, someone is usually in charge. I’ve worked in factories (on the shop floor) making stuff so I know the production process.

I’ve no idea if Cowper had this in mind when he wrote that hymn, but I do think he could well have. What is the dearest idol? That is singular. Could it be a car, money in the bank, a career, health, or the many many other things in our lives? No, I don’t think so.

The dearest idol is me. I’m on the throne. And I need to get off it.

So the factory analogy: I’m in charge and I produce stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. My factory is very efficient. And there is lots of overtime available. But my factory has a new owner now. Remarkably, the new owner gives me a lot of flexibility. I get to make a lot of decisions. But it’s not my factory anymore and we make a different product now.

And Cowper is right, we need God’s help to tear it down. Not only can we not do it, we don’t want to do it either. We like being in charge. If you’ve not been a Christian very long I have to tell you the struggle to tear self from the throne is a lifelong struggle. It ebbs and flows. I’m not very good at it. Anyone who has been a Christian for a long time will tell you it is so. Telling you otherwise is a lie.

The overwhelming sense that I have as an ’employee’ of the new owner is of gratitude. Or it should be. And in my better moments it is. What a gracious and wonderful owner he is! Usually employees don’t get to visit where the owner lives and there’s a strict boss employee relationship. But not with this owner. This owner makes you part of his family and eventually you get to live in his house, with him – forever. Maybe I’m talking like a madman, but it wasn’t easy for the factory owner to make it so. His own Son had to die in order for me to be part of the owners family. And even though he knew I would still try and be in charge – he still did it. Why? No idea. But he did. It isn’t a boss employee relationship anymore – it’s family now.

The old owner was a tyrant and let me do whatever I wanted and made me think it was my factory. But it wasn’t. He was in charge all the time really. The old owners only real aim was destruction even if it seemed like all was well. It isn’t well if that’s you. As Paul puts it:

Tit 3:3  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray (AV has Deceived), slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Tit 3:4  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
Tit 3:5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
Tit 3:6  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Tit 3:7  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The Lord has diagnosed the problem:

Jer 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

We know this to be true. And yet, ‘Christ died for the ungodly.’ (Rom 5:6) Will you not come to Him? (Matt 11:28)


Like many of you, perhaps, you’ve often heard the Calvin quote where he said the heart is an ‘Idol factory.’ Sometime ago I decided to find it. So here’s the quote:

Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.‘ In modern parlance, a factory.

If you’ve ever worked in a factory it’s a brilliant analogy. The mind is in constant production – it never stops. Just a little further down the same page Calvin says this:

‘The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth.’

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Henry Beveridge), Book 1, Chapter XI, Section 8. p.97, Volume 1, Wm B Eerdmans publishing, 1997.

Covid is for the Church – not the world?

There’s a tendency for the church to look out upon the world with an eye to judgement. That’s probably an understatement, nevertheless, there’s a lot in the world that would rightly fall under the judgment of God. The millions of abortions that take place on its own confirms that. It isn’t surprising then that some Christians could see the current pandemic as a judgment from God. We look on to see the world repenting and calling upon the Lord (or rather look on and don’t see that). The Church being in the world gets caught up in these judgments from on high. We look in vain. There may be a few people here and there that turn to God, but by and large the world carries on as usual. The church is sidelined. That is the way of the world. Let’s face it, the church today (in the UK anyway) is an utter irrelevance.

It’s probably not a unique thought. But what if it’s the other way round and we are looking at this all wrong? What if it’s really the world caught up in God’s judgment upon the Church!

Just as we look vainly upon the world for repentance towards God, we look vainly upon the church to do the same. The world looks upon the church in vain. Where is the repentance and a turning towards the Lord in repentance and faith? We might say, ‘What have we to repent of?’ Our self-righteousness world be a good start.

These thoughts came out of my reading just the other morning. My default is probably set to look out and judge the world. But it came to me specifically that the Covid Pandemic has been sent by God as a judgement on the church. We always, or nearly always, think that if anything bad happens in the world it’s a judgment from God upon the world. It’s a damning and profoundly unsettling realisation that it could well be the other way round. I am quite upset about it. I’m finding it to be quite disturbing actually. For one thing it means I’ve been looking at it all wrong.

The verses I’m referring to are found in Chronicles. The context is Solomons dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Of course, all Gods dealing with the church are by grace. Even His judgments are a mercy to His people and to His church. I’ve heard the phrase used a few times lately that God is sifting the church. It does seem to be the case. Perhaps God is sifting us as individuals as well. What are our convictions? Do we care more about being correct than people? Some evidence then that the church needs to be looking at itself rather than casting a self-righteous judgmental eye on the world – which we’re pretty good at doing.

We know that God sends the pestilence, even this pandemic. I don’t think most Christians doubt that. God hasn’t been surprised or caught off guard by any of this. But I do think we (I include myself here) may have seriously misjudged its purpose. I’ll admit to being late to realise this. Maybe too late. I think my fear now is that once things start, dare I say it, returning to ‘normal’, it will be ‘business as usual.’ The meetings will restart and return to ‘normality.’ The pandemic will have passed, and we’ll all thank God and return to thinking how wonderful we all are, and nothing will have changed. My biggest worry, like I say, is that for the church, it will be ‘Business as usual.’ Do we want ‘business as usual’? What did ‘business as usual’ look like?

How then, in the light of this, assuming it’s true, and I’m right about this, are we to respond? To respond right now. I don’t think prayers for God to end the pandemic are really going to cut it.

If all that’s happening is really about the church, and it really is, how are we to change? I don’t think I’ve read much along on these lines. A lot has been said about the legality etc of the lockdowns and how the government are persecuting the church. You know the stuff I mean. Those are real issues by the way.

Christians have, and are, deeply divided over how to deal with the pandemic and our responses to government overreach are just as divisive. Wearing masks, closing churches, social distancing, and vaccinations are just some of the many ways we have been divided. We have our views. I have mine. And I’m not saying these are not valid. For example, the government is overreaching in many areas. They are manipulating the population. But what if we have all missed the point?

As churches we want to get back to normal. We want to get back to business as usual. But what is normal? And what is business as usual? What did those things look like? What is normal for us? What is a normal prayer meeting for example? Do we want a return to normal? Are we happy that our normal prayer meetings now just continue as normal but online? Or our normal services just continue now as normal online. And when our services return to normal will they just continue as before?

We do ok with normal. Normal is safe. Normal is cuddly. Normal has no surprises. We can manage normal. Normal is under control. Under our control that is. I think, perhaps what the word normal describes is formality. We are very formal. Normal is formality. Could it even be described as having a form of godliness? Or even in Revelation the Lord Jesus describes one church as having a reputation for being alive. But that wasn’t how Jesus described them! We are just so correct and righteous.

We pray (sometimes), or sing, for God to come sweeping through us. Maybe he is. But not in the way we expected!

And as we (at Towcester Evangelical Church) heard on Sunday morning, don’t think for one moment the purposes of God will be thwarted. They won’t be. But we will miss out. Don’t worry though. Everything will be back to normal soon! God will have passed by unnoticed, and we’ll be left to carry on with business as usual.

The world, on the face of it, is completely opposed to the Christian faith. And I understand all the reasons for that. But I think there’s another side to this. And that is, unconsciously or not, the world is looking to the church for hope and redemption, and for mercy and forgiveness. Where else is real and true hope to be found? There is nowhere else. Only the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has the good news of the Gospel to dispense to the world. It is us, Christians, that have been commissioned by God to preach Good News of a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.

Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss to know quite what to do with this. I believe the very thought of what I’m suggesting will be met, by some, with opposition, or much more likely to be met with the cold shoulder of indifference.

We can’t revive ourselves, and we can’t turn the tide of secularism back, so isn’t it time for us to call upon the Lord to have mercy on us? To revive us. To wake us up out of our slumber. Or are we (self) satisfied with ‘business as usual.’ Are we, or will we be satisfied with being ‘normal?’

 

Paradise PD – A slightly different Christian perspective

There is outrage, again, over the Netflix production ‘Paradise PD’ that blasphemes the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it blasphemous? Yes. Is it offensive? Yes. Do I like it? I haven’t seen it, but probably not. Will I watch it? Unlikely. Though I might if I had to. By the way, I didn’t even realise this was a series and in its 4th season. I’m guessing the series have a pop at everyone – hmmm, maybe not everyone (you know).

I accept the moral outrage by Christians but I’d like to come at the episode, what I know of it anyway, from a different perspective. Let me just say, because it probably needs saying, I’m not endorsing it in any way shape or form, just looking at it from a slightly different perspective. 

Remember the old ‘The end is nigh’ sandwich boards of the past. They ridiculed it, but you know, the end really is nigh. It’s a true statement. Messiah-Nara might be meant to ridicule and be funny, but actually it’s a statement of truth. It will be the end for His enemies.

What ought to be fascinating is the fact that Jesus just won’t go away. The usual tactic then is to ridicule him. They tried that in the New Testament so doing it this way is nothing new. We ought to be encouraged because they are still doing it. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Here’s a few things about this episode that I know from the criticisms. Like I say, I haven’t seen it, so what I say here isn’t personally verified. I wonder if the writers of this episode know more than they are letting on. My speculation is that they could be, or at least have first hand knowledge of evangelicalism. They’ve been influenced by self-righteous controlling church leaders. Maybe in a bizarre way this episode is a cry for help. Here are a few points then not in any particular order.

Free Speech

I need to say this. I believe in free speech. If they want to produce this episode that is their right to do so. However blasphemous it might be. I don’t have to like it to allow them the right to produce it but free speech also gives the right to protest against it. I rarely sign petitions. There is a petition to take it down, but honestly, I don’t think I’ll be signing it. There are many petitions out there wanting to ban Christian stuff as well. I don’t see too many petitions against heavily polititicised LGBTQ stuff which is far more insidious that this film. I think the petition in this case will just make more people want to see it. In a way it’s self defeating. But I understand the outrage.

The Cross

The picture shows Jesus breaking the cross and the nails turning into Uzi’s (Probably 9mm). Of course there is a mixture of fact and fiction but nevertheless it shows Jesus victoriously breaking the cross and wreaking judgment on his enemies. Jesus could have come off the cross, but then there would be no salvation. So that didn’t happen. But think about how Aslan in the Narnia story after the White Witch and all her host had done their worst and killed Aslan, what happened? Aslan breaks the stone table and is victorious. The story is playing out the reality of Jesus’ victory. The Bible tells us that he triumphed over his enemies through the cross.

The greatest possible symbol of weakness becomes the greatest symbol of victory and of power. So that he has put to shame all powers through the cross. We might not like the picture but actually, intended or not, we see a triumphant Messiah.

A Fallen World

Because we live in a fallen world we should expect to see this sort of stuff. It’s everywhere really. This show is a bit more in your face but it just proves the truth that we are rebellious against our creator. It’s a form of imprisonment, they can’t help themselves. We can’t help ourselves. Which is exactly why we need a Saviour. And the only way we can be saved is through Jesus dying on a cross. So in an unintended way the film demonstrates our own fallenness and of our need for a Saviour.

Final Judgement

Jesus is crucified as the Lamb. But in revelation we read about ‘the day of his wrath.’ The Lamb is mighty. And all his enemies will be dealt with. Being slaughtered using a pair of Uzi 9mm’s will seem a mercy when considering the awful reality of an eternal lake of fire. People will be laughing, I’m sure, but it’s not a laughing matter. The enemies of The Lord and His anointed one (Messiah) will be destroyed.

True Knowledge

The film shows an underlying knowledge that not only is there a real Jesus, but also a real knowledge that there is a judgment to come. This episode, and those like it, demonstrate how the truth is actively being suppressed as the bible teaches. Not only does the bible teach it but we know it to be true. Our consciences tell us it’s true. The conscience of the series tell them it’s true as well. Try as they might, Jesus is not going away. He can’t be got rid of so he must be mocked.

True Forgiveness

I was thinking how outraged we can get. Then I wondered how The Lord Jesus reacted to His own crucifixion. We get all pious and outraged but Jesus said ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ I can think of things I said about Him before God had mercy on me. The foul blasphemies that poured out against the Lord Jesus from my unrighteous lips! But He had mercy on me. Someone prayed for me. Someone told me the Gospel. Jesus saved me. The amazing good news is that Jesus saves all who will call on Him. Will you call on Him?

A Mighty Christ (Messiah)

I’ll just end with this. Maybe you watch the series, and you’ve seen the episode about Jesus and the Cross. I’d ask you to consider the points I’ve tried to make. This Jesus who just won’t go away is going to return to judge the world, to judge you. Then, the choices we have made about The Lord Jesus will have eternal consequences. So I ask you to consider Him.

‘Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3).

Mighty Christ from time eternal,
Mighty, he man’s nature takes,
Mighty, when on Calv’ry dying,
Mighty, death itself He breaks.
See His might,
Infinite,
King of Heaven and earth by right!

Mighty was He in heaven’s purpose,
Mighty, in the pledge to save,
Mighty, from His birth to Calv’ry,
Mighty, bursting from the grave.
Still will He
Mighty be When things hidden now we see.

Great my Jesus in His Person.
Great as God and man is He,
Great His comeliness and beauty,
White and ruddy, fair to see,
Great that sight,
Sovereign Might,
Throned secure on heaven’s height!

vv. 1 & 3 Titus Lewis, 1773 – 1811;
v. 2, Anonymous;
tr. Graham Stuart Harrison 1935 – 2013 (No. 117 Christian Hymns, E.M.W)

Behavioural Science (in the UK) & The Gospel Invitation

These ideas have been knocking around in my mind for a while now, but I heard recently on talkRADIO someone mention, for the first time anywhere, The Behavioural Science Unit. I was beginning to think I was the only one that had ever heard about this. It’s also called ‘Nudging.’ There is a unit (in government) that is actively engaged, using these techniques, in manipulating the behaviour of the population. That’s us. So I have stood back and observed, over the past year or so, our behaviour being manipulated. There is active coercion happening.

Many of you might not know what ‘Nudging’ is. Some time ago The BBC had a program on ‘The Power of Nudge‘, and it was quite astonishing. The reason I know about this is because I listened to it at the time of its first broadcast. Quote: ‘What really changes people’s minds (about the idea of nudging) is because it works.’ This was part of a series on ‘The Pursuit of Power’ in case you think I’ve gone crazy. This was a part of a Behavioural Science unit in No 10 when David Cameron was PM. (This unit is now independent and is called ‘The Behavioural Insights Team’ or ‘Nudge Unit’ –  https://www.bi.team/bit10/  They still use Nudging) The original unit had a sunset clause attached to it, set at 2 years in case it didn’t work. But it did and does work. The UK (and other countries) are now (as I see it) a huge experimental ‘Petri Dish’ of behavioural management and control. I’m sure there are other such Units. Is it a conspiracy then, if it’s happening.

Incidentally, Dr John Lee (Professor of Pathology) in his video (HERE) (dated 1st May 2021) mentions The Behavioural Insight Team (from 30m) that uses FEAR to manipulate the population. I watched this on 4th May 2021. Again, this is clear evidence that we are being manipulated (as if we didn’t already know). This is not something to cast off as something only a few conspiracy nutcases believe – because it’s really happening.
I wonder if advertisers used these techniques whether they’d be legal. Subliminal advertising is illegal, even though the jury is out on its actual effectiveness. Nudging really does work though.

There’s a Vaccine advert that has been running (ad nauseam) quite regularly on talkRADIO and is, I think, a typical use of nudging. Remember, nudging works. That’s why they do it. In the advert we are told to ‘Join the millions already vaccinated…. Every vaccination gives us hope.‘ There are other Ads, but the point is to move us, or nudge us, into action. To manipulate our behaviour. And you can’t miss all the signs everywhere to reinforce the behaviour (social distancing & masks). By the way, I’m not making any comment on taking the vaccine, or not. Merely that ‘Nudging’ works. I didn’t catch who it was and only caught the last part of an interview (some weeks ago now) on talkRADIO but I think it was an MP that said he was ‘surprised at how easily people gave up their liberties.’

It’s inconceivable there is only one of these businesses operating. The Big Tech companies are doing it all the time. Sometimes by withholding information, at other times by using targeted information, at other times by taking down information that doesn’t fit the narrative. Did you see the film ‘The Social Dilemma’? Maybe you thought it was an exaggeration. Perhaps, to some degree. But the point is it’s happening. Whatever your view of President Trump is or was, it comes to something when Tech Companies can pretty much silence the President of the US.

As we appear to have some sort of end (to the pandemic, not the aftermath) to this madness what’s the point in saying all this now? The point is this: don’t think the behavioural insight team, and other such teams, will be clearing their desks and closing down the office as the crisis comes to an end. I think that would be unbelievably naive. No, the ‘insights’ gained through this will be used in other ways (I’ll leave those other ways to your imagination) to manipulate the population into other behaviours (or beliefs). The trick is, of course, to do it a) without us realising it and/or b) by making us actually want it – so we become complicit in our own change of behaviour. Talk about 1984 (‘I love you Big Brother’).

How does this affect the Church?

Apart from my concern as a citizen about losing my freedoms, the other (more important) reason I’m interested in all this is because this is the sort of manipulation that when presenting the Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God we DON’T do. We don’t manipulate people into becoming Christians. We don’t ‘Nudge’ people into the Kingdom! Even if it works, and it does – we don’t do it. This is one reason why I’m not in favour of big organised evangelistic campaigns or what is called ‘the Invitation System.’ We should run a mile from any such methods. As the Bible says: ‘… we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2).

But there’s also a dark side to all this. The church is engaged in a war. Not a physical war. But a spiritual one. ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). And as Paul tells us in another place ‘… the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Cor 10:4).’ ‘We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Cor 10:5).’

And it’s quite interesting at his point how the Apostle Paul speaks of taking every thought captive…. I’m not sure we can so quickly dismiss some of this stuff as ‘conspiratorial’ as many Christians seem to do. How is it all affecting the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? The Bible says ‘we are not ignorant of his (Satan) designs (2 Cor 2:11). Perhaps we are ignorant of Satan’s schemes in this area? I’m all for the plain teaching of the Gospel. We shouldn’t employ any subterfuge in presenting the Gospel or any ‘bait & switch’ techniques. But that doesn’t mean, as we have read, we shouldn’t be unaware of Satans devices. Love not the world nor the things of the world (1 John 2:15). Manipulating and coercing people is a worldly activity. It’s what the systems of the world do. We don’t manipulate and coerce people into the Kingdom of God. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is He that makes his people willing in the day of his power (Psalm 110:3). We don’t use worldly methods. And we don’t need to either. The Spirit of God doesn’t ‘influence’ people, rather, he makes them alive (Eph 2:5)!

It’s important for us, therefore, to know there is someone that speaks the truth. The Lord Jesus many times used the phrase ‘I tell you the truth’ (verily, verily) and that is exactly what he did, and does. He didn’t use methods of coercion or manipulation. He speaks the truth, even when we don’t like it. So when he invites us to himself, as he does right now, promising rest for our souls, we can be assured that he is speaking the truth. In other words, we can trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

Come to me (Says Jesus), all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.(Mat 11:28 & 29).’

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
new life the dead receive,
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

(O for a thousand tongues – Charles Wesley, 1708-88)

 

‘I’m praying for you’ by Nancy Guthrie – A recommendation

‘I’m praying for you’ by Nancy Guthrie, 10 of Those publishing, 2021. £6.99 from 10 of those. This is a new book by Nancy. She’s written several books on helping people in their suffering and this is another one. I like her writing.

‘When someone we care about is going through something difficult, we are quick to say, “I’m praying for you!” But then what? Do we really pray? And if so, what do we pray? How do we know what to pray? p. 11.

It’s not a theoretical book, but is ‘40 Days of Praying the Bible for Someone Who is Suffering.’

The book looks more weighty ‘in the flesh’ than it actually is. In other words each chapter or day is only three pages long. And the text isn’t dense. In fact there are blank pages and plenty of space for notes – it’s a book to be used.

The idea is to help us pray more Biblically for those that are suffering, and to glorify God in our praying and in the lives of those we pray for. Nancy wants to help our prayers to be a bit more than ‘please heal this person’ or ‘please make this trouble go away’ type prayers.

It’s a really simple idea and maybe at £6.99 it’s a bit steep. But then if it really does help us pray more Biblically it’ll be money well spent.

I selected a few days at random to read and I did find them helpful. The aim is that it’s not about us, it’s about helping other people by praying for them. In a church setting maybe if several Christians started following the pattern here it could actually change the flavour of, or maybe ‘improve’ our prayer meetings, as well as our private devotions. It isn’t a substitute for the Psalms, but it is helpful.

I thought the QR code idea at first was a bit gimmicky, but it could actually be helpful as we send texts to those we know are going through a hard time. (You can scan the QR Code using your camera and then send the prayer as a text) It doesn’t have to be about suffering physically or about bereavement but about praying for non believing friends and fellow Christians in the church. And then to send them a brief text about what it is we are praying for them. If you find it difficult to know what to text someone in their suffering then this could help us, and them. Receiving such a text, I think would be encouraging – and that’s what we want to be, encouraging and helpful.

Let’s face it, most of us need help in this area. So all in all it could be a useful tool to us as individuals and as churches as we seek to minister to those in need.

Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

1 Most Serene Emperor, Illustrious Princes, Gracious Lords:

2 I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right. I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister; and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.

3 Two questions were yesterday put to me by his imperial majesty; the first, whether I was the author of the books whose titles were read; the second, whether I wished to revoke or defend the doctrine I have taught. I answered the first directly, and I adhere to that answer: that these books are mine and published by me, except so far as they may have been altered or interpolated by the craft or officiousness of opponents. As for the second question, I am now about to reply to it; and I must first entreat your Majesty and your Highnesses to deign to consider that I have composed writings on very different subjects. In some I have discussed Faith and Good Works, in a spirit at once so pure, clear, and Christian, that even my adversaries themselves, far from finding anything to censure, confess that these writings are profitable, and deserve to be perused by devout persons. The pope’s bull, violent as it is, acknowledges this. What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings? Wretched man! I alone, of all men living, should be abandoning truths approved by the unanimous voice of friends and enemies, and should be opposing doctrines that the whole world glories in confessing!

4 I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God? Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the church fathers.

5 If I were to revoke what I have written on that subject, what should I do but strengthen this tyranny, and open a wider door to so many and flagrant impieties? Bearing down all resistance with fresh fury, we should behold these proud men swell, foam, and rage more than ever! And not merely would the yoke which now weighs down Christians be made more grinding by my retractation it would thereby become, so to speak, lawful, for, by my retractation, it would receive confirmation from your most serene majesty, and all the States of the Empire. Great God! I should thus be like to an infamous cloak, used to hide and cover over every kind of malice and tyranny.

6 In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith. I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic: I do not think of myself as a saint; but neither can I retract these books. Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.

Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms, signed by Charles V. The text on the left was on the reverse side. Published in book authored by Bernhard Rogge.
Elisabeth, Kurfürstin von Brandenburg, nimmt heimlich das heilige Abendmahl in beiderlei Gestalt. Holzstich nach einem Gemälde von Adolph Treidler (1846–1905), erschienen in: Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 9 (1874) Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms, signed by Charles V. The text on the left was on the reverse side. Published in book authored by Bernhard Rogge.

7 Yet, as I am a mere man, and not God, I will defend myself after the example of Jesus Christ, who said: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness against me; but if well, why doest thou strike me?” (John xviii:23). How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and so prone to error, desire that every one should bring forward what he can against my doctrine. Therefore, most serene emperor, and you illustrious princes, and all, whether high or low, who hear me, I implore you by the mercies of God to prove to me by the writings of the prophets and apostles that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will myself be the first to seize my writings, and commit them to the flames.8 What I have just said will, I think, clearly show that I have well considered and weighed, not only the dangers to which I am exposing myself, but also the parties and dissensions excited in the world by means of my doctrine, of which I was yesterday so gravely admonished. But far from being dismayed by them, I rejoice exceedingly to see the Gospel this day, as of old, a cause of disturbance and disagreement; for such is the character and destiny of God’s word. “I came not to send peace unto the earth, but a sword,” said Jesus Christ. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foees shall be those of his own household.” (Matthew x:34-36)

9 God is wonderful and terrible in His counsels. Let us have a care, lest in our endeavors to arrest discords, we be bound to fight against the holy word of God and bring down upon our heads a frightful deluge of inextricable dangers, present disaster, and everlasting desolations. Let us have a care that the reign of the young and noble prince, the Emperor Charles, on whom, next to God, we build so many hopes, should not only commence, but continue and terminate its course, under the most favorable auspices.

10 I might cite examples drawn from the oracles of God. I might speak of Pharaohs, of kings of Babylon, or of Israel, who were never more contributing to their own ruin than when, by measures in appearances most prudent, they thought to establish their authority! God removeth the mountains and they know not (Job ix:5). In speaking thus, I do not suppose that such noble princes have need of my poor judgment; but I wish to acquit myself of a duty whose fulfillment my native Germany has a right to expect from her children. And so commending myself to your august majesty, and your most serene highnesses, I beseech you in all humility, not to permit the hatred of my enemies to rain upon me an indignation I have not deserved. I have done.

[Having delivered this speech in German, Luther was now asked to repeat it in Latin. After some hesitation, he did so. He was then reminded that he should answer a simple question: whether he would retract or not. Thus he continued:]

11 Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.

(Source for the above.)

Reaching the lost in high places – Acts 13:1

‘Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.’ Acts 13:1

By Bartlomiej Strobel - Museo Nacional del Prado, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20080818
Feast of Herod with the Beheading of St John the Baptist by Bartlomiej Strobel – Museo Nacional del Prado

Being a somewhat ordinary person and living in an ordinary station in life, those in high places, to me, inhabit another world. I see the Royal family, the world of the stars (so called), the high-end business world and so many other areas of life that are simply alien to me. I sometimes wonder how these people are reached with the Gospel. Despite all the trappings of privilege and success they are still people that are in need of salvation. It’s highly unlikely in the scheme of things that I would ever have the opportunity to speak with such. Nevertheless, Christians do move in those circles. And I’m thankful they are able to reach the parts people like myself cannot. But it isn’t just those in high places, it’s sometimes the type of people that are in those high places. So, for our encouragement let us consider a man (in the verse above) by the name of Manaen.

We aren’t quite sure of his relationship to King Herod but at the very least he moved in the same circles. The main sense is that of a friend, or even a foster brother. One commentator (Matthew Henry – full quote below) suggests they ‘nursed of the same milk’ or went to the same school. The ESV text (above) says he was a lifelong friend. Let’s suppose that is the case. Who is Herod the tetrarch? This is the Herod that had John the Baptist beheaded. I don’t think we are far off the mark if we call Herod a psychopath. Manaen is a lifelong friend of this Herod.

We aren’t explicitly told how Manaen heard the Gospel, or when he came to trust in Christ for salvation, but we do know that John the Baptist preached to Herod. Is it too much of a stretch to say Manaen heard the message from John? And yet two very different responses. Manaen became a prophet and leader in the church and Herod continues, as far as we know, in unbelief – perhaps signifying his eternal destiny.

Why did Herod invite John to his court? John was a novelty to him and a curiosity, but whatever the reason, John didn’t tone down the message to gain favour or be overawed in the presence of the great and the good. That doesn’t mean we have to ‘go at it’ and be aggressive – but it does mean we  have to be faithful and take the opportunities to speak as the Lord presents them to us. Easier said than done of course.

It may even be that Manaen heard the Lord Jesus speak. Either way, whether from John or Jesus, Manaen became a follower of the Lord Christ. I’m not convinced that just because Herod was a psychopath Manaen was a similar character – maybe he was. We simply aren’t told what sort of character he was before becoming a Christian, but we do know something of his life as a believer from our verse above. He became a  prophet and a teacher. Unlikely people do become followers of Jesus. Some even become ministers of the Gospel. Like the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 1:13).

The Lesson

It’s a simple lesson. The Lord has his people sometimes in the most unlikely places. The court of Herod was a place of debauchery and butchery. A place of adultery and licentiousness. And a place of immense privilege. Yet there was Manaen. The Lord doesn’t need us to reach people. But His way is most often to use Christians to speak to people from all manner of backgrounds. Maybe He’ll use us too.

We might think it is futile to pray for some as they seem so far from the Kingdom. But this isn’t the case. Many Christians pray for Boris, for example, even though they will probably never meet him. Or praying for that celebrity, or even a terrorist. God does answer the prayers of His people. No prayer is futile. No one is beyond the reach of God. Acts 13:1 then, is a very encouraging verse – so pray on.

 

Manaen, a person of some quality, as it should seem, for he was brought up with Herod the tetrarch, either nursed of the same milk, or bred at the same school, or pupil to the same tutor, or rather one that was his constant colleague and companion – that in every part of his education was his comrade and intimate, which gave him a fair prospect of preferment at court, and yet for Christ’s sake he quitted all the hopes of it; like Moses, who, when he had come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Had he joined in with Herod, with whom he was brought up, he might have had Blastus’s place, and have been his chamberlain; but it is better to be fellow-sufferer with a saint than fellow-persecutor with a tetrarch.

 Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2118). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (3)

This is part three of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 here & Part 2 here)  Note the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing..

What follows is a description of what most of us have no personal knowledge of: when the fire falls upon His people. What’s so encouraging is that these believers were in such a low spiritual state. God visits us when He chooses to do so. Not because we’ve reached a point where we might be tempted to say ‘God will bless us now.’ The Christian faith is not a works based religion. It is Grace based, not merit based. Our merit before God is found in another. Namely in the Son of God – The Lord Jesus Christ. It does not give us licence to live how we choose, but at the same time our living is not meritorious. We do not earn Gods favour. How we should know the reality of the phrase ‘we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).’

EUSEBIUS continues…. ‘But at last, forced by cowardice, unbelief and the onslaughts of Satan, we resolved to give up our special meeting; and now we were about to offer a final prayer, fully intending never again to meet thus in fellowship. But it is when man reaches the lowest depths of unbelief that God imparts faith, and when man has failed, then God reveals Himself. So here, with us in such dire straits, on the brink of despair, with the door shut on every hope of success, God Himself entered into our midst, and the light of day from on high dawned upon us; for one of the brethren – yes, the most timid of us all, the one who was strongest in his belief that God would never visit us – while in prayer, was stirred in his spirit and laid hold powerfully on heaven, as one who would not let go.

His tongue spoke unusual words, his voice was raised, his spirit was aflame, he pleaded, he cried to God, he struggled, he wrestled in earnest, like Jacob, in the agony of his soul. The fire took hold on others – all were awakened, the coldest to the most heedless took hold and were warmed; the spirit of struggling and wrestling fell on all, we all went with him into the battle, with him we laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 8 & 9.

I’ll leave it there and continue the narrative with another post – maybe two more. My desire is simply to encourage us all in the Lord (1 Thess 5:11 & Heb 10:25).

We all went with him into battle

I like the phrase ‘we all went with him into the battle.’ I don’t think that means everyone was praying at the same time or that everyone prayed. But that when one prayed, all prayed (Acts 4:24). Such was their united assault upon the throne of Grace. That’s the sort of unity we want in our prayer meetings.

It’s a fine line, perhaps, between not despising the day of small things (Zech 4:10) and the realisation that without God we are sunk. God is at work. He does not stop working. The Lord Jesus is building His church (Matt 16:18), and He will continue to build it until He returns. He gives us persevering grace. We are not fallen away because He keeps us in the way. For this we are thankful and raise our Ebenezer (1 Sam 7:12). But we pray: “Lord, give us that longing we know we need.” ‘O, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1)’ and ‘that glory may dwell in our land (Ps 85:9).’