Category Archives: Blog

Appreciate Everything

Masterchef has been back on our screens for a few weeks now and is almost at its finale. One thing I’ve noticed is that you’ll never hear the John and Greg, the presenters and judges, say is that they just don’t like this particular ingredient or style of cooking. Whatever meat or vegetable is thrown at a plate, they will appreciate it for its intrinsic flavour. And whether it’s Italian, fusion or street food, they will enjoy its style and flair for what it is.

It means they can be objective and fair judges. Think about how bad it would be for you if you cooked a mushroom based dish and it just happened to be that mushrooms are the one ingredient that they just don’t like. It could be the best mushroom dish in the world, but you’d be marked down just because the judges don’t like mushrooms.

So what Greg and John have managed to do is to have an appreciation for the intrinsic worth and flavour of each individual ingredient and appreciate the excellence of every kind of style of cooking. It makes their appreciation of food so much broader and so much more about excellence rather than preference.

Having this kind of broad appreciation is actually a great trait to have in life. It can make you much more appreciative of things, and not just the things that you have a preference for, but of all things. For example, I’m not a fan of football – it’s just not my preference. But I’m sure if I treated it with this attitude, I could appreciate the skill, the teamwork, the thrill of the game. Or birdwatching – again not my thing – but if I looked carefully at birds with this attitude, there would be things I would appreciate about birds, such as their colours or their characteristics.

Cultivating this kind of attitude will make us into more optimistic people with greater joy who are on the look out for the positives. In short, it’s one of the aspects of life that helps makes us happier. And there are biblical reasons for being this way – biblical frameworks for cultivating this broad appreciation. Here are three…

Goodness of Creation: When God made everything, the repeated phrase he used to describe it was that it was good. He made everything well. Everything has an intrinsic beauty to it, even though corrupted by sin, everything still maintains a level of goodness. To be able to look for signs of goodness and beauty in everything in this world, even above the corruption of sin, will help us have a broad appreciation.

Image of God: When God made humans at the peak of his creation, he invested within us something of his own image. We are made to be in some many ways, like our creator. That means that in every human being, no matter how sinful they are, no matter how impaired they may be, no matter how abused they have been, every human has significant value and worth. As we see that, we will have a greater love for all humans, even those we find it hard to do so.

Common Grace: When humans rebelled against God, we broke everything and we stained everything with sin. There’s not a square inch of this world that isn’t marred by sin’s corruption. But there’s also not a square inch of this world that isn’t held back by God from being as broken by sin as it could be. It’s God’s common grace that provides the needs of all his creatures. It’s his common grace that keeps societies from turning into complete moral anarchic chaos. As we see more of common grace, we will see God’s goodness even in the darkest of places.

But then, we have seen an even greater excellence in God’s special grace, in the image of his Son, in his new creation. We have come to taste and even greater flavour in Christ. Which ought to give us more cause for joy and delight. It ought to raise the level of our other appreciations.

So as we cultivate these three frameworks in our lives, we may find ourselves becoming more appreciative and thankful people. We may then be people who delight in all things, who experience joy even in dark places. And even more so because of the even greater excellencies we have experiences in Christ.

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Billy Graham

Just over a week ago, Billy Graham went to be with his Lord and Saviour, Jesus. He finished his earthly life here having reached 99 years. He was globally known as an evangelist and had a spiritual influence on Presidents and famous people.

There is a lot that is incredible and unique about Billy Graham which none of us will have for ourselves. But there’s also a lot about him for us to admire and emulate.

When you think about his gifting as an evangelist, he clearly had quite a powerful gift. The figures for how many he has preached the gospel to vary from around 80 million to 215 million people. Either way, that’s a very large number. And it’s what he was primarily known for, his desire to share the gospel with as many people as possible wherever it was possible, and by whatever means was necessary and appropriate.

I imagine none of us will have quite the same gift as Billy Graham, but we should certainly have the same commitment. Even though we’re not likely to stand in front of audiences even a fraction of the size of his football stadium campaigns, we could quite easily find ourselves in front of audiences of one or two. There’s every need for audiences of one or two, perhaps even more so than the bigger audiences.

Another thing Billy Graham was also known for was his open door policy whenever meeting with women. Some might think it overcautious, but you only have to call to mind the recent Hollywood scandals to realise how necessary it was. He deeply desired to be faithful to his wife. He never wanted to find himself in a situation where he might compromise his integrity, nor even allow for false accusations that would undo all of his gospel work. Such commitment to purity and integrity is very necessary however we work out the details.

A favourite phrase of Billy Graham whilst preaching was “The Bible says.” He wasn’t just making his message up but was committed to telling people just what the Bible says. He believed in the power of God’s Word to open people’s eyes to the truth of their sin and need of salvation. Again, it’s a necessary thing for us to hold rigorously to the Bible and to believe in its ability to cut to the heart.

Billy Graham had a large family – 5 children, 19 grandchildren and a large number of great grandchildren. I think I’m right in saying that at very least, all his children, and some of his grandchildren, are converted and are actively serving the Lord. That too is a wonderful legacy he leaves behind and a wonderful example to us who have children and grandchildren. (Though we should also add, even the most faithful Christian cannot guarantee the faith of their children or grandchildren.)

We could mention his commitment to prayer, his ability to organise discipleship, his passion, his personality.

But I think one of the greatest, most admirable things about Billy Graham is the length of his life of faith. He was converted at 16, giving him 83 years of following Jesus closely, steadily, faithfully. One writer describes the life of faith as “a long obedience in the same direction.” It’s simply keeping on going, carefully and steadily, in it for the long haul, focussing on Christ and chasing after him every day, and tomorrow doing the same.

In that sense we have had and still do have Billy Grahams in our own church. People who have plodded away, carrying on their life of faith in the most seemingly ordinary way. Over many years this is something very extraordinary.

Though Billy Graham did so much that was extraordinary and unique, he simply kept going in his life of faith. You don’t need Billy Graham’s evangelistic gift, warm character or powerful preaching to get up each day and pursue Christ and keep going in faith. That’s something we can all do.

However many years the Father gives us, whether 9 or 99, may he enable us all to keep on steadily going forward in faith, following Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

(This article was originally published in the March edition of our church magazine.)

Photo credit: Ximo Pastor; via (license)

Should Christian Parents Smack (If It’s Illegal?)

I disagree with the Welsh government!

They are having a consultation because they want to remove a piece of current regulation. It’s not exactly that they want to ban smacking, they want to remove regulation that protects parents, permitting them to use reasonable punishment that doesn’t qualify as a form of abuse.

The reason they want to do this is to guard against abuse, which is a good intent, of course. But the law already guards against abuse, because only reasonable punishment is currently allowed by law. Any unreasonable punishment, which is abuse, is already illegal. That means the change in law doesn’t take any extra measures to guard against abuse, but rather criminalises those currently using reasonable punishment, i.e. smacking.

What’s more, for the Welsh government to interfere with parents on this level would seem to me to be overly intrusive, regulating more than is necessary, reducing our freedom, and could even criminalise decent people who happen to use one reasonable form of discipline. Besides that, if they really wanted to guard against abuse, should they not also put in steps to guard against verbal abuse and psychological abuse by parents?

Now, why that matters is because many Christians use smacking as a means of disciplining children, as do many other parents who aren’t Christians. As Christians we believe it is right to discipline children out of principle. That may include various means, depending on the parent(s), but many would believe smacking to be a viable means of discipline. In fact some would say, necessary.

If you want to have your say then please go and fill in your thoughts on the Welsh government consultation website. You have until 2 April  to respond.

But I also wanted to consider, what happens if this gets passed? How should Christian parents who smack their children respond then if what they’re doing is illegal?

I think the obvious thing to do is to stop smacking. Here’s why…

The decision to smack is not explicitly commanded in the Bible. There are encouragements to discipline, that much is essential. But as far as I can see, there are only a handful of examples of physical punishment by parents in the Bible, and those only in the book of Proverbs where it speaks of a rod of discipline. Here are three of them:

Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (13:24)

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
    if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. (23:13)

A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom,
    but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother. (29:15)

So there it is – not just smacking, but using a stick to discipline your child. I’ve heard some Christian parents require these verses to be carried out more literally, so that they don’t even smack their children with their own hand. In fact, some explain further that they use their hands for love and so using a stick (or other implement) allows them to only use their hands for love and not for punishment.

However, I think to read it this way as literally mandatory is to not do justice to the type of literature it is. Proverbs is wisdom literature. It’s a collection of wise sayings. It’s good advice on how to live as God’s people. It’s not a set of rules to be obeyed precisely but principles to be implemented.

Therefore, when it instructs on using the rod, the principle we carry through is that we do discipline our children and that doing so is good for them. Precisely what form of discipline, I would say, is up to the parent(s). Smacking, naughty steps, time outs, grounding, treat removal, pocket money reduction, whatever form of discipline is appropriate to the situation and effective for the child I would say is fine.

However, there are a handful of commands in the Bible about our obedience to the state. And they are not merely good advice but are requirements for Christians to live out. Here’s one:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)

These verses actually point out that when we’re disobeying the government and the laws of the land, we’re actually rebelling against God, because authority is God’s good gift to the world. And that’s even authority where it doesn’t follow a Judeo-Christian or democratic ethos.

There are some rare occasions when we have to disobey the state. For example, when the local Jewish rulers commanded the Apostles to stop sharing the gospel, they said that they “must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29) When the state makes it illegal to do something that Christians are required to do, or illegal not to do something that Christians are required not to do, then we must obey God and rebel against the state.

So with smacking – I don’t think it’s required in the Bible that Christian parents must smack their children, only that parents must use some forms of discipline. And because of that, if it becomes illegal to smack, I would suggest we obey the state and use other forms of discipline instead.

How Not to Grow

Let’s face it, there are a lot of disadvantages to growing as a Christian. Growing is not passive but proactive. It therefore takes effort, focus, devotion and commitment, as well as other hard sounding words. It’s much easier just to be a coasting Christian who doesn’t put in any effort to growing. So here are my tips for how not to grow as a Christian:

Don’t Read the Bible: Since the Bible is the main way God speaks to us, if we avoid reading the Bible then God will be significantly limited from speaking to us. That means he won’t be as able to challenge us about how we know him, delight in him and live for him.

Don’t Memorise the Bible: Like the previous one, but even more so, remembering what the Bible says stores it up in your mind and heart so that it lingers in you for longer. If you should avoid reading the Bible then you should certainly avoid memorising it.

Don’t Pray: As God speaks to us through the Bible, so the main way we speak to God is through prayer. If we stop praying then our gratitude will cease and our recognition of who God is and affection for him will remain as it is. Prayer doesn’t help you stay the same so leave it out.

Don’t Gather with God’s People: If you’re trying not to grow then you’ve got to avoid other Christians. Christians have a terrible habit of encouraging each other. Such encouragement will challenge you to keep on going and growing in Christ, so make sure you avoid church, and even more so the smaller groups of church where such challenging relationships are intensified.

Don’t Listen to Sermons: Whether in church gatherings or online on your own, make sure you avoid all preaching of God’s Word. The preacher’s sole purpose is to help you grow, so the less you listen, the less you will grow.

Don’t Give: Your time and money are yours to use as you please aren’t they? And when you start giving away your time and money it stretches you to depend more upon God. Warning: depending more upon God is a sure means of growth. So don’t do it.

Don’t Listen to Christian Music: This can be really dangerous. Music has a way of stirring your emotions, and as emotions are stirred alongside Christian truths in lyrical form, so it can stir your affection for Christ. The obvious result would be growth. Best not to.

Don’t Read Christian Books, Blogs and Magazines: Many Christians find other Christian writings very helpful to their growth as it supplements their reading of the Bible. So if you don’t want to grow, make sure you subscribe to nothing, and don’t invest in any books.

Don’t Let Anyone Mentor You: A mentor can be a very helpful thing if you did want to grow. Having another more mature Christian come alongside you to read the Bible with you and talk through the things you find hard is always going to be a help in growth. So you’ll need to make sure you don’t get mentored.

Don’t Mentor Anyone: Funnily enough, mentoring a younger Christian can actually be a really great way of helping yourself to grow as a Christian, since it stretches you and encourages you. So you’ll want to avoid mentoring as much as being mentored.

Don’t Share the Gospel: Whether it’s being tested by hard questions, which stretch your understanding of God’s Word and commitment to Christ, or whether it’s the joy of seeing an unbeliever beginning to grasp the message of grace, evangelism has plenty of risks when it comes to avoiding growth. Best to avoid it altogether.

There are plenty of other things that we could mention, such as fasting, corporate confession, journaling your devotional life, and so on. But just make sure you avoid anything that sounds like it might stretch you, challenge you, cause you to think, to love, or to get agitated in your faith. Do nothing that sounds like it might be good for a Christian to do.

Of course, the problem is that where living thing don’t grow, instead they stagnate and die. When a pool of water doesn’t flow, it turns into poison. Where a muscle isn’t exercised and enlarged it atrophies and withers to nothing. When an animal is lying by the side of the road not moving, chances are there’s something seriously wrong. Likewise, the Christian who doesn’t grow has something seriously wrong with them, they’re withering away and will likely be poisonous.

Though it is hard work, takes focus, energy and discipline, and though it doesn’t always come easily, make sure you resolve to grow as a Christian this year.

(This article was original published in the January edition of our church magazine.)

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