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Christian Ethics – a matter of life and death

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The word ethic comes from the Greek language and means a standard or rule and has come to mean a set of principles for conduct – i.e. what is good and what is bad; what a person ought to do.

Christian ethics therefore is what a person who is follower of Jesus ought to do. In the words of Colossian 1 we need Christian ethics ‘so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God’ and for this Paul says we need knowledge, wisdom and understanding that comes from the Holy Spirit (Colossian 1:9-12). This means not that we live this way to be a Christian but because we are a Christian what is the best way to live. We want Christian ethics not to be a duty but a delight, an act of worship – they are the Christian people loving Christ because they belong to him and wanting to please him in their conduct. It is not to be used as a big giant ruler to judge or condemn others but as a plumb line to help us worship and reflect Christ to our world.

At church we have just begun a series on ethics and we began yesterday looking at the ethics of life & death. We talked about issues ranging from abortions, IVF & genetic engineering to euthanasia, assisted dying and palliative care. These are all emotive and often personal & pastoral subjects but I believe as we ‘talk about’ them in the presence of Christ it is pleasing to him and an act of love and worship.

We also discovered that there are no easy answers and often different opinions as we engage with the gospel and scripture, Christian tradition and our rapidly changing culture.  However both personally and as a church an activity we must engage in if we love and want to please Christ – and I believe it is often easier to hear the Spirit when the emotions of a live decision are not imminent. We need to think through – if I was in a certain situation as a follower of Jesus it would please him if….

My biggest concern for the church is that it is easier not to have these discussions. Pastorally and culturally it is safer to not speak and discuss and leave it to the individual at a particular time and situation to respond. The church I believe fails these people in not allowing them to make faith the main reason for their decision.

Ethical issues are not new to this generation. A good percentage of Paul’s letters are helping the church of the first century know what lifestyle and choices are pleasing to God and therefore an act of faith and worship.

Some ethical issues are in Paul’s word – ‘disputable’ . Discussing a live disputable ethical issue in Romans 14 which Paul clearly had a view on – his biggest concern was not the decision but that the decision was made from faith because everything that does not come from faith is sin – Romans 14v23. Therefore the priority for the Christian is to be ‘fully convinced in their mind’ that what they are doing is for the glory of God and in continuity with scripture and the gospel.

And what the gospel speaks is that we will never get it right all the time but there is always opportunity for repentance (changing our mind in light of God’s word) and forgiveness and healing . The Lord wants to remove all of the guilt of our past when we allow his spirit to lead us and that ‘all things works for the good of those who love him’ – may I even suggest this includes things that we have repented from or confessed if we allow him. So as I lay out my conclusions from our discussion last night – know that I am happy for you to disagree and show me how a different view may be consistent with scripture and the gospel and that these should not condemn or judge you but lead you to a Saviour who can forgive, heal and remove all guilt and self condemnation.

So where did that leave us or better me in our discussions on life & death.

For me I believe to be consistent to our Christian story as far as is in our power we should stand and speak up publicly for life in all its stages, varieties and differences. Therefore as Christians we need to protect and care for the unborn child and the seriously ill and suffering. Life in all its from is infinitely valuable.

It gets more complicated when it comes to fertility and genetic treatments – to what extent are they seeking to care for life by healing and overcoming medical issues. To what extent should we ‘interfere’ with the natural process? What makes the embryo and beginning of life more ‘sacred’ than other medical interventions? It is this ‘disputable’ matter that Christians disagree on – but in these situations we must bring in faith and be certain, as Paul says, in our own mind as to what our faith speaks to us. When does God speaks life/breath into cells? How do I bring most glory to God in this situation? How can I show most care and value for life?

Also at the end of life, although infinitely valuing all life, to what extent do we fight to extend life by a short time. As Christians we see life as a gift but do not fear death & dying. The distinction between active and passive euthanasia is becoming more blurred, the distinction must now be between a good and bad death. How can dying give dignity and glory to God but demonstrate the value of life.

I leave these thoughts with you. I have personal friends and ministerial colleagues I respect who have chosen contradicting decisions  on some of these beginning and end of  life issues – so for me on the specifics they are ‘disputable’ matters. I have walked with them and shared what I am convinced of in these matters but have allowed them by the Spirit to enable them to be ‘convinced in their own mind’ . So that their decision is an act of faith.

On these disputable issues I encourage people to journey with a Pastor or minister or other mature Christian friend to ensure it is a decision of faith. My only counsel is not to ignore faith and journey alone.

Football madness, idols & domestic violence

The football season has one weekend to go – but cheer up the World Cup is almost here and as a football fan I am as excited and as anxious as any England supporter. As a church, at Wallingford Baptist Church, we will be showing some of England games live on a big screen in a family friendly environment – you would be most welcome to join us.

However I am also sympathetic to my wife, who is no football fan, who feels we have all gone mad. Football is a form of lunacy, she comments, and she is right at specific times and seasons – the World Cup being one of them – many of us lose our minds and accepted norms of behaviour are forgotten.

Bill Shankly famously said ‘Football is not a matter of life and death – it is more important than that.’ And, at times like this, if we are not careful football can become a religion, our idol. The bible warns us in Psalm 115 that we take on the characteristics of what we worship. Is it therefore any surprise that there is an increase in ‘lunacy’ at World Cup season. Recent research shows clearly a link between England football games and an increase in domestic violence by almost 1/3.

Even apart from football, domestic violence is a worryingly growing trend in our society and one that we must talk about and give those who suffer from it a platform and a voice. I am also not saying that the church is immune from this problem. However I do believe that what we choose as our gods will effect our behaviour. That is why we need to be careful about making football, alcohol, work, money, success our gods or goals. And perhaps the reason we also struggle with the same problems in the church as non Christians is that many of us have not destroyed these idols in our lives.

So enjoy the World Cup but don’t let it become your god – combat this danger by worshipping the true God at a local church. And contrary to the Bill Shankly quote, football is not greater than life or death. I write this as a church we are still mourning, Bryan, one of our church leaders who died at Easter time . We thank Bryan for all his contribution to church and community life and we’ll miss him. But Bryan was confident, as I am, that we will become like the one we worship and as Christians we worship the one who rose again from the dead with an imperishable, immortal body (1 Cor 15:49-57)

If you could be God for one day what would you do?

Remembering the period of lent has not been a significant part of my Christian heritage or practice. Having just taken a school assembly on lent I am having a rethink. Traditionally we use this 40 days to prepare for Easter. (Lent begins 46 days before Easter as Sundays are not considered part of Lent as we always celebrate the resurrection on Sunday). I have always know that lent is for 40days as this was period that Jesus fasted, prayed and was tempted in the desert. What I had never done intellectually was to see the link between the forty days of Jesus in the desert and the Easter week – well not until I was preparing my assembly on lent and reading again the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13). What I discovered was that the temptations were Satan tempting Jesus to be God in the way we would be if we were God for the day.

So we see Satan tempting Jesus to perform a miracle that would show he had the solution to world hunger, we then see him tempting him to crush all the evil kingdoms in the world with one blow by owning and controlling the world and finally we see Satan tempt Jesus with a visual demonstration to the world of who he really was. And if we are honest if we had the power of God we would probably act in one of these ways. I like the film ‘Bruce Almighty’ as it explores this concept of what we would do if we were God. The conclusion is we would be God by meeting purely our physical needs – our appetites, desires and self worth – the temptations Satan through at Jesus.

However Jesus challenged Satan’s view of why God had come to earth. Jesus,I came to realise, had been in the desert 40days reflecting on his mission, reflecting on what it meant that God had come to earth. Therefore at the end of the forty days he could resist the temptation having through scripture,in his humanity, settled on the purpose of his life. His purpose was the will of God, the cup of suffering, the abandonment of God and the taking of our sin. So lent is a good time for us to spend 40days reflecting on why Jesus came to earth, why he came to die for us?

Further we see from the answers Jesus gave we see not only how Jesus had come to accept his mission but the purpose for each of our lives that Jesus came to restore. And so lent is a great time to reflect on the purpose of our lives and this lent for me I am going to do so under the three main themes of the answers Jesus gave to Satan.

1. Jesus came to make us alive spiritually to God and therefore our greatest need is for spiritual life and food which comes from hearing the Word of God.
2. Jesus came to show us our one purpose in life is to worship, to glorify God. His word shows us how to do this?
3. Jesus came to show us how to find God’s will and purpose for our lives and be content in that.

So during this lent I am going to reflect on how the mission of Jesus helps me grow in these three areas. Do you want to join with me on this 40days journey? You can follow me daily on twitter (@Acts2020Simon) or at our Wallingford Baptist Church Facebook page or less frequently here. But however you remember lent this year, know that ‘faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ’ Romans 10:17. So read the bible, read a gospel and receive saving faith and sustaining faith.

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How are you celebrating Valentines Day?

My wife will be pleased to know I am going to break the habit of my married life and celebrate Valentines day! Not by buying overpriced roses or pre-booking a restaurant but by declaring my undying love for Jesus, by praying for my Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith and by trying to show God’s love by being reconciled with my ‘enemies’ (that is not an indirect reference to my wife!)

Let me explain, I have just taken a school assembly on the theme of love. With Valentines Day one week away I used Valentines Day as my theme. In preparing, I discovered the roots of Valentines day. It is a saints day, remembering Valentine. Little is known about which Valentine (there are a few possibilities) and why he was sainted but the most popularised theory is that he was a Christian priest of Rome who was martyred for his faith in 436AD and buried in Via Flaminia on 14th Feb. He was imprisoned for his faith during the persecution of Christians under Roman Emperor Claudius 2nd. During his imprisonment he befriended his jailer and his daughter. He prayed for the jailers daughter to be healed from her blindness and she was! Before his execution he supposedly left the jailers daughter a card – from your Valentine,

To what extent these accounts are true, I can only assume they are myths as they do not stand up to much historical accuracy, however it does turn me to look at the life of the saints (and according to the bible that is all Christians!). It gets me to ask myself

1. How much do I love Christ – whose name I carry. Will I stand up for him whatever others may think or do?
2. There are many Christians around the world who are still persecuted and imprisoned for their faith, will I stand alongside them. Will I love them as brothers and sisters. Check out both the BMS and opendoors websites who are challenging us this lent to pray for North Korea.
3. Do I love my enemies and seek their good? How will I reconcile relationships that have turned sour? Even my close relationships? Do I pray for those who have harmed me?

All this reminds me of what true love is, and this is what we should be celebrating on Valentines Day. The true love that can stand the test scrutiny of historical evidence in person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters., 1 John 3:16

Do you know what love is? This Valentines find out about love as you accept that Jesus loves you! When you have found the purest love in Jesus – live it out in your marriages, home, neighbourhood, churches in our world as we lay down our lives for others – or at least make some sacrifice to restore and show love.

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How to be the best!

I have been reflecting upon a Christian response to appraisals and performance related pay. I have spoken to many people in recent weeks who have either been appraising work colleagues or being appraised. I am about to undergo an appraisal as a minister and so have I been thinking how differently appraisals should be within a Christian community. Yesterday, I was also listening on the radio about the issue of performance related pay that has caused teachers to go out on strike.

So what is a Christian response. It is not to avoid challenging people about being and doing the best. Two parables of Jesus come to mind – the parable of the sower, where the implication is that we are called to produce a crop ‘thirty, sixty, one hundred fold’ what was sown and the parable of the talents where the implication is again that we have to ‘put to work’ what we have. In our Christian lives, as the apostle Paul, exhorts us we are to exhibit a desire to be better for Christ  ‘one thing I do, forgetting what is behind, I press on towards the goal, to win the prize.’ We could give further examples but there is a challenge to live the Christian life in such a way that we are moving forward, bearing more fruit and working for more talents. Perhaps in our churches where we have imbibed a consumeristic approach to church this message is difficult to convey, perhaps we should be appraising one another!

However it has to be noted that in the examples given, and the clear teaching throughout scripture, Jesus is not expecting people to overcome their human weaknesses by self effort or determination. Jesus is saying the gospel that He has planted in us, needs to be allowed to do its work within us and as we do not hinder but give opportunity the ‘natural order’ of things will mean that the gospel will produce a change. The power is not in us but in the gospel. Therefore the consequence is that the gospel will make us better employers and employees. It will allow us to go through our human appraisals confident that however we are ‘appraised’ we can make a difference in our work places as the gospel is allowed to change us. It will mean that we will do our best, for Jesus, whether we are being appraised or not.

Therefore, this does not speak clearly into a Christian response to appraisals and performance related pay. I think we need to take another gospel approach – that it is love that changes people. We are told that when Jesus came he would not put out a smouldering wick or break a bruised reed. When he came he said he came for the sick and not the healthy. Therefore I think appraisals can be used by Christian employers/appraisers to demonstrate that same love for all. Those excelling in their work situations and those struggling and to offer to reach out in love to enable them to be all that they can. Therefore I do not believe performance related pay will achieve this but loving appraisals can – this is not saying we do not have difficult conversations and challenge people, but we do so in love as we seek the best for that person. It does not mean that we do not take difficult decisions – but love is the motive.

As I reflected about this I came across an article by Kevin Davies reflecting on the state of English football and he included this story

“A group of educational experts, including psychologists, were called in to do a study at a problem school. There were 300 kids in the school who were all underachieving and discipline was a real problem, but from among them the experts identified six geniuses who they predicted would end up with the best exam results.

The teachers’ ears pricked up when they were told their names and at the end of the year, sure enough, the six kids finished top of their classes. They called the experts back to discover how they had spotted them and, to their surprise, were told the six were selected at random.

I found this both interesting and worrying. The implication was clear: the teachers obviously worked a lot more closely with the so-called geniuses over the school year and they improved drastically in consequence. But what about the other 294 students?

I think you can compare this with the academy system in football. Bolton’s scouting system has focused all its attention on 11 ‘geniuses’ in the under-10 age group, hand-picked from around the North West.

But what about the 850 other players playing in 77 teams in the under-10s Bolton and Bury League alone? I know Bolton – and other academies – run satellite training sessions in their areas but surely it would be in the best interests of a club to work on developing more than one team?………

This has been my experience in work – in my first employment as a teacher I excelled, in my first year my exam classes achieved well above expectations, even earning me a written commendation from the Headmaster. Was this because I was a great teacher, no but because my department supported me fantastically – we had a lab tech who was overqualified and a professional scientist and she decided to take me under her wings and made me succeed. In my first church we saw significant growth, was this because I was a great Pastor, no but because the leadership team allowed this inexperienced minister to change everything and they ignored my failures, put up with my hobbyhorses and celebrated our successes. They made me look like a great Pastor. I have always had people around me who have invested in me and made me look better than I am – particularly my wife! Love of others is what makes you the best – it is God’s love of us that has made us free and complete and now let us love others and invest in them!

To conclude I am not against appraisals (but I think I am against performance related pay) but the motive needs to be love. Where people are struggling, underperforming, low morale – start loving, caring, supporting and see how it will change your department, your office, your company and yes even your church. So my hopes as I am appraised – if I’m honest I already know my weaknesses, but I also know that the love of the church, even when they struggle with my leadership, will make me a better Pastor and us a more fruitful church. My hope is that I allow the gospel to continue to work in me, I will be a better Pastor (and Father, and Husband, and neighbour…) I am sure many of you involved in business will want to challenge some of my conclusions, please do but as we allow the seed of the gospel into our workplaces and society I believe we will bring transformation – so let’s discuss what it looks like?

Dealing with conflict within the church

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When I agreed to preach at my home church, I was not expecting the topic to be ‘dealing with conflict within the church.’ My initial thoughts were ‘they must be in trouble’, but on reflection I believe it is healthy for a church to deal with this matter before conflict arises – as it will. Just as in preparing people for marriage I help them to prepare well to minimise conflict, I tell them they will have conflict and give them strategies to help.

One of the issues with church in our generation is that it has imbibed a consumeristic approach, and people use church as consumers. The bible teaches otherwise, that church is a covenantal relationship, a relation based on promises and submission (see Eph 5). And just as in a marriage covenantal relationship we teach commitment and mutual submission, so we need to in church life.

But how did I handle this topic.

Firstly by identifying why conflict arises in church

1. Pride – James 4:1 teaches that conflict can reveal pride and selfishness within. So when conflict arises the first thing to do is to identify the pride and selfishness in us that needs dealing with. As we say to children when you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you. Check your motives and attitudes.

2. Preaching – Gal 1:7-8; Acts 15:11 show that the gospel causes conflict. So when conflict occurs we do not necessarily simply do the ‘Christian’ thing and back down when the gospel is causing conflict. Just make sure it is the gospel that is causing conflict and not the way you are presenting it.

3. Practice – Acts 15:20-21 shows us that the living practice of the gospel can cause conflict. There are matters of doctrinal practice that are important. For the early church it was to do with matters of sexual immorality and avoiding appearance of syncretism (mixing Christianity with other religious or philosophical perspectives)

4. Personality – Acts 15:36-40 shows us that sometimes personality differences can cause conflict. And although the conflict in this case allowed for the further good of the gospel, the gospel of reconciliation always seeks to reconcile. Paul and Mark were reconciled – see 2 Tim 4:11. Let us not allow personalities difference to hinder the work of God.

5. Preference – Romans 14:1 shows us that sometimes matters that we really think are important are not, and a matter of preference. However note that ‘being convinced’ in your own mind DOES matter, as anything that does not come from faith is sin!

So if this is how conflict arises, how should churches deal with conflict. Acts 15 gives us a good model to help us.

When conflict arises we need to listen to

The Dispute – v2 tells us they didn’t internalise the conflict as we have the habit of doing but raised and debated it in a healthy way.

The Covenanted Community -v3 they all listened to and recognised the authority of the church/covenanted community and came to an agreement together on the way forward (under the leading of the Holy Spirit)

The Ministers – v4 they listened to the those who had been called and set apart to the ministry of the ‘word and prayer’ and accepted their wisdom and council.

The Scripture – v15 they listened to and accepted the authority of the scripture in interpreting their situation.

The Tradition – v21 they listened to the tradition of the faith and built upon tradition rather than neglecting/ignoring the wisdom of previous generations

The Context – v12 they listened to all that God was doing and working in the present context.

The GOSPEL – v11 they listened to the gospel and what it had to say to the situation

By submitting to one another in this way they dealt with the conflict in a healthy way that allowed the Lord to ‘build his church’. From this point on in Acts 15 we see an expanding mission to the Gentiles without continual internal strife. They were able to move from church politics to church mission. May we deal with conflict in such a healthy and gracious way.

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Prayer Triplets

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)
if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Why do we not pray? Because we are proud! Why do we not give time to pray? Because we are proud and believe we have more important things to do! Why do we not join with others in prayer? Because we are proud and don’t want others to see our weaknesses! But remember God opposes the proud. So let us humble ourselves and join a prayer triplet.

What is a prayer triplet?

Three Christians of the same sex who join together regularly to pray.

Why a triplet?

Matthew 18:19-20 (NIV)
[19] “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. [20] For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Christ is present and active when at least two or three gather and agree together. Being small in number they are easy to form, fast to act, and flexible as to where and when they meet.

To agree together we must speak out our prayers and people feel more able to do this is a small group where they only need to be vulnerable with two other people. This is also the secondary reason why they need to be single sexed group – the primary is that sharing personally and deeply is not appropriate with those of the opposite sex (there is a form of triplets which is three couples praying together).

How does it work?

We ask people to meet for a minimum of 30mins once a month to pray ( although most triplets meet weekly). We ask people to sign up as a triplet or as individuals willing to join a triplet and then when a group is formed they assign one person to be the link person. The church will provide monthly updates for and answers to prayer to that person and also inform them if immediate prayer is required. The other reason we ask groups to sign up administratively is to be accountable and also as a demonstration of humility and unity as a church together.

What happens at a prayer triplet?

The obvious answer is pray but unfortunately this sometimes gets forgotten!

Sharing of a scripture or answered prayer
Prayer for family members
Prayer for three unsaved friends
Prayer for one mission or missionary
Prayer for Wallingford Baptist Church
Prayer for one another

Why bother?

God answers prayer! When we pray he ‘heals’ that is a big Hebrew word encompassing salvation, deliverance, peace, blessings as well as how we understand the term. Do we want to see this in our church? Paul says in the latter days there will be those who have a form of godliness but without power – does this describe you? Is it because we do not join with others to pray?

So sign up to join a prayer triplet today!

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