Do Not Murder

The next commandment in our series seems a fairly straightforward one – do not murder. You can find it here in Exodus 20.

“You are not to commit murder.

Exodus 20:13 (ISV)

With a command like this, there may not seem all that much to say about it. Do not go around murdering people. Simple.

I am guessing that most people reading this have never broken this command, and are not likely to do so. But as we have seen with some of the other commandments, there is more here than meets the eye.

To murder

Murder is a very specific word. We may know this commandment from other Bible translations as “Thou shalt not kill,” but “kill” does not quite align with what it says. To kill is a much broader definition than to murder. You might be responsible, for example, for killing someone in an accident, but that is not murder. Neither are good of course, but they are distinct.

It may seem like I am splitting hairs here, but such distinctions are important. For instance, in times of war, is it a breach of this commandment to fight and kill the enemy? Soldiers at war are not committing murder as we might understand it in everyday life. The people of Israel, who these commands were given to, battled many enemies and killed them in war.

I am not trying to persuade you to become a pacifist, or to give soldiers a free pass to kill indiscriminately. My point is just to make you think that this simple commandment is more than meets the eye.

As Jesus often did, He challenges us to think more deeply about these words.

“You have heard that it was told those who lived long ago, ‘You are not to commit murder,’ and, ‘Whoever murders will be subject to punishment.’ 22 But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ will be subject to the Council. And whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.

Matthew 5:21-22 (ISV)

Jesus takes this relatively straightforward command, and turns it inward. Very few of us are guilty of murder, and yet none of us are innocent of becoming angry at our brother, neighbour or friend. At first glance, we can dismiss the commandment as having nothing to do with us, and yet Jesus points out that the physical action of killing someone is no different than the internal sin of hating them.

The murder itself is an outward sign of hatred within. While we may have the strength or wits to control our physical actions, we look just as guilty on the inside.

Anger is one of the strongest emotions. I picture it like you see in the movies; a gas explosion in a mine or similar, with fire flooding a narrow tunnel and bursting forth into the air. We feel it start deep inside us but it erupts out of us in word or deed. We may be able to control it to a point, or bury it deep down, but it will come out in one way or another.

This commandment, like so many of the others, cannot be fulfilled by us just because we want or decide to. I might choose not to murder someone, but it is not so easy to just decide not to be angry or to stop hating someone who has deeply wounded me.

For many hearing Jesus’ words for the first time, they reacted in disbelief, “We can’t possibly do that!” And you might be feeling the same. You were fine with not murdering, but now, being asked not to withhold anger or hatred, that’s too much!

That’s the point though. It is too much. The Law was not given to be fulfilled, but to show us how far short we fall. The teachers of the Law, the religious people of the day, thought they were good because they kept the Law. Had they listened to Christ, they would have seen that they were hypocrites who broke the Law time after time.

The truth is we need Jesus. He lived a perfect life and fulfilled every aspect of the Law for us. If we allow Him to be our substitute, then we take up a position of righteousness given to us through Him.

The Law was given to show us we need a Saviour! And that Saviour’s Name is Jesus Christ.

Are you a murderer reading this? Are you hiding anger in your heart towards someone? Both things break this commandment.

But good news! You can be forgiven and set free right now by placing your life in Christ’s hands. Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour, and ask the Father to forgive you – not because of your perfect performance, but because of Christ’s!

If you are guilty of anger or hatred towards someone, then can you make a step towards resolution today? Can you call them? Write to them? Even just pray for them? It may be a big step but you can take it with God’s help. Anger and hatred in our hearts eat us from the inside out, and do no harm to the one we hate. Do yourself a favour, and ask the Father to help you start to let it go today.

Honour Your Parents

We resume our series on the Ten Commandments today, and as the title suggests, we are thinking about the command to honour our father and mother. I feel I should point out that in the UK, we spell “honour” with a “u” so apologies to anyone who doesn’t!

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12 (ISV)

When thinking about the Ten Commandments, one thing we must ask ourselves is “Why these commands?” Not committing murder makes sense, as does the command to worship only God alone. But what about the others?

There are many ways we could answer that, but for now let’s at least assume that God was very intentional about the ones He chose to give to the people of Israel. If God thought them important enough to be included in the “top ten” then we should take them seriously indeed!

Dishonouring ones parents may not seem equivalent to murder or theft, but it is clearly important to God. Part of the reason, I believe, is because God sees His people as a family and our earthly families should model our spiritual one. If we are not willing to honour our earthly parents, then how could we be willing to honour our Heavenly Father?

What does it mean to honour one’s parents? In this case, to “honour,” means to “respect,” or “revere.” Essentially God wants us to treat our parents well. They brought us into the world, raised us and so, in return, we ought to treat them with proper respect and kindness.

If our parents are elderly, then they may need care and support, and it is our responsibility to provide that. Now that may not mean we provide that care ourselves in person, but it may mean organising support in various ways.

Paul offers some instruction for children, and quotes this very commandment. His advice, of course, is likely aimed at non-adult children in this case.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. 2 “Honor your father and mother…” (This is a very important commandment with a promise.) 3 “…so that it may go well for you, and that you may have a long life on the earth.”

Ephesians 6:1-2 (ISV)

At least one way then, to honour our parents, is to obey them. While we are young enough to live under their authority, we should do what they ask of us.

Paul points out in Ephesians that this commandment comes complete with a promise attached. Those who do this, will live long in the land. Are we to take it that if we do honour our mothers and fathers that God will bless us with a long life? The words speak for themselves. I read recently that Japan has one of the highest life expectancy in the world. In that culture, parents are very much revered so perhaps that’s why.

What about bad parents?

A natural objection might be, “My parents did not treat me right, so why should I treat them with any respect or honour?” That may be true, and perhaps your parents were even abusive or neglectful. The commandment does not specify “good” fathers or “responsible” mothers, only the ones that we have.

I am not suggesting you just ignore abuse or neglect, and go and try to have a wonderful relationship with your parents. Such parents are still to be honoured but of course that may look very different in cases without such a difficult past.

The key is to do the best you can, even if they don’t deserve it.

Spiritual Parents

For those reading this who are without earthly parents, for whatever reason, how might you go about fulfilling this commandment?

Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I can be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 I do not have anyone else like him who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. 21 For all the others look after their own interests, not after those of Jesus the Messiah.[a] 22 But you know his proven worth—how like a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.

Philippians 2:19-22 (ISV)

Not all of our parents are earthly, and some in fact are spiritual.

Paul considered Timothy to be a “son in the faith” or “spiritual son,” and I do not think it a stretch to believe Timothy felt that Paul was a father to him as well.

We can fulfil this commandment by honouring our spiritual fathers and mothers also. Those who have taught us or encouraged us, those who have raised us in our faith, and those who loved and cared for us as part of the family of believers – all are spiritual parents.

If you think back over your journey of faith with Jesus, I imagine there will be those who have made a real mark in encouraging you in some way. These people should be celebrated and honoured. If they are still a part of your life now, then reach out to them today and tell them what they mean to you.

Honouring our parents, whether earthly or spiritual, is not always easy, but it pleases God. How can you fulfil this commandment today?

I’m Still Here!

This is the eighth week in a row where I have published daily posts on the blog. Who knew I had so much to say?!

Most days I have a fair idea of what I want to write about, but occasionally God reminds me that it really isn’t about what I want, it’s about what He wants. I was all set to write about the Ten Commandments, and the commandment to honour one’s parents in particular. But not so for today. Hopefully that will come out tomorrow.

For today, I felt that it was important to talk about endurance.

I know that many of you reading this will be going through all manner of trouble and trials right now. It may feel like life is going drastically wrong and you are not sure how much more you can take. You are seeking some form of success in your Christian walk, yet just surviving has become the order of the day.

But you are still here! You are still going! Others may have fallen by the wayside or given up altogether – but not you!

If nothing else, you can say “I’m still here!”

It may feel like you can’t take any more. The temptations, the trials, the worries of this life may be piling up, but I want to encourage you today and let you know you can make it.

No temptation has overtaken you that is unusual for human beings. But God is faithful, and he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Instead, along with the temptation he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ISV)

You may be ready to shout, “God, I can’t bear it anymore!” But, and I don’t mean this to sound harsh or unkind, you’re wrong. You can bear it! God will never allow any temptation to come upon you which you cannot bear. If you are facing it, then God knows you can stand it. If your trouble is great, then that is a compliment to you, because it means you have the strength to face it.

God will always provide a way out for you. Now don’t misunderstand that part of the verse. It does not mean God will always provide a way to stop the trouble or temptation, but provide a way out for you to endure it. Sometimes the only way out is through!

You can endure what it is you are facing. Don’t give up! Don’t quit! It may be hard or even the hardest thing you have ever faced, but you can make it if you stick with Jesus.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (ISV)

You can do all things (that He has called you to do) through “him.” Who is the “him?” It is sometimes translated as “the Messiah” and so clearly points to Christ. You can do whatever you need to do through your ongoing relationship to and with Christ.

Practice carrying each other’s burdens. In this way you will fulfill the law of the Messiah.

Galatians 6:2 (ISV)

Don’t try to go it alone. Draw your strength from Christ, but also seek the support of the family of believers. Let others help you bear the burdens you carry. If there is nothing practical they can do, then they can at least listen to you at this time.

More importantly, they can pray for you. If you have no one in your life who can stand with you in prayer, please get in touch and I will gladly pray for you. Use the Contact page to get in touch.

Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us and especially the sin that so easily entangles[a] us, let us keep running with endurance the race set before us, 2 fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ISV)

There is nothing I can add to these words. Many have gone before us, as mentioned throughout Hebrews chapter 11 (such as David, Moses, Abraham etc.) and faced their own challenges and trials. We, like them, must run our own race and run it to completion.

Your race won’t be the same as mine. Some will have a flat course to navigate, while others a steeplechase with all kinds of obstacles in their path. Whatever your race looks like, keep on going!

Don’t give up. And don’t give up on Christ. You can bear up under the temptations you face today and every day. Hard it may be, but you can do it!

If you are one of the few who have no problems right now, then help bear another’s burdens. Support them and lift them up. Pray for them and bless them.

For those who feel they cannot go on, please hold on one more day. Tell God how you feel, and cry out to Him. Job from the Bible lost everything, and he railed at God. He cried out to God and he was angry and in pain. Yet he did it with God.

I pray that God will help you to endure whatever you are facing right now. I pray you will have the strength you need to continue, and to do so in His grace.

If you see no other victory in your life, then your testimony can simply be – “I’m still here!”

Amen!

Don’t Wait (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Don’t wait until you are in trouble to fully seek the Lord – start now!

While times are good, it can be all too easy to forget God. Yet when things start falling apart, He is the first one we turn to.

No one likes to go through troubled times or trials, and when we do, we usually ask “Why would God allow this to happen to me?” There is no easy answer to such a question, but one possibility is to encourage us to seek God more fully.

When you find yourself in a situation you cannot handle alone – a serious health problem, financial difficulties, or the loss of a loved one – you turn to something bigger than yourself, and that is God.

My pearl today recommends you don’t wait until the trouble comes to start seeking God. Start today! Commit yourself to Jesus, and walk with Him closely every day. Spend time in the Bible and in prayer, and make the effort to have a great relationship with Him.

If you do, then there will be no need for the trial that brings you back to God. Even if trouble comes for other reasons, you will be in a much stronger place to face them.

If nothing else, then the COVID-19 crisis has served to bring many people back to God. Praise Him for that GOOD THING COMING OUT OF THIS PANDEMIC.

How is your relationship with Jesus right now? Has it been neglected, or is it stronger than ever?

If you are reading this and you don’t know Jesus personally, then please allow me to introduce you! God made everything, including you and I. He had only one rule, and we broke it introducing something called sin into the world. Sin separated us from God and none of our good deeds can fix it. 

God became a human being who we know as Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, but humanity executed Him on a cross even though HE was innocent. He was our substitute and took our place and the punishment we deserve. If we put our trust in Him, He will save us from our sin and give us eternal life in heaven.

Three days after His death, Jesus rose to life again. Likewise, you and I can escape death and live again through Him.

To start a relationship with God, all you need do is ask. Talk to Him now, which we call prayer. Ask Him to become your friend and to forgive you of all the wrong things you have done. Ask God to come and live within you, and He will put His Holy Spirit in your heart to guide and help you.

Get yourself a Bible or read it online, it will tell you all about God and how He wants you to live. Find a good local church which teaches the Bible, and join with a group of other believers. They will help and pray for you.

Lastly, please get in touch with me. I’d love to pray for you and celebrate your new relationship with God! Bless you this day and always!

The Holy Sabbath

Returning to the Ten Commandments, today we consider keeping the Sabbath.  Here’s the command from Exodus, and then we’ll explore what it is about.

“Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. 9 You have six days in which to do your work, 10 but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. 11 In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11 (GNT)

The Sabbath day occurs at the end of the Jewish week. It is celebrated from sunset on Friday evening through to sunset on the Saturday evening. As described above, it is intended to be a day of rest and dedicated to the Lord.

What does it mean to “observe” the Sabbath? And how do we keep it holy?

For the people of Israel hearing this for the first time, they would have literally ceased from all work on the Saturday. This did not just mean not doing their usual form of work, but any type of work at all.

In modern day Israel where the Sabbath is still recognised, Jewish people will not attend their places of work or even do household work of any kind. There are many things which constitute work, and you will see some lifts (UK) or elevators (for the rest) which stop at each floor of a building so that buttons do not have to be pressed. Such button pushing could be considered work to some.

I suppose there are varying degrees of observing the Sabbath, but the point is that people took this command very seriously – as we all should. So how does it apply to Christians today? Should we strictly observe the day as well?

The principle is one of rest. We should rest regularly. In the Law given to the people of Israel, there are laws for people, animals and even the land to “rest” and it is an ongoing principle. We all need proper rest.

At the end of Mark chapter 2, Jesus encounters the teachers of the Law and has a debate with them about the Sabbath. The teachers had caught the disciples picking and eating ears of grain as they walked along. The teachers had accused them of “working” on the Sabbath.

Jesus argued that King David had done something similar when he was in need, and eating the special bread reserved for the priests. His argument is simply that the needs of people outweighed the commands of the Law.

And Jesus concluded, “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28 (GNT)

Jesus is essentially saying that the command to observe the Sabbath day was a gift to humanity, not a restrictive law.

For us then, the point is that we enjoy the rest God has given to us. We rest regularly to regenerate our bodies, but also our minds and spirits. The working week may be hard on the body of course, but it can be stressful on the minds and emotions too.

So, we as Christians, should (rather than must) observe the Sabbath by taking a day’s worth of rest each week. But must we do so on a Saturday? Or can we do so on a Sunday? Or must it be a full day at all?

In Romans 14, Paul points out that some will observe special days and some will not. A Jewish Christian convert may still feel they need or want to observe the Sabbath rest. A Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian will have no tradition of keeping the Sabbath anyway so may have no inclination to do so now. As long as they both rest.

Some people think that a certain day is more important than other days, while others think that all days are the same. We each should firmly make up our own minds. 6 Those who think highly of a certain day do so in honor of the Lord; those who will eat anything do so in honor of the Lord, because they give thanks to God for the food. Those who refuse to eat certain things do so in honor of the Lord, and they give thanks to God. 7 We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only.

Romans 14:5-7 (GNT)

So we are free to observe the Sabbath on a Saturday or a Sunday, as we wish, or in other ways. For you, it may not be possible to dedicate an entire day once a week for many reasons. The point is that we need to take time to rest and recover. You can do that over the course of a week in chunks, half-days or whole days. The choice is yours!

We have discussed observing the Sabbath, but what about keeping it holy?

Something is holy when it is set apart for God. Imagine a special set of fine china or crockery. Perhaps you have a special set at home you reserve for celebrations such as Christmas. You might say that this tableware is “set apart” for special purposes. In a similar way, we are to “set aside” special times or days of the week and dedicate them to God.

We might do that in any number of ways. Primarily though, we are talking about focusing the time on Jesus. You might do that through times of prayer and worship, through reading and studying the Bible or by listening to sound Bible teaching or meditating on Scripture.

The commandment to observe the Sabbath day is intended for you. Use it to enjoy God’s creation but more importantly the Creator Himself. Give yourself time to recover, recharge the batteries and be ready to serve Jesus again.

How will you observe the Sabbath this week? Feel free to share your ideas and comments below.

Prayer Video – 8th May 2020

Andy shares another prayer video today. Please join him in praying for the recent requests and also for all those suffering persecution at this time.

Andy mentioned the following Scriptures in today’s video.

Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]

John 14:27 (Amp)

If you have any prayer requests which you would like Andy to pray over, then please do send them in. You can comment below, use the Facebook page or use the contact or prayer page on this site.

God bless you today.

Taking the Lord’s Name

After a little break yesterday, we return to our series on the Ten Commandments. Today we start thinking about taking the Lord’s Name in vain.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Exodus 2:7 (ESV)

For many people, this commandment starts and ends with saying God’s Name in inappropriate ways. I think this commandment goes much deeper than that, and we will discuss that in a moment. For now, let’s address the issue of misusing God’s Name as a curse or swear word.

I don’t know how or when the name of Jesus became a curse word. It seems rather odd, and if you yelled out the name of some other religious figure when you hit your thumb with a hammer, you might be considered rather weird!

Every time someone uses the name of Jesus, or shouts “Oh my God!” in this way, they clearly misuse God’s name. It shows a lack of reverence for the Creator of the universe. We have no doubts all slipped up at times, uttering a word in anger we should not have. For the Christian though, we must endeavour to not use the name of God in this way.

This commandment clearly covers this issue. When we swear using Christ’s name, we break this commandment and must stop.

The commandment goes further than this though. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is far more than just uttering a curse every now and again. It is really about representing God in the world.

When we take His name, we literally taking His name on and representing it in the world. It might be like the police officer you see robbing a bank – clearly they are not representing their office and position well!

When we become Christians, we are making a commitment to Jesus and should not do so lightly. This is illustrated, for me at least, at a public baptism. When my children were young, we chose not to baptise them, favouring instead that they make their own decision when they were old enough. We held a thanksgiving service when they were born, and as parents promised to raise them in the church. Late last year, our two eldest daughters decided to be baptised and both us as parents and the church made clear that they were making promises to God and they should not do so unless they were committed to fulfilling them.

As Christians in the world, we are observed and scrutinised more than most. Has anyone ever said this to you: “That’s not very Christian of you…” Even the world holds us to higher standards than the average.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is to say you are committed to Him and following His ways, but to act quite differently. It is really hypocrisy, and something the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were guilty of throughout the Gospels.

Jesus’ most challenging words were for those who were supposed to be “religious” and yet treated people most unfairly. They kept the finer points of the Law, and did things to be seen by others, yet they lacked to do the most important or weightier parts of the Scriptures.

“How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your mint, dill, and cummin, but have neglected the more important matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the things you should have practiced, without neglecting the others.

Matthew 23:23 (ISV)

Likewise the parable of the Good Samaritan gives us some help here.

After careful consideration, Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of bandits. They stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 By chance, a priest was traveling along that road. When he saw the man,[h] he went by on the other side. 32 Similarly, a descendant of Levi came to that place. When he saw the man,[i] he also went by on the other side. 33 But as he was traveling along, a Samaritan came across the man.[j] When the Samaritan[k] saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

Luke 10:30-34 (ISV)

Who do you think best represented God in that story? The priest and the Levites were the ones who had “taken the Lord’s name” and yet left this man in desperate need alone and without offering a jot of help.

This commandment encourages us all to take our Christian walk seriously. Encountering Christ should lead to a change in our behaviour, and if it doesn’t, then we must ask ourselves if we have really surrendered fully to Jesus.

Jesus is not just our Saviour, He is our Lord also. Many of us are more excited about salvation than we are about Lordship and surrender. But they come as a package.

If you are anything like me, then you will be challenged by this commandment. I take my relationship with God seriously, but I could do more. Let this be a challenge to us all to come up higher and to properly represent the name of Jesus on the Earth.

The Pattern of Sound Teaching (Guest Author)

I’m so pleased to be able to welcome the very first guest author to this blog. I asked Phill Sacre if he would write something for us and he very kindly agreed.

Phill has been a personal friend of mine for a long time, and forms part of the ordained ministry team at our church.

Alongside his church ministry, Phill has launched an online ministry called Understand the Bible. This video ministry supports Christians in their walk with God and… well, helps them to understand the Bible!

I’ll say more at the end, but for now, I hope you enjoy Phill’s post.


The Pattern of Sound Teaching

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

A few years ago Carl Trueman wrote a book called “The Creedal Imperative”. In the introduction to that book he said: “The burden that motivates my writing of this book is my belief that creeds and confessions are vital to the present and future well-being of the church.” I found the book very stimulating and it is well worth reading.

In the book, Trueman argues that 2 Timothy 1:13, the “pattern” (or “form”) of sound teaching is important for the church: this is not simply learning the Scriptures – as important as that is – but, more than that, learning the truth contained within the Bible.

Let’s consider an example: the Trinity. You may well be aware that the word “Trinity” does not occur within the Bible. However, does that mean that the Trinity is un-Biblical? Of course not! Trinity is simply a word which theologians over the centuries have come up with to explain what is in the Bible. As they studied the Bible, they realised that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity may be simply a word, but it expresses an important Biblical truth. It is a precious truth which has been passed down to us through many faithful Christians over the generations.

But if the Trinity is a deeply Biblical and important truth for our faith, why is it that Christians seem to have so little confidence with this doctrine? Why is it, as Andrew Wilson highlighted in a blog a few years ago, that modern worship songs are rarely Trinitarian (they tend to address God only as ‘God’ or ‘Lord’, rather than the specific Father / Son / Holy Spirit)?

You could extend this to many different areas. I, along with many other Christians, have been deeply distressed over the last few years that many churches in the UK have changed their minds on a number of significant moral issues of the day e.g. about marriage and sexuality, end-of-life issues, and so on. Why is it that churches in the 21st century seem too often to take on the values of the surrounding culture rather than being counter cultural?

I believe the answer to both of these questions is that many churches have neglected the “pattern of sound teaching” which we started out with. Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of people who have only recently come to Christ. They’ve been a variety of ages and from a variety of backgrounds, but one thing is common to virtually all of them: they started out knowing next to nothing about the Christian faith.

What became abundantly clear to me while as I tried to teach them the faith was that our traditional way of doing things in the church – a sermon on a Sunday, with a home group mid-week, looking at a section of the Bible – was simply not enough. For one, most of them didn’t come to church every Sunday – we’ve found it extraordinarily difficult to encourage young families to come to church! We found that home groups are attended much more regularly – but even a home group doing a traditional home group study on a Bible passage didn’t hit the spot.

It’s not that the Bible isn’t good enough – of course the Bible is sufficient. But rather, our teaching methods weren’t sufficient: I found that we needed to find a way of teaching people ‘from the ground up.’ One of my regrets with our group is that I tried to do too much too soon – we moved onto a traditional Bible study before I think they were really ready for it; they needed more time to learn.

So, the million dollar question is, what should we be doing instead?

Over the last few years, I have rediscovered something which the church largely forgot during the 20th century: catechism. A catechism is simply a way of teaching and learning the Christian faith through a series of questions and answers. Catechisms were originally developed in the early church to teach people the faith before coming to baptism. They have been used through the centuries to teach new believers (and children) the faith. They were rediscovered at the time of the reformation, and two of the most famous catechisms still in use today were produced at that time (the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism).

Why did they fall out of favour in the 20th century? Perhaps churches became complacent. Perhaps churches thought “everyone’s a Christian”, and so stopped doing it. There are probably many answers – but I think the weakness of the church now is simply the fruit of what was sowed then. At the start I quoted, George Santayana – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. We ought to learn from the experience of the church in previous generations. Not long ago I was listening to a podcast on the early church which talked about people being converted from pagan backgrounds needing to be taught the faith from the ground up. The church has been in our situation before – what we are going through in the 21st century is nothing new. We already have the wisdom of previous generations in dealing with this!

I have been enormously encouraged recently by signs that the church is beginning to learn. Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has published the New City Catechism – a modern language catechism with lots of teaching resources including a Sunday School curriculum. The church in the 21st Century is starting to wake up to the fact that people need to be taught the Christian faith systematically in order to understand it.

This is where Understand the Bible comes in. Over the last few months I’ve been working on a website called Understand the Bible. This is my effort at trying to help the 21st century church to teach people the faith. I have recorded lots of videos on different topics (e.g. the New City Catechism, Justification, Sin, and I am currently working on the Heidelberg Catechism). People can then sign up to the website and be guided through these videos, watching them in their own time at their own convenience. I have even just released a mobile app so people can watch / listen on their smartphones!

It is still a work on progress – one thing I really want to do is make it easy for local churches to link into it, to create a stronger link between UTB and the local church. I don’t want people simply to sit at home and watch the videos without getting connected to the church!

But my hope and prayer is that these videos will help people to understand the Christian faith by providing a “pattern of sound teaching” from the ground up. I hope that it will both strengthen existing believers and teach new believers the wonderful truths of the gospel which have been passed down from generation to generation.


 

A huge thanks to Phill for contributing his thoughts on this subject.

You can find out more about Phill at his personal website – phillsacre.me

Understand the Bible has a whole host of videos to take you from the basics of the Christian faith through to studies of particular books. There really is something for everyone no matter where you are on your journey with Christ. I encourage you to take a look.

Idols

Yesterday we looked at the first of the Ten Commandments telling us to worship no other gods but only God Almighty – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You can read that post here – No Other God.

Today we continue on by considering the next commandment. This one, I believe, is closely connected with yesterday’s one.

“Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation.

Exodus 20:4-5 (GNT)

God is not against sculpture! Yet He clearly commands the people of Israel not to make any images of animals or beasts. Why would that be a problem?

As we mentioned yesterday, the people of Israel had just escaped the clutches of Egypt and had been surrounded by a culture which worshipped many gods of different kinds. Many animals were worshipped also, or their images used as a focal point.

God did not want the Israelites to adopt this practice. For them, God was the only One to be worshipped. They were not to make images of created things, but should worship the Creator Himself alone.

Any “god” made by human hands is no god at all.

Such a practice may seem rather alien to our ears. I don’t recall meeting anyone who made themself an idol or image and began to worship it. So does this really apply to us?

Absolutely!

While we may not worship carved images much these days, there are plenty of things we might describe as idols in our lives.

The idolatry of money springs immediately to mind. We all need money of course, and it is important to work and pay our bills. But how many people actually end up worshipping their money, unhealthily obsessed with their bank balance or possessions? It is one thing to love one’s job, but quite another to work incessantly for the bigger house, better car, or latest gadget. All such things are temporary.

There are countless other examples. Fame is one. People idolise pop stars or movie actors, many of whom are engaged in all manner of sinfulness on and off screen. If not chasing after the superstar, they may be seeking fame itself believing it to be a high achievement.

Idol worship can come in less obvious forms as well. Family, for example, can become an idol to some. It can start with just wanting to be a good parent or spouse, but grow into a dependence or even our very reason for being. There is no suggestion at all that we should neglect our family responsibilities, but neither should they become the most important thing in our life, that is, above God Himself.

Jesus made this point in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Those who love their father or mother more than me are not fit to be my disciples; those who love their son or daughter more than me are not fit to be my disciples.

Matthew 10:37 (GNT)

Again, to be really clear, Jesus is not saying we should not care about our families. We absolutely should love and care for those close to us. What He is saying is that Jesus must be first and foremost in our lives, even above our family. That is a real challenge.

What are the idols in your life? Are there things which are taking God’s rightful place?

Exodus 20:5 goes on to say that God “tolerates no rival” (from the Good News Translation) and in other versions of the Bible says “I am a jealous God.”

God is the only One in the entire universe who has a right to be “jealous.” For us, we are no better than any other human being. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s standards so have no right to look down on anyone else. Yet God is perfect, and wonderful, and He is the Almighty. No one and nothing compares to Him. When we worship other gods or make idols for ourselves, we are rejecting God’s perfection for something quite inferior.

God goes on to remind us that He will punish anyone who hates Him. These feel like difficult words, and many will argue they are not the words of a loving God. Such accusations are false however, and show a lack of understanding of who God is. He gave us life and breath and everything else, so how dare we even dream of “hating” Him?

Those who say what they will ask God when they meet Him in heaven, and I don’t mean out of curiosity but rather out of accusation. A well known atheist in the UK claimed he would question God about this or that. No he will not! When we see God in His full glory, we won’t dare question Him! It is hubris to think so.

There is but one God, and we should worship Him alone. We dare not make for ourselves anything that we use to replace Him. “You shall have no other god before Me!”

No Other God

We continue our series on the Ten Commandments which I started last week. Strangely enough, I started by talking about stealing in my post – It’s Not Really Stealing. I then gave a bit of an overview of the Ten Commandments in my post – The Ten Commandments. You don’t have to have read these before today’s post but please do go back and catch up if you can.

We find the first and most important of the commandments in Exodus chapter 20, verse 3 stated below.

God spoke, and these were his words: 2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.

3 “Worship no god but me.

Exodus 20:1-3 (GNT)

The Ten Commandments were given to the people of Israel as they left the nation of Egypt, which worshipped all manner of gods. Similarly, they were heading for the Promised Land via the wilderness, and the people they would later evict or destroy would have their own gods to worship. This commandment therefore was to ensure that God’s chosen people worshipped the One True God and none other.

We may be tempted to think that it therefore does not apply to us all that much. But I think that’s wrong, and in fact, this commandment is as relevant now as it ever was.

Thinking specifically about the UK, it was perhaps only two or three generations ago that the vast majority of people still went to church. These days, church attendance is in the minority. So if anyone now has a question of a spiritual nature, church might not be the first place they go to answer it.

Many people view all organised religions as one and the same. Some even suggest that they all worship the same “god” but do it in different ways.

The reason, I believe, that Christianity stands out is that in no other religion that I am aware of, did God come down as a Man and surrender to death for us all. Other religions have principle leaders or founders, but only Jesus became our substitute and took on the punishment we deserve. Other religions ask for obedience, whereas Christianity asks for surrender to the One who has obeyed it all.

So, when we read that we should have no other gods before God Himself, then it is still very much pertinent to us.

Jesus Himself claimed that He was the one and only way to God.

Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.

John 14:6 (GNT)

Many people claim that there are multiple ways to God. Different religions offer different paths, but all lead to God. Jesus disputes this emphatically.

Some claim they have no need of God at all. They think that life is just fine the way it is, and God plays no part in it. Yet the Bible teaches that God is Sovereign, and that He is in control of all things. Life without God is akin to what we call hell and not the life we live now.

To worship no other gods before God Almighty is to imply that we should be worshipping Him fully. Worship can be hard to define, but to worship God is to put Him not just front and centre, but for Him to be the only thing that matters.

What is the most important thing in your life? Is God the be all and end all for you? If not, then what can you change to make Him so?

We sometimes confuse worship with singing or music. We sometimes think of worship as a church service. More than either of these things though is living a life of worship. We worship God, or should do, with our every breath. As we work, rest or play our focus should be on the God who made the heavens and the Earth.

There is only one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Worship Him this day and always!

How do you do church?

Today I was all set to write more on the Ten Commandments – yet I felt it was necessary to highlight the importance of church. It is Sunday after all!

We have all been forced to reassess how we do church since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the UK, the Church of England very quickly closed its buildings and many other major and minor denominations followed suit. Aside from this, government guidelines prohibited any large groups meeting together and so, church as we knew it was no longer possible.

Many have turned to live streaming and platforms like YouTube to record content and share it with their congregation. Has your church done something similar? Other churches have struggled to acclimatise to the newer technologies. They may only be able to record audio and others only able to use social media like Facebook to reach its people. Either way, it is a huge ministry challenge. It presents a number of opportunities also though.

For us as church members, we have something of a responsibility here. If you have skills which can help, then it is a great time to start sharing them. For example, you may have experience running social media pages or even with audio/visual techniques. Many ministers are not up on the latest technologies so may appreciate your help in putting online services together.

Even if you have no such skills, then you still have a responsibility as a member of the church. It takes a lot of time to prepare services, and even more so when recording them and having to edit and stitch them together. The least we can do is to sit down and watch them!

If your family is like mine, and consists of some younger members, then you may find it difficult to gather around the TV on a Sunday morning. We may think it easier than getting everyone up and dressed and settled into a pew by 10am, and in some ways it is. But on the other hand, keeping children interested in a live stream service for any length of time has its own challenges. In my experience, they find it all too easy to wander off or get distracted by nearby toys.

One risk of online church is that members no longer see the need to actually meet together. If your church offers an online option, then it can become a temptation to just watch from home or catch up at a later, more convenient time. I am referring to times when we are not all locked down! One church I read about somehow managed to put a geographical limit on their live streaming. If you lived within three miles of the church building, then you could not access the live stream. The implication is that if you are close enough, then there really is no excuse for not actually going to church. I hope they put in some kind of access points for those not physically able to go along.

That’s a risk for all of us to bear in mind. Hopefully the lockdown will soon end and our church buildings will be open for ministry once again. When that happens, I pray there is not a diminished congregation for those choosing to stay away and access content online.

Many committed members are not even considering this. For them, the idea of coming back to church is an exciting one. These members miss one another and cannot wait until they can fellowship in person once again.

Something which is both a risk and an opportunity is the fact that while at home, we are not restricted to any one single church. If many churches are now live streaming, then anyone can flip the channel as it were and tune in to another church’s service.

Perhaps you are someone who doesn’t normally attend church. This time offers you a great opportunity to see what church is about without actually setting foot in the door. We should not underestimate how difficult it can be for some to walk into a church for the first time. It can be very intimidating. At least YouTube or your platform of choice offers a window into the church world. We, as churches, need to be aware of this and consider how we can reach out to those “just looking.”

Whether now or normally, there is no one way to “do” church. There are many ways of expressing worship and meeting as a church family.

There are two important things to remember however:

  1. We must never dilute the message of the Gospel, no matter our style of church
  2. We must make sure that our expression of church really is church.

Taking each in turn, firstly we must not water down the message of Christ. There are different packages but the gift inside must never change. The Gospel is very clear, and we must not fail in presenting it. If our preferred flavour of church does not include the message about Jesus, then it is not really church at all.

The second point is not all that dissimilar to the first really. In fact, it may be the same point restated.

Many churches have experimented with cafe church, messy church or what some call bridging events designed to encourage those outside of the church to move toward the church.

There is nothing wrong with any of these models in and of themselves, but equally we must make sure these events are drawing people closer to Christ. If an event does not point us to Jesus, does not teach us more about God’s Word or does not lead us to worship together, then we have to ask what its purpose is.

So, how will you do church today? I hope this time of Coronavirus lockdown reminds us all how important church is, and encourages us all to want to flock back to fellowship as soon as we can.

The Ten Commandments

Yesterday I wrote about one of the proverbs, and it was ultimately a post about stealing. You can read it here – It’s Not Really Stealing… I referred to one of the Ten Commandments which clearly tells us we should not steal. It got me thinking about the Commandments as a whole and so perhaps this will turn into a miniseries!

When I was young, I remember discussing the Ten Commandments at school. I imagine most children today are not taught or shown such things. That’s certainly true in the UK. We take the Bible out of schools, don’t teach children God’s ways and then wonder why we struggle with morality in society!

Some may think that the Bible is not relevant today. Even more so, we may think the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with modern life. Yet I hope what I said yesterday about stealing reminded us all how relevant these things are.

Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments into two main categories. we could put it simply like this: love God, and love people.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

This is a wonderful summary. Our whole lives as Christians should be focused on loving our Heavenly Father and on loving the people in our lives. That is no easy or small task!

So what exactly are the Ten Commandments? Many of us might struggle to name all ten! Here they are:

God spoke, and these were his words: 2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.

3 “Worship no god but me.

4 “Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. 6 But I show my love to thousands of generations[a] of those who love me and obey my laws.

7 “Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.

8 “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. 9 You have six days in which to do your work, 10 but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. 11 In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.

12 “Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.

13 “Do not commit murder.

14 “Do not commit adultery.

15 “Do not steal.

16 “Do not accuse anyone falsely.

17 “Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.”

Exodus 20:1-17 (GNT)

Some may see these as rather old fashioned to our ears. Some will wonder what relevance the Sabbath rest has to us Christians in the 21st Century. Have any of us ever had any issues desiring our neighbour’s animals? Probably not. 

Yet when we dig a little deepr, we start to see that these Commandments reveal certain problems we may have hiding in our hearts. We might describe this “problem” in different ways, but it is essentially the problem of sin. 

We can examine the Commandments in turn and see how they fit in to modern life. I imagine if we all chose to live by them, even for a short time, we would be amazed at the changed state of the world. 

For now though, let’s look at the effect of the Law. Paul goes to some length to describe the purpose of the Law in his letters in the New Testament. I don’t propose to look at those now, but instead point you to an event described in the Gospels involving Jesus. 

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?” 6 They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him. But he bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” 8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. 10 He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she answered.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”

John 8:3-11 (GNT)

The teachers of the Law brought this woman to Jesus to try to trap Him. If He let her go, then He was breaking the Law – that is, one of the Ten Commandments. If He condemned her, then He showed the crowds He was no different from them. 

Whenever the teachers thought they had Jesus trapped, He always showed them up. This is no different. 

Instead of answering them straightaway, He stoops down and begins to write on the ground. Many have asked, “What did He write?” For me, this is part of the authenticity of John’s Gospel. Were this account fictional, you would never leave out such a detail! 

In our minds, we imagine the ground where Jesus was writing like a sandy beach. He scratched out whatever He wrote for all to see. The ground by the temple, where Jesus was, is actually quite rocky. So, in a sense, we see the finger of God writing in stone… a clear allusion to the Ten Commandments of Moses. 

It is my opinion that Jesus was in fact writing the Ten Commandments. As the teachers began to see and comprehend what He was writing, they began to realise their own guilt and shame. Jesus told them that whoever was without sin should throw the first stone. As they read the words of the Ten Commandments on the ground, they realised they too had broken them and deserved the same punishment as this woman. 

It is noticeable that they left, oldest to youngest, perhaps because the older we get, the more we realise how sinful we are. 

The Ten Commandments teach us our need for a Saviour. We have fallen short in many ways, and sin has corrupted our entire lives. 

Only the saving work of Jesus Christ at the cross can remedy that. Amen.