Politics and the Christian Faith – Book Review “God and Politics” by Mark Dever

Over the last few months, the British government has been battling with the issue of Brexit and we might be asking ourselves – What is going to happen? Can we trust our government? What is the role of a disciple of Jesus in all this?

There are a few books available that deal with the relationship between the Christian Faith and Politics and Mark Dever’s small book “God and Politics” is a valuable addition to this field. If you are wrestling with the issues about the sovereignty of God verses the sovereignty of the state then this is the book for you.

God and Polt

Dever responds to one of his Muslim friends who challenged him “That’s the problem with the Christian Faith, you have no vision for state, for society as a whole”. The motivation behind this statement is the belief that the Christian faith is all about heavenly joy, looking forward to the New Heaven and New Earth.

Dever develops a Biblical Theology on Mark 12-13-17 where he draws from Jesus’ experience of this very dilemma when the Pharisees ask Jesus about paying the Roman Tax to Caesar. Dever composes a very detailed exposition of the passage and suggests that Jesus is establishing a new understanding of government when he say “Give back to Caesars what is Caesar’s and Give back to God what is God’s”. By saying this Jesus is affirming the legitimacy of the Political state. Christians are called to be good citizens to the state, to be a blessing to those around us even though in many countries that will be more difficult. God’s initial charge at creation was to form governance (Genesis 1:28) for the stewardship of the whole world. The Bible is very clear “God is sovereign over all and that the state is His servant.” (p20). The purpose of a government is to bless those whom they have been entrusted with but also be accountable to God. If the State is God’s servant we must give to the state what it is due because by honouring the state we are in turn honouring the living God.

Jesus shows to us that government is not restricted to a stretch of land, whether a state supports the worship of the one true God or even allows it because our true governance is in Christ. Christians are international, from all nations and we are not constricted to land.  But we are not just accountable to state but to God too. Jesus makes a clear distinction that Caesar is not God. We are to obey the state but not worship the state. We are fallen human beings and governments are a gathering of fallen corrupt human beings for they do not cover the vastness of God’s character. How can fallen human beings have ultimate authority? Only the maker and creator of the world has that honour. There is our hope when we face corrupted and unjust governments – they will not last – they will crumble and fall, yet the Lord will reign for all eternity.

Dever concluded by saying his friend’s challenge was too shallow. Jesus came to do something far deeper, to actually change our whole hearts. We are to endure fallen governments but also work for something which is much better, an eternity with God. “Go ahead and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but then give to God what is God’s and remember that you belong to God, all of you.” (p55). I really recommend this book and may it help you grasp a better understanding between our Christian relationship with the state and government.

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The Patience of growing seeds.

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Gardens are amazing things. I have the real privilege to be writing this, sat outside on a warm sunny day in my own garden. As we move deeper into the summer months where things are getting warmer, the gardens are in full bloom, BBQ’s, paddling pools and World Cup Parties are in full swing – we can forget that hidden from our very eyes, the Kingdom of God is growing.

The Sunday gospel reading from a few weeks ago was the Parable of the Mustard seed and the parable of growing seeds (Mark 4:26-34). In these two parables, Jesus gives us great illustrations of how God’s Kingdom; the Church grows.

“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mk 4:31-32)

A Mustard seed is tiny. It looks weak, vulnerable and useless on the outside. If you eat it, can’t sustain you and it can be easily lost. Yet Jesus reminds us that the power of that tiny seed is on the inside. Even though it looks tiny, it produces the largest tree. How can something so tiny produce something so large? That is how the Kingdom grows. It begins very small, so small that we feel that nothing is happening. When we look at our churches we might look and feel like Mustard seeds. With small congregations we might feel weak, vulnerable, like nothing is happening, but hidden from our eyes, in the very heart of all that we do, God is at work, in every person we engage with. God doesn’t look at us on the outside, but from the inside. He looks at and works from our hearts therefore, we should be patiently waiting for these small seeds to grow. They can only grow, like any seed, if the soil is ready and prepared. The soil is solid Bible teaching and focused prayer.

The other parable tells us what we can do to encourage the growth of God’s Kingdom:

“A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mk 4:26-27) 

What is important to the farmer is not how the seed produces the crop for him to harvest but that he actually scatters the seed. The Farmer trusts the seed, he has faith and patience in God and in that seed and believes that it will bear fruit. God in his great sovereignty nurtures, encourages and maintains the seeds we scatter. This seed is telling people about Jesus, from loving our neighbours to inviting them to events but unless we are scattering the seed then we will not see growth.

In the heat of the summer, continue to scatter seeds and be patient for their growth. Even through the most rough and tough times we are to keep hold of the hope and joy that deep down, God is still at work in all that we do, even if we feel like mustards seeds. There is a great future! We are to look forward in joy that all these seeds that have been scattered is forming and becoming a great tree.

Training in godliness…

We all know that physical exercise is part of a good and healthy lifestyle. Recently I have been attending the local gym and getting into a routine that requires commitment, lots of energy, and time. This level of commitment began to have a  strain on other things in my life and as a result I took a 2 week break from the gym.

Unfortunately, that break turned into 4 weeks. The time to ‘go to the gym’ was eventually squeezed out of my ‘life timetable’ – it has lost its place and is replaced by other things instead. Does it matter? Surely physical exercise comes in all different  forms, walking, cycling, football, cricket etc. Do I need to go back to the gym? How  do I get back into a rhythm of doing 30mins on the bike or 20 mins at level 15 on a  cross-trainer? To begin with – it’s going to be hard – but eventually I’ll get back into the habit.  

Paul wrote these verses to his young apprentice Timothy:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but  godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present  life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:7-8). 

Paul reminds Timothy about his priorities – training yourself to be godly. It is amazing how physical exercise, Marathons, Football, Rugby, Tennis etc, have  become an idol or ‘mini god’ in people’s lives. They become part of the ‘ timetable of life’ and tend to replace spiritual growth and faith. I want to be  clear, all these are great things and God created all things to be good (as Paul  reminds us earlier in 4:4-5), but when they become a priority over our  commitment to the Lord, we must remember what is more important – getting  a hat-trick on Sunday – or growing and living in hope of eternal life through  faith in Jesus Christ?  

Physical training has value but growing in godliness is vital. Physical training has a limit, our bodies wear out – eventually our bodies will die – but growing  in our spiritual life, growing in our ability to pray, depending more of our lives  by faith in Jesus, reading and shaping our lives by the Bible, God’s Word, we are living our current life in obedience to the Lord, including our physical  exercise; and we are preparing for eternal life promised to those who have  faith in Jesus. When we get out of the ‘habit’ of gathering to worship or when it  is squeezed out of the timetable – it is difficult to get back into a rhythm, our  training in godliness suffers. We get blinded by our sin and the world around  us that we forget about what Jesus has done with our sins on the cross.  

It is so easy to conform to the world, to listen to myths, olds wives tales and get carried along with the crowd to Decathlon and Sports Direct and forget to gather with your brothers and sisters to worship the living God. It is vital to offer our prayers to our Father, to be taught from the Word through Jesus the  Son and go out to witness by the power of the Holy Spirit, to nourish,  encourage and grow each other as the body of Christ, the church. 

Focus on your godly training, get back into godly ‘habits’ and be a real witness to the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

NEW BLOG: The arrival of the Urban Curate

Well… It has been a while. Since the Ministry Trainee came to an end I have been training at Bible College and therefore I have not been able to update this blog as much as I wanted to. The blog remains the same with the same focuses but with a new name. The Urban Curate reflects what I will be doing over the next 3-4 years. I will be living in an Urban area near Birmingham and working in a local church that is small in number and strong in tradition. These posts will be a variety of experiences, reflections and learning that come from what the Lord is doing here and hopefully it will build and encourage Christian believers to be effective and growing disciples. As Paul encouraged the Colossian church by saying:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Col 2:6-8 NIV.

This is a challenge for us as Christians today. We need to be aware of what we believe and accept today. There is much heresy available on the Web, in magazines, newspapers, books, movies, etc. We need to be rooted in Jesus Christ and grow by being built up by his teaching and his grace. What is interesting in these verses (that you might want to reflect on) is the overflowing of thankfulness. We are so thankful for what the Lord Jesus has done by dying on the cross for our sins and to restore our relationship with God. It is by Christ alone that salvation is obtained and therefore we need to be full of thankfulness. I am so thankful that the Lord has called me to be a servant of his Word and that by his Spirit he has given me encouragement, Wisdom and knowledge. I pray that as you read this blog, you will be encountering God through his Word, by his Spirit, so you may be encouraged and grow in your faith. I hope you benefit from the blog. Please keep reading and growing in your faith!!!!

Fragile peace

I was walking down to the bank to cash in my expenses, and as I walked through the shopping centre, I saw a group of young adults wearing baseball caps, just hanging around. All of a sudden; there was one guy who was walking up to them, and he was swearing and cursing etc. The group of lads then started to retaliate and moved up to hit him, right in the middle of the shopping centre in broad day light which was full of shoppers. Now as I approached the scene, a crowd began to form and people just stopped and watched it go on, and no one said or did anything. It was like the whole shopping centre became a boxing ring with the entertainers in the middle.

This might seem common to some people, but I would like to make two observations about what I saw:

1. These lads were just hanging about, doing nothing, talking amongst themselves and they were mocking people as they were doing their shopping. These lads looked and were bored. They looked like they had no work and just wanted to cause trouble.

2. The crowd gathered around were all people who looked like they were bored as well. As soon as something happens they react and are drawn by something. Now they want to observe and not do anything about it.

What would you do? How would you react if this happened where you live? What is the solution to this problem?

People in the 21st century have very offensive natures. You have got to be so careful of what you say, otherwise you could get into real trouble. As Christians today, we have got to endure all kinds of hardship because the gospel offends people!! Why? Because it convicts them of their sins!

The passage we are using for our next messy church has this verse right in the middle: from 2 Timothy 3:12

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Paul suffered everything for the gospel, and if we today as Christians are going to live out godly lives, we need to give out the good news to the people who have fragile peace, just like the example above. Let us learn and grow off the prince of peace as we continue our lives spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

The “Amen” Bug

I would like to make an observation that could be a little “close” to some people and I apologize if I do. I attended the Global Day of Prayer event in my area yesterday and it was a good service with good music, a band, and several speakers. Being an Anglican, I notice things that are strange. The “Amen” Bug as I have called it, is when a pastor or teacher stirs their congregation to repeat the word Amen. Now I’m not saying that this is wrong or strange in light of some denominations, but it can be quite catchy. Many of the speakers that spoke at the service of prayer, were from pentecostal and they have a natural tendency to say phrase like

“Can I hear an Amen?” ” Amen People!” I can’t hear you, I said Amen!” “Amen?”

When you hear your own vicar saying those phrases, which I have never heard him say before, then you have got to say that it is highly infectious. The diagnosis for this bug is to go to a BCP (Book of Common prayer service), and your health will improve, because the use of “Amen” is in what the Anglicans would call “its proper place”. Some side effects from this bug are: Your blood levels rise and voice gets louder, and you start to sweat, and you might suffer from exhaustion from being  a bit OTT.

Now I hope that this has given you a few pointers to this bug.  I’m in full support for people to be contaminated with this bug, because I would like that to become the “Jesus” bug, (In a good sense) when the name of Jesus and his gospel is spread throughout the world.

Be Prepared for Advent Sermon Series Talk 3: Be Prepared to Meet: Matthew 24:1-35

Here is my last talk of my advent series for you to finish off your journey. I pray that God will bless you as you read it. Please use a bible as you look up the references.

Matthew 24:1-35

Theme: Be Prepared to Meet.

Aim: Those who remain faithful from the birth pains because they are prepared will be taken in to glory with the Son of Man.

Main points.

1. When will the end of the age happen?

2. What are the signs of the end of the age?

Introduction.

Have you ever met someone who is famous? Have you ever met someone who has saved your life?

Well over 6 years ago, I went to Spring Harvest with my parents and my church. Now most of you have heard of Spring Harvest and know that it is a Christian “holiday” camp for you to escape and experience some really good bible teaching and live worship. I remember it as the year when I met one of the greatest worship song writers of the last century, Graham Kendrick. Now I was part of the child’s tract, and we were asked to tell the people in the main tent or Big Top what we were doing in the youth tracts. I was going to speak in front of thousands of people. So I practiced and practiced, and the pain and pressure of me worrying about the end result was evidence to see.

It was the big day. We were called up on the stage, and the bright stage lights blind my eyes as we entered the main stage. I was petrified. Even though I was nervous I knew God was there, so we went ahead, and we all gave an account of what we were doing in the groups. At the end we were met with applause and whistles, and we went off the stage. At that point, Graham came over and met each one of us. Wow. What an experience. I was so glad and relieved that I stuck at doing the drama, that at the end of the day it produced a reward.

That is what today’s passage is all about. We have all met someone who has meant so much to us that we are well prepared to meet them. That is what we need to be: ready to meet Jesus, but in order for that to happen, the end of the age must come: We need to ask though:

This passage occurs when Jesus had finished being quizzed by the Pharisees in the temple v1 he retreated to the Mount of Olives and was ask privately by his disciple’s two questions V3 which we are going to look at today. When will the end of the age happen? What are the signs of the end of the age?

1. When will the end of the age happen?

That is a question that we ask quite frequently today. When will the end come? From the passage, there is one thing that must happen before the end time comes.

  1. 1.      V14 and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The gospel must be preached all over the whole world, before we see the end of the age. In this country, we sent thousands of missionaries around the world to proclaim the gospel in the most open wildernesses in the world. The first Sunday of November when we had Jason and Tracy, who are our Mission Partners from Nepal come over and visit us, they described how the gospel was having an impact in the context of their work. There are hundreds of mission organizations in the world like Operation mobilization, Latin Links, Samaritans Purse, Bible Society etc who are going all over the world with the gospel.

There are still places today, where the gospel hasn’t reached; like the tribes in the Amazon forests, and tribes across the plains of Africa. The core of the Middle East, where there is corruption, and persecution of Christians is an example that the gospel is being spread.

In our own country, there are people in society who haven’t heard the good news of Jesus. At university, I came across a Chinese student and he said to me “I came over here not just to study, but to proclaim the gospel in the UK”. That’s amazing, The UK sent missionaries to China in the 19th Century like C.T Studd, and D.E Hoste, but now in the 21st Century, we are getting Chinese missionaries. That’s amazing!! Being a missionary with the gospel doesn’t mean you can speak 5 languages have a qualification from university, and have millions of pounds. We are all God’s missionaries, and we are all commissioned by him to spread his gospel. The more we are passionate about spreading God’s word to our families, friends, children, neighbours, the more likely that the end of the age will happen. The use of media and technology is becoming widely available today, and you can get Christian radio stations and T.V channels, but in order for Christ to return, his word must reach the whole world.

You might think: Oh that’s too hard and really difficult, why is it so difficult to spread the gospel? It isn’t easy work.

  1. 1.      V8. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.

I have never experienced giving birth, and physically that isn’t possible, but I’m sure that all of you who have children know exactly what I mean. Apparently it is the most physically painful experience a woman can go through in her life. There is screaming, sweating, and pressure all happening at once. You can’t escape birth pains if you want a child. Jesus makes the same point about the end of the age. In order for the end of the age to come, and the gospel to reach the ends of the world we must go through suffering pain, death, agony, suffering, distress, worry! Just Like the worry I had on the main stage, I was worried and stressed about going on the stage.

At the end of all the pain and tiredness of giving birth, you will produce a beautiful baby. The most amazing part of God’s creation, the start of a new life.  At the end of all the pain and suffering in the world, something beautiful will happen. Just like me meeting Graham Kendrick.  Something even more beautiful than the gift of a child will occur at the end of the age.

2. What are the signs of the end of the age?

Jesus describes to us the signs of the end of the age. There are two signs of the end of the age: False Prophets and natural disasters, and the return of the Son of man.

False Prophets and natural disasters: Has anyone seen the new film 2012? Well for a blockbuster, I think it’s a really good film. It is based on this one man and his family who are trying to escape from the apocalypse. They run from the earth breaking up, earthquakes, floods, wars etc and he is trying to stay alive. There are some points in it where you feel he is going to give in, but at the end of the film, he and his family are saved by these emergency arks to protect them from the flooding. That film strongly pictures what will happen at the end of the age. There will be pain, death, famines, wars V6+7 + V29 etc. V21 For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now, and never equalled again It will be a onetime event. Nothing will compare the scale or impact that these events will unfold.

There are false prophets that are out and about in today’s society and they are either people with mental problems, or they are people trying to make money. This is the first thing that Jesus makes the disciple aware of. V4 Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming “I am the Christ” and deceive many, and v26 so if anyone tells you “There he is, out of the desert, do not go out; or Here he is, in the inner room do not believe it.  Be on your guard Jesus says. Don’t be fooled by those who claim to be the Christ. There are many people who have tried to claim to be the Christ.

In my home town there used to be a guy who would walk around, and he use to be called the Cowboy, because that is what he wore, and he use to creep people because he would follow them around the shops, and talk some of the most random things that I have ever heard. When I met one of my friends at school, he told me that he was now claiming to be Jesus. He has now been converted and now is a faithful brother in Christ, but he was a localized version but internationally there have been people who have claimed to be the Messiah.

  • John Nichols Thom (1799–1838), Cornish tax rebel who claimed to be the “saviour of the world” and the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and his body temple of the Holy Ghost  in 1834. He was killed by British soldiers at the Battle of Bossenden Wood, on May 31, 1838 in Kent, England.
  • David Shayler (1965–), former MI5 agent and whistleblower who, in the summer of 2007, proclaimed himself to be the Messiah. He has released a series of videos on YouTube claiming to be Jesus, although has not built up any noticeable following since his claims.
  • Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez (1990- ) who, in November of 2011, fired nine shots from a knock-off AK-47 at the White House in Washington D.C., believing himself to be Jesus Christ sent to kill President Obama as Obama is the Anti-Christ.

(Source: Wikipedia)

These people exist. These are people who take it to the extreme. There are also those who are sane, and get certain things wrong and they take things out of scripture, and adapt it in order to fit themselves around the word. These people can be in our congregation today, and across the world. Jesus here is making sure that we are not deceived by people claiming the truth.

So what is the real sign of the coming Messiah? What would be the real sign of Jesus returning? Jesus mentions this in V30-31.

Jesus will return by appearing in the sky. Like the Hymn, Lo! He comes, with clouds descending, once for our salvation slain; thousand thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train:  Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ the Lord returns to reign. Then he will descend on a cloud from the sky with power and great glory. Jesus returns for a purpose, V31 He will send angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds. Jesus has come to gather his faithful people and take them with him in glory. The final victory for those who remain faithful will be the greatest reward.

The Son of Man, who is Jesus will be seen everywhere, by everyone, and it will be a wonderful event. V27 for as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man. Lightening is the most fantastic example to show the power of creation. I’m always dazzled by the flash and sheer energy that it contains. We are told that just like lightning the Son of Man would bring his glory and his judgement to the world. He has come for those who have: spent time to know him, receive him in their lives, and now have met him face to face.

Conclusion

So what do we have to do in order for us to meet Christ? V12+13 Because of the increase of wickedness, and love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. We have to remain firm in the faith of Christ. At the moment, some of us are suffering pains that are indescribable, unimaginable; and we could be on the urge of giving in. But we are in the time of the birth pains of life. Those who give in give in to the wickedness of our world, and they will surely die, but those who remain true to their faith will be saved. For in the end, like giving birth, the produce is beautiful, the baby is beautiful, the coming and return of Jesus is a beautiful event. We now come to an end to this series, and I hope that it has inspired you so that:

1. We may be prepared to know who Jesus is. He is the one who came as the suffering servant, to take the pain of sin on his shoulders, on the cross, and the glory of his resurrection shows us that he is brining glory back to God, and re-established our relationship with our heavenly father.

2. We are prepared to receive Jesus. We are called to repent by John the Baptist, to produce fruits in repentance; otherwise, the one who doesn’t repent will be cut away like useless chaff. In order to receive Jesus we must repent and be baptised with the water of repentance and anointed with the baptism of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are blessed because we remain faithful and obedient to Jesus in our lives.

3. We are prepared for his coming and to meet him. That Jesus will return and collect those who have been faithful for they will have the greatest reward, to be with him in glory. Now we don’t know when the hour of the Lord comes V36 but we are told v42 to keep watch for his return.

Let us celebrate this Christmas, as a time when we remember the innocent child in the manger who we will meet one day and bring us with him in to glory. Isn’t that something worth being prepared for? Let us remain faithful to end. Amen.