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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Loving difficult people…

Conflict is something that I real struggle with and I know that I’m not alone. The other day, I was watched two people arguing about one of them jumping a queue in the local supermarket. The one who committed the crime was taking no responsibility and showing fingers and using abussive language. This is not unique. There are so many people in our society today who have no respect or are nasty for no apparent reason. So how do we cope with these people? How can we grow to love them? Are you someone who has become difficult to love?

I read a great little book called “How to love difficult people” by William Smith. It is part of the CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) series. (See picture).

Smith starts his solution by saying:

Learning to love difficult people starts with understanding that you (like me) are hard to love too.

We need to accept that we are not perfect and we can be difficult to love too. We sin like everyone else and to be humbled by that truth is the starting point to loving others who are like us. As Isaiah 53:6 reminds us:

We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all (NIV)

God sees us as difficult people, who are sinful, rebellious and selfish, like sheep, but he had a plan to reconcile us back to him. He sent Jesus as the good shepherd to gather us back to himself. God’s goal is to gather these difficult people into his fold. Do you think God gives up after a week, month, year? Why should we? We need to keep praying for the people in our lives who we find difficult- that they encounter his unfailing love. Don’t quit, but pursue. Be encouraging, pursue areas of growth, pursue them for their own sake and love them even if they don’t love you in return. I leave the last words to Paul and use them as a prayer for what you are going through:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 15:5-6 NIV)

Amen

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands: Book Notes: Chapter 13

Here are my thoughts on chapter 13:

1. What have I found helpful/insightful in this chapter?

We have had a good deal of theory and application techniques in the recent chapters, but we have come to the DO chapters. Tripp brings out on the very first page of the chapter
“Change always demands a deeper understanding of the things of God and a more careful application of those truths in our lives.” p239 we have to apply the truths in our lives for real, not a passive idea. If we do, we will expect change, if not, and then we become stagnant. The problem is: it is a long process. I am still quite young to understand the period of a long process, but change is always going on. “Yet all this change, we are still changing.” p240. There is never “too” much change, because that is what the gospel is doing in our lives if we apply it effectively.
Paul says as Tripp quotes 2 Corinthians 11:1-3, for we need to look at the long view of life, and look at the periods of our lives that change is going to need to take place.

I was really helped by the description of Sin in this chapter as “Now-ism”. As I’m going forward into ministry, I tend to get concerned when the process slows up. I realise that it is my own selfish now-ism that is controlling my responses, and being part of a dynamic society, I tend to lean towards quick fixes and not long-term solutions.

Tripp describes “DO teaches us how to apply truths we have learned, personal insights, we have gained, and commitments we have made, to our daily lives” p243 Those who do are
“People who begin to follow Christ by faith in practical ways will increasingly expose their hearts”. P244 Over the long process of Change and “As the heart is revealed, people can learn how to live a ‘changed and being changed lives’ ” p244 this is the process of change. It is not just simply saying “I will accept Christ” and do nothing about it. There needs to be physical change and a spiritual change as Christ works through our lives.

I have found the personal ministry agenda very useful because it has set out the principle questions when dealing with someone in a pastoral way, and the second objective about clarifying the responsibilities.

The final bit that Tripp brings out to me is being prepared to talk to people. We must be prepared, what we might say, and he gives 3 agenda questions:

1. What does the Bible say about the information gathered? None of us has a completely uncorrupted Christian world view or mastered the gospel in all its applications.

2. What are God’s goals for change for this person in this situation? I can’t lead a person if I don’t know where we are going, and I must obey and lead people to where God is calling them.

3. What are some biblical methods for accomplishing God’s goals of change?

2. How will what I’ve read apply to my preaching ministry/ counselling?

This chapter has given me a lot of practical applications in which I must put in to practise. I hope to apply my preaching more to the questions of the people who I aim my talk to, but also to highlight that my interpretation is not the concrete one. I know that I am a sinner like everyone else and I know that I can never solve a person’s problem, but I pray that all I have learned from the other chapters will be put into practise as I continue my journey of faith.

3. Next time we meet, I would like to discuss…How often do we prepare what to say to someone, and which ways are the most effective

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands: Book Notes: Chapter 12

Here are my notes for Chapter 12:

1. What have I found helpful/insightful in this chapter?

This chapter is very similar to chapter 11, about dealing with confrontation and rebuking, but this has more to do with how to apply in to our ministries.

How do you confront someone like the example of Dan and Jim?

Tripp says “How we live with one another sets the stage through the way we speak to each other”

The way we live our lives is an example of how we communicate to people what we are like. We might set the agenda on what we speak about to someone but “The Lord has his own agenda which is so much bigger and better than ours.” The Lord is with us in the confrontation. He deliberately sets the encounters we have. “He displays his glory by transforming the thoughts and intentions of our hearts”. God is in complete control in what we say and do but Tripp gives us the warning.

“We can’t be satisfied with pleasing ourselves in what we say and do, but must ask what would please him (God)… People who approach life this way are ready to serve as God’s instruments of change”.

We must always think “What satisfies God?” We can fall into the trap of thinking that the person who is in need, is trying to reach your own personal targets, when they should be aiming to glorify God.

The 4 step frame of the confrontation process is very helpful:

1. Consideration: What does this person need to see that he does not see, and how do I help him? There are 5 questions that help ask considerate questions 1. What was going on? 2. What were you thinking and feeling as it was going on? 3. What did you do in response? 4 Why did you do it? What were you seeking to accomplish? 5. What was the result? Tripp says “When you encourage this kind of change you are doing the work of an ambassador = you are incarnating the presence of the Messiah who gives sight to those in spiritual darkness.”

2. Confession: Sinners find confession hard (Everyone). We need to encourage them to speak humbly and lead them to prayer and seek God’s forgiveness and other people’s.

We as counsellors need to confess our sins in our own hearts at the same time because we are dealing with sin and we can be infected quite easily.

3. Commitment. Don’t Soften God’s call for concrete commitments of the heart and life. God’s is unwilling to settle for anything less than our hearts.

4. Change.

2. How will what I’ve read apply to my preaching ministry or counselling?

I was very moved by the example Tripp gave about asking a man who had anger problems to keep a journal of his life. Then when they met up, Tripp got him to read back his journal, and the man said in tears “The man who wrote this journal is a very angry person!” I would like to use this in my ministry when I will encounter people in a situation where there is something wrong with them I their lives. I will try to not be a person who stands out of someone’s confession, but to be willing confess my sins with those who find it hard to. This chapter really highlights that we are all sinners, but we are saved by grace. I would like to use all the above questions practically and part of my pastoral set up when talking to someone.

3. Next time we meet I would like to discuss…

How can you be considerate and committed to someone who is not listening to anything you say?

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands: Book Notes: Chapter 11

Here are my notes for Chapter 11:

1. What have I found helpful/ insightful in this chapter?

Rebuking someone in the Love of God is not to be feared or regret but encouraged in order to confront sin, and help each other grow stronger in faith, and to remain faithful to God’s word. I have always thought that rebuking someone would cause real conflict and create barriers for the gospel. But I am completely mistaken! Tripp says “A rebuke free of unrighteous anger is a clear sign of biblical love.” The Bible presents confrontation as one of the cords of a strong relationship, a normal part of the interaction that makes the relationship what it is. I don’t cope with confrontation or being rebuked very well but I understand that it is through rebuking that we are confronting people’s sin. Using the Bible as the focus for confrontation means starting with my own heart. If I don’t I will tend to according to Tripp:

1. Turn moments of ministry into moment of anger.

2. Personalise what is not personal.

3. Be adversarial in my approach.

4. Confuse my will with God’s will.

5. Settle for a quick solution that doesn’t affect the heart.

But we need to rebuke because:

1. The deceitfulness of sin

2. wrong and unbiblical thinking.

3. My view of life tends to shaped by my experiences.

2. How will what I’ve read apply to my preaching ministry or counselling?

I need a model of daily intervention of honest rebuking and make it a regular part of all my relationships. I hope the people I talk to will confront themselves with their sin. I pray I will not condemn them; a sinner to a sinner. In My preaching, I hope that as I study God’s word, and bring God’s people closer to him; I will be more confident in rebuking sin and bringing people to repentance and joy through the grace of Jesus Christ.

3. Next time we meet I would like to discuss…

“How do you rebuke someone without being Judgemental?” I would like to know ways which you can rebuke constructively.

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands: Book Notes: Chapter 10

Here are my notes for Chapter 10:

1. What have I found helpful/insightful in this chapter?

“Personal Ministry is not about always knowing what to say. It is not about fixing everything in sight that is broken. Personal Ministry is about connecting people with Christso that they are able to think as he would have them think…” p184.

This is the most helpful reminder of what personal ministry is all about. Sometimes we make Personal ministry a personal achievement of solving a problem that someone has. We make it a chance to glorify what we have done, but it is all down to the work of God. We are connecting people back to Christ. We are helping people get back on the road and continue the walk of life, not by themselves, but in the company of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to get people back in contact with the living God and for them to cast their sins and problems on to him.

We need to be filled with awe at what the Lord has called us to participate in. It is not just gathering “data” but also to make sense of it. How do we make sense of it? Through God’s word.

Biblical personal ministry must be biblical, but Paul warns us in 2 Corth 11:1-3

“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

We tend to go astray from Christ. Tripp gives us the warning

“If you do not help people to see their story from a distinctly biblical, Christ-centred perspective, your ministry will do nothing but lob theological platitudes and principles at them” p 186.

We need to direct people to Christ, and allow them to read his word and allow God to minister to them through his word. Take away God’s word, and it becomes an ineffective to a person needing help.

They have been very insightful for my ministry.

2. How will what I’ve read apply to my preaching ministry or counselling?

I need to remember that when I talk to someone, I need the word of God right there beside me. I need to be aware when I go astray from God’s word. When I preach, I see the fundamental objective as connecting people to Christ. I need to bring them to Christ in all of my talks, but also in my conversations. I’m not the problem solver, but Christ is, and those whom I will Counsel will need to realise that they need to sort themselves out with God, and not myself.

3. Next time we meet I would like to discuss…

The ways we can help each other, when we see someone being led astray from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ”.

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands: Book Notes: Chapter 9

These are my notes for Chapter 9:

1. What have I found helpful/insightful in this chapter?

The question that Tripp asks really struck me cold “Have you ever thought you knew someone well, only to discover significant details that you did not know at all?” p163. Do we really know someone? For we all have relationships and friendships with those we love, but they are only casual relationships that never grow into an intimate relationship. That makes us ineffective as ambassadors, because we don’t know people as well as we should. Why?

Tripp gives these outlines which apply to me strongly:

1. Busy lives: We don’t have time to build relationships with people.

2. We don’t want to face what our struggles reveal about the true condition of our hearts.

3. We are blind because of our SIN.

4. No one asks!!

This chapter has convicted me about my slack approach in meeting people and developing a relationship with people. The example of Jesus that Tripp brings out of Hebrews 4:14-16, shows that our suffering is Christ’s suffering. Christ came amongst us, experienced the pain and suffering and really got to know the nature of our suffering. Christ is our model for personal ministry.

The other insightful explanation of Tripp is the importance of asking good questions!!! We tend to ask very throw away questions when we meet people. I had the courage when I went to the 9:38 conference to ask a fellow Apprentice “How is your marriage?” I remember hearing a talk by Tony Campolo about how people don’t ask direct and personal questions because we are afraid to ask them.

2. How will what I’ve read apply to my preaching ministry or counselling?

I will try to be a more personal person in my relationships. This chapter has taught me the importance of preparing material for studies. I need to really know and engage my audience, and aim it at their level. I sometimes forget the people who I minister too, and there is the tendency for what I do to go right over the top of people’s heads. The value of good questions is key, and I pray that I may be able to ask good questions, and really care and know the people whom God will put before me to minister to.

3. Next time we meet I would like to discuss…

How do you go about composing and asking good solid questions?