“Test the spirits” (1 John 4:1)

I said on Sunday that I’d say a little bit more about the sermon preached at the Royal Wedding. It was clearly very popular. Ed Milliband tweeted: “Rev Michael Curry could almost make me a believer”. Various headlines said his sermon “stole the show”. He certainly talked lots about “the love of God” in public to an audience of 30 million or so; something we’re not very used to.

However, if we’re going to grow as Christians, one very important area to grow in is discernment. In 1 John 4:1, the apostle John writes this:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world”.

In that verse, John isn’t describing the false teaching of other religions; he’s describing things said in the name of Christ. John tells us that we can’t believe everything that comes from a pulpit; not everything said in the name of Christianity is true. This verse tells us to test what we hear, at the bar of truth (v.2-3) and the apostle’s teaching (v.6). I want to suggest that what the preacher said was really quite devious (you can read the transcript here). He used a bunch of Christian words to say something that strikes at the heart of the gospel. It was “the spirit or error” talking in the Chapel at Windsor not the “Spirit of truth” (v.6).

The tell-tell line was this one: “Oh, there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love”. You can be sure that was no throw-away line or slip of the tongue. That was deliberate. And in that line, he gave the game away. His message was about a shape-less, form-less love. It was a squishy love. The love that was preached at Windsor Chapel cannot squeeze or force anybody into a specific course of action. It cannot say “no!”. It was not a love that can call anyone to repentance, or pull them back from hell. Yet, that is precisely what the real love of God does. God’s love has a specific shape and a form. It’s revealed in Jesus Christ. It can be written about in human language. And its specific shape exposes our sinful loves. Sadly what was talked about on Saturday was a counterfeit of God’s love, not the real thing.

The point of this post isn’t simply to criticise a sermon that was popular. It’s to encourage you to take 1 John 4:1 seriously. If we’re going to grow in discernment as Christians, we have to listen very carefully when we people talk about the love of God, and ask: “what do they mean?“. If we’re going to share Christ clearly with this world, we’ll have to distinguish the false and true versions people hear. So, if people tell you how much they liked the sermon, I’d encourage you to ask what the person liked about it, and be ready to speak about the love of God that loves us too much to leave us loving the darkness (John 3:16 & 19). Remember, it is never loving to misrepresent the love of God.

If you’d like to read a bit more on this, here are two helpful pieces:

A Letter to Harry and Meghan: on human love and God’s love

https://ashenden.org/2018/05/19/michael-curry-the-royal-wedding-a-star-turn-offers-the-world-christianity-lite/    (His comments are mixed with some politics, which can confuse the issue, but the overall analysis is good).

Help me read my Bible

Philip asked [the Ethiopian eunuch]… ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’

And he said, ‘How can I unless someone guides me?’  (Acts 8:30-31)

Every Christian I know finds it challenging to read the Bible at times. One of the biggest challenges for many Christians is simply not understanding what the passage of Scripture they’re reading is about and how it relates to them. Now, God knows we won’t be able to read the Bible on our own, and he’s never intended us to try; that’s why he’s given us two guides to help us read our Bibles:

  1. The first guide is the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Jesus promises that “the Spirit of truth… will guide you into all the truth”. The Holy Spirit is essential for reading our Bibles properly. Without him we will get hopelessly lost, trying to understand Scripture. That’s why it’s so important to pray as we read our Bibles; we need the Holy Spirit to inwardly reveal its meaning to us.
  2. The second guide God gives is teachers, like Philip in Acts 8:31 or the “shepherds and teachers” in Eph 4:11. The Spirit guides us inwardly; these teachers guide us outwardly. Like the Holy Spirit, they are very important for reading our Bibles properly. These two guides work together. The Spirit doesn’t guide us to a different meaning to that of the teachers. God doesn’t intend us to just pick one of them as guides; but to use them both.

One very practical way to access the guidance of teachers is to pick up a commentary. These are books written by teachers explaining the meaning of the Bible. There are many commentaries to choose from on both the whole Bible, and individual books. Some are very technical and quote Hebrew and Greek, some are much simpler. Here are some I would recommend which aren’t too difficult.

– Here is a one commentary for each book of the Bible

https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/bible-study/the-commentary-list/commentary/

– the Banner of Truth Let’s Study series

https://banneroftruth.org/uk/store/series/lets-study/

– Welwyn Commentary Series:

http://epbooks.org/product-category/welwyn-commentary-series-wcs/

Commentaries on the whole Bible:

– IVP New Bible Commentary – https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Bible-Commentary-21st-Century/dp/085110648X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525787400&sr=1-1&keywords=ivp+bible+commentary

– Matthew Henry’s Commentary. This is an old one; you can find it online. It’s not so strong at explaining the meaning of the passage, but is very good with application.

I haven’t read each commentary listed, so I can’t guarantee it will be really helpful, but they’re all written by people who take the Bible seriously. I’d particularly recommend commentaries by Derek Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, Dale Ralph Davis, John Stott, and Dick Lucas.

Why not buy one to help you read your Bible?

Asking Advice

I pointed out in a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 2 last week that for many people their relationship to their minister is about as deep as their relationship to their hairdresser! You wouldn’t ask your hairdresser for advice if you were thinking about moving away or a career change (unless it was hairdressing); so why would you ask your minister for advice about these things?! But we saw Paul describe his relationship to the church in Thessalonica as “like a nursing mother, taking care of her own children” (1 Thess 2:7) and “like a father with his children” (v.11). God hasn’t designed ministers to be professionals, who provide a service to you, like a haircut. No, ministers “are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account” (Heb 13:17).

So, I thought it might be helpful to give examples of things you can ask my advice on. While you’re welcome to ask my advice about what car to buy, or what colour to paint your walls, it probably wouldn’t be very valuable – I don’t have a clue about cars! But here are some things as a minister I am qualified to help you with:

  • what to do in a conflict situation.
  • big decisions, like getting married, moving house, changing jobs…
  • marriage questions e.g. how husbands and wives should relate.
  • parenting, how to teach your children in the faith.
  • sins you struggle with.
  • what to commit your time to.
  • how to get more out of church.

There’s a lot of bad advice out there; Psalm 1 calls it: “the counsel of the wicked”. But the Bible says: “the unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). I’m not pretending to be an expert in the areas above in and of myself. But I do know that the Bible applies to these areas of life.  So, please be assured: I’m here to help you unfold God’s words into the details of your life and love to do it.

The Benefit of Frequent Communion

Human nature is funny. Sometimes the more frequently we do something, the less “special” it feels. We can enjoy “one-offs” much more than weekly routines. For example, if we celebrated birthdays every week, we probably wouldn’t enjoy them as much as we do when they come round once a year!

That fact can make us think the same with some of God’s ordinances. Maybe if we did them less often, they’d become more special. The Lord’s Supper is a good example. Some churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week, some every month, but some just once a year, when they make much more of it. Maybe in your own experience, you’ve found that the more frequently you take the Lord’s Supper the “less” it means to you, so you sometimes switch off from it. But it would be funny if we took the same attitude to preaching, wouldn’t it? It’s probably true that if I preached just once a month or once a year, you’d listen better, but we can probably all tell that that’s not a good idea! That’s because the point of God’s ordinances isn’t only that they feel special; they’re doing other things to us that we can’t always quantify; just like ordinary week-night meals won’t always taste special, but they still feed me. It’s the same with the Lord’s Supper. Our experiences at the Lord’s Table will vary; sometimes there will be wonderful moments of communion with Jesus, at other times they will be more ordinary. The value of the Lord’s Supper is in giving you spiritual nutrition, not just spiritual excitement.

If you find yourself switching off at the Lord’s Table, let me encourage you to deliberately switch back on. And let me encourage you to eat and drink Christ! It’s possible to eat and drink the bread and wine with your mouth, while not eating or drinking Jesus by faith. Without chewing and digesting its contents by faith, the Lord’s Table will do us no good.

Here are 5 groups of people who’ll particularly benefit from frequent communion (stolen from this book by J. W. Alexander!):

  1. Doubting Disciples, who can’t have the certainty of God’s grace held out to them too often.
  2. Persons of Legal Views, who are prone to think they’ve earned God’s love. This mistake is best corrected by going frequently to Calvary.
  3. Backsliders, who are awakened by the call to self-examination, and melted when Jesus turns and looks on them, as he did to Peter (Luke 22:61)
  4. Lonely Ones, who need the cheering sense of fellowship, produced by this feast of brotherhood.
  5. Those in Trouble, who ten thousand times have forgotten their earthly sorrows in the joys of Christ’s presence.

At various points this year, I expect we’ll fit in to all of those categories. Praise Jesus who doesn’t let his body go hungry (Eph 5:29)!

Who is Jesus?

It can be good to remind ourselves why we worship Jesus Christ. A comparison of verses about the LORD in the Book of Isaiah and Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation shows us why Jesus deserves our worship as the divine Son.

These would be helpful verses to show Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny that Jesus is God.  Let’s bow the knee to him and confess that he is LORD (Phil 2:10-11).

 

 

 

Teaching the Children

This is a brilliant talk about parenting by Sinclair Ferguson. It will be well worth a listen, whether you have children or not, because it shows how the church is so important to parenting. Every one of us at church has a role to play in the Christian nurture of the children.

Our task as parents and families is not to see how the church of Jesus Christ will fit into our family life, but to fold over our families into the life of the family of the church… Your family will not last long. Your marriage will not last long. If I understand Jesus aright, however difficult it is for me to get my head round it, if there’s no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven, if everything these human relationships are intended to satisfy will be fully satisfied in the glory of Christ and the fellowship of God’s people, then I need to see that my family takes a secondary place to the church family. The church family alone will last for all eternity. My family as it’s presently structured will last only until the death of its members. You see the worldly way of thinking is that we view eternity in the light of time. The biblical view is that I view time in the light of eternity. Therefore, as a parent my responsibility is to fold my family into the life of the church…

Listen to the whole thing here:

Just Do Something – A Review

There is, no doubt, a big decision you have to make in life. Where should I live? What career should I take? Who should I marry? These are indeed huge questions to ask but how do we go about knowing God’s will for our lives?

There are a million confusing methods floating around Christian circles: sensing promptings from God, reading into unusual coincidences, flicking open the Bible and pointing at verse at random to give us the answer.  The list can go on.

‘Just Do Something’ is here to address all that. It is a book about God’s will and the Bible’s teaching on decision-making.

This book very clearly helps you understand what you need to know about God’s will and how you should make decisions. Kevin DeYoung sets out to clear up common misconceptions about how Christians (and all human beings for that matter!) should make decisions. And then presents the liberating solution to your problem.

Brace yourself; this book will do 3 things to you:

  1. It will kick you out of a paralysis and fear of making the wrong the choice.
  2. It will enlighten you to what the scriptures have to say about God’s will for you life.
  3. It will equip you with the correct thinking and practical tools in how to make these big decisions.

Personally, I found this book incredibly helpful as I was making big decisions in my life. It helped me make godly choices and transformed my whole approach to God’s will.

So as you sit here reading this, perhaps you are thinking, “What is God’s will for my life?” Well, I can tell you I have the answer. Kevin DeYoung has the answer. So if you want to know: just do something. Just read this book.

Andrew Kueh

What a minister is… and what it means for you

This might surprise you, but I don’t have a “job”. I say that because a “job” suggests I get paid to do something. I think it’s important that we don’t see the Christian ministry as a “job”, but as an “office”. An office is a position of trust, in which someone else’s authority is to be exercised. The risen Lord Jesus has entrusted the task of ministry to certain people, called “elders” (1 Peter 5:1), “overseers” (1 Tim 3:1), and “ministers” (2 Cor 3:6). So, I don’t get paid a “salary” by an employer, but a “stipend” that helps me carry out the office Christ has entrusted to me.

My main task is to: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2).

Now, the apostle Paul tells us how he did that in the church in Ephesus; he shepherded them both publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20). It’s obvious how we do that on Sundays through teaching, but how about from “house to house”? In the past, one of the ways ministers have sought to do this is through pastoral visits. A pastoral visit is what it sounds like – the minister comes and visits you in your house. Now that might not be something you’re very used to today; the idea of your minister coming to visit you might feel like you’re in trouble! But that’s not the intention at all. Rather, it’s a way for the minister to get to know his flock, and to see how he can help, encourage and pray for them.

I’m hoping to start doing this a bit more regularly on Thursday nights (and maybe Tuesdays). So, don’t be surprised if I mention I’m planning to call by on a Thursday. If you have a question about something I’ve preached on, try and remember it and ask me about it when I visit. Please don’t think I’m too busy to bother with your questions. I’d love for you to ask me for help from the Bible if you’re trying to make decisions, or share things I can be praying for you; remember, my calling as a minister is to speak the Bible into the details of your life.

The one thing about sexuality that Christians just don’t get

This is a very important video that explains why it’s a big mistake for us to talk about “gay Christians” and even “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals”. The speaker, Rosaria Butterfield, was converted from a lesbian lifestyle. She explains that “gay” is an identity label that the world has given us, and will interfere with embracing our identity in Christ.  I’d highly recommend anything written by her.

Here are two of her books:

Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, which tells her own story.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thoughts-Champagne-Buttefield-6-Jul-1905-Paperback/dp/B011T74D78/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510226219&sr=1-2&keywords=secret+thoughts+of+an+unlikely+convert

and

Openness Unhindered, which are more of her thoughts on sexual identity and belonging to Jesus.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/openness-Unhindered-Rosaria-Champagne-Butterfield/dp/188452799X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510226159&sr=8-1&keywords=openness+unhindered

Why you should care about church history

I know history isn’t most people’s favourite subject. In a world of twitter, Whatsapp, and Instagram, it feels hard enough to keep up with what’s new, let alone with what happened 500 years ago. News headlines grab our attention. We read them on our commute. They’re pushed at us in our news feeds. If offered a choice between something “old” and something “new”, nine times out of ten, we will pick what’s “new”. But what if we’ve been tricked? What if we’ve been conditioned to get this completely the wrong way round?  What if our obsession with the “news” isn’t a sign of our cleverness, but of our foolishness?

Think about it. Have you ever tried to read a 1-month old newspaper? It feels pretty pointless, doesn’t it? Why? Because one month later it is mostly irrelevant.

God encourages us to show respect for what’s “old”.

Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set (Proverbs 22:28)

Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life (Prov 16:31)

As we run the Christian race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses from church history, watching us (Heb 12:1 and all of chapter 11).

Of course, that doesn’t mean what’s old is automatically right. The past is full of sinners just like the present, and people got it wrong in the past as often as they do in the present, but the past is a place where God has lots to teach us.

So, maybe, rather than switching on Good Morning Britain or BBC Breakfast, or Capital FM, and drinking in what’s “new”, we will be better able to serve Jesus Christ, if we drink in what’s “old”; maybe the voices of Christians who have walked this way before us will be more useful than the voices of DJ’s and presenters sitting on breakfast couches.

Through [Abel’s] faith, though he died, he still speaks (Heb 11:4).