Live to Give

Do we the church cling to wealth? Do we go out in the world seeking fame and fortune, wanting more and more? Do we ignore those who are in need; do we leave it to others to help the needy?  How should the church deal with money? How should we as Christians live? After all, 1 Timothy states

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life

God gives us everything, and thus we must use it for good. If you do give, you will be blessed, not like how prosperity men talk as if it’ll solve all your problems, but God will bless. Sometimes the fear of prosperity teaching makes churches shy away from talking about giving, but we should be known as a giving church, but not to those who have it all, but to those who have nothing. God has entrusted us with gifts, it may be wealth, if it is, then it should be used to help further the kingdom.

Two Bible verses always stand out to me, and of course we must take everything in context.

Mark 10:21-22:

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (NIV).

And in Acts 2:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (NIV).

So what we see here is a heart for giving. For the rich young man, wealth got in the way of following Jesus. He loved wealth more than God, and the Bible tells us that we are prone to do so. God knows what our weakness are, and our desires, but He wants us to put Him first. Wealth is not inherently bad, but ‘is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).’ It can be a huge stumbling block in our service to the Lord.

In the verses from Acts, what do we notice? The church put others before itself. They looked after one another and gave to the poor; don’t forget, Jesus and the disciples gave constantly to the poor. Here the Apostles and the greater church gave all they had so others could be better off. They did it without any hesitation, they trusted God would care and provide for them, and He did and He still does, for us! Therefore, we need to trust Him more and give more to those who are in need.

Can a Christian own a mansion?

Well, nowhere in the Bible does it say, ‘Thou shalt not own a mansion’. But, if there are those in need in your church, even in your community, and you have a mansion, surely there’s something not quite right there? Not that a mansion in itself is bad, but if you let that mansion and your worldly goods get in the way of loving those in need, then it is a stumbling block. I know it is never easy to part with money; it is something I certainly struggle with, we want to save money, and spend it on ourselves and those around us, again nothing inherently bad, but it can also be a stumbling block. We should give, and give all we can.

James 5 does not give the rich a good outlook if they are selfish with money:

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. (NIV).

If you are wealthy and do not do good with it, then it is testimony against your heart. As Christians we’re called to stewardship of the gifts God has given us, that includes wealth. If you value what you have here on this earth, whilst others are in need then your heart isn’t set on Jesus. We need to look to Him and Him only! I know that I should give much more than I do, I pray that we will all be a generous and giving church.

Let us think on James 2: 14-17

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

We are meant to meet the needs of others, if we have faith but our works show nothing, then it is as James says, dead. Let us really think of these verses and how this reflects in our lives. Let us be active Christians that play an active role in their communities, rather than academic ones who rather talk about doctrine all day rather than live out the faith.

In the Christian life, we are meant to be humble, and we are meant to give it all to God. I think Hebrews 13:5 sums up the Christian attitude nicely I think. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” God is with us, He is all we need, He has given all to us, let’s give it all back to Him. Serve Him and do not hold on to the things of this world!

LGBT+ And Christianity: Have We Got It Wrong?

This is a massive subject and not one that I approach lightly, but rather, literally, in fear and trepidation, with a profound sense of its difficulty and sensitivity. It is an issue that needs to be considered by all Christians. We need to clearly define the biblical position. It cannot be handled without touching on certain points which may well cause offence, but I tread as delicately as I dare and attempt to do these subjects as much justice as is possible within a reasonable word-count (which, by the way, has been blown to kingdom come!). I, and others who I have prayerfully tackled this with, have done our utmost to be loving and faithful, to share the amazing love of God and stay true to the Bible, as the final authority on everything.

Three wrong attitudes

Homosexuality and transgender issues are being promoted so rapidly, and sometimes quite forcefully, by progressive liberal Western governments in schools, places of work, in law, and even in churches — that it is vitally important we define the correct and biblical position. Every letter of the initialism LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and more) is real and we have to recognise that, they aren’t going to go away! Before we go any further we must understand that LGBT is not primarily a political movement, it is a series of enormous issues that affect and have affected many people, including many Christians, globally, throughout history. Many people feel born into the wrong gender or sexuality, and feel they just have to embrace that feeling and turn it into reality; others experiment with gender and sexuality searching for something, some magical key to happiness that will suddenly give life real meaning.

In Christian circles there seems to be at least three incorrect attitudes towards LGBT issues, and particularly homosexuality and the ‘gender revolution’. These have had a seismic impact on our society; even within the last five years so much has changed.

Firstly, there seem to be those who condemn homosexuality and transgenderism in no uncertain terms, and oppose homosexuals and transgender folk every step of the way, shunning them and treating them with contempt and disgust. This sad attitude is perhaps worse expressed by Westboro Baptist Church, a nutty sect in America, infamous for their offensive and downright wrong ‘God hates fags’ banners. Whilst this represents the extreme of this position, the sentiments often expressed privately or thought by individuals holding this sort of view are sometimes not dissimilar. The unspoken thought is worse in many ways, as we lie not only to ourselves but to the world.

Secondly, there are those who go to the opposite extreme and jump on the LGBT bandwagon for all they are worth. Many liberal churches (and indeed much of the Church of England) are now in this position, they follow popular opinion rather than the Bible. ‘God is love,’ they say; ‘He doesn’t mind’.

Thirdly (and I think there are many Christians in this position), there are those who are unsure of their own position, caught between the cross-fires; unwilling to come down on either side for fear of being judged or alienated, they neither speak in favour of LGBT issues or oppose them. They see certain ‘Christians’ loudly condemning homosexuals instead of preaching the gospel and object inwardly but do no more. They view liberal churches on the ‘LGBT bandwagon’ with suspicion and whilst they know that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful, they fear to speak out. They find it easier to say nothing and do nothing, letting the younger generations struggle on alone.

Well, all of these attitudes are quite plainly wrong. C.H. Spurgeon once somewhat bluntly said, ‘Only blockheads go to extremes,’ and he was quite right. But we don’t need a balance or a middle ground between anti-LGBT and pro-LGBT — we need to take a big step back, put matters into their correct perspective and re-examine our position. And to do that, we start with the Bible…

What does the Bible say?

Sexual identity and gender has been the big question of the last fifty years, but the Bible has all the answers.

The Bible is the eternal Word of God. On it we stand, off it we fall. If we compromise on one biblical truth, we might as well throw it all away. It’s all or nothing.

The Bible isn’t just a list of do’s and don’ts. It is a record of the magnificent plan of salvation God has wrought for His people, it is an open invitation to escape the clutches of sin and death, and join the marriage feast of the Lamb. It is the story of all of us, all humanity, and our past, present and future, whether believer or unbeliever. The Bible is not an encyclopaedia or a series of random old manuscripts stuck together. It is ‘the textbook of life’, says Martyn Lloyd-Jones, with ‘one great message and that message is life and how life is to be lived, how life is to be enjoyed, the object and purpose of life and the way to live it.’

The Bible says that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23), and David writes that ‘surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5). We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.

In that backdrop, homosexuality and the gender revolution are just more outworkings of the sinful nature of mankind. And here is an important distinction; too often I fear Christians define sin as a list of particular evils to abstain from — e.g. drunkenness, bad language, gambling, etc. — making it out to be single acts of wickedness rather than the underlying problem.
However nowhere does the Bible directly condemn the consumption of alcohol, cursing or gambling. That doesn’t mean they aren’t wrong (of course they are!) but not simply because of what they are, but because of how the heart is in these matters — a heart not set on God — and, one might add cursing often comes from an angry heart, and gambling and drunkenness from a greedy heart.

What is sin then? Sin is rebellion against God (Joshua 1:18). And this all stems from the Fall of Man — the ‘original sin’, and the reason, the only reason, the world is always in such a mess, and always will be, until He comes. Lloyd-Jones defines sin like this: ‘God is to be praised because He is God, and the real essence of sin is not to praise God. […] Sin really means we think we know better than God.’ Read Romans 1:18-32 for a fuller definition. This is the real issue, not whether a person is a homosexual, liar or adulterer. Whilst the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are wrong, it also makes it clear that all sins are as bad as any other (James 2:10) — and everything we do, outside of God, is sin (Romans 14:23). Paul says as much, in that Romans 1 passage:

“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones [natural in the sense that biologically we are not designed for same-sex relations]. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Paul goes on to list the rest of what ‘free will’ got man.

Jesus said: “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4-5).

Both homosexuality and the gender revolution are perversions of God’s plan for creation and part of the curse on mankind, as is every other outworking of our sinful nature (e.g. sex outside of marriage, as well as non-sexual sins). That is what the Bible says.

Homosexual acts are no different to a lustful glance at a member of the opposite sex. They are both 100% natural to our fallen nature. The fact is, we are all sinners who sin, and there’s no difference between a liar, a practicing homosexual or an adulterer. In many ways these labels are a misnomer – e.g. I’ve lied, I’ve stolen, I’ve blasphemed, that doesn’t mean I’m just a ‘liar’, I’ve broken more than just one commandment! I’m a sinner — full-stop (James 2:11).

It seems some people consider ‘homosexuality’ to be the worst sin ever! Wrong, the worst sin ever and the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the final rejection of the Son (grieving the Holy Spirit).

What about sex outside marriage? Much more prevalent today and much more ruinous than homosexuality and transgenderism to 21st century society; it’s been the break-up of countless marriages and the downfall of many people, including Christians. Yet many Christians turn a blind-eye to it, whilst judging LGBT people!

The bottom-line is we’re all sinners who need Christ. He is God’s way of escape.

The Bible says:

“[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

And:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

And this is the glorious truth! It doesn’t matter what we are, what we have done, we can come to Christ as we are; and with Christ we start totally anew! He is the personification of love and ‘love keeps no record of wrongs’ (1 Corinthians 13:5b), if we are in Him then all is forgiven. ‘For the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin!’ (1 John 1:7; also see v.9). Christ is our mediator; He takes on all the wrong and freely exchanges it for His perfect righteousness. We do nothing except believe in Him, as Jonathan Edwards said, ‘You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.’ It’s all Christ, and in Him, true contentment and lasting peace is found, for all who will only come to Him. Hugh Latimer once said, ‘[Christ] is but believe and have.’

‘Gay and Christian’?

So can you be a gay Christian? No, I don’t believe you can. Why? Is this narrow-minded and homophobic? No. Let me clarify: The word of God is quite clear — when we become Christians we put off the ‘old self’ and put on the ‘new’ – that is Christ. We no longer define or identify ourselves by what we were, we define and identify ourselves by what we are now — new creations, children of God, joint-heirs with Christ. For more information I would recommend checking out Living Out (an organisation set up by same-sex-attracted Christians). They, and I, don’t believe Christians should hold on to the ‘gay’ label. Our true identity is Christ; everything else is irrelevant — nationality, sexuality, whatever.

Heaven will be full of adulterers, murderers, thieves, rapists, paedophiles and all kinds of wicked people that would send a cold shiver down your spine. Will they be defined by those labels? ‘No!’ they will cry emphatically. ‘We are new creations in Christ, the old has gone, and the new has come! God has forgiven my sin, though it was as red as scarlet, He has made it as white as snow! I am now perfect and spotless through Christ. I did nothing. It was all the grace of God!’ And I’ll warrant there won’t be a dry eye in that glorious place.

Yes, as Christians, we may still struggle with same-sex attraction and all manner of issues, but God promises that: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).” We are all tempted and whether that temptation is lust for a member of the same sex or not is irrelevant. ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you,’ the Bible says (James 4:7b).

Coming to Christ doesn’t mean your problems disappear completely; He just opens our eyes so we see everything in a new light. We then have a Heavenly Father we can call upon (through our mediator – Jesus Christ [1 John 2:1]), who loves to hear our voice, whether it be repentance, praise, petition or thanksgiving. So called ‘gay cure’ techniques clearly miss the bus here; there is no cure for same-sex attraction, as there is no cure for other temptations, outside the grace of God. We will not be completely free from the shackles of sin until we get to glory. What a day that will be!

‘Transgender/Intersex and Christian’?

I believe the same principle applies. However hard it is, God rules, not us. Yes we may experience gender dysphoria and struggle with all sorts of gender or sexuality-related challenges, but God will never forsake us! He made us just as we are, for a reason.

Far too much is made of sex in our world. It is not all! Nor is marriage everything! We shouldn’t push ourselves into a marriage just for the sake of it. ‘I wish all men were as I am,’ writes Paul, unmarried, celibate, 100% content; and a better servant of Christ for it.

What did Christ say…?

“The disciples said to him, ‘[…] it is better not to marry then [in response to Jesus saying divorce is adultery].’

Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’” (Matthew 10:12).

There is hope for everyone, and that is the fantastic truth of the Gospel. Everything that separates us now, even as Christians, is made irrelevant in heaven:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 3:28).

Again, I believe we cannot then identify as ‘transgender’ — ‘our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Saviour there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20)’

What should Christians do?

There is no place for homophobia or transphobia of any sort in thought, word or action, just as there should not be any place for racism, murder, hatred and etc. Discrimination or bullying of any sort on the grounds of sexual orientation is bang out of order.

What would Jesus, the Son of God, the promised Messiah from ages past, do? He would hang out with homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender peeps, just as He hung out with the ‘sinners’ of 1st century Israel. He would ‘look at them and love them’ (Mark 10:21). So what are Christians to do? Emulate Christ. The Bible says: “Whoever claims to live in [Christ] must walk as [he] did,” (1 John 2:6), and, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness,” (v.9).

We don’t judge — ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ (John 8:7). We’re sinners too. Everybody is a sinner, whether they are an adulterer, homosexual or transgender too is irrelevant! Who are we to judge? Christ is all the difference! Many people within the LGBT movement are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They aren’t ‘in your face’ and neither should we be with our gay and transgender friends! We have a message of love that we need to preach — really bad news and amazing good news. How do we witness? With ‘gentleness and respect’ or ‘meekness and fear’ (depending on which translation floats your boat! — 1 Peter 3:15).

We should neither oppose LGBT issues nor support them. We support the Bible and serve our King. Where we have an opportunity to defend the Bible we should, although as Spurgeon once said, ‘You do not defend a lion, you just let him loose.’ That is how I have sought to tackle this issue. The word of God is indelibly imbued with the Holy Spirit and will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11); let Him do the talking.  However we must be prayerful, careful and wise where we take our stand. We should not seek persecution or ridicule for the sake of it; just as we shouldn’t cause offence for the sake of it or go out on a limb because we feel ‘prompted’ outside the word of God.

The three things we should do are: to love everyone regardless, pray for them regardless, and preach the gospel regardless; and we do all this with the Bible. You go outside it, even momentarily, and you will fail regardless.

How Should Christians Respond to Terrorism?

In the wake of recent horrific terrorist attacks (which are now almost a daily occurrence) in Barcelona, Finland, Russia, London and many other places, there are many different reactions. Some people are inclined to panic; others put on a show of resilience, resolve and unity; and some angrily attack back, verbally or otherwise. But how should Christians respond?

Do not fear

First of all, we should not fear. People with guns, knives and bombs come and go. The Bible tells us not to fear such people, instead to fear God, who is Sovereign in all things:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28).

In times of crisis and disaster Christians should shine brightest. We have peace and assurance, that whatever happens, Christ is our Saviour, and we eagerly await the heavenly home that awaits us. We are blessed beyond belief. However, this blessing is not reason to hide away in some hermit-hole up a remote mountain in Tibet or pretend everything’s OK and stick our heads in the ground like Winnie the Pooh. That won’t help anybody.

In times of war, everyone is mobilised and prepared for battle, and in the same way we all need to report for duty to our King and Commander. We all have a role to play within the world. We should not shirk from our duty (*wink wink* Jonah).

We don’t fear. We praise the Lord as we march out to battle (2 Cor. 20:21). He is the One we should fear. He is the One with almighty power who allows such atrocities to happen, and even uses them for good (Gen. 50:20, Rom. 8:28), so that He might unite everything together under His Son (1 Eph. 1:10) and thereby make known His Name and His Salvation to the ends of the earth.

Why?

Every day we read or hear the news of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and horrendous accidents all with massive loss of life. Many ask how God can exist or allow such atrocities to carry on. Without wishing to get bogged down with this question, we must remember that this world is fallen, and it is not everything; there will be a day of judgement, where everyone will have to give an account for their actions, and then there will be a new heavens and a new earth.

One of the reasons I love the Psalms is that they were written by people who experienced the exact same problems as us. They are so exactly like us, it is remarkable. There is a psalm for every occasion. Psalm 73 is a great one to read when we feel like everything is going wrong, and people who do evil seem to be having a whale of a time.

The root cause of terrorism and this savage thirst for blood is, of course, sin. Terrorism and war brings out the worst in human beings, as well as sometimes the best in the aftermath. We are sinful fallen creatures, but we are still made in the image of our ever-merciful ever-graceful God.

Prayer

Our first reaction should surely be to pray. Prayer is our most powerful weapon, a direct channel of communication to our God which should be open at all times (Eph. 6:18). We pray for the families of the victims of the attacks, that they may be comforted and find strength in God. We pray for the security forces and leaders in the country, that they may be blessed with guidance and wisdom in protecting the nation. However hard it is, we should also pray for the terrorist organisations responsible for these attacks, for the poor deluded individuals who are so misled by false religions and ideas as to commit such atrocities. At the end of the day they are sinners just like us, the same uncrossable chasm that once separated us from God separates them also. Jesus is the bridge and we pray that all may know Him.

The West is trying to bomb Islamic State out; a much more effective means of removing them would be to pray them out. Can you imagine if world leaders were to call for an international day of prayer for terrorists and terrorism?

We must remember that the Lord is in control and that is not a throwaway statement. The more I look at the pattern of things in this world, the more I see the Lord’s hand at work in the course of events, ever merciful, ever just. God allows life to go on, and us to carry on.

Witness

Christians should show the world in these dark and desperate days the love of God. We love not only our brothers and sisters in Christ but also the people of the world who live a Christless existence (Luke 14:12-14), and this is a love that should not only be in thought or prayer but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:16-18). We mourn with those who mourn. Their loss is our loss. We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44), we need to have hearts of love and forgiveness (Matt. 6:15).

One of my favourite examples is that of Elisabeth Elliot, who after her husband and four others were brutally killed by a tribe in Ecuador went back and ministered to that same tribe, telling the Gospel with such a love that spoke volumes to the murderers. Later, a son of one of the murdered men was baptised by the very man who had murdered his father and now come to Christ. That same love and forgiveness that so characterised her heart, although it was incredibly hard, we should have with us too. Read 1 Corinthians 13. We may not lose our loved-ones in such a brutal way, but we should remember our Saviour on the cross. The agony He endured for us, at the hands of those who had cheered Him into the city. Our trials and sufferings are as naught, through all suffering, all embarrassment received through the cause, we should love.

As Christians we should be calm, strong and sturdy witnesses, anchored so deep in Christ that the strongest storm cannot wrench us from our position. We should be ‘Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires’ (James 1:19-20).

We have the most glorious Gift, Jesus Christ, a gift that needs to be shared to all the world. The three ways we share with them and the three things the world needs are prayer, love and the Gospel.

Pray, pray, pray!

In conclusion, the best thing we can do right now is to pour out our hearts to our Heavenly Father for mercy on our world. We must come ‘boldly before His throne of Grace’, and lift up the poor people of this world who go about their day-to-day lives without a thought of God. We should pray that the Lord will draw them to Himself and that they may know Christ for themselves. We should pray that the Lord would send forth His Spirit into the world, into the Church, that we might have a real full-blown revival in these dark times. We should pray for strength, love and faith for ourselves and our Christian brothers and sisters scattered throughout the world. The battle-song of John Bunyan springs to mind:

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather;
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is,
No lion can him fright;
He’ll with a giant fight;
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit,
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say;
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Christ is our hope. He will never fail us. Until He comes, we must be ever watching, ready at a moment’s notice to leave all and go with Him to glory.