Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The last five questions on marriage, singleness & parenting

Over the last few weeks we have been working our way through the questions asked at the Marriage Q&A on November 13th.  Here’s the last five:

1.    If your husband or wife has an affair should you forgive them?
This is an extremely difficult reality and I would urge you, if this is your situation to come and speak to me.  Marriage is built on forgiveness and change (what the Bible calls repentance).  There is a constant, ongoing offering and these two things in a maturing marriage.  I know many marriage that, with Jesus’ help and hardwork, recover from adultery.  It doesn’t automatically mean the end of the marriage.  Yet, at the same time the Bible understands sometimes marriage become so corrupt or unsafe or damaging they no longer can reflect the beauty of God (marriage’s main design), and separating is appropriate.  Whatever the ultimate destiny of a marriage when adultery has happened, the ability to forgive is very healing and restorative and something to seek overtime.  But it won’t happen immediately or easily.  Please come and speak to me.

2.    I’ve really found the talk on being a wife and a women so inspiring.  I want to be that strong, fearlessness women.  Can we have more teaching about being women of God, and men of God too?
It is great to hear this.  We tend to work through books of the Bible in the order they are, trusting this puts God’s agenda front and centre and cover the full range of arenas God wants us to understand him and follow him in.  Having said that, yes I think you are right that understanding being women or men of God would be important areas to explore.  I’ll look into it.

3.    As a mother with a boy I found it really helpful to understand what a Christ-like man is like and to avoid consumer or cowardly men.  But what sort of things can I do to help my son grow up to be that kind of man? 
There are many answers to this.  Two spring straight to my mind (as a father of boys myself).

One is to find and give him people to imitate.  He will naturally have heroes – put good heroes before him.  Men (dead ones through biographies but especially living ones) who love Jesus and are courageous for Jesus.  Find boys or men five years older and twenty years older and put your son into their circle of influence.  Paul writes ‘keep your eyes on those who live up to Jesus’ (Philippians 3:16-17).  Make these your son’s heroes over and above consumer or cowardly celebrities or TV characters.

Secondly let me try.  Tell him he has strengths (whatever they are) and then let him be responsible for something.  Make it matter.  Make it important.  Make it risky.  But be there to stop it all going wrong.  But don’t bubble-wrap or pander or make it safe.  Risk is good.  Real risk even better.  Timothy was perhaps 14 when Paul took him into dangers way to plant churches (Acts 16:1-2).

4.     As a (happily) single women I wasn’t going to come this week (knowing it was going to be about married men!) but found it the most inspiring service and spoke right into my life.  And I just wanted to ask about what you said about singleness being both a gift and a grief, and what kind of gift is singleness?
I think Paul has particularly in mind the gift of not being responsible for someone else and the worry and strain that can have.  From talking to single people, the gifts of singleness (which are lost when married and with children) include more money, more time, more energy, more friends, more opportunities to serve than you would have if you were marriage and/or had children.

5.    What does it mean for a husband to serve his wife?  How are husband’s meant to love their wives?
So in Ephesians 5 three times husbands are called to love their wives.  Each is a slightly different view of the same sacrificial, action-oriented, selfless provision, protection and care for your wife.  Here’s the verses:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…’ (25)
‘In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.’  (28)

…each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself…’ (33)

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Stunned by the stable

Christmas.  Love it or hate it we cannot avoid it.  It is the largest grossing global festival of the year and, especially if you have children, can seem all-encompassing. 

What is your Christmas about?  How are you making sure your priorities are not overwhelmed by everyone else’s – the shop-keepers’ especially?  How are you pressing the pause button for you and your children so that something stuns us (not simply numbs us) at Christmas?  Can you name a goal you have for Christmas?  Have you a plan to make it happen?

The stable
It is a shock!  I’m thinking about how to help our children be surprised by it too.

There is a big difference between a palace and a stable.  A palace has restricted access, high fences and armed guards.  You get in my invitation only, if you are lucky or rich or famous.  And just a brief appointment.  Hardly anyone gets in to see a baby in a palace.  

A stable!  Anyone gets in there.  It’s a farm yard.  Cows, donkeys, shepherds, wise-men – anyone and everyone can come and pay their respects to a baby in a stable.

The stable is a shock.  A shock because if there ever was a king; someone who should be born in a palace, its Jesus.

His names give it away.

Jesus means ‘God’s Saviour’.  Its Hebrew version is Joshua (same name, different language).  Jesus, meaning ‘God’s Saviour’ is named after Joshua one of the greatest military leaders ever seen.  

Emmanuel means ‘God with us’.  That’s some laden expectation by his parents!  ‘What a bundle of joy you have there - what’s his name?’ asks the kind passer-by.  ‘It’s God’ you say!  A little arrogant perhaps.  Somewhat unfair on the poor baby.  Crippling expectations.  No wonder in Jesus’ day no one named their child ‘Emmanuel’.  In Islamic culture it would be like naming you child ‘Allah’.  Unheard of.

Christ (or Messiah - same word, different language) is a title, like ‘sir’ or ‘doctor’ but far more weighty.  It means ‘anointed’ or ‘unique’ one and was reserved for only the crème-de-la-crème.  Like someone being canonised as a saint, or knighted as a sir.  Rare, unique, special.

History Agrees
History shows those names were not wrongly attributed.  We decided to re-start the calendar to mark his birth as his wake in history was so great.  Even our greatest only get a day set aside to remember them – Jesus got the calendar!  

Napoleon sees it: “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”  

Contemporary historian James C. Hefley affirms it “…all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.

The stable matters
‘God’s Saviour’; ‘God with us’; the ‘unique one’; ‘that One Solitary Life’ - born not in a palace (where no-one would get to pay their respects) but in a stable (where everyone and anyone can search him out or stumble upon him).  The stable matters.

Somehow this year I want to press pause on the stable.  To say what does this mean?  To really see it.  From the moment Jesus enters the world it was orchestrated we would realise everyone and anyone, and you too, are welcome and expected to pay your tributes. 

He wasn’t born in a palace, he was born in a stable.  Have you consider what that means for you?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The next five questions on marriage, husband, wives and more.

A few weeks ago, during our first live Q&A in a Sunday morning meeting we had a whole number of questions about marriage, men, women and relationships in general.  Here’s some thoughts on the next five.

6. What do I do when I start to 'fall out of love' with my wife?

You have got love wrong!

The Bible has four words for ‘love’. 

Eros: sexual attraction.  How I feel physically.
Storge: sentimental fondest.  How I feel emotionally.
Philo: family/friendship.  How I feel relationally.
Agape: act of will.  What I choose to do.

Marriage in the Bible is about how Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:32).  Christ loves the church in action (agape) not in how he felt about the church (storge).  He felt wrath and anger and fury and indignation!  That’s how he felt!  But he acted in love and compassion and reconciliation.  He chooses to love even when he feels no love.  ‘While we were still God’s enemies Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:9)

Marriage models this.  Our culture has made a huge mistake making marriage about how we feel – a sentimental love or sexual attraction that comes and goes, ebbs and flows.  So when I no longer feel in love with him/her then I move on to the next sentimental crush!  That is not the Bible’s vision for love.  God’s vision of marriage love is driven by the choice of our will, our actions not our feelings.

Does that make marriage grey, life-less, dull, emotion free?  No.  All those other forms of love matter.  Husbands and wives should find each other a sexual turn on.  They should enjoy each others’ company as best friends and feel passionately about each other.  But if we make them the engine of our marriage (eros, storge or philo) our marriage will derail.  They make great carriages, pulled along by the engine of our choices, our acts of will to love (agape).  But they are terrible drivers.  Make the engine of marriage our acts of love, and the train of your marriage will have rich and full and wonderful carriages of friendship, sex and feelings safely pulled forward.

7. How should Christian men respond to feminism fighting against them leading families, creating words like ‘mansplaining’ to subtly put down men that talk with confidence?

Peter answers this: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits.  (1Peter 2:12).  Feminism has done and still does a great thing in correcting some horrendous wrongs in church and culture.  We should celebrate that.  But at any point a cultural commentary pushes us away from the Bible Peter says show God’s way as better not first by your words but by your actions.  Show it works.  So keep being the man the Bible calls you to be and let those actions speak.

I’d add the main voice, outside God’s in the Bible, you should be listening to on this is actually your wife’s anyway, not other women or social opinion.  Hear and do what God says.  Hear and understand what your wife says.  Then get on with being the best husband you can.

8. It says in the Bible God will give us the desires of our heart.  My prayer for years has been for a God-driven strong man but my prayer/desire still hasn’t been answered.  Why not?  Is this an unrealistic prayer?  Should I do more to search or my future husband?

In a profound way that we must all get God has answered your prayer already in Jesus.  Jesus is your perfect husband.  He is the God-driven, strong servant-hearted and lamblike man.  Every single other man ever is a broken reflection of Jesus.  Every single husband ever in all of history is just a temporary, passing, shadowy, reflection of Jesus our true husband.  There is a wedding feast coming and your husband is waiting, eagerly for you.  And after that wedding feast a marriage, glorious, perfect, fulfilling, eternal!  (look at Revelation 19 and 21) Jesus might let you marry a temporary husband here on earth or he might give you the privilege of being free of the cheap imitation even the best human husband is.  That is his choice.  But, as gently and kindly as I can I say look to Jesus.  Any and all prayers and desires for a partner (or a better partner) are meet in Jesus.  We have got to get that.

Having said all that.  Can you be proactive looking for a husband – yes!  Is it an unrealistic prayer?  No!  Praying for your husband (whether you have one or not) can only be a good thing.  Just don’t think a husband is a saviour or satisfier or sustainer!  Don’t think he’ll complete you (he won’t and can’t) or make your life perfect.  He will never be able to deliver on that because that burden is one only Jesus can deliver.  Make Jesus your husband and then trust him with whether a husband is part of your future or not.

9.  As a church do you accept divorce?

‘I hate divorce’ says God in Malachi (Malachi 2:16).  And don’t we all?  We hate the pain and disruption and the reasons and the guilt and the effects on children.  We entirely agree with God here – we hate it.  We, as a church, want to a place for everyone to find restoration, healing, health and safety.

Divorce exists in the Bible because sometimes, as a protective over God’s vision for marriage and for those in the marriage, when such a disintegration has occurred that that marriage no longer can display God then divorce protects marriage and the people in that marriage.

So the Bible does recognise, at times, for specific reasons, after robust attempts to reconcile, divorce is a final, protective shield.

But generally we don’t now live in a culture that encourages people to stay in marriages they should leave.  Generally now we live in a culture than encourages people to leave marriages they should work on.  That’s the difficult balance and we need to constantly asked God to give us wisdom and love when it comes to these very difficult situations.  And we need to constantly remind ourselves we are talking about real people and real pains.

10.  I am a new Christian and my partner doesn’t believe, though is happy for me to come to church.  What would you advise – how can I convince him to become a Christian too?  I saw the couple baptise each other last week and I’d love for my partner and me to baptise each other too.

This is a fantastic wish!  Well done.  What a dream and desire.  I hope you are asking God to do that, because that is a vital thing.  But then Peter helps us too.  He says that husbands who aren’t yet believing ‘might be won over without words’ from their wives because of the amazingly change they see in their wives (1 Peter 3:1-6).  He doesn’t mean you never speak about Jesus – of course you do.  But you don’t nag, or go on endlessly in an irritating way.  What you do to is allow Jesus to change you into a better wife!  That will speak loads to your husband of the reality of Jesus.  And perhaps what could help you there is meeting up with some other Christian ladies and working together on each other’s lives? 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The first five questions on dating, singleness, fearlessness wives and advise to husbands.

In total on Sunday 15 questions were asked about marriage, singleness, husbands and wives.  Thank you to everyone who took the risk and texted in a question.  Every one was brilliant and over the next three weeks I’ll try and offer a very brief answer to them in the weekly email.  Here’s the first five!

1.  As a man, how do I start to implement this?
Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’  Jesus had two extremely close friends.  Paul wrote about his ‘dearest friends’.  We are meant to do life together – it’s the lone wolf who starves, the isolated soldier the sniper strikes.  So find another person to share your life with.  We have smaller, mid-week groups for this, or get along to the men’s night at Jonny’s (14 Henry Street, Stafford) on Wednesday at 7.30 to pray and connect with other guys (if you’re a guy!)

2.  I am dating a Christian girl.  How far is too far physically?
I get asked this lots by young people and University students.  It’s a wrong question!  It’s like asking ‘how close to sin can I get?’  A better question - at this moment, with this person how do I 'love God' & 'love my neighbour’ best (Mark 12:30-31)?  And God (whose ways are both right and better) says restraint.  Why?  Two very practical reasons spring to mind.

Restraint shows: 
- You trustworthiness.  If you can be self-control now she can trust you to show that same self-control over the next 50 years.  If you can restrain from sleeping with her before you are married she can trust you more not to sleep with someone else once you are married. 
- Your seriousness.  That Jesus is most important for you, and amongst Christians that is deeply attractive.

3. I find singleness really difficult - why is that?
The Bible, for example is places like 1 Corinthians 7, calls singleness and marriage BOTH a gift and grief.  In marriage there is gift (like intimacy, children, commitment) and grief (like compromise, conflict and loss of independence).  In singleness there is gift (time, independence) and grief (lose of intimacy).  The Bible says, whether single or married gift and grief will be woven together for us.  So singleness is partly difficult because we live in a culture that idolises relationships and loads them with freight they cannot and were not designed to carry, but also we should not, as Bible Christians, expect it to be different.  Whether married or single we will experience aspects of gift and aspects of grief.

The key is what we do with the gift and the grief.

We are to serve with the gift – help and benefit others.

We are to help each other with the grief.  So invite those who are single into our home and families if we are married; journey together in friendship; if single find ways to surrogate-parent others’ children (for their and your sanity!).  All these and more are ways we ‘mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice’ (Romans 12:15)

4. Last week we talked about fearless women.  As someone very anxious how do I become more fearlessness?
This ‘fearlessness’ is not something we try and squeeze out or self-generate, beating ourselves up as failures if we are fearful.  Peter says this fearlessness comes from a 'hope in God' (1 Peter 3:1-6).  It comes from an ever-deepening and growing knowledge of God and his sovereignty in all circumstances.  You are fearlessness in the face of what is frightening because you know God has it in control.

Do you fear failure?  Remember, Jesus has already succeeded for you so you will ultimately win.
Do you fear punishment?  Jesus has already been punished for you so you can be loved.
Do you fear abandonment?  Jesus has already been forsaken so you won't be.

Of course there are forms of anxiety which rightly benefit from medical and professional assistance – please accept that help.

5.  I get married next year - what is the best advise you would give me about being the best husband I can be?

Ephesians 5:21-32 speaks to husbands very clearly.  Fundamentally, 'Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church...'  So the best way to be a good husband is to be a good Christian – saturated in knowing how Jesus loved the church and emulating that in how you love your wife.  How did Christ love the church?  He was strong, sacrificing, unflinching, and servant-hearted, even to the point of death.  Be like Jesus was.  After all that is the main point and purpose of marriage - to put Christ’s love for the church on display for all to see – ‘This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church’ (Ephesians 5:32)

Next week includes what to do when we 'fall out' of love; responding to feminism; divorce; and living with a non-Christian partner.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The real Santa Claus - so much better than the myth

Father Christmas - a third way
Christians have three options when it comes to culture, including culture’s approach to Christmas.  We can reject it and try to have no part with it, segregating ourselves.  We can receive it and accept it as good.  We can redeem it, seeking to transform what we can for good without necessarily endorsing the whole.

What can we do about Father Christmas?
Some let their children know his fantasy identity from the start.  Others allow the magic to remain until they are a little older.  There is no right or wrong.  But there could be a third way, even a better way, to consider.

Since Santa and Father Christmas are pervasive in our culture it is nearly impossible to reject them outright, especially in terms of our children’s experience at school and nursery and among friends. They are here to stay. That does not mean as parents we can only receive the entirety blindly.  The third option is to redeem by remembering the fact behind the fantasy.

Fact that is better than fantasy
The historical roots behind today’s Santa only increase our children’s excitement and thrill at Christmas.  The facts are better than the fiction – by a mile!  

We have told our kids these true stories behind the ‘mythical’ Santa Claus.  We play-act his heroic deeds, wonder about his motivations, draw pictures of ‘Santa Claus’ not bearded and jolly, but facing danger and saving people and helping others – the true Santa Claus.  And of course talk about how that original man was driven to such acts because Jesus was his forever king.

So who was the original Santa Claus?

The Truth about Santa Claus
Santa Claus was a real person, though many of the aspects of today's character have been added such as the flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, and delivering presents to every child in one night.  Today’s Santa is a combination of a true man and some mythical extras. 

A Gift-Giver
The myths surrounding Santa Claus derive from the very real person of Saint Nicholas.  Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, Turkey to an affluent family.  When young his parents died tragically but had raised him as a Christian, which led him to spend his significant inheritance helping the poor. He frequently gave gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and presents.

A Courageous Leader
As an adult he was a well-loved Christian leader, eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city Paul visited (Acts 27:5-6). Nicholas reportedly also travelled to the legendary Council of Nicaea to defend the deity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325. He died on December 6, 343 and was canonized as a saint. The anniversary of his death became the St. Nicholas holiday when gifts were given in his memory. He remained a very popular saint among Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  Some two thousand churches were or are named after him. The holiday in his honour eventually merged with Christmas and moved to December 25th.

A Freedom Bringing Saviour
Nicholas also risked his own life and freedom intervening to rescue young girls and women from being forced into the sex trade.  One story records how he saved three sisters by secretly placing gold coins in their stockings, hung out to dry, until they had accumulated enough money to buy their freedom.  Their 'owners', knowing their example might encourage other girls to do the same, them sort to imprison then.  Nicholas led a group of men in a midnight raid, freeing the girls and paying for them to begin a new life elsewhere. 

A Forgotten Hero
During the Reformation Nicholas fell out of favour with Protestants who did not accept canonising certain people.  In Holland his legend as Sinterklass lived on though most countries gradually forgot him. In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the ‘Christ-child’ as the object of holiday celebration called ‘Christkindl’. This became pronounced Kris Kringle and became another name for Santa Claus.

Mythical Extras
Legends became attached to this historical figure.

There was a myth in Nicholas' day that a demon was entering people's homes to terrorize children and that Nicholas could cast him out.  There was a Siberian myth (isn't that near the North Pole?) that a magical-shaman entered people's homes through their chimneys to leave them mushrooms as gifts. He would hang them in front of the fire to dry where reindeer would eat them and become intoxicated. The shaman and his deer were believed in be able to fly. Hence our modern image of Santa Claus traveling from the North Pole to slide down chimneys and leave presents on fireplaces before flying away with reindeer.

Redeeming Santa Claus
The real Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved Jesus and served him faithfully, generously and bravely. We do not need to reject Santa Claus nor receive him as culture as defined him.  We can and should redeem him, especially for our children as he points to Jesus and true devotion to Jesus.  It’s a true story of a great Christian full of adventure and fun and victory - what child won't enjoy that Christmas reality told them?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Making the most of Christmas - 6 weeks and counting

Three ways
There are three ways that we can approach culture, including Christmas.  Some things we might choose to receive; others to reject; or others to redeem.  Christmas is culturally huge.  It's possible to wonder if Jesus is lost and buried under the wrapping paper and tinsel!  What can we receive?  What should we reject?  What (and how) can we redeem?

The Christmas we celebrate today is rooted in radical acts of redemption by our fore-runners.  They took aspects of culture and turned them to be used for God.  Let me give you examples as encouragements to do the same today.

They redeemed the date
There is no biblical data to accurately locate Jesus' birth.    December 25th originated in the reign of Roman emperor Constantine (AD306-337) who after a vision of Christ was converted and adopted the culturally significant pagan festival of Saturnalia to celebrate Christ's birth.   Saturnalia celebrated the rising of the sun from the darkness of winter.  It parallels the Bible's metaphors of Jesus bringing light into our dark world and light into our dark hearts.  Constantine and the early church simply took the most important pagan festival of the time and redeemed it for Jesus.

They redeemed the lights and baubles
During Saturnalia lights and lanterns were spread around a home in a protective hedge to ward off evil spirits.  Sometimes gifts were offered to appease them in the hope they would leave your home.  There are even stories of people leaving trails of gifts to the homes of people they wanted to curse, hoping to entice the evil spirits to haunt their enemies' property.

Christians redeemed these practices, taking the lights and glitter and baubles and associating them with celebrating Jesus, the ultimate light of the world and defeater of evil.  So decorate your tree with all the lights you want, string them across the mantel piece and hang them from the curtain rail in celebration that Jesus is the light of the world, the protector from evil.

They redeemed the Christmas tree
A pagan symbol of eternal life is the fir tree.  As other trees appear to die in winter losing their leaves and colour the fir remains bright and living; eternally green throughout the year.  The early church adopted the fir tree as a celebration of eternal life brought by God in Jesus, bringing it into homes and churches as the culturally familiar symbol of eternal life.  The distinct cone shape of a fir tree meant 'spire' shapes symbolised eternal life in pagan religions.  So early Christians went further and struck spires on top of their churches as a visual, culturally understood signal that here, in the church and its gospel, eternal life was to be found.  Hence throughout every village in England (and much of the world) a pagan symbol for eternal life (a spire) rises high proclaiming eternal life is found in Jesus.

Courage and Creativity
Instead of unconsciously accepting our culture's approach; instead of aggressively rejecting and segregating ourselves from culture; could we bravely, creatively, lovingly redeem?  Our fore-runners had courage (because many would have questioned their actions) and much creativity (to see how these things could be redeemed).  Let's emulate that courage and creativity and be those who redeem all we can for God and for good.

Called first to family
Of course few of us will have such an impact through our attempts to redeem Christmas culture that it changes the very fabric of how society approaches this festival.  But how about our family traditions - 'the way things tend to happen'.  What is good about how things tend to happen at Christmas in your family?  What is not so good?  How can you redeem it all - turn the negative and the neutral and the positive so they are used for God and for good?

Of course ‘family’ is not the context we all find ourselves in this Christmas.  I know that.  But could your Christmas, whatever it looks or feels like, be better redeemed?

Neither poopers nor pacifists; but planners
If we are always those who 'reject' we become party-poopers - the kind of people no one wants around and who end up in an isolated ghetto of negativity.  If we are always those who unthinkingly receive we become pacifists - those who just go with the flow, unreactive to the world around us.

Being those who redeem means being planners - intentional and purposeful to come up with all sorts of 'better-than-the-alternative' Christmas traditions that are loved by our families and friends, keep the Christmas magic (or better still the Christmas miracle) central, and point toward God and his gospel this Christmas. 

Are you a mum or dad - what can you plan this Christmas to redeem?
Are you a grandparent - what can you plan this Christmas to redeem?
Are you able to create space for someone alone this Christmas?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Church, Christian and State

Church, Christian and State
When it comes to the law of the land, Peter seems to contradict himself in just a few short sentences!

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

Are we to submit ourselves…to every human authority?  Or are to be live as free people under no compulsion or obligation to obey the laws of the land?  Are we to be God’s slaves and fear Him or to honour the emperor

Do you see the questions this raises?
Are we to surrender to the rules and regulations of the land (good, bad and ugly) or be unconcerned about them?
Are we compliant and placid or antagonistic and fervent?
Do we challenge the authorities or do we capitulate to them?
Do we assimilate indistinguishably into society or withdraw from it entirely?
Are Christians and the church by default patriots (literally the state’s church) or revolutionaries?
Do we have to choose between being a good citizen on one hand and a good disciple on the other?
And what is going on with Peter?  Has he lost his convictions retracting his opinion in the earliest days of the church that ‘we must obey God not men’ (Acts 5:29)

What’s going on here?
Let’s take each in turn.  We’ll find they are an unexpectedly good combination – like strawberries and balsamic or bacon and chocolate or marmite and garlic (go on, try it!).

First he says follow the rules!  Submit to those rules that honour God and help others (even if uncomfortable or costly for us!).

Do you see the qualification in the first sentence: submit yourselves, for the Lord’s sake, to every human authority.  Notice it is for the Lord’s sake.  We submit to those rules, regulations, and legislation that honours Jesus.

Do you see the expansion: who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  The purpose of government is to protect society against evil and wrong and promote and expand good and right.  Follow the rules that do this.

So we are to strive to be good citizen in every way that honours Jesus and helps people.

But second he says be free of the rules!  Stand against those that dishonour Jesus and harm people.  Peter reminds them that ultimately they are slaves of God not citizens of the state.  When the state’s laws fail to honour God or cause harm to people it is time to act as the truly free people Christians are, answerable ultimately only to God our master.

But how are we to do that?  Certainly not in a way that is just covering up evil.  Peter’s final sentence gives four principles of dissent.  It describes the way we challenge authority.

1.    Respect everyone.  Courtesy, respect, politeness, being civil should hallmark Christian dissent.  Even as we disagree, challenge and battle against unjust rules our resolution and determination is matched by our respect to others, all others – including those we deem are ‘enemies’.

2.    Love the family of believers.  Issues of conscious will vary between Christians.  The risk is we turn on each other and fail to love those in the church we disagree with.  Yes we might try and persuade and convince fellow Christians to change their views and actions, but we do it as brothers and sisters and not as enemies.

3.    Fear God.  Is there a danger that an issue, starting well motivated, becomes a personal crusade?  A win at all costs?  A saving of my face?  True Christian dissent maintains a fear and reverence of God as the primary drive.

4.    Honour the emperor.  Somewhere behind every legislation and law is a person or people in power who advocate or create such laws.  True dissent does not fall into the trap of vilifying a person but honours those in power, even as we disagree with their use of that power.

Of course this is complex – the military, medical and political worlds are just three examples of many where the complexity of capitulation verses challenge are enormous.  In James 1:5 we are reminded that God loves to abundantly give his wisdom to those who ask. 

Wisdom to strive to follow the rules that honour God and help others, especially those rules which do not ‘help’ us but through our adherence to them, benefit others.

Wisdom to courageously and sacrificially stand against those state rules that dishonour Jesus and harm others.

Wisdom that our dissent would be marked by respect, love, fear of God and honouring of the powers that be even as we resolutely and unflinching obey God not man (Acts 5:29).

Wisdom to be thankful for the good government we do have and not to be complacent in areas where reform or change can and should be made.

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