‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

In our changing world the words, ‘In God we trust’ are fading into the mists of time. We’re now living in a brave new world where, in the west, powerful and influential voices believe they can chart a path to a secure future, even though it may mean silencing freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Such experiences are not new. In the sixth century BC, God’s ancient people found themselves in a world of uncertainty and confusion. In 586BC Nebuchadnezzar had sent his army into Jerusalem; the city was destroyed, and the stones of Solomon’s great temple razed to the ground.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest devastated the Jewish people. Their national pride was in tatters and their religious faith was challenged to the core. For they believed that their God was the one true living God, sovereign over all the gods of the nations. Yet he had allowed this to happen.

An important part of Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy in developing his empire was to take the cream of the Jewish people to Babylon and provide them with a top-rate education and cultural program.

Today, and over the coming Wednesdays, I am touching on key themes we find in the Book of Daniel under the title, ‘A Changing World’.

In Daniel, chapter 1, from verse 5 we read: Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar expected exceptional men like Daniel and his friends to welcome the intellectual and cultural challenges of the three-year program. However, Daniel drew a line when it came to the food menu.

In verses 5 and 8 we read: But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.

The words, Daniel resolved, suggest he was wrestling with his conscience about Nebuchadnezzar’s plan. The result was that he made a personal determination to take a stand on a principle. He said, ‘No’ to the feasting.

Daniel may have stood firm on the matter of food because in diplomatic circles eating a meal with someone usually implied an alliance. As a member of a nation that had food laws prescribed by Yahweh, the Lord, that loyalty came first. And there was probably something else: Daniel was surrounded daily by dozens of temptations to turn away from his walk with the Lord, temptations to which he knew well he might succumb.

If he was to remain true to the Lord, he would need great self discipline. He could not afford to let himself be softened up by the king’s hospitality. There may have been nothing morally wrong with enjoying the delights of the Babylonian royal cuisine, but it symbolized a threat to his own spiritual commitment. Significantly, as Nebuchadnezzar’s program progressed, Daniel’s decision was honored by God.

Reflect. If we are going to live as believers in a changing world where God is dismissed, we need to have the wisdom to identify temptations that could threaten our faith and the courage to be different. Let me encourage you to pray for God’s wisdom and grace in identifying where it would benefit you to make a stand, and at the same time challenge others around you.

You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 1 and Ephesians 4:17-32.

A Prayer. Almighty and eternal God, by whose Spirit your people are governed and sanctified: receive our prayer for the many different members of your people; that every one of us in our life and calling may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

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‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

‘Songs for Today – Mercy…’

‘Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done,’ are the words of an old Christian song. How easily we forget to thank God for the countless good things he provides for us. We take it all for granted.

But there is something else we often forget; King David wrote about it in Psalm 103. It seems he wrote this for the great choir he established in Jerusalem. It reflects his personal growth in his understanding of God.

With his opening and concluding words, Bless the Lord, O my soul, we find that this song has the tone of a personal reflection. His exhortation is directed to his inner self – a theme that he especially develops in the first five verses.

In reminding himself of all God’s benefits he begins by focusing on the forgiveness and healing that God held out to him. This suggests the psalm was perhaps another reflection on his affair with Bathsheba and his sickness in the aftermath when he was deeply depressed and ill. Assured now that the sin that had caused his sickness was forgiven, he reflects on the extraordinary mercy of the Lord.

Significantly, David didn’t attribute his recovery to good medical care or healthy foods. Rather, he sees his deliverance as nothing less than God’s personal involvement in his life. He doesn’t even attribute his deliverance to the power of prayer. Instead, he reflects on God’s mercy: The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel (103:6-7).

‘My experience,’ he says, ‘is an example of a general truth about God that I read in the Scriptures.’ At the time of Moses God broke into the experience of an entire nation. He revealed what a just and righteous God he is when he delivered his people from oppression in Egypt and opened a way for them to enter the land of Canaan. God showed himself to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (103:8).

Now, it’s important that we think about this. We can’t scientifically prove that God is at work in our lives. Nor can we prove that God answers our prayers. If anyone wants to interpret events some other way, we can’t prove them wrong. All we can say is that our personal experience and the testimony of the Bible mesh together in a way that we find personally convincing. We know God is real because somehow everything hangs together and fits. It rings true. This helps us when we think about our faith, or we are looking into faith.

Years ago, when I was re-thinking my position about my faith, I looked for some kind of logical argument that concluded, ‘The New Testament is true’ and ‘Jesus did rise from the dead’. When I found that the Bible never even tried to offer reasoning along these lines, I felt let down. Then I realized that faith, as the Bible reveals it, is not a logical deduction. We can’t prove that God exists and then decide we’re going to believe in him. This doesn’t mean that faith is a leap in the dark: it is grounded in historical reality.

As others have observed, ‘faith isn’t a logical deduction, it’s closer to what scientists call a paradigm shift’ – what the Germans call a Gestalt phenomenon.

Faith is a new way of looking at the world that makes convincing sense of it. David wasn’t speculating when he spoke of a God who forgives his sin and heals his diseases. He was reflecting on the point that the Bible makes compelling sense of human experience. God had proven himself in David’s experience to be the same God he had revealed himself to be in the Scriptures. The Bible and David’s experience of God meshed together. This is how it feels when we come to faith.

Significantly, David didn’t go on to list all the specific things God had done for him. Rather he focused on essential features of God’s character – God’s justice and his steadfast love.

God’s just anger: God will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever (v.9). Martin Luther once commented, ‘Wrath is God’s strange work.’ Anger is alien to God: it is his response to our failure to honor him and give him the thanks that is his due. There was a time when there was no anger in God; equally, there will come a time when there will be nothing further to rouse his anger.

God’s steadfast love: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (v.11). Children sometimes ask their parents, ‘How much do you love me?’ and they open their arms saying, ‘This much, or this much?’ When David said this to God, he realized that not even the expanse of the universe can illustrate the vast dimensions of God’s love.

So he continues: As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us (v.12).  We can’t watch the sun rise and set at the same time. We have to turn our back on one to see the other. Through the lens of the New Testament we see that through the cross of Christ, God found a way of detaching our sin from us, so he could condemn the one without condemning the other. The illustration means that when we ask God for mercy, he has to turn his back on our sin when he looks at us because he puts us and our sin on two different horizons.

We have even more reason than David to bless the name of God, for we live on the other side of the cross that once stood on Calvary’s hill. That cross is a far, far greater measure of God’s love than the unfathomable depths of the universe about which David spoke. The arms of the cross show us the grief that tears the heart of God because of our sin. In Christ, God not only lifts us out of the pit, he lifts us from the depths of hell and raises us to new life forever.

Is there any real praise of God in our hearts? It’s easy to go to church, to sing songs and hymns, and say Amen to the prayers, but to have no real personal connection with him. It’s easy to hear sermons that move us, but we’re not really listening to God because we’re more impressed with the preacher than we are with relating to God.

True blessing. Do you have a sense of God’s blessing in your life, a sense of connectedness with him that comes through knowing Jesus Christ? If you do not, then do what Jesus said: Ask, seek and knock. God promises to open our eyes to the truth.

A prayer. Lord our God, fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: have compassion on our infirmities; and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not and for our blindness we cannot ask, graciously give us for the worthiness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

‘Songs for Today – Joy…’

CS Lewis once observed, ‘I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to “rejoice” as much as by anything else’.

Yet, rejoicing is not just an apostolic injunction. Various psalms in the Old Testament Psalter pulsate with exhortations to sing our praise to the Lord with joy in our hearts. So, Psalm 96 begins, O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

The psalm seems to have been for the celebration of the time, some 3,000 years ago, when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The Ark was the sign of God’s steadfast commitment to his people. First Chronicles, chapter 16 quotes the psalm almost in full.

As with any good poetry, a number of themes are tightly woven together. Two particularly stand out: sing and tell.

Sing. Three times we are exhorted to sing to the Lord. Vital Christianity always gives rise to joyful singing because we have every good reason to rejoice. The words, the Lord, stir us to lift our gaze beyond the material world: there is one Lord.

The great commandment that Jesus quoted is found in Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 4: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And Isaiah chapter 45, verse 5 says: I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god…  Paul the Apostle echoes this when he writes in First Corinthians: we know that “no idol in the world really exists, and there is no God but one (8:4).

The world we live in is a most unusual place, and the more scientists discover about it, the more extraordinary it seems. There are high-level chemists and physicists who agree that the universe is not some gigantic accident, but rather the product of a creator’s genius. Indeed, when we look around us with open minds, we see how true this is.

Everything that exists came into being at God’s command, be it the structure of the universe, the atmosphere that surrounds our world and enables us to live, or the proportions of land and sea. All reflect God’s perfect design.

The implications are enormous – both encouraging and frightening. Encouraging because we learn we are not alone in the universe: there is a purpose and direction to life. Frightening because all humanity is called upon to do business with this God, for he alone is the Lord.

But there is something else that is most significant. The psalm-writer exhorts us all to sing to the Lord a new song. While new could refer to new music, the context suggests something far more significant: we are to tell of his salvation from day to day. The Lord is not just creator, he is also a merciful savior. We are to glory in and tell of his mercies that are new every day. I wonder how many of us do this?

Personally, I find it helpful to start the day with a Bible reading and prayer – and to end the day with prayer. This helps me reflect on God’s mercies each day. Furthermore, as I recognise God’s daily work in my life, I am more motivated to sing his praises in church.

Which brings us to a second important theme: Tell. Verse 3 reads: Tell the nations…  We are to sing so that the city and the nations will hear. With the word tell, the direction of the psalm changes – from worship of God, to telling the nations. In fact, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible uses the word from which we get the word evangelize.

There is an important sequence of ideas here. True worship will express itself in gospel proclamation. If we say we worship this Lord, we will want to introduce the nations to him.

From the time of Kings David and Solomon Jerusalem was a busy international city. In Jesus’ day the temple layout included a court for Gentiles where the songs of God’s people would have been overheard by the pagan visitors.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, the psalm continues. The Lord is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

The logic is clear: the majesty and glory of God are to be announced throughout the world for the simple reason that there is only one God. And, as we would expect, the focus of exhortation shifts from God’s ancient people, the Jewish people, to the nations (verses 7-10). In the singing of this psalm, visitors in Jerusalem would overhear the exhortation to attend to Israel’s God, the Lord who not only made the heavens, but whose mercies are new each day.

Psalm 96 is so important in providing a link between worship and witness, between ‘songs to God’ and ‘speech to the nations’, between the reality of faith and gospel outreach.

This theme of gospel language develops in the Old Testament. The prophets spoke of a day when God’s anointed king would be revealed and announced to all the world. For example, Isaiah writes: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news (gospel), who announces (proclaims the gospel of) salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (52:7).

The content of the gospel is the news, “Your God reigns”. From the time of these prophetic words of Isaiah, God’s people looked for the messenger who would announce God’s King. As we now look back through the lens of the New Testament we see that the messenger has not only come, but that he himself is the king. God’s king, the Lord, is Jesus.

The theme that there is only one God who is Lord of all reaches its climax in the closing verses of Psalm 96: Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Martin Luther reflected:

Christ is Himself the joy of all, The sun that warms and lights us.

By His grace He doth impart Eternal sunshine to the heart;

The night of sin is ended. Hallelujah!

A prayer. Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

‘Songs for Today – Doubt’

One of the things I love about the Bible is its earthy realism. It understands the world we live in – the good and the bad, the grief and the joys. It also understands how we feel about life’s injustices especially when we see people who mock the notion of God, enjoying success. Nothing ever seems to go wrong for them. And as well as the unfairness we often feel, there are the realities of droughts and famines, floods and fires, earthquakes and ruthless autocratic rulers. Why doesn’t God step in? It seems so out of character, if he is all-powerful and truly good.

True faith will always have questions. In fact, faith that refuses to ask questions is one that leaves itself open to the contempt of the skeptic. True faith will want to address tough questions and be willing to experience the doubts that arise.

Now it’s important to note that to have doubts is not to lack faith: doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt and unbelief are two very different things. Doubt is something that only a believer can experience, for you can only doubt what you believe.

Come with me to Psalm 73. It’s the first of three Psalms that I will be touching on as we move into a new season. The Psalms are God’s ancient hymn book for his people. They provide meditations on questions raised in everyday experiences. Over these three Wednesdays we will consider Psalms 73, 96 and 103 as we explore the themes of doubt, joy, and mercy.

Doubt. Psalm 73 is a reflection written by a man who experienced doubt. He came within a hair’s breadth of abandoning his faith in God: But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped (73:2). Yet at the end of the psalm he tells us he felt closer to God than ever before: But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works (73:28). As the psalm unfolds we learn of his spiritual pilgrimage –  how he progressed from doubt to a surer trust in God.

One of his big questions is framed by what we might say is a theological principle – that God is good to the upright (73:1). ‘Why is it then’, he asks, ‘that many who are godless find life easy while I suffer? Where is God?’

Indeed, a tone of bitterness flows through verses 3 through 11. It’s as though he is saying, ‘Come on, let’s face it, whatever we say when we go to church, it is the self-centered, proud, deceitful and ruthless people who succeed. Healthy and wealthy, nothing seems to bring them down. No-one seems to be able to call them to account. ‘They get rewarded for their crimes with popularity’, the psalmist observes. ‘God is irrelevant’, they say in mocking tones, rejecting any thought of divine retribution. Justice is the issue troubling the poet.

Consider what triggered the writer’s crisis of faith: All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.  For all day long I have been plagued and am punished every morning (73:13f). For many, injustice only becomes an issue when it touches them. In those times we ask: ‘God, why me?’ It’s here that the first person singular pronouns give us away: ‘Why should I suffer?’ ‘Why me God?’ The psalm-writer articulates it: I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (73:15).

The solution. In verses 15 following, we discover how the poet worked through his doubts. He went to church: When… I went into the sanctuary of God… I perceived their end.

Good churches not only read the Bible, but believe it to be God’s authentic, self-revelation. And so, they teach it and as they do they put God at the center of the vision of God’s people. This is vitally important. For it is only when God is at the center of our vision that we see life as it really is. We’re like the moon – we live on borrowed light. It’s only when we turn our face towards God through his Word that we see the light. But as long as we put ‘me’ at the center of life, our vision will be distorted.

So it’s only when we learn from God’s Word that we begin to see the true light revealed by God. And when the psalmist reflected on God’s Word he began to see what happens to those who choose not to believe: They are like a dream when one awakes; on awaking you despise their phantoms (73:20). As far as the Bible is concerned, this is dreadfully real.

The idea of a final day of accounting is mocked today. But when we think about it, if there is no ultimate judgement the world is reduced to moral indifference: goodness itself has no value. Furthermore, God’s people realize that just because we can’t see the future doesn’t mean it is imaginary. God sees it, even though we don’t.

There is probably no more terrible judgment on godless men and women than the reality that one day God will ignore them forever. ‘Depart from me, I never knew you,’ Jesus will say.  What chilling words to hear from the Lord of the universe. What a terrifying nightmare to be despised by God. When the psalmist went to church and put God at the center of his vision, he understood how precarious is the prosperity of the godless. It won’t last, he realized.

But the psalm-writer also learned that despite his doubts and foolish talk, he was a child of God: Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me into glory (73:23). To hear God’s Word in the company of his people is a powerful grace-gift from God. It prompts us to see our doubts for what they are and opens our eyes to the riches of faith. God holds us by the hand, guides us with his counsel, and will bring us to everlasting glory.

We today have all the greater assurance of this because we live on the other side of the life and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Without him we will not know life in all its fullness and joy. CS Lewis once put it this way: All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.

Prayers. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen.

Heavenly Father, the giver of all good things, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and grant that by your holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by your grace and guidance do them; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

‘Summer Growth – Spiritual Conflict…?’

In his Screwtape Letters CS Lewis says that there are two equal and opposite errors that people fall into regarding the dark powers. One mistake is to disbelieve in their existence, the other is to believe in them to excess.

In Ephesians chapter 6, verses 10 through 12, Paul the Apostle writes: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power… For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…

Paul takes the reality of conflict in the world to another level: ‘our struggle’, literally, ‘our wrestling’, is not so much against ‘flesh and blood’ but ‘principalities and powers’. In Ephesians chapter 1, verse 10, Paul speaks of the day when all things, ‘in heaven’ and ‘on earth’ will be brought under rule of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, as we read in chapter 6, for the present there’s a war between the two spheres of darkness and light.

Spiritually speaking, God’s people live in enemy occupied territory. The epic that the Gospels reveal is that, without fanfare, the true king has slipped into our world to rescue people enslaved by the dark powers. The Gospel of John records Jesus’s words to Pilate: he could have called on a powerful army to rescue him (John 18:36). However, knowing he was the only one who could defeat the prince of darkness, he came alone to accomplish his mission. He knew that only through his sacrificial death could the powers of evil, and death itself, be conquered (so Colossians, chapter 2, verses 13 through 15). Jesus’s resurrection from the dead validates his victory.

However, for the present the dark powers, although mortally wounded, continue to do their worst, attempting to destroy God’s ultimate and sure plan to glorify his people.

Against this background we learn from Ephesians 6:10 that God’s people are caught up in a spiritual conflict as individuals and together. It is here that all too often we are naïve. We think it is only the smooth-tongued and often deceitful influential and powerful who obstruct spiritual truth in the world. No, Paul warns. There are formidable supernatural forces at work – powers that will not respond to reason. And so we are caught up in a conflict that involves dark powers and human choices.

Put on the whole armor of God, we read in verse 13, so that you may be able to stand your ground. There will be times when the dark forces press us morally, whispering that everybody’s doing it. Sometimes they press us intellectually: you’re too clever to believe that. Sometimes they press us psychologically: your faith is so intolerant. And there are times when we are physically persecuted. The aim is always the same: to silence the voice of God’s people.

Stand firm, Paul says. Be alert. Don’t give in. Put on the inner protection of a godly lifestyle. Our loins need to be girded with God’s truth; we need a breastplate of righteousness; our feet need to be shod with the commitment to spread the gospel of peace, and we need the headpiece of salvation. Our lives are most at risk when our inner defenses are broken through. We need the qualities of integrity, of righteousness, of gospel readiness, and the deep assurance of God’s ultimate victory.

The dark powers will do their worst to discredit our integrity, prevent gospel outreach through lethargy and infighting, and demoralize us by discouraging us.

We need protection: the shield of faith with which we can quench the flaming darts of darkness. We can’t cope on our own. We need to trust Christ, for when we do, the darts of darkness will fall useless. ‘The victory that overcomes the world,’ John tells us, ‘is our faith’ (1 John 5:4).

The sword of the spirit. While Paul hasn’t spelled out the meaning of his metaphors up to this point, he wants us to know that God’s Word is a sword. Unlike communism or any other ‘ism’ or ideology, there is no place in Christianity for a literal holy war. God’s new society is not brought in by act of Congress still less at the end of gun. God works through his Word.

The Word of God is not a message of the freedom fighters, but one that focusses on personal repentance and God’s forgiveness: the building of God’s new society and its compassion and care for a lost world. The victory of God’s Word will have eternal outcomes.

Pray: Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints… (Ephes 6:18).

In any battle, communication is vital. In the histories of World War II there is a picture of a young soldier holding together a broken telephone line. Prayer is our field telegraph. Paul urges us to pray constantly, to persevere in prayer, and to be vigilant in prayer. We are to pray in the Spirit.

Romans 8:26f helps us understand this, for there Paul tells us that the Spirit works with us in our prayer. In the midst of suffering we’re often at a loss to know what we should say. In those times, Paul tells us, the Spirit comes to our aid, putting our inarticulate thoughts into meaningful prayer, speaking to God on our behalf.

Despite the noise of opposing voices, God’s work continues to make inroads on the kingdom of darkness. When Jesus stood on the hills of ancient Israel with a handful of his followers, he said, ‘On this rock – the rock of faith – I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). He was speaking to a small group of humble, un-influential men.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the legitimate ruler of the world. No, much, much more: the universe. Nothing in all creation will prevent the return of the King.

As we conclude the ‘Summer Growth’ season from Ephesians, let’s hold on to the shield of faith, wield the word of God with greater confidence, and most of all, pray – for one another and for others – that we will stand firm, not failing to live under God’s gospel, nor failing to take his gospel to those around us. If you have not already done so, consider TheWord121 as a very accessible ministry to introduce family and friends to the authentic Jesus through the lens of John’s Gospel. You can access it at: www.theword121.com.

A prayer. Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

‘Summer Growth – Vital Relationships…’

Every day we make decisions. It’s part of being human. We can choose. But we know that there are some decisions in life where we have a sense of obligation – a sense of duty. But such obligations need to be awakened. Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right, writes the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 6, verse 1.

In chapter 6 of his Letter Paul continues the theme of family relationships. Significantly, he speaks of obedience in the Lord in a child’s relationship with their parents.

Obedience. Many in our progressive society today don’t agree with the notions of obligation or duty. Ethics has become subjective, people doing what they feel is right for them. It’s one of the reasons why there’s so much ambivalence about sexual matters, or about honesty and justice. So, when a young child questions a parental expectation, they are told, ‘Because we say so’. But, in time the growing child will question such authority. They will want to know if there is a better reason.

It’s here that many parents today come unstuck. Developing children need to be instructed in the Lord and, in turn come to understand the nature of the relationships that follow – not simply as rules and regulations, but out of the relationship of love that the Lord has for us and, in turn that parents have for their children. They need to come to know God who, though we were dead through our trespasses, in his mercy has made us alive together with Christ. Without such knowledge children in today’s world may as well do as they like.

“Honor your father and mother” – this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth”, Paul continues (6:2-3).

The promise. Paul conflates the two different versions of the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long” (Exodus 20:12) and, “that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). The first four of the Ten Commandments are usually understood to refer to our duty to God, and the second six, our duty to our neighbor. Significantly, the Jewish world understood the first five to refer to our duty to God and the second five to our duty to our neighbor. Thus, to honor parents is tightly connected to honoring God, and speaks of children developing and growing in their understanding of God within a relationship of love.

Furthermore, so important is the injunction of obedience to children that Paul promotes it as the first, or primary commandment for children with a promise. While interpretations abound concerning Paul’s meaning – it’s actually the only commandment with a promise – let me suggest that we understand it as a general promise, with reference to a stable society. As Martin Luther commented, a stable society is dependent on a secure and safe family life, where growing children learn to obey their parents within a loving framework.

Now it’s important to note the caveat that Paul includes here: children are to obey their parents in the Lord. That is, children are not called upon to obey their parents in matters that conflict with the Lord’s instruction.

Parents. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, Paul writes (6:4). These words would have shocked the Roman world where the father was the autocratic head of the family, with untold power over his offspring – including killing a newborn or selling them into slavery. Parents, for mothers as well as fathers can translate the word Paul uses, are not to abuse their children in any way, victimizing them and arousing anger and hatred.

Rather, parents are to equip their children in the knowledge and love of the Lord. The words of Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 4 through 7 come to mind: Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

The single most important educational influence on our children is their parents. It’s built into the very nature of the parent’s relationship in the child’s experience. Children don’t stop learning when they get home from school: they are learning every waking hour of the day. It’s one of the strong reasons children need to be guided in their use of their phones and social media as well as tv viewing. The best people to instil fundamental attitudes and form children’s self-identity and moral lives are parents. Yes, it’s hard work and requires sacrifice. But it is our duty and the rewards are great.

So, we should never give up talking about our convictions. Create an atmosphere of learning in a relationship framed by genuine love, care and fun – when you’re at home or going out, when you put them to bed and when they wake up. There’s no point in sending your child to church if you don’t go yourself; there’s no point in telling your child to pray and read the Bible, if you never do yourself; there’s no point in telling your child not to lie or swear, if you do yourself.

The home. Think about the time you spend on your phone or in front of the big screen. Use the precious conversations at bed-time and around the dinner table. Answer their questions about life – about right and wrong, life and death, about drugs and alcohol, about climate anxiety, about God. Speak as plainly as you can about what Jesus means to you. These are crucial times. Their educational experiences at home will live in the memories of our children for a life-time.

It’s in the home, as we instruct our children about God and Jesus Christ, that they learn their own value and self-esteem as a boy or girl, made in the image of God. It’s in the home they are socialised: they learn how to get on with other people. It’s in the home, they learn to respect authority and discipline. It’s in the home, they develop as individuals and find their individuality accepted, appreciated and affirmed.

Parents (as well as grandparents and uncles and aunts) are well placed to blend the demands of society and the needs of the child in a way that fully affirms the dignity of the child and yet also makes that child ready for society, to mix with other people and not just to be a self-centered little island.

The big picture. In Ephesians chapter 5, verse 21 through chapter 6, verse 5, Paul sets out the balance of selfless and responsible attitudes that are vital in marriage and family life.

So much more could be said about this important and complex section of Paul’s Letter. You may want to follow up with your local church ministry team.

As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

A prayer. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home: bless our homes, we pray. Help parents to impart the knowledge of you and your love; and children to respond with love and obedience. May our homes be blessed with peace and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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