A True Jew

“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭28‬-‭29‬ ‭NLT

What is our children’s position before God? Does there come a point when they emerge from the covering of their parents (assuming they are Christians of course) and stand on their own two feet, responsible to God for their own relationship with Him. There is such a time, of course. But before that, Christian parents must bring up their children to have a knowledge of God, teaching them to pray, telling them Bible stories. Taking them to church and Sunday School. We used to have a great time on long car journeys singing the songs and choruses our children had learned in their Sunday School services. As a family we became closer to each other somehow, as we all became closer to God.

But I have heard about some Christian parents who don’t believe that they should teach their children about their faith, preferring instead to allow them to make up their own minds when they are old enough. But such a view is flawed. It would be like saying to a 17-year old that it’s his or her decision about whether or not they obey driving laws. We, of course, teach them road sense from an early age for their own safety. 

The Bible says that we should teach our children about God and His ways. Back in Deuteronomy 6:1-2 we read, “These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life”. Later in the same chapter we read, “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). 

There was a special place in Jesus’ ministry for children. We read in Matthew 19:14-15, “But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left“. And there are several Proverbs like this one, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22:6). 

Paul pointed out to his hearers that their standing before God has nothing to do with their birth credentials or whether or not they were circumcised. It was all about getting their hearts right with God. It’s all about “a change of heart produced by the Spirit”, he said. And he also pointed out that there had to be a time when the umbilical cord to their parents was cut, to allow the children to make their own decision for Christ. There has to be a radical cutting off from our past and instead a commitment to a new way in God’s presence. Paul himself made such a decision. We read in Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me“. And it’s the same for us pilgrims. Like Paul, we too must trust alone in our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Dear Father God. Thank You for reminding us that You are in the heart-changing business. We pray for the heart surgery we need to truly be Your followers. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Fatherly Instructions

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
Ephesians‬ ‭6:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Now here’s a novel idea. Bringing up children by applying Biblical principles? Whatever next! But humour aside, here in the UK we live in a society that has lost its way, when it comes to bringing up children. The state is increasingly interfering with the rights of parents to bring up their children in the way they believe best. Social workers, teachers and the NHS, all have their own agendas, which often sacrifice Biblical principles, that have stood the test of time, on the altar of progressive and unproven thinking and theories. For example, in schools children are taught about sexual matters far removed from Biblical principles. Child gender issues abound with so-called experts agonising over the best way forward. If only they opened a Bible, they would find the answers to their dilemmas.

The Bible has a lot to say about bringing up children, both directly but also in an implied way. Way back in Deuteronomy, we read this, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up”. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). The way that we bring up children starts with us. With our own adult relationship with God, with the way we live our Christian lives. Our children look on. They see whether or not we are faking it. They can smell hypocrisy from afar. Parents living a life devoted to God and each other will set our children role models that will shape their own lives. And by so doing, we instruct our children in the ways of the Lord. 

My own children were fortunate enough to have been brought up in a Christian home. That is not to say that my wife and I always got things right. But they were able to watch us resolve our difficulties and move on in the Lord. The church teaching also helped them. I can remember that my daughter, in her High School biology class, challenged her teacher’s evolutionary beliefs, getting her in the end to agree that there was also a case for the creation model. Evolution is taught as fact in UK schools in spite of the difficulties with evolutionary theory that are conveniently glossed over. But that’s a subject for another day.

God is the Father over a large and growing family of children. He sets out the family rules, rules based on His love for His children, rules designed for our good and the good of His family as a whole. The Bible is our Source of discipline and instruction. We do well to read it, distilling out every Divine thought, every loving hint, always praying that our Father will help us in aligning our ways to His ways, our thoughts to His thoughts, our life to His life. And in the process teaching our children to do the same.

Tricks and Lies

“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This verse starts with a “then”. So we have to look to the previous verses to pick up the thread of what Paul was saying to his friends in Ephesus. He had previously encouraged them with the thought that Christ cared so much for them that He had sent to them “gifts” – men who would equip them with all they needed to grow in their faith, bringing unity and maturity to their lives, individually and corporately. Paul then follows on with the thought that being “immature like children“, at least in the context of their faith, was not a good place to be. But the next sentence exposes and highlights a potential and very real danger for Christians, especially new believers. It is the impact that “new teaching” can have, potentially leading them into error. 

 For example, a church I read about some years ago, took the verse in Mark 16:18 which starts, “They will be able to handle snakes with safety….” consequently introducing poisonous snakes into their services. It is very easy to lift Bible verses out of their context and start to make a doctrine or custom from them, ending up being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching”. That is why the church has always needed the wisdom of the five-fold ministries described in a previous verse. Paul, from his prison cell, could see the dangers and snares that could potentially bring chaos and ultimate destruction. He cared deeply for his friends. But we should never forget that God Himself cares very deeply for each one of us. Not only is He always there for us, but He has put in place a safety net to protect His people.

…lies so clever they sound like the truth”. This is a problem that has always been with us. Why is it that people generally lack the discernment needed to expose trickery? In modern parlance we call it “scamming”. I read yesterday that a man lost his entire savings – hundreds of thousands of pounds – because he believed “lies so clever they sound like the truth”. But in the church we need to be aware of spiritual scamming. The internet is awash with off-the-wall beliefs and recommendations. The “God” channels on television sometimes provide opportunities for fringe preachers to scam their watchers with incessant appeals for money.

But how does the Christian pilgrim continue through life, free from the pitfalls of error? How can we avoid being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching”? There are some simple steps that we can take to stay on the “straight and narrow”. One of them is to get plugged into a church founded on the Word and the Spirit. There is safety in being with other pilgrims in a Godly church, where the leaders are Spirit-filled men and women grounded and obedient to God’s Word, the Bible. On our own we are in danger of being picked off by the devil. 1 Peter 5:8 reads, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” When we meet with other Christians we can encourage each other, pray for each other, help each other, and have the opportunity to warn those in danger of taking a wrong spiritual turning. 

Another way to protect ourselves from error is to ensure the church that we are a part of is accountable to other church leaders or apostles. Established denominations are not necessarily free from problems –  depressing errors include spiritual apostasy, liberalism and worldliness. Spiritual accountability is essential in bringing security to the congregation and their leaders

Another way to prevent being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” is to emulate the Berean Jews. In Acts 17, Paul and Silas found themselves preaching in a synagogue in Berea. And we read in Acts 17:11, “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth”. If someone brings teaching we haven’t heard before, check it out in the Bible. If what is said, no matter how plausible it appears to be, can’t be verified by God’s Word, then discard it.

Although today’s verse has negative connotations, we mustn’t forget our loving Heavenly Father. He cares for us. He loves us. He is with us every step in our pilgrimage through life. Jesus said in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you…”. In the end, that is the key.  We pilgrims will find peace and security, as we remain in Him.

Teach Me

Teach me your ways, O Lord, 
     that I may live according to your truth! 
Grant me purity of heart, 
     so that I may honour you.”
Psalms‬ ‭86:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How do we learn? What do we learn? Why do we learn? Questions that sit at the very heart of our lives. For unless we learn what we need for life, we will be woefully ill-equipped to make our way through the minefields that exists between the cradle and the grave. In our early years, our parents taught us the basics. School teachers added their weight and learning in our formative years. But unless we are receptive to what we are taught, we will continually bounce off the obstacles that will come our way, becoming damaged in the process. How many times have I thought, when observing the struggles of someone I know, “You never seem to learn”. Sadly, that sometimes applies to me as well.

We all walk a road through life. Sometimes there are mountain top experiences, where we find that life is wonderful and good. But at other times we walk through a valley, dark and dismal. Full of misery and depression. Through these experiences we learn, so that the next time we encounter life-trials, we know how to face into them.  

The ultimate and best Teacher is God through His Spirit. And we have a text book to help us, the Bible. The wonderful thing is that it is full of truth. Not someone’s opinion. Not a series of subjective thoughts. But Truth, because God is Truth. The teachings contained within the Holy Scriptures may not be easy reading. They may be opposite to what our human nature desires. But we reject them at our peril. Many people have made a “rod for their own backs” by ignoring Biblical teaching. We look on at our political leaders and see the mess they create when they choose to follow their own desires and not God’s desires, as set out in His Words in the Bible. There is another amazing fact about our Heavenly Teacher – “…God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬). So to turn that around, God said that He is always with us. On the mountain tops but also in the valleys. Encouraging us. Teaching us. From the cradle to the – hang on – He will never leave us. Ever.