The Bishop of Oxford made the news recently, making clear his views on same sex marriage had changed and he was now advocating that the Church of England embrace this practice. He apologised for causing distress and pain to LGBTQ+ people.

This evolution of views is presented as an act of contrition, compassion, love and understanding. But in truth it is none of these things. Rather, it is betrayal and deceit. Strong words. To understand why this is so requires a little background.

The traditional position of the Church on matters of sexual morality is, and has been for millennia, that the best functioning of society and families can be found in the joining together of one man and one woman in marriage – forming the stable core to raise children and contribute to a healthy society.

The Church of England’s current position could most charitably said to be somewhat muddy. We jettisoned the historical position decades ago, tacitly approving adultery and fornication under the guise of pastoral care. Approval of same sex marriage is just the latest in misguided compassion. Come as you are, stay as you are, it’s all good. Only it isn’t all good. And we know that really. A Jesus who comes to pat us on the head and mouth gentle platitudes is no Christ at all. If we have no need of saving, we have no need of a saviour.

Rather than the comfort of a false cocoon, we need to be faced with the reality that our unredeemed nature is inherently disordered. Just because we want something, feel something, desire something, ‘are’ something – doesn’t make it good. And that is often so hard to see. Especially when our whole identity – the very essence of ‘who we are’ gets wrapped up in our inherent disorder. Then any challenge, however gentle, becomes an attack on our very selves. We are diminished and turned in on ourselves, and we can’t see it. We are called to be so much more.

A Christian sexual ethic isn’t restrictive, old fashioned, bigoted – though all these epithets and more will be thrown at the Church. Rather it is compassion – true compassion – not the cheap sort that leaves you as you are. Genuine compassion is the love of a friend to challenge the path we are on and point us in a new Way. Whether or not we accept it is then up to us.

So, back to betrayal and deceit. Why so?

It is a betrayal of those who are same sex attracted and for years have endeavoured to live according to the Christian sexual ethic. Who have denied themselves, so that they might follow Christ. It says to us, well, all your sacrifices were completely pointless. Because we have discovered a new truth which just so happens to conform to the spirit of the age. It is not wrong, or hyperbole, to call this a betrayal.

It is a deceit to leave people where they are, and say everything is good. It is the false compassion of cheering on, celebrating and comforting someone whose path leads to the edge of a cliff. It is the deceit of the snake, whispering in our ears the message that we want to hear: “did God really say….?”

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12 v2

The Church isn’t called to bless whatever society is doing right now. We’re not called to be popular or liked. Rather Jesus said we will be hated because of Him.

We’re called to be salt, to be light. Which means being different. If the salt loses it’s savour, what then is it good for? This is a question the Church of England will have to answer in the months ahead. The writing is on the wall.

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The hope beyond

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will have probably come away with the message that difficult times are imminent (and are now here in some respects) for the church in the West, and that we need to be prepared, dug deep into the Rock of Christ. But also hopefully you’ll have heard the message that within and amidst these times of trouble, will come times of blessing and joy.

How can this be? This is because we are a people of hope. We must not be misled, there is a Golgotha road to travel. But beyond that road, beyond the cross, is the promise of life – life everlasting “to him (or her) who overcomes”.

And we do not walk this path alone. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”. Whatever man may find in his heart to do, God can and has done so much more. So take heart – neither you or I are able or capable. But we serve One who is.

So many times in the New Testament we are exhorted to patient endurance – as Romans 5 testifies, this is the virtue that, in time, produces the very hope we all need to survive.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12 v1-3
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The desecration of the land

They sacrificed their sons
    and their daughters to false gods.
They shed innocent blood,
    the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
    and the land was desecrated by their blood.

Psalm 106 v37-38

The importance of blood and what it represents seems to be something rarely talked about these days. We know about the blood of Jesus, but it is often removed from its context and full meaning.

The life of the living was established very early on to reside in the blood, and it is clear what happens when blood is shed unjustly:

“Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.

Numbers 35 v33-34

Innocent bloodshed is regarded by God as something that pollutes the land. The exile of Judah in 786BC was actually precipitated by this sin.

Understand that timing of the Lord’s response is not the same as ours – Manasseh’s wicked reign began in 687 BC, but Jerusalem did not fall until just over 100 years later. But this judgment fell even after Josiah’s reforms and repentance. As Jonathan Edwards wrote:

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose.

The shedding of innocent blood cannot go unanswered – sooner or later it requires a reckoning. It is so serious that it leads to the desecration, or desolation, of the very land itself.

This brings us then to Jesus. In the shedding of His blood, He answered and satisfied the required atonement. The ultimate reckoning He took upon Himself . This sacrificial atonement of blood, the very essence of life, was fulfilled in Jesus, when He shed His blood in our place.

But, there still remains a choice. This is a sacrifice that has to be accepted. He can only be in us, and we in him if we surrender our lives to Him, as He did for us. Atonement for bloodshed is either found through Jesus, or it is required from the hands of those who shed it.

All this is crucial to understand the times in which we live.

In 2021 approximately 112 million people died. Nearly 43 million of those were babies killed in the womb. Abortion is the leading cause of death globally. Let that sink in for a bit. In 2022 the butchery continues – at the time of writing 61 million have died, of which 26 million are babies murdered in utero.

Oceans of blood are on our hands. There was a time where we may have understood what that meant. Though our understanding has faded and been corrupted, it doesn’t change our culpability.

Can we seriously imagine that God is indifferent to our industrial scale butchery?

Our land is drowned in the blood of innocence, the cry reaches to heaven, and the only answer that suffices – the atoning blood of Jesus – is ignored or despised. The only thing that might give us a chance.

The unconscionable murder of so many innocent human beings requires a response. God is not unjust; he did not ignore Manasseh’s crimes, is He any more likely to overlook our comparably more heinous offence?

Perhaps we don’t even need to talk of judgment, but consequence – what happens when we abandon the only One who can cover our offense. What happens when the restrainer is withdrawn. “Your will be done”, God says to us. There is no more profound judgment than that. God did not cause what then follows. We do. We choose death, and death chooses us.

This is the reality, this is the time in which we live. Which is why my heart hurts to see so much of the Church asleep! Indifferent, unaware, slumbering, careless in the face of approaching disaster! Our eyes are closed just as were the Israelites prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. We don’t want to hear anybody speaking an uncomfortable message. We don’t want to face the winds of our pagan culture head on; we’d rather hide in our buildings.

If we don’t, or won’t, understand the times in which we live, how will we be salt and light? Rather, we can expect to be tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind. Having so little appreciation, we run the risk of being like the foolish virgins with no oil for their lamps. We won’t be able to shed any light for ourselves, let alone anybody else.

And shedding light is the desire of God for us. To be awake, sober, understanding and ready. Lamps full of oil and wicks trimmed so the light of Christ may shine brightly in a world racked by turmoil. Ready to be His hands and feet, ready to rescue those who can no longer rescue themselves. To guide to safe harbour as the storm gathers strength. To put our lives on the line, because we are no longer our own. To see past the current desecration of the land to the future of hope – the new heavens and earth that He promises for those who endure and overcome in the blood of the Lamb.

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Diamond and graphite

As a Christian, what does your life look like? Like this?

Or this?

They are both made out of the same element, but with radically different properties.

The former is made up of many different layers, but the bonds between the layers are weak, allowing them to easily slide off each other. The latter is an interconnected network, with immense strength within every bond.

Are you a graphite Christian, or a diamond Christian?

One who had a different persona depending on where you are – one at Church, another at home, another at work, another with your mates? Soft, malleable and easily broken?

Or…are you being formed in heat and pressure such that all the bonds that hold your life together are infused with the strength of Christ? To be someone who can walk with integrity and make a mark on the world?

It’s the same basic element, but what is formed is radically different in character and outcome. And only one of these is fit for purpose in the coming days.

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Light & Darkness

Just a quick word on the repeal of Roe vs Wade. I’m not American, but it is heartening to see there is at least one Western country where the forces of death are not completely in the ascendency.

Although it’s necessary to see what this is, and what it is not. A repeal of a judicial outreach, to return to the people the ability to make these decisions. And, what decisions will be made? I suspect that the lines of division in America are going to continue to deepen. A country with two tribes, two peoples, divided against itself. But at least there is a fight there!

Compare the mood music coming from other western leaders. Isaiah 5 v20 comes to mind…

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Our societies are so far enmeshed in our own darkness that we embrace and celebrate the murdering of millions of innocent lives on the altar of choice. We at least anesthetise our animals before killing them. But our unwanted children, we sacrifice them in the fire and call it a good. But the blood is not forgotten, and a reckoning will come.

As for the Church, we must choose this day whom we will serve. So many still seem half asleep at the altar of Moloch. We need to know that light has nothing to do with darkness, and we must live and witness accordingly!

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Saved, but from what?

I have heard a gospel message preached, talking about the hope we can have in Jesus and the relationship we can have with Him. All good, except for one thing. When we talk about being saved, the question should be – saved from what, exactly?

To miss that part undercuts the foundation from the rest of the message. You are left with maybe a warm aspirational message, here’s a God who would like to develop a relationship with you, build you up, get to that spiritual itch you have from time to time.

That’s a rather different approach from what has been taken in the past. In the 18th century Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Even the title would likely cause offense these days, let alone the content:

Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now
with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare.

Can you imagine such a sermon being preached now? I can hear the response – hateful, intolerant, bigoted and narrow-minded. How dare you judge me!

We have so little concept these days of being lost. Or of the reality of hell. And that’s in the Christian world, let alone outside the church. We often seem to have only a limited understanding (if at all) that the wicked the Bible speaks of – that is us, without the grace of God. We are not the good guys. We are complete wretches in need of that grace, lest justice take us to the end we so richly deserve.

We are, rather, as Jonathan Edwards says: “the foolish children of men miserably deluding themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow.” And that trust shall prove illusory on the day their foot shall slide.

Why are we in the Church so afraid of ruffling feathers when we speak of this? Because the fear of man consumes us, where we should be consumed with the fear of God. We see no revival because we do not treat our natural state, and the gospel message, seriously enough. Causing offence should be an expected by-product of our preaching. Consider our founder:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

John 6 v60-66

Now, that’s not to say we go about deliberately trying to shock and offend. But it is to recognise that the gospel – the full gospel – is and always will be offensive to those who are perishing. What? I said that? There are those who are perishing? Yes – and it is profoundly tragic to pretend otherwise.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1 v18

It is only when we set the scene, and come to a full realisation of our abject state that the following words make any sense:

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God

Truth is, being saved is essentially meaningless if there is no concept of what we have been saved from. We won’t get anywhere with the gospel until we can understand and attest to GK Chesterton’s response to the question ‘What is wrong with the world?’ …. ‘I am’.

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The way of the cross

Easter Sunday is the greatest celebration of the Christian year – Jesus triumphant over the powers of death, sin and hell! He is risen, risen indeed!

Ah, but to get there, a cost beyond our comprehension. The mocking, the scourging, the hatred. The bearing of the crown of thorns, a link to the beginning where God told the exiles that the ground would yield thorns because of their sin. Yield them yes, and in due time He would bear those same thorns.

The road of suffering, the Golgotha Road, leading to the place of execution. Stripped, shamed, humiliated and brutalised. And hung on a cross, to die a slow agonising death.

That’s the bit we can see – we only get a glimpse of the deeper cost, when the great I AM has the weight of all human sin hung on His shoulders and the fellowship the Son has with the Father was, for the first and only time, sundered. A chasm opening up and where there was rich communion, suddenly only silence – the separation of what is holy from what is darkness and death.

I think we know this, at least in our heads. But it’s not a nice thing to dwell on. Best to move on swiftly from Good Friday, shuffling away from the brutal reality of the cost of our own darkness. But wait – for unless we start to understand what it really cost to save us, unless we begin to understand how much we have to be saved from, the resurrection on Sunday signifies little.

We don’t serve a Lord who came to show us how to be nice to each other, preaching peace and tolerance with a few Easter bunnies thrown into the mix. No, we serve a Lord who turned everything upside down, literally and figuratively – and who was not ‘nice’, or ‘peaceful’, or ‘tolerant’. He did not tolerate the principalities and powers, did not tolerate the sin, darkness and death that is endemic in us all. And he paid the cost of that intolerance in full.

Church, we had better wake up, because the same road Jesus followed is the one we must also. We also will have to reckon with mockery, abuse and slander. We also will have to tread the Golgotha Road of suffering. We also will have to endure the metaphorical cross.

Before you choose to follow Jesus, just check on the road he trod. It is the only road that will lead you to Life. But to get there, you will have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. There is no other way. You will have a Guide who has trod that road, and will be closer to your soul than any other. But on the way to your Easter Sunday, He will also lead you through your Good Friday. There is no other way, no short cut. This is the Way of the Cross.

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The dividing line

A year ago, I wrote a Storm Warning. This was the word I was given for that post:

My Church, you are going to Prepare one way or the other. Either you will Prepare to endure the coming storm, or you will Prepare to surrender. There will be no middle way. All will come to the decision point – to walk the path I trod, or to turn away.

Let us be clear, preparation is not just an active thing. It is equally a consequence of passivity. Were the foolish virgins’ denied entry to the wedding feast by their actions? No, rather they did nothing, they just went along with little focus on what was important.

Now, please don’t mistake me. There is no salvation by works, and this is not to exhort us to try harder, do more. That is a trap and a snare, by which many religious become bound. But it is to recognise we have choices – how do we spend our time, where to we invest our money, what are our priorities? Are we renewing our spiritual minds or allowing them to rust up through neglect?

When the time of decision, the dividing line, comes – where our heart lies will dictate the decision we make. For a dividing line comes, separating the Church from the worldly imposter. Events will continue and intensify and will serve to bring us to that decision point. When it comes, our preparation will already have been made. Do not leave matters until that time, rather purchase oil without cost while it can be found!

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The dyed scroll

On the morning of 7th January 2021, as I woke a condensed image flashed through my mind.  I saw a long and narrow vista opened up in front of me like an opened scroll, that was intensely detailed, full of people, places and events.  The startling thing was that it was all dyed blood red.

I have pondered it since.  One interpretation that came to my mind, was that it spoke of conflict and/or war.  A brother I shared this with thought it could also speak of redemption. Perhaps various layers of inference could be drawn.

Since then, I’ve not done anything with it because the application was uncertain. When would such a word bring value? There is foretelling involved in prophecy but its heart is forthtelling.

With current events though it seems apropos. There are perhaps two things to gather from this.

Firstly, nothing happens without Gods full foreknowledge. That isn’t to say what will happen is going to be good. A cursory reading of the Bible prophets can assure us of that. However, it does tell us He is in complete sovereign control. We do not live in a random cruel world where things happen by chance and there is no meaning. We live in a world that is in active rebellion against its maker, the results of which we see every day. And we live in a world amidst principalities and powers that have been defeated by the blood of the Lamb.

Which leads to the second point. On praying about the scroll vision, I received the well known passage:

Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains.

Matthew 24 v4-8

The emphasis in my spirit was – do not be alarmed! These things will come, and much trouble and suffering in its wake – but do not be alarmed! Rather, recognise the sovereignty of God and trust in Him regardless of your situation. There is nothing happening that He has not foreknown and if you will trust in Him, little faith though you may have, He will bear you through the storms and the shakings. He was, is and ever will be, unshakeable. In His mercy, love and grace, you can find refuge for your soul.

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The line on the horizon

I stood upon a cliff and gazed out across the wide expanse of the sea. Grey was the water, and grey the clouds. All was flat, calm. On the horizon was a line, a little wave, a gentle swell. My Father had me attend to that line. To and fro go the people in the city, addressing this and that. The line moves closer, and as it does it begins building, swelling, and accelerating. Too late does it dawn upon the residents of the city, the reality of what is coming.

The structures, the houses, that people have built will be tested. They often look quite similar. But some have foundations, roots and strength. And others, they have no foundations at all. When the waves crash in, those with no root will lift, will smash against each other, will topple and break up.

It seems this is nothing new. The warning is now three times in three decades.

P.S. I should note this word does not speak to immediate events. But rather part of the shakings I’ve written about many times here. I may write further on current matters soon.

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