Saturday, 29 October 2011

Evangelical "code of conduct".

Evangelicals have come under sustained attack from all quarters being accused of everything from hate-speech to intolerance and gay-bashing. Some of these accusations are, sadly, all too true, and as an evangelical I have struggled with identifying myself as such as a result.

A recent article on Christianity Today however has lifted my spirits. It talks about a move by Pablo Martinez, of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, to draw up a code of conduct for European Evangelicals. It was publishedn "to help Christians in Europe engage confidently but respectfully in the public arena".

I include the text below for general perusal and comment. Personally I find it balanced and biblical and am more than happy to identify myself with it. Although it is intended for use in relation to the

Knowing we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors in all of life, being so aware of our inadequacy, and motivated only by a desire to glorify the King of Kings, we ask the Lord to help us engage in the following ways and recommend these guidelines to all Christians involved in the public arena.

Love
• We will speak and act with grace, gentleness and mercy to all.
• We will seek to build genuine relationships with all in the public arena, including with those who disagree with us.
• We will especially love those that society marginalises, care deeply for them and dare to challenge the injustices that oppress.

Humility
• We will pray at all times, knowing that only the Lord can bring about change.
• Knowing that having or being near power can be corrupting, we remember our dependency on the Lord and draw close to Him through prayer.
• It is so easy to react to trouble with foolishness or anger. But we dare not dishonour Christ so we cling to Him in our weakness and ask Him to gently correct us.
• We will be accountable to a politically diverse group of friends who will help us remain faithful to our calling.
• We will adopt an attitude of service towards both the weak and the strong.

Truth

• We will speak and act with truth and integrity at all times.
• Our political ideas and actions must be based on all of Scripture.  We must not use the Bible to confirm our pre-formed ideas.  Rather, we will study with Christians of different political philosophies to ensure that our ideas are truly biblical. We will work to ensure we reflect the breadth of God’s concerns, not just focusing on one of two issues.
• There are so many distortions of truth in politics and media’s portrayal of it.  We will do everything we can to seek the truth by careful monitoring and analysis and to advocate strongly for the truth.

Peace
• Disagreement and confrontation are inevitable but we will disagree with grace.
• As peacemakers, we will build bridges wherever possible. We seek to persuade, not argue.

Courage
• In some countries, engagement can lead to real danger.  When trouble comes, we pray God will give us both courage and wisdom to know what He is asking of us. We will always stand with brothers and sisters in danger and ask them to tell us how we can assist.
• Elsewhere, trouble may come in the form of criticism, misrepresentation or legal challenge.  Again, we will ask
the Lord for courage and wisdom so that we honour Him in our response.  We will help one another in times of difficulty.
• Our first priority must always be faithfulness to Christ. We pray for the courage to hold on to this.

Wisdom
• Politicians do not have to listen to us.  Rather, by building good relationships and providing excellent, relevant and wise ideas and information, presented professionally, we trust that some will wish to listen.
• Where possible, Christians should join different political parties. No party, not even a “Christian” one, is perfect, all need salt and light. As Evangelical Alliance, however, we must steer clear of party allegiance as much as possible.  The Gospel is for all, we cannot give the impression that the Lord prefers those of a particular party. 
• We encourage pastors to play their vital role of supporting and discipling their congregations as they engage in society and in urging prayer for the public arena and biblical reflection on issues.

Hope
• Our hope of change is based on God. He can enable salt and light to make a difference.
• With joy, we wait for Christ’s return and the full establishment of His wonderful Kingdom.
• Meanwhile, we will live in and share the joy of this hope. The hope of the Gospel brings light to the darkest situation.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Who's the master?

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

Although Jesus gives us an example of what he means when he names ‘mammon’ as an alternative to God (see Luke 16:13 where Jesus sasy 'money' instead of mammon), I think the whole question is more open-ended. Money or wealth can seem the obvious choice here because it has great power to influence and corrupt.
For example as we read the Gospels we see the power that money and wealth holds over people’s lives in the story of the Rich Young Man or Zaccheus the tax-collector. And we don’t have far to look in some of the stories that hit our news about the idolatry of wealth and money in tales of rogue-traders, or corrupt bankers and media moguls, and tax-dodgers, metal thieves and fraudsters. Money and the lure of wealth is a very powerful influence in the lives of many, particularly in the West, but it’s not the only one—the most obvious maybe—but not the only one. Because immediately after Jesus’ reference to wealth he moves on to talk about how we can become anxious about several different things:

First, about life itself. We can we make our own lives, our own selves, an idol. That's why Jesus calls us to  deny ourselves if we want to follow him (Mark 8:34ff), and Paul announces in his letter to the Galatians
that since his meeting with Jesus “it is no longer ‘I’ who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). In other words he has replaced the one master—himself, the ‘I’ - with another, Christ, who is the master now. I is that master he will now obey rather than the other.

He also goes on to talk about “what you shall eat”,and we know that food can also become an idol, something which dominates us and enslaves us so that it is difficult sometimes to say ‘no’ to it's temptations and lure. That is why fasting is such an important spiritual discipline because it puts food in it’s place as servant not master.

What about your body? I was watching the TV the other day and an image of a certain former smodel who has gone down the body-building route, and was showing off her new muscular body, talking about her daily regime of diet and exercises needed to create her new shape and appearance. How many are ‘slaves’ to their bodies like this?  Is that why Paul talks about "pommeling his body and subduing it" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)?

And also clothes—how many women (and men) are slaves to clothes. Just listen to any teenager who has to choose between two identical set of trainers and they will always go for the latest ‘name’ even though
it costs three times as much. And how many of us have wardrobes of clothes which we cannot bear to part with just in case we lose those years of weight and revert back to our previous size.

I think it is worth noting that we can make idols of our abilty to deny ourselves of any of thsoe things and develop and unpleasant form of unrighteousness which looks down its nose on those of us who are less spiritual.

There are many such alternative ‘masters’ that we can easily become enslaved to. Jesus warns that you cannot serve both them and God—we have to choose. Why? Because (The Message):
“Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other.”

You shall have no other gods ‘before me’ says God  (Exodus 20:3) i.e. who should take precedence over God. How do we avoid that? It's about priorities says Jesus. “seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and his
righteousness” (Matthew 6:33)
and everything else will find it’s proper place in your life.

(Note: in one of the corresponding passage in Luke 12:22-34 Luke places Jesus' teaching about treasures in heaven at the end of his teaching on anxiety. He adds "sell your possessions and give to the poor" which can be understood in several ways. One is to get rid of everything - which in some circumstances may be what God is calling us to. That's how St. Antony of egypt understood what God was saying. The other however I think applies to all of us who accumulate things and allow them to dominate - literally to have the dominus i.e. Lordship - over us. We can combat this by giving away things to the poor and needy via the many charity shops that are springing up everywhere. Why not give away your dvd's, excess clothes etc and disconnect from the particular idol who rules your life.)

Friday, 7 October 2011

I noticed recently an advert drawing attention to the release of a new documentary film about the Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna who died in 1994 aged 34. I recognise the name even though I am not an avid Formula One fan, but intrigued, I checked him out on the net. Amongst the information about his racing achievments I discovered that Senna was a devout Christian. Here is part of the article:

"Senna was a devout Catholic, once saying "Just because I believe in God, just because I have faith in God, it doesn't mean that I'm immune. It doesn't mean that I'm immortal" (1989). He often read the Bible on long flights from São Paulo to Europe. In Senna, a documentary on his life released in 2010, Ayrton's sister, Vivianne, reveals that following, first the horrific accident of his protégé, Rubens Barrichello followed the next day by the tragic death of racer Roland Ratzenberger during that fateful San Marino Grand Prix of 1994, Senna had sought strength from the Bible. "Faced with a night of turmoil, of conflict, no one knew what his decision would be on Sunday morning, on race day ...'On that final morning, he woke and opened his bible and read a text,' explained Viviane 'that he would receive the greatest gift of all which was God, himself.'"

As his profile rose, Senna expressed concern over the widespread poverty in Brazil. After his death it was discovered that he had quietly donated an extremely large portion of his personal fortune (estimated at around $400 million) to aid poor children. Shortly before his death, he created the framework for an organisation dedicated to Brazilian children, which later became Instituto Ayrton Senna."

Thy Kingdom Come 2017