Fake news and the influence of the powerful has been around since the first Easter morning.

This is the text for my letter from the vicarage for May 2017.

I am writing this on the day when Theresa May announced a snap general election. Already I am feeling, “No! Not another election!!” We’ve had the Scottish referendum, a general election, Brexit and the American Presidential election. It seems we are now constantly voting for someone or something but are never satisfied with the results.

I am also wondering whether there will be accusations of foreign government cyber hacks and fake news at this general election? Will there be troubling news about powerful outsiders influencing the result of the British general election? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both believed that Russian and British intelligence services interfered in their campaigns. They believe it, but where is the evidence?

We have recently heard lots about fake news and political interference, but these things are not new. There is nothing new under the sun. There was fake news and political interference when Jesus rose from the dead, that first Easter morning.

Matthew reports in his gospel:

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ (Matthew 28:11-14)

The guards reported the truth to the chief priests, Jesus had risen from the dead. But the chief priests and elders devised a plan, to say that the disciples stole the body. If Matthew is right, this was a clear case of fake news.

The chief priests and elders paid off the guards with “a large sum of money” and told the guards not to worry, because the chief priests would make sure that the Roman governor agreed that this fake news story was better than telling the truth. The powerful used their wealth and their influence to shape the news to maintain their power and influence.

And so we should not be surprised when worldly forces influence the result of an election, or not. But we should be saddened if there is falsehood. In many countries around the world elections are won and lost through corruption, fake news and wheeler-dealing. In those countries, the majority of people just shrug their shoulders and say “What can we do? We cannot change anything” But Matthew’s gospel ends with a challenge for every reader. Matthew challenges us all to ask, “who is telling the truth?” Is it Matthew, the friend of Jesus and eyewitness of what happened? Or, is it the chief priests, elders and guards? Is Matthew really the liar?

The challenge is for us all to seek the truth, to find the evidence. The death and resurrection of Jesus has conditioned generations of thinkers to ask; “What is truth?” What is the truth?” If Jesus rose from the dead, if it is true, then so is judgement and so I need to make sure I do not bear false witness.

No one needs to shrug their shoulders at an election and say “What can we do?” Christians should point all unbelievers to the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus in the gospels and ask “What is the truth?” The Holy Spirit will bring conviction, belief and the power to speak the truth.

With love, Neil

Posted in From the vicarage | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The cross of Christ is God’s warning and invitation to all.

Just last month, on March 16th, a coroner in West London issued a serious warning to all smartphone users. Don’t charge your phone when you are in the bath. The warning was issued after 32 year old Richard Bull, tragically killed himself whilst having a bath. He was using his Apple Phone in the bath and charging it at the same time. His Apple charger touched the water at his home in Ealing, West London and electrocuted him, killing him instantly.

5 days ago, the West Midlands police issued a warning to drug users after a man in Birmingham died after using Black mamba. Two other men were seriously ill, from the same batch.

In 1751, the British Government passed an Act of Parliament to allow Gibbetting. Gibbetting was when the body of someone who had been hanged for their crimes was displayed, normally beside a highway or beside a port. The Gibbitted body acted as a warning to thieves, murderers, pirates and sheep stealers, that the punishment for their crimes would be death by hanging.

Some ways that people die act as a warning to us. Don’t charge your phone in the bath. Don’t use drugs. In the olden days, don’t thieve, murder, pirate or steal sheep.

And the way Jesus died is a warning from God to us all.

The bible tells us that Jesus was and is the Son of God, the eternal Son, who had always lived with his Father in glory. On that first Good Friday, the Son of God died on the cross, his death was a warning to all people.

The warning is clear when we know what kind of death Jesus died and why he died.

Jesus died the death of a criminal who was being punished for his crimes.

The bible makes it clear that he died an innocent man, he did nothing to deserve his death.
He died because of love.
He died because of his love for the same people he helped his Father to create.
He died under judgement as a sacrifice for his people.
He died as a warning to us all.

Here’s the warning. One day God will judge all people for the way we have lived our lives. And the punishment for the things we have done wrong and the good things we failed to do is the same kind of death which Jesus died. Eternal death by execution. His death is a warning to us all that judgement is coming.

Yet, thankfully, His death is also an invitation. The bible tells us that Jesus died in the place of everyone who loves and Jesus and believes in him. His death is an invitation to us to trust him.

On Good Friday, God issues us all a warning today, but he also issues us an invitation. Jesus says “trust in me and live, free from the fear of judgement and inspired to live a life of love for others.”

Will you receive his invitation today or will you ignore the warning?

Posted in The nature of grace | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Countering liberal mottos with “Radical agreement” and “Good inclusion”.

Just do it. I’m loving it. Finger lickin’ good. Have a break… Eat fresh. Every little helps. Probably the best beer in the world.

Everyone knows the power of a slogan to capture the imagination and influence the crowds.

Many leaders in the Church of England have adopted two mottos which have the power of slogans to coerce the church into false unity.  “Good disagreement” and “Radical inclusion” are appearing in talks and statements with manipulative intent.

If anyone seeks true, biblical, Christ-centered unity we need to change the slogans. The relativistic “Good disagreement” must be replaced with “Radical agreement”. “Radical inclusion”, a twist on secular tolerance, should be changed to “Good inclusion”.

Radical agreement is what the Apostle Paul’s calls the church in Philippi to strive for.  Euodia and Syntyche had disagreed about something, sharply. Paul did not encourage them to agree to disagree, but to seek common ground in Christ and come to radical agreement.

Philippians 2:1-2 (ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Radical, Christ centered, Spirit filled oneness of mind, agreement, forged in love. Radical agreement in a post-truth culture makes Jesus look glorious.

Good inclusion is the reason Paul wrote to the Romans. The church was divided by moral failure, hedonism and judgemental legalism, with ethnic and cultural differences thrown in for good measure. Roman Christians were massively diverse, Jew and Gentile, and yet Paul concludes his epistle, after pages and pages on justification by faith in Christ alone, the use of the law in defining and highlighting our sin and the complete freedom from condemnation for those who have been set free by the Spirit of Christ and walk humbly with the Spirit, by saying:

Romans 15:5-7 (ESV) May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you (moralistic Jew and licentious Gentile believers) to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Good inclusion is Roman inclusion, made imperitive in view of God’s mercy in Christ, our propitiation. Good inclusion is forged by our living as sacrifices, Holy and pleasing to God, by the renewing of our thinking.

Good disagreement and radical inclusion are sub-Christian ideas, adapted from the secular, multi-cultural agenda of respect and tolerance respectively. Radical agreement and good inclusion are biblical mottos, won for us by Christ on the cross. For God’s glory, the sake of unity and the salvation of the watching world, we cannot afford to mix them up. Let’s change the slogans and see what God can do.

Posted in church leadership | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ray Ortland Word Alive Galatians session 4 #WAevent2017

Evidences of grace. Word Alive is filled with evidences of grace, which will spread out from her and to the nations of the world as we enjoy the privilege of being a global intersection and meeting place.

We are legally, completely and properly justified by faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and then we are warmly, tenderly and compassionately welcomed into Christ’s family.

We are then energized to live out of God’s fullness of grace, never depending on our works, but serving in grace. Bearing witness to our freely given right standing with God.

Don’t go back.
Go, give your life away.

Don’t go back.
V1. Freedom in Christ has set us free (freedom of conscience not liberty to live as we please. Libertarian freedom leads to dehumanizing behaviors). Freedom from guilt and shame.

Circumscision cannot justify not include. The law is not for justification.

The obligation of Christ is a different kind of obligation to slavery under the law. Good wants his churches to be famous for their relaxed, joyous celebration of God’s justifying love for us in Christ, whilst we were still sinners. Observers should say of the church “those guys don’t look browbeaten or burden by their conscience, but more relaxed and joyful than me.”

God is not angry with you. You are angry will God. God loves angry believers who think God is angry with them for the things they are angry with themselves for. The believer needs to get past the internal anger to see Christ crucified and to rejoice in his justifying death and love.

Just by having Jesus you are released from everything you have ever done to offend him.

Never go back to the false religion of drudgery, relying on sanctification for your justification. You don’t need to improve before you are accepted. Tell yourself, when brushing your teeth first thing each day and at the end of each day, that you are accepted, right now, because of Christ.

When you have had a good day, or a bad day of yielding to temptation or falling over, and you are accused by Satan of worthlessness and guilt, tell him “no, when you tell me I am a sinner, you give me weapons to fight you and slot your throat, as I turn to Christ and say “ I admit I have sinned and deserve judgement and hell, but I am found in Christ and he will never let me go.”

Guilty anxiety can melt into calm because Jesus is here. To all who are weary and need rest, to all who grieve and need comfort, for all who feel to temptation and need cleansing and strength, come to Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us.

2. Go, give your life away.

It is not hard for selfish people like us to make others serve our needs. It is easy for selfish people to live self-pleasing, self-indulgent, licentious lives which satisfy our selfish cravings. But when we know by experience that Jesus loves us and gave himself for us, we can do nothing but give our lives away, to serve one another. Vers 13. Through love, slave for (serve) on another.

Galatians 5:13-15 (ESV) For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

This slavery is other person centred.
All adopted children of God are turned from self gratification to be other person centred.
Love voluntarily gives itself for the good of others.
Love willingly dies that others might live.
Love gladly lays down it’s wants to serve the needs of others.

Let’s go give our lives away for the good of others, even to the point of death. That’s how Jesus loved us, he died for us. “May be today, God might order events, that I will give my life for the good of someone else, for Jesus’ glory, that sacrifice would be the crowning glory of my life.”

Whatever happens, we can’t tell what’s to come, the Lord is with us and in us by his Spirit and the gospel.

Posted in Conference notes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ray Ortland at Word Alive – Galatians session 3 #WAevent2017

facebook_bannerGod is calling Galatian style churches back to himself. To a fresh sensitivity to the Lord, to a true ordering of the gospel as we read the word of God. As we come alive to God as our Father, not our slavemaster, something comes out of us with life-altering power which changes everything. How do we perceive ourselves by now? What is our identity and place in the universe? The deeply unsettling sense of failure and inadequacy, futility and worthlessness, dread for the future, sadness, anguish and suffering which none of us can face, is something which God steps into and takes us by the hand to find freedom.

Old ordering of the gospel, neonomian, God is calling us to try harder to be the people he wants us to be. “What kind of foot dragging, half-hearted slave have you been?” Rather, we are called to fall into his arms and hear him say “you are my child, adopted in my family, given a new name, take your place at my table, come as you are, with all your mess, belong, in all the mess as my child and believe I am your Abba, Father. I am telling you it is so. Sit, rest, feast, you belong here.”

We receive a new authority to stop our internal self-torment. We need no longer beat ourselves up for our failure but rejoice in our new status as adopted children. We are now faithful by accepting our new place in the family of the Father.

Galatians 3:23- 4:7

  1. All that God is, is for us. Verse 4-5 Father sent forth his Son and sent forth his Spirit show that God is for us, with everything which is his and is him.
  2. The sending of the Spirit is essential for us to know personally that God is for us. Both the sendings are essential. The presence of the Spirit without the sending of the Son gives us no objective assurance of his love. The sending of the Son without the sending of these Spirit gives us no subjective assurance of his love.
  3. This is all of grace. The Father sends and we receive adoption was sons. We need the Holy Spirit to tell us and assurance that we are not forgiven slaves but adopted and adored children.

Disobedient slave to sin under the power of Satan.

Becomes…

forgiven slave who has stopped receiving beatings for disobedience.

Or…

Adopted child seated at the Father’s table and enjoying true fellowship as an heir.

Verse 4

When I was 17, I was ungrateful and rebellious toward my dad, though he was a great Father. So it was with Israel. Ungrateful and rebellious under the law believing that the Father was restrictive and authoritarian. When rebellious Israel refused to return, God did not give them more law. He sent his Son in love. God demonstrated love to undeserving, ungrateful and rebellious children. God changed his relationship with him, not us with him,

Some of us here grew up in legalistic homes which did us no good. Faith through grace leads us to rest in Christ.

God not only loved me but I can experience his love. This is a taste of the experience of God the Father which Jesus had in the garden. Personal love, Abba Father is a cry without pomposity. It is the cry of a child. Flowery, fancy prayers, which lack intimacy, should make us question our relationship with God.

God wants us to know at a level which goes deeper than our pain, rejection, shame and insecurity that he loves us an has adopted us as his children. Verse 6. His Spirit gives us that experience as we change our story from forgiven slave to adopted child. God in Christ by His Spirit changes the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

We must be careful not to add to the gospel and become legalistic again, throwing God’s redemption of the world into reverse gear. We need the experience of the Spirit crying in our hearts, Abba Father.

It is the supreme art of the devil to make the law into the gospel. But I can turn to Satan and say “kiss my backside” because I have been adopted by God through Christ, and can’t be more accepted, loved and doted on. [Paraphrase of Martin Luther].

Will you open up to God and receive the Spirit of adoption and be freed from the sense of slavery under the law? There is nothing we can do to add to Christ.

Posted in Conference notes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ray Ortland at Word Alive. Galatians session 2 #WAevent2017

facebook_bannerJesus is always inviting us to himself. To come to him AND to come back to him.

Galatians 3 is Paul’s outline on how to read the whole bible, to see hope for bad people on every page. Gracious promise is on every page of the bible, to be received by faith. Not tedious, moralistic teaching with an evangelistic appeal at the end.

From Genesis 3, the bible promises the gracious blessing of God for everyone who breaks the law but believes God’s promises in Jesus.

Genesis: promise proceeds law in the whole framework of the bible. The primary tone of the bible is reassurance and rest, not anxiety and frustration. God loves to give his best to undeserving lawbreakers so that through Jesus, he looks glorious.

1. The flow of Paul’s thought.
2. Try to interpret one commandment through this lense.
3. How the Koran interprets the bible.

1. Galatians 3. Paul reads Genesis onwards and sees everyone stumbling along in life but some clinging to God and his promises, by faith with hope.

We could get into a time machine and interview every OT author and ask “are you teaching justification by faith?” and they would all say “yes, I like the way you put it, of course we are only righteous by faith.”

A heart which clings to God with trust is all God calls us to. “Come to me as you are and receive all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms through Christ.” We stumble along, falling forward, clinging to God in Christ and all his promises.

The law functions like an MRI scanner, which highlights our weaknesses and sin within. We are by nature lawbreakers. By choice and by nature. We can comply outwardly and we can fake compliance, so others think we’ll of us. The law helps us by defeating us. It shows us who we are so that, being broken in great pain and humility, I come to see Jesus and our need for him.

Jesus is the point. He came to take the curse of the law for us, death as punishment, do this…or else. We discover in scripture what Jesus suffered for us under the penalty of the law.

V 15-20. The law does not nullify the promises in the covenant to Abraham [Adam and Eve?] The promises stand. The law was added (v19)

Sidebar of the Mosaic law which does not interrupt the gracious promise of God which is received by faith, bad people become justified. All we need is Christ. The law does not add to our justification.

[Two trees: eternal life by faith in the promise completely separate from the tree by which the law is given with the penalty of death. Because of Jesus’ death under the penalty of the law our response is faith in the promise (tree of life) and gratitude for Jesus fulfilling the law and taking the penalty of the law (tree of knowledge and good and evil) both trees represent true faith.]

Marilyn Robinson “The death of Adam” [research this book].

Divine involvement, commitment, attention, care.

When we are heard by others do they hear the narrative of the law with the gospel as the remedy and afterthought. Or do they hear the narrative of redemption, grace, promise and faith in the God who comes to bless and the law as blessing but not for justification.

How would say “do not steal”? Only the God who seeks nothing for himself, who can be trusted, is honest, generous and needs nothing. For us, we are confronted by the law as it reveald we are grasping, selfish and needy.
Jesus loves thieves and tax collectors.
We become like him, because he has come to us.
The promise had come to us, writing his law on our hearts, do the deepest level of intuition, not choice. Surging with generosity according to the 8th commandment, giving it all away with abundant generosity.

A moralistic reading of the bible makes us feel good about ourselves, if we are proud. This moralism fails to see Jesus.

Bible alongside the Koran so that we see the bible more clearly.

I hope you have read the Koran, so that we can help our Muslim friends see that we understand what they believe. We must be complete fair. We can read the bible as if it were like the Koran. This is only a brief treatment of a vast subject.

The bible is structured as a grand narrative with a beginning, middle and end.
The Koran is not ordered as a narrative but as individual books on themes with instructions for obedience and threats for disobedience.
The bible develops themes of biblical theology which grow nd develop as the narrative is fulfilled. e.g. marriage.
Bible – free grace vs Koran merited grace. There is a difference “he will give his grace to everyone who has merit.”
Bible – original sin by nature, we are evil. Koran “man was created weak.” Weakness is less serious than inability. We can’t tip the scales of judgement by being stronger and trying harder.

The gracious promises of the bible are clear and distinct. His promise as gracious. His favour cannot be earned or bought.

Posted in Conference notes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” are close cousins of incipient secularism.

I was recently asked to complete a survey about how seriously my son’s school takes character development. The survey was fascinating, because it imagined a very different kind of education to our current secular model with its results-based obsession. Survey questions focused on whether or not the school defined good character, had methods in place to develop good character and gave parents feedback on how their son’s character was developing and maturing. I scored the school very low on every question because the school, like most schools, fail to develop character. There is substantial effort made in schools to ensure children buckle down and develop a work ethic and quality of mind, with all manner of motivational techniques, bordering on the manipulative and coercive, for kids to tow the line and “get the grades they are capable of.” But there is no definition of good character and no intentional character development at the “outstanding” schools where all three of my children started their secondary education.

The last survey question asked for my remarks on why I had answered as I did. What are my observations? My answer focused, critically, on multi-culturalism and secular values.

“Multi-cultural” is a label used to describe the clustering of society into sub-cultures based largely on ethnicity and religion. Each cultural group is defined by outward appearance, origins and most importantly by deeply held values and behaviour. Secular society believes in the freedom of religion and promotes only two values in this arena, namely tolerance and respect. Sevular leaders cannot, therefore, promote any other values without risking being seen to favour one religion or ethnic group over another, thereby breaking its own rules. There is no model for good character and so character development is left to chance in school.

Secular society finds itself trapped between mainstream culture and the assumptions it makes about guest cultures and their deeply held values. Secular schools are on the front line of this clash of culture. They cannot aspire to develop character in our children when different cultures hold very different values and see “good” in quite different ways.

The Church of England has found itself in a similar mess, of its own making. The church has divided into sub-cultures with very different values. The response has been to develop the sub-Christian mottos “Good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” which simply mirror secular society’s values of tolerance and respect. But good disagreement (respect) and radical inclusion (tolerance) do not promote true peace as debates at our synod have shown. Given this unhappy situation, how should Christians respond?

First, let’s agree on what we have done. We are promoting tolerance and respect and this should trouble all Christians. The Church of England has adopted a new language which mirrors the values of the secular society she exists to serve and transform, rendering us powerless as the church to do good.

Second, we should understand the complex reasons behind the ” good disagreement” and radical inclusion” mottos. The Church of England has become a multi-cultural church in the wrong way as it fails to distinguish between good diversity, where all peoples of all tribes and nations are united under Christ as servant-ruler (Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus), and ungodly diversity, where everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Church leadership finds itself trapped between a morally divided church and a skeptical secular society and is paralysed by fear, the fear of upsetting people. Rather than take a lead on developing a true unity of faith, character and morality, leaders have taken the easier road with their call for tolerance and respect. Sadly, and paradoxically, by failing to take a lead, the Church of England fails to create the peace it longs for within itself. As a direct result, the watching secular world moves further away from Christ. It is time to be bold and courageous. God is with his people to bless and unite as we meditate on his word day and night and are careful to do everything he commands us to do (Joshua 1:8ff).

Third, Jesus is the only true model of human character and values, he is God incarnate, the unspoiled image bearer of our Creator Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is uniquely fully human. It is by knowing Jesus, the only fully formed and true human being, and becoming like him, that our character and values are transformed and redeemed. Discipleship means knowing Jesus, following him and becoming like him, transformed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Forth, leaders can’t lead by calling for tolerance and respect when values and cultures clash. If “good disagreement” means God loving and valuing one another because we are his image bearers, then we can say a loud “Amen”. If it means agreeing to disagree about who Jesus is and what it means to live like him, then disagreement is bad, divisive and destructive. We will never achieve true peace when wars are allowed to continue over what values and character are true and good. We are only disagreeing about who Jesus is.

The mottos need to change. I believe “radical agreement” and “good inclusion” closely reflect the true Christian witness of the church, but that’s for another post.

It’s time to chose which God we will serve, the God of this age or the true and living God, revealed in Christ and the scriptures by the work of the Holy Spirit. As for me and my family, we will surrender to and serve the one who loves us and gave himself for us to redeem for himself a people who are eager to do good.

Posted in church leadership, Heterogenous Church | Leave a comment