Evangelical Magazine https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com A bimonthly print magazine, published by the Evangelical Movement of Wales Tue, 26 May 2020 15:18:15 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.1 In an Asian Woman’s Shoes https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/in-an-asian-womans-shoes/ Thu, 28 May 2020 17:00:03 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3056 I am going to ask you to put on a very different pair of shoes.

These are shoes normally worn by people from Pakistan, Turkey, Somalia or Iraq. Or maybe people from Bradford, Blackburn, London or Halifax. While the shape of the shoes (their culture), the style of the shoes (their religion) and the fabric they’re made from (their practices) may vary enormously, there is one thing that generally unites the people who wear them, and that is that sometimes they are misunderstood.

It has been my privilege to get to know Muslim women over the years. While outwardly they may seem ‘all the same’, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Behind the veil, they are warm, witty, hospitable and kind. It just happens that because of the news reports on our screens and general opinion these days, some of us don’t get to see that side of them very often.

While many women do wear veils to protect their honour, to be fashionable or to make a statement about who they are, they are not the veils to be concerned about. The veil we should be concerned about is the one that is draped right across their hearts. It’s the veil that keeps them from seeing ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

This veil has stopped them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. As a result, they have to try and please their god, Allah, another way. That way can be summed up as works-based religion, and because we human beings are so painfully aware of our weakness and limitations, many Muslims wonder if they have ever really done enough. And it’s not long before that wondering turns into the fear that very likely they haven’t done enough.

This fear controls in many ways.

It has such a control over one woman that she will continue to fast over Ramadan while she is pregnant – even though she is exempt – because she wants to be sure she is pleasing Allah.

It has such control over another that if she doesn’t wake early and say her prayers at the correct time of day, she will, in her own words, ‘wake up in the fire’. And who wants to do that? (Although it’s good that she realises hell is real, we need to pray she will also know the reality of sins forgiven and eternity in heaven.)

The angels, or ‘Jinn’ as they are called, are always watching. They can be good or evil and are ready to record the things you do whether good or bad. So don’t ever compliment a woman on her child’s beautiful hair or cute face because you will make the Jinn jealous. You don’t ever want to face and suffer the consequences of that.

One lady fears that the way she dresses causes her ‘white’ neighbours to think she is a terrorist. Will she ever feel fully welcome in the street she has chosen to make her home? ‘Will people ever realise I sometimes get anxious when I see “one of my own” carrying a rucksack?’ she asks.

How can we as Christians pour gospel-soaked hope and truth into their situations? How can we love them and show them Jesus, the one who came to set the captives free? Maybe it starts with praying to ask the Lord to bring a Muslim across our path and us across theirs. Maybe it’s knocking on their door and saying ‘Welcome to our street, come for a meal; welcome to our home!’ And when the invitation to build a friendship is there, then maybe we can pray for the opportunity and the courage to say, ‘Please can I tell you all about Jesus, the one who has saved me from my fears.’ And when they say ‘Yes’, the opportunity is there.

Jesus invited all who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him. Many who have come to faith from a Muslim background have said that invitation was the beginning of their journey from fear to freedom. Others, who once felt great shame, were liberated from their fears when they finally realised and accepted that Jesus took shame upon himself when he died on the cross. Another, desperate to be clean, read the plea of a fallen King to a mighty God in Psalm 51:2. Because they could relate to the cry of David’s heart, ‘Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’, that became the cry of their heart, too. And when God answered, and washed their heart clean, the fear also got washed right out.

Sharing this message of hope is hard. Not everyone wants to hear, and some even get angry. In turn, that can make us fearful, but we should be prepared for the knock backs and the antagonism. Jesus never said it would be easy, but let’s keep hold of the fact that the answer to their fear lies in the truth we, by God’s grace, have understood. So we don’t need to fear! The answers are right there in Scripture. May we have confidence in it, know it and live it so that we can be witnesses to the truth that through Jesus, God has provided the solution to all our fears.

This article was originally published in Grace Baptist Mission Herald and is used with permission.

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God is self-sufficient https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/god-is-self-sufficient/ Mon, 25 May 2020 17:00:34 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3037 We live in a world where we are told you don’t need anyone else. Social media feeds post endless memes about how you have the strength inside you to get through anything that you face and how to be who you truly want to be. Phrases like ‘You’ve got this’ and ‘You are enough’ are commonplace. [Editor: At least they used to be commonplace. For some reason we don’t see as many of them since the coronavirus hit.] It’s the mantra of our day and even as Christians, we can fall into this cultural trap. A trap that effectively turns truth upside down: we are the ones who are self-sufficient, and any ‘god’ needs us.

Amid all this confusion, it’s important to turn the truth the right way up and state that there is only one who is self-sufficient, and that is God himself. Within himself, he possesses every quality and every ability in endless measure. He has enough resources in himself for everything he is and does. To put it simply, God does not need anyone or anything else. He is complete. God is not dependent on his creation, he is completely independent of it.

How do we know this?

The self-sufficiency of God is seen throughout the Bible. On the first page, we read, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). He made the heavens and the earth – he owns them. Psalm 146:6 tells us that he created everything within them. Job 41:11 and Romans 11:35-36 show us that God doesn’t owe anything to anyone. Psalm 50:10-12 reminds us that God needs nothing.

Paul, in Acts 17, says at the Areopagus in Athens, ‘The God who made the world and everything in it does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.’ Paul could not be clearer – God has not been made by us, nor does he need us, but we need him and rely on him for everything.

Why is this important?

The fact that God is self-sufficient should be such a comforting truth to us. Just think about these three things.

Your worth to God is not dependent on his need of you

Our human relationships often rely on need. In one sense this is only natural, we are drawn to those whom we get the most from, to those who meet our needs. Of course, this can be abused. I’ve met any number of people in my career who will be very close to you, but as soon as they don’t need you anymore, they quickly move on. Imagine if our worth to God was based on him getting his needs met by us? Thankfully, God’s self-sufficiency means that my worth and meaning are not based on his need of me. Even though he was not obligated to have a relationship with us, God created us in his image to have a relationship with him. My worth to him is not in me or anything I have done. Rather God determined I have worth when he made me in his image (Genesis 1-2).

 

Your salvation is dependent on a God who is not dependent on you

Someone in work recently told me they had separated from their partner because they no longer needed him. It’s a natural consequence of our materialistic society’s attitude of ‘drop everything once it’s not useful to you anymore’. If our salvation were down to us and God’s need of us, it would hang from a thread. God would just drop us as soon as we weren’t fruitful or when we were struggling. Thankfully that’s not true. Our salvation depends on a God who doesn’t depend on us. We bring nothing to the table. When sin entered this world (Genesis 3) and ruined our relationship with God, he didn’t have to or need to save us. He had every right to say that enough is enough and to destroy us. But he chose not to.

I love Ephesians chapter 2. We were dead in our trespasses and sins…

…but God – being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).

This is truly amazing. We were dead in our sins. We weren’t in a situation where God was gaining anything from us, but he saved us. To do this, the God who is independent of his creation, came into his creation. Indeed, it is only because God was free from his creation and the effects of sin on it, that he was able to enter into his creation to save us.

Your worship is directed to one who is not dependent on you

Think about it. Remember Acts 17. Paul reminds us that God is not to be worshipped by us as if he needs anything. We’re not doing him a favour when we rock up to church on a Sunday or when we live a godly life. True worship acknowledges that God doesn’t need us, but we need him. This is important. If God needs us, then he’s not worthy of our worship. It would make our gatherings and our faith a farce. If God needs us, then he is weak. If God needs us, he can be manipulated. If God needs us, then he is no better than us and is not worthy of our worship.

That’s why it’s so important God is self-sufficient. He is mighty and strong. He is worthy of our praise. He does not change. He is faithful. He is on his own, far greater and beyond our thoughts. He has all he needs and more!

How should we respond?

In Revelation 4, we have a picture of the 24 elders in heaven. What’s their response when they are reminded of God’s glory and self-sufficiency? Worship! In our world of ‘you can do it,’ we need to remember there’s only one who can just do it. There’s only one who is self-sufficient! And this should spur us on to worship him.

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Rev. 4:11).

Worthy indeed is our self-sufficient God!

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Taking the plunge – A call to explore the book of Ecclesiastes https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/taking-the-plunge-a-call-to-explore-the-book-of-ecclesiastes/ Thu, 14 May 2020 17:00:46 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3027 Have you been wild swimming? Apparently, some people find plunging into freezing lakes and rivers off the beaten track invigorating. It takes their breath away, yet it makes them feel alive. In many ways getting to grips with the book of Ecclesiastes is the wild swim of the Old Testament; a shocking, yet refreshing summons to embrace life as it actually is, not as we might idly wish it were. It takes your breath away, yet it helps us truly embrace the life we’ve been given. Have you taken the plunge? Open your Bible and let me give you five reasons to listen to ‘the words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem’(1:1).

Ecclesiastes is for the people of God

In Ecclesiastes, the king of God’s people (most probably Solomon), under the codename ‘the Preacher’, is preparing us for life in a fallen world affected by the curse. He is giving us wisdom for how to live in the here and now, in this current moment ‘under the sun’ (1:2, 1:14, etc.). This is important because this book is often treated as an apologetic for the unbeliever, convincing them of the emptiness of life without God. To be sure, it has much to offer in this regard, yet we will miss the point if we don’t see that believers need to be convinced of this too! We can all chase meaning and significance in things that don’t ultimately last. The Preacher gives us words of truth and delight to keep us on course as we follow the Shepherd (12:10-11). Ecclesiastes is also a book for the whole church, from the youngest to the oldest.

Ecclesiastes helps us face the perplexity of life

Read the introductory poem in 1:2-11. It hits you in the face, doesn’t it?

‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’.

This word is better understood to be breath, or mist, or vapour. The Preacher is not telling us that life is pointless and has no meaning; rather he is telling us that life is like that which my children refer to as ‘dragon-breath’ as they walk to school on a chilly morning. Life is fleeting and momentary and difficult to lay hold of. Also, there is a repetitiveness to life in this world, at the end of our time we haven’t contributed anything new, and we haven’t got anything left over that we’ve gained for ourselves. As the Preacher’s search for gain for himself in pleasure, work and knowledge is revealed (1-2), there is a seemingly inbuilt complexity to life that none of our best efforts can ever evade. Through all the changing scenes of life (3:1-8), there is nothing left over that is gain (3:9). There are injustices and unanswered questions (4, 11). The only things that are certain are the gradual failing of our bodies, the day of our death and the judgement of God (7, 12). This is the cold shock of Ecclesiastes, which should produce a wry smile of recognition. We can’t make life work our way. The day of our death is a fixed point. And it is good news to realise that. As David Gibson comments, ‘Being a Christian doesn’t stop this being true. Rather it should make us the first to stop pretending it isn’t true.’

Ecclesiastes helps us find joy and satisfaction in life

If this is the case, how should I treat life? The Preacher’s answer is simple: as a gift. Read 1:24-26; 3:12-13; 11:7-10. The Preacher wants us to appreciate work, food, friendship, marriage, children and sunshine, as gifts from a generous Creator. Even in a fallen world, there is a feast to be enjoyed, as we see these things not as tools to build our own little kingdoms but as tokens from the king himself that are there to serve others. Instead of clutching onto life and seeing it slip through my fingers, I can hold it with an open hand, knowing that one day it will be over. To me, this is a unique contribution of Ecclesiastes – it leaves me seeing the world and the people around me with new eyes.

Ecclesiastes makes us look up to fear God

When all is said and done, what is the point of being alive in this disorientating yet delightful world? It is to fear God and keep his commandments (12:13). That is my one sole duty. I am to draw near to him to listen as if my life depends on it, because it does (5:1-7). I am to remember him now, before my health fails and my body crumbles (12:3). And so Ecclesiastes pushes us on in the fear and knowledge of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.

Ecclesiastes makes us hunger for Jesus Christ

Look back at the poem in 1:2-11. This is true of every single person who ever lived. Apart from one. There was one teacher, a Son of David, a King who did things no-one had seen before, who did something truly new through his death and resurrection, whose work will be remembered throughout eternity. Ecclesiastes finds its fulfilment in the teachings of Jesus, and its greatest answer in the resurrection of Jesus: ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21). Plunge into this book and appreciate just how great the life we’ve been given in Christ is.

If you want to look further into the book of Ecclesiastes, I have found Destiny by David Gibson to be the most helpful. It is highly recommended, and I am indebted to it. For this article, I have also found the summary in the Reformation Study Bible very helpful.

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God is still on the throne https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/god-is-still-on-the-throne/ Mon, 11 May 2020 17:00:30 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3023 As I write this, the coronavirus is coming. By the time you read it, the virus will be well and truly here.

Right now, the pandemic still seems distant. I don’t know anyone who’s died from COVID-19 or anyone who’s been bereaved. I don’t even know anyone who’s being diagnosed with it. But by the time we read this article, the virus will almost certainly be a lot closer. We might be grieving a loved one. We might be seriously unwell.

There’s a danger that amid increasing turmoil, we forget the truths that have stood the test of time, and have kept God’s people through storms, plagues, famines and wars. So I’m writing to remind my future self, and you dear reader, of the truths that I believe now and will remain true no matter how terrible coronavirus gets, and no matter how anxious we become.

2 Chronicles 20:9 sums up my message. When King Jehoshaphat faced an overwhelming enemy, he stood outside the temple and said to the Lord, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’

Jehosaphat’s message is powerful, and there are at least three things we can learn from it.

Come together

In 1 Chronicles 20:3-5, Jehoshaphat ‘proclaim[s] a fast throughout all Judah… from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord’. Verse 13 says this: ‘all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children’.

Jehoshaphat was the most powerful man in the land, but he wasn’t going to face this alone. He needed God’s people.

That’s why Samuel gathered God’s people to Mizpah to confess their sin and cry out to God (1 Samuel 7). It’s why King Josiah gathered all God’s people to the temple, to re-dedicate themselves to God’s law (2 Kings 23). It’s why Nehemiah gathered all God’s people to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 9). It’s why God’s people came together to plead for mercy (Jeremiah 42). It’s why, when persecution began, God’s people came together to pray for courage (Acts 4).

We, too, must come together. But how do we do that in the middle of increasing lockdown?

It’s hard for us, but it was harder for them. It would have taken at least a couple of days for Jehoshaphat’s messengers to reach all the towns of Judah and several days longer for their representatives to travel to Jerusalem.

This virus has caused restrictions perhaps no other generation has faced. Yet, we’re connected in ways that Jehoshaphat could only dream of. Even posting a letter for next-day delivery would have blown his mind, nevermind phones, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and email.

Whatever communication methods are still operating when this letter is read, we must use them. No matter what the restrictions, it’s likely easier for us to come together than it was for Jehoshaphat. He made it a priority. So should we.

Cry to God

When God’s people came together, they prayed, and Jehoshaphat’s prayer still speaks powerfully today (v12):

We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

I feel powerless now. By the time you read this, that will probably have multiplied tenfold. But even if we do not know what to do, our eyes should be on the Lord.

Where we are powerless, he is powerful. Where we are helpless, he loves to help.

When Britain was at war with Germany and the British Army were trapped at Dunkirk, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer. Millions of Britons prayed, and 335,000 soldiers were saved from the French beaches in what even secular historians call ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’. Without that miracle, prompted by prayer, Britain may have sued for peace with Germany and Nazism may have dominated Western Europe for several generations.

We must cry to God for the protection of the healthy, the recovery of the sick, the souls of the dying, and the comfort of the bereaved. We must pray for stamina for medical professionals, wisdom for government, and breakthroughs from scientists. Above all, we must cry out to God that he would use this terrible pandemic to remind a lost world how much it needs him.

This virus is a warning siren to the world. For decades, British people have tried to be self-confident and self-determining. We value our freedom to make our own choices. Truth is so subjective that people believe that just declaring something to be, makes it true. But in this crisis, people are realising that freedom is not a panacea.

The world is facing a virus we don’t understand and can’t control. Independence and self-government don’t work. We need community. We need authority. We need help. We cannot simply self-declare that black is white, or that this virus is harmless. There’s a brutal reality here that we can’t ignore.

And all that should be driving men and women to their knees. The coronavirus, for all its horror and terror, is perhaps the greatest evangelistic opportunity the church has had in a generation.

Be confident in God

In verse 9, Jehoshaphat says, ‘we will cry out to you in affliction, and you will hear and save’.

He doesn’t say, ‘you might hear and save’, but ‘you will hear and save’. Jahaziel shows the same confidence in verse 17: ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed… the Lord will be with you’. The Judeans showed the same confidence by worshipping God before he rescued them.

And they were right to be confident because God miraculously delivered them (verses 24-30).

In uncertain times we can remain confident in God. That doesn’t mean that bad times won’t hit. None of us is immune to illness or sadness or grief. But it does mean we can be confident that God will never leave us or forsake us.

God will not leave us if we become unwell or are hospitalised. God will not leave us if our loved ones succumb to this virus. And, most importantly of all, God will not leave us even as we approach death itself.

Thousands of British holidaymakers have been stranded overseas needing to be rescued. In the middle of a crisis, people just want to be brought safely home. The government weren’t always able to do that – but God never fails to bring his people safely home.

The wonderful NHS doctors and nurses will do everything they can to protect and support those who are unwell. But every doctor and nurse has had to sit down with a grieving relative and say, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do’. But you’ll never hear that from God.

When God talks about rescue and salvation, his message is not that we’ll be safe from disaster or disease in this life. His message is that if we’re trusting in Christ, we’ll be safe even when disaster or disease hit, and that one day he will bring us safely home where disaster and disease are no more.

Jehoshaphat says to the Judeans (verse 20): ‘Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.’

If the people were to be rescued and saved, they needed to trust their God. They needed to believe in him. They needed to have faith.

Perhaps in these anxious times, you’re finding it difficult to trust God. The Bible tells us that faith itself is a gift from God. If it’s something you’re lacking, it’s something you can pray for. But without faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ, we will not receive the promises God gives us.

So while I don’t know what will happen over the next several weeks and months, I know this: God is in control, and God can be trusted. Let’s pray we remember that in the weeks to come.

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Reflections on VE Day https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/reflections-on-ve-day/ Sat, 09 May 2020 17:00:15 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3046 75 years ago I was not present at the VE Day celebrations. I arrived just two years later. But my mum and dad were there – but they were not together. Dad was in Italy as Sergeant Instructor in the Royal Artillery. He had been in the Battle of Tripoli but was injured by shrapnel. He recuperated in Jerusalem, then travelled onto Italy. Mum was teaching in Liverpool. She was the only female teacher in a boys school and travelled from North Wales to Liverpool every day. If there was an air raid, her responsibility was to ensure that the boys remained in the air raid shelters they were allocated – even if it meant dodging between shelters while the raid was on! Mum and dad loved each other dearly. I have some of their letters. One or two are written so that they can only be read in a mirror! It must have taken a long time to read and to write!

From North Africa, on May 20th 1943, my Dad wrote to ‘My own Darling Ellen’:

Now listen – they can send me to any country in the world, even Hollywood, and I would never want anyone, only my Ellen, you my dear girl are life to me, and unless you are not with me, well I just feel like jumping in the river, but I can’t do that, there are no rivers around here… no-one, no-one, only you is ever going to be my wife.

It was tough for them. They exchanged telegrams. But they could say only the briefest of messages. I have the originals. One of the telegrams was from Dad’s father and simply reads:

Sorry to tell you Mother died my thoughts are with you God bless you Dad Norbury

 

In the middle of a terrible war, and with sadness all around, nothing could stop their love. The telegram dated 28th August, 1942 reads: ‘Loving birthday greetings All my love’. Then, 12th February 1944 reads: ‘Be home on Wednesday Night about eight All my love’

Victory

Victory was coming. I have a copy of the original ‘Special Order Of The Day’, dated April 1945, from Field Marshall Alexander, Supreme Allied Commander reading:

Final victory is near. …You must be prepared for a hard bitter fight; but the end is quite certain – there is not the slightest shadow of doubt about that. You, who have won the battle, you have fought, are going to win this last one. Forward then into battle with confidence, faith and determination to see it through to the end.

On May 14th 1945, just a few days after VE Day, Brigadier Block sent a circular letter to my Dad and CMTC (Citizens Military Training Camp), congratulating them on their ‘important part in winning the war’. He attached a circular from Field Marshall Alexander which contained these words, ‘You will look back with pride on your contributions to the victory in Italy.’

How did they get through it all? I have a copy of a prayer suggested by the Padre for couples to remember each other every day. It ends, ‘ We pray Thee speed the day when we may meet in peace.’ And they did! Here I am to prove it! Dad passed away when he was 55. Mum passed away almost 3 years ago at the age of 97 and two months.

They are but one of the incredible stories of soldiers, their wives and families caught up in a war they did not start, but had to fight – at home and abroad.

And now 75 years later we battle against Covid-19. We are in it together. The battle is incredibly tough for so many. But what endured through the Second World War and beyond is love;  common or garden love; magnificent love. Love will endure well beyond Covid-19.

Love never fails

Love never fails. Those great words of wisdom are Bible words. So are these: God is love.

Re-visiting a time I did not know, circumstances I could hardly imagine and emotions so battered by life has made a big impact on me. Where would I be without their love? Where would I be without the incredible love of God – bigger than all my failures?

Mum and Dad sacrificed for our futures – like so many others. God sent his Son who sacrificed his life on the cross of Calvary to rescue me and everyone who puts their trust in him.

My mum and dad had the delight of being there on VE day. The final victory had been won. But, great as that was, Jesus Christ did so much more. He defeated death and the grave. He has won the greatest final victory.

In a cynical world which often claims to believe nothing, the words of 1 Corinthians 13 verse 7 are still so true.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

And what about you? Who do you love? Who do you think loves you? Knowing that someone loves you is so wonderful, just like my mum and dad in the midst of the war. Whether some person loves you or not, one old hymn says it all.

And yet I know that it is true:

he came to this poor world below,

and wept and toiled, and mourned and died,

only because he loved us so.

 

But, even could I see him die,

I could but see a little part

of that great love which, like a fire,

is always burning in his heart.

 

And yet I want to love Thee, Lord;

O light the flame within my heart,

and I will love Thee more and more,

until I see Thee as Thou art.

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Our future all unknown https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/our-future-all-unknown/ Thu, 07 May 2020 17:00:19 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3020 What a year 2020 has been so far! Storm has followed storm. Homes and shops have been flooded – some for the second time. Many have lost all they own. Some have lost their businesses. Even more tragically, some have lost their lives and there are more storms on the way.  To add to these storms there’s coronavirus! As I write, almost 90,000 people have been infected across the world, many have died, and whole towns are being locked down. [Editor: This was the situation at the beginning of March.]

Do you ever worry in these storms and troubles of life? I do. With all these threats to our lives and well-being, what do you do? Close your eyes and hope it goes away? Let drink dull your senses? Escape into box sets? Or pretend it’s all just a fable?

And that is to say nothing of the ‘normal’ storms of life – health crises, family hurts, and those other unexpected, unwanted and unplanned intrusions into our lives.

We are all human and fragile. We all face so many situations where we don’t know what to do! One definition of learning is ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do!’ So often we long for someone to rescue us. Is there anyone ‘out there’ who cares?

Who will find a vaccine or rescue us in our personal ‘car crashes’ of life? Or are we on our own to face these and so many other ‘storms’ – family, financial, relationship breakdowns? You will have your own list. We need to be rescued from ourselves and our self-centred lives and thinking – not least our broken relationship with God.

Finding a refuge

We will all be hit by storms and troubles. God says it (Psalm 91:15). If we are trusting and loving him, God promises that we will be rescued from the most significant eternal troubles (Psalm 91:14). What a rescue and what a rescuer! ‘He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings will you find refuge’ (Psalm 91:4). Timothy Keller says this covering tells us three vital things: we are safe, we are loved tenderly, and most importantly, we are protected by the intervention of the bird’s body.  The mother bird takes the heat of the day, the cold of the night, and the attacks of the predators. She suffers – even dies, perhaps – to keep her chicks safe. Jesus uses the same picture as he talks of God’s judgement to the people of Jerusalem. ‘How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ That is exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross! Are you willing to trust him?

Finding a rescuer

Often the most amazing, selfless, brave rescuers are unknown and forgotten. Harry Gregg was that to me. He died in February. He was goalkeeper for Manchester United in the last century, on the tragic flight of the Busby Babes (a great, winning Manchester United team).

His obituary in the Times told his sad yet incredibly heroic story.

‘On the third attempt to take off from Munich the plane skidded off the runway, hitting a fence, a house and a hut. The tail and the wing were torn off and fuel was leaking… “Everything went black all of a sudden and sparks began to fly. I was hit hard on the back of my head, and I thought the top of my skull had been cut off.” He told how the aircraft rolled on to its side. “There was just silence and blackness, and then for a second daylight again. I thought I was dead.” Realising that he was, in fact, still alive, and with blood pouring from his face, Gregg unfastened his seatbelt and climbed out.

James Thain, the pilot, appeared with a fire extinguisher and told him to run. “I got out of the plane and there’s five people running for it, and Thain said, ‘Run, you stupid ……., the plane’s about to explode.’ And I was about to run when I heard a child crying”…

“I called out to them, ‘Come back, you …….., there’s a child alive.’ But they didn’t, and I went back in, and I was terrified what I’d find. I found the baby and started to carry it out. The radio operator took the child [called Vesna] from me, and I went back into the debris, and I found her mother [Vera Lukic, the pregnant wife of a Yugoslav diplomat], who was in a bad condition. I kicked a hole in the fuselage, and I pushed her out.”

On running to the rear of the aircraft, Gregg found his team-mates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet lying still. “I thought they were dead and I dragged their bodies, like rag dolls, into the seats which had been thrown about 20 yards from the plane.”

How do you react to that story? I can’t help shedding tears. Their lives mattered more than his own. He was terrified but kept on. Was it the cries of the child which drove him?  What he had seen and heard caused his genuine, gut-wrenching compassion, which drove him to these extraordinary acts.

So, is there an amazing, selfless forgotten rescuer for us? One who hears our cry and has gut-wrenching compassion for us, and who faced death to rescue us and will save us in our great storms of life? Yes, there is. And his name is Jesus.

While on earth, Jesus showed compassion, ‘off-the-scale’ love, gut-wrenching compassion for individuals and crowds of people. He saw a desperate and broken widow on her way to bury her only son. He had compassion on her, his heart went out to her, but more. It was as if he absorbed her suffering. He turned her life around. He rescued her and her son that day. She was rescued from the storm of death and hopelessness! At other times Jesus had compassion on crowds of people. On one occasion, he explained why – they were like sheep without a shepherd.

His compassion is utterly selfless; it drove him to the cross. We are hopeless against the storms of life, and Jesus sees us in our need. He brings forgiveness and healing. Like Harry Gregg, Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, had to face the choice of going into certain death on the cross to rescue his people. He chose to go back into the broken plane as it were, to rescue his people – all who turn from their failed way of life and call to him – a little like the dear child in the Munich disaster.

The hymn writer puts it perfectly:

He died that we might be forgiven

He died to make us good

That we might go at last to heaven

Saved by His precious blood.

Will you turn to him, away from your failure and pride, and humbly call on him to rescue you from yourself, your ways, and forgive you? As truly amazing as Harry Gregg’s rescue was, the Lord Jesus is beyond comparison – simply incomparable! Come to him! Be rescued! Be safe!

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Hope beyond Coronavirus https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/hope-beyond-coronavirus/ Mon, 04 May 2020 17:00:25 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3017 Who would have guessed that in the 2017 Asterix comic, ‘Asterix and the Chariot Race’, there would be a character called Coronavirus? Until recently, very few of us had heard the word. Now, across the world, it is the most talked about virus.

Even the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, in sober tones, has warned that some of our loved ones will die because of Coronavirus. And it is easy to fear that it may be us rather than our loved ones who will be struck down. Coronavirus is no respecter of persons: it can strike rich or poor, famous or unknown, globe-trotters as well as stay-at-homers.

Life has changed radically for the nations of the world and us as individuals. Things we have taken for granted – freedom of travel and of meeting together, supply of basic necessities, and the hope of a long life – have been threatened. Wars, epidemics, plagues and disease have seemed so distant for most of us, but now this unseen virus is acting like a secret agent, turning our security and lives upside down. We much prefer our routines, or even our ruts, to being routed by a microscopically minute virus.

There is real concern for millions whose business and employment are affected. When life comes crashing down around us, or we fear for our future, there is still hope and security, but it is not to be found in ourselves or our circumstances.

For years we have been taught survival of the fittest and the horrible idea that epidemics are simply ‘mother earth’ thinning its ranks. Whatever some may say, life is not just dancing to one’s DNA. That does not ring true now. We all know that life is very precious. The Bible teaches wonderfully that God cares, and that he can cope. Writing to Christians in trouble, one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, wrote:

Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.

Of course we want to and need to act responsibly. Common sense listens to Government advice, keeps washing our hands, maintains a distance from possible infection and self-isolates where appropriate. But then what?

Sharpening our tools!

A farmer replied to the question, ‘What do you do when there is a storm?’ saying, ‘I go inside and sharpen my tools!’ Once in a while that is a good thing to do.

If we have to self-isolate, maybe we can rediscover the joy of life where we take time to read and not just to watch; where we learn again to appreciate and think of others; and start to rediscover a life not based on scurrying activity but taking stock and enjoying our own thoughts and company.

Now is a good time to read one of the Gospels in the New Testament

 – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – and let Jesus introduce himself to you.

Of course, what we fear most is not the virus, but death itself. Benjamin Franklin supposedly said that nothing is certain except taxes and death. The Bible goes further. It states, ‘Each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.’  The thought of giving account of all we have said and done to the God who gave us life – and really knows all about us – should send a shiver down our spines.

Then some people wonder if Coronavirus is an act of God. Is he judging us? When God sent plagues on the Egyptians at the time of Moses, pagan astrologers said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’  Sharpening our tools should challenge nations and individuals to repent of turning our back on God and his commands, and lead to us turning to him for forgiveness and help in our time of need.

For decades we have trampled on God’s standards, ignored his commands and lived either as if he were dead, or as if he changes his standards according to our whims. Despite that, our loving God sends wake up calls to point us back to his way. God has not forgotten us. He loves us, though our sin is abhorrent to him. Human love is capable of great things, but God’s love is so much deeper, higher and intense.  Perhaps we should take Coronavirus as a loving warning to a rebellious world.

The Book of Psalms in the Bible is a great comfort in times of anxiety or worry.

It is available to read online, to read one Psalm a day. Try it and see.

As yet there is no known cure for the Coronavirus invader. But there is a cure for our wrong. God does not want to leave us in a state of despair. We don’t know when the virus will subside, but we can know peace in the midst of trouble.

Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storm at sea, fed the hungry, cast out demons, and cured the leprous, but his greatest work was to die. When he was crucified, he was taking on himself our greatest enemies, sin and death. He suffered paying the penalty of the wrong of which we are guilty. Our sin was laid on him so that if we trust him, all his goodness could be laid on us. The poet Cecil Frances Alexander once wrote:

He died that we might be forgiven

He died to make us good;

That we might go at last to heaven

Saved by His precious blood.

 

Fear not

Jesus conquered death by rising again three days later. It is the living Jesus who says, ‘Fear not.’ You don’t need to introduce yourself to God. He knows all about you. Ask him to be your Lord and Saviour, your Forever Friend; he promises to take you through life, through death and into eternity with him. No one need fear death and meeting God as judge, nor being condemned. Heaven is not a reward for doing good, but a gift which Jesus purchased and offers to those who will receive him into their lives. We know the dangers, but we can know the certainty of God being with us every step of the way. When we are afraid, we are told in the Bible to trust in the Lord.

Google or read in the Bible Psalm 103 and consider its timeless truths.

Centuries ago, the Bible prophet Jeremiah saw his country and city destroyed, his temple burned to ashes and his people starving and death staring at him from the streets and houses he had known so well. Yet in the darkness of destruction he said:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!’ The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord (Lamentations3:22-26).

Coronavirus is awful, but if we turn to the Lord we will find that God can make great and lasting good emerge from it.

 

This article has been reprinted with permission from 10ofthose.com

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Peace through prayer https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/peace-through-prayer/ Thu, 30 Apr 2020 17:00:50 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2863 Recently, I met a man who was selling nearly everything he owned. It was time for him to sell up and move away from his longstanding family home. When I talked with him about his reasons for moving on, you could see the sadness in his face as he talked about the things he owned coming and going. Another time, as we were renovating our house, I was asked whether we had finally moved to our forever home. It’s a challenging question, isn’t it?

I’m reminded from Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven, but the tension we face is that much bothers us this side of eternity. We are not yet in our forever home and in the grit of the Christian life, we are heavily exposed to the fallen nature of this world. We are part of it and the frustration of it runs through our very core. Philippians 4:1-9 reminds us that, this side of eternity, we will face troubled relationships with Christians, grapple with our troubled minds as well as face various troubles day by day. Despite all that, there is peace to be had, peace that comes as a result of our praying and not just any kind of peace but one that guards our hearts and minds.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

You see, when we stop and assess what we experience in our Christian lives, we have to confess that we are not in control of much at all. If it were not for the grace of God, it could be much worse, couldn’t it? Yet in our situation, God does guard us and also offers us a promise that in the midst of trouble, there is peace to be had. Let’s be frank, sooner or later another Christian will let you down. Sooner or later, we will face another crisis. It’s the world and the church in which we live. But somehow in the uncertainty and potential chaos of life, God reminds us of his promise to bring us peace. Remember, Numbers 23:19 tells us that God doesn’t lie.

Peace with one another (v2-3)

If you’re having issues with your Christian brother or sister, then I’m not here to give you advice on how to resolve that, but remember that God says your names are written in the book of life. Ponder who your real battle is with and that it’s not against flesh and blood. Be reminded that Christ shed his blood to bring peace with you and God and that he also died that you might have peace in your relationships with one another.

If the cross can somehow appease a holy God and his eternal righteous anger, then it can also kill and put to death any animosity and irritation between fellow believers. Sometimes, we need to get over ourselves for the day is drawing near. There is peace to be had in our relationships with one another. If you’re not convinced, why not pray to the great arbiter of peace himself who has in history consistently turned hearts of stone to flesh? If that’s not enough then perhaps, like Euodia and Syntyche, there’s a need for more rejoicing in the gospel that brings sinners together.

Peace in our minds (v4-9)

There is also peace to be had in our minds. Much is being said in society about mental health now, but the Bible tells us about the twisted mindset that all of us deal with, what Romans 1 calls ‘the darkened mind.’ Praise God then, that he can bring us out of that darkness and offer us a way to know him and speak to him and see life for what it really is. As the reality of a world where moth and rust destroy dawns on us, and we realise the trouble we can bring on ourselves by setting our hearts on things that do not last, we are given the option of the joy of the promises in verses 7 and 9.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (v7).

…And the God of peace will be with you (v9).

The promise is not that our prayers will be answered but that the peace of God and the God of peace can be ours and be with us, guarding us through this fallen world. How would you prefer your prayer to be answered? Sure, we should ask God, for he has the power to answer our prayers, but we should also be asking him for the even better thing – the shield of peace, the fruit of the Spirit that protects us through the very probable disappointments of a fallen world.

Focus our thoughts (v8)

Perhaps we all need to do more of what the apostle Paul asks us to do in verse 8.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Let’s focus more on what is pure and lovely and maybe, with the God of peace with us, we can say along with Paul, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Phil. 4:13). Do we need to turn off Netflix or its equivalent and fill our minds with someone far better, who can do exceedingly more than whatever we can think or imagine, and infinitely so compared with the things of this world?

Examining our prayers

I know sometimes we listen to preaching and we are told to do this and do that but maybe it’s worth taking time to reflect on what we are not doing. The last time you prayed, did you consider those with whom you don’t see eye to eye? Did you thank God for the ways he’s answering many of your prayers or did you just bring your complaints to him? Maybe you will find that when you feel least at peace in your soul, there may be something or someone you are out of kilter with, for surely none of us do what is right all of the time. Is it possible that if we find ourselves not enjoying the peace that is promised to be ours, there may be something that we need God’s grace to deal with?

The promise of peace

As we live now, knowing that the grass is here today and gone tomorrow, should we not ask God for more of his peace? For the peace he gives is not as the world gives. If we don’t have peace the first time, keep asking. Has God ever broken any of his promises? It’s madness, therefore, not to trust our heavenly Father more. He has always been the God of peace, he is the God of peace and will always be the God of peace. And one day we will not live in a house anymore but we will eternally rest at our forever home with him.

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Clinging to the Rock – the immutability of God https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/clinging-to-the-rock-the-immutability-of-god/ Thu, 23 Apr 2020 07:00:57 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2861 Depending on the unchanging God in a changing world

The earth under your feet is spinning at over 1,000 miles an hour. We don’t notice it, of course, but it’s happening even at this very moment. The world around us is constantly moving. Change happens all the time. Just turn the news on – a new political crisis, another Premier League manager sacked, a no-name celebrity does something to get the tabloids excited. It’s hard to keep up.

Our lives are changing too. Nothing stays the same. Life marches on, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. Will the lab report come back with bad news? Am I going to lose my job in the next round of redundancies? Is a family member going to die?

We live in an ever-changing and uncertain world. But the Bible says one thing remains constant: God. He is the rock that never changes. Theologians call this his immutability. But how does God being unchangeable help us navigate the changes of life?

What is immutability?

A few years ago I was sorting through some things with my wife before we moved to a new house. As we looked through our stuff, we found our old wedding pictures. When we found them, we’d only been married five years, and we showed them to our two-year-old son. ‘Who is this lady?’ my wife asked him. He confidently answered, ‘Mummy!’ Clearly, she still looked as good as she did on her wedding day. But when she asked, ‘And who’s this man next to Mummy?’ our son was completely silent. He didn’t recognise me at all. Even when she told him he was unconvinced. Time had obviously not been kind to me.

All of us are changing. It’s human nature. But God doesn’t change. He is immutable. The Bible says it in countless places. For example:

You remain the same, and your years will never end (Psalm 102:27).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

And one of my favourite verses,

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

Just think about shadows for a moment. They change. When the sun is overhead, shadows are short. When the sun is low in the sky, they are longer. They are never constant. They are always changing. But James says that is precisely what God is not like. He is not like a shadow that shifts over time. God remains constant, unmoving, unshifting.

In his book Confessions, Augustine said that God was ‘Most high, most excellent… unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old, making all things new.’ Augustine is right. Because God is the maker of all things, he must be immutable. God is eternal and infinite, outside of the shifting sands of time. He’s not like us. He can’t change. God simply declares, ‘I the Lord do not change’ (Malachi 3:6). He is immutable.

Does God change his mind?

There are, however, some passages in the Bible which suggest that God has changed, occasions when God changed his mind. We’ll explore those next.

Do you have regrets? It’s natural for us because we don’t know the future. And since we don’t know how things will turn out, we often regret our actions.

But does God have regrets? Instinctively we might say no, but some passages say yes. One example is the story of Saul’s demise as king. God says, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king’ (1 Sam. 15:11).

Here’s the problem. We’ve seen that Scripture says God doesn’t change. But it also says that God regretted something. Did he have a change of mind over Saul, thereby undergoing some emotional change and so threatening his immutability?

Thankfully not. Occasionally Scripture says God regretted something in order to make a point. The point in 1 Samuel 15 is that God opposes Saul’s sin and desires a godly king.

After all, when you stop and think about it, God can’t regret things, can he? If he’s infinite and eternal, he knows precisely what will happen in the future. There are no surprises for God. Saul’s sin was not new information that caused him to change his mind and alter his plans. He is all-knowing. It’s human nature to regret our actions, but it is not divine nature to do so. Samuel explicitly makes that point later in the chapter.

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind (1 Sam 15:29).

God can’t regret something or change his mind because he is God, not a human. Humans change. God doesn’t.

What difference does any of this make?

Sometimes I wake up grumpy. My kids will tell you that. Our moods are fickle. That’s why we have the saying, ‘he got up on the wrong side of bed today.’ Our mood changes, but God’s mood doesn’t. ‘To say that God is immutable,’ AW Tozer wrote, ‘is to say that he never differs from himself.’

Try a thought experiment with me. Imagine what it would be like if God were changeable, instead of immutable. What would it be like to wake up tomorrow and not know if God was for us or against us, not to know if God had still forgiven our sins?

Could you face a serious illness, or a crisis in life, with no confidence that God cared for you anymore? Sure, he might have cared last week. But maybe this week he’s changed his mind, and his love has gone cold.

What a terrible thought. We could never trust in a changeable god, one who might alter his plans or abdicate on his promises at any given moment.

Thankfully, we don’t have to face that nightmare. God is unchangeable. He never differs from himself. And that means that his promises are steadfast because he is as good as his word. So whatever crisis we face, whatever uncertainty comes our way, we know that God is immutable, and so we can be confident that he is always for us in Christ, always merciful, always gracious.

It is clinging to God’s immutability that gives us the confidence to endure in an ever-changing world. God says in Malachi 3:6, ‘I the LORD do not change.’ But the verse doesn’t end there. It carries on, ‘So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.’ Our hope for salvation is built on the sure foundation of God’s immutability.

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Sharing Jesus with your Catholic neighbour https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/sharing-jesus-with-your-catholic-neighbour/ Mon, 20 Apr 2020 17:00:22 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2852 The priest came running towards us, verbally opposing us and shouting, ‘These are my children!’ I was leading a children’s 5 Day Club in the city of Palencia, Spain and this was typical of the opposition we faced back in the early 1990s by the Catholic church. At that time, 98% of the Spanish population claimed to be Catholic. A recent survey by the Centre of Sociological Investigation (CIS) in Spain revealed that 29% of the population claim to have no religious beliefs and in Madrid, only 20% claim to be Catholic. This dramatic shift is not only evident in Spain but also in other countries and so creates the challenge of how to reach people who are Catholic and those whose faith background was Catholic.

How can we reach Catholics?

Have a genuine interest in people, in your neighbours, colleagues and people you meet. Get to know them and then conversations can develop into deeper areas regarding faith and beliefs. The advantage of talking with Catholics is that, although they may not know much about what the Catholic church believes or be able to converse in detail about it, they do at least have some knowledge of who God is, who Jesus is and an idea about sin. These basics give a great foundation to start from.

Sharing your testimony

A good place to start with is your testimony of salvation. Showing your faith as a ‘relationship’ with God as distinct from just the acceptance of a ‘religion’ is a powerful message to a Catholic. The daily, personal aspect of our relationship with God and his Word can make an impact.

Studying the Bible together

When you sense that there is interest or a point of connection you could invite them to a programme that investigates Christianity and get them to study the Bible. I found it so exciting to see women amazed at how real the Bible characters were when we studied them together. I have found that solid decisions to accept the Lord arise when people study God’s Word. The impact of studying the Word of God can lead them to accept the Lord Jesus and give their lives to him.

The surety of eternal life

We can share the hope and assurance the Bible gives us as believers regarding eternal life. Catholics have no assurance of salvation. I rented an apartment from a Catholic priest when I lived in Spain and I was able to ask him about his salvation and if he knew for sure he would go to heaven when he died. He replied that it was a sin for him to say that. The Catholic church offers no assurance of salvation and therefore no hope when people face death and eternity. We can share how the Bible assures us we can know we have eternal life.

Organised events

Apart from personal contacts, organised events can break barriers and create an opportunity to share the gospel. In Spain, I found children’s work led to openings into families and gave the opportunity to invite them to special events where we could share the gospel, especially when their children were taking part. Christmas is a good time for this.

Recently at my church in Belfast, a special outreach was held and I invited my Catholic friend to a special event. I wasn’t sure if she would attend, but she did and she also invited her sister. Both ladies loved the programme and the testimony of the lady who shared and were deeply impacted by the whole event. They sensed something ‘real’ during the evening that was a new experience for them.

A reality today is that many Catholics have become discouraged by the Catholic church and all the scandals of abuse that have been revealed. Although they distance themselves from the Catholic church they are not interested in moving towards any other faith. We need to be creative in thinking of ways to make contact and create opportunities to share the gospel with them. A Catholic priest was once teaching about the different faiths and asked if he could bring his class to the evangelical church in Palencia so we could teach the students what we believed. That was an amazing opportunity to teach people the truths of the Bible.

Pray

As we seek to share with Catholics and those who have become disillusioned with the Catholic church, we must pray! Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:4:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

This is so true of Catholicism. We need to pray that God would ‘open their minds’ so they can ‘see the light of the gospel’ when we share with them, and that the gospel will bring them to faith.

What do Catholics believe?

It is good to familiarise ourselves with the beliefs of the Catholic church and one way I find helpful is considering the differences between what we as Evangelicals believe and what the Catholic church believes. Be aware though that not all Catholics may be aware of all of these aspects of their faith.

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