Don’t be afraid

The result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union came as a surprise to many people. The full implications of the decision to leave the European Union are not yet clear, but the result has already created leadership crises in both major political parties. The decision has also revealed significant fault lines between those who live in Britain: young and old, north and south, rich and poor, England and Scotland. During the campaign, and since, two words have often been used – fear and uncertainty.

Fear is not always a negative emotion. In our daily lives fear can protect us from danger. We warn a child not to touch hot things, in case they get burned. We teach them to be careful crossing the road, in case they are knocked over. The Bible teaches us that the fear of God is the basis of morality. The book of Proverbs says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Being conscious of God and showing reverence and respect for him provide a context in which we can seek to live a righteous life. Secular thinking encourages us to eradicate any sense of our ultimate accountability to God, but the wise person listens to their God-given conscience.

Fear can also be destructive. We may be afraid about the future and the bad things that might happen. We may be afraid of death and the way in which we will die. The Bible helps us to cope with our fears. Jesus often reassured people when he said, “Don’t be afraid.” His presence and power and his love for them calmed their fears. When a religious leader begged him to heal his little daughter who was dying, and they were delayed on their way to the house, Jesus said to him, “Don’t be afraid, just trust me.” In Psalm 56 David wrote, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Trusting God is so important as we face the uncertainties of life. He is a refuge and strength for all who put their trust in him. In Jesus God offers us peace in all the troubles of life and a sure hope for the future. Edward Bickersteth’s hymn says, “Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown? Jesus we know, and he is on the throne. Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours? Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers. It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease, and Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.”

A new morality

In the Western world we are experiencing a moral revolution. There is now a new morality. What has, for hundreds of years, been regarded as wrong is now right. What was right is wrong. Positive words are used to give the impression that this is all for the better. Promoting the new morality is “progressive”. Politicians tell us they are doing “the right thing.” This is not a claim to be acting morally but that they believe they are adopting the right policy to deal with an issue.

The new morality involves key words and ideas: “freedom”, “choice”, “equality”, “discrimination”, “phobic”, and “human rights”. Armed with theses concepts we can justify almost any action and can present anyone who disagrees as bigoted, out of touch or opposed to the onward march of “progress”. The new morality is intolerant of anyone who disagrees. Anyone who disagrees is attacked, denied the right to express their views and, sometimes, even criminalised.

But morality is fundamental to the lives of every one of us and to any society. Being honest matters. Being faithful to our marriage partners is vital to social stability. Respecting people who are different from us is really important. To disagree with people of another faith or of another sexual disorientation is not “phobic”, but arises from our moral convictions and spiritual beliefs.

A Muslim may fundamentally disagree with a Christian who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, but he isn’t Christian-phobic, which means being afraid of Christians or Christianity. He just disagrees with them. Normally such a disagreement does not lead to violence. I have Muslim friends. Love and respect for one another transcend differences of religious belief and practice.

The new morality has no place for God or for absolute moral principles that apply to us all. But God has given us two great commandments, which embrace all the important principles of true morality. We are to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Love for God involves worshipping him, honouring his Name and enjoying the weekly day of rest he has ordained. Loving our neighbour means honouring our parents, not killing our neighbour or taking his wife, not stealing his possessions or telling lies about him, and not being jealous of what he has. Any individual or society that abandons these moral principles is like a ship adrift on the ocean without power or compass.

It’s not cricket!

Moral standards are changing. There was a clear example of this in the first Ashes Test between England and Australia. The match was at a critical stage when Stuart Broad edged the ball and was caught by a slip fielder. The umpire did not see the ball hit Stuart’s bat and said he was not out. Stuart knew he had hit the ball, but stood his ground and continued batting, to the dismay of the Australian team.

In the past it would have been accepted practice for a batsman who hit the ball and was caught, even though the umpire did not see it, to declare himself out. This kind of integrity gave rise to the phrase, “It’s not cricket”, which describes unacceptable behaviour, something which is just not done. When the television pundits discussed the incident, many did not condemn Stuart’s action. Their reasons were that the umpire’s decision is final; other teams do it; or other team members would frown on any action which jeopardised their chances of winning the match. As it happens, the extra runs scored by Stuart and his partner after the controversial incident did mean that England won the match.

The Ten Commandments set out God’s moral principles. They are commands, not good advice, and form the essential moral basis for all human society. One of those commands is, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” Truthfulness matters to God, who sees and knows all things. Stuart’s actions were witnessed by tens of thousands of spectators and millions of people who watched the endless television replays and analysis. He knows, and so do we, that he acted dishonestly. In the heat of the moment he did the wrong thing.

It is easy, however, to stand in judgement on others and not to face our own personal responsibility for what we do. How should we respond when we do wrong things? We must never try to justify our wrong actions and certainly not try to change the rules so that what was wrong is now right. The way to put things right is to acknowledge our sin, to seek God’s forgiveness and, with his help, to promise never to do it again. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”

The Death of a Dictator

Muammar Gaddafi is dead. After 8 months of civil war he was captured and killed by former rebel forces in Sirte, his home town. He had ruled Libya for 42 years and was responsible for many atrocities both within Libya and in other countries. He was one of the richest men in the world with a personal fortune estimated at more the £100 billion. His children, some of whom have also died, were also billionaires. The graphic images of his last moments, and of his dead body, have been broadcast around the world. He died at the hands of some of the people whom his regime had so badly mistreated.

Power and money are very powerful influences in our lives. Until this year Gaddafi ruled supreme in Libya. No-one dared to oppose him because those who did were imprisoned, tortured and killed. His power enabled him to accumulate his vast fortune. Power can have an intoxicating effect when everyone obeys our commands and we can buy everything we want. It seems that even in his last moments he tried, unsuccessfully, to buy his freedom. He may have been killed with his own silver revolver.

Many people today do not believe in God or eternity. Their philosophy is “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” If this is true then Colonel Gaddafi’s life was a success. For 42 years he reigned supreme and enjoyed every pleasure this world offers. His power and money, and the fact that Libya has vast oil reserves, ensured that, until this year, the international community never really held him to account. His last few months were difficult, and his last few minutes terrifying, but now he is dead and will never face divine judgement. Can this really be true?

The Bible teaches that we are all accountable to God. The apostle Paul wrote, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” This ultimate reality is the essential foundation of morality. We are all accountable for the things we do and will be judged by God. We need to take this seriously. The wonderful message of the Gospel is that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him, whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

Praying for all those in authority

Life for the first Christians was very difficult because they experienced great persecution. Jesus was crucified on the authority of Pilate, the Roman Governor. The apostle Paul was imprisoned and then executed by the Roman authorities. The Roman emperor, Nero, falsely blamed Christians for the great fire of Rome in AD64 and commanded that many of them should be put to death by burning, or in the arena, or by crucifixion. Christians were persecuted because they refused to worship the Roman emperor and say, “Caesar is Lord!” They were not disloyal citizens, but could only worship God and affirm “Jesus is Lord!”

Yet, despite the appalling treatment they experienced from the governing authorities, the apostles encouraged all Christians to respect the civil authorities, to pay their taxes, and even to pray for them. Paul wrote, “I urge that requests, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and come to know the truth.”

In the 21st century we need to pray for those who govern the nations. We are living in days of great instability. Governments and rulers are being overthrown and nations that possess military power are using that power more widely than ever before. People have great, and often unrealistic, expectations of what their governments can do for them. How should we pray for those who rule over us?

Pray that they will rule justly and not oppress their people. In some countries many people are arrested and never seen again. Sometimes soldiers are used to kill those who protest against injustice. It is important for all who have authority to fear the living God and remember that one day they will have to stand before God and be judged. He will deal with them justly.

Pray that they will rule morally and uphold God’s laws. Today some rulers are encouraging immorality by their own lives and by the laws they pass. God cannot be mocked. The Roman Empire was never defeated by their enemies, but was destroyed by its own inner moral corruption.

Pray that they will continue to allow the freedom to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. He is the King of kings and is able to save us all from death, destruction and despair.