Foolishness

The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:25

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

Proverbs 26 v. 12, 16

Fools come in for a rough time in the Scripture. In Proverbs in particular they get a very bad press. There is a moral element to the definition of a fool in Proverbs that adds to the negativity of the word. Fools rage against all common sense, speak words of death and cause mayhem to those who employ them.

Yet the Scripture says there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is unteachable (wise in their own eyes). And even worse is someone who is lazy and unteachable. Wise people will answer discreetly in the presence of this kind of person. The wise recognise that there is no point in confronting this person’s laziness nor their unteachability. The result is that this lazy, unteachable person thinks that they are wiser than those who have not confronted them. They continue to make excuses for their laziness and justify their behaviour in their own eyes.

According to the Scripture, a lot of what we go through as Christians is related to character building. This is a huge topic in itself but one place it is summarised is in Romans 5: 3-4:

we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Persevering through suffering is not something that is taught often in our churches nor in our homes. Instead clever doctors and psychologists invent pleasing names for conditions that parents and we can all hide behind. Conditions like under active thyroid, ADHD, ME, autism, asberger’s syndrome are not always representative of a life threatening or life altering condition. People’s reactions to these diagnoses often show whether they are letting them build character or whether they are simply using them as excuses for opting out of things. We all know stories of people who rose above their conditions to bless those around them and the world. These are often people with conditions that are very often much harder to deal with than some of the ones covered by the names we invent these days.

There is no one in this life that is free from tribulation but how you respond to it is crucial. We all have seen people commit suicide from despair. According to the Scripture at least one way of avoiding that despair is to persevere through trouble. As the Word of God says:

The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness,
But who can bear a broken spirit?

(Proverbs 18:14)

The Gospel that I believe, the Good News of Jesus Christ is that our spirits are made whole when we are born again. We can rejoice through trouble as so many disciples have done and continue to do because of what God has done in us through the Holy Spirit.

The trouble may not go away but we can still glorify God by our attitude in it.

Preaching the Gospel to Abraham

Paul makes this interesting observation in Galatians 3:8:

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

So what was this gospel? “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

Paul goes on to explain that this promise (and others made to Abraham) were spoken to Abraham and his main Descendant:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. Galatians 3:16.

It is hard to overstate the extraordinary impact of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, on our society, morals and culture. Moral norms that we take for granted are enforced using principles of law keeping and justice that are all based on the Word of God, in particular the 10 commandments (Exodus 20). Peace treaties and the principles that save nations from war and bring healing are based on Christian thinking, specifically the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6 & 7). Nearly everyone’s sense of fairness in Christian countries is modelled on what Jesus considered fair. His Name, that is, his attitude of compassion, humility and justice to the poor are the ideals we all look up to whether we call ourselves Christian or otherwise. The roots of Western Civilisation are deeply inspired by Jesus Christ and grounded on the Word of God.

As you look around the world, or even out your front door, you realise that most people live in peaceful families, enjoying the common comforts of warm homes, good food and friends. The extreme examples of domestic violence that the news stations and many people’s minds seem to love to focus on are the exceptions rather than the rule. Our nations are generally not at war with each other and most people rest secure in their beds at night. Christian charities are effective the world over in reducing poverty.

I believe all this is the fulfillment of the gospel, good news, preached to Abraham: “All the families on the earth will be blessed through you.”

For some reason, Evangelical Christians can sometimes be the last people to see things this way. I think one reason may be because of the pre-tribulation rapture and the great tribulation yet to come eschatology that so many people have been taught. Unless things are really terrible in the world it is hard to justify God bringing the literal apocalyptic terrors of Revelation upon our neighbours. So people who believe that they will be taken out from the trouble that is coming, and that the Lord is returning soon, must see things as getting a lot worse in the world despite all the statistics that say the opposite. I only wish I didn’t have to link to a humanist book to prove that point. I will address this downside of pre-tribulation rapture thinking in another blog.

Another thing Evangelical Christians can do a lot is downplay the general good to the “unsaved” that the gospel brings. The reasoning goes something like this: Eternity is long and this life is vanishingly short by comparison. Therefore why try and improve people’s lives in this life when we have a so much more important thing to do, that is, preach the gospel to them so they get saved.

It is not an either/ or thing though. Preaching the gospel so that people can believe and appreciate the salvation Jesus has won for them is critical if they are really to know peace, joy and love in this life and to have assurance of eternal life. But there is a danger it will just be words and as James says:
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 3:18

My wife and I go to a church which majors on the evangelical aspect of things and we support it fully as do our children. We are also involved in other types of Christian charity (as are our children and the church itself) which don’t make telling people that they have to be saved a precondition to doing good to them.

In the same letter to the Galatians Paul explains how he first met with the other apostles in Jerusalem and what they thought was important when preaching the gospel:

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. Galatians 2:9 & 10

Don’t underestimate the preserving power of the Gospel for all of the world’s peoples.

The Gently Flowing Waters of Siloam

Isaiah compares the governance and work of the Lord in Jerusalem to the gently flowing waters of Shiloah in Isaiah 8.  Shiloah is generally recognised as being the same word that is translated Siloam or “Sent” in John 9. It is the place Jesus sent the man blind from birth to wash and come back seeing.

The gently flowing waters of Siloam refers to the ebb and flow of the waters that passed through a tunnel in the very centre of Jerusalem. This tunnel had been dug during Isaiah’s time.  An inscription has been found dating from the period which uses the same Hebrew word “ ” that Isaiah used to describe the waters flow.  The lengthy inscription explains that the tunnel was built from both ends at the same time.  One set of workmen started at the Gihon spring and the other started in the centre of Jerusalem.  The workmen met in the middle –  which wasn’t easy to do.

In the very heart of the City of God there flows a river that makes the Lord glad (Psalm 46:4).  It is a gently flowing river of healing and it needs to be directed and revealed by the work of godly men.

Our churches are places of  healing but it takes the work of godly men to reveal that.  The healing streams are there, we just need to dig and work hard together to meet in the middle so they can be revealed and everyone be refreshed.

Conceiving the Inconceivable

There is a story of twins talking to each other in the womb which is going about the internet in various forms.  Here is my take on it.

The babies are not far from birth and well developed but still completely ignorant of what is to come.  They cannot conceive of what they are about to experience since they have absolutely nothing in their current existence that they can relate to it.  So that is why I have called this blog “Conceiving the Inconceivable” and also because I love puns and playing with words.

The first problem you experience when you start to try and write this is that the twins don’t have words.  They are immersed in water so they cannot speak.  We know that babies in the womb can hear and respond to sounds and that the normal existence for a baby in the womb is to be on their own.  Even this is analogous to our existence now in comparison to what we will be.  Now we are profoundly disconnected from one another because of time and space.  In the next life I believe there is no time nor space in the way we understand those terms and so perfect intimacy and knowledge of one another and God is the inevitable result.

____________________

“So you still think there is some existence beyond this?”  Thomas was having his daily tete-a-tete with John.

“Undoubtedly” John replied. “Don’t you hear all those sounds and Mom’s singing?”

“Nah, that is just the vibrations of this watery world we live in.  You move around and I move around and we disturb the waters and they make noises.”

“Beautiful, coherent noises which can only point to someone greater than us.” John was in his usual philosophic mode.

“No, they happen by chance.  It is like everything else in here, it all started with us being nothing and then the fluids and all the chemicals interacted together and here we are.  You know that we evolved out of creatures which were smaller and less intelligent than we are.”  Thomas had an answer to everything and usually answers that made as little out of any idea of a Mom and Dad as he could.  “We grow up in here until we can no longer fit and then, Boom!, it all explodes and our pitiful existence comes to an end in a terrible mess.”

“I don’t believe all that dystopian future nonsense you seem to indulge in all the time.” John replied.  “For me it is obvious we are here because our Mom and Dad wanted us to be here.  They have wonderful plans for our lives after we are delivered.  Even in here I can hear their loving words and concern for us.  I have felt them on the walls of our barriers, telling me not to fear.  In Mom, we live and move and have our being.  She is love and tells me about love.”

“You can’t prove any of this,” John retorted.  “It sounds great but you know that we are going to die.  You have said yourself that you believe that after delivery (as you call it) we will no longer have water to breathe in.  So what then?  All your stories are just optimistic fairy tales designed by your clever mind just to make this cramped existence more bearable.”

_________________

You can see where I am going with this.  It seems to me obvious that a thoughtful meditation on our existence before delivery can be very useful.  It is a way of helping to explain the enormous gulf in our understanding between where we are now – in time and space – and where we will be after we die (or after we are raptured) in eternity.

Eternity is not lots more time and infinite space.  Eternity is a different state of things altogether, as expansive and as inconceivable to us now as being able to breathe air, talk and walk is to babies in a womb.

This is just one of many possible conversations that our two hypothetical twins can have.  I hope to create a few more conversations in future blogs.

Be Quiet!

Proverbs is one of the Bible’s Wisdom books along with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.  One of its major themes is the consequences of actions and words.  According to the bible, discipline in what we speak, how we manage what goes into our bodies and what we do with our time all matter if we want to lead a godly life.  It is the root meaning of what it means to be a disciple.

One of the great disciplines of the Christian is stillness.  “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) is easier said than done for most of us.  It is essential though if we are to hear God.  If we don’t hear the Holy Spirit within us we cannot pray.

Inner stillness can be disturbed by many things.  What we eat can disturb our bowels  making us uncomfortable and unable to stay still.  What we have said to someone can disturb us, we may be aware that we have hurt someone with our words.  Proverbs is full of admonishments to restrain our lips (e.g. Prov. 21:23) so that our souls and lives can be preserved.

Inner turmoil is exposed as soon as we try to be still.  For that reason many people avoid trying to be still as much as possible.  Some will work all day (usually older people), others will play video games or continuously interact with their smartphones (usually younger people).  Continuously blaring music of all sorts is a very common way of avoiding being still for many of us.  Constantly having the TV on or the radio when travelling is another way of avoiding inner turmoil.

Inner turmoil can keep us awake at night.  Our aching bellies, unfulfilled desires, our troubled conscience, worries and fears are unavoidable at night when everything is quiet and still.

God’s answer to inner turmoil is for us to bring this bag of wind and tossing to His word and to be still before it.  That is why there is so much right emphasis in Christian circles on having a disciplined daily quiet time with God – usually before we do anything else in a day.  The word of God is living and active, it will cast a light over all that is going on within you and separate out what is of God and what isn’t (Hebrews 4:12).  As we are still we can pray and the Holy Spirit will teach you about how to live (John 14:26).

Be still.  Jesus commanded the wind and waves.  He can do that for you also.

Works brought about by Faith

It is absolutely crucial that we understand that our works arise from faith in the fact that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ and that alone.  Our works have no merit at all in relation to our legal standing before God our Father and our ability to come to Him freely.  We approach God our Father freely because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.

That is basic theology.  It needs to underpin everything we think about who we are and what we do.

So, with that understanding, we read the rest of the Scriptures in a different light.  The Old Testament Law (the Torah, or first five books of the bible) are now expositions of what pleases God.  They become a place to learn how to live in a way that blesses both God and us.  The 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), for instance, describe the fundamental ways in which we can please God and be a blessing to others.

All of Scripture is God breathed and useful for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16).  In Exodus 18 there is a lovely passage about Moses father-in-law Jethro.  The respect that Moses shows Jethro is an example to us all of how we should treat our elderly relatives.  Moses bowed low before Jethro and kissed him (Exodus 18:7), he showed respect and affection in equal measures.  Moses then took on Jethro’s advice without quibbling with him.  Considering that Moses was hearing directly from God and would go on to write the Torah, this was an impressive sign of his humility.  But then he was the most humble person on the face of the earth at the time (Numbers 12:3).

One of the most fundamental ways we can read the Old Testament with New Testament eyes is to understand that the law is not given as a stick to beat us with but that that stick was already used on Jesus (Col. 2:14).  The Law is now powerless in that regard. But as a way of knowing God and what He wants, the Law is crucial.  If you love God because of what He has done for you, then you will also love His Law because it shows you His heart.

The True Nature of the Present Pope

Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun.  The same pretensions to power that Luther pointed out 500 years ago are still being adopted by the present Pope Francis as have been adopted by all his predecessors.  The following is based on one of Luther’s most famous writings (‘Appeal to his Imperial Majesty, and the Christian Nobility of Germany, on the Reformation of Christianity.’)

Basically there are three walls that the Pope puts up as defences against being called to account for the actions of the Roman Catholic clergy which he is ultimately responsible for:

 

  1. When attacked by the temporal power, they denied its jurisdiction over them, and maintained the superiority of the spiritual power.  The idea that Canon Law is superior to Civil Law has been used as recently as 2009 by Bishop Murphy of Cork to justify not handing over paedophile priests to the Gardai.
  2. When tested by Scripture, they replied, that none could interpret it but the pope. This hasn’t changed since the Reformation.
  3. When threatened with a council, they again replied, that none but the pope could convene it.

In the present day it is the first of these walls that causes the most obvious problems.  Wherever there is the covering up of scandalous abuses, this idea that the RC church (canon) law is above the secular law is trotted out by its adherents.  Every accused clergy man knows that the Pope and all the cardinals support this position and therefore they feel justified in adopting it.

However the Scripture says that everyone is subject to the secular powers including the pope:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

(Romans 13:1-5)

What is pertinent about the above passage is that when Paul wrote it perhaps one of the most pagan and oppressive empires that was ever on the earth was the one whose authority he was telling Christians to submit to!  How much more then should evil doers be brought to account in the relatively easy governments of our day?  It should go without saying that no title that you give yourself should excuse you from being accountable for doing the wrong thing.  The fact that in practice that is often not the case doesn’t mean we should give up trying to ensure it is.  The heart of Christian justice is that no one is above the law.

In the same epistle, Luther writes: “The pope should be ready to renounce the popedom, and all his wealth, and all his honours, if he could thereby save a single soul. But he would see the universe go to destruction sooner than yield a hair-breadth of his usurped power.”

You only have to visit the Vatican museum to see how true this statement still is.

 

On this Rock

One of the most often quoted passages in relation to the reason why Roman Catholics consider the Pope to be the head of the universal christian church on earth is this from Matthew 16:

15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Two arguments in Scripture can be aligned against this passage being used to say that the successors of Peter (as the Popes like to consider themselves) are the rock on which the church is built.  The first is from the Apostle Paul:

11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 3:11)

And the second is from Peter himself:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

(1 Peter 2:4-7)

It is therefore clear that the rock on which the universal (or catholic) Church is built is the Word of Jesus Himself.  It is also clear that we cannot see Him now in a physical body on the earth and so, like Peter, we need to have Him revealed to us by the Father.  It is upon this revelation that God will build His church.

The question for the reader is:  Do you know Jesus? Really?  Has He spoken to you?  If so what He has said to you will change the world if you do it.

 

The Rules of the Game

Recently my head has been swimming with ideas about dimensions beyond the four we live in (height, length, breath and time).  No more!  I’m going to play by the rules of the game God has set up in those four dimensions.  There is where sanity lies.

So what are the rules?  This is how I understand them:

  1. We all make mistakes, fail, sin, whatever you want to call it. Perfection in this game is impossible except for Jesus.  The rule is that when you sin you confess it, receive forgiveness, get up and go again (1 John 1:5 – 10).
  2. Love is the answer to everything.  As long as we keep on loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbours as ourselves we can’t go wrong (e.g. Matthew 22:37).
  3. Love starts and ends with God and particularly with an understanding that Jesus died a horrible death on the cross for us.  Keep remembering this and it cannot but produce love in you (e.g. 1 John 4:19).
  4. God’s means for remembering is what some denominations call “Breaking of Bread” and others “Holy Communion”.  Jesus wants us to meet together with others regularly and remember what He did together (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25).
  5. The mechanisms that God uses to enable us to please Him are grace working through our faith in Him we don’t see (see Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Romans).  So we believe and God in response gives us a whole pile of good things we don’t deserve including peace, health and (dare I say it) wealth primarily in our relationships.  The thing is not to take them for granted, we really don’t deserve all the blessings we receive. God blesses us so we can bless others who He also loves just as much as us.
  6. Faith is a gift of God which we receive when God first intervenes in our lives and grows as we continue to let Him intervene.  Some people call the first intervention the baptism of Christ, others the baptism of the Holy Spirit, others call it being born again.  The important thing is that you have it and continue to experience the reality of God’s presence in your life since it is He (the Living Word) that creates faith in you and without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Most Christians acknowledge that they have had this encounter by being baptised in water – an outward sign of an inward reality (1 Peter 3:21).

That’s it!  Simple really.

Forgiveness of Sins

It is a tragedy to watch Ireland abandon centuries of Christian tradition to become a bastion of anti-christian sentiment, atheism and humanism.

I believe that the main reason that this has happened is that the majority of the people of Ireland have rightly turned with horror from the abuses of the Roman Catholic churches hierarchy which have been laid bare in these last few years like rarely before.

However, we are throwing out the divine Baby with the bathwater.  Ireland needs to return to Christ and the Word of God as it was preached by Patrick when he first arrived in this country in 430 AD and not to return to the paganism that predated him.  And for that we need to remind ourselves of some basics:

“A pope or a bishop has no more power than the humblest priest where the remission of fault is in question. And even where there is no priest, each Christian, were they a woman or a child, can do the same thing. For if a simple Christian says to you, ‘God pardons sin in the name of Jesus Christ,’ and you receive the saying with firm faith, as if God himself had spoken, you are acquitted. If you believe not that your sins are pardoned, you make your God a liar, and declare that you put greater confidence in your vain thoughts than in God and his word. Under the Old Testament neither priest, nor king, nor prophet, had power to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; but under the New Testament every believer has this power.”

(From Martin Luther @1518 AD quoted in Volume 1, Book 3, Chapter 10 of the HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION by J. H. MERLE D’AUBIGNÉ. http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.)

The point Luther was making is that the truth that Jesus Christ was crucified so that we could know forgiveness of sins stands independently of the means by which it is delivered.  It only takes faith in the hearer of the truth itself for it to be effective – and as Paul says in Ephesians 2 that faith is itself a gift of God.

Luther goes on to say (from the same source):

“Repent, and do all the works that you can do; but let the faith which you have in the pardon of Jesus Christ stand in the front rank, and have sole command on the field of battle.”

This is the faith Patrick taught when he first arrived in Ireland @430 AD.  It was hundreds of years later that St. Anselm and others brought the errors of the Roman churches teachings on forgiveness to Ireland and enforced them on the people by Norman arms.  It was for control then that the Pope and the Roman Catholic hierarchy abrogated the power to forgive sins to themselves and it is for control over naive people that they continue to do so.

We need to stop being children in our thinking and become men in our understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20).