Liberals and Conservatives

Mankind just loves to put people into categories.  Once we do that we can then begin to take a position.  Once we take a position, the other position is wrong.  We love to fight and argue and we need positions to argue from.

There are many ways of creating categories but one of the most popular is to put people into the position of being a liberal or a conservative.  The danger is in expressing an opinion on something.  Once I express a position I am immediately put into a camp.  I am a liberal if I support climate change regardless of any other position on any other subject I may hold.  I am a conservative if I am against abortion, again that is regardless of any other position on any other subject I may hold.

But of course Jesus was neither a conservative nor a liberal.  C.S. Lewis has this to say about extremes:

“I feel a strong desire to tell you—and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me—which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (p. 77). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

He who believes in Me

“If anyone thirsts let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me in the way Scripture says, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”

These are the words of Jesus quoted in  John 7:37, 38.  I love the way the Old Testament foreshadows this in unexpected ways:

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. Proverbs 18:4.

The distinction between a babbling fool and a bubbling brook of wisdom is critical here.  The source is always the most important thing.  The channel it comes through is also important.  Jesus says that you have the capability to be a channel for His wisdom.  It is a holy task to find out how that works in your life so that you can continually be a bubbling brook of refreshing and life giving words to those who are thirsty for them.  It is also a lifetime’s work.

What is the Church?

A couple of people close to me recently asked me a question which seemed to betray a misunderstanding of church.  The question was: “Why do people get hurt going to church?”  The implication was that if the church is part of the Body of Christ how could God’s body do anyone any harm?

I think the misunderstanding is most easily cleared up by using a diagram:

What is the church

In the diagram I show a large circle in the centre which shows the Body of Christ worldwide.  Around the edges and to one side I draw three other circles that represent what most people call churches.  The first thing to note is that no church (as the term is commonly understood) consists fully of people in the Body of Christ.  I can say with confidence that there is no large group of people meeting on a Sunday morning on this earth whose members are all members of the Body of Christ.  There may be smaller bodies of people who meet together, particularly in countries where the church is persecuted, that are all members of the Body of Christ but, even then, it can be a very hard thing to assess.  How do you know whether everyone you meet with knows Jesus or not?

Among these churches I have drawn a distinction between three types of congregations.

Type 1 is what I would call “life giving”.  These are churches you need to go to if you are a member or aspire to be a member of the Body of Christ.  They encourage you to love Jesus and through Him to love the Father , your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and your neighbour as yourself.

Type 2 is what I would call “life sucking”.  These are congregations of people that do not encourage you to love God with all your heart or your neighbour as yourself.  They are often dying in the sense that they are reducing in numbers but that isn’t always a reliable sign.

Type 3 is just plain dead.  There actually may be some people in it (unlike in the diagram) that are in the Body of Christ but they might as well not be since the church itself is doing nothing related to Jesus.  These types of churches are all too common.  There main distinguishing feature is that they are more interested in continuing their existence than they are in the well being of their attendees.

Diagrams like the above are of course limited in reflecting reality which is often more complicated and messy.  The main point is this: don’t expect churches to act like the Body of Christ should act.  Not even most of the time.  They are not the same thing. Be prepared to be hurt by people in church and you will be a bit more prepared and less disillusioned when it happens.

Mere Christianity

C.S. Lewis was asked by the BBC to give a series of talks on the radio during the second world war called “Mere Christianity”.  These were later expanded into a book which is one of the best summaries of Christianity out there.

One of the most famous passages from this book is the following statement about who Jesus is.  It is commonly known as “Lewis’ trilemma” or  the “Mad, bad or God” argument.  It is well worth reading this passage in context and, indeed, reading the whole book:

“Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings. I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (p. 24). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faith & Waiting

There is a pattern of God’s working with men that seems almost like He is teasing us, but the aim is to test and show our faith, remove idolatry and make us more dependent on Him.

When Abraham was told at the age of 75 that his descendants would be like the stars of heaven or the sands of the seashore his expectation was probably that he would have a son almost immediately and that there would be at least tens of descendants before he died.  As it turned out, he had just two descendants (Isaac & Jacob) to whom the promise applied by the time he died 100 years later.

Joseph might have been forgiven for thinking that the trajectory of his life would not have involved kidnapping, prison and servitude from the age of 17 to 40 after getting dreams of his parents and his siblings bowing down before him.

Moses probably didn’t anticipate Pharoah making things much harder for the the people of Israel when he was sent to deliver them from bondage.  Watching the bondage actually increase when he was told that God would deliver them must have been hard.  God didn’t tell Moses that that was going to happen first and it didn’t exactly inspire faith in his story in the ones he had come to deliver either.

Another significant example of the same principle in practice can be seen in the life of David.  He was anointed king at around 17 but was running for his life for a large part of his career after that and didn’t see the fulfilment of the promise until he was 30.

So, if like me, you have been given a promise from God and the exact opposite seems to be happening don’t be surprised.  You are in good company.

God will come through for you.

Faith and Desire

God knows your deepest desires and isn’t surprised by any of them.  I believe that He has an answer to them all in Christ both for this life and the next.

As believers one of the things we have to get used to is that the line between this life and the next is very thin indeed.  There is a major transition involved, we need to shake off this mortal body and put on an immortal one.  But apart from that nothing else changes – much!  It does take faith to look over that gap and see our lives continuing on.

However, one of the keys of living a contented Christian life here is to hope and believe in satisfaction and contentment throughout our existence.  Some desires will be satisfied here during this mortal life, many will be satisfied there during the immortal stage.

God commends this kind of faith.  In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer ends up his panegyric about the heroes of faith in chapter 11 by saying this:

“All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

The saints of the Old Testament are still waiting for our time to come to a close before they will get all they desire.

So, if you are facing unfulfilled desires in this life, ask yourself whether God hasn’t planned to fulfil them in the next.  No, better still, ask God.  You might be surprised at His answer.

 

Basic Faith

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

It is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those that sincerely seek Him. (Hebrews 11:1, 6 NLT)

When people ask me what we have to believe I have often said the Gospel requires very little faith in reality, at least to start with.  All we need to believe is that God exists and that He is good.  Everything else can be logically built upon those two foundations.  If God exists and is good then it follows that He would do all that the bible says He has done.

No one can prove God exists but then neither can any of us prove that anything ultimately exists since we cannot know the ultimate materials on which matter is built.  The more we split the atom, the more there is to split.  So, rather than being unreasonable, we logically believe in some basic building blocks (atoms, nucleus, protons, neutrons and electrons) and our engineered inventions are built on those beliefs.  They work because the things we believe about materials are true.

In the same way, the bible tells us to be reasonable.  Believe in some basic things: God is and He is good.  After that, everything God has caused to be written in His book is reasonable and makes sense.  However if God does not exist or, if He does but He is in fact evil, then the bible is either rubbish or a perverse set of stories of an evil being with malicious intent towards us all.

God says: “I AM”.  He does exist.

The bible goes onto say that God gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  He is not willing that anyone should perish.  In other words He is good.

Start there.

 

Faith

Faith, according to St. Paul, is the means by which the whole being of the believer—his intellect, his heart, and his will—enter into possession of the salvation which the incarnation of the Son of God has purchased for him. Jesus Christ is apprehended by faith, and thenceforth becomes every thing for man, and in man. He imparts a divine life to human nature; and man thus renewed, disengaged from the power of selfishness and sin, has new affections, and does new works. Faith (says Theology, in order to express these ideas) is the subjective appropriation of the objective work of Christ. If faith is not an appropriation of salvation, it is nothing; the whole Christian economy is disturbed, the sources of new life are sealed up, and Christianity is overturned at its base.

D’AUBIGNÉ, J. H. MERLE. HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY (All 20 Volumes In 1 Complete Book) (HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION by J. H. MERLE D’AUBIGNÉ) (Kindle Locations 947-953). http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.

The above quotation was written by a French man in the early 1800’s.  Maybe it is just what I have been reading but I have yet to find a modern writer who can sum up the whole doctrine of salvation by faith in such simple and comprehensive terms.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He is the source of new life.  If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.  Christ in us is our hope of glory.  Apart from Him there is salvation in no one else.  God has proven His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, He sent His One and Only Son that He might die for us and give us eternal life.  He made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us that we become the righteousness of God in Him.

Hopefully you can see why it is so important to immerse yourself in the Holy Scriptures which are able to make us wise unto salvation.

Have you been transformed by the renewing of your mind?  Could you find in your bible all the verses I have quoted off the top of my head above?  Does knowing those verses make me any better a Christian than you?  No, but it helps my faith to know them.  And it is by faith we are saved, through grace. It is a gift of God.

Read your bible. Please.

Understanding the Closeness of God

When we are dealing with the God who made everything, including every cell in our physical bodies and all the space He inhabits within our atoms – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) – there is every justifiable reason why we might get confused about hearing His voice or experiencing His presence.  He is so close!  In fact the English word “close” does not do justice to the amazing interaction of God with those He has an intimate relationship with.

So we can often think we are just imagining things when it is in fact God speaking to us.  One of the great things to learn how to do is to recognise that still, small voice that speaks to us out of the chaos and noise of everyday life (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).  To know His presence is even more intricate.  It is so intangible, so outside of, and yet works through, our emotional state.  We forget that we were made, designed, to know these things.  God’s voice and His presence can seem so natural we can just dismiss them as our imagination.  But even our imagination was made to enhance and help us understand the voice and presence of God.

“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:7, 15).  Actually, this is the nub of the matter: Do you really want to hear what God is saying to you?  Might He be saying, get out of the way and let Me work?  Possibly, though He will say it, if He has to, more graciously than that.

Sodom & Gomorrah

I am reading a book by Charles Swindoll called: “Abraham: One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith.”  In it Charles includes a very convicting chapter on Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah.  It is a word for today’s church.

I am a firm believer that things are improving in many ways but I don’t think anyone could say that things have been improving over my lifetime morally.  There has been more concern for social justice expressed among the richer young people, more eradication of absolute poverty, more education, better living standards for nearly everyone and a less polluted environment in many places.  All these things are good and can in large part be ascribed to charitable impulses arising from Christians who have been reading their bibles, listening to God and making changes to their lives and the lives of those around them accordingly, often empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is good to see accounts of people like Desmond Doss in the Mel Gibson film “Hacksaw Ridge”, and Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln”.  There are good men & women out there, we know many who are giving their lives selflessly in many places around the world, some at great cost to themselves.

However it is also impossible to deny that many forms of immorality are on the increase.  Things that my ancestors would have thought gross immorality are now lauded as virtues by the peers of my descendents.  The continuous and unrelenting destruction of innocent life by the hands of their mothers and colluding medical staff – if you had told someone at the beginning of the 20th Century that such behaviour was going to be protected by the law at the wishes of the majority of the people, very few would have believed you.  If you had also told my ancestors that we would have a openly homosexual Taoiseach and an openly practicing lesbian (and witch) as our Minister for Children – well no one would believe you 100 years ago.  Or even 50 years ago.  Most young people would laugh at the idea that having sex before marriage was somehow wrong and they don’t know what fornication means.  Adultery is so common no one remarks on it much.

The inevitable consequence of our continuing tolerance of this downward slide among our people here in Ireland and across the western world is judgement.  It cannot be otherwise.  Somewhere along the line God is going to say “Enough.” and end it all.  He did it at the Flood, at Babel, at Sodom & Gomorrah and He will do it again.  Most likely in the next 20 years or so He will usher in a new age during which He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9, Rev. 2:27, 19:15).  You won’t want to be on the wrong end of that rod when it comes.

On our part we need to be sure we are not becoming like Lot, insensitised, perverted and too fond of the comforts that the improvements are bringing about to want to lift our heads above the parapet and call a spade, a spade.