Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Crowds

We are like sheep.
That's not a bad thing. It's human. (or ovine?!!:))
Crowds/numbers have an effect on us.
I haven't read the literature but I suspect that we prefer to be part of a group than on our own in many situations, especially strange or tricky situations. We certainly don't like being singled out.
Recently I caught a domestic flight with my wife. For the first time we used the passport app on my phone.
I had grave doubts about whether we would be allowed on the flight. I wanted to join the queue and check-in, in the usual way. It took a lot of persuasion from my wife to stop me from following the crowd. It did work! But, like a sheep, I didn't want to be different.
I have seen footage and read stories about the holocaust. People being herded like cattle, on and off train carriages and into the gas chambers. And sadly I have seen recent similar footage, apparently from Iraq, of mass shootings. I am very disturbed at the thought of such suffering, and loss of life.
It does makes me wonder whether, even in death, there may be some form of security in being with the crowd.
On a positive note, there is probably an added element of exhilaration at a packed concert with a heightened level of anticipation and excitement for the event which relates to the sheer numbers of like mined people. I certainly experienced a crowd related high as I waited  to start the city to surf recently. In church too, there is added security when many are present, and definitely, an augmentation of the singing occurs in a large congregation.
I will add here that when Jesus told his disciples that they would be fishers of men, he probably was talking about fishing nets more than fishing lines, implying that the catch would be plentiful, not one at a time.
Having said this I want to now make my point.
Our salvation, in Jesus, does not depend on crowd movement.
Gods word, I believe, comes to us personally and individually. We may be in a crowd of thousands, but when God speaks to us it is basically one to one. Or more theologically, triune to one.
We are not responding in our spirits to a general idea or mass heavenly advertisement. We are obeying a personal call, however that may come to us.
We are not limited to responding in a situation of mass hysteria or even genuine mass conversion, though God may come to us at such times and speak to us personally.
Like the lost sheep (singular for this situation) the good shepherd will leave the 99 to find the one.
It is great to be part of a large congregation, but God is not limited to numbers and large numbers/popularity does not prove something to be of God or not of God.
It is rare for a sheep to step out of line. But conviction will sometimes lead a person to stand out of the crowd no matter how uncomfortable that may feel.
The word of God sometimes leads us to stand out, even to suffer.
Thankfully, in that situation, we are never alone. He will never leave us or forsake us.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Unity/Community

These thoughts are simply my own reflections on the (sad) fact of multiple denominations of Christian fellowship.

When Paul was traveling and broadcasting the news of who Jesus is and what he has done, and people were experiencing bursting faith and coming together for learning, sharing, caring and maturing, I imagine that every new believer was welcomed into the fold with gladness and joy.

I would find it hard to imagine one group of believers, in those early days, meeting 3 doors down from another group, never combining to celebrate their common joy of forgiveness. Never even darkening one anothers doorways, and, worse still, competing for members, criticizing each other and generally being suspiscious and derogatory.

Today, sadly, we have blocks of real estate with often 3 or more church buildings, on various corners, each presenting their own version of fellowship at similar times on Sundays.

Obviously I can't change history in four short paragraphs.

But I do have a vision for combined services on certain days of the year, which particularly include communion.

I think the denominations could suffer each others company for one or two Sundays a year and have shared communion.

I know that communion varies a lot between the churches, and there would be major theological arguments as to how to do it, and who could legally officiate.

But the truth is that communion is the most important meal we celebrate as Christians, and the Lord allowed even Judas, who he knew would betray him, to take part in the original last supper.

If we do not recognize the body of the Lord, we eat and drink judgement on ourselves, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:29 . My interpretation of this verse, is that the "body" is actually us, the people who make up the gathering, and all those gatherings around us, across the road, down the street, and in neighbouring towns etc. And what we do to the least of His disciples we do to Him!

Financially, theologically, socially, and practically it could be done; major services that celebrate communion interdenominationally, maybe out doors so the world can watch, and join in.

We could do it.

If we want to.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Exciting News

Christians are fairly universally on about "Good News".
But sometimes the way we go on about it doesn't make it sound so "good".
Back-tracking a little bit, the word "Gospel" also the word "Evangel"  are older words that basically translate into the words  "God's news" or good news.
(Hopefully I'm fairly close to correct in that last statement)
So the verb evangelise and the adjective "evangelical" are all to do with sharing good news.
Today was a special day for my wife and I.
One of our children achieved a life goal, which was exciting, exhilarating (and any other positive descriptive words you would like to add) etc.
Without hesitating for a moment we were on the phone, on Facebook, texting, and even telling strangers we met about our exciting news.
I said to my wife, this is what happens when you have good news to share. You just share it. It's not a burden, it doesn't feel awkward, you are not forcing people to agree, you can't actually resist the urge to tell someone, anyone or everyone what you now know to be true and amazing.
Then I thought about our Easter musical we are about to perform. And again I realised how natural it feels to be telling everyone to come and see it, advertising it in the paper, recruiting young and old to help spread the word. All those involved seem more than willing to help promote the musical.
Then I thought about "the woman at the well" in John's Gospel, how, after meeting Jesus, she ran back into her village telling everyone to come and meet the person who had just told her "everything she had ever done!". She was clearly excited.
Surely that is how it is meant to be with the news we have from God?
If it's not like this, then what is going wrong?
Maybe what we think is the gospel is not that exciting. Maybe it feels heavy, and foreboding, maybe even condemning.
How can we get excited condemning people? Is this the message we are meant to spread? Is this the Gospel?
Maybe we have become a bit like the Pharisees, wanting to point out the negatives and bringing people down.
I agree that John preached repentance, and repentance is absolutely necessary for us to be part of Gods family. And yes, we must all repent.
But the good news is that Jesus came not to condemn but to save, and his salvation is truly a free gift to all who want to receive it. Yes anyone, no matter who you are and what you've done.
It is my personal belief that this salvation is a gift, freely given. We don't need to do anything at all to earn it.
I even believe that repentance is a gift.
I believe that as the  amazing message of forgiveness and acceptance from God to us takes root, it ( the power of the message) actually brings about transformation in the person who believes it, including repentance!
That's great news isn't it?
We don't have to get every bit of theology right, but it does help if we are a bit excited about what God has done in us!!!
Today as we were walking in the shopping centre, a man was handing out little yellow business cards, with the news "Jesus loves you"
The fine print didn't excite me, but his humble manner and deliberate willingness to hand these cards out did.

I'll leave the subject of "the prayer for salvation" for a later blog.

May God bless you with an understanding of his great love for us all.
Amen

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The implications of being a Christian

I was just thinking that it would be worth listing some of the implications of identifying yourself as a Christian.
This is not in order of importance, nor is it exhaustive.
Being a Christian means
That you love Jesus
That you believe that someone who was killed and buried came back to life
That you are willing to be mistreated and not retaliate
That you forgive others
That money is not your main goal
That when you hear Jesus name being used as a negative word, it hurts
That you are committed to helping others, especially if they are also Christians
That you value and respect chastity and marriage
That you think the best of others, and give them the benefit of the doubt
That you highly value the Ten Commandments
That one day, maybe soon, you expect Jesus to appear again
That God allows suffering in our lives, and uses it to our great benefit
That when you answer a question, you are honest
That you are willing to give up what is rightfully yours, if called to do so
That you may be killed for no other reason other than for loving Jesus
That you want to live a holy life

to be continued


Friday, February 14, 2014

The Depravity of Man

Traditional Christian faith includes as a fundamental understanding, that mankind is in a fallen state.
What this means is that all human beings, from their moment of birth, are sinners. The term "original sin" is used to relate us back to Adam (and Eve), who first sinned in the garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapter 3. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had clearly commanded them not to eat, not only did they bring judgements including death, but they also passed onto us, almost like a genetic mutation, the desire to sin.
I have heard it put, that when Adam sinned, we all applauded.
We are made of the same flesh as Adam, and are similarly tainted with the effects of that first sin.
I could point out, as many have that you don't have to teach children how to "be bad" it seems to come naturally. But we do have to teach them how to be good.
The understanding of original sin implies that even if we were somehow able to live sinless lives, just being a child of Adam is enough to make us stand guilty of sin before God. Now we know from our reading of Genesis that God cared for Adam and Eve even after they had sinned, he also cared for the first children, Cain and Abel. And God even cared for Cain after he killed his brother Abel. (God put a mark on him so that if any other person came across him, he would not be killed). So original sin does not take away God's love that he pours out on us, but what it does not remove is death. We all die, and we all die because of original sin.
If the effect of original sin were somehow removed, we would live forever. In fact, in the Garden of Eden there was a tree of life, which would cause us to live forever, and that was one reason that Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden.
 Apparently Walt Disney's body is frozen somewhere, waiting for the scientific discoveries that will at some point allow us to revive frozen bodies and cure incurable diseases, and reverse ageing.
Were this possible, and Walt Disney were revived, say in another 200 years, would he still be the rightful owner of his estate? would he he need nursing home care? Would any of his great great great great grandchildren wish to care for him?
Putting these silly issues aside,  people who ask and pay for their bodies or brains to be frozen soon after death are putting their faith in science.
Christians are putting their faith in one man who, miraculously, was born without original sin, lived a sinless life, and after dying for the sins of others, showed that he was able to defeat death, and rise again, whole and now forever immune from the effects of death.
This man has promised his followers that he will raise them up, alive again, with actual bodies, made new (not the old body) to live forever with Him.
Our hope rests on the truth that he actually rose from the dead. The truth of the resurrection is what christians, past and present, put their faith and hope in.
If Jesus never rose from the dead, then our faith is simply an interesting way of life.
If Jesus did rise from the dead, we'd be crazy to ignore his teachings.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

The battle with porn

I debated a little regarding posting an article on this topic.
I am a married man, a father, and a Christian, and yes, I have struggled with viewing pornography on line.
I understand a little about addiction, and I believe this is an issue of addiction. A behaviour that does us, and others harm.
I know there would be some who would suggest there is nothing wrong with viewing porn. Maybe even some Christians, but I disagree.
I know, as a Christian, that I have felt broken, hurt, ashamed, guilty, unholy, unworthy, self-hating and many other feelings as a result of viewing porn. It feels wrong, and my conscience is activated and loudly accusing (along with Satan) as a result of this behaviour. So my opinion is that viewing porn is not good for me as a Christian. I also believe it affects those around me, making me angry and moody, and more prone to arguments, as well as having lingering lustful thoughts and images in my mind, which affect the way I perceive other people, and further activates my conscience, and amplifies all the negative feelings I listed above.

I also believe it hurts marriages. Undermining the intimacy and commitment of husband to wife.

I also believe it is a sin. If we believe Jesus words, looking at another woman with lusty thoughts is equal in God's eyes to adultery.

I guess I wouldn't be writing this article if I didn't think there was any hope of change.

Here's what I've found.

Firstly, I believe the first time you commit a particular sin, is the crucial one, breaking a persons strength. What I mean is, the first time a person is tempted to view porn, is the time he has the most power to resist the temptation. (Which is why Satan uses all his ability to deceive and trick us into a wrong action). Once we have given in to the temptation, there is less resistance the next time and so on.

If this resistance/power could be reset, then it would be easier for a person to stop the habit.
Sounds a bit complicated.

The good news is that our purity can be "reset".

I can already hear you saying, "Yes, yes, I know all that. As a believer in Jesus, I know that I am forgiven, all my sins are paid for, we are washed and cleansed and purified and sanctified, but I still look at porn."

OK I grant the truth of what you have said, but before I make my next point, I do want to pause and give thanks for the amazing act of atonement that Jesus completed for our sake on the cross. This atonement is strong. It means that even an adulterer like me can be forgiven, have peace in my conscience and the hope of eternal life and joy with God, as opposed to the torment and suffering of hell. Only Jesus has done this. He is worthy of all our adoration.

"But I still view porn."

My next experience was interesting.

I noticed that when I prayed about my dilemma, as I often did, the matter would be on my mind when I was with my wife (who strongly opposed the whole idea of porn). I would have an argument in my mind along the lines of: " I should tell her I've looked at porn. No, I'm the husband, I am in authority, I'll sort it out myself, just me and God". This would go over and over in my mind.

But I found that once I confessed to my wife, I had renewed strength to stop looking at porn.

OK it took 3 or 4 confessions. BUT each confession got easier, and each result got stronger.

I'm not saying I'm fine now, but I feel much less compelled to look at porn. And it has been many months now. Hopefully this will become years.

It's helped me broach the subject with my kids, I have teen boys.

I truly believe that if we are serious in our desire to change, God will open a way. The Holy Spirit has given us the fruit of self control and He will fill us with power to resist. Not all of us are married. But there is always one person we can trust, who will not condemn us, and who will care for our struggle, and wish to aid us in our time of need.

I am still a sinner. I still need every ounce of grace that God generously pours out on me, but I have benefitted from the absence of that accusing voice in my head, bringing me down, and affecting my relationships.

I hope this is helpful.





 


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Redemption

"I must have a purpose to fulfill".

I have heard this comment a few times recently. People who have survived illness or accident against the odds.
The implication is that God intervened in a situation that should have resulted in death, saving the life of the person in danger.
The conclusion being; God has done this because he wants that person to perform a function, carry out an activity, fulfill a duty or task and that this future role is special and somehow unique for that person, and therefore it was worth God's trouble to intervene.
I question this train of thought.

Firstly, does God intervene only when it is worth his while?
Secondly, do these people actually pursue and fulfill these divinely ordained activities? Do they realize at a later point in their life that this was why God saved them, and then, having completed the task, do they die soon afterwards?

What if God chooses, simply out of his pure love, to intervene and save a persons life, not because they are special, not because they have an outstanding task ahead, but simply so that they can go on enjoying the wonderful gift of life and relationships that God gives to all of us?

What if every single one of us has a purpose to fulfill, whether or not we have been saved from the jaws of death?
What if that purpose is a lot more ordinary than those portrayed  in blockbuster movies.
Caring for our loved ones, honoring our word, turning up for work, doing our jobs honestly and carefully, sharing our thoughts and wisdom with those we love, listening to those who need our time, sharing our faith in simple ways, praying for others, mowing the lawn, doing our homework, passing exams?

What if we never achieve anything that is "outstanding"?

We can pretend that we are doing God a favour. I sometimes find myself patting myself on the back for having achieved some worldly goal. Having held back from some habitual sin. Having held my tongue in an argument.
What about the other thousand times I didn't?
If I somehow think that one current good day makes up for the many years of failure then I am deluded.

But grace has appeared.
In and through God's grace, we are truly able to forget about the past and enjoy the present knowing that God has atoned for all our sins. And we can die peacefully, even if we have not achieved any more than a few good days with less arguments.

There is only one redeemer.

Praise be to our Lord, Jesus Christ.