Saturday, 30 August 2008

The crucial difference between faith and opinion

I dipped into a book by John Owen this week called "A Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of The Person of Christ - God and Man."  It won't win any awards for a catchy title and only after reading some paragraphs 5 times do I get what they are saying.  (Not only are there words I have never seen before, some of the words I think I know turn out to have had different meanings back then making it all very confusing!)  So why on earth go through the struggle of trying to understand it all?  Because there are some diamonds waiting to be unearthed...

He was talking about how Israel had had such clear revelation about the person and work of Messiah through the Old Testament, yet when he arrived on the scene, they not only did not recognize him, they crucified him!

He makes the distinction between faith and opinion.  The first is something in one's spirit, the second, however strong is in one's mind only.  The generation of Israelites that entered and took possession of the Promised Land experienced mighty acts of God and exhibited great faith.  But one generation later it had all gone wrong.  The new generation had the culture and opinion of its parents but not its faith.  So when the temptation to follow after other gods was put in front of them, they soon wandered away from the Living God to serve blocks of wood! (!?!)

Many people think they are Christian because they have Christian opinions or have grown up in a Christian culture or family, but it's all guff and wind.

So the question I found myself asking was: How do you avoid dynamic faith decaying into mere culture or opinion?  The best answer I have come up with so far is private personal prayer/time alone with God.  We can surf on the wave of other people's faith when we are at meetings.  (And don't get me wrong I have times in my life when I need that just to hang in there!)  But the measure of a man in God's eyes is not when the man has an audience of many, but when he has an audience of one.  

(Not that we earn God's favour, but now that through the Cross we have God's favour, how much do we prize it?)

So how is your level of faith?  How much are you taking time out alone with God?  Have you fallen into the trap of thinking that drinking deep of your church culture is just as good as having  that spiritual life which Jesus offers springing forth from within a person?  Those of us who are seeking to witness, how are we doing at leading our friends/colleagues/children to dynamic faith in Christ and not just into a christian lifestyle culture?

Let us press on together, but let us also press on in the secret place alone with God into eternal life, that is personal, intimate friendship with God.

When he knows he has our full and undivided attention, he will do even more than we have yet dreamed possible.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The best pleasures are personal

Quick confession on on Psalm 16:11.  It says:

You make known to me the path of life;in your presence there is fullness of joy;at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I always assumed that the pleasures referred to in this verse were things like food and wine and stuff.  This would make my vision of Heaven little different from say, the Muslim one, where men sip wine and are attended to by many beautiful virgins!  I only clicked last week that the pleasures at the right hand of the Father are not things but a person.

What, or rather who, is at the right hand of the Father?

As a bride and groom are captivated with each other on the day of the wedding, so Jesus and his church will be captivated with one another on the day when they meet face to face!  This relational pleasure is what, to my mind, is in view in Psalm 16:11.

But who in their right mind goes looking for pain...?

This morning I was reading an article on the legacy that Joel Edwards will have left on the Evangelical Alliance.  A quote from him stood out at me:

It's very easy for the Church to co-exist with society as opposed to being embroiled in its pain.  Experiencing this suffering changes the way we pray and the way we preach and alters our view of the world from a stained glass window.

It should be no surprise that Rev. Edwards makes this observation.  The church is made up of people and people don't make a habit of going looking for pain, especially emotional pain.

Many in our world (including many in the church) use their prosperity to shield themselves from much of the madness and chaos, but even if they do succeed, no-one can buy their way out of meaninglessness. 

No one will embrace pain unless they are sure that at its end, the prize won is worth the suffering.  So how do we embroil ourselves in this pain in a meaningful way and not in a way that ends up destroying us?  (This statement assumes of course that you are like me and have not yet suffered much.  Others of you have already experienced/are experiencing pain the like of which I can only imagine.)

Jesus was more human than I am and what's mind-blowing about that is that he went looking for pain.  Whenever it was that the Son of God chose to obediently suffer in order to redeem a fallen world from then on until the second coming he chose and continues to choose to embrace and embroil himself in pain.

The superhero figures of our our cultural imagination like Spiderman and Batman enter that pain and moral grey and live in a strange mental world that borders on a crippling self-doubt and insanity (I am guessing)  because there appears to be no hope of an end to evil and suffering, only ever constant struggle, (Yin and Yang, birth and rebirth etc., very Eastern in its philosophy)

That's why Jesus is such good news!   He didn't go mad in the face of pain and suffering, he conquered pain and suffering by entering into it and destroying it from within.  He became the curse that he might destroy the curse.  And now, for those who receive the life he offers, there will be strength to endure to the end of what can seem like a fruitless struggle against pain and suffering.  And afterwards there will be unadulterated pleasure with Him in the New Creation for ever.

The only way to meaningfully deal with human evil and universal chance and embrace pain without allowing it all to to drive you mad is to embrace it like Jesus.  

Sunday, 24 August 2008

How long until Jesus returns?

Matthew 24:14 states that the good news about Jesus must be told to all "ethne" (that is all people groups/tribes etc) before Jesus will return.

The pie chart (see right) is from the Operation World website.  You can download the whole presentation it comes from by clicking here.  If it is to be believed, then the strategic big picture of our efforts appears to be misdirected since most of our missionaries are going to places where there is already a viable Christian witness.

Now please don't mishear me!  I say a hearty God bless you to people who leave their homes and travel anywhere to live for him.  But if you are like me then pie charts like this one cannot but make you stop and think.

Of course there are legitimate reasons why the numbers of missionaries to these countries is so few, not least because many of them are so closed to outsiders and it is therefore notoriously difficult to get into them on anything but a tourist visa.

But the fact remains that they need Jesus and we have him to give.  And if we are serious about wanting to see him return in our lifetime, then it's time to pray that God would increase the size of the red slice in this pie chart and ask him what we can do to make that red slice grow in either going ourselves or resourcing others to go!

Friday, 22 August 2008

It ain't over 'til it's over

Many people thought that after the Human Fertilization and Embryology votes on the 19th and 20th of May that everything was over. The May votes were actually only Round 1 of the big Common’s HFE votes...

Please continue reading at this web page.

Then go to and email your MP about it.  

Our God has a special concern for the vulnerable and weak, because they are the ones who so often don't get the justice they are entitled to.  We must speak and act on their behalf.

Breaking the taboo of dating...?

Have just been watching this:
If you prefer, you can download it (in either video or audio format) here

The last thing I want to do is encourage a bad attitude to dating.  However, if you are a man (and I am primarily addressing men here!) and are not dating, search your heart and ask yourself if the reasons for you not dating are good ones.  Because the truth is that sometimes, a mixture of ungodly motives like: laziness, selfishness, pride, a fear of making oneself vulnerable and a warped sense of duty can often camouflage themselves behind the alibi of "waiting for God to bring along the right person." 
If that's you, repent, resolve to take yourself less seriously and go for it... 

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Keeping the main thing, the main thing.

Having just completed a tour of Ireland on my bike, covering 850 miles over 8 days, I am very tempted only to think that the most important thing about me is my sporting prowess and allow my head to swell with pride when people tell me how impressed they are with my achievements. It's all too easy to forget that I am an adopted son of the one true God.  Nothing more, nothing less. And it is at times like these when I have to declare Psalm 147:10-11 to myself:

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

It's sometimes hard to shake free of the delusion that life is about the perfect body / job / partner etc.  When I meet Jesus face to face, it will not be the size of my abs, biceps or quads that he will be interested in, but rather the size of my heart and how it has been enlarged not by physical exercise but by the love and power of God.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Gold medals in Beijing and the Bible

Nicole Cooke below talks about her Olympic Gold cycling win in Beijing.

She refers to something someone had written on the road whilst competing in a junior mountain bike race in 2001. It said:

"Pain is temporary. Glory is everlasting."

Cooke is so right in that sport, at it's best, brings out some of the best in people. It can inspire, motivate and unify us all in the pursuit of excellence; and promote great character traits like perseverance, teamwork and empathy.  When it all goes well the glory and feel-good-factor for all involved is amazing.

To win a gold medal, to have the eyes of the world upon you in that moment of victory, to have that memory with you for the rest of your life, and to know that your victory will be recorded in the history books for the rest of humanity to see long after you have left this life must be an incredible thing both to experience and to reminisce over long afterwards.
But there is a glory that is even greater than this:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 
1 Cor 9:24-27

When life as we know it is over, and we pass into our eternal home, it is then that every eye shall see what the greatest of all medal-worthy deeds and all those who have persevered in trusting and loving Jesus Christ will echo the words of Paul as they receive their medals (or should I say crowns):

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
2 Tim 4:7-8

Friday, 1 August 2008

Trying to feel the weight...

Seeing news stories like this along with the video embedded below help me to feel something of the incredible deception Jacob's sons put their father through in Genesis 37 when they told him Joseph was dead.

Say hello if you arrive here!

Hmm, lets see how long it takes for someone to find this post!