Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Mistletoe and Wine

Happy December everyone, the snow has been falling and Christmas is almost upon us. Everyone is starting to get excited and looking forward to seeing their friends and family. Time to buy presents and look forward to gifts. Time for goodwill and peace. For decorations and food, for comfort and warmth.

That’s the point of Christmas isn’t it? To have a good time, to please ourselves and others. That is just one of the things that Christmas has become. Whilst giving and receiving gifts are not bad things Christmas today has to many people become simple that; a celebration of celebration itself rather than of the coming of the promised messiah; Jesus.

In the coming month it is worth reminding ourselves of why we are celebrating at this time of year. It is not because it is cold and dark, it is not because we have to celebrate or lose hope. We celebrate Christmas because we have a sure and certain hope. A new life with God, due to the sacrificial death of the man Jesus upon a cross 2000 years ago to pay the penalty that we deserve, to set us (previously captives) free and proclaim the Lord’s favour.

Remember this Christmas that we celebrate Christ. He should be the centre of our festivities not simply an after thought, just something that is done. Enjoy the fact that the whole country is celebrating with you and pray that those who don’t know it hear of the true reason why the country so fervently celebrates.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Has Science disproved God?

As part of a series on apologetic teaching at church we, this week, looked at the question of whether science has disproved God, courtesy of Tim Wears. Whether the study of science is incompatible with a belief in a God and leads to the view that religion is divisive leading to oppression and violence.

One of the topics I’d like to highlight was that of the different types of Naturalism. In fact there are two distinct types of naturalism: Scientific naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. There is an important distinction between the two and one does not necessarily logically lead to the other. Methodological (scientific) naturalism concerns knowledge and how to get trustworthy knowledge of the natural world. Any hypothesis has to be explained and tested only by reference to natural causes and events; this is the proper way to do science. Whilst Metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism is a world view concerning existence, what exist and what doesn’t. It states that there is nothing beyond nature, that nature is everything.

It is important to note here that a belief in metaphysical naturalism is exactly that, a belief, a philosophical position that can not be proved. A presupposition rather than a conclusion and it is a world view which by definition has no room for God in it. So to say that scientific endeavour has in someway disproved God is meaningless as it either can’t say anything about God or already assumes that there isn’t one. Many scientists would agree with this, for instance Steven Jay Gould, an eminent evolutionary biologists and atheist, said

“To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time: science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.” 1

This was just one of the points that was made by Tim, and in a far more elegant way than I could possibly manage. I would highly recommend listening to entire talk which you can find here, it starts about 5 minutes in. As part of the talk we watched a clip of Alistair McGrath on the ethics and morality of religion. This has been omitted from the recording (approx 39 minutes in) and can be found here. I hope that you find it as interesting as I did.

1. "Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge" (Review of Philip E. Johnston, Darwin on Trial), Scientific American (July 1992): 119. (c)1992, Scientific American

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Unity and Evangalism

Last weekend, I went on a weekend away with the Christian Union. It was an amazing time of fellowship and a great opportunity to get to know one another better. Along with the compulsory games we also had some really good teaching courtesy of John and Nay Dawson on the topics of Unity and Evangelism.

We learnt about the importance of unity. The fact that it is essential to God’s plan:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…. I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity.” Jhn 17:20-21a, 23a

It is Jesus’ desire that we as a church would be ‘brought to complete unity’. However this unity is not at the sake of all else, for instance in John 17:17 we read ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’ So this is more fundamental than unity; we must be unified in the truth.

So we can not give up the important things for the sake of unity, but there are some things that are not as important as unity and we should sacrifice them for each other, for instance in 1 Corinthians Paul, talking about food sacrificed to idols, says

“Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” 1 Cor 8:13

after he had appealed for unity:

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Cor 1:10

However, reiterating the point that not everything can be given up for the sake of unity, Paul carries on in 1 Cor 15 to state the Gospel, declaring that

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” 1 Cor 15:2

So we should be unified, but that unity should be in the Gospel. But what is the reason why we should be unified? The reason is found in the first passage from John that we looked at.

“so that the world may believe that you have sent me…..Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Jhn 17:21,23

The reason to be united is to proclaim God’s love, in essence the point of unity is to evangelise. Likewise evangelism doesn’t fully make sense without unity.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Friends: A poem

Sitting silently,
No need to talk.
Pleasant company,
in silence wrought.

Friendship needs
no words to tell.
Of the feelings,
that inward dwell.

No fear of loss
if words don't please.
No advantage gained,
nought to seize.

Deep and true
that friendship grows
if company keeps
through highs and lows.

To sit and be
with one another,
living life
to grow together.

Sitting silently,
No need to talk.
Pleasant company,
in silence wrought.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Prayfull People?

Sometimes I forget how important prayer is. Not the fact that it is communion with God and therefore the most important thing imaginable but rather the frequency with which we should pray. At the moment I’m going through the book of Ephesians with a group of people from church. In his introduction Paul (as in many of his letters) tells of his thoughts for the recipients of the letter.

"Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers." Eph 1:15-16

Paul constantly thinks about this distant church, he constantly brings these people before God in prayer. How often do we pray about our own church, let alone the part of the church that is far off? It has certainly challenged me to be persistent in prayer not just for specific needs but also just bringing people before the Lord. We are also called to pray for the spiritual blessing of each other.

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better." Eph 1:17

These blessings are obviously something that needs to be asked for not a default package that comes with salvation. This is quite a statement. God gives his gifts freely but sometimes we still have to ask for them on our own or another’s behalf. I think this gives us a responsibility for one another. Think; if we don’t pray for someone then they may not be blessed in that specific way.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Christ and the Church

I heard an 'interesting' talk the other week about the relationship between Christ and the church. The speaker was preaching that Christ and the Church are one and the same thing. His argument rested on the fact that persecuting the church is the same thing as persecuting Christ. In Acts Saul(later Paul) persecutes the church but on the road to Damascus Jesus says to him
‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' Acts 26:15

Thus, the reasoning went, for Christ to say that he was persecuted whist in reality it was the church that was persecuted must mean that Christ and the church are synonymous.

There are several things wrong with this, primarily the fact that it is simply wrong. If I for instance burnt down your place of work, killed your children and beat up your wife then, though I hadn't harmed you, you may feel that I am persecuting you, and you would be justified in that belief. Or if you were a king and I started killing your subjects because they were your subjects then I would again be persecuting you even though no physical harm befall you.

There is also the fact that the relationship between Christ and the church is made explicit elsewhere: The church is the bride of Christ (Rev 12:2) and the body of which Christ is the head (Eph 5:23, 1 Cor 12:27).

These specifically mark the differences. A bride and bridegroom are not the same thing, a head and its body are not the same thing but they are still one; intimately related. The beauty of salvation is that we are brought back into relationship with Christ, we do not become deified which we would have to be if we were actually turning into Christ. Christ and the church are distinct yet united. Does that remind you of anything? The trinity maybe? Through Christs death on the cross we too are grafted into this complex loving relationship.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Feelings and Faith

What happens when we are feeling sad, down, depressed? When we just have one of those days or if things are not going well? Do we give up? Or do we keep running the race set before us?

In a small group this week we ended up talking about praising God all the time. That the first chapter of Ephesians tells us that this is the ultimate point of our salvation: ‘To the praise of his glorious grace’. Someone said that this means that we should praise God the whole time. But I think this is not the case. After all there is a book in the Bible called lamentations, and there are psalms of lament, and then we have Job.

All of these describe people who are bringing everything before God, not just the good bits but the whole of there lives. Their lives are not perfect yet they bring the whole of their lives before God. Before we start to think that this is simply an Old Testament phenomenon, in the New Testament we are told to ‘bring everything before God in prayer and petition’. Yet bringing everything to God does not imply doubt in God’s goodness or power. Job brought his complaints before God yet still believed in him and knew that he was loved by him.

After all if you are truly in a relationship with someone you don’t only tell them the good things. They know a whole plethora of things about you from the big things down to the minutia. How superficial would your relationship be if the whole time that something was wrong you were pretending that everything was fine?

Another problem with the idea that we should be constantly praising God is that when we feel down and don’t praise God it becomes easier to doubt the truth because we then ‘can’t’ bring how we are feeling before God. Thus our relationship with God ends up depending on our fickle feelings. To avoid this dependence on our feelings we need to know the truth in our head. We need to be imbued by the word, its knowledge percolating our whole being. So that when we don’t feel like praising God, when things are going badly, we still know that our salvation is secure in Christ and that God does indeed love us, even if we’re not feeling it.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Raise a Cry: A poem

Raise a cry,
Sound a trump,
Lift your voice on high.
Lift your voices,
Praise to sing,
Of the one who came to die.

Shout it loud,
Sing it long,
Tell it to the crowd.
Tell to all that
Cross upon,
Jesus died for death to cow.

Sing well, men,
Loud and strong,
Not yet story end.
Sing sweet, women,
Long to tell,
Of the one who rose again.

Of the one who came to die,
Of the one who rose again,
Of the one who reigneth now,
Upon the throne of Heaven.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Path(s?) up a Mountain

All paths lead to God, don’t they? That was the question posed at a sermon I attended at church. Picture a mountain if you will, with God at its heights and us at the base. There are many paths from where we start, many ways that we can live our life but only one path will enable us to complete the climb. Only one path can draw us close to God.

Some people claim that all the paths up the mountain reach the top and that from the bottom we can simple not tell. That is true, we can only have knowledge of the mountain from someone who was once on top and able to look down and see all the routes and whether or not they reach the summit. In Christ we have such a person, God incarnate, he who was once high humbling himself and coming to us at the bottom of the mountain.

Whether you believe that or not, it is certainly true that Jesus considered himself the only ‘path up the mountain’.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well” John 14:6-7.

Likewise the founders of other religions would have denied that other religions were true. In Islam, Muhammad taught that the teaching of Judaism and Christianity had both been corrupted and that he had been given the true revelation of God. Buddha decided that Hinduism was wrong and so founded Buddhism. Thus to say that you follow one of these religions and still claim that all ways ‘lead to God’ means that you do not truly follow the teachings of your faith. Thus it is predominantly agnostics who hold this view.

The main objection to the fact that one religion can lead to God seems to be (at least to me) that it is a particularly arrogant claim. To essentially say that this religion is correct and all the others are wrong stinks of unacceptance. This however misses the point; the arrogance of a claim does not impact upon its validity. I, for instance, could say that I’m absolutely great at maths, the fact that I’ve made this statement doesn’t alter my mathematical ability one iota, I either am, or I am not.

A second argument against this objection is that in saying that my belief (that there is only way ‘up the mountain’) is wrong they themselves are making an equally arrogant statement: namely that they are able to perceive fundamental truths better than anyone one of that faith.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What do we believe?

What do we believe? How many of us can succinctly state what we believe. I, for one, find myself just rambling on; repeating key words and phrases that have truth in them but have become nothing more than clichés. So what do I believe?

I believe:

  • That God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.

  • That God is unique but not singular and has always existed in a relationship with himself.

  • That God created the world. (I’m still not sure how?)

  • That the world that God created was perfect; without spot or blemish
  • .
  • Man was in perfect relationship with God but that through free will man chose to distance himself from God by not obeying him.

  • That God was angry with man (but still loved him, hence clothing him).

  • That God is just and must see wrong punished, that he can not abide the presence of sin.

  • That from the first man to now everyone (except one) has fallen short of the perfect standard of God (and this inadequacy separates us from God).

  • Man can not mend the relationship with God (as he can not make himself perfect while his past wrongs still stand)

  • God loved man so much that, even though we were entirely at fault, he made a way for the relationship to be mended.

  • God sent his only son Jesus (who was himself God) to earth to die and face the punishment that justice demands that our wrongs deserve.

  • That through Jesus’ death on the cross we were cleansed and made new.

  • That everyone who accepts this free gift of God is made pure and spotless but that those who reject it remain slaves to sin and further alienate themselves from God.

  • That three days after his death Jesus came back to life and that to those who believe eternal life is also granted.

  • That Jesus later ascended to heaven and now sits at the right hand of God.

  • That there will be a new heaven and earth on which God will reign.

  • That there will be a day when God will come to judge the living and the dead and that those who are without sin (clothed in Christ’s robes) will live eternally on a new perfect earth and reign with Christ in perfect relationship once more, and the rest will be cast in to the depths.

  • That the Bible is the only true inerrant word of God, is a historical document and teaches us how to live as imitators of Christ.

I find this absolutely amazing. Whilst trying to write this I kept thinking of more and more points to write. However I have tried to keep this as concise as possible and it has certainly helped me see the big picture, an overview if you like, of what I believe. Looking using a wide lense rather than at each aspect individually is the only way I can see if everything I believe is logically consistent and ties together or whether my understanding of something is incomplete or wrong.

If you have time, I’d recommend that you give it a try. Write down what you believe, try and give some detail but don’t end up writing a thesis. Also if possible try and avoid clichés. This will mean that it is indeed what you believe and not what you are ‘supposed’ to believe. It would be nice to hear how you get on, and if this was helpful at all.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The First Step

How do we know where God wants us to be, what he wants us to be doing, how we are to serve him. Do we wait for a sign, for opportunities to spring up before us or do we do what we think is best, even when it seems to be failing?

Israel’s priests would have suffered, I’m sure, the same thoughts as they prepared to cross the Jordan. They’d heard stories growing up of that great act of Exodus, when God parted the waters so that his people could cross over, but they had not seen it first hand. Now, 40 years later, they were being ordered to carry Israel’s most precious treasure in to the mighty river Jordan. Not only did they have to cross a river but they had to cross a large river in flood.

The priests walked down to the bank of the river and stepped out (literally and figuratively) in faith. We read in Joshua 4 that

“as soon as the priests ... feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing”

The important thing to note is that the river did not dry up before the priests began to cross. As commanded they simply kept on walking into the river, yet as SOON as their feet touched the river it stopped flowing. It was God’s plan, yet the river was still there when they started forward.

Today, do we wait for too much detail, for the path set before us to be brilliantly clear before we set off? Or do we, as these priest did, step forward with faith even when the path before us is murky and full of obstacles. If you do not take that first step then you may never find out whether it is the correct path, but if you do then it will soon become obvious whether it is or not. As my Pastor said on Sunday:

“If you live without risk, then you risk not living”

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury

This past week, it seems that the only news story in the UK was the Pope’s visit. One of the things that particularly caught my eye was the Pontiffs meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently the outcome of their meeting was to forge closer ties between Catholicism and the Church of England. Whilst unity might sound like a noble course of action I would contend that there are two many differences between the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants for either faith to fully endorse the other.

Many of these differences go back as far as the Protestant Reformation which started when Martin Luther nailed his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ to a church door in 1517. Over the years the main differences between the theological beliefs of the two ‘churches’ were summed up by five sayings, known as the five solas. They are thus called because all of them contain the Latin word solas, which means ‘alone’ or ‘only’. They are: ‘Sola scriptura’, ‘Sola fide’, ‘Sola gratia’, ‘Solo Christo’ and ‘Soli Deo gloria’.

By Scripture alone (Sola scriptura)

This phrase relates to the belief that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God. That church tradition can not introduce doctrine that is not found in the Bible. Catholicism however holds that the Roman Catholic traditions are equally as binding as anything found in scripture (for instance; the idea of purgatory, praying to the saints and the practice of indulgences) and that when the Pope speaks on matters of faith his words are infallible.

By Faith alone (Sola fide)

Sola fide relates to the core doctrine that justification is by faith alone. The distinction has been summed up as; Protestants believe “Faith yields justification and good works” and Catholics believe “Faith and good works yield justification”.

By Grace alone (Sola gratia)

This teaching simply says that there is nothing that we can do to merit salvation. The distinction between the two camps comes from the Protestant belief that after we have been saved we can not “co-operate with grace to merit greater graces”.

Through Christ alone (Solo Christo)

This sums up the fact that Christ is the only mediator between God and man and the only saviour. It contradicts with the Catholic practice of praying to saints and also with the belief (known as sacerdotalism for those of you who really wanted to know) that sacraments in the church only have ‘value’ if presided over by a priest ordained by the Pope.

Glory to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

This is the last of the solas, and simply states that all glory should be God’s. That we should not seek glory in our status, or positions of authority, but boast solely of the cross.

These are just some of the main doctrines that would have to be unified between the two ‘churches’ if they are actually to become one. Some think the differences are small and that we should ignore them for the sake of unity but I don’t think that can work. If we truly believe what we profess, then if something is diametrically opposed to that, one of the two views must be false and we are warned not to be “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” in Hebrews.

So whilst I believe unity is good, I also think that what we believe is important and that we should not erode our own witness by ‘watering down’ our beliefs simply to conform. There are many small issues that we will all hold slightly different views on, but when it comes to core doctrines we should have the courage to stand firm and not be associated with those who say they are wrong.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

God's Grace and Our Responsibility

“no one will be declared righteous in his [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin…righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus….He [God] did this to demonstrate his justice,…, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Rom 3:21-26

What a passage. In some ways it is good to know that everyone falls short of the perfection demanded by the law. To realise that we are justified by God’s infinite grace and that when we fail we can always return to embrace of God, as the prodigal son did. But there is also an awful temptation in this knowledge. That it doesn’t really matter what we do because God will always be willing and able to forgive us, to remove are transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west.

This is what Paul was being accused of teaching

“Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.” Rom 3:8

Later in the letter, he clearly answers this point

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin;” Rom 6:1-2.

When we sin we will be forgiven, but we still must strive to live a holy and blameless life. We can not serve two masters; we must serve God and not the desires of our flesh. We stand as witnesses to Christ in this deprived and corrupt generation, and everything we do and say will tell people about the God that we follow. Just think how the world perceives the church as hypercritical and how this puts of people from attending a service and hearing the Gospel.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Alter of Consumerism

“the faithful have been flocking to the altar of consumerism”

Ponder on that for a while, I certainly have since I saw it this morning in a news article about the papal visit to Britain.

The article concerns the amount of memorabilia surrounding the pageantry of the Pope’s first visit to the UK, among other things it mentions a ‘pocket Popemobile’ and a ‘Benedictaphone’ to record the Pontiffs’ words. Whilst it is easy to laugh at such thinks and wonder who on earth would buy them, perhaps we should instead think about the seriousness of the issue?

Obviously there are people out there buying these things because they’ve been indorsed by the church, believing that in some way they will be a better Christian for it. The people of the flock worshiping on the alter of consumerism. It’s not really any different from the old practice of the rich being able to pay (the money supposedly going to charity) an indulgence for their sins to be forgiven. Before we puff our self up, thinking that ‘I’d never do anything like that’ maybe we should remove the plank from our own eye?

Who among us has brought a WWJD band? Or an expensive cross to hang round our neck, a hoddie with some slogan only a Christian would understand or even a pretty bible? Is this any different? It is more subtly and it is ingrained in western culture but it is no less consumerism. I have fallen here in the past, because it was the ‘in thing’ I brought a WWJD band and proceeded to show it off (subtlety of course) to all my Christian friends, it was something that at that time made me feel more Christian. Think on it.

I shall finish this post, as I started, with a quote from the same article. Goddard’s response here illustrates just how subtle consumerism can be, after all it looks like the church is endorsing it.

“But if simony is the sin of trafficking sacred things, isn't buying religious memorabilia wicked shopping?
Probably not, says Goddard. After all, some of the items are sanctioned by the church.”

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Love: A poem

Last night I felt inspired to write a poem. It’s quite short and doesn’t rhyme but I will still call it a poem. Bonus points for anyone who spots the un-obvious element.

A mere man, me,
God: glorious and great,
Amazing, astounding
Paternal passion,
Everlasting, earnest, exuberant Love

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Burning Korans and Gay Masses!

Reading Romans, I have once again been struck by how little I think about my everyday actions. Specifically how ready I am to judge those around me. Two news stories brought this home to me this week. The first is, of course, the situation with regards to Terry Jones and the burning of Korans. I do not agree with his actions but does that in itself make them wrong? I judge him and think that it must all be for the publicity. I do not, however, actually know. Only God, our creator and sustainer, knows the thoughts of our hearts.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Rom 2:1

When I read this I realise all those times that I’ve done something with an ulterior motive. For instance, if I answer a question in a group meeting am I doing so to share what ever modicum of knowledge that God has imparted to me, or am I instead doing it to puff myself up, so that people will think that I’m clever. Put simply, am I seeking God’s glory and honour, or mine. This thought also appears later in the same passage from Romans,

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” Rom 2:7-8

This says that we should seek glory, honour and immortality but that we should not be self-seeking. This almost seems to contradict itself and requires a bit of thought. The meaning depends very much on the three words glory, honour and immortality. It might be better to paraphrase this as follows.

‘ God’s glory, his honour and to remain uncorrupted,..’

This statement requires some justification: In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prays

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:22-23

Thus the glory that we are to seek has been imparted to us by Jesus, with the purpose of unifying the church. It is the not the glory of this world the limelight grabbing, celebrity glory but rather it is a glory that seeks to unify. This explains most of the phrase, the only other major justification needed is the replacement of the word immortality with uncorrupted.

In greek the word translated as immortality is “ἄφθαρτος”, in 1 Corinthians’ it is instead translated as imperishable (1Cr 15:42,50,53,54). According to Strong’s Lexicon it can also be translated as purity, sincerity or incorrupt.

Whilst we are called to live ‘pure and blameless lives’ and not to judge other we can be assured that the unrighteous will be punished and that God judgement is based on the truth.

“But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil” Rom 2:8-9a

We should bear this in mind as we see the world around us, it is not our place to judge. This was again brought home to me by a story on the BBC today about a mass for gay people. Is was reading the article thinking how bad it was until I came across this quote by Archbishop Vincent Nichols:

“anybody who is trying to cast a judgement on the people who come forward for communion really ought to learn to hold their tongue".

Friday, 3 September 2010

How long should we wait for a miracle?

Yesterday, I was reading the comments on a post about abortion by Phil, an interesting question was raised about when is it too late for God to preform a miracle? Should we keep on waiting and hoping for God to intervene or try and sort out the situation ourself?

As I was thinking about this, an image came to mind which I shall now recount in the form of a Parable.

A Parable of the chasm and a bridge:

An army advances across a broken and cracked land, from horizon to horizon they stretch, slowly marching forward. Ahead of the army run three men of God, each focused on the surrounding ground, stumbling but not falling. They do not see where they are running, they do not see what is ahead of them only what is close around. Before them awaits a massive chasm, reaching far down into the earth, so deep that the bottom cannot be seen but is shrouded in darkness. Across the chasm hangs a rope bridge, swinging, unsteady and dilapidated. It is the only crossing along the entire length of the mighty chasm.

The foremost of the men stumbles to a stop at the edge of the Chasm, the bridge right in front of him; a bridge made by man. Not trusting in man but rather having great faith, and deciding that if it's God's will that he should pass the chasm then he will, the man takes a few steps back and starts running straight towards the chasm and jumps off trusting that God will catch him. God does not catch him this time, but rather, the man falls to his death.

Shortly afterwards the second man, by chance, arrives at the same point. He too is faced with the same dilemma, to use the rickety man made bridge or trust in God. Having glanced up as he was running he has seen what has just occurred to the first man. So as he comes to the edge of the chasm he pauses briefly and then calmly walks of the edge of the cliff. Reasoning that the only reason the first man wasn't saved was because his faith wasn't strong enough and that as his own faith was strong he would be fine. He too plummeted to his death.

A while later the third man stumbles upon the same point oblivious to what has happen already. He looks at the bridge and he looks at the chasm. The man made bridge is fragile and does not look like it'll bear his weight but it is a path across the chasm. Slowly, haltingly, the man steps out on to the bridge and walks across, trusting that if he falls God will catch him. This man does not fall but, rather, safely navigates the chasm, upon reaching the other side he starts running again to keep ahead of the ever advancing army.

The meaning?

Which of these men was wisest? Was it the first who trusted in God to save him or the second who trusted in his faith or was it the third who realised God's providence in placing the bridge where it was needed?

As well as a parable this may also be an allegory, with the Army symbolising time, the Chasm, death and the bridge being medicine, although I'm not entirely sure about that. I'd appreciate any comments as it would be good to know what people think.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Music or Worship?

As promised, I am now turning my thoughts to Worship. What does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth? Whilst sung worship is certainly not all encompassing this is what I shall focus on, we shall simply ignore the fact that our whole life is meant to be one act of continual worship to the God who saves us.

Sung worship comes in many forms, it can be accompanied or not, melancholic or upbeat, contemporary or traditional. This is not what truly matters, rather the outward sound is simply a way to convey praises of a grateful heart. It is when this fails that questions need to be asked. Recently, in a church service, the worship started off with lively choruses. I have no problem with this provided, as always, the words are theologically correct and the congregation can sing them as truth. However when this phase of worship ended and a more contemplative mood began, the music becoming slower with more words, all of the elders sat down and sung no more.

I can not speak for there heart but from where I sat it appeared as if they were only worshiping when the music was lively. If someone can only worship in this way, and not when the music is softer or the words repeated less, then they must ask themselves whether their worship was true in the first place.

Music itself possesses the ability to effect our emotions. Simply turn on 'sad' music and you will start to feel melancholy, or turn on something upbeat, fast with a jaunty melody and your mode will start to lift. This is a gift from God and we should use it to praise him, with the harp and lyre and trumpet. However we must guard our heart that our worship be true. That we don't simply get swept along by the music, and that our peace stems from God rather than something intrinsic in the music. Think on the words that you sing, are they true? Don't listen to the pleasant sound, that is God's to hear but rather contemplate the words that you sing, and let the worship live in your heart.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Loneliness in New York

America, the same yet so, so different. I've been here for just over a week and a half now and am still getting used to the shear size of everything. I spent a week in Philadelphia before heading up to New York from whence I have just returned. Whether the cities are a fair reflection of the country or not I don't know, but what I have seen is big and loud, neon lights and advertising boards everywhere announcing the presence of shops and the next must have accessory.

The Church I went to on Sunday was similar. As I walked through the doors in the middle of Manhattan, I was immediately greeted by several ushers, each wearing matching uniforms and was directed to the queue for seats (yes you hear me right, in this 3000 seater former theater there
was a queue for seats). As I was shown to my seat the 'show' began the curtains of the stage were drawn back and the pulpit moved to the front accompanied by a 100 piece choir and, for want of a better word, a jazz band.

The music was lively with lots of repeated phrases and jumping around, the Pastors and Elders on the stage were singing enthusiastically. However, after these first few songs the music became more contemplative, with 'deeper' lyrics. At this point all of the elders sat down and
became silent. No longer praising God with music, as soon as it lost it's driving tempo. This point could (and probably will) become a whole nother post. What I wanted to talk about was the message from the sermon.

Loneliness: That desire within all of us to be close to those around us. Whilst not agreeing with everything that was said I'd like to summarise what I got out of the sermon.

1) Everyone will/does feel lonely at some point in their life.
2) This loneliness can not be filled by the latest fade or even by a Husband/Wife.
3) We are lonely for God.
4) Loneliness should drive us to share the Gospel.

To expand slightly, loneliness is our realisation that things are not right. Even among such a vast swath of humanity as New York people are lonely, they feel isolated even as they bump into those around them. We were created to be in a relationship, with the perfect creator. Our desire for community can not be satisfied by fellowship (although this is necessary to build up the body of Christ) but only by being grafted in to the Triune togetherness of God. The fact that we are entering this relationship by Jesus' blood on the cross gives us a sure and certain hope that one day we will feel lonely no more, that 'on that day all pain and suffering will cease'. It should also inspire compassion for those around us, that without the Gospel there loneliness can never leave them.

Some things that were said that I don't really agree with:
1) God is lonely for us.
2) Before the fall there was no loneliness.

For a start these two points contradict each other, the second is tantamount to saying that loneliness is part of the curse of the fallen world and is thus bad, yet by the first God possesses this characteristic. To directly contradict the second point, we are told in
Genesis, that God saw it was 'not good for man to be alone', which to me at least suggests that loneliness was around before the fall. My problem with the first point is more subtle. Namely, does God's 'need' for us diminish his omnipotence, that is does his desire to be with us affect his righteousness or is he 'made less' when people continue to sin. I'm not saying that he doesn't desire all men to be saved but that this desire is formed from love and compassion rather than loneliness.

If anyone has actually read this far than thank you, 'perseverance builds character' to quote somewhere probably out of context. Any thoughts would be much appreciated to help me get this entirely straight in my head.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

All alone: A poem

All alone I sit
Darkness surrounding
Cut off from the light
Impurity growing

“Help me Lord” I cry
Heavy hearted, grieving
Cleanse anew my robes
Restoring, healing

Out reached a hand
Strongly caring
My once dark prison
Cover removing

I gasp in wonder
Staring, seeing
For all around me
Lights a-gleaming

On many pedestals
Far and near in
Sit lamps uncovered
Glowing, shinning

But near and far out
Lights a covering
Bowls upon some sit
Still, un-moving

I, alone no more
Standing, rejoicing
Let my own light shine
Burning, praising

Home: A poem

In the desert a voice is calling
Faint and soft it comes to me
Loud the sound of world surrounding
“Come home”, a faint yet persistent plea.

I look and see, yet in the distance
A tree, a great and glorious sight
And all around me falls a silence
“Come home”, a voice that’s clear and bright.

“Me?” I say surprised and startled
Yet my feet they draw me near
“But I’m a sinner, torn and troubled”
Maybe I doth simple mishear.

“You!” the thunderous voice resounded
“See upon the tree he hung”
“My son delivered to death unbounded”
“That your misdeeds be none.”

With mournful glee I run unhindered
Through the desert round about
A sentence, just, has been rescinded
“Coming home”, I cry and shout.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Old Gospel

The gospel that we believe, that good news that Christ and his apostles proclaimed, was not a new gospel but was old, “promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy scriptures” Rom 1:1. Balaam prophesies that a “star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel.” Num 24:17 and in Jeremiah the Lord proclaims “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant…it will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers….because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people….For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jer 31:31-34. Isiah 53 tells us how this new covenant will come about “ he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,…and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” Isa 53:5-6.

It is worth noting the importance of the old testament scriptures, many of the writers of the new testament refer to the old to give their arguments power; Does this mean that the old testament is more important than the new testament? I would say no, but one thing that can
not be said is that the old testament is meaningless since we are under the new covenant of Christ’s blood. Indeed some of Paul’s first words in the book of Romans appeal to the old testament, referring to them as “Holy Scriptures”, to show the foreknowledge and the enduring nature of the love of God.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

My First Post

I start my journey as a blogger here five years after I started my walk with Christ. My aim in writing this blog is to learn more fully the love God has for me. To develop a life that truly has Christ at its centre and, with the Spirit’s help, so to live that God’s name is forever glorified. I seek both to examine God’s word, developing my skills at exegesis and deepening my theology, and share any insights or wisdom I might gain in my life.

So, my story, where does it begin? Like many living in Britain today I can say that I was not brought up as a Christian. My family never went to church even though there were Bibles in the house. Still, I grew up hearing ‘Christian stories’, singing ‘Christian songs’ and reciting the Lord’s prayer thanks to the primary school I attended. So I had some knowledge of Christianity, but had not heard the Gospel.

At college my questioning of life began, ‘surely there must be more than this’ I thought. Thankfully I was surrounded by friends who didn’t shy away from such big questions. Many a lunch time went by while my friends argued good naturedly, some Christian, some Atheist, about the true issues of life. I left the discussing to them and sat and listened, as time went by I found myself starting to side more and more with the Christians finding their arguments more persuasive and, importantly, more compassionate. So I had some knowledge of the arguments for God’s existence, but I still had not heard the Gospel.

As providence would have it, one of my Christian friends ended up at the same university as me and invited me to attend a meeting of the Christian Union. I went not knowing what it would be like. I found a great welcome there and when we sat down to start I no longer felt like a stranger in the room. One thing I remember about that evening was the singing. Being fairly musical I joined in with the singing even though I couldn’t sing, and it suddenly struck me what I was singing, what the words coming from my mouth were proclaiming. That was the first hint I had of the Gospel and I was captivated. I wasn’t saved but I was hooked and kept going back week after week to hear more.

Eventually I started to attend a local church and continued to here the Gospel proclaimed: The good news of God’s grace to me through the death of his son on a cross, the redemptive sacrifice that washed away my sin. I realised that I was a sinner and that I needed this mercy: I confessed my sins, was saved and was baptised.

Five years later I sit here at this keyboard and wonder how I’ve changed over the years. I have a deeper knowledge of Christ and his word, I am a new creation, but it is not enough. I must strive to run the race set before me, to walk the narrow way that leads to life and not stray down the broad way. I hope this blog will help me in this and I also hope that it will be both encouraging and equipping to any who read it.