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.