Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Bringing God into discussions about Quantative Easing!

Discussions about the solution to our economic woes are everywhere. Opinions are plentiful.

Has Quantative Easing avoided the worst of the recession? (That's printing money to you and me. Obviously the Government wouldn't want to call it that else we might question why they're allowed to do it and we aren't ;-) Will any benefits of QE come at the cost of a long and deep depression and eventual high inflation? Should Banker's bonuses be curbed or should the Government have never intervened in the first place (thus bankers would have been fighting for their jobs instead of fighting for their bonuses and the taxpayer's debt would be a fraction of what we now face)? The list is almost endless. Everyone has an opinion. Discussion heats up. It is tempting for the Christian to turn away from such debates.

Yet, underneath the opinions and arguments, different shades of the same worldview underpin them all. For everywhere it is assumed that man is in control of his destiny and that his destiny is to make money, make a name for Himself and have fun! Very few Christian voices can be heard in such discussions. Those that do enter in, invariably argue for ethics derived from the Bible. Whilst this is not a bad thing per se, I would argue that little headway will be made if this worldview remains unchallenged. I would liken it to a group of Doctors arguing about the treatment of symptoms before they have identified the cause of the illness.

The following is an example of a recent post I made at a financial website where I tried to do this. I don't hold it up as a good example, nor do I expect anything to come from it, yet it was offered for the glory of God. Imagine if christians everywhere were to start asking questions like this at every level of society? If people could no longer just assume that the underlying worldview driving all they say and do is the only valid one?

In the discussion contributors were lamenting the decline in our culture and arguing for less government intervention and a return to a time when people were less self-centred and short-term gain focussed and when good quality, hard work was rewarded - presumably in contrast to the current debate about bankers, who are perceived as those who have got us into the mess, receiving bonuses. Here is what I wrote:

That our work ethics and, indeed, whole culture, have undergone significant transformation in a matter of a couple of generations is undeniable. The emerging implications for our future economic prosperity are disconcerting. More important, however, yet seldom asked and then hotly controverted, is the question: what is the cause?

Any solution seeking to limit the increasing desire for fast, easy gain - whether through tightened regulation at one extreme or a return to full, free market forces at the other - is to attempt to treat the symptom not the underlying cause. All the while the symptoms are screaming at us just how far gone the sickness is!

The reality is that we have bought in to the dominant yet bankrupt worldview of our day - for whom we have blind, so-called 'enlightenment', and post-modern humanist philosophers to thank. Ironically just as the gaping flaws in their reasoning and the recognition that humanism is no less a blind faith than Christianity is alleged to be become apparent, so, at the same time, have the
masses unquestioningly bought into the 'opium' of self-worship. As the Apostle Paul so incisively pointed out, we have refused to honour God or give Him thanks and have preferred to supress the truth about Him. Thus He has given us over to the futility of our own thinking (Romans 1:18-21).

Like the Romans to whom Paul wrote, unless we repent, our downfall is inevitable. We reap what we sow.

Shining light in a dark culture

Secular humanism is all around us. As Christians we must seek to challenge it not flee from it. All too easily we can throw up our hands in despair, feeling powerless. But too many Christians keeping quiet for too long is what got us into the mess! We must speak out against all ungodliness as beacons shining in the dark. We must resist the unbiblical division the world tries to put on us that faith is a private matter to be kept at home and in the church and that it has no place in the public realm.

God rules all His creation! There is nothing that is not His and there is no creature that does not owe Him everything. Every law, every policy decision, everything in the public domain actually procedes on the basis of assumptions about the purpose and common good of mankind. The reality is that everyone has faith in something yet most people just assume and never stop to question the reliability of the object(s) of their 'faith'.

Christians need to start engaging in matters of public interest at all levels of society and exposing the bankruptcy of the faith assumptions that underpin secularism. And they need to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of all, including politics, the arts, commerce and the law. This is NOT a calling reserved for the elite and powerful. Each of us move in circles in which opportunities present themselves to us, whether it be the workplace, a local fund-raising committee, public debates and so on. In fact widespread internet access means almost all of us have such opportunities. Yet how many Christians restrict themselves to 'safe' Christian websites and only contribute to discussions in safe Christian environments? Why is that?

Are you frightened that you will make a mess of it?
Did not Christ die for you precisely because you do make a mess of everything you do!? And, is not the outcome the Lord's and nothing to do with how good a job you do!?

Are you afraid of people's rejection?
Was not Christ rejected so that you could be accepted by Him!?

Are you afraid of persecution?

Did not Christ face the fiercest of persecution and surrender His life that you too may know the joy of losing this life in order to gain life eternal!? To live is Christ and to die is gain! (Phil 1:21) Has He not promised to be with You always?

The times we live in may be evil, godlessness, greed and "Me-ism" may abound, but consider the Israelites when they went in to exile in Babylon. They too, like many coming from Christian backgrounds in our day, had forsaken their God and so He had given them over to the rule of the Babylonians, just as He had warned them (2 Chron 6:36; 7:19-20; Jer. 25:8-9). The Babylonians wanted to supress Israel's spiritual identity and make them conform to Bablyonian culture. Yet God did not say to the exiled Israelites 'have nothing to do with them', He told them to seek the peace and prosperity of the city and, in so doing, they would find their own peace and prosperity (Jer. 29:7). Likewise, instead of lamenting the times we live in we must engage with and seek the peace and prosperity of those around us.

Of course, true peace and prosperity is not found in the fleeting pleasures or treasures of this world so this will involve confronting the dominant worldview and presenting the risen Christ as the only hope for lasting peace and prosperity. He is, after all, THE way, THE truth and THE life. To the extent that we believe that, so should we proclaim it as we have opportunity.

The next post will give an example of what this could look like.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Must Watch Video!

This is from Matt Chandler: Video
He's a church pastor in America who was told he needed an urgent operation to remove a large brain tumour. Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ like that, so that you can say "He is enough. He satisfies my soul, in good times and bad, whatever comes my way"?

If you are not a Christian, how would your 'faith'/worldview enable you to face something like this?

Monday, 7 December 2009


1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63

Friday, 20 November 2009

We need more than information!

If we think about it, the deep longings of our hearts ultimately boil down to:
  • a need to know that there is some meaning and significance to our lives
  • a need to be in control of our lives and circumstances
  • a desire both to love and be loved and accepted by others
  • a desire not to die and to have hope for the future
  • a desire for comfort (peace, happiness, satisfaction, etc, which, for many, implies having money but money itself is merely a means to an end not a 'deep longing' in and of itself).
Most people can recognise this and, when prompted to think about it, will be able to trace all their actions, longings, and disappointments back to one or more of these needs. Furthermore, I think most people will recognise that we never seem to be able to truly satisfy all these needs.

The fact that we all share these common, deep longings ought to be enough to make us question whether we are merely the product of some amazing 'big bang' and millions of random, evolutionary events and to wonder whether in fact the Bible can help us make sense of our deep longings and show us how they can be satisfied. However, when it comes to reading the Bible, many seem to think that it merely contains information telling us what to do. It would be better to think of it as telling us what we CAN'T do for none of us can find God by trying to obey Him. We will all fail. But it is far more than mere information.

The Bible itself is 'living and active' (Hebrews 4:12). It reaches to the depths of our hearts and exposes our idolatry and rebellion against God, that is, all the ways in which we try to satisfy those longings apart from Him. And, most importantly of all, if we have entrusted our lives to God, it transforms us. As we read it the Holy Spirit convicts us and points us to our need for Jesus. The Word itself is powerful (Romans 1:16). It is the power of God for our initial salvation and for all our growth (Acts 20:32, Titus 2:11). In other Words, it is all we need to re-align our deep longings to Jesus, the only One in whom they will ever be truly satisfied.

We must never read the Bible thinking that it is simply an exercise in acquiring or re-acquainting ourselves with information. Information alone does not change us. Neither can we even take the information and change ourselves. We must read it prayerfully asking that God would expose our sin and make His truth ‘real’ in our hearts so that we would be a transformed rather than merely an informed people.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

No Regrets?

No regrets. So sang Robbie Williams a few years ago. But is it actually possible to go through life with no regrets? I don't think so. If anything, the older we get the longer the list of regrets becomes. The job we didn't take. The opportunity we turned down. The relationship we let slip away from us. Or, maybe for you, its the other way round - the job you wish you hadn't taken, the opportunity you wish you had walked away from...

Some of these regrets can be like deep scars that never fully heal. The things we wish we hadn't said or done. The hurt we wish we hadn't caused. We try to forget about them but they never completely go away. We try to suppress it but deep down the guilt remains, like Macbeth's damn spot. Regrets leave us bitter or defensive or both.

Regret comes when we realise we’ve made the wrong choice between two or more conflicting alternatives. We think, “If only I could learn to make the right choices!” Pop-psychologists tell us we need to move on and focus on new goals to combat the feelings of failure or guilt. It may work for a while, but ultimately this just sets us up for more failure. Sooner or later we’ll mess up again. Why does life seem to involve so many disappointments and regrets?

The answer lies in what we think life is all about. If we think we are here as a result of some amazingly complex series of random events and that therefore the way we find meaning is to seek our own happiness, health and prosperity then failure is inevitable. People let us down. We let ourselves down. Things break and go wrong. Eventually we die. The world we live in is broken and messed up. And we are the reason why. God made the world perfect but we live in rebellion against Him. We reject His purposes for our lives and choose to live for our own selfish ends. The result is chaos and decay, death and destruction. All our yearnings for happiness, health and prosperity are really our God-given desire for the restoration of His creation to the perfection in which He first made it. But because we want to tune God out of our lives we try to substitute our own goals to satisfy the longings that He gave us. It’ll never work!

So how does all this help us with our regrets? When we admit that we have rebelled against God and ask Him to forgive us, He gives us new desires. Or, rather, He restores our original desire to find meaning in Him. When we have Him, our other desires fade away. He is the only one who will never disappoint us or leave us with regrets. Of course, we still live in a messed-up world, but now the things of this world no longer have the same attraction. So when things don’t go how we’d like it doesn’t lead to disappointment or regret because we know our happiness doesn’t depend on the same things any more. Now we look forward to the day when God has promised to restore His creation back to its original perfection, free from decay and corruption.

What about the question of guilt? Sometimes our regret is because we know we’ve done something wrong. Perhaps other people got hurt. Guilt is a reminder that we deserve punishment. That’s why we try to suppress it for deep down we know we have sinned against God. Even when we forget what we have done, God doesn’t. But this is where something incredible happens. God is holy and just. Just like we know that justice must be done, so God must punish sin. Yet God loves us and wants to forgive us and so Jesus was punished in our place. Through Jesus’ death on the cross justice has already been done, all our guilt has been ‘paid for’ and God can be merciful to us. All we must do is turn to Him and confess our sins and put our trust in Jesus. When we do that God no longer counts our sins against us and He gives us His Holy Spirit as a guarantee that He will never again do so. The question then is have you turned to Him? Or are you still on a course that will inevitably lead to regret? To regret something means it’s too late to do anything about it. God has already provided a way by which you need never experience regret again but you must turn to Him – before it is too late.

Of course, even when we believe all this we can sometimes forget and go back to trying to find our meaning in other ways and yet, instead of lasting regret, it becomes an opportunity to see even more of the wonder of God’s great love for us. For God is patient with us and, like the perfect, loving Father that He is, He allows us to wander from His ways, lets us see the futility of seeking happiness apart from Him and then gently draws us back to Him to see that He is what our hearts need. Guilt is replaced by forgiveness. Regret becomes rejoicing. Instead of feeling bitter we become joy-filled and thankful. He never tires of us. He never rejects us. He always works for our good – even when we stupidly and blindly run in the other direction. Why would we ever turn from such perfect love as this?

In a sense, the pop psychologists are right - we do need different goals but the only goal that really matters, the only pursuit in which will find significance and happiness is to know Jesus Christ. Ultimately, it’s not about what you have or haven’t done, it’s not even about what you know, it’s about who you know.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

They call me the seeker

We are all seekers. We seek and strive after many things: pleasure and happiness, peace and security, contentment and fulfilment, comfort and prosperity, self-worth, meaning and purpose. Though we might not recognise it as such, a desire to be free of any guilt and to avoid the consequences of our mistakes is also at the heart of much of what we do. We may seek in different places and in different ways but, to differing degrees, deep down we all seek the same things. That’s because we’re all made with the same deep needs. But most importantly of all, we were made to know God.

Though we may try to satisfy many of these needs with the material things and pleasures of this world, in time we realise that they never bring lasting satisfaction. And so we are always seeking the next experience, the next thrill, the next possession, the next accomplishment, thinking that perhaps that will satisfy our needs. As some come to realise the hopelessness of this cycle they become very cynical and bitter. At some point everyone turns to ponder matters of eternity. Perhaps there is a God? Perhaps I can please Him?

The fact that we are all groping after similar things and that all of us, at some point, pause to consider such things as whether there is a “god”, whether there be life after death and so on leads some to conclude that all roads lead to ‘god’ in the end. There does seem to be an increasing dissatisfaction with the drudgery and materialism of this world. People want something deeper. They seek spiritual encounters and experiences but there are so many forms of religion and spirituality to choose from!

For some what matters is experience (does it feel good?) or practicality (does it work?). Whether it’s ultimately true doesn’t really come in to it. For others what matters is not so much experience or practicality but knowledge and truth. But if our deepest needs are to be truly met we must know that it is both true and that it ‘works’.

Yet a problem still remains. What ‘works’ in the short term may not work in the long run. What we need is ultimate truth that will stand the test of time and meet the longings of our hearts. Such truth can only be found in a person: Jesus Christ, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Monday, 2 November 2009

The story of my life in verse

I have chased fortunes
And pleasures, its true.
But deep down my searching
Was searching for You.
I don't need fame,
Or a gadget-filled life,
But I need Your love,
More than food to survive.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Is this God’s will?

We don’t have to live long before we will experience difficult situations in our lives. Poverty, sickness, pain and suffering, bereavement, depression, divorce, relationship breakdown, a demanding boss or awkward co-workers, rebellious children, and so on. I’m sure you can add many more of your own to the list. For some this is reason enough to reject Christianity. In my last post I questioned some of the assumptions that underpin that objection.

Nevertheless it must be admitted that this can be a difficult question for Christians too. How do we reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with our belief in God’s perfect love and almighty power? At some point most Christians have probably asked the question, “is this God’s will?”, but behind this question are two assumptions:
1. Since God is good, He wouldn’t let bad things happen to me
2. God should tell me His will.

Can these assumptions be supported by scripture?

Scripture in fact clearly states that God keeps part of His will ‘secret’ from us: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29). To understand this it is helpful to think in terms of a distinction between God’s revealed will and His secret will. His revealed will includes His commands and promises to us. Of course, we know that many care nothing for obeying God's commands. Even we Christians constantly fail to love Him with all our mind, heart and strength. So in this sense of the meaning of God's will we can say that, when His commands are disobeyed, then we are not acting in line with His will. But this is where His "secret" will comes in for God rules over all His creation, even the wind and waves (Mark 4:41), and good and bad (Lam 3:38). Nothing comes to pass that He hasn't fore-ordained (Pr. 20:24, Acts 2:23). He planned the beginning to the end (Ecc. 3:11, Isa. 46:10). His secret will cannot be stopped or thwarted (Dan. 4:35). All that He has ordained according to His secret will shall come to pass (Ezek. 12:25). In other words, in this sense of His will, everything that happens is always God's will. This is not to say that God causes bad things to happen but rather that He allows them and uses them for wise, inscrutable reasons related to a higher purpose that we know nothing about. What Satan intends for harm God limits and turns for good (e.g. see Gen. 50:20).

So the first thing to note is that nowhere in scripture does it tell us that God will reveal His will for us in any situation. Quite the opposite in fact. Much of God’s will remains hidden from us. What He does reveal is enough about Himself and what He has done for us in Christ Jesus that we can know that we can trust Him and enough about what He expects from us in response. Obviously this would include trusting Him, even through difficult times.

I recognise that some just can’t conceive of God’s will for us involving suffering. “God loves us”, they reason, “He wouldn’t let us suffer”. So what they do is attribute suffering to some other cause: most probably the devil – as though the devil sometimes gets the upper hand over God. But such a view robs God of His sovereignty by saying that He isn’t fully in control. What they are doing is trying to resolve what they perceive to be a contradiction between God loving us and having plans for our good (Jer. 29:11) and at the same time allowing bad things to happen to us. This is actually a very self-centred, short-term view of God’s will. Consider the following illustration. Suppose a child has a painful splinter. Naturally the child’s parents love their child and don’t want them to suffer pain so they will want to remove the splinter. However, removing the splinter will temporarily cause even more pain. Here we have two conflicting desires. Obviously the caring parent will remove the splinter to reduce the pain but in doing so they will have to (briefly) act against their own desire for their child not to suffer. In other words, we can sometimes desire to do something we don’t want to do because it is necessary to the achievement of some greater, longer-term purpose. If we, who are made in His image, can have multiple conflicting desires how then can we refuse to ascribe to God something that we recognise in ourselves?

Our problem is that we have little awareness of how sinful we really are or of how great God’s purposes are for the restoration of His creation. When mankind first sinned, forces of evil, decay, destruction and death were unleashed on the world. The problem with asking God to destroy evil and suffering is that He couldn’t do that without destroying us for we are part of the problem (see Rom. 3:9-19). In fact the problem would be far worse if God didn’t limit the evil desires of mankind and turn them for His good purposes. As part of the corruption that has come on the earth we have become selfish. Our greatest desires are for our own comfort and happiness. But ultimately this leads us on a course of self-destruction for we all must give an account of ourselves before God. Thus one reason God may allow difficulties in to our lives is to show us that our hope is in things that will perish instead of in Him. This is not to say that we understand all the reasons all the time but the one thing we do know is that when we suffer we need not wonder whether God cares about us. He has removed any cause of doubt about that by dying on the cross for us. So, we can be certain that God is both good and in control and that, ultimately, if we have put our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, He will work all things for good (Rom. 8:28).

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Objections to Christianity 1 – Evil and suffering

I’m going to take common objections for why people don’t believe Christianity is true and examine them. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind by this but I hope at least to prompt some to examine their reasons and beliefs more carefully. In this post I will look at the problem of evil and suffering.

“Earthquakes, tsunamis, famine, war, evil tyrannical leaders who torture anyone who dares disagree with them, sickness and disease. How can I believe in a God who allows such suffering?” So runs a common objection to Christianity. Another version of this objection is less personal and more philosophical. It may be stated like this: “The Bible says that God is all-powerful and all-loving. Yet, God allows evil and suffering in the world therefore God cannot be all-good or he cannot be all-powerful. Either way, the God of the Bible cannot exist.”

This does seem like a compelling argument doesn’t it? It is not an easy one to answer because God doesn’t give us reasons for all pain and suffering. Nevertheless it needs to be seen that this argument relies on some hidden assumptions:
Firstly it assumes that suffering doesn’t serve a good purpose. In other words that it is pointless. But just because something appears pointless to us doesn’t make it pointless. That is a fallacy. It assumes we know everything there is to be known. Just because we cannot think of a reason doesn’t mean there isn’t one. In fact, the person making this assumption is exercising faith. Faith in themselves, for, without any plausible reason for doing so, they have assumed that if there were a grand reason for suffering that made it worthwhile they would know what it is! That’s actually quite a leap of faith!
This argument doesn’t even line up with our experience for many of us can testify of having experienced difficulties which made no sense to us at the time and yet which ultimately worked out for good. As Tim Keller argues in The Reason for God, “with time and perspective most of us can see some good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life. Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?” Some might argue that no future bliss could be worth the worst kind of unspeakable suffering, but what does the man who wants nothing to do with God know of God’s promises? As C. S. Lewis effectively argued, such an argument does not understand that even the greatest kind of suffering will be turned backwards into an even greater glory.

Secondly this argument assumes that there is a standard against which things may be judged to be wrong and unfair. But where does this standard come from? If we reject God then we are left with natural selection in which the ‘fittest’ survive and where death and violence and the triumph of the strong over the weak are perfectly natural. So we find that the atheist has no basis for assuming that people shouldn’t suffer. After all, in their worldview suffering is inevitable! Yet wasn’t this their very reason for objecting to God? How contradictory. So, the problem of suffering is just as much of a problem for the atheist. If anything, an argument against suffering and injustice is an argument for God.

Of course, these arguments may make logical sense but they are of little comfort when we ourselves are in the midst of great suffering or difficulty. If God seems distant to us then our suffering will seem far more real. But the one thing we cannot do is assume that God doesn’t care about the problem of evil and suffering. For, in Jesus Christ, God Himself came to earth and shared in our suffering. He was beaten and crucified by evil men even though he had done nothing wrong. He experienced despair, pain, rejection, loneliness, torture and imprisonment. And he did it for you and me. God who was rich in every way became poor for our sakes. He chose to identify with the poor and lowly, the abandoned and forgotten and with those who suffer. He suffered for our sins, that is, for our rejection of and rebellion against God. He did it because He loves us that much. So, sure, we don’t always know the reason for hardship and suffering in this life, but one thing we do know is that it can’t be that God doesn’t care about us. He cares enough to share in our suffering and, ultimately, to rescue us from it, if we believe in Him.

Not only does God share in our humanity and suffering, he gives us hope that it is not in vain. We may not always see in this life the good that results from having suffered but we do know that the day is coming when He shall return again and make all things new (John 14:3; Rev. 21:5). This is not just consolation (e.g. Rev. 21:3-4) for what we have suffered in this life but a glorious restoration and re-making of all things. As Dostoevsky wrote:
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

To borrow a phrase from the Lord of the Rings ”everything sad will become untrue”. What greater consolation could there be in this life?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Confession

In my last post I spoke of how the gospel leads people to be honest about their failings. So I thought I may as well go right ahead with my first confession:
Some of you reading this know me well and yet have never heard me speak of the gospel. This is because God has slowly been teaching me that, despite what you see on the outside, deep down I am insecure. Consequently I hate anything that could lead to confrontation, rejection or ridicule. But now, the more secure I become in my belief in Christ, the less these things bother me. Every one of us has an in built need to feel accepted and to justify themselves but as I learn to marvel more-and-more at how God loved me enough to die for me and, because of Jesus' death, has declared me not guilty and accepts me just as I am, I realise that I don't need to seek to be accepted by or justified before other people. Also the more I come to be thankful for God's grace to someone as deeply flawed as me the more I want to share the good news with those I know.

So, expect to hear more from me on this. :-)

Monday, 12 October 2009

blogging and hypocrisy

One of the difficulties of writing a blog, particularly one shared with close family and friends via Facebook, as well as the world at large via the web, is the huge range of people that may be reading. Now I don't for one minute flatter myself by thinking I have a big audience. Indeed, from the number of comments I get, it may be that no-one is reading! (I write as much for my own benefit in any case). Nevertheless I am aware that some people will occasionally read it and that amongst those people are those who are Christians and those who are not. My aim in both cases though is to point people to the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope in life and death. The only one who will unconditionally forgive and accept them. The only one who loves them enough to die for them. The only one in whom they will find real meaning, hope, peace and deep, lasting joy - even in life's difficulties.

No doubt amongst the non-believers are some that think I'm a nut-job and others still who perhaps know me better and think I'm a hypocrite. What they see me writing about here doesn't match up to what they see of me in person. Well, this may come as a bit of a surprise but I will readily admit that I'm a hypocrite. But in a very real sense, that is precisely the point. You see, Jesus came to save sinners. Those who are messed up, those who know they fail and let others down. From murderers to complainers. Rapists to occasional white-lie tellers. Yes, even hypocrites.

Most non-Christian's perception of Christianity is that it's for a bunch of fuddy-duddy, frowning, rule-keeping, freedom-robbing, fun-hating boring people. But true Christianity, when rightly understood, produces freedom and joy because it is based on recognising that we can't keep the rules but the Lord Jesus Christ has kept them for us.

Now I admit you may have met Christians who fit my dull description very well but that is no more representative of what a Christian should like than if I put a fluffy hat on my head and said I was a rabbit. A Christian is a real person like anyone else. They will mess up regularly like everyone else. Sometimes they'll get angry. Sometimes they'll do things that you'll think Christians shouldn't do. Maybe even things that most non-Christians wouldn't do. But the difference is that a true Christian is someone who knows how deeply flawed they are and isn't afraid to admit it. Why? Because Jesus accepts them just as they are. No need to try to clean themselves up or put on a show to impress anyone.

The sad irony is that the fuddy-duddies who are stuck on the treadmill of trying to keep God's rules in order to earn his favour are often the ones farthest from God and the ones who find the Gospel message so hard to accept. Like I said Jesus came to save dirty sinners - not those who are trying to scrub themselves clean.

As I work through the implications of growing in my own understanding of the gospel it means I may speak about my own failings. This is because not only is the need to protect my reputation of decreasing importance compared to my growing understanding of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8) but also because showing my failings and weaknesses is a great way to demonstrate how great the gospel is. Deep down, everyone knows there is a God and knows that they need to be right with Him - it's what drives so much of what we do - and the wonder of the gospel is that we are far worse than we think we are yet we are never so bad that we are beyond the reach of God's grace. Turn to Him. Turn from all your self-reliance and trust in His unfailing love. You'll never look back!

Oh, and to the one person who is reading, do feel free to drop me a comment - even if only to tell me that you agree that I am a nut-job and hypocrite. :-)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The challenge of trusting God as provider

David Cameron has announced that there will be massive cuts in public spending if the Conservatives come to power. Now I find myself with a conflict of interests. I definitely want Labour to be defeated. Why would I want the people largely responsible for making the recession deeper and longer than it needed to be to continue in Government? Since they got us into the mess we can hardly trust them to get us out of it! However, on the other hand, my current client is in the public sector and my contract will probably be one the first things to go in the cuts. There are very few opportunities around in my line of work a tthe moment so I face the prospect of having no income. I do find myself worrying about this from time-to-time and have to keep reminding myself that God will provide what we need and that the things I worry about losing are things we don't really need.

Of course I have faced times like this before in the 24 years I've been a freelancer so I found it strange that I seemed to be worrying more this time. I think that's partly because I know this recession is worse than anything I've seen before but also I realised something else. In the past I've faced periods when there has been no work with confidence and said to people "God will provide" - and He did. But I realised a large part of that was the natural bravado of a young man, it wasn't really trust in God. The older we get the less we have that natural optimism and confidence. So, it seems I have more to learn about trusting Him than I thought. But one thing I am confident of is this: because I know that He loved me enough to die for me I know that He will provide all we need. In the mean time I need to get better at distinguishing between what is a luxury, desire or comfort and what is a true need.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Do you have an image problem?

In Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centred Discipleship (The Resurgence. 2009), Jonathan Dodson writes:

"All too often, our online identity is very different from our offline identity. Our Facebook status projects what we want others to think of us, not who we truly are. Our blog posts are shrouded in airs of intellectualism or edginess. We all face the temptation to project a false image of ourselves because we find the real image inadequate. If we are honest, the real image is nowhere near as attractive as we want it to be. We want to be more beautiful, more successful, more creative, more virtuous, more popular, and more intelligent than we actually are. We all have an image problem. The problem, however, is not that we lack beauty, success, creativity, virtue, popularity, or intelligence. The problem is that we believe the lie that obtaining those images will actually make us complete, happy, and content people."

Having believed the lie, we endlessly exert ourselves trying to create and preserve the image we want others to see. But all the while we remain unsatisfied. Our deepest needs go unmet. The irony is that Christianity is also about image and identity. But it teaches that we are made in the image of God, designed to find our identity in Him. We have all failed to live in line with what God created us for yet in His great love for us God does not cast us into hell. Instead Jesus willingly suffers in our place and God raises Him from the dead so that, through faith in Him, we can be forgiven and given a new identity in Christ Jesus.

When we trust our lives to Jesus we are freed from the endless cycle of trying to impress others because Jesus has impressed God on our behalf. As Dodson says: "I can tell people my sins because my identity doesn’t hang on what they think of me. I can be an imperfect Christian because I cling to a perfect Christ".

Are you a legalist?

Everyone is a legalist. We're born that way. C J Mahaney defines legalism as "seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God" (The Cross Centred Life. Multnomah. 2002).

A Christian is someone who knows that that they have been saved by grace, that is, that forgiveness is an undeserved gift of God through faith in Jesus and not something they can earn. Yet in their daily walk with God many Christians seem to forget this and their perception of the degree to which they consider themselves accepted by Him varies according to how good a job they think they're doing of obeying Him. This inevitably leads to pride when they think they're doing well and despair when they're not. In other words it is just a more sophisticated form of legalism. They confuse forgiveness and acceptance and reverse the order of the gospel. This demonstrates how deeply the ideas of reward and acceptance for good works and punishment for doing wrong is ingrained in us. We are born that way. We think "how could God possibly love me after I've done that!" but the truth is that we don't realise that our sins are far worse than we imagine. And that is the wonder of God's grace for our sins against the Holy God are so bad that only the blood of His Son would be enough to pay the penalty and His love for us is so great that Jesus willingly suffered and died for us so that we don't have to try to 'measure up'. As a result we don't have to earn His favour or acceptance. If we have believed the gospel we are already accepted by the King of the universe! We cannot add to that or take away from it. Thus we are accepted every day - whether we do well or badly, whether we have a good day or a bad day. In one sense we can say that Christians are free to do what they please! Because Jesus lived the perfect life that we could not and bore the punishment that we deserve then, if we have put our hope in Him, God only ever loves us. He's not a tempramental monster who gets angry with us when we mess up as some imagine Him to be. God's attitude towards us is unchanging. If we have believed the gospel message then God is no longer angry at our sin. Sure, he disciplines us, but in love not anger. Now I'm not saying we shouldn't obey God - simply that it is crucial that we remember the gospel order: I am accepted by God because of Jesus, therefore I obey.

Of course, non christians will say "I'm not trying to earn God's acceptance, I don't need Him!" but the reality is that, in some way, we all want to be accepted. We all need to feel valued. And everyone spends effort on it: in the way they dress, in the things they say and do. We need to feel acceptance from our peers or those we look up to thus we try to hide, minimize or explain away our behaviour or blame someone else when we mess up. Its a never-ending struggle because we keep messing up and people keep letting us down. Its hard work and it never pays off. We never find what we really yearn for. People never love us or value us like we want them to. But there is one who loves us and is prepared to accept us unconditionally, one who never gets angry with us when we mess up. One who never has a bad mood or turns nasty with us. His name is Jesus. He longs for you to turn to Him. Just as you are. Why try to earn what will always elude you? Go to Him and discover the freedom and joy that comes from knowing and experiencing the radical, life-altering love of the God who made you so that you could know and be satisfied in Him.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Are you honest enough to admit how bad you are?

In Repentance and 21st Century Man, C. John Miller says that two concerns motivated him to write the book:

“First, many who call Jesus their Savior are loaded down with pretense and evasion, and have no heart for confessing their ways as God commands them (Prov. 28:13, 1 John 1:8-10). Secondly, many others have an awareness of their guilt but do not know how to go to Christ and rid themselves of their dark blots. In their secret heart God is viewed as an unsympathetic tyrant not as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In my (admittedly limited) experience many Christians seem to know little of the deceitfulness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) - the "secret heart" as Miller calls it. Thus many in his first category will readily assent to what he says but not even consider how it might apply to themselves. People are more than happy to talk about sin - just so long as it is't their own. How contrary to the gospel this is! The gospel is for people who acknowledge they are sinners in need of a remedy which they themselves cannot provide. So, having believed the gospel, why do many Christians try to cover up their sins? Surely we should be open about how bad we are so that we can speak of how great our Saviour is, so that the worst of offenders, the murderers, the rapists, the idolaters can see that the gospel is for them!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Common Myths

Jared Wilson has a great list of myths common in many churches:

I just wanted to add a couple more - very common amongst non-christians:
When you die, unless you were a really nasty criminal or something, you go to a "better place"

When you die God weighs up all the things you have done - good and bad - and if, on balance, the good things outweigh the bad then he lets you into heaven

Monday, 27 July 2009

Who do we love the most?

The answer is "me"! No-one takes more of our time, no-one gets more of our attention, we give no-one more care than ... ourselves!

Paul David Tripp wrote: "Only love for Christ has the power to incapacitate the sturdy love for self that is the bane of every sinner, and only the grace of Christ has the power to produce that love." (A Quest for More)

How true that is! Nothing else is powerful enough. Nothing else seems important enough to divert our attention from satisfying our own interests. I need to be reminded of this often else ME and MY interests and MY needs and MY desires will be the selfish motiviation behind everything I do. We love and make much of what we think is the greatest thing deserving our love and attention and the reality is we're all so me-centred that we think WE are the greatest and most deserving there is. But the truth is there is one who is greater. One who is God Himself who, though He was rich beyond our wildest imagination, yet became poor for our sake. One who was perfect in every way and yet took the punishment for our sins instead of us. No-one is more worthy of our love and attention. No-one is greater than the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course the question could be asked how do we get such love? Love powerful enough to rescue us from our tedious little self-focused kingdoms where we never quite get the life we want, where we're never quite satisfied? C J Mahaney offers this simple yet profound advice:
"To grow in your passion for what Jesus has done, increase your understanding of what He has done. Never be content with your grasp of the gospel. The gospel is life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth. It has more facets than any diamond. Its depths man will never exhaust"
(The Cross Centered Life)

It seems to me though that we face a challenge for neither the world at large nor the church in general seem to have much awareness of how me-centred they are nor of the destructive force it has. Most of the church seem to have at best only a superficial awareness of the extent of their 'sturdy love for self'. For some Christianity is not about what Christ has done for them but about what they can do for Him. Others seem to know and talk much about grace and yet there's little heart transformation. I think its because they've never been convicted of how self-focused they are. Its especially hard to detect when its wrapped up in a belief that one is about the Lord's business. There seems to be little experimental knowledge of the Apostle Paul's confession that when he wants "to do good, evil is right there" (Ro. 7:21). We are so consumed by self-love and self-protection that we can read a statement like this and automatically think it applies to other people but not ourselves!

We need to spend more time meditating on the gospel asking the Lord to shine his gospel light into all the dark recesses of our self-love. Perhaps if the world were to see a people in the church who are honest about their self love and who are increasingly growing in love for the Lord Jesus and for others then they might notice?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Are you in default mode?

We all need justification, we all need to be accepted by God. We don’t think about it much. At best we may think we’re trying to justify ourselves before other people or before our own conscience but deep down, our real need driving all we do is to be accepted by God. Taking his cue from Luther and Calvin Tim Keller says that the default mode of the human heart is “works-righteousness”, that is, trying to justify ourselves before God by our own moral efforts and/or our religious affiliation.

What is odd is that most Christians don’t seem to realise this. I can understand how atheists would reject this idea. After all, if they claim not to believe in God, they’re not going to admit that deep down their in-built need to be right with God motivates everything they do. Besides, the bible quite shockingly describes non-believers variously as blind, deaf and even dead. But why don’t Christians understand this?

Richard Lovelace wrote that most Christians have “so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification ... drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance, or the relative infrequency of their conscious, wilful disobedience.” (Dynamics of Spiritual Life, IVP, 1979, p101)

I think many flip-flop between these two categories. I know I have done for years. Even now I can only say that as I am beginning to grasp how deep this goes so I am only beginning to experience some periodic joy-filled moments of not falling into either of these two traps.

It’s easy to illustrate how this works. For example, watch someone who is falsely accused of some horrible sin. Immediately they will rise to defend themselves, indignant at the slur on their reputation – as though their reputation actually makes a difference to whether God justifies them.

The basic problem, according to Lovelace, is that even Christians do not ordinarily live as if the gospel is true. We don't really believe the gospel deep down and so we live as if we have to save ourselves. We can even be crammed full of knowledge about the theological nuances of all that is entailed in justification by faith alone in Christ alone, yet its impact on our lives is more theoretical than practical. With our lips we say “we cannot save ourselves by our own efforts, therefore I obey because Jesus has already accepted me” but our hearts operate as if we have to live a good life for Jesus to accept us. This leads to defensiveness, judgementalism, intolerance, and bigotry and to pride, when we think we’re doing a good job, and to self-deprecation when we don’t. No wonder the world generally doesn’t think that Christians are worth listening to!

What we need first is an awareness of how our hearts constantly try to default to self-justification and thus a greater awareness of the true extent of our sin and second, in light of that, a renewed (and repeated) revelation of the wonders of the riches of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. The more we grow in both repentance and worship, the less we go back to default mode and the more we enjoy the freedom, joy and hope of the Christian life. The only kind of life capable of rejoicing in hardships and the only way of seeing real change in our increasingly messed-up world.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Why are we so stubborn?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Romans 1:16

The Gospel is that we are more sinful and therefore deserve God’s wrath far more than we realise and yet, through the sending of His Son Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins in our place, we see that God loves us far more than we dared hope.

This Gospel is the only power of God that will transform us and satisfy the longings of our hearts yet it appears so foolish to our natural wisdom and so offensive to our natural pride that we will ignore it and mock it and do anything except submit to it.

We refuse to accept that we are helpless, and, if we are without Christ, hopeless. Yet how odd that we should want to reject something which cost Christ everything, yet costs us nothing. How strange that we don't want to accept what has been done for us and instead try to save ourselves by our own efforts. How foolish that we should reject the only thing that would give us lasting joy, peace and confident hope and assurance, because its based on the perfect work of Christ, preferring instead to spend our efforts forever striving after happiness and acceptance that eludes us and worrying whether our own flawed efforts will measure up.

The thing is God's standard is perfection. We'll never measure up. Why try?

The highest expression of God's Love

Of First Importance have posted a quote from Billy Graham. I was struck by a certain irony as I read that quote. Many Calvinists like to pick on him and criticise what he believes as I myself once did. Yet now, at least as far as this sentence goes, I know that, not only is it biblical, but also it is actually perfectly in line with what many notable and more reliable Calvinists have said.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Glory Junkies

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.'
Acts 17

In some way, every one of us is a “glory junkie”. There is within each of us a deep desire for something better, something glorious. The sports fan longs for his team to win the play-offs. The Father wants his children to excel at something. The Mother wants to be told what great kids she has. The ambitious politician seeks status and recognition. The business man strives for fat profits. Each great deal struck along the way becomes a foretaste of the ‘glory’ to come. The American Idol wannabe longs for fame and adulation. The adrenaline junkie dreams of his next big ‘rush’.

Even in ordinary, everyday life, the party or leisure trip planned for the weekend is awaited eagerly, the vacation / new car / new gadget cannot arrive soon enough. We desperately need something to bring meaning and hope to our lives. Yet the disappointment that follows isn’t far behind. The excitement wears off and the next ‘project’ enters onto the drawing board. We spend hours dreaming and planning how the next piece of ‘glory’ will be better.

If only ... then life would be better.
If only ... then I would be happy.
If only ... then I would really have ‘arrived’.
If only ... then people will like me.
You fill in the blanks. We all do it.

Our dreams rarely come true yet even when they do we soon move to the next dream because they never really satisfy the deep longings within.

It is no surprise really, we were made for glory. But that glory will never be found in ourselves, our friends and family, our jobs, our possessions, our vacations or even what others think of us. That glory can only be found in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. God incarnate. Even after a tiny glimpse of His glory we are never the same again. When we have “seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) all other ‘glories’ lose their appeal. Sure, we may be tempted back occasionally. Indeed, except for the grace of God we are like a sow washed clean who returns to wallow in the dirt (2 Peter 2:22). Yet the appeal of the things of this world has been broken. They’ve lost their sheen compared to the glory of God.

All because the only One who is spotless took all our ‘dirt’ on Himself so that God could declare us clean. Jesus set aside His glory and endured the cross so that we could enter in to that glory. All the obstacles have been removed. Now, He says, you can find me and I will welcome you. The glory you long for is found only in me. Seek me. Why spend your efforts on what does not satisfy? Seek my glory and your soul will be satisfied with the richest of fare (Ps. 63).

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The reason for the name

I’m a strange hybrid. Part modern, part post-modern. Depending on whose definition you take I’m a late Boomer or an early Generation X-er. I’m a 60’s child, part rebel part traditionalist. I’m all mixed up for sure. Generally, relativism frustrates me. I need concrete answers. I often feel uncomfortable with ambiguity. Ask me a question and I might ask you to define your terms. Yet, in other ways I feel equally uncomfortable with precision and dogmatism – particularly the sort in the church that says you must believe exactly these things. One thing I have learned for sure: mere knowledge is never going to satisfy the deep longings of my heart. The ‘post-modern’ in me desperately yearns for authenticity and community, to experience God, to taste of His goodness, to be lifted way beyond the plane of mere knowledge. Yet the “enlightenment” side of me needs solid facts. I need to know that my experience is founded on ultimate truth. You could say I am too rational for mysticism and too mystic for rationalism! This is why I have benefited so much from two quite different streams within the church, one old, one new. Though the one that is old is still very much alive today and the one that is new has been around a long time.

The old stream is what we might call classical reformed soteriology in line with the early reformation. On the one hand this rejects what I believe to be the man-centred theology of Arminianism which elevates free will above the sovereignty of God. On the other it rejects the “limited atonement” beloved by many modern, and sadly, aggressive, internet ‘Calvinists’ who would have us proclaim an empty Gospel that would call us to repent and believe not knowing whether or not Christ died for our sins. It is NOT four-point Calvinism as some refer to it. (I suppose we are all prone to assign quick labels to things we don’t understand). This is classical reformed doctrine which can be neatly summarised with the old formula that Christ died sufficiently for all and efficiently for the elect. In one sense the atonement is limited, in another sense it is not but more of that some other time. This ‘stream’ is still alive today and I for one am thankful. It played a part in rescuing me from the clutches of cold hyper-Calvinism.

The new stream, which we might call “gospel-centredness” takes its cue from the likes of Tim Keller, the late Jack Miller and Jerry Bridges. From this I have learned that the gospel is not just the A-B-C of how we enter the kingdom and the thing we proclaim to unbelievers, but is, in fact, the A-Z though which we grow in sanctification. It has helped me understand why I have spent so much of my Christian life basically volatile and unhappy. More of that in due course too.

Of course, the doctrine of sanctification by faith isn’t new. It is a common theme amongst some of the puritans. Its just the terminology and the renewed emphasis that it brings that is new. And it is a much needed antidote to the superficiality and coldness of much of the church today. It can both expose the pride of the Pharisees and self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy on the one hand and lift-up the down-hearted and self-pitying on the other.

These are two recurring themes you will see here. In fact I’m excited about them both. I hope that if you stick around long enough you might catch some of that excitement. Of course, I don’t mean excited for excited sake. My hope is that together we may grow in love for the Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Size doesn't matter, the Gospel does

Jared Wilson wonders whether a fixation on size is a Texan thing. Interestingly, it would seem he is originally from Texas but has never noticed this before. Over here in the UK we've long had this stereotyped idea of swaggering John Wayne-like Texans in large Stetsons driving Oil Tanker sized cars lighting fat cigars with fifty dollar bills who boast about how big everything is in good ole' Texas :-)
Not sure where we got that idea. Maybe it was from the TV series Dallas. Anyway I wanted to raise a question about what is behind this concern with size and I don't think its a uniquely Texan thing. I've encountered it here in the UK. The numbers may be different (we would probably consider a megachurch to be one with over two hundred people!) but I suggest the underlying cause is the same.

In my opinion the idea that size matters is the product of a combination of poor theology and worldly thinking. Actually the two are closely related. There's an underlying assumption by many that size is an indication of God's blessing yet I can think of no biblical justification for that. Rather I suggest it is the product of our materialistic, performance oriented, western cultures. Now it is true that quality attracts, but the question is what are the criteria used to define quality? Good music? A great show? Some guy oozing charisma who tells funny stories and makes you feel better about yourself?

What we really need is deep, heartfelt repentance over sin and godly, Christ-exalting people who are patient and joyful in affliction. And when I say repentance I'm not talking external law keeping here. I mean the secrets of our hearts, those inward motives that we try to dress up as doing the Lord's business when its really all about making us feel good about ourselves. This isn't a popular idea in this day of sugar-coated superficiality on the one hand and cold, dead orthodoxy on the other. One thing such talk doesn't do, with one or two notable exceptions, is attract large numbers. Sadly some churches don't even mention the Word sin let alone talk about our inward desires.

What I think is really behind this fixation with size is the idolatrous belief that "I'm part of something big therefore I matter". It doesn't matter how much we might say that our trust is in Christ alone our sinful hearts will constantly be looking elsewhere for something to appease our consciences, inflate our egos and satisfy the longings of our hearts. Longings that only Christ will satisfy. What we desparately need are churches who will expose our idolatrous hearts and patiently, consistently, lovingly and constantly point us back to the cross as the only thing worth boasting about.

What's it all about then?

In my profile I said I was an average Christian. So, you may ask, what’s the point of an average Christian writing a blog? I mean most Christians who write blogs are clever, but not me. Many who write Christian blogs display a wisdom and insight I lack. Many are bright, shining beacons compared to my faint glow. I have been a Christian for almost twenty years yet I’m ashamed of most of them. I’ve messed up most of my relationships and responsibilities and done a pretty bad job of looking anything like what the Bible describes a Christian should look like. But I’m still here. I suppose I would have to admit I may be a little bit wiser than I was twenty years ago. But what little progress I may have made has been slow, with many twists and turns. I offer no profound insights here. No great Godly wisdom. If you should find a nugget here you can be sure it won’t have originated with me. So why bother blogging? Isn’t the blogosphere full of enough pointless drivel without me adding to the problem? All true, but then I’m not forcing you to read it now am I? :-)

So what’s it all about then? Well, first I hope to encourage those who, like me, struggle in their Christian walk. Often I’ll write about or share things that have helped and encouraged me. Secondly its an opportunity for me to write about things I’m a little unsure about in hope that others will give me feedback from which I can learn.

I’ll talk a lot about the gospel and about sin because that’s what I’m convinced we need to hear most. So I’d better warn you: some of this could get a bit ugly. That, after all, is the nature of sin. But it is my firm belief that, only by dealing with our ugliness do we get to see and truly savour the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ who calls us to Himself.