David Cameron reportedly says that he is a "committed Christian" without being a "practising Christian". Is that possible? There is a temptation to go with the political slant on this statement, because it would seem he is trying to please all, but satisfying none. That aside, is it possible to be committed to Christianity, but not practice your faith?
My first thought suggested that there could be a group of people who ‘believe’ in the major parts of the Christian creed, but don’t want to get too close because they know it can be uncomfortable and show up many faults (and there are many!). So we could have a large majority who are ‘committed’ but don’t think they have to go to church to be a Christian, at least in name, or practice their commitment.
My second thought was that there could be some church goers, who are actually ‘committed’ to their creed by going to church regularly, but like the others who may not darken the church doors, don’t want to be affected by the message of the gospel, so are not practicing their overt statement of faith.
There are the obvious examples of some groups who use the title ‘committed Christian’ to add some weight to their own program. I immediately think of the homosexual community who promote same sex marriage, who often say they are ‘committed Christians’, but do not practice what it says in the only given and accepted Word of God. Oh dear, I have used the trigger words for my internet troll friend ‘Anon’ to respond to that one, but there are others who do the same thing. I have heard it said that you can’t be a Christian and vote ( ) … you can fill in the blank. Then there are those who use Christianity to support their views on Capital Punishment, for AND against. We cannot ignore nations who go to war ‘in the name of their God’ (Christianity being only one faith group here) to prevent wrongs committed in other lands.
So, to go back to David Cameron, it is entirely possible that he is using (yes deliberately using) a form of words to make it appear that he is taking policies in the name of Christian principles, when in fact all such people are described this way by Timothy:
...treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 2 Tim 3:4,5 NIV
Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
You must remember the old favourite Sunday School song: “J-O-Y, J-O-Y surely that must mean, Jesus first Yourself last, Others in between”. I remember singing it with gusto when I was 10 years old, little realising the theology that I was enjoying. It seems as we get older, we tend to forget the lessons of our youth, or maybe we think we know better now that we are more mature, and wiser?
The lesson here is simple. As the newer gospel song says, “It’s all about You my Jesus”. We need to put Jesus first, but as well as that, we need to put others before ourselves too. If you are really quick, you will see that you and I need to be last in line. The great paradox is that Jesus said “The last shall be first” so there is a reward to come for our humility in this life.
Unfortunately, I have come across some older, supposedly wiser churchy folks who still think that the Christian life revolves around them. My concern and question is easy: who is qualified to tell them, or should they be left alone? After all, there is always the real possibility that someone could come knocking at my/your door!
Definition: Secularism is the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs.
For years I have misunderstood what secularism is. I had equated it to a Godless society, where faith is rejected, and yet by definition, nothing could be further from the truth, so in the past I may have spoken out against it in error. You may be like me, so let’s set the record straight. That is why I started with a definition, and not a verse of Scripture, which will come later.
The USA is a prime example of a secular nation, and we have no problem with this. The nation was born out of a deep desire of the Pilgrims to escape the worst excesses and abuses of the state sponsored religion of Great Britain. Yes, the UK is still a non secular nation because the Church of England has safe seats in the House of Lords for archbishops, and so has a direct influence on government. That is the link between the state and religion. When America was setting out its Declaration of Independence, it wanted and needed separation of church and state, to protect the religious organisations (mainly but not exclusively Christian) from those state abuses which drove them there in the first place. So far so good.
There are other examples of secular societies, like France and Iran. Now we hit different problems, because in France where the religious majority is Roman Catholic, the rights of Muslims have been sidelined, and in Iran which is an Islamic state, no other religion is tolerated. My own problem closer to home is that the ‘Secular Humanists’ in the West have hi-jacked the very meaning and intention of secularism, and for them, and therefore us, it means a Godless society. So we are back where we started. It doesn’t really matter what the word meant initially, it now does mean that Scotland and the UK have a job on their hands to prevent secularism. The best words of advice and wisdom come directly from Jesus, and it does us well to remember, and act on them...
And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25 NKJV
We don’t often have the luxury of knowing in advance those things which are life changing. We get no warning of personal or family accident or emergency, or our ultimate or untimely demise. There are times when we wouldn’t want to know these dates anyway, and understandably so.
For those who live in Scotland, or who are Scottish by birth, or who might have a grannie who was Scottish (there seem to be many categories of inclusion) you will get the chance to vote for an independent country of Scotland. This is a historic date, and the First Minister Alex Salmond calls it ‘a date with destiny’.
Between now and the 18th of September 2014, there will be a lot of attention and media hours given to the debate of whether Scotland would be better off, or not, as an independent nation. This is the first time in over 300 years of being a part of the United Kingdom, we will get the chance to leave, and by a free and democratic process. By the time that date comes along, I predict Scots will be fed up seeing it on the TV, and hearing it on the radio.
If we will talk this important subject to death for the next 18 months, can I ask why we don’t give the same attention to the date we all have to face, or maybe we don’t want to think about the certainty of our own mortality. Too morbid? Too far away? Too young? Don’t care? There are many reasons for not facing up to the fact that we will all stand before a Just and Holy God in judgement, but we cannot ignore that more important ‘date with destiny’, and it doesn’t matter if you are Scottish. Everyone will stand before God, whether they believe in Him or not... now that’s a scary thought for the unbeliever, and dare I say some believers too.
My suggestion is clear. Think about, and be prepared, for a date you do not know. In God’s will, the 18 September 2014 will come and go, but the real date with our destiny will determine where we will spend eternity. That’s a very long time, so shouldn’t we be wise and face up to the certainty of that mysterious date?
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. Hebrews 9:27 KJV
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. Mark 13:31-33 NIV
A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1 NIV
I was privileged to hear a short, stumbling message recently, by an older man, and from a soft heart. He had been a lay preacher most of his adult life, and very involved in his local churches when he lived in New Zealand and Scotland. He has a good family, with much loved children and grandchildren. He had worked in senior positions in industry, and has much he could be proud of, if we consider that in an earthly manner.
The challenge was simple, but profound: “How do you want to be remembered”? In his own faltering way, and between tearful pauses and stumbling words, he gave us the desire of his heart. He didn’t care that he was successful in work, nor even in the corridors of church power. He didn’t want to be remembered for his bad humour, or his way with words in the pulpit. He didn’t even want to be remembered as a man who loved his wife and family, or even that he would go out of his way to do anything for them. No, he wanted his name to be remembered as one who loved the Lord, and the influence that love had on others. Above all else, he wanted his name to be associated with Godly good!
He said something else that will stay with me. “I would rather be forgotten, than remembered for the wrong reasons”. That last quote is worth reading again, and committing to memory.
The little meeting ended, not with the usual buzz of fellowship chatter, but by a hush. Grown men of senior years, who had seen a lot of life and church, taking a deep breath to catch their composure before speaking in hushed and almost reverential tones. Every now and then in church life, we get a collective feel that the Spirit has spoken. It was undeniable, so I leave you with a simple question, which for some lies many years ahead. When you enter the Holy presence of God to gain the undeserved rewards of your faithfulness, and look over your shoulder to earth beneath (if you could) how would you want to be remembered? I think it is worth changing your ways, so that you get the right answer. After all, the only thing we leave our loved ones, is our reputation. Our name! Like you, I know some, both in and out of church life who care, and some who don’t care. Does it matter? Just asking.....
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:7-9 NIV
There has been a wee stooshie growing in the UK, as the main political parties tried to agree a very difficult piece of law. The Lord Leveson report on media freedom while protecting individuals who have previously suffered at the hands of the press, will not happen again. At least that is the aim.
A number of years ago, I heard a minister on the radio describe himself as a ‘wordsmith’ and the term has stuck with me ever since. The one thing we all have in common, whether politicians, doctors, pastors, or ordinary people like you and me, in their day to day dealings, is words. With our words we can build up or bring down our fellow human beings. We can encourage, or discourage. We can heal or bruise. Sometimes we use the wrong words by mistake, and when that happens we bite our tongues, say sorry, and usually the thoughtless words are forgiven and made right. Sometimes, however, our words are deliberately chosen to make a point, and no matter what other words are used to mitigate them, the marks are left behind.
I am reminded of the dad who was trying to teach his son to be careful with his words, and to make the point, he hammered some nails into a tree stump, and explained that with the love and forgiveness of God, the nails can be removed. To explain that point, he took a tool and removed the nails from the tree stump, showing how God can help us make things right. His son thought for a while and in innocent wisdom said, “but the marks are still there”.
A certain generation will remember the Bee Gees, and their song ‘Words’ which has this line: “It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away”. My point?Let us all be careful with our words, and not only that, but how our words are spoken. We are all required to be ‘wordsmiths’ to encourage those we meet. As the Psalmist said:
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14 KJV
The archbishop of Durban, South Africa, Wilfrid Fox Napier, has stated that there are some cases of child abuse which should not be punished, because it was not necessarily their fault, since they may have been abused as children themselves. In such cases it should be treated as a “psychological illness, and not a criminal condition”.
I have to be honest here, and say this statement does not sit well with me. That does not mean to say that I have no sympathy with anyone who has suffered at the evil hands of an abuser, at a young age. God is able to forgive, but to find a reason, or make an excuse for their behaviour, leaves me cold. Everything in life has a consequence. Every action we make or decision we take, has a consequence, either a good one, or a bad one. If we do this for paedophiles, then it can be argued that the same principle could apply to other heinous and grievous sins?
The Roman Catholic church has been rocked by many cases of paedophilia and other sexual abuses recently in the UK and the USA, and it struck me that it is no coincidence that the Cardinal spoke this way, and at this particular time. Is he leaving the door open to suggest that these sinning priests were not fully responsible for their actions against minors? Maybe the best people to ask are those who suffered at their hands many years before, and have lived with the scars ever since. The evil of this sin is not an exclusive possession of the Roman Catholic church. Other churches have suffered similar unwanted publicity, although I have to admit not on the same scale. Cardinal Napier was one of those who had been mentioned as a possibility for the new Pope. Let me put it this way, I am glad the new pontiff is Pope Francis I. The apostle Luke was a medical doctor in his day, and perhaps was familiar with the suffering caused by this kind of sin, so his words are all the more significant when he records:
Jesus said to his disciples: Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. Luke 17:1-3 NIV
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 NIV
The UK government has two big ticket items that have hit the news in the recent past, namely: Minimum Pricing for alcohol, and the Redefinition of Marriage. In the beginning (now there’s a place to start) the government decided that they should support traditional marriage and families who try to work and do their best in difficult circumstances, and they also recognised the problems caused by the abusive use of alcohol, and the policy of minimum pricing was conceived.
For one reason or another, the protection of traditional marriage was sacrificed for the policy of redefining marriage, and the policy of minimum pricing of alcohol has been dropped. There is a very obvious common factor here. Both of these principles have large and powerful lobbies at work to get their own way. The alcohol industry does not want to have any limit placed on their ability to sell alcohol to whoever they want, including those, usually young, vulnerable binge abusers of alcohol, and they dismiss all and any evidence from the medical groups who see the effects on a daily basis. Then there is the Stonewall group, who have a very vested interest in pushing the self interests of the very small homosexual community, which was less than 2% in the 2011 surveys.
So, one group controls their profits, and the other, a minority (not even a large minority) push their agenda at every opportunity, but (and a big but), both have powerful friends in government. What chance does the ordinary, normal, rational, thinking person of any moral standing have against such a heavy and organised opposition? Paul tells us how we should respond in the next few verses which follow:
Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
The world watches and waits for the next head of the Roman Catholic Church to be elected by the 115 Cardinals, who are locked away in their conclave in the Sistine Chapel, and voting until they get a 2/3rds majority for the one man who will lead them into the next phase of their church life. This could take a few days, or weeks, or even months as they settle on a clear winner.
The news programs who report on this momentous occasion talk in terms of the secular world. I hear words like, ‘who will vote with whom?’, and ‘ will some nations vote in block?’, and ‘Is it time for a change to a non European Pope?’ and even, ‘Will there be bad feelings between Cardinals if they don’t get their own way?’. I am sorry, but it looks and sounds like the reporting we get for the Eurovision Song Contest! Where is God in the process? The appointment of the most powerful man in the largest church in the world, is elected on a secular basis, or that is how it is reported. If the Pope is God’s man, then shouldn’t God have a say?
Ah, but hold on, it isn’t just the Roman Catholic Church who seems to have stopped using the divine wisdom of God in their deliberations, the mainstream Protestant churches do it too. When was the last time you heard the words from your minister or pastor when he or she came to lead your flock, ‘God called me here?’ We are subject to the same things, like elections, whether by the whole church or by an elected group of representatives. When a minister or pastor moves on, we hear words like, ‘I feel my ministry has finished here’, or ‘I want to be closer to my family who are in another place’, or worse still they are voted out of their church of choice.
Having said all that, I do believe that God still works and speaks through His people. If that means a voting process in an imperfect church, of whatever religious denomination, including puffs of white smoke, so be it. After all, does God have another way to work in His world, including His church, except through us, who are called by His name? If so, then please share your thoughts.
It is nothing to look at from the outside, just a shop front, in a poor neighbourhood, with faded looking curtains framing a window, and a door. A very welcoming door. I had not been in that part of town for many years, even though it is the town of my birth. It had, and may still have, a reputation of being a tough place, housing some tough characters.
I was asked to meet someone there to discuss the launch of a town wide, one stop website for some twelve places of worship. It was a vision explained with some passion, and it was not difficult to see the worth of the venture. There are towns up and down our country where churches seem to always be on the back foot, frantically trying to keep up with falling interest, and matching income. It becomes a spiral of survival. Fewer worshippers means smaller offerings, which in turn means doing less with the little you have.
The vision is spearheaded by an enthusiastic lady who, by her own confession, knows little of the website business, but that has not stopped her from charging ahead with a dream she believes in, and it is contagious. Unwittingly, it also goes by another name, ‘leadership’. My meeting lasted an hour, some 30 minutes longer than planned, and I was only one of twelve volunteers who had to be met and fed the vision. I left with a belief that this vision could be realised, and maybe even used by people outwith our own local church group, to let us know we are not alone in the town. There are others who share this same gospel of Jesus Christ and also want to spread the good news.
On my way from the office meeting, I met two others who didn’t seem to be very busy. I asked what they did there, and with smiles they said they were there to all hours, just being available to the youth in the area if and when they were needed. No pressure, no hard sell, just a faith looking for an outlet and maybe, just maybe, making a difference in some young person’s choices. Who knows, but that one encounter might make an eternal difference. They were not ministers or professional social workers, only volunteers saved by grace, and making themselves available if they should be needed. And they make a good cup of coffee.
I left the little shop feeling a lot different than when I got there an hour before. I felt stirred that there are others ‘out there’ in the community, willing and able to help share their faith, not in a nice cosy church setting, but where the need was. It was, and is, a Smart Move and we should be grateful it is there, tucked away in that part of town where no one except the residents want to enter. I left with a fresh idea of evangelism at work. It wasn’t fancy, just real and sometimes effective between making cups of coffee and tea, and providing a listening ear with Godly advice. Smart Move indeed, and may God Bless the work in this little part of God’s Kingdom!