And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31
Have you ever wondered what went wrong? God, the almighty, all powerful, made everything and He was happy with the result. He made man, and said it was ‘very good’. There are many interpretations of the creation, and different views expressed by very clever and learned men, but whatever your views, when the world was created by God (I hope we can agree on that!) everything in the garden was rosy (literally) until man was put in charge. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we have been given free choice, and we can exercise it as we like. We can accept or reject God’s love. After all, if He had not given us choice, we would have been no better than robot toys in the hands of our maker.
The great danger is that our ‘advanced civilisation’ has messed up God’s great design, and we don’t really see it, or if we do, we don’t care. We don’t take care of His garden, His planet. We pollute it daily, and in the process plants, animals, and yes humankind die. We pay lip service to ecology, and all the while big commercial businesses pump toxins into the atmosphere, and ruin the air we breathe. That’s bad enough on its own, but there is a bigger and more serious problem in our freedom we have been granted.
Man turns on man, killing and maiming to get what is wanted by one section of humanity. The price doesn’t matter as long as I get what I want. We have downgraded that old problem of sin, and given it nicer names. It could be an unfortunate upbringing, or a bad neighbourhood, or we fell in with the wrong crowd. The big get out is the phrase ‘we need more education and better housing’. When the TV is full of foul language, violence and explicit sex, we say it is only a reflection of what’s going on already. It has nothing to do with the media. So where can we turn for help and a way out, a way back to God?
Faith is the answer to that, but once again, we have really messed that one up big time too. We have turned faith into religion, and in the process once again have successfully turned man against man, this time in the name of theology. We even blame God for making us this way! Take a look around you. There is a major religion of the world where we are rocked almost daily with revelations of child abuse, not in one country, but many. They hide behind the fear that they will do their religion harm by creating a scandal! We have another major religion who kill and bomb their way into the news, and we are not allowed to mention them by name, or colour, in case we offend them. Then what about those who hate each other with a passion, enough to send rockets across their borders, while they hide behind human shields of women and children. There are times that I despair about where this world is heading.
And then, I remember. These examples are religions. They are not the ultimate example. Go back to the God of the garden, because he had a plan to give us the way back to Him. When our own planning failed, and the abuses and killings came in the name of religion, God sent His son Jesus into the world, that we might be redeemed through Him. Not a faith. Not a religion. Not a Pope. Not an Imam, and not an army. The answer lies in a baby who grew up doing good, and was ultimately killed to take our sin, and what we decide to do with Him. We still have a choice, and in the middle of the mess mankind has made of the world, we still have a way back. Yes, we have made a real mess of our social, community and personal responsibilities, but the question remains. What will you do with this Jesus? It’s not enough to look around and blame other people or religions for our mess. We will only make a difference one changed person at a time. Are you in, or do you just want to keep on blaming religion? Your choice!
What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah? Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’ Matthew 27:22 NIV
There were times in my young life, when I questioned the benefits of being raised in a Christian home. Oh, I loved my parents, and know they were saintly in life and example, but what was I missing? Were those forbidden fruits tastier than the Christian life I had readily adopted? My pals seemed to be ok the way they were, and they weren’t off the rails by any stretch of the imagination. I was at that formative time of life. I was in my teens, so what was I really saved from? What does it take to know?
Fast forward a few decades, and I have a wholly different perspective on life. Being a dad and a granda has made me see my life in a different way. My daughter reminded me recently that God is already in our future, but we don’t know it until we get there. Recently, I found myself listening to the heart of one of my wider family as they unfolded some of their troubles. God is working in their own lives, but the problems encountered by their own family made me oh so very thankful for the things I was saved from. You see, I don’t know what I was saved from, and that’s the great thing that I can see now. I didn’t always feel this way, but God was gracious in granting me salvation at an early age. I believe I was saved from, well, a lot!
Now when I pray for others with problems I never had to face myself, I find myself twice blessed. I am blessed to have known God’s grace early in my life, and I am also blessed that I can pray with thankfulness that God can indeed save the souls of people from one extreme of life to the other. God is able, and He can make Himself known to us in simple faith. However, there is a catch. Isn’t there always? The catch is that we have to ask Him for His gift of salvation. Easy, isn’t it? Not really, because the biggest blockage we will face is accepting that we really do need a Saviour, and it doesn’t matter if we are young or old(er).
One of the lessons in my own life is this. Actions have consequences, and although God can and will help us deal with each one, He doesn’t take them away. They have been of our own making and we have to face them head on, but as I listened to this wise, faithful and praying Mum talk about her daughter’s sad consequences of bad decisions made, I was reminded yet again of God’s faithfulness. This troubled girl has the benefit of a praying Mum on her side, who will not let go of God’s promises as she intercedes on her daughter’s behalf who is also now beginning to realise that her Mum is the best friend and support she will ever have, and to cap it off, her Mum also knows she is not alone, as there are many other Christians who will pray for them in their time of urgent and immediate need. My question is simple: Will you join with me and please pray for Joanne and her young child? You may never know or see the answer to your prayers this side of eternity, so thank you and God Bless your faithfulness.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. Hebrews 13:8,9 NIV
Then there is the other old saying: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”. (From Machiavelli in "The Prince" which is the definitive primer for how to be a dictator.... hmmmm)
The Church of the Nazarene holds its General Assembly in Indianapolis in June, and I am hoping that there are no surprises for me to digest. I say this for two reasons, firstly, we live in a democracy and that includes church, and secondly the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has been convening in Edinburgh this past week. In that particular gathering, they came up with two surprises (at least for me!). Now before I say what they are, a word for my regular reader and welcome contributor ‘Anon’. What I say will be observations only, and not judgements, so please don’t start jumping up and down and getting your blood pressure in the red zone! Of course if you still want to comment, you are welcome to do so!
The CoS has been in the news recently as it tried to distance itself from the nation state of Israel, saying that the Jewish people had ‘no divine right to the land of Israel’. If they were on Facebook the church would have ‘unfriended and blocked’ the Nation State of Israel. If you are interested and want to know more, the following link might help: http://www.scojec.org/news/2013/13v_cos/cos_4.html
The same church delegates also agreed to welcome homosexual men and women into their family of ministers to preach and spread the Word of God. To continue with the Facebook analogy, that’s a bit like not only adding the LGBT community as friends, but also as a close family member.
I once heard a friend (not a Facebook friend, a real one!) say that we get the church we deserve, and maybe there is an element of truth in that. Of course it is also true to say that because there is an earthly church, it doesn’t mean they are automatically part of the true church of God, the one that ultimately matters. Let me leave you with some other Bible quotes which are directed at the church, not the faith-less or unchurched:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21 NIV
I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18 NIV
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15,16 NIV
“A camel is a horse, designed by committee” so the old saying goes.
The past week in the UK has seen some groundbreaking changes and decisions made by committee. If you live outwith Scotland/UK, I will try to help you understand. Those who live in our country, need no explanation.
Two important, but very separate and different committees convened on 20/21 May to discuss and decide on the same general issue which has plagued our church and nation over the past few years. In both cases the horse went in and came out as a camel. Let me explain.
The UK government of elected representatives met over two days to decide if the institution of marriage which up until now has meant the union of a man and a woman only, can be redefined to include any combination of man/woman. All in the name of equality, or at least one definition of equality. In their ‘wisdom’ they decided by a large majority to change marriage as soon as possible and redefine it. A camel emerged. Of course the UK is not alone, at the last count many other European countries have done the same, as have some US States.
At the same time as the UK government were discussing, debating and voting, so too was the national Church of Scotland. They convened their annual General Assembly to decide if a homosexual man or woman can be accepted as a minister in a church which calls them, and this was carried. At the same time, they say they hold to the Biblical truth that marriage should be between a man and a woman only. It should be remembered that this church already had a number of homosexual ministers in churches around the country. I have to confess that I feel for members of the church who, in good conscience, stayed with the church as it deliberated over the past few years while the committee sat. Another camel emerged.
There is a groundswell of change happening very quickly, and before our eyes. If you happen to be in the minority of any significant faith group (Jewish, Muslim or Christian) your views have been listened to politely (but ignored) while the views of a minority have succeeded. This is democracy at work I suppose. The only thing that might give us hope is that when these same significant faith groups become a minority themselves, and they will, maybe then the governments and churches will take notice of their own people and do the right thing. In the meantime, if we ever needed it, we who live in the UK are confirmed as not only secular humanist, but with no moral compass, and God-less. I wonder how many more committees will make camels from horses in the future?
The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult. Proverbs 12:15,16 NIV
We give advice to others quite easily, but we don’t take wise or well meaning advice when it is offered, right? It’s a normal human nature thing and easily seen and demonstrated. Take smoking for example. When common sense and medical opinion shows that smoking is bad for your health, non smokers take it on board, but smokers seem to do an ‘ostrich’ and pretend the doctors and police are wrong, and they know better. Then there is the massive problem of alcohol in the community and the havoc it causes, so when the UK and Scottish governments try to bring in a minimum price per unit of alcohol, the drinks industry have a problem in accepting the evidence. The result is that they have their own ‘evidence’, and they too behave like ostriches.
At the expense of ruffling some feathers, there are also some turkeys who would not vote for Christmas because it would mean a big problem for their own agenda, and they are not prepared to take advice which might just lead to a partial solution. Our verse today is very relevant to this trait of human nature.
We were all disgusted by the deranged action of a young man in Connecticut, USA, who single handedly ended the lives of many young lives before ending his own. How do you get into the mind of someone who would do such a thing? No one wants this to ever happen again, but this is said after every massacre of innocents, especially in the USA, that land of freedoms, including the freedom to buy weapons of mass human destruction, and use them senselessly.
The answer to the other problems mentioned, is not more tobacco or alcohol, but a responsible limitation by law. The lobbies of these groups needed to be overcome and even discounted because their arguments were invalid. Is it possible that the NRA gun lobby in the USA needs to be handled the same way? I saw a sad, and sincere comment about the latest massacre, that if the teachers had been armed, the problem would not have happened. In other words, more guns, not fewer. The big argument that it is the person who does the killing, and not the gun, is a very small part of the solution and is only partly true. A deranged person with a baseball bat is not the same as that same person with a firearm. And please don’t give the argument that the shooters would get their hands on these weapons anyway. To follow the rationale of the gun lobby to its logical conclusion means that the defence of the youth of the USA means that everybody at every level should own, and be prepared to use, a gun. Don’t you hear bells ringing? I do!
(This was originally written some months ago, and held on advice. Since then another student shooting has happened in California, and children killed in Sandy Hook Elementary school, and once again the same old tired and lame arguments are trotted out by the NRA. Responsible laws are being processed in the UK to limit the availability of tobacco and alcohol because this is the only way to reduce the widespread harm they cause. A gunman entered a primary school in Scotland in 1996 and killed 17 children. As a result, gun control laws were introduced over the protests of the gun users. Take a guess how many criminal handgun killings there have been since then? I’ll give you a clue: It’s less than 1. So, how about the US NRA pulling on the big boy’s pants and accepting some much needed responsible gun control laws, or do we accept the spiralling gun deaths as part of ‘life’, and allow the carnage of young lives to continue? If so, please spare me the crocodile tears of the gun waving US NRA. Our personal freedoms also come with community responsibility.)
And Elijah came to all the people, and said, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people answered him not a word. 1 Kings 18:21
The ‘Message’ version says it this way: Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!” Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.
Decisions and choices. We face them every day and usually we deal with them quickly and without a fuss. In fact, other people will never know most of the decisions you make, and rightly so. They are a part of everyday life.
It is possible to be torn between two good things, and the outcome can only be a good one, but you waver over which is BEST. I would that we had more decisions to make like that, but the choices we wrestle with most, are the tough ones. Those which affect ourselves, others, or institutions we love. As a rule, the longer we waver over something, the bigger the consequences we will face, if not immediately, then further down the road.
Elijah put the question right where it belonged. A choice between good and evil, God or the devil, and when our decisions are placed in that context, we are more likely to make the right choice. I say mostly, because the verse tells us that when the people of God were faced with the question they fell silent. When faced with hard decisions in our faith walk, and church life, do we weigh it up quickly and say like Samuel, “Here am I Lord“, or do we go quiet, look around, and shuffle our feet?
So it all comes down to choosing between two real people. God or the devil (Baal). If we don’t choose God, then we are really voting for the devil. There is no middle ground, and that is a scary concept. Do you accept that idea, or do you think there is a third way?
The following extract is taken directly from the writings of Dr Charles Stanley. I think it helps us focus on the real choice we all face:
“We must make the Lord our priority everyday. We must start our day with Him, praying about our schedules, asking for His guidance, reading His word for instruction, and worshiping Him with grateful hearts. We must learn to practice these things every day.
If we put these actions into practice, then we will find ourselves following God, without faltering. God knows our hearts and He wants us to want Him more than anything else. He wants us to stop choosing the what in our lives and start choosing the Who, Jesus Christ. Start your day with the Lord and ask Him to guide you. Beware of choosing to serve the false gods of this world. The Lord will help you if you just ask Him.”
I heard a Military Scripture Reader speak today, and the openness about his work and calling was both refreshing, but also challenging. How do you square the circle of giving the gospel to a soldier who faces a tour in Afghanistan and puts his life on the line? How do you approach the core belief of real places like heaven and yes, hell, without putting a young soldier on a guilt trip before he is deployed, while staying true to the truth of the Scripture?
The Army Scripture Reader told his story. He was watching the repatriation of a soldier, killed in action, his coffin draped in the Union Flag and bearing his cap, as it was escorted from the back of a Hercules air transporter by members of his unit who marched slowly as the journey to his final place of rest was continued. The question that came to the mind of this young Scripture Reader startled me. “Where is that young soldier NOW”? He believes it was straight from God, and the question catapulted him into service to present the gospel to mostly young, and godless soldiers. Now read the question again.
We have come to venerate our military, and we get very protective and patriotic when they go on active service, and when they return, either as a triumphant marching unit, or in a coffin. The young men who offer their life in their country’s service can do no wrong, and are almost raised to sainthood. They are honoured in church and society alike for the price they are willing to pay for our continued freedom, and rightly so.
Now back to the question that God placed in the mind of our young Scripture Reader. He emphasised that the Word of God is true for all, and does not exempt soldiers, sailors or airmen, no matter their rank, or how highly we think of them. Like us all, when presented with the truth of the gospel, they have a choice to make, the answer to which will determine whether they spend eternity in heaven or hell. No in between state, one or the other. So perhaps we need to see behind the sentiment of the bravery and the uniform, and recognise the need of a Saviour in our military that we all have, and the same question we must all answer.