A few months ago the Girl Guides changed the oath that girls are expected to make upon joining. Rather than promising to serve God and country instead the girl guides now promise to be “true to myself and develop my beliefs”. It probably wasn't the intent of the girl guide organisation but they have unwittingly provided a devastating critique of Western secular society.
We live in the age of Me, an age where morality is determined, not by any objective standard, but by the fickle reason of our egos. All that matter is being true to "myself". We see this in the issue of transgender individuals insisting that biological gender is second place to the decision of Me to be the gender Me wants. We see this in the issue of abortion where Me chooses to rid Myself of an unnecessary inconvenience rather than valuing the life of Another. We see this in society's attitude to sex where the only moral consideration is the consent of two Mes. We see this in the consumer society where Me has to appear better, richer, cooler than anyone else. And we see this in the greed and selfishness which typifies so much of human existence – Me gets what Me wants over the opinions and actions of any other.
When did narcissism become such a sure decider of right and wrong? Yet listening to the moral debates that are had by our society reveals that the only factor under consideration seem to be doing what Me wants as long as it doesn't harm another. But we are deluding ourselves if we think that such a compromise is possible. The wants of Me will inevitably conflict with the wants of another Me. The desires of Me will eventually only be fulfilled at the expense of another.
As Jesus dies on the cross, a criminal is dying next to him. Jesus turns to him and says: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v43). This is a remarkable statement considering the bleak predicament of the thief. And it begs the question: how can this dying thief be promised paradise? How can he get to heaven?
Let's say we were in the position to judge his case. Perhaps we might start with all the good he has done in his life; do his good deeds outweigh his bad? That might make him worthy of salvation. But no, the punishment for crucifixion is reserved for the worst of criminals – at the very least he is likely to be guilty of murder. His life is altogether worthless. But how about the rest of his life? Could he not reform his ways and seek to redeem himself with suitable acts of charity? Ah, but, he's dying on a cross and will be dead within a day. He's in no position to do good, no position to do anything but die, his deeds are complete, nothing can change the balance on the scales. Hang on though, many people think they will get to heaven because they have been baptised once. But alas, he has not been sprinkled with water or dunked underneath. There's no hope for him there.
Indeed, this thief is not rich, powerful or intelligent (he was caught after all) and has no friends to help him or priest to bless him or even anyone to pray for him. He has nothing and has done nothing worthy of salvation and can do nothing to make him worthy. We know as well that he even insulted the very man who is now promising him heaven (Matthew 27v44 records both criminals insulting Jesus). The last hours of this man's life would seem to be hopeless but then we have the promise of Jesus that this thief would join Jesus in paradise that very day.
This would beg two questions: how can such a salvation be promised and who is Jesus to make the promise? The answer to both those questions can be found in the one answer. If we go back a few verses and get the whole scene we can learn more:
As the normalisation of homosexuality becomes increasingly prevalent within the United Kingdom then the evangelical church finds itself increasingly at odds with the moral views of society. And over recent months this conflict between 'secular' morality and Christian morality has become more intense and has even led to more than a few churches leaving, or committing to leave, the Church of Scotland. The most frustrating thing about the debate is the amount of false accusations levelled at Christianity. It comes as no surprise, for in any battle it makes sense to portray the opponents in the worst possible light. So there is a great deal of confusion out there on what Christianity teaches and why we object so strongly to gay marriage and homosexuality. This is an attempt to clear up some of the myths.
Myth: Christianity is all about hating gays
This is, I think, the most understandable myth in the sense that usually the only time Christianity makes the news is in relation to the issue of homosexuality. But it's still a myth. To illustrate this point then I'd like you to guess how many sermons I've heard on the issue of homosexuality. Bear in mind that I've been going to church all my life and heard an awful lot of sermons... The answer is zero, while it's been mentioned in passing if it was relevant to the Bible passage we were looking at then I can't recall a single sermon that was centred on this issue. I'm not saying ministers never preach on homosexuality, they do, or that they shouldn't, but I am saying that there are a lot of other things in Christianity which are, frankly, more important.
My second objection to this myth is the use of the word hate. For while, as a Christian, I object to the practise of homosexuality it does not extend to hating people who are gay. The command of Jesus is to "love your neighbour as yourself" and that means that though I do think homosexuality and gay marriage are both wrong then behind all my actions must be a love for all my fellow human beings.
Having watched The New Adventures of Superman when I was younger than I have a lot of nostalgia tied up with the character. Some people find him boring but, you know, he flies and can punch through concrete and lasers come out his eyes, I still think that's pretty cool. And it came as no surprise to me when a link appeared on my Facebook feed to an article on the parallels between Superman and the Gospel. The last movie, Superman Returns, went the whole hog and played up the parallels big time by portraying Superman as a Messianic type figure including one scene where he floated above the city, arms spread out in crucifixion pose listening to the cries or “prayers” of the people,
Even in the latest film, then there was a lot of talk about “believing” in Superman with Russell Crowe even saying that he would be like a god to the people of earth. But despite drawing heavily on religious, specifically Christian, imagery and thought then both films, indeed, any positive comparison between Superman and Jesus misses the point of who Jesus is. Of course, the big difference is that Superman is fiction and Jesus is both historical reality (when he walked this earth) and eternal reality (glorified in Heaven). But laying that aside there is still much to discuss.
This question does come with an admittedly large number of assumptions behind it. It assumes, for instance, that you will die this very night which is a hopefully unlikely event. But considering that death will one day take you then it is not so much an assumption as a jump ahead in time to that day when death will come. Another assumption the question makes is the existence of God and the need to defend yourself before him. We'll get to these momentarily. Suffice to say, this question is of no small significance and deserves sober reflection for the matters it touches upon are of eternal importance.
There can be nothing more important that our standing before our Creator. So many people think about God the wrong way round. They ask themselves: "What do I think of God?" when a far more vital question is: "What does God think of me?" It may be that you are perfectly happy with the idea that God exists. But what does God think of your existence and life before him?
The question above helps to get us to consider these issues. It is, I hope, a useful question to ponder. For death has a way of stripping us of all illusions and delusions and focusing our minds away from trivial matters and onto weightier ones. Naked we enter the world and naked we depart. Wealth, talent and success just isn't going to be of any use in death for we take nothing with us.
Around eighteen months ago I wrote a blog post on the joy of attending a prayer meeting; so in the spirit of better late than never here's the next part to it! Truth be told, this was not a post I could have written back then because it has only been over the last six months or so that I've actually regularly started to look forward to going to church. Although it still surprises me when I wake up on Sunday and I find that I'm actually eager to attend.
Before I get started I'd also like to say that while the title to this piece speaks of abundant joy then that is still very much an aim for me. Most of us will hopefully know the partial joy of church attendance and it is my hope and prayer that this will spur us on to seek its abundant joy.
The first and most basic joy is that of obedience. As the 4th commandment goes: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God." (Exodus 20v9-10) Even if our Lord's day is otherwise a joyless affair and we can see no point in attending church at least we do go. When all other joys fail there can still be the joy of duty, however minor such a joy may be.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3 v 18
This verse has been on my mind a lot recently for I think it does a good job of summing up one of the failures of my own walk with God and, if I can be so bold as to generalise, the church as a whole. We know that the essence of Christianity is love: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13v13) and we know the summary of all of God’s commandments: “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22 v 37 – 39). And yet when push comes to shove then we are not very good at loving others.
Oh, we are very good with loving with words and speech! It is easy to say “I’ll pray for you”, it is also pretty easy to actually pray, but if that’s all we ever do for our friends then we’ve missed the glaring point of Christian love. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for encouraging words, promises to pray, a cheerful word, a reminder of a bible verse, these are good and we should overflow with them. But if that’s the extent of our love then we have a problem. And that problem is that we are not truly loving.
Take the Lord Jesus Christ, he doesn’t just say he loves us, he doesn’t just pray for us, he doesn’t just give many encouraging promises to us (though he does all these things), Jesus also died for us. You can’t get more nitty gritty practical than that. As John writes a few verses earlier: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3v16). In fact, if you follow John’s argument the reason why he calls us to love with actions is this is exactly what Jesus did!
The first time I read the statement above I must admit that I reacted against it. The guy who wrote is Francis Chan, one of those hippy Christians who is pretty bonkers but nevertheless can write what turns out to be frustrating biblical stuff. By which I mean that I want to disagree with it because Mr Chan is a little weird and I don’t like his writing style but he backs it up with the Bible and I can’t really argue with that. The book in question is called Crazy Love and it’s in part great and in part not so.
One of the most challenging chapters in the whole book is when Mr Chan goes through various signs of true Christianity and one of those signs is giving to the poor and to the work of God. When I read this sign then my conscience troubled me for while I was telling myself “Oh, I’ll give to God when I have a job” I realized that I had to give when I had little otherwise I would never give when (if) I had more. As Jesus says:
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Luke 12 v 33 – 34
“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Isaiah 61 v 10
Six months ago I would have read this verse and it would have barely registered with me. Six months ago if someone had told me that main problem in life was the fact that I did not delight in God I would looked at them in a quizzical manner because the very concept of delighting in God would have seemed alien to my mind. Six months ago I was a cold hearted, unfeeling and blind fool. And in all likelihood I could write that same sentence in six months time and it would still be true.
What have I learnt since then? I have learnt much and most of it the hard way. But foundational point number one would be that my soul has a yearning to delight in something. I seek a satisfaction that has to be found, a fulfilment that has to be fulfilled, my soul is thirsty and needs water and in my folly I sought this out from things that were not God.
“Because Your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You.”
Psalm 63 v 3
This is a pretty big deal. I'd even say that around 80% of my troubles in my walk with God stem from the fact that I am a functional unbeliever of the kindness of God. And it is a frustrating problem to have because it is decidedly illogical. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with how I came to realize that I don’t believe in the kindness of God.
Just under a month ago I was on New Word Alive (although it seems like several lifetimes ago for some reason) and I went to Tim Chester’s seminar called ‘You Can Change’. One of the interesting things he talked about was how our sin is always connected in with a specific area of unbelief about God. So for example if you’re the type of person to get really stressed it might be because you struggle to believe that God is really in control of all things. And as he said, it’s not that we don’t know the truth or in some sense ‘believe’ the truth but it’s that we act as though we don’t. The illustration he used was of going up to a Christian in a traffic jam who is losing his temper and asking him if he believed in the sovereignty of God over all things. That Christian would answer yes and yet by his actions would show that he really didn’t.