A colleague came back from teaching a senior Religion class and commented that one of the students had been particularly outspoken about her faith. In what, I imagine, was an attempt to separate herself from the Christian stereotype generally despised by other students, she began to draw out the distinctions of her particular denomination, speaking scathingly of the others and saying that she wasn’t like ‘those Christians.’
Suffice to say, it didn’t have the desired effect, and I imagine she did nothing to promote the merits of Christianity at all.
Unfortunately, though, I can relate to her efforts. I still recall sitting in a lecture theatre at uni, waiting for a class to start, as a fellow student slated Christians. I mentioned that I was a Christian and she responded, ‘yeah but you’re not one of those in-your-face born-again types.’
The fact is, that Christians come in all different shapes, sizes, and levels of sanctification. While it is important that we separate ourselves from cults that promote a false Gospel, I can’t help thinking that our general Christian-slamming and denomination promoting is doing far more to destroy the Church than build it.
The fact is, we’re all a bunch of messed up sinners. We have different preferences and a bent towards selfishness. We are all redeemed only by the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and it was He who said that the world would know us by our love for one another. Maybe we should focus on that.
There are, no doubt, many answers to this question, all of them true to some degree. Obviously we cannot fully comprehend the gloriousness of heaven in this life, but there was one thing that struck me today, a fragment of the answer, that I found quite profound.
I was praying through the Lord’s prayer and paused at the line “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” One of the things that makes heaven, heaven, is that God’s will is always done there.
It is impossible that a by-product of God’s will could be a state of hellishness. The execution of His will must, as a reflection of His nature, lead increasingly to a state of heavenly greatness and perfection.
It is important to note that this certainly does not mean that, on this broken and corrupted earth, it is never God’s will that we should suffer. That is clearly not true; He willed that His own Son should suffer. What it does mean though, is that any suffering that is a part of his will, is only so, because of the deeper, greater, more wonderful good that it can achieve.
If God’s will is always done in heaven, and if indeed that is one of the things that truly makes heaven, heaven, then I must be careful never to balk at his will on earth, no matter how challenging it may seem in the present moment.
As far as I can see, there are two types of fear, the life-sustaining type, and the life draining type. No one would dispute that fear is a necessary reaction to a real danger, but neither would many claim that they have never experienced a fear that they would have been better off without.
When I look at my life, I am saddened by the number of times that my fear has drained me. Living in fear is like trying to travel from point A to B, waist deep in honey. I can be tempted to commend myself for undertaking the journey at all; for being determined to reach the goal, even though the honey is deep and sticky. We like to think that those who push on through fear are truly brave, but as I look to the Scriptures, I find it hard to sustain that view.
The imperative “do not fear” resounds throughout the pages of the Bible. Rather than commending myself for pushing forward through the honey, I need to admit that it didn’t need to be there at all.
If we have the Spirit of God, which is not a Spirit of fear, then the stark reality is that we have the power to overcome. As I look back, I must admit that on those occasions when I waded, exhausted, through fear, I was not living in the Spirit of faith. Faith would have allowed me to step out of the honey, and walk freely forward.
If you’ve been around the evangelical Christian traps for long, you’ve no doubt become acquainted with many of the phrases we tend to throw around. A few months ago, I heard one that I’ve heard many times, but this time it really struck a chord with me.
When talking about a big worship event, someone commented that ‘Jesus showed up.’
I think I know what they meant. I think they meant that the ‘Holy Sprit moved’ or that there seemed to be a ‘special anointing’ on the night. Irrespective of the meaning, the phrase bothers me.
When worship becomes profound, I don’t think it’s because Jesus showed up. To say that is to suggest that He wasn’t always there, or, even worse, that He is somehow responsible for whether our communion with Him is sweet or not. When worship is profound, I think it’s because we showed up.
I certainly don’t mean this in a human-centric way, but rather in a way that holds Jesus as supreme. He is always there, he is always glorious, he is always worthy and he is always willing to move. We are the variables in this equation.
If we want depth in our worship, if we want close communion with the Spirit, then we need to show up. We must come in humility, in repentance, and in reverence to seek his face. And there should be no surprise to discover that He, the never changing one, was already there.
Sometimes God gives us extraordinary gifts. I mean, He’s already offered eternal salvation and reconciliation with Him, but even beyond that, he blesses us in unexpected and undeserved ways.
Much as I find it hard to grasp, I really do believe that God delights in our enjoyment of life. He rejoices when we receive a gift from him with eagerness and praise and thanks. He smiles on our joyfulness. Our temporary happiness, however, is not His end goal. It pleases Him, sure, but he never intended for His gifts to be either our source of joy, or our consuming focus.
As I was thanking God for one of His gifts in my life, I sensed both his smile over my happiness, but also His gentle adjure: Eyes on the prize, baby, eyes on the prize.
God wants us to enjoy the gifts we receive in this life, but never at the expense of our focus on the ultimate prize. Nothing He can give me now, can compare to the gift of Himself. One day I will step through the gates of death, and be united with Him, my ultimate prize. Any gift I receive here, is only as valuable as the extent to which it points my eyes towards the greater prize.
I don’t think I’ve ever told someone to get their hopes up. On the other hand, I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve used the opposite as a warning to others or a mantra to myself.
We seem to have this cultural fear of hoping in something that may disappoint us. It is as though the thought of disappointment weighs on us far more than the idea of living in a state of cynicism or pessimism.
I am hugely guilty of this, which is why I was so surprised when a song entitled ‘Get your hopes up,’ by Josh Baldwin came up on my Spotify playlist.
The words were so counter-intuitive that I paused to listen, and was surprised at how compelling they were. One of the key refrains of the chorus says
“Get your hopes up, our God is for us, He’s brought us back to life.”
As someone who easily lapses in to cynicism and worry, this was a good reminder to look up. As a Christian, I have every reason under heaven to get my hopes up. Not only have I been given the assurance of an eternity in heaven, by no merit of my own, but I have also been promised that God will work all things here on earth for my good and his glory.
She is no fool who has her hopes always upward in the promises of Jesus.
Sometimes I think we promote the Gospel like advertising companies promote products. We select our target audience, do some research on what they want, and spin our narrative to match their perceived needs.
While this may be an effective marketing technique, it is entirely ineffective when it comes to the Gospel. Unlike the latest iPhone or breakfast cereal, the good news of Jesus Christ does not need to be adapted based on culture or context, for one key reason: it has the power of God within it.
I think often we forget this, as we look for fancy, eloquent words or clever coercive devices, twisting the message into the most relevantly palatable morsel we can. We forget that God, not us, defines His method of salvation. He has given and empowered ONE Gospel: That Jesus was crucified, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that He was raised to life again for the forgiveness of sins.
We must be careful never to water down the truth, for it is only the true Gospel that has within it the ‘power of God unto Salvation.’
It is not the words, or the persuasiveness with which they are proclaimed, that saves people; it’s the power of God. So if you want to see results that last, preach the truth that has the power, not what elicits a feel-good or emotive response in the moment.
Last week our pastor was challenging us to learn from the Israelites’ spiritual amnesia. What a tragedy it was that the same generation that walked through the sea on dry land lost their faith and was prevented from entering the Promised Land.
It’s easy to judge their foolishness. They had seen extraordinary deliverance, and yet, as the years passed, they forgot.
I was challenged as I realised how true this is in my own life. In fact, the parting of the red sea was only a precursor to a far greater deliverance that was to come. Thousands of years later, God in the flesh hung on a cross, and as he uttered those final words ‘It is finished,’ the curtain in the temple was supernaturally torn in two. This curtain had long divided the people from the God who was their deliverance. Then, suddenly, without warning, the curtain was parted, so that anyone who desired to know God, could enter, covered by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice.
I first walked through that proverbial curtain as a child, just as many of the Israelites walked through the red sea as children. And just like them, how many times have I forgotten since, what miracle God performed in my life? Too often I approach my creator with such flippancy that it is clear I have forgotten how divided I once was from Him, and how graciously he has made the way for me.
I’ve been reading Job. Something different struck me this time, as I read that first distressing chapter. Job lost everything: his children, his livestock, his wealth, his health and ultimately his hope. One person, however, remained: his wife.
I wondered about this. Why did Satan not afflict Job’s wife? When the children were killed, why did she survive? When Job was covered with oozing sores, why was she not?
There could not possibly be any grace on Satan’s part. He would not have decided to spare the one person about whom Job cared the most. Nor did God explicitly instruct that she be kept alive. He said at first that Job must remain unharmed, and later that his life must be spared, but it seems that Job’s wife was fair game.
Why did Satan leave her?
I don’t know for sure, but when I got to chapter 2, verse 10 I had a hunch. Job’s wife was likely the most precious and influential person in his life. Maybe Satan knew, that when push came to shove, she would say to him, as she did, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Imagine being that kind of wife. The kind whom Satan would leave untouched, with the knowledge that she was better use to him alive than dead. What a position of influence she had, and how devastating, that when a crisis came, she abandoned her faith and exhorted her husband to do the same.
I’ve always struggled with fear. In fact, every big change in my life, even those that have been the greatest blessing, has been accompanied by fear. I was afraid to start University, and afraid to launch into my teaching career. I felt fear sitting beside me as I contemplated buying my first house and I still feel it niggling in the pit of my stomach every time I travel.
I know I’m not alone. Fear is part of the human condition, but let’s not believe that it’s unconquerable.
Carrie Fisher is quoted to have said “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.”
Inspiring as I find this quote, the Bible does one better. It tells us that we do not need to be afraid.
The other night I was reading Psalm 27. This is the first section of Scripture that I ever memorised as a child, but this time it spoke to me in a new way.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
There are three clear reasons in this text that remind us why we don’t need to fear. First, the Lord is our light; he shows us the way. Second, the Lord is our stronghold; he anchors us with purpose and security. Finally, He is our salvation; the end-game is won and our eternity is sealed.