We all know something’s up.

Image

A snapshot of Mandy Greer’s beautiful installation “Honey and Lightening”.
Courtesy to Mandy Greer.

“The great danger is to always single out some aspect of God’s creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of sin, as the villain. Such an error conceives of the good-evil dichotomy as intrinsic to the creation itself…something in the good creation is identified as [the source] of evil. In the course of history, this “something” has been variously identified as…the body and its passions (Plato and much of Greek philosophy), as culture in distinction from nature (Rousseau and Romanticism), as authority figures in society and family (psychodynamic psychology), as economic forces (Marx), as technology and management (Heidegger and existentialists)…As far as I can tell, the Bible is unique in its rejection of all attempts to either demonise some part of creation as the root of our problems or to idolise some part of creation as the solution. All other religions, philosophies and world views in one way or another fall into the trap of [idolatry] – of failing to keep creation and the fall distinct. And this trap is an ever-present danger to Christians [as well].”

Albert C. Wolters in “Creation Regained: A Transforming View of the World”.

The Answer in Every Case

Contemporary Life - Anonymous

Contemporary Life – Anonymous

“Who, after all, made the world of nature, and then made possible the development of sciences through which we find out about nature? Who formed the universe of human interactions, and so provided the raw material for politics economics, sociology, and history? Who is the source of harmony, form, and narrative pattern, and so lies behind all artistic and literary possibilities? Who created the human mind in such a way that it could grasp the endless realities of nature, of human interactions, of beauty and so make possible theories of such matters by philosophers and pscyhologists? Who moment by moment sustains the natural world, the world of human interactions, and the harmonies of existence? Who maintains moment by moment the connections between what is in our minds and what is in the world beyond our minds? The answer in every case is the same – God did it. And God does it.”
Mark Noll in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

It’s not all about being happy.

flowers

One thing I’ve come to notice more and more is the great difference between the end goal of the believer and the end goal of the unbeliever. When I ask my non-Christian friends what their purpose in life is, often the answer is to find happiness, to enjoy themselves. Sometimes Christians make the mistake to think that this goal of happiness is found once they commit themselves to Christ.

However, Christ spoke about the godly life not as one full of laughter and popularity, but instead of mourning, suffering and joy. In my own time I’ve been spending a lot of time dwelling on the great sermon that Jesus gave (Matthew 5-7), and it’s focus (so far) seems to be on a selfless life, not seeking your own enjoyment or fun. Our calling as Christians is to mourn our sinfulness and find comfort in Christ’s sinlessness, the fact that God so loved us, so drenched us in his mercy should flow out of our lives as we to seek to be merciful, loving and peace-keeping. That’s where our joy comes from, knowing the indescribable God and trusting him with our lives.

I’ve just got back from a youth camp where we looked deep into 1 Peter 1-2:12. I was struck by how very different we are called to be. Our new purpose is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light”(1 Peter 2:9). But does this mean we’ll be happy all the time, that God will grant us our every desire and wish? I don’t think so. Our hearts are so tainted by sin that often what we wish for is not what is best for us. Peter talks about the value of trials and suffering:

“You have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:6-7

But God doesn’t leave us alone in our struggles but has given us each other, a support network. Following Christ isn’t an individualistic purpose but a collective one, we are ” a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”. Together we strive to live for him.

So this leads me to my challenge. The mantra at our church is to be “Real with God, real with the world and real with each other.” It is so easy to be swayed by the world’s ideal of happiness and to pretend that you’re not struggling, to have the external appearance of ‘satisfaction’, ‘contentment’ and happiness. But is that beneficial? I don’t think so. We all fail, we all struggle, we all sin. How much greater would it be if we supported each other, encouraged each other in these things rather than having an individualistic approach?
Let’s be a community honest about our failings and praising in our Saviours perfection. Striving towards holiness together.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind…..Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
1 Peter 3:8,15,17

Hope.

“There is much that could depress us as we read the newspapers or look into our hearts, but those who know that Jesus is alive will always have hope, even in the most depressing circumstances. Jesus Christ is Lord! He has the power to change us now, so that we begin to be the people we long to be. And one day he will return to rid the world of all the ravages of sin.
Christ is risen!”
– Vaughan Roberts

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost

123358_12793944_ll.jpg
It’s been quite the while since I’ve written something. Partly because I’ve taken on a few new roles but also because I’ve encountered new struggles and dilemmas to ponder and overcome.  At times I thought I’d come to a conclusion or solved some of them, then I’d start writing and realise I hadn’t. But in time I’m sure I’ll come to understand these things better, if not completely.

I’ve just returned from a month gallivanting around the United States with my family. It was an amazing trip but it also presented massive challenges. Being with your family and only your family for an entire month is tough. I have to admit that for the most part we were waking up early and busy doing things all day. I found it hard to stop, sit down and dwell on God’s word and pray. It taught me the value of putting God’s word to memory. Many times bringing a verse to mind and meditating on it was all I felt I had the energy and time to do, and I found it most helpful.

I was also blessed with a letter a week from my boyfriend, who wrote me a devotion in each one. Each brought me to pray and pointed me back to Christ. One in particular helped. We were at the point in our trip where we were all at each others throats and patience and kindness was sorely needed on my behalf in the least. It was Luke 20:19-26. The chief priests, who are constantly following Jesus around looking for a fault, question him about whether or not to pay taxes. Jesus asks them whose image the coin bears. And they said, “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus said:

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (v25)

But what bears the image of God? The answer is that you do. I do. We all do! So we should give ourselves to God. This reminded me that my family are also made in the image of God. They are precious, loved and saved by Him. Bought with the blood of his own son. So I need to treat them like that, giving myself to God and serving others selflessly.

I was also reading Little Women at the time. It might sound silly, but I’ve come to learn from their lessons. I was struck by how their mother lead them towards their Creator when they struggled with their faults. When Jo struggled with her temper she prayed for help to hold her tongue. When Meg struggled with a love of material wealth, she drew comfort knowing that she has a Heavenly Father that provides and loves her. When you’re around your family in close quarters for long periods of time, your flaws tend to come out. Sometimes you feel helpless to change yourself. But I drew comfort in the knowledge that I’m not on my own, Christ is working to transform me, to make me more like him. And it is through his word that we are changed. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”(Hebrews 4:12). I also dwelt on the knowledge that:

“He who began a good work in you [believers] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Phil 1:6.

Finally, I saw so many wondrous things and some brought me to stand in utter awe at the glory, wonder, enormity and power of my God. As I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and flew over the Napali Coast in Kauai, I was blown away by what God had created with his very words. As I stood next to the roaring Niagara falls, I trembled at the power, it’s expanse and strength in the knowledge that my God is greater and just, but also compassionate and merciful.

There were also things that made me inherently sad. The people enslaved to their addictions in Vegas, sitting for hours in casinos fed on a false hope that grows their lust of money but never satisfies. A city plagued by prostitution and the cultivation of pleasure. Though it’s easy to blame the place, the issue is really the human heart, seeking to satisfy itself.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
Romans 1:24

It pervades the whole earth, not just Vegas. I prayed that in their dissatisfaction they’d realise they are using the wrong things in an attempt to quench their need and that they’d find satisfaction and pleasure in God. I was really encouraged by how many street preachers and evangelists were there. Proclaiming hope to those that parade around proud of their sin. But we need this in every city.

This leads me to one of my dilemmas. I’ve struggled to understand exactly what tolerance is. Our world proclaims it as the highest of virtues and it does on the surface seem to bring peace and harmony. But does God call us to it? In Vegas, I found it so hard to be ok with people buying others for their own gratification, throwing their money away and revelling in such ‘pleasure’. But tolerance says that we’re to just leave them to their ways. I can’t just stand by and see people buy into a lie that will never satisfy, that will provide temporary pleasure but eternal pain.

It saddens me that the world preaches this as it’s highest virtue: to let people do what they want regardless of your knowledge of the consequence. I think tolerance is selfish. BUT, that doesn’t mean to disrespect, look down upon or abuse others. By all means, respect others. They are all made in the image of God, his precious creation. Love them. But is it loving to leave them to fumble around blindly looking for God? To renounce your calling as a believer?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:18-20.

Well, those have been my thoughts the past few months. I’ve learnt so much this year even though I didn’t come to any dramatic conclusions. If you’re a believer, I would like to encourage you to continue to live differently in this world spurred on by the word of God. And if you’re not a believer, to have a read of God’s word and see what he’s offering you. It’s well worth it.

Beautiful, but Deadly.

Courtesy to Mathiole (DevientArt)

So many things in this world are aesthetically pleasing but potentially deadly. Brightly coloured plants, flowers and animals scatter the earth that could end our lives if we made direct contact. Often I marvel at these things in creation, beautifully and wonderfully made by my opinion.

They also come to mind when I consider the spread of the gospel. Throughout Paul’s letters in the New Testament he often warns new churches against sugar-coated messages. The genius that allows these messages to survive is that they contain just enough of the truth within them that they could be seen as plausible despite being spiritually deadly. We live in a time where “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suite their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I see these churches that include false messages and promises growing rapidly. People are drawn to them because they appeal to their passions. Often these churches grow faster and larger than those that preach the straight truth.

Why is that? Wouldn’t people want to hear the truth? The gospel is essentially offensive. Since “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”(2 Cor 4:4) we can often be discouraged by our efforts to spread the word in light of the growth in these other churches. But Paul urges that since “this ministry is by the mercy of God, we of not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-3).

In sadness I have seen friends committing their lives to Christ in these churches that have promised things such as healing, earthly comfort and wealth and on seeing none of these fulfilled have been disoriented, discouraged and essentially lost all confidence in our Lord. So I urge you, as Paul does in his letters to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, so the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5). Be aware of the teachings in your church and test them against the word of God.

As an interesting aside, if this interests you, Cole Brown has written a short and relevant account of his challenge to his church. It’s called Lies My Pastor Told Me, Cole pulls apart these lies, often common amongst these churches, using  gospel evidence. Check it out, the e-book is free to download here.

Understanding the Times

Jacek Yerka

Writing about time leaves open a huge realm of surrealist art, which is something that I personally love. If you like that kind of stuff as well, I recommend Jacek Yerka, who created the beautiful image above. Anyway, on with the post….

Understanding the times seems to be a common quest amongst us, who strive to become a meaningful and acknowledged part of the world. We constantly want to be able to predict things, to understand things and to do that seeing the patterns and coming to conclusions is the way to go, yes?

Tonight I was reminded of where my own answers to such desires comes from. As Jesus addressed a crowd of the curious and uncommitted he said,

“Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Luke 12:56

Jesus came as the fulfilment of centuries of promises from God. These people have been waiting for this King. Here he stands before them speaking with powerful words that he supports with powerful actions. Before this passage Luke had recorded a huge array of these phenomenal acts. Jesus had cast out demons (Luke 4:33-37), healed a leper (Luke 5:12-16), forgave sins ( Luke 5:20), healed the paralytic (Luke 5:22-26) and raised the dead ( Luke 7:11-17; 8:47-56), just to name a few.

His works were so mind-blowing that even his enemies would not deny them, but instead sought to question by what authority he did them. You can imagine that that would be why so many curious people are drawn to him.

Why did he come? Jesus came bearing a message. One that holds profound significance for us today.

Jesus came to inform humanity that they are in debt. God has turned up on our doorstep to inform us that we’ve committed an offence for which our fine is still outstanding. He’s created us, made this world, gave us life and we’ve ignored him. Often, we’re not even thankful for what we have. I definitely know I’m guilty of this.

So what do you do? Jesus says:

“While you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Luke 12: 58-59

The only way to get out of your debt, is to accept the deal Jesus has offered you. To our trust in the payment his death is on your behalf. The next bit of the passage may be a bit perplexing but let’s try and unpack it. Some people tell Jesus of some tragedies that have occurred: some people who were killed. He responds:

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish”

Luke 13:3

That comes across as a little insensitive, right? It seems like these people did nothing to deserve their sudden deaths. But what Jesus is getting at is that these people, and everyone else, don’t really deserve anything. Everything we receive is a merciful gift from God. Every moment a gift given in the hope that we will take him up on his offer.

So God is patient and merciful. I need to learn to remember that all that I have, I don’t deserve. This is something you should seriously think about too. Have you understood the times?