The Moon Is Round

A 14 year old girl who was slowly decaying from cancer was asked by her family to keep a journal. When she died, they found a note that said: “The moon is round.” As they read your journal they learnt that she meant that even when you can only see a sliver of the moon, you still know it is round. In the same way, she knew that even though she couldn’t fully understand what was going on, that God was sovereign.

That was an illustration in a talk over KEC 2012 that I was really encouraged by. I went back this year to yet again serve the senior high kids and they in turn were such an encouragement to me. One of them said one day, that in our busy city lives, when we look up at the stars we can’t see them. But when you strip away the busyness, head out into the country and lie in the middle of a field, all the glory of God’s creation is stretched out before you and you can’t help but marvel. I was so encouraged to not let my earthly life cloud my vision of God’s immense holiness and wonder.

As we sat together under the word of God we were blown away by the infinite becoming intimate as God transfers his holiness to us as we are made right by God and for God. (Isaiah 6:1-9). And how perceiving truly his holiness we should be driven to our deeds as we see the horror of our sin. We learnt how unfair the truth is. That Christ would lovingly save his enemies from what they deserved, so that we can have no punishment, no penalty but peace (Romans 5:1-11). So that even in suffering, we can have tears of joy, knowing we are united in Christ and that even our sin and shame can’t prevent him from loving us.

Even though God will continue to forgive us our sins, this grace is not a licence to sin. Instead, the old person that we were is crucified along with Christ so that we bear condemnation no more. We are made a new creation, born again, united with Christ in his resurrection. Our new selves are called to do things that are not to our earthly advantage, but these earthly risks are for eternal values. No longer does God dwell separate from us but instead with us, as the Holy Spirit, no longer slaves to sin, we are empowered to face and overcome sin. (Romans 6:1-14)

We have a God who is faithful to his promises, Merciful to his people and so we endure in the hope we have been given and are driven to share that hope.

As we were talking in our discussion group, someone said, “But we’re young and often I don’t feel equipped to tell people what I believe.” Someone pulled out Job 32:6-10:

“And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said,’Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that
makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what
is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’

Doubts, Questions, Queries, Thoughts…

Just because I know you’re out there, I thought I’d just remind you that the ‘Itching Questions’ tab still exists.

I absolutely love questions. Even when I can’t answer them, they open an opportunity for thought.

Don’t be intimidated because I don’t know anywhere near everything and I never will.

Don’t be afraid because my aim isn’t to cut you down but to draw light on your questions/thoughts from the Bible.

Don’t hesitate because you might learn something you didn’t know before.

Don’t hold back because getting into the depths of the Bible is something I find fascinating and I can guarantee it’s worthwhile.

So there, hopefully that’s reason enough to just ask away.

Everyone’s Religious: whether you like it or not.

 

To some this may come as a shock, maybe not to others, but it’s true: everyone is religious.  People often think of religion as a set of defining rules that guide life based on some supernatural power they call their God(s).

Check out the Oxford dictionary definition of Religion: “a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”

I don’t think one can go through life without having an interest that they devote themselves to. Even the atheist, they have devoted themselves to denying the existence of God, a sportsman has a religious attitude towards their sport, or a businessman has devoted themselves to growth and profit, etc etc.

Think about some of the things you devote yourself to, are they worth the effort? Or are they essentially futile and keep you busy while you live on this earth?

I was reading Acts 17 this morning and I was struck by how little humanity has changed, if at all. After Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples took the truth to the nations. Paul, who was once called Saul, and he was “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3). He was heading off to Damascus to find “any belonging to the Way, men or women” to “bring them bound back to Jerusalem”(Acts 9:2) when he had a revelation, and became one of the most influential people in the Bible.

So Paul travels around, going into churches, starting churches and just telling anyone and everyone the truth offered through and in Jesus. Acts Chapter 17 records Paul’s work in Athens. So he’s arrived at Athens and walked into the Areopagus to address them. The Areopagus is the judicial body of aristocratic origin that subsequently formed the higher court of modern Greece.

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god’. What therefore you worship is unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Acts 17:22-23

Paul’s picked up on all the things these people dedicate themselves to, many of which are man-made and some they can’t even name or know. He addresses Athens because “he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Acts 17:25

Paul reveals the real God, who doesn’t need us to help him out, who isn’t restricted to temples. A God who is the creator and the provider and the sustainer providing mankind even with breath. Is that not more worthwhile of devotion than an ‘unknown god’ or a material god? But why devote yourself to a God that has no need of us? Paul continues:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘we are indeed his offspring.'”

Acts 17:26-28

Why should we bother following God? Because God created us with a purpose, he gave us life so that we should ‘seek God’. But God isn’t this abstract force, we are made in his image, ‘his offspring’. We exist because of him, so isn’t that reason enough to exist for him?

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:29-31

Not only should we seek God, but there are consequences for your decisions. Because we are in his image, his ‘offspring’, we shouldn’t replace him with things he’s made. How ridiculous to think that a material object that God has created is more worthy of devotion or pursuit than the being that created it!

God has not just left us with no direction as to how to come to him, he sent us his son Jesus Christ (who is the man appointed to judge). He’s given us the opportunity to repent and have assurance, even through judgement, despite the fact we’ve offended him by replacing him with these inanimate objects. This judgement is guaranteed by Jesus resurrection. He is often referred to as the ‘firstborn among the dead’ (Col 1:18). Everyone will be judged based upon this decision. So what are our options then?

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this”. So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed.”

Acts 17:32-34

A claim like this demands a response. Either you can see a vivid reality of judgement and a conviction of your offense toward the Creator and repent, or you can see this as the folly of ignorant and mislead people. Think about it. This decision has real consequence, eternal consequence.

So what have you placed where the living God of the universe should be? Or do you think He is unworthy of that position and you would prefer to devote yourself to the created, the mortal and fleeting? It’s up to you, but it’s not a decision you should treat lightly.

Religion Leads to Violence

I know it’s been a long time since my last post but now I’m on holidays and I have more time to put thought into what I’m writing. I’ve been working on a few posts about topics people find hard about Christianity. Things that become road blocks to faith. I don’t want these posts to be about me dictating what I think, although that’s basically what I’m doing. I want you to have a say, so I’d like to encourage comments and thoughts.
So my first installment is a question or concept that one of my closest friends often brings up in our conversations. Violence.

Ray Galea, a few years ago, gave the only talk focussed on violence and religion that I have ever heard. He addressed attitudes on this topic and what response Christians should take, so here’s my attempt to sum it up. Remember, comments are invited…

Christopher Hitchens, a super famous athiest, wrote a book called “God is not Great: How religion poisons everything”. People have often approached me with this belief, that without religion or conflicting beliefs in this world there would be more peace and tolerance. That religion is this ironic dilemma that campaigns for peace by creating conflict and violence.

Ray Galea began his talk by saying:
“Religion is inherently violent, intolerant, feeds racism, tribalism and bigotry and even if you’re not like that you’re guilty by association.”

So if religion kills, isn’t the best thing to do is to just get rid of it, all of it?

How do I respond to this? (How do you respond to this?)

1. There is truth in that.

Atheism rightly shows the ugly side of religion, the reality is, is that religion has a lot to answer for.

Romans 1:18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of the men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

God pours out his wrath because humanity worships the created instead of the creator. That’s religion. Religion is always about running away from God. Ultimately, ruling our own lives.

Romans 1:21 – “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

God hands us over to our own sin (including violence).

2. Christian religion is guilty too.

There is a big difference between biblical Christians and thise that align themselves with goernments and ideologies, despite the fact that they look the same at a distance. Just look at the crusades, the holy wars and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France.

3. Are some religions more exposed to violence than others?

Put blatantly, yes. Ray Galea quoted from the Buddhist texts (ashamedly I admit that I couldn’t tell you where exactly) :

“If a child of Buddha himself kills he will be shut out of the community.”

And also from the Koran (Surah 95) 

 “Then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, then seize them and lay in wait for them in every stratagem of war.”

Now I’m not saying that this represents all Muslims, however, about 70% thought that 9/11 was justified.
Mohammad was a military leader and prophet, but Jesus is very different.
Yesturday at Bible Study, I was struck by how Jesus treated his followers even in the depths of betrayal and denial. In the moment that Judas betrays him in Matthew 26:50, Jesus calls him friend. He doesn’t condemn him and neither does he fight violently against those that have arrested him. As his disciples pull out their swords and one cuts off a soldiers ear.

“But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:51).

As Pilate interrogates Jesus before condemning him to death on the cross Jesus response is:

“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”” John 18:36

Christianity is aimed in a different direction from other religions. It may cause suffering but that is inconsistent from the foundational teachings. Christianity is spread on a wave of hope and committment to the powerless, the sick etc. The only blood Jesus spills is his own.
Religions that are based upon a nation or on the possession of holy land or violent conversions all lead to violence.

4. Neglecting to good in religion.

The problem with the leaders of atheism is that they ignore the good stuff in order to win their argument. They present a slice of history. A biased, superficial reading and edit out a lot of recent research. “Religiously involved individuals are less likely to carry or use weapons, fight or exhibit violent behaviour” Galea quoted from a recent study.

5. The solution is not atheism.

They are happy enough to quote the evils done in the name of religion, but take a look at the three best known atheists: Hitler, Stalin and Mao Si Tung. Between these three they have executed around 100 million people. They lived with a worldview devoid of God. Without God there, there is no concept of right and wrong, is that not more dangerous?
What it all boils down to, where the problem really lies, is in us. The heart of the problem is the human heart. If it’s not religion, it’s ideologies and theories. Violence is found in every religion, simply because it is found in everyone’s heart.

So what does the Bible say?

Genesis 4: the first murderer Cane, is cast out and condemned.
Genesis 6: God unloads a flood because of the violence.
Just from these two references, which I encourage you to look up yourself, it is clear that God hates violence.

“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.” Psalm 11:5.

These words are too strong to be dismissed. At the core of his very being God hates violence. Throughout the Bible it’s clear that this is especially the case when it is against the minority, the powerless, in bullying, rape and in domestic violence. In Malachi 2:16 – “”I hate divorce,”says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garments,” says the Lord Almighty.”
My mother when she was around 20 went searching for meaning. She had come to the conclusions that money was the problem and that peace would be found in a place where money was lacking so she went searching for truth in Fiji. She lived there for a few months and what she found there wasn’t a society of peace. Instead a world of domestic violence and suppression of women. At dusk she would sit in her hut (or whatever it was) and listen to the village women’s screams as their husbands beat them in their blind drunkenness. She told me that in their culture, that’s how the husband would ensure that a women knew her place.

Psalm 140:1 – “Rescue me, O Lord, from evil men; protect me from men of violence.”

God’s people cry out against it. Christians have the privilege of prayer. The knowledge that when we cry out to God he listens and doesn’t turn a blind eye. God, ultimately, is who will bring justice in this world. And that’s where our hope lies. It’s not our job to act on feelings of revenge and the like in an effort to balance it out, but we know, and often struggle to remember, that when Christ returns, everything will be made right.
Despite all this, the God who hates violence is accused of causing violence. Whenever, God reimposes his will on rebels, it always comes with a quota of pain.
Now I am aware of the wars that God fought alongside Israel in the old testament. But think about this. I’ll use the example of Canaan, a nation that for hundreds of years sacrificed their very own kids to their gods, and it is here that God authorised the only permitted holy war. God acted and sent his people to eradicate them.
violence is only violence when it is not authorised, when it is not proportionate to the crime, when it is not done according to justice. The thing is, we think we know what justice is, but we have violence in our hearts and that warps our perception. Christian’s recognise this and do their best to refrain from attempting to bring justice but instead aim to bring peace and to glorify God instead of being God.
It is the existence of Hell and the reality of judgement that prevents us from being violent with each other.
In Romans 12, paul writes, love your enemy, you don’t have to excercise revenge, God will.

But just think about this. The God who hates violence allows himself to be violently abused. From the moment Jesus was born, Herod tried to take him out. When Jesus preached his first sermon they had tried to push him off a cliff. Jesus knew he would be flogged and killed, betrayed even.
There is violence everywhere, people in the wrong place, at the time.
Violence is not a religious problem, it’s a human problem.

Mark 15:19 – “Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees they paid homage to him.”

Jesus suffered under the hands of men, he suffered the agony and utter humiliation of suffocation. He know what it’s like, he’s walked in the shoes of victims. But what’s really extraordinary about him, is that he didn’t just come to save the victims, but he came for the offenders.

Isaiah 53 (read it, seriously). At the cross, Jesus became the wife basher, the armed bully…..the list goes on. It was the will of God that Jesus would be punished for all of our violence.
He created a new community marked by love, a lack of violence, an ear for false teachers, gentleness and respect. As Christians it is our job to protect those that are powerless. The gospel has the power to transform these violent people into loving followers, just look at Stephen Lungu who has one of the most breath-taking testimonies I’ve ever heard. A man who was at the heart of a gang and became a follower as he sat in a church with the intent to set off the bomb he was holding. I recommend you read his book. It’s one of those transformations that reminds you why you are a Christian and of the power of the word of God.

So the real solution to the problem of violence is not to rid the world of religion. It is the new heavens and the new earth that will arrive when Christ returns. It is the restoration of justice by God. Preaching the gospel changes hearts. Pray for those that deal with violence and violent people such as those that work in prison ministry. And protect the powerless.

So have a think about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts, not so that I can shoot them down, but