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Farewell, My Friend

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On Monday morning my friend George Dyson passed away in his sleep. George was a longstanding member of my small group, and the last time I saw him was at a group meeting in July, before we took a break for the summer. At that meeting we had discussed the future direction of the group, and my leadership of it. Sensing some doubt on my part, George took me to one side at the end of the evening and offered me words of real support and encouragement. It was typical of the man.

George was a fine man. A kind man. A hospitable man. He enjoyed bowls, he enjoyed travelling, and he lived a full life, but above all he loved Jesus. He had faith in God’s word and God’s promises. He himself described it as a “simple faith” but it was rock solid. And his faith shone brightly through all that he said and did – from overseas mission work before I knew him, through to his volunteer work for Christians Against Poverty in his later years. He will leave a big gap in many lives. Please pray for his wife, Sheila, and the rest of his family and friends.

It was a privilege to know George and to call him my friend. I will miss him deeply. It is some comfort to know that he died peacefully, and that he can now spend eternity with his Father.

Can These Bones Live?

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The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-6

There is so much I could say about this scripture. It comes to my mind often. It came to me again last weekend.

Later in the chapter God explains that Ezekiel’s vision represents the nation of Israel being brought from spiritual death back to life, but like much of the Bible there are further meanings that the Holy Spirit will bring to readers according to their own circumstances and needs.

It is one of the few passages in the Old Testament that speaks of the promise of resurrection, which can point to Christ’s return from death and our own rebirth as Christian through belief in Him.

But I am reminded of Ezekiel when I see relationships apparently die. I am reminded of his vision when I see friends with apparently incurable illnesses. I am reminded whenever I see situations where hope is apparently gone. Because what is apparent to us is not necessarily what is apparent to God.

“Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

This scripture gives me the confidence, the faith, to pray into those situations. To pray for God’s breath (ruach) to bring new life where our human eyes only see death.

“Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

The Gender Agenda

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I’m always a little behind the times with my posts. Today I’ll talk briefly about Caitlyn Jenner, when it would be more apt to focus on same-sex marriage after this week’s US Supreme Court ruling. In truth, that’s a subject I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time, and at some point in the near (I hope) future I’ll put my thoughts down here.

But I don’t mind being late to the table on these matters, because there’s a good reason – I think long and hard about difficult issues. And I do that because I recognise that they’re difficult. Too many people think they’re easy. On both sides of these arguments people think it’s black and white, that anyone who disagrees with them is a bigot or a pervert, an apologist for inequality or for sin. I see hatred on both sides, and on both sides it can be disguised as love.

Well, I haven’t been keeping up with the Kardashians. The first I heard about Caitlyn was a news headline about her rapidly growing band of Twitter followers. Then I started seeing articles about her on Christian web sites and gathered the full story.

A typical article is this one by Jon Bloom. It begins full of compassion for the struggle Bruce Jenner faced throughout his life, but then suddenly, yet with subtlety, the language changes – “it’s not okay,” gender identity issues are equated with “indwelling sin,” and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely sure that Caitlyn Jenner is a sinner. I’m equally sure that you are, that I am (in fact I’m even surer of that), and that we all are. That’s a truth that permeates the whole of God’s Word and I would never deny it. But Bruce Jenner’s understanding that ‘he’ was in fact female is not a sin, to my mind it’s the result of a genetic defect. We all have our many imperfections and that was one of hers. Her decision to go through the outward transformation is not a sinful act but an acceptance of who she is, a removing of her mask. If only we could all remove the masks we so often wear.

I don’t approve of her Vanity Fair photo-shoot. I suppose it was inevitable given her celebrity profile, but I wish she had been more modest and low-key in the aftermath of her procedure.

Maybe you think “God doesn’t make mistakes.” If so, I agree, but His ways and purposes are far beyond our understanding. Maybe you think “Yes, Bruce Jenner was born with this problem but he should accept himself the way God brought him into the world.” Maybe you should tell that to the parents of the next baby born with a heart defect or broken kidneys, and explain to them that they should accept their child the way God brought them into the world and will shortly take them out of it again. I know there are some people who believe that’s exactly how we should respond in those situations, but I’m not one of them. I believe that we should try to fix what’s broken, using the people, the skills and the knowledge that God has blessed us with.

Some babies are born with both male and female genitalia, or are indeterminate. Sometimes they will be surgically altered into a clear gender, and sometimes the wrong gender will be chosen for them. Every one of those situations is heartbreaking, and so is Caitlyn Jenner’s.

Jon Bloom’s article exhorts us to speak the truth in love, so I will end by doing just that.

Caitlyn, you’ve been struggling to come to terms with your identity for so many years, and I’m so pleased that you didn’t let that struggle break you. I admire your courage in publicly accepting yourself for who you really are. I don’t agree with everything you’ve done in your life, both before and since you ‘became’ Caitlyn, but I know that in God’s eyes you and I are both sinners, and we are both equally loved. I pray that your story will be an encouragement to others who have gender identity issues, and who may be hurting deeply as a result. And I pray that you will find your true identity where we all should – not in your gender, race, age or any other physical attribute, but in your relationship with God though His Son Jesus Christ.

Choose Love

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Would it make any sense for me to command you to do something that is out of your control? What if I commanded you to be pulled to the earth by gravity? What if I commanded you to breathe? What if I commanded you to stop breathing? That’s something you could manage for a short while, but your body would soon protest and override your efforts.

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:34-35)

Jesus is commanding His disciples – including us – to love one another. He knows that this is a choice we have to make. Sometimes, when you think about some of your fellow Christians, it’s a difficult decision. When we start looking at people the way God does, it becomes easier.

He made that statement near the end of his life. Earlier He made an even more challenging one.

‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:43-45)

It’s a very basic fact that everything we do that counts for anything is down to our choices. Even in circumstances that are beyond our control we choose how to respond.

However much anger we feel about what someone has done to another human being – or to ourselves – we can choose to respond with love. Let the legal system do its part in determining guilt and punishment. Our response is above the law.

However helpless we feel about the state of the world and the desperate plight that people find themselves in, we can choose to respond with love. Insignificant as it may seem in our own eyes or the eyes of the world, our response is hugely significant in the eyes of God.

So love is beyond feelings, and not to be confused or affected by them. This is true in marriage too. Feelings and physical attraction can be strong, and an emotional bond feels powerful, but feelings can be fickle and emotions can turn like the wind. We all hope that our feelings will at least remain strong, and perhaps grow even stronger over the course of a marriage. But our feelings are out of our control. That includes our feelings for others as well as our spouse. This is why Paul commands:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

Love is a choice that in marriage becomes a commitment. It is deeper and more satisfying than any emotion, and as much as warm emotions can sweeten the relationship, love does not depend on them.

I am divorced. I married based solely on feelings, and negative self-centered feelings at that. I didn’t know Christ at that time, and I didn’t know love. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I hope that one day I will be able to make that choice and commitment to someone capable of making the same commitment to me. I thank God for teaching me, through Jesus Christ, what it means to choose love.

Hearing God’s Voice

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Hearing God’s voice – I don’t know about you, but it seems to be one of the biggest challenges I face in my journey through life.

The article I’ve linked to below doesn’t provide the secret formula that I would love to learn, but it probably includes more helpful pointers and food for thought than any similar article I’ve read before, so I think I’m going to find it useful to mull over in the days, weeks and months ahead. I hope you find it useful too.

Distinguishing God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

Giving It All Away

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I thought I would share the notes I prepared before leading my small group meeting last week. As usual we only made it a fraction of the way through the content I’d prepared. I’d much rather that happened than we ran out of things to say! This is not much more than some passages of scripture and some questions to discuss. Maybe you’ll find it useful in thinking through the subject yourself, or sharing with others.

It’s sometimes difficult to talk about money, even amongst friends. Why that should be is an interesting question in itself. To help us see things in a slightly different light, and to break the ice somewhat, a couple of days before we met I asked my friends to take a look at this web site: http://www.globalrichlist.com/

Does this put your financial situation into perspective?

Matthew 19:16-22 (NIVUK)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ he enquired. Jesus replied, ‘“You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,” and “love your neighbour as yourself.”’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

How would you react if God said these words to you?

Then I played a podcast called “Rejecting Riches” from the BBC World Service radio show “The Why Factor” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02jhfpp which can also be downloaded from this page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/whyfactor (See 14 February 2015).

We spent the rest of the evening discussing issues raised by this programme. Some bullet points to comment on:

Alan Large – Lottery Winner

  • Didn’t need the money
  • It was too much – a curse – people calling from all over the world asking for handouts
  • Gave it all away to family and charities

Chen Shuchu – Taiwanese Vegetable Seller

  • Grateful for help given by others when she was young
  • Only spends a few dollars on herself
  • Gives the rest away

Chuck Feeney – Duty Free Shopping

  • “All you can really do is count it”
  • Will give away all his fortune before he dies (within 10 years)

John Pedley – Businessman / Christian

  • St Augustine “Find out what God has given you. Take what you need. The rest is required by others.”
  • Sold everything, moved to Uganda, built a health centre
  • Now runs a fruit farm, gives away 90% of profits to health and education projects
  • The futility of his rich life
  • Why does he do it? Not to redeem himself. Not to make himself feel better. Believes in a God of justice.

Other thoughts

  • The drowning child analogy (mosquito nets)
  • What are the rights and wrongs of playing the lottery? Do they change if you resolve to give away all your winnings to charity?
  • Tithing – is 10% too little, just right, or too much? What is in your heart when (if) you tithe?
  • How is your attitude to money affected by personal factors such as your age, work, and family situation?
  • Where does altruism come from? Biological imperatives? God? Both?

Acts 4:32-37 (NIVUK)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Would you like to live like this? Is it even possible in modern society?

Acts 5:1-11 (NIVUK)

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

What is your response to this passage?

Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive the apostles. How would events have turned out if they had been honest about what they were keeping?

A final thought:

1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NIVUK)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Honoring Those With Whom You Disagree

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Please read this post by Frank Viola. It’s a timeless reminder of the attitude we need to take towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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