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Does God Keep Score?

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A great article by Steve McVey. Please read…

http://www.stevemcvey.com/god-keep-score/

At The Crease

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I often ask God to speak to me. My requests become more frequent and more yearning as years go by. I try to filter out distractions like the world around me and my own myriad of thoughts, but most of the time I fail. It’s not a bad second best to rely on the ‘straightforward’ text of the Bible, and on the teachings I receive from various sources. And when I pray, although it usually feels like a monologue, I know that in my own description of situations and questions about them, in seeking to understand how to respond to life, God often puts the answer right onto my tongue or into my mind. But sometimes I don’t want to approach God with my own agenda, I just want to sit down and listen to what He has on His mind for me.

Sadly I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve experienced His direct intervention shaking up my thoughts. Probably I shouldn’t be sad. I should be grateful to have experienced any interventions at all, and I should be thankful for the way He ‘indirectly’ directs my life. I don’t have to feel His presence to know He is there, subtly guiding me, at all times.

Recently I’ve been redoubling my efforts to foster the right environment to hear His voice. Yesterday as I decluttered my mind and invited Him in, an image faded into view. I can’t be certain that it wasn’t my own idea, because I had watched my first live Test Match a few days earlier, and the image was a cricketer, but if it wasn’t God who put the image there, He certainly used it to remind me about some sacred truths.

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Image credit: http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/shed-59131

 

The first thing I noticed was that he was a batsman. As I saw the protection he was wearing, in particular his helmet, and the bat which could be used defensively like a shield or offensively like a sword, I thought about the armour of God…

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:14-17

Then I saw that the batsman was surrounded by close fielders, which told me that the bowler – who I couldn’t see – was a spinner, and that his deliveries might swerve and bounce in any direction to try and fool the batsman…

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.

Proverbs 2:12-15

I had the sense, too, that this was not a specialist batsman. He was most likely a bowler who had come to the crease towards the end of the innings, and so was weak and vulnerable…

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Ultimately, this batsman’s most likely aim was to keep up a strong defence, stand firm while his teammate tried to make the runs for victory or while his team sought to play out the remaining overs for a draw…

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13

I’m sure that if you’re a Christian who enjoys cricket you could find many more analogies between the game and spiritual life, but I don’t want to labour the point, rather just describe the thoughts that came to my mind immediately. Wherever the image came from, I’m thankful that God has used it to remind me about the patience, resilience, wisdom and strength He has given me, and my duty to use those gifts for His glory.

Reflections on Idolatry

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The man had been talking for twenty minutes about his life. He had been a successful international sportsman, a true success in the world’s eye, but behind the façade was a man struggling with addiction. A few years later he was living in a home for alcoholics with a mountain of debt. Then a former colleague introduced him to Jesus, and slowly his life turned around, until he was eventually able to build a village for dozens of orphans to find a new family, an education and a new hope in Christ.

And then he broke down in tears as he explained that God had told him to let go of the village and pass it on to the next generation of leaders, because it had become an idol to him.

This moved me to my core, and I’ve been thinking about idolatry a lot since that evening.

What is idolatry? It’s a hugely important topic, right at the heart of God’s moral law, in the ten commandments.

Exodus 20:1-4 (CEV)

God said to the people of Israel: I am the Lord your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves. Do not worship any god except me. Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth. Don’t bow down and worship idols. I am the Lord your God, and I demand all your love. If you reject me, I will punish your families for three or four generations. But if you love me and obey my laws, I will be kind to your families for thousands of generations.

The instruction is repeated often.

Deuteronomy 4:23

Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.

A vast majority of the idols mentioned in the Bible are stone or metal figures – graven images – man-made sculptures worshipped like a god, in place of the true God who made man in His own image.

Occasionally, we see hints that there is more to idolatry than these physical false gods.

1 Samuel 15:23

For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.

Arrogance is like idolatry. To think yourself better than you really are, by implication perhaps to think yourself better than God? Relying on your own strength or wisdom instead of God’s is a sure sign that you have started to worship the idol of pride.

Ezekiel 6:9

Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.

Their eyes have lusted after their idols. So an idol can be something we see and desire, rather than trusting in what God has provisioned for us, which may be unseen for now. And see how God grieves when we turn our attention away from Him. Do you think He grieves for Himself? Or for the damage we inflict on ourselves when we worship the idols of greed and lust.

Jonah 2:8

Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.

A succinct summary of an enormous problem. An idol is something that turns our eyes, and our hearts, away from God.

Isaiah 57:13

When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.

And here is a truth. When we put our trust in anything above the Lord, we are trusting something temporary and flimsy, rather than our strong, faithful and permanent God. Those idols cannot help but let us down in our time of need.

Ezekiel 20:15-17

Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land I had given them – a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands – because they rejected my laws and did not follow my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths. For their hearts were devoted to their idols. Yet I looked on them with pity and did not destroy them or put an end to them in the wilderness.

And here is a greater truth. Although our God is a jealous God, and He has commanded us to put Him first in all things, He understands our weakness, He pities us, and He loves us. When we turn back to Him, He restores us.

About ninety per cent of biblical references to idols are found in the Old Testament, and as I noted, they almost exclusively speak of worshipping graven images, but in Paul’s letters we can see the broader definitions that we glimpsed earlier. For example,

Colossians 3:5

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

It’s clear that when we put anything of our earthly nature ahead of anything of God’s Holy nature, we have created an idol. And when we do so we endanger others as well as ourselves. When I read 1 Corinthians 8 in the context of these thoughts, I see some new insight beyond its surface meaning.

Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one.’ For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

What I see here is that even though, as believers, we know that God is supreme and almighty, we too can become accustomed to idols – they become part of our everyday life and habits – we lose sight of what we are doing. We need to become more self-aware, and more Christ-conscious, so that we can recognise the idols in our lives.

I also note that even though we know there is nothing to be gained or lost by “eating in an idol’s temple”, we can risk our weaker brothers’ and sisters’ understanding by doing so. Equally, if we practice any form of idolatry – by emphasising material gain, or by having a prideful attitude, just for two examples – we risk presenting a false picture of Christ to our friends, family or strangers.

We should spend some time in quiet contemplation, and ask God to reveal to us what are the idols in our lives. They may be objects, or people, or personality traits or behaviours – anything that may prevent us from living according to His will. When I talked about this with my small group the idols that were revealed included ‘busyness’, ‘shyness’ and ‘security’.

This isn’t about beating ourselves up and feeling guilty. It’s about identifying stumbling blocks so that we can start dismantling them and move closer to God.

Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Amen

All scripture is from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicized, except where noted.

A Reflection On Brexit

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I understand the reasons why the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. Some of those reasons I can sympathise with, and others I simply can’t.

But what’s done is done. And what’s important now is that everyone in the country is gracious to one another, whether in victory or defeat. And in the longer term we have to be united in our efforts to support and lift the disenfranchised, the poor and the weak among us. And more than that we must be a light to the world, generous to those beyond our shores who don’t enjoy democracy, those who don’t live in peace, those who don’t experience freedom, those who can’t even turn to a food bank for their daily bread.

Many people argued that the referendum was about control, but no matter who won, God was always going to be in control. Both sides of the referendum campaign focused on fear, many people on both sides made their decisions through fear, and now the outcome is spreading fear in certain parts of the country and the world.

But while I’m saddened by the result, I refuse to fear the future. My faith is not in politicians or economists. My faith is not in the British electorate, whether or not they agree with me. My faith is not in the UK or the EU, but in Christ alone.

Swimming Against The Tide

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I recall an afternoon several years ago. As with most of my long-term memories the circumstances, themes and emotions are vivid, while the details totally escape me.

The afternoon in question I was driving some friends home after church, and there was a conversation that went in a direction I thought was inappropriate, and I said so. One of my friends responded with words to the effect of “Why are you being so holier than thou?”

I wasn’t trying to give that impression, I was only speaking honestly according to the prompting of my conscience.

This vignette was brought back to my recollection yesterday while reflecting on another incident, which had just occurred.

A dear friend had invited me to attend a presentation about a business opportunity. As I watched and listened it became clear to me that I was being sold a pyramid scheme. I told my friend I couldn’t deal with this company, and that she should walk away too, explaining that the business model was unethical and possibly illegal, and if she made money out of it, it would be at the expense of people joining the scheme later.

I told her that while there was nothing wrong with making money, as long as it doesn’t involve the abuse of other people,

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?
Matthew 16:26a

As a God-fearing woman I thought she would find my argument completely persuasive, but in fact she couldn’t understand or accept what I was saying. She didn’t accuse me of sanctimony, but all we could do was agree to disagree.

These situations remind me that even when we think we’re on the same page, we’re not always reading it from the same viewpoint, and our differences can reveal themselves at unexpected times.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but while we have this in common, our sins are not necessarily the same. One man may be generous with his money but fall easily into lustful thoughts. Another might show kindness to strangers but speak crudely and cruelly to his friends.

And our different weaknesses affect our interactions with each other in different ways. Perhaps we find it easier to notice (and judge) those sins that we feel immune to ourselves. Or maybe our awareness of our own faults make us more sensitive to those same faults in others

But even when we refrain from judgment, and just make known our moral position in a particular situation, we can cause discomfort or offence, often unintentionally.

It’s easy to see how a person of faith, who values God’s moral law above society’s, can often swim against the tide of popular opinion. We see it in the news regularly.

But it’s also true that scripture has so many nuances and possible interpretations – through which God speaks to so many unique individuals – that we can also find ourselves swimming against the tide of accepted wisdom: of our local church, of our denomination, or even of the worldwide Christian faith. This is how churches split, and it can also be how we as individuals become separated from our closest brothers and sisters in Christ.

A Word of Encouragement

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Last week I attended my seventh Big Church Day Out festival, and it was a wonderful event, as always.

Although the core focus of Big Church Day Out is Christian music, there is a wide variety of activities and entertainments, as well as opportunities to learn about, and contribute to, many great causes too. I highly recommend it.

In 2015 I took some time away from the music to watch the wonderful “An Evening With CS Lewis,” a charming, humorous and moving one-man show written and performed by David Payne.

I was so impressed with the play that when I saw that it was being staged again this year I marked it down as one of my ‘must see’ performances. I arrived at the venue in good time, found a seat close to the stage, and enjoyed another life-affirming evening.

My purpose here is not to write a review of the show, although I can once again thoroughly recommend that you go and see it if you get a chance. No, I wanted to tell you about the minutes after the actor left the stage.

It’s not my habit to seek out performers at the end of the evening, either for merchandise or selfies, but I felt compelled to walk up to Mr Payne and shake his hand. As I did so, I told him how moved I was by the show, and the fact that I had seen it last year and how keen I had been to see it again.

And that’s when I was surprised, because he was absolutely delighted to hear those words. He thanked me profusely, and I could see that his appreciation of my appreciation was totally genuine.

I was surprised because he had just received a lengthy standing ovation, and my compliment seemed trivial by comparison.

Later I understood the difference. To some extent the response of an audience is a matter of routine. I can’t call it perfunctory, but unless you’ve really blown it, the people who came to see you perform and got what they were expecting will, in return, give you what is expected of them, with a greater or lesser level of enthusiasm.

But when somebody takes the time to meet you and speak a word of encouragement to you individually from the heart, that’s an entirely different situation. A special connection is created between the two of you for those brief moments, and the result of that connection is powerful.

This reminds me of one of the most beautiful aspects of my Christian faith, and that is the personal relationship I have with Jesus. I don’t always feel as close to Him as I’d like to, but I can recall moments when He has walked up to me to share a word of encouragement, and those moments have created a powerful connection that continues to lift me when life gets tough.

And I’m also reminded that I don’t offer words of encouragement to others anywhere near as often as I should. I need to show my appreciation for the good things people do, and for who they are, not because it’s expected, but because it’s the right thing to do, and because it will lift them. Maybe I won’t see the same delight I saw in David Payne’s eyes, but I’ll know my words may be the encouragement they need either now or in the future.

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:10-11

Book Review – “Wise Guys” by Kent Evans (with Rob Suggs)

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I’ll get straight to the point. This is a great book. I read it from start to finish in less than a day (unheard of for me), and then I immediately started reading it again.

Why couldn’t I drag myself away? Well, first of all it’s eminently readable. An easy, conversational tone draws you in. There are a few Americanisms along the way but I can forgive that – coming from an American author. Second, it starts rewarding you with titbits of wisdom right from the first chapter. No – earlier than that. Even during Kyle Idleman’s foreword I found myself thinking, “Yes, this is something I need to do!” And then that realization was reinforced throughout the following chapters, while I was also eagerly picking up life lessons – and being entertained to boot.

So, who are the “wise guys” of the title? They are ordinary people in the main, who happen to demonstrate a great way of thinking or behaving. And this book’s primary purpose is to encourage us to seek those people or, even better, recognise them in our daily lives; and then to learn from them, by observation and/or conversation.

It’s common sense – as is most of the finest wisdom. And most of what you learn as you read is really just reminding you of what you already know: be kind, ask questions, think before committing to a task, and so on. But these are truths that we all need to be reminded of on a regular basis if we are to develop positive habits rather than destructive ones.

The book is autobiographical, but only vaguely chronological. In each chapter Kent Evans recounts an incident in his life, which may have lasted anything from a few minutes to several weeks. He recalls a man from whom he learned something about himself or about life. And he ends each chapter describing those lessons learned, and then offering some “questions to consider.” These questions really help you change the direction of your thoughts away from Kent’s life and towards your own, giving you an opportunity to reflect on where your growth potential lies. It’s a straightforward format, and it works brilliantly.

I want to make three final observations that I hope will encourage you to purchase this book even if looking at the cover and reading the précis doesn’t convince you that it will speak to you.

One: although written from a male perspective, it is equally relevant to women. The book is unashamedly man-oriented. The full title is “Wise Guys: Unlocking Hidden Wisdom from the Men Around You.” Women barely get a mention, except in the acknowledgements. But this is for the very good reason that there is some truth in the cliché that men are generally not good at asking for help. The book is targeting those men and speaking directly to them. But the wisdom contained within is completely applicable to women, and you are just as likely to find a female mentor as a male one, depending on the circles you move in. So ladies – buy this book!

Two: although written from a business perspective, it is equally relevant to life in general. Now I’m not sure that the author intended to write a “business manual,” but many of the situations he describes arise from his business experiences, and so many of the men he learns from are businessmen, and many of his lessons learned are learned in the business arena. But at the same time, at the very heart they are lessons about relating to other human beings – and relationship lessons are invaluable in any area of life. Perhaps another way to say it is: this book will help you learn how to succeed in life – but it will also help you learn how to succeed in business.

Three: although written from a Christian perspective, it is equally relevant to people of other faiths or none. There are a few Biblical references sprinkled throughout the book, and some of the wise guys have connections through Kent’s church family, but there is not even a hint of evangelism or proselytizing; only the recognition that some of the wisdom gleaned from successful mentors also reflects Christian values. Having said that, I do feel that many of the chapters could be used as the basis for very interesting small group discussions. But ultimately, whatever your worldview, you will enjoy and get value from this book.

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This book was provided to me courtesy of City on a Hill Studio and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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