4 Articles To Make You Think About Your Faith

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It’s rarely a day goes by that I don’t find a link in my inbox to an article expounding a dramatic list that I need to be gravely concerned about if I have any interest in the future of the Christian faith in general, or my own in particular. Whether it’s “24 Reasons to Believe Hell Is a Reality,” “10 Counterfeit Christ Figures We Should Stop Worshiping,” or “5 Ways to Porn-Proof Your Mind and Marriage” you can be sure that someone has delved deeply into almost any subject you can imagine and summarised our proper response neatly into a reasoned list. If one of these subjects is a hot topic for you, then you may find such an article helpful, or validating. More often than not these days I will skim over them or ignore them completely – I don’t have time to devour all the information being fed to me every day.

But here are four articles that have cropped up recently that I thought were worth sharing because of the common theme they express – one that is very important to me – that we shouldn’t take everything we see, hear or read unthinkingly. We are all capable of misinterpreting God’s word, and so are the people who we turn to for teaching. I don’t agree with every word in the following articles, and if you read the comments at the bottom of the pages you’ll find individuals who vehemently disagree. Sometimes these critics are missing the author’s point and/or unwittingly proving it. The point, in each case, is basically that God has given you a mind and you should use it rather than blindly accepting things that on the surface may seem right and obvious, but underneath are not so clear-cut.

7 Quirky ‘Doctrines’ That Should Be Debunked (J. Lee Grady)

This article has the least resonance with the issues I’ve come across on my journey, but it’s a good introduction to the subject, nicely pointing out that the doctrines described are not really about faith but rather superstition.

5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About The Bible (John Pavlovitz)

A very thoughtful piece, perhaps best summed up by these lines:

The Bible is not God, the Bible is a library filled with words about God. We can discover and explore and find comfort there. We can gain wisdom, and grow in faith through it. We can seek the character of God, and the message of Christ, and the path we’re to walk in its pages.

We can even love the Bible, (I certainly do), but we should worship the God who inspired the Bible.

4 of the Most Misquoted Verses in the Bible (Brian Orme)

This should really have been titled “most misinterpreted” rather than “most misquoted.” You can quote the verse, full or partial, correctly from any translation of the Bible, and if you take it out of its proper context completely lose its true meaning. This is a particular bugbear of mine. I feel the tension rise inside me when I hear certain verses mis-used even by people for whom I have the most love and respect.

9 Unbiblical Statements Christians Believe (Shane Pruitt)

This article helpfully brings us full circle. It shows how not only do we misinterpret Bible verses, but we can even start believing unbiblical statements and turning them into the kind of doctrines that J. Lee Grady wrote about.

I hope these articles give you food for thought. I expect that if you’re anything like me you’ll find it quite easy to recognise some of the flaws they describe in writers and speakers you are familiar with. The real challenge is to recognise those same flaws in yourself (myself) and not be too proud admit them.

How To Be a Leader

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I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour…

1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NIVUK)

I was impressed a week or so back when I saw the photo of Bear Grylls praying over President Obama. Here is one of the many articles about it.

Most of the comments I’ve read have been praising Bear for this public manifestation of his faith, and I applaud that too – it’s something I could learn from. But I was equally impressed with Obama for allowing this image to be shared, and for what this says about him.

In previous generations he might have been described as “Leader of the Free World”. Even now, whatever you may think about his policies, character or beliefs, he is undoubtedly the most powerful individual human being in the world today, with an extraordinarily wide influence. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live that life.

So what the photo with Grylls says to me is that this most powerful man recognises his lack. He has the humility to allow another man to reach out and intercede with Almighty God on his behalf. This is what I want from a leader. Leaders must make decisions, and sometimes those decisions are not ones that we all agree with, but no leader is infallible, no leader has all the answers, and I have more respect for those leaders who admit and embrace their frail humanity, and who accept advice – and prayer.

You can learn a little more about Bear Grylls’ background and faith in this article.

This week brought a similar story from closer to (my) home, as Queen Elizabeth II became the longest serving monarch in British history. Again there were many articles all over the web, but this one spoke to me.

The Queen has no real power to speak of, although she has a certain amount of influence. Like the US President she has her critics, but from a slightly different variety of Republican!

In terms of leadership she is merely a figurehead, but the way she has carried out her duties – and continues to do so into old age – and how she has chosen to serve her country in the role assigned to her for the rest of her life, is a lesson to us all. She clearly has a strong Christian faith and feels that this is the way she has been called to serve God.

In the more humdrum environment of my workplace we have annual performance reviews, and these include an appraisal of our “leadership traits”. To say that I don’t enjoy these reviews would be an understatement, and I often wonder what’s the purpose? Why are you examining the leadership qualities of everyone, including the most junior employees, some of whom are content to just get on with the job and take home their pay, with no ambition to become supervisors, managers… leaders?

Well, although I wonder, I really shouldn’t, because the truth is that every one of us is a leader in some respect, if not at work then within our families, or friendship groups. Even if our roles in those groups seem to be more sheep than shepherd, in reality we are influencing everyone around us in the way we behave, especially in the way we respond to negative situations.

I often pray for leaders. Occasionally it is for political leaders, but most often it is for the leaders of the church – my own church, or those I have connections with, and sometimes for global church leaders such as the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury.

What we should all do is pray for everyone who has an influence on us – that they would be positive motivators for us. And we should pray that we will deliver a positive message to everyone whose lives we touch, that we can become more interested in serving than in being served, and that we will recognise our weaknesses and accept help and prayer in those areas.

Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

Mark 10:42-45 (NIVUK)

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?


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

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