Belief and Understanding

I don’t know the preacher’s name but he said something last Sunday that I want to share with you because its truth struck me so forcefully. I won’t be as eloquent as he was but I’ll do my best to get his point across.

“I’m not here to explain God to you,” he said, “because I’m not able. God is too marvellous, too amazing and too mysterious. But He can explain himself. If you believe in Him then He will help you understand. But if you try to understand before you believe then you are putting a barrier between you and Him.”

I know it’s easy to scoff at people of faith who can’t explain why God would do this or allow that. But if you just for a minute accept the possibility of a Creator, then you have to immediately see how far beyond our intellect and understanding He must be. And hence how small and lacking we are in comparison. How futile it is to try sometimes, like an insect trying to figure out what a human being is all about.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8, 9 NIV)

Of course we want to understand, but let’s start from a position of humility, first understanding our limitations and His sovereignty.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10 NIV)

There is so much to learn, but there is one truth to hold in your heart, one blessing in God’s word that will transform your life and release you from all kinds of shackles.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

Believe, and then be amazed and delighted by the new understanding you are given.

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The Truth That Hurts

I’ll be deliberately vague about the details of this story. They don’t matter, and they could cause embarrassment to others.

Yesterday there was a light-hearted conversation in my office, concerning someone who wasn’t there, and I made a contribution. It was a small thing, and it raised a laugh as I’d hoped, and no harm was done.

Then one of my colleagues said “That wasn’t very Christian of you, Gavin!”

I was upset. I got defensive. I claimed that what I’d done wasn’t to put this person down, but to lift my friends up. I was still speaking in a light-hearted tone. The conversation fizzled away, as they usually do, and was soon enough forgotten.

Except that I couldn’t forget it because the “not very Christian” phrase kept niggling at me, convicting me.

Because it was true. I’d been negative when I should have been positive, or at the very least stayed out of the conversation.

My colleagues know about my faith, and what I showed them yesterday was the very opposite of the light of Christ. My salt had lost its savour. I let down myself, and more importantly God.

This morning I prayed about it. I repented, determined not to make such a mistake again. And I asked God’s forgiveness.

There was one thing left to do – thank my friend for pointing out my error, even though she probably had no idea how right she was.

But when I got to the office, I couldn’t do it. I’m ashamed to say it, but I think it’s true for many of us. It’s much easier to confess to almighty God, who already sees and knows all things, than to speak honestly to a friend and reveal my hidden weakness to them.

Foolish Talk

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”

Both Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 begin with this blunt statement, and I’m just going to explain very briefly today why I believe completely in this fundamental truth.

I would (and did) acknowledge God’s existence before accepting Christ as my Lord and Saviour. But even if you can’t go as far as accepting that there is a God, how can you possibly, with certainty, believe that there isn’t?

I have always had an inquiring mind, a logical and questioning mind. And I trust scientific methods and evidence. I use rational thought processes to inform and interpret my reading of the Bible, and my understanding of God. I believe that God gave me – and mankind as a whole – the desire to understand His universe.

And here is my ultimate logical reason not to dismiss God: If He exists, as Christianity understands Him, then He is the Creator of the universe. By definition, the Creator is not a part of the creation, so God exists outside of time and space, and the laws that control them.

So when an otherwise brilliant mind like Professor Stephen Hawking jumps to the conclusion that the laws of physics, and specifically gravity, can explain everything, and that this means God is no longer required as a first cause, I have to wonder at how closed that mind is.

Just as a builder can enter and walk around a house he has constructed, so God can, and does, enter His creation to interact with its elements – including us. But the builder is not a part of that house, and the rules, the materials and the construction of that house do not apply to the builder. Even more evidently, the laws of the universe do not apply to God, so to try to understand Him, explain Him, or reject Him using those laws is futile – and foolish.

In the words of Paul, in Romans 1, verse 22:

Professing to be wise, they became fools.

Science is a wonderful way to explore, examine and explain the workings of the universe. But if a scientist believes that his discipline can explain the totality of creation, then he is deluded. There is a difference between science and omniscience. The difference is omni – everything.

A Reflection on Psalm 23

I originally wrote this on 14 July 2009…

Yesterday I was troubled by some of life’s challenges, and on my way into work I was trying to think of scripture that could help me through. Without my Bible to hand, and with a limited memory of specific verses, my mind gravitated towards ‘old faithful’ Psalm 23. Maybe it was the Israel Houghton CD (The Power Of One) playing in my car, that led me to focus on the first part of verse 6:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”

This has always been such a comforting line in such a comforting Psalm, but now I felt that there was something wrong. It was the phrase “follow me.” Goodness and mercy weren’t “with me” they were following. It was like walking in a rain storm, with the sun’s warmth following some way behind. That’s no good to me! And even worse, they weren’t going to catch up. No, they would follow me all the days of my life. I know that there are better things to come. I know I shouldn’t care too much for the pleasures of this world. But still it didn’t seem right that I should be asked to walk in the rain for the rest of my life.

I wondered whether this was a reference to David’s position as King of Israel. Whether his subjects would be blessed with the Lord’s goodness and mercy as a reward for faithfully following him. But I am not a king, I am just a man needing some words of solace.

So then I asked myself if the translators of the King James Bible had picked that word “follow” for some poetic reason. I wondered what the original text said. I had never delved so deeply before in my quest for understanding, but at http://net.bible.org/ I found the passage in many translations, including the original Hebrew. There the word is “radaf” (or “radaph”), which actually means “to chase, to pursue.” It is usually used in the context of being chased by your enemy. The notes in NETBible suggest that there is a pleasant irony about it being used here to show God, in the form of His goodness and faithfulness, chasing the one He loves.

I still wasn’t satisfied though. The idea of being chased all my days, even by such a wonderful pursuer, didn’t give my heart the peace it needed.

Then I thought about the very first words of the Psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd”

And suddenly I saw verse 6 very differently. My mind went back to the 1980s, watching “One Man and His Dog” on BBC television. I thought about how the sheepdog would use its instinctive behaviour of stalking, chasing, pursuing the sheep, in order to direct them where they needed to go, and to round up any that went astray. This made so much sense to me, I would have happily just accepted my own interpretation of the scripture without further questioning. But I also wanted to share my insight with others, so I felt it was best that I did some more research.

I wanted to know how long sheepdogs have been used by man. A quick check in Wikipedia suggested that it has been the case for thousands of years. I searched the Bible directly but couldn’t find specific references to sheepdogs. But then through broader enquiries I found a book called “David and the Psalms” by Fr. Joseph Ponessa and Laurie Watson Manhardt. Chapter 5, “David the Shepherd Boy” contains this paragraph:

“The shepherd boy has to keep the sheep together. For this purpose, there may be one or two sheep dogs to assist him. The shepherd boy and the sheep dog are a team, and the boy directs the dog. When a sheep begins to stray, the dog will anticipate the boy’s wishes, pursue the sheep, and proudly deliver it back to the safety of the flock.”

I don’t think I could imagine a more beautiful interpretation of verse 6. Not only is the Lord my shepherd, but His goodness, His mercy, His faithfulness, are his herding dogs. They don’t merely follow me, but they are actively guiding me toward my Father’s house. And when I go astray it is they who pursue me and proudly deliver me back to the safety of the flock.

Welcome to My Christian Journey

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for quite a while now, and today I decided it was time to stop procrastinating.

What’s the purpose of these writings? Very simply I want to share my journey with you. I hope that in doing so I can encourage you, and maybe even inspire you to see the wonderful things God is doing in your life, as I share what He is doing in mine. I’ll tell you about what I’m doing and what I’m thinking, and it is my sincere desire that God’s glory will shine through my words, because at the end of the day, this is all about Him, not me.

You know, it’s easy to let a phrase like that trip off my fingers as I type. It’s not so easy to live every day like I really believe it’s true. So another real hope of mine is that I can be honest with you and tell you when I’m struggling, and then let you see how God can bring me (and you) through those hard times.

I plan to start slowly and reveal more of myself as we travel together. I used to love writing – mostly songs – and I like to think that I’m good with words, but this is a new venture, and I wait to see whether I have the discipline to write regularly, and the courage to write openly.

To start, I can tell you that at the time of writing I’ve lived on this earth just over forty-two years, but I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour on 14 December 2008, so that really makes me a little under three and a half years old. A child of that age has learnt a huge amount in a very short time and is full of wonder and excitement about what they’ve seen and heard. But the child still has even more to learn, and is impatient to grow up, and will sometimes try to get their own way at any cost because even though they’ve been taught right and wrong, they still don’t always see how it applies to them. They will hurt themselves because they want to explore dark and dangerous places, not keeping to the safe and stimulating environments their parents have made available to them.

Yes, I still feel very much a child of God in that sense. And if I think about it, part of me wonders if it would be better to stay that way. As so often, scripture can pull me in different directions.

In Matthew 18, verses 2 and 3, we read:

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

But then I think about that most beautiful chapter 13 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and near the end he writes:

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Are “now” and “then” both stages of our earthly lives, or do they refer to this life and the next? I believe the latter is true, but I am still inspired to seek greater knowledge of, and intimacy with Christ right now. The innocent play of youth is a delightful memory, but it is made so much sweeter when looked at through the eyes of maturity, the eyes of understanding.

There is so much I want to understand about God. I know that by His very nature I won’t learn it all in this lifetime, but equally I know that the deeper my understanding grows, the more fulfilling my life will be, and the more able I will become to live the life He wants for me, to be His ambassador, and a reflection of His glory.