The Gentle Touch

If you gave me a handful of beans I could prove something to you. I could show, you by careful separation and addition of beans, that two plus two does not equal zero.

I could also show you that two plus two does not equal one. Or two. Or three. Or five. Or six.

Need I continue with this illustration? If anyone came to me with their own proposition for the value of two plus two, I could use my handful of beans to prove them wrong. But as long as people kept coming to me with their different ideas, I would spend all my time proving that they were each wrong.

I would much rather show once that two plus two equals four, and then get on with my life, using the simple proven principles to help me in my daily tasks – shopping, time-keeping, cooking and so on. If anyone suggested to me that two plus two equals twelve, well I’d have my evidence for four, and I could show them, and we could discuss any questions they had about it. If they chose to ignore my evidence and refute my conclusions, that would be their right and they would have to live with the consequences.

I was attending a Christian apologetics course this week, and the subject of the session was different worldviews and religions. Much of the discussion that evening took the form “Islam teaches this…”, “Hindus believe this…”, “Muslims practice this…”, it seemed that we could find an endless list of everything that is wrong with every other worldview.

And I couldn’t help thinking “two plus two does not equal zero”, “two plus two does not equal one”…

Then a wise participant spoke about the danger of telling someone what their faith means, and advised that dialogue should start by asking them what it means to them, and then take the discussion from there.

These ideas have been running around my mind and started me looking at issues of evangelism, apologetics and conversion, maybe in a slightly different way than I did previously.

I don’t like to be told I’m wrong. I don’t even like the idea of people thinking I’m wrong. The idea, or the words, will annoy me, depending on the subject maybe even anger me, and will certainly make me very defensive. It doesn’t matter how sound and logical my reasoning is on the matter, I feel under attack, and my response is emotional and flesh-driven. I will fight back, and because my emotions are taking control, I won’t necessarily use the correct or appropriate tactics. The result may be that I weaken my original position through faulty arguments, or I damage my adversary with an over-zealous counterattack and risk losing my integrity.

I’m sure I’m not unique in this respect. I think it’s part of our human nature. It takes true wisdom to see that we’re wrong, real humility to admit it, and immense strength to repent. Sometimes it’s only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can achieve any of this.

Whenever we encounter somebody whose beliefs differ from ours, we have to remember this part of our common nature. We have to understand that Newton’s third law of motion can apply to ideas too – to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

And this doesn’t just apply to the difference between a theist and an atheist. It could be between a monotheist and a pantheist, a Christian and a Muslim, a Methodist and a Catholic, or two Baptists who disagree on a single line of scripture. We’re talking about the meaning and purpose of our lives. Nothing could be more important. The most minor criticism could feel like an assault on the very foundations of our faith.

Nobody – no human being – is going to convince me that I’m wrong and they’re right by telling me so. And I’m not going to convince anyone else by that method.

Nobody is going to shatter my faith by explaining how I’m wrong; nor can I achieve the same result in someone else.

It’s not my job to convince anyone, that’s where the Holy Spirit will do His work. My duty is to give an account of my faith, explain the truth of how I’ve come to the understanding that two plus two equals four. And if I live according to my faith, then my hope is that my words and my life will be a testimony, and will open a mind to a possibility, or strengthen the faith of a fellow believer.

It’s valuable to know how other belief systems operate, and it’s definitely worth understanding for yourself how they fail to live up to God’s truth in Christ. For the sake of peace it’s worth talking to anyone who has ears to hear, no matter where they stand on matters of faith.

But I don’t see the value of engaging in a war of words, as if any argument you make will be the one that nobody has formulated in the last two thousand years – will be the one that stops the Muslim, the atheist, the Scientologist, the Hindu or the Jew in their tracks and convinces them of the folly of their ways. No, sorry but it just isn’t going to be that easy.

Focus on what you know and believe. Understand what God has said to you, and keep seeking Him. Let your actions be evidence of His truth. Confront opposition not with hard words, mocking and inflammatory; but gently, compassionately and patiently.

Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:5-6

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Small Is Beautiful

More than once I’ve heard a preacher say that God is insulted by small prayers. He wants us to think big. He wants to show off. Is that what God really wants?

He wants us to reveal our hearts’ desires to Him – big or small. He already knows those desires, and even our grandest, most spectacular requests are nothing to Him who can provide above and beyond all we could ever imagine.

So don’t insult God by suggesting that what matters to you is too small for Him. And remember that a request that’s small for you could be the biggest thing in somebody else’s life.

My Redeemer

Oh, that my words were written!
Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
That they were engraved on a rock
With an iron pen and lead, forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

Job 19:23-27

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Christ Jesus. What would His crucifixion have meant without His resurrection? I don’t know. This is what I know: the grave couldn’t hold Him, He conquered death, and proved that we too can enjoy an everlasting life, free from death’s curse.

God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Matthew 22:32

Separation from God is death, and eternal separation from God is Hell. When you understand that disobedience of God’s commandments is what separates you from Him; and when you understand that as hard as you try you can never obey Him as completely as you want, or need, to; then you might lose all hope.

You reject all those who stray from Your statutes,
For their deceit is falsehood.

Psalm 119:118

But God knows our weakness, and provides the means of salvation for all of us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

The meaning of Easter is so profound and so broad that I simply can’t do it justice here. It is the essence of the Christian faith, and it is the real source of the Christian’s hope.

Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Mark 15:38

There is no longer any separation between man and God. Man only has to reach out and he finds God’s hand is there, grasping his tightly. Safe, solid, loving, healing hands.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

Only Jesus can pay my debt, heal my wounds and give me life. Thank you Jesus.

The Trust Test

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Matthew 4:7)

Know the difference between trusting God and testing Him.

You can trust God to heal you, but don’t test Him by refusing to visit the doctor He has made available to you.

You can trust God to provide the spouse you pray for, but don’t test Him by waiting for them to come and knock on your door.

You can trust God to provide the finances you need to live, but don’t test Him by sitting at home rather than looking for work.

You can trust God to comfort you when you hurt, but don’t test Him by turning away the friend He has brought into your life to be that comfort.

You can trust God to grow your church and its ministries, but don’t test Him by making promises to your congregation that He hasn’t made to you.

Yes, in Malachi 3:10 God does offer to be tested, but that is in a particular situation regarding tithes.

In all things, examine your heart, as He does, and be sure that you are putting your trust in Him, and not trying to pull His strings.

I’ve known people say that they don’t need anything except Jesus, but their eyes are so firmly fixed on Him that they don’t see the blessings He has surrounded them with. Don’t be one of those people.

Paganism Declawed

Yesterday was Valentine’s day, and amongst the hearts, flowers and chocolates adorning my Facebook wall was this post:

Valentine’s Day is pagan. Nimrod who you may know as Cupid was the first valentine. Nimrod had sexual relations with his mother. His mother would sleep with him and cause the other women around to do so also.

I believe that in Ancient Rome valentines day was a festival spread over 14 days called LUPERCALIA where the young girls would put their name in a box and the boys would pick a name and choose a random sexual partner each year for the festival.

Look it up for your self. Children of God we should not partake in these things. Romans 12:2 “And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” NO TIME FOR COMPROMISE. #Pagan

I see similar posts at Easter (the festival of Eostre, the goddess of spring), and especially at Christmas (the Roman festival of Saturnus, the god of agriculture, is just one of many that were celebrated at midwinter). Some Christians see pagan symbolism in almost every aspect of daily life, but focus even more on what they see of it in festivals and celebrations. I find it very frustrating, and in the heat of that frustration I have to bite my tongue (or in this case restrain my fingers) so that I don’t come across as judgmental towards someone who I know has a heart for Jesus.

Why do I get frustrated? Because what I see is at best a distraction, and at worst Satan’s double-bluff mind games twisting Christians into doing his bidding.

I’m not particularly interested in Valentine’s Day, so I’m not here to defend it as an institution. I have mixed feelings about Christmas, as it becomes more secularised over the years. I grow more deeply fond of Easter as my appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf also grows. So that is where I stand on these particular occasions. And here are my general thoughts on the subject raised in the Facebook post.

1 – A true witness delivers souls, but a deceitful witness speaks lies (Proverbs 14:25)

Myth, conjecture and hearsay are too often mixed up with grains of truth and presented as facts. In this case there is no firm evidence that Valentine’s Day has any connection to Lupercalia, and furthermore neither Valentine’s Day or Lupercalia have anything to do with Nimrod. As for Nimrod being Cupid, I don’t have any idea where this connection comes from. The myths about Cupid are just that – Roman myths, and although we’ve returned to Roman times in the chain, there is no link between Cupid and Lupercalia, so we are just left with a handful of unconnected characters and stories which have been spun into a narrative to suit the argument the writer wants to make. Anyone who researches these topics will see deceit, and this is not going to help bring people to Christ – it might even push them away.

2 – For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)

Whether or not it is what the writer intends, I sense an undercurrent of fear-mongering in Christianity vs Paganism arguments. If the reader continues to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their loved one after reading the post above, they are celebrating false gods and by implication denying the one true God. By sending a Valentine’s card they are associating themselves with incest. Fear of this guilt by association should be enough to stop the reader from practising these heathen rituals. There are often implications that by embracing celebrations with “pagan roots” you will unleash demonic spirits into your life. I’m sorry but this argument isn’t going to persuade me. See my next point too, because ultimately whatever festivals I choose to observe or ignore, I will do it based on my love for God and for people, according to the leading of the Holy Spirit within me. I put my trust in Christ, and in His power over evil.

3 – He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord (Romans 14:5-6)

It is often argued – correctly – that there is no mandate from the Bible to observe Christmas, Easter, or any other special day or event. Is it impertinent of me to mention that the people arguing this will often drive cars, use deodorant, or even preach through microphones, none of which are mandated by the Bible? But the serious point is that there are good reasons why people might wish to celebrate any or all of the festivals mentioned, be it God’s gift to us in the form of His Son, or Christ’s gift to us in the form of His death and resurrection, or the gift of love that we are all at liberty to share with each other. If anyone, for their own reasons, wishes not to celebrate any or all of them, that is perfectly reasonable and acceptable too. This is the Biblical mandate – that whatever we do or not do, it should be to the Lord.

4 – Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another (Romans 14:19)

My advice is simple. Don’t confuse non-Christians or new Christians with talk of paganism, or even pique their curiosity and thereby direct them towards researching practices and beliefs that they are not yet equipped to deal with in the full strength of Christ. There is a place for discussions on these subjects where they can be given proper and prayerful consideration, but a Facebook status is not it. Also, however sincere you are in your belief on these matters, it is clearly not the prevailing belief within the wider body of Christ, and disagreements with fellow Christians are almost inevitable – public disagreements that display disunity in the family of God, rather than the edifying and peace-making discussions that we need.

It is my opinion that whatever our personal views are on the validity of any celebration, any public comment we make should be used in a positive way to proclaim and promote the Gospel of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on our behalf.

Don’t Be Confused

Don’t confuse the evil men do in God’s name with the love God has for all His children.

Don’t confuse the rituals and laws of religion with the freedom of a loving relationship.

Christianity is a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

God loves you and He wants to make a direct connection with you.

The connection is Jesus, God with us, Immanuel.

Freedom In Christ

I thought I’d share an insight I had last week while discussing “freedom” with my small group. It was a fascinating evening, with so many different ways of looking at the word itself, its meaning(s), and its consequences. I expressed this particular thought in a couple of sentences. I’ll expand slightly here – not much – and I hope it will bless you. It’s a very simple idea, but with huge significance. It was new to me, but I’m sure it has been explored at length elsewhere and I would love to be pointed in the direction of some of those explorations.

We think about freedom most often as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.” Paul wrote much in his epistles about freedom in Christ, but often spoke at the same time of being a slave to righteousness. In fact, it seems that slavery rather than freedom seems to be his main focus. For example, read Romans 6:20-23, at the heart of a lengthy discussion on the nature of sin, law and grace:

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can choose to be a slave to sin or a slave of God – where is the freedom in that? As Bob Dylan put it in his song Gotta Serve Somebody:

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

But Jesus said the truth will make us free, as he also described our slavery to sin (John 8:31-36). So how does this work?

I think the answer lies in the call for us to be Christ-like (see scripture like John 13:13-17, Ephesians 5:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:21).

Because Jesus Christ is God, is the Truth, and is Good. He did not sin. He was tempted but chose not to fall for those temptations. Jesus is able to do whatever He wants to do, and so by the definition I gave previously He has total freedom. The key is in our minds. As we seek to become more and more like Christ, our minds are continually transformed and our slavery to sin is continually diminished. If we could just become totally Christ-like, then we too would be totally free, able to do whatever we want, because it would be good. In this world our sinful nature keeps that ultimate goal just out of reach, but somehow, in a way that remains to me beautifully mysterious, when we are gathered together to dwell with God at the culmination of His plan, we will experience that perfect freedom. Until then, we can keep striving, and enjoy the glimpses of spiritual freedom with which He blesses us all, even in the most difficult of earthly circumstances.