A Distraction

I feel the tension rise when I’m told this or that is a ‘satanic symbol’. There’s a part of me that appreciates the warning, remembers 1 Peter 5:8, and wants to avoid being devoured by the roaring lion.

But another part of me knows that symbols are nothing in themselves, that they are given meaning only in a particular context, and in the minds of those both using and viewing the symbol.

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An ‘x’ next to a schoolchild’s algebra solution means the answer is wrong. At the end of a message inside a greetings card it symbolises love. In front of the letters ‘mas’ it either means Christ, or that the perpetrator is trying to secularise the festive season.

Famously the swastika was an auspicious symbol in many Eastern religions, especially Jainism, for thousands of years before Hitler chose it as an emblem of Nazism and Aryan supremacy.

So I’m ambivalent about symbols, and this is how I rationalise my response:

Jesus is The Way. I can picture my Christian journey as a road I’m driving along, and I pray that I’m travelling in the right direction – along The Way.

There are signs along the road that are helpful to me. Sometimes the signs tell me I’m still on course. These signs might be answered prayers, small miracles or inner peace and other fruit of the Spirit.

There are more signs that warn me that I’ve taken a wrong turn, when the Spirit convicts me, or when a brother or sister corrects me.

And then there are signs that divert me. The temptations. The signs that promise me a short cut, an easier route, or the chance to take a break from the journey.

These are all signs that I need to be aware of and understand so that I don’t become lost.

And then there are the distractions. Satanic symbols are in this category. So are many church ceremonies and traditions, and denominations. In this world there are a lot of distractions.

The distractions are like advertising hoardings. They say something that may or may not be interesting or useful, but if you keep your eye on them for too long you will naturally find yourself driving towards them. That might lead to a crash, or just an uncomfortable ride, but it won’t lead to anything good. So although I might give them a glance and a thought, I want to keep my eyes on the road and The Way.

Promises

The promises of man
Are castles made of sand
And the tide will wash them through
Before the day is done

But the promises of God
Are stronger than a rock
And they will endure
Beyond the earth and sun

 

Almighty God, despite Your instruction I still worry too much about what tomorrow may bring. But I want to thank You today. I want to thank You for not promising me tomorrow, but instead promising me eternity, with You, in paradise. I thank You in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

 

25 August 2010

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.

Unprovable God

I enjoy reading articles on ChurchLeaders.com. I don’t always agree with them, indeed there have been a few that I would question strongly, but in general they are helpful in getting me to look at my faith and my life in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

I was very excited when I saw that a recent article was titled “Why God Does Not Want To Be Proven.” I was excited because I’ve been feeling so frustrated recently when reading the public comments attached to various news stories related to Christianity. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Take the recent announcement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The constant flow of mocking comments from atheists can be disheartening. Many will refer to the ‘victory’ of science over faith. Of course, nobody has ever proved that God does not exist, but they can counter that with similar tales of Flying Spaghetti Monsters etc. How I wish that I could just prove to them what I know of God.

Well, Matt Appling’s article makes some good points, and some not so good. I’ll let you make your own judgements on it. But as I read it, a clear message came to me, which wasn’t actually mentioned in the article, so I’ll state it here:

God doesn’t want to be proven because He loves us.

I’d better explain. I find one of the most persuasive arguments for why God allows people to do evil things, is that He loves us enough to give us the choice of whether to follow Him or not. I believe strongly that if we didn’t have that freedom – if God really was the Almighty Puppet Master – that there would be no purpose to our lives. It is only by having an option of doing wrong, that doing right has any merit, and can bring us real joy.

In a similar way, if God was to make Himself known to the world in a way that would convince the most hardened atheist – whether it be by regally floating above our heads, or by reversing time like Superman – then there would suddenly be no room for faith, and the choice of believing in Christ and serving Him as our Lord and Master would lose most of its meaning.

There’s a big part of me that wishes it were so in any case, so billions of people could see the wonderful glory of God for themselves and become part of His family. But that’s not the way He has chosen to work His plan in these days. There was a time when He was intervening regularly with the Israelites (for example, Exodus 12). There was a time when He walked among us as a Man (John 1:14-18). And since then His Spirit has moved among us, connecting to those of us who reach for Him (John 14:15-18).

He will come again, and He will be unmistakeable (Matthew 24:29-31). The proof I want atheists to see is also evident all around us right now (Romans 1:18-23).

I’ll continue to state my case for God, by logic and by my testimony, whenever it can serve a purpose, but I think I’ll have to take a more relaxed approach to the militant and mocking atheists. It’s not my arguments that will change their minds. It’s only their own choice to open their minds to a new possibility and allow the Holy Spirit to work in them that will save them. And if I can help anyone through any part of that process then I will thank God for the privilege of doing so, as I thank Him now for giving me the freedom to choose life in Jesus Christ.

Careless Words

I lost a Facebook friend today. I hope it’s temporary. I lost her because I challenged her about a status she wrote. It sounded like she was saying a news item was evidence of prophecy from the Book of Revelation being fulfilled.

I asked “what verses are you referring to?” And then I commented again about how careful we need to be as Christians making those kind of statements without backing them up. I compared such statements to those of Harold Camping, who instead of being very unspecific was actually very specific, and made himself – and to an extent Christians as a whole – something of a laughing stock.

I should have been more careful myself about how I expressed my opinion, because it probably came over as an attack when I was actually trying to provide loving guidance. And I certainly would have done better to offer that second comment in a private message instead of on my friend’s wall. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re passionate about something, and ironically we both made mistakes because we’re passionate about the same thing – leading people to Christ.

I’m making my apology to my friend privately, and whether she chooses to accept it is her decision. Here I want to explain a bit more clearly, and more fully, a mistake I think many Christians make.

I’ve been thinking recently about how frustrating it can be, that the Bible starts and ends with the two books that can lead to the most arguments, misconceptions and ridicule, both between Christians and non-believers, and also between fellow Christians! Please let us never forget that the core message we need to declare is in the heart of God’s word – in the Gospels. It’s the message of salvation through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not saying the rest of the Bible is insignificant, but it has to always be read with reference to Christ’s love, His promise of forgiveness, and our commission to spread that news to the world.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind – 2 Timothy 1:7. For this reason, I don’t believe in scaremongering. There are plenty of things for the faithless to be scared about in this world, plenty of worries and concerns. As Christians we have the reassurance of God’s promises that He will provide for us (Matthew 6:33), that He won’t leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6) and that He has a place prepared for us in eternity (John 14:3). It is these reassurances that will move people’s hearts, rather than the equally true promise of weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who are not saved (Luke 13:28). Yes, there is a place for that teaching, but it needs to be considered very carefully, because few will hear it.

Revelation is a very difficult book to understand clearly. It’s so full of symbolism, imagery and metaphor, and it was originally written for an audience who understood its language very differently to the way we do today. So it’s dangerous to quote it at any time with reference to current world events. There are those who believe dearly in the literal truth of every word of the Bible. I respect those people, but I’m not one of them, and I’ll tackle that particular topic in more detail another day, but for now it’s sufficient to say that I believe in the truth of the lessons conveyed in God’s word. So in Revelation, for example, there are lessons about the corruption of the secular world, about Christ’s ultimate victory over evil, and about the final judgement we will all face.

When news stories are quoted in parallel with Revelation’s prophecies, it’s almost like quoting them with reference to Nostradamus – there’s enough vagueness – and symbolism – in the language that the prophecy can be retro-fitted to all manner of events. We have to remember that Christ’s imminent return has been expected by every generation since He ascended to Heaven. He may return tomorrow, but really, why is it any more likely that it will be our generation that sees Him come, rather than any that went before, or any who will follow? Every disaster, natural or man-made, for hundreds of years, has been seen as an apocalyptic omen by some. How many presidents of the United States have been rumoured to be the anti-christ? None of this helps the Christian mission. None of it glorifies God. However sincere you are in your beliefs about the end times, you have to also humbly acknowledge that God’s timetable is not available to us, and it is presumptuous to suggest otherwise.

As I said earlier, the promise of God’s salvation, freely available to all through faith in Christ, is the message we need to get out there. When someone turns to Christ, and becomes a new creation in Him, then the Holy Spirit can really get to work on cleaning up the sin in that person’s life.

The end times are important, and are something the faithful can look forward to with a glad heart, but whenever we speak about them, the words of Christ in Matthew 24 should be clear in our minds. Read the whole chapter, and note in particular these verses:

42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.