Calling It In Its Face

If you have a minute to spare, you could do worse than to spend it reading this short post by one of my favourite Christian writers, Frank Viola.

http://frankviola.org/2016/12/08/face/

As I was reading it again today I was struck by the personal example I encountered yesterday.

I’m a fairly swift walker, and I was walking, fairly swiftly, across a crowded bridge in the early evening. I was listening to a podcast through headphones but I was well aware, as I usually am, of what was going on around me.

I was approaching an elderly lady who was walking in the same direction, but was naturally slower, and there wasn’t much of a gap through which to pass. She moved slightly to the right and the gap opened. I started heading for it and she moved slightly to the left so I held back just behind her.

I wasn’t in a hurry, so there was no need to ask her to “excuse me” or to find an alternative route. I decided to slow down and follow at her pace.

A moment later I heard someone calling “watch out!” and two younger ladies grabbed the older one and pulled her to the side. I heard them warning her about the selfish oaf who was about to run over her, and I felt the tension rise inside me.

Years ago I would have stopped, removed my headphones, turned to those “helpful” ladies and angrily explained their mistake. It would have been intimidating to them, and they would most likely have assumed that they were in fact right about me and that I was only trying to justify my bad behaviour by bending the truth to suit myself.

Instead I walked on. Yes, they undoubtedly thought they’d done a good deed, and that the man walking ahead was ignorant and rude. And yes, it frustrated me hugely that I’d been so misrepresented. I would have loved to set the record straight but the anger was there and no matter how fair and well judged my words might have been, my voice would have told a different story and the situation would have escalated unnecessarily.

So I’m pleased that I didn’t react to defend myself, that while I was angry I did not sin. I hope and pray that as I let the Holy Spirit continue to work in me the day will come when anger doesn’t start bubbling up on such occasions.

But at the same time, this brief incident is a reminder to all of us that things are not always as they seem, that we can easily misinterpret others’ intentions, and that doing so can bring unintended hurt to innocent parties.

Those young ladies thought they were doing the right thing, and I’m pleased that they acted on the impulse to help their neighbour. But I’m much more pleased that the One who will ultimately judge me doesn’t look at outward appearances, but looks at my heart.

Advertisements

Confessions of a Hypocrite

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

Romans 3:23

How true! There are a number of sins that I would guess every one of us is guilty of on a regular basis. Pride for example, which is probably at the root of so many others.

But one that I am particularly aware of in my own life is hypocrisy. I don’t like it. In fact I hate it, and when I see it in myself I berate myself immediately and forcefully and pray that I won’t fail that way again.

But I do. It’s too easy. There are too many opportunities. As soon as get myself right in one respect I find myself failing in another.

And the one place where I find myself failing on a daily basis is on the road.

In The Car
http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/kasko-29347

I’m sure that I am far from unique in this respect. When I’m driving I become the worst of all hypocrites. I condemn fellow road users in my mind or out loud for driving too fast or too slow, for aggressively overtaking, for tailgating, for poor lane discipline, dangerous parking, unnecessary horn-blowing, queue-jumping and any other bad driving habit you can name.

And every time I do so, I immediately remember that I have been guilty of every one of those transgressions myself. Some I have managed to put behind me, some I only succumb to every now and then, but one or two seem to be ingrained. I can train them out of myself, but sooner or later they creep back in.

I know I need to improve. I recognise that I’m worse when my mood is low. I see that I’m better when I have a passenger, or worse when I’m in a hurry. And when I drive badly I don’t hide it from myself. I acknowledge it and tell myself to try harder next time.

I want to be a better driver, and if I really put my mind to it I’m sure I could keep improving for as long as I’m fit to sit behind a steering wheel. But what I want even more is to show grace in my response to others who are just like me – who may be having a bad day, or who are unfamiliar with a particular road layout, or who just made an honest mistake, or who have any number of other reasons why they did what I myself did yesterday or will do tomorrow.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

I Believe..?

Every so often a line will hit you hard, and you’ll never forget it. Maybe from a film, book or song, or maybe in everyday conversation. Of course there’s quite a few memorable lines in the Bible.

There were a few lines that struck me back in my early school days. There was “go to the ant, thou sluggard,” (Proverbs 6:6) for no particular reason, except it had a pleasing rhythm when I spoke or thought it. Then there was “the plank in your own eye,” and the rest of that small section of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:1-5) that I had to memorise and recite in a morning assembly, aged 9 or 10. But the most memorable Bible quotation in my entire life is found at the end of Mark 5:9, and it has to be the King James Version:

My name is Legion: for we are many.

I didn’t have any understanding of the context – I think I still have a lot to learn from the story of the healing of the demon-possessed man – but I was just mesmerised by the weirdness of the line. It was the creepiest thing I’d ever heard. And because of the way my neural pathways were being laid down at that time, it probably still is! I think I got the idea that the Bible was an exciting book just from the knowledge and remembrance of those eight words. And though I drifted far from Jesus over the years that followed, that line never left me, and never lost its power to enthral me.

More recently, last year to be rather imprecise, another verse got under my skin in a similar way. And as I write I am only just realising that it is very similar because of the paradox it encapsulates. It’s Mark 9:24…

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

Is it presumptuous of me to suggest that if you ask any Christian “Do you believe in God?” then there’s a very high probability that they’ll answer “Yes”?

But if I was ever asked that question, even though I’ve surrendered my life to Christ, I wouldn’t want to say “Yes”!

Why?

Because to “believe” something, or to “believe in” something, there has to be an element of doubt – or room for doubt. I believe it’s going to rain tomorrow, but it might not. I believe in my ability to hit a tennis ball over a net, but I might fail. Whenever I hear someone say “I believe in God,” I can’t help hearing the unspoken continuation, “…but I could be wrong.

I believed in God for as long as I can remember. There were times when that belief was more important and times when it drifted out of my consciousness. When it was important, I’d seek answers to the meaning of life and what was the exact nature of God. I looked at various religions, they all had their pros and cons. None fully met my requirements, or fitted completely with whatever I might call my world view. So I defined myself as “spiritual but not religious” and left it at that.

During a difficult time in my life, in late 2008, I was invited to a church conference which ignited a passion in me. Over the course of several weeks I found myself drawn to Christ, and on 14 December I accepted Him as my personal Saviour.

The moment before I made that commitment I believed in God, and I believed in His Son Jesus. Moments afterwards, “believe” became the wrong word.

God touched me in a physical way, He shook my body, moving from my head down to my feet, in a way I can’t describe and which I’ve never experienced before or since. It was a completely unexpected manifestation, although I’ve since heard that other people have felt His presence in a similar way.

Because of what I’ve experienced, I no longer “believe” in God, I “know” Him in a personal way.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. (Job 19:25)

Is the distinction important? Is it just semantics? It’s difficult to say. On a personal level, yes it feels very important to me. Knowing the reality of God makes it much easier to have faith at those times when He feels far away from me. But what about those Christians who haven’t had such a tangible confirmation? I can’t help thinking about Jesus’ words to Thomas:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Maybe God touched me because it’s what I needed. Maybe if He hasn’t touched you, the faith He’s given you is strong enough without further intervention. Whether it’s connected to your personality, or your life story, or because of His plans for you, I don’t know. Maybe He will touch you some time in the future when you need it most.

I’m also aware that certainty brings danger as well as comfort. There’s a danger of certainty leading to arrogance. There’s a danger that that I could lack patience or understanding when I’m talking to people who still have doubts.

And finally, my certainty about the existence of God is not going to answer the other questions that naturally arise in my journey through life. There is so much for me to learn about God’s nature, about His plan for me and for those who are close to me. There is so much for me to understand about everyday issues, and my personal trials and my weaknesses. There are more questions than will ever be answered in my lifetime, but I’ll keep learning all I can while I have breath, and then look forward to learning the rest when I find my way home to my Heavenly Father.