Search This Blog

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

God Looks At Your Heart

1 Corinthians 4:20 For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God's power.
I tend to be a passionate type of person - which is a strength and a weakness in its own ways. Like for instance how I sometimes catch myself responding to news reports emotionally, angry at how twisted the world is. Just earlier this week I found myself hearing about the crimes of the suspect in the murder of a 17 year old girl and caught myself thinking 'this is the type of crime that deserves the death penalty.' But then I retracted my thoughts (after all I don't really believe in the death penalty) as God said clearly to me 'don't you think my grace is enough to redeem everyone? Even this individual?'

As 2 Corinthians 12:9 says "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." It's this that enables me to humbly admit that I am weak - according to my own admission of anger towards human injustice I commit a murder of a man within my heart (see Matthew 5) and I deserve death just as much as any criminal. I deserve eternal death - we all do - and when you come to realise this you realise the true power of grace. That I was dead in sin but now can be alive to Christ to live a life of authority.

 In 1 Samuel 16:7 God informs Samuel that His ways are not the ways of mankind: "But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."" It is this look at the heart that is so truly important to God and it's something I continue to learn (and as I was reminded last week God's mercies are new every morning).

My challenge to you is to REMEMBER. To remember the grace God has given you, in order that you might be able to give out that same grace. God cares not about where you are at physically - he cares so much more where you are spiritually in your heart. He wants you to put Him first because it is what you were made for: to walk not in words or broken actions but in the life of God's power. And that's what I want to do more and more and more :)

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Equipped to Fear God

Jack was born on the 23rd April, 1992, into a happy family. He had a two-years-older brother and a three-years-older sister and as the youngest boy was the baby of the family. There was just one small thing, like the rest of his family Jack was a zombie. A zombie - like everyone else in the world.
It wasn't so recognisable when he was born, certainly, he looked like any other baby. But as Jack aged and grew, the zombie side of his personality grew with him. At the age of two his teeth began to rot, and a foul odor developed around his mouth. At the age of five he broke his leg - permanently so that he was always dragging it with him like a personal issue wherever he walked (or rather hobbled). By the age of thirteen Jack looked just like the rest of his zombie family: falling to pieces, rotting to the core, every action in life tearing pieces of his flesh apart.
He saw many arguments between his parents, each one ripping the brains and the hearts of his mother or his father irreparably (though they tried to stitch themselves physically together as best as they could). He saw the brokeness in his brother and sister, sinking into alcohol - the drink burning a slow hole through what mess was left of their decaying livers. He felt hopeless, rotting and dead.
By the age of eighteen, Jack had tried everything to make himself feel alive. He tried relationships of varying kinds and levels of commitment. He tried alcohol and other recreational drugs. He tried distracting himself with movies, video games and musical pursuits. But nothing worked.
Until at the age of 22, Jack met a man unlike anyone else he had ever seen. The man looked like any other zombie, but remarkably there was something about his flesh that was clean and pure and free of rot. The odd bruise and scar mark decorated his body - but the stench of death was nowhere to be found. Jack found out that the reason for this clean, fresh look? The blood of the one perfect man to ever walk the planet - the only man without the zombie plague.
Of course the previous is a little allegorical story concept that came to me based on something Ken said yesterday during EQUIP - that really, without Jesus all of us are the walking dead. That we are rotting away and each of our actions destroy and cut and burn us all the more. Some of us try and kill the deadness with other things like drugs, exploring our sexuality, movies, video games and so many other things - but without Jesus it only makes it worse.

Ken was also talking about the fear of God, mentioning how it's meant to be a type of holy respect. He made the comment that so many of us put God into a box, because it's more convenient to turn God into the type of God that we want. We decide he can't be all knowing because somehow His being all-knowing means that we can't have free will (although I consider that a logical fallacy). We decide he can't be all powerful because we want a God who is more like the Roman, Egyptian, Greek or Norse gods - like an immortal human in the sky. The problem is that you cannot respect a human made god because a god which is designed by you is no god whatsoever. To be God is to be alien, holy, above and beyond the flawed nature of humanity. The very fact that God became fully God and fully man in the invested incarnation of Jesus is sheer insanity - it's awe-inspiring and wonderful and should be respected. But again, some of us turn instead to other things.

I know that I have turned to other things at times. I am guilty of indulging my own humanity rather than worshiping the greatness of God. I am thankful that I serve a loving and gracious God who forgives, but I still lack a full revelation of the greatness of God. I need a true balance between the God who loves me, and the God who created a universe with words. In other words, I want to truly worship the God who deserves it - turning from my zombie habits (not eating other people's brains and hearts and fruitlessly stitching up wounds that will not heal) - and live a life of power, not of effort.

I didn't quite finish my above story. If I was to continue writing it, to tell about Jesus allegorically it would run something like this (and there's a really great series of books by Ted Dekker which tell the same kind of allegory - Black, Red and White): But not only was this man perfectly free of the zombie plague. The only man who could ever truly be free, he chose to sacrifice His freedom and become one of the zombies taking the plague upon himself so that through His death He might create the perfect antidote in His blood. For such a perfect man to die was the greatest sacrifice - a sacrifice of love so that others could be freed from the curse of being one of the walking dead. His only command being that those who received the cure were to tell others about this new, free, way to live. And so Jack was left with a choice: accept the cure and the responsibility to tell others about their savior, or to continue to live as one of the many living dead... 

You see, Jesus gave up his all - he became like us and bore a cross for all. Isaiah 53:6 "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." His resurrection provides a powerful antidote to our own eternal suffering and provides a new, resurrected way for all of us to live - As Philippians 3:10 says "I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death," And yet the only thing that is asked of us is that we spread the message about this cure. My encouragement is that you become equipped and reminded of how great a God we serve and that you too can follow his one simple command of sharing the blessing He gives to you!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Echoing of Eternity

In the past month, two notable pop culture icons passed away. The first was Leonard Nimoy, famous for his acting portrayal of Spock in Star Trek. The second, early this morning, was the fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett. Both men left a huge impact behind on people's lives with their creativity and spirit (though I am not aware as to where either men stand in a relationship with God).

There's also a sadder story of someone who left an impact on people's lives. You may have heard about the teenager who left to the middle east to join Islamic State and ended up (from reports) being used as a car bomber. He too left an impact - albeit a horrific one - one that I have been thinking and questioning about. My question roughly being one that puzzles over how anyone could be so lost as to destroy themselves for a cause. For me to be radical for God is to live a life of true happiness and joy - not of hatred that leads me to kill...

On the radio this morning as I drove home, someone mentioned the phrase 'echo in eternity' which instantly reminded me of the famous quote from Gladiator: "What we do in life echoes in eternity." Why I referred to two men who have become popular figures, or a boy who destroyed himself mistakenly, in this context should become rather apparent. I am indicating lives which have their own echoes in eternity. 

Now some Christians look at things like alcohol, partying and films or literature as a waste of time. They might ask me why I would add to the celebration of lives famous for films and books. My answer would be this: that all lives are worth celebrating, because all lives are created by God and should be for God. The ability of an actor to bring joy to someone's life is a great thing and so to is the ability of the author - though they might seem trivial perhaps in the one small moment they touch someone's life positively they might bring that person closer to God. You never know, after all God created our talents to reflect His glory. The problem is that often people use such talents and lives selfishly - ignoring the great fact that this life is but an echo in eternity.

As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." This is my encouragement for you today - a kind of memento mori (a remembrance of your mortality) but not in a sobering way, in a way that encourages you to bring joy to the world around you. Be the echo of eternity in someone's life: use your gifts to bring positivity and joy to the people around you. I want my writing and communication gifts to be used in Church in anyway sure, but I also want them used everywhere - much as I want to be everywhere I am needed - to glorify God.

Thinking about the fact that this life is not even a mere scratch on the whole concept of all time that has ever been and will be - let alone eternity - can be hugely daunting. It can leave you thinking and questioning what kind of difference you can make. Well as David Mitchell wrote in Cloud Atlas:
"He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!" Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?"

It is a quote I love because it points out that life is full of little meaning, pain and hopelessness - that is if you live your life not serving God. It further hints at the fact that you can make a difference as part of a whole group of people together making that difference. Alone you might not feel like you are making a real echo in eternity - but you are never alone if you have the Creator of the universe listening to you. If you live to glorify Him, if you seek Him first, then you become more than just an echo: you become a pleasing cry in His ear - a cry of worship!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

He Declares That He Knows His Plans For Me

Life can be a very distracting thing. I know that in the past thirty minutes my passion for superheroes has led me to rewatch a couple of trailers (in anticipation of the release of Age of Ultron in one month's time). Or the fact that I have movies and tv-shows to distract me from the time. But despite life's distractions (and some of them can be great and crazy and fun don't get me wrong) we are all called to one big deal - one great commission - to make disciples.

I've been thinking recently in connection to this about the Bali 9 duo who have had so much conjecture around their fates and been turned into some kind of political hostages between Indonesia and Australia. It's disappointed me to see some people so casually say 'they knew what they were doing' in reference to their executions. Just because people knew what they were doing doesn't mean that brutal justice needs to be so casually considered - if those people were in the same position I doubt they would think that way. However, this led me to see that for many people the natural position of the human condition is justice. We want brutal cold justice - unless it's served to us.

Another issue I was led to think about is how easy it is for individuals to judge something then that is happening in another person's life. It is easy to judge the external things that you see in someone's life and only feel pity or sorry for that which you can see. In other words, it is easier to have sympathy perhaps than it is to have empathy. I was reflecting on this issue in relation to the verse in Jeremiah 29:11 through to verse 13.
"11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
So often Christians use verse 11 to support the idea that God knows what He is doing in their lives but continue to live their own lives. It's almost as if, because God knows His plans, we can continue to live with our own plans and everything will end up okay. But I'm not so sure that's what this passage means. The context was during a time when the Lord was prophesying a difficult time for His people but that He would be with them. I see this passage as God's way of letting us know that He has everything sorted despite our own choices yes, but that there is an element that demands too that we seek God. It demands that we seek with all our heart and then we will find Him, and in Him our hope and future. The problem comes when we separate ourselves from seeking God and decide that we have everything sorted on our own and that God can clean up the mess afterwards (like the helpful parent that he is).

The same thing goes for justice. We want justice for other people, but we don't want justice for ourselves and the cruel things we do. According to God's justice we all should die an eternal death for the lies we tell, the hateful thoughts we think and all the sins that we do - because sin is our way of saying that we do not need God. Even the pharisees who lived according to the law sinned because they forgot the reasons for the law - to point out to them that they needed a relationship with their God - and yet when this merciful connection appeared in the form of Jesus, they had Him crucified. And still God's plan was met through this crucifixion (and later the resurrection which confirms that Jesus is God) because it provided a righteous sacrifice so that justice for all of us was served once and for all so that we don't have to live dealing out cold justice - but an act of mercy.

At church the point has been raised the past few weeks that when we ask 'why does evil exist?' the bigger question is 'why do we allow evil to exist?'.  God has given us mercy - not justice - so why are we so often fixated on dealing out justice and punishment? We should be dealing in love and forgiveness. I look at what God is doing with Andrew Chan and I am reminded again of God's grace for all - I might not fully understand God's plan there but I know that He knows the plans that He has for Andrew Chan as He knows the plans He has for me.

If you read any article about Andrew Chan's past it makes for powerful testimony - - but each of us have our own powerful testimonies too. Andrew Chan has found that God has a purpose for him to reach out to inmates and preach the gospel, because while he might be in prison he has been set free inside. Who am I, who are we, to judge what God is doing there? I know it is human nature to judge but God is the divine judge and He calls each of us worthy and redeemed if we call His son Lord and savior.

I began this post by saying that life can be distracting, but that we are all called to make disciples. I continued to talk about how God has his own plans for us but that this is not reason for us to sit back on our laurels. Rather, it is a reason for us to seek God with all that we are, in all that we do - and at the same time a reminder to not judge God's plans in another person's life that we don't understand. I don't understand why God is allowing these things to happen to the Bali 9 guys now - but I do know that God will make His name known. In fact God told me this, He told me clearly that 'I will make my name known'.

He will make His name known - the greatest thing is that He chooses to make His name known through us. He wants to invest into us and give us a choice to spread the good news of a reformed and redeemed life - a life of internal freedom and connection to Himself. But He wants you to make His name known through the strategic places He has put you the universities, the workplaces, the homes, the cities, the countries. There is a mistaken belief that only some are in the 'Christian Church Ministry' - no, we are all called to minister the gospel and there is not some code of doing 'wrong or right' for the church so long as you follow God's plan for your life and preach the gospel loudly where you are and with whatever gifts you have.

I know that for myself I have talents in speaking (argumentatively at least) and writing and so I try to use them to expressly point out God's glory - I don't do it as much as I should or as often but I want to work on that and get closer to perfectly reflecting who God is to me. My challenge to you is to find out what your own gifts are and to start ministering in your own situation - start asking questions and giving answers or even if you do not know an answer speak the truth. The worst thing is for you to be completely silent in any way, because in the end He knows His plans for you and He is above and beyond embarrassment, fear or shame. Anything that goes wrong because of your 'stuff ups' will turn out all right - but just 'do not go gentle into that good night...'

Monday, 2 March 2015

Equipped and Empowered

Yesterday we began our first session of a new Church study series called 'EQUIP' which is all about providing teaching to, as the name suggests, equip individuals with a greater knowledge of essential messages, themes and ideas of the Bible. I had done half of some previous course which this new material is based upon, and as many of you know I also have intellectual leanings, so it was a course I was eager to join and participate in.

I should also mention that on Sunday my pastor, Ken, who is leading the series for the most part, also shared a message about living by faith - that our faith is not blind, nor should it be dead. It should be one of the most real things to us because it should be an integral part of our life. From these two different teachings a new way of viewing some very old thoughts struck me. And I want to share these thoughts.

I am no theologian by any means but I do have a strong passion for philosophy and showing that philosophy and Christianity are not distinct but instead can and should align (another topic for another time). So for much of my young life this lead to a predisposition to living with a lot of head-knowledge of God and more gradually God has been turning this head-knowledge (this intellectual knowledge) into a more intimate knowledge. I suppose you could say it's Him turning the potential energy into real energy...

So after Sunday and Monday I was again reminded about the importance of knowing God truly and deeply. You can argue on an intellectual level all you want about whether God exists or not: I know that He does. You can argue on an intellectual level how active He is in this world: I know how active He is. You can argue about anything but it's all surface arguments: He is so much deeper than that. Now, that might sound offensive or arrogant and maybe it is, but that is the thing about who God is: He has to be known, He wishes to be made known and He will make himself known. Hopefully through the people who love Him - but if not He will make a way.

Isaiah 53:6 states that "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." The biggest revelation from that verse reading it again yesterday was that phrasing "turned to our own way". We're not even being impassive towards God, we're not being neutral - each of us has in some stage of life turned away from God and to our own designs. We have made ourselves God.

Another passage from Jeremiah 29:11-13 says that "11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." This passage has been repeated several times across the past week (which usually means God is pointing something out to me) and it has struck me that, yes, God knows His plans for us but we need to actively call on Him - we need to turn from turning to our own ways and turn to His ways and we will find Him.

We will find God because of Jesus Christ - the aspect of God who as the son became man and died the death we should all face. The death that enemies and rebels to a High King should face. He is the definition of an investor because He invested himself into us from the beginning when He chose to breathe His spirit into man to separate him from the animals. He took that investment to a new level, becoming a part of creation and yet still separated from that...

What I wanted to say really is that I was reminded about what it's all about. Obviously it's all about God - but I mean I was reminded what living on Earth is all about. Some people get the idea that Christianity is all about 'believe in Jesus, live a good life, die a good death (or be a martyr) and then go off to heaven'. Those same people are content for Christians to believe what they want but don't want us to tell them what we believe. Because what we believe is offensive - it's offensive because it's truthful. It's a truth that says 'you have turned away from God, but God in His love turns towards you, giving you a chance to be remade and live a renewed life of power.'

2 Corinthians 4:6-7 "6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

We Christians are nothing but men and women, willing that God will shine through our actions. Whether that be a public declaration of our faith in getting baptised, whether that be through standing up to proclaim that He is not dead when someone mocks Christianity, whether that be some passionately strung together words on a blog post that people see. Whatever it is - proclaim His light through your actions. Too many people want us to keep our faith to ourselves but you see the point is that Christianity is meant to be shared, because those who hear the truth will be set free.

Essentially my encouragement that I received and want to share is a reminder to not hide the light but to let it shine boldly in every single way. Whatever way you can. For me right now the way I can do that is by letting everyone know not WHAT I believe in but WHO I believe in. I have plans to write an allegorical style story that hopefully works out but even if it doesn't God is bigger than that and God is bigger than my career (another tool to spread the message). Because He has and does continue to equip and empower me for a life lived with Him and that is the best thing.