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Thursday, 23 July 2015

A Faith Of One's Own

My girlfriend, Jeanille, is a big fan of the messages of Joel Osteen and as I mentioned yesterday that I was watching one of his messages that she shared:
It struck me today that there is more I wish to talk about to do with the idea of Christians who judge him and other famous pastors or preachers. First let me bring to you the idea of how you truly recognise false prophets which Joel Osteen has been accused of being. It's found in Matthew 7:16 "By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" Now I don't know about you, but a church full of people coming to God in one form or another and worshipping Him seems like the fruit of someone serving God. Someone else said it better in this post about why Joel Osteen has been successful:

Now I'm not standing here to write a defence of Joel Osteen, or any famous pastor for that matter, in fact I'm actually sitting down as I type this. But I am typing an argument to Christians and exhorting them to stop judging fellow believers because you don't believe they are, essentially, Christian enough. William Booth said this: "The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell." However, I would also say that another danger is that we as the Church become so distracted by our bickering over differences and 'who is right or wrong' that we forget what our real call is to do: go and make disciples. Essentially, making disciples - teaching others about the good news of salvation and following Jesus as Lord is really a part of the essential reason we were created; to worship God. 

I'm not saying that you should go the other way and essentially believe everything that people like Joel Osteen say. In fact I would discourage it. I simply believe that he, as part of the body, has his own way of spreading the gospel. Maybe we should spend less time looking at and judging the faith of others and more time on what we ourselves believe. 

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 " ..10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."

When I was a child my faith was based on what my parents believed. As I grew up into a man I developed my own faith and relationship with Jesus Christ and that gives me revelations on particular topics and ideas that others may not see. Not better revelations or more perfect revelations (I still only know in part) but they are my own revelations. My encouragement is that we can all continue to grow up and think like adults, developing our own faith and relationships with Christ. And while that happens let's not judge what God is doing through someone else, unless the fruit of that is opposite to what God's word states. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Superheroic Grace

I watched Ant Man the other day. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge fan of fictional works: particularly science fiction or fantasy fiction and I have a huge love for superhero fiction. So to that end I really loved the quirky humour and action of Ant Man and how well Paul Rudd played Scott Lang as a character. But that said, this is not an advertisement or a review of Ant Man. Instead, I simply want to use something I saw in the film to explain a point in this latest blog post of mine.

When I watch a movie I love to look for the positive themes in it. Those themes that link back to the idea of the gospel. I'm not saying I get my doctrine from films because that would be ridiculous. What I am saying is that the God inspired world view I already possess leads me to go into films to dig out the positive themes that portray an idea or belief better than I had seen it before. So with that in mind I love superhero films for the ideas of how you get ordinary or extraordinary people struggling with their newfound or long-held powers or abilities and the responsibilities that come with them.

I won't spoil the film for those who still want to see it (it's good and I will probably see it again!) but there was one moment in the film I want to touch on. In this moment, the main character is being offered the chance to seize the Ant Man role and become a hero, but he rejects that idea and tries to run from it. To that end his mentor, the one offering this chance, points out the type of man he is. He reveals how the protagonist is someone who, when the going gets tough and the money runs out, turns back to crime.

I was thinking about this and it hit me that we as people are exactly like that. God offers us the chance to be heroes and walk a life of power with Him. But often when the going gets tough, when we face the annual persecutions of life we turn back to a life of crime: a life of sin. The truth is that sin is a crime against God, anything we do that is a rebellion against God. God stands there and offers us a brand new 'born again' life (2 Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.") but so often we turn it away to slip back into old habits and ways of thinking because it seems easier.

One of these ways of thinking is criticism. I was watching a video from Joel Osteen recently and comparing it with the hate and mistrust that some Christians proclaim against him. I know many who claim he doesn't preach the gospel or God, but then watching that video I saw exactly the opposite multiple times. What I did see is someone who is a success because he is seizing the offer of God to be a born again hero of faith. I'm not saying that we should raise the famous pastors and Christian leaders on pedestals, I'm simply saying that we shouldn't judge how one person follows God's plan according to the specific plan God has for us.

Just as there are multiple different superheroes in the Marvel universe, so too are we all called to a life of power with God - but not necessarily to do the same thing. Romans 1:16 states that "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." 1 Corinthians 4:20 says that "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power." You can say all that you want, but the real sign of living according to God's design is in how we live our lives according to the belief in God's power for us. I'm not talking about living as if we're invincible (to use my metaphor maybe that's not our superpower) but it's about living according to the faith we have and the knowledge we have in God.

The moral of Ant Man was essentially that every person gets a second-chance. We too have been offered a second-chance by God's great love. Romans 5:8 says this "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God wants you so much. Isn't it humbling that the greatest and most powerful being in all the universe and all time wants to be with you? Wants you to be with Him? Don't we, in a sense, owe Him a response to His humility and grace? If you want to respond to Him appropriately then what He wants is for you to truly accept that his son, Jesus Christ is Lord and died and rose again for you. Believe it, confess it and accept it. You will see that you will turn your life from being someone who always slips into the easy way out of turning away from God to someone living a life with the power to follow His will and plans.

I'm not saying that life is easy or will be. Don't get me wrong. I know many Christians who go through struggle and tough times. I do too from time to time. The question is: do you want to go through struggle separated from and antagonistic to the creator of the universe or do you want to walk hand in hand with his favour and power? I know what side I'm choosing.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Struggle? Hardship? Trial? Think Again: God Fights For You!

I had an interesting little reflection today about what the human struggle is really about. This follows on from my previous blog post 'How is Your Worship?' in which I discussed the 'This is Water' speech by David Foster Wallace (DFW). In this speech DFW also discussed how we never really think about the struggles that other people go through. That when one person cuts you off in traffic you want to curse them and not think that perhaps they are having just as rough a day (or more rough) than yourself. 

The same goes for when people come against us and attack us. I had a situation today (to do with others) that made me think about this. We have a tendency to want to attack back, to fight. But the Bible says in Ephesians 6:10-12 "10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Our battle isn't against people and this is where we have to start.

In Luke 6:27-29 Jesus commands the following: 27 “'But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.'"

This is completely contrary to normal human feeling and rationality. Justice dictates that we give back what we have received in turn. That we hurt those who hurt us: such is the ruling of a broken world. But Jesus, God himself as man, commands that we do good to those who do bad. There is a dichotomy to how God does things to how we do them.

And you know why God wants us to bless others? It's because He himself will be and wants to be the one to fight our battles for us. Isaiah 59:15 -17 says this:

"15 Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak."

This correlates to the idea of the armour of God in Ephesians 6 in which righteousness is a breastplate and salvation is a helmet for the Christian believer. But here it is also an armour which God himself wears into battle as the righteously vengeful God. God fights for us and He gives us His own armour to wear. To paraphrase Romans 8:31 "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Some of us feel that there are trials which are too much for us. Struggles which we can't overcome by ourselves. Potentially this is because we aren't stepping back and recognising that God is the Lord over this situation. But maybe it's also a different attitude that holds us back. Maybe God is testing us and we need to recognise that He believes and knows that we can overcome these situations.

As 1 Corinthians 10:13 says "13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." There is no trial or test which you will go through that God does not believe you can handle or endure. Sometimes you just need to change your mind to the new mind of Christ.

I finish with this from 2 Corinthians 5:16-20: "16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:a The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

God desires for us to be His chosen people, to worship Him alone. In order to do this we must truly recognise that Jesus Christ died and rose again for us, so that we can be NEW CREATIONS. And if you are not a Christian but are wondering what you have to do it's as simple as believing that Christ rose again and confessing with your mouth that He is Lord of your life. This process involves turning from your old ways of sin and living again as a New Creation. Someone who no longer thinks the way they used to. You won't be perfect now, but you will be one day.

To any believer reading this I challenge you to shift your paradigm. Think as a New Creation and remember that you are more than a conqueror. Give your battle to Christ who fights for you, and recognise that you can handle whatever trial you are going through right now because God himself will not let you fail. You may not overcome on your own, but with God all things are possible!

Monday, 13 July 2015

How's Your Worship?

I started my first day back at uni for my final trimester today. In my first lesson they played a video by David Foster Wallace (DFW) called This is Water which he begins with the following story: 'There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"' 

This story was one great opener for a brilliantly eloquent speech in which DFW explored just how dependant some of us are on what it is that we believe we know, what it is that we believe to be true. The idea that the most obvious things in life are sometimes the hardest things to recognise and give a name to. What these fish were swimming in one fish knew to be water but perhaps they only recognised it by the feel of it and the result of it. DFW later gives an example of how a believer might see something as a sign of faith but the atheist might see natural reasons for such a thing happening. 

Interestingly, DFW was by all accounts closer to an atheist in his religious views but he said the following interesting idea at the end of his speech: 

"Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing."

It fascinated me because this is precisely the idea I've been talking about in my blog posts to do with God and worship. We were made for worship and even a man who is practically an atheist, like DFW, can recognise that we naturally slip into forms of worship. Of course he continues to state that all different religions (and ethical values) are pretty much the same when it comes to something that is good to worship. That is where he and I differ. 

I want to finish this blog post by agreeing that yes we do indeed fall into patterns of worship and many of these things that we worship are weak and pitiful. However, I believe that there is only ONE good thing to truly worship. And that is God because He by His very nature is good. So the question I have to you is this: how's the worship? Because you might be like those fish, swimming around in water without even realising it. What are you worshiping? And is it good to worship? The thing is you can choose what you worship but I would challenge you to think about placing your worship in the one source with eternal return: by surrendering your life in worship to the sacrifice that Jesus made upon the cross. And if you wish to do that all you need to do is confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and confess with your mouth that God raised Him from the Dead. So: how's your worship?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Made To Worship In Spirit And In Truth

This past weekend I went to visit Hillsong Melbourne with Jeanille - she wanted to get a bit of a change while we both didn't have any service requirements and I had never been before. Either way, so we visited the church and heard a great message from Joseph Prince about tithing and communion. Hillsong have, as a whole church movement, been in the media in a negative or critical light recently during their conference. This is due to the presence of Justin Bieber at the conference and because of the actions of A Current Affair.

On the Sunday, Brian Houston announced the millions of dollars that people had generously given to help contribute to more projects for Hillsong. He finished this off by praising God and giving him all the glory for the generosity of people and saying that there are many people out in the world who don't understand why people would give so much and so generously. As Brian Houston stated, people cannot understand because things of the Spirit can only be understood by the Spirit. In other words this is Christianese for the idea that when God sets out to do something, only through God's help can other people understand why such things happen.

This lead me to reflect briefly on why Hillsong has become such a large movement with plenty of money to spend. This being the main reason that people and media like A Current Affair attack Hillsong so readily. You know what I believe? I believe it's linked to the fact that the number one thing that Hillsong as a church have existed for and been known for is praise and worship music.

People were made for praise and worship. Sometimes we give this praise and worship to other things like wealth, fame, partners, family, work etc. or allow it to be dictated by circumstances. Sometimes we do both: see how Nick Kyrgios has been blasted when he failed compared to how he was worshipped when he was winning big (same with other big name athletes). The one being that we were truly made to worship however is God himself. And by putting worship to God first there are rewards that come from that.

This idea was followed up in the message that Joseph Prince shared on Jesus being the High Priest who stands in for all the people and of the order of Melchizedek forever (read more on that in Genesis 14 and Hebrews 5 to 7). He pointed out that much like how Melchizedek gave a tithe and held communion with Abraham after victory, so too tithes and communion come after the victory for us. Jesus has the victory so tithing and communion (Christian rites in a sense) are not things we do to look better before God but they are acts of worship. You don't give your money to God to be blessed but because of the attitude you give with God blesses that act of worship back.

In John 4:24 when Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman he points out this: "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." My encouragement to any Christian reading this is to become someone (and I'm writing this for myself also) who worships God first and foremost. To anyone who is not a Christian and may be confused by what I have written or who feels challenged, I ask you to look into the Bible, find out who Jesus is for yourself and realise that all that worship and praise you have given to material things or other people only belongs to one person: God himself incarnate - Jesus Christ!

Friday, 3 July 2015

I Worship The One Unfailing God

I came home this morning to hear about the tragic news of Philip Walsh, coach of the Adelaide Football Club. It was shocking, sudden and completely unexpected. Yet, it wasn't the only shocking thing to happen to me in the previous 24 hours. Only 12-14 hours earlier I had been called and told that I might not be able to graduate from my course in 2015. This was a frustration to me to hear and a shock as I had pinned a lot of my hopes on being able to graduate and look for work. But with both pieces of shocking information you know what I did? I prayed to God. Not because I am strong or because bad news doesn't surprise me but because it did, because I am human and frail, and because I needed to trust that He holds my world when it comes to my future and the futures of all involved in tragedy.

The thing that made the Philip Walsh case worse for me to hear was the fact that it was his own son who was arrested for the murder. It's never great when you hear about a murder - but when it's so public and touches on an area that you have some connection to it feels more personal and deeper. It shocks you to hear. And to think that a son could potentially kill his own father like that hurts me. But I guess it also helps me to understand what it is that God sees and feels when we attack and hurt him with our very actions. With the ways in which people daily turn from Him, choose to live apart from Him.

I guess I wanted to post and say that the little revelation I have is that when shocks and tragedies come, no matter how big or small, it becomes important to me to turn and pray. To choose to worship than to live in the tragedy. To honour God with my actions rather than rising in rebellion. Some might laugh at that idea, 'why would you voice words to a God who surely has other things to do?' they might mock. Well I do it because he is my rock and comforter and my security: the truly unfailing God even when my future or the current day seems lost for a moment.

My favourite film this year is Inside Out to this point. Not because of the colour and imagination or great characters but mainly because of the theme and story. The idea being that all emotions are valuable, not just happiness. In a society which is so dominated by the quest for pleasure it's devastating to many people when pleasure gives way to pain. But in my eyes pain is still useful: it's useful to tell us just how much we need God. The only true response to a broken world is not to hide ourselves in more luxuries but to turn in worship to the only unbreakable thing: the promise that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead that we will then be saved (according to Romans 10:9). We must do as it says in 2 Corinthian 4:18 "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Pain, shock, tragedy, disappointment. They do exist. I have been having plenty of fun in my life. I've had great experiences. But I've also had my share of the disappointments of other people and the world. But despite such things I don't fix my eyes on the current world but on the future eternity and that makes a huge difference in how I respond.

I'll leave you with this video from The Lion King. I know it's not a Christian video but it does express to me a very Christian idea about Christ. He truly lives in me and that leads me to respond to life in the way I do. Have you considered the idea of letting God live in and through you?