Is It Necessary?

 Our lives are too cluttered. My wife constantly tells me I have too many things – and she’s right. I’m a diagnosed hoarder (yes, it’s a real diagnosis). I struggle to throw things away. I recently found a box I made in woodwork class when I was 13. Rather than discard it I polished it and found a use for it – but an unnecessary one.

Our Christian walk is usually full of these same things on a spiritual level. We get drawn into a quagmire of rules and regulations to help us live a “Godly” life, but which actually stifle the very freedom Jesus intended us to have.

My grandfather was a Salvation Army officer during the second world war and for some time afterwards. He would volunteer to work Christmas Day so his colleagues could have the day with their families when he took a second job as a hospital porter. He believed it was a Christian thing to do. I tend to agree.

He was less cluttered than me on a spiritual level – physically not so much – and as a result he lived a much freer existence Spiritually than I have been able to. He would go out and sell the Salvation Army newsletter “The War Cry” on the streets every week up to and including the day God called him home at the age of 80. He genuinely didn’t care what people thought of him in his uniform sitting in the street come rain or shine. He just sat and talked about his friend, Jesus.

We all need someone like that to remind us of the necessary simplicity of the Christian walk. At its heart, the Christian walk is about friendship with God. He wanted our company in Eternity so much that He arranged to have His arms nailed open to invite us in, and His feet nailed closed so we could see he wouldn’t run. He gave us power and freedom beyond anything we could imagine or ask according to the amount we would allow Him to use through us (see Ephesians 3:20). We need to remember as we ask to see Jesus work in our lives that He wants to work more than we want Him to.

It’s not possible to ask too much when we ask in line with His will, and it’s not possible to out-give His generosity.

We live in so much spiritual clutter that we lose sight of the core of the Gospel: relationship.

The “necessities” we fill our days with are irrelevant for the most part. We stand on ceremony, genuflecting or bowing or showing “respect” when we pass a cross or a cemetery. Utter nonsense. But we do them.

We are so caught up in being “correct” that we miss being right with God. We become modern Pharisees, living to a set of restricting rules and regulations which are unnecessary in Christ.

Our goals should be twofold:

  1. Give everything we are and have of ourselves to Christ as His instrument
  2. Do whatever we want

At a glance they appear contradictory, but if we focus on the first then our wants will become His wants. What He wills for us to do will become so much a part f us that it’ll be all consuming for us to do them because of the relationship we have with our Saviour. If we truly place Christ at the center the we will naturally seek to do His will. It’s what Jesus was talking about when He said through John 14 & 15 about those who truly love Him will keep his commandments. It’s not from a sense of obligation or through gritted teeth, but from a relationship alive with the very Spirit of God on the
inside of us.

When Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost it wasn’t from fear of not speaking, but from relationship.

Healing the cripple at the temple came through relationship. Appointing people anointed to hand out gifts to the poor, widows and orphans was an act of Love springing from relationship. The Apostles were willing to, but recognised they were not called to do this honour.

We need to return to a place where we find Him in all our actions, not where we build rules and regulations to force us into patterns of behaviour. We may differ on some issues regarding what is and isn’t sinful – and that won’t go away quickly – but we need to place our focus on building a right relationship with God, selfless and set apart for Him and His Worship. Everything else will fall into place.

We’ve become, as I said, so bogged down by rules that we’ve lost the freedom. We have denominations who say we must be strict about the maintaining of Sunday as a “special” day. Why?

Jesus picked corn on the Sabbath. He healed on the Sabbath. He taught and worked on the Sabbath. Why shouldn’t we? I’m not saying do away with church meetings, but don’t judge the people who can’t attend regularly because they need to put food on their children’s plates.

Where we spend eternity has nothing to do with where we spend Sunday morning. We need to stop judging trivial nonsense as though it were Gospel and revert back to the simplicity of the Gospel itself. When Jesus forgave the thief on the cross alongside Him, he wasn’t commissioning him to make disciples, He was welcoming in a lost sheep. It’s never too late. Who are we to judge someone’s heart? We don’t know their story. We can’t know their pain.

We judge the irrelevant and miss the point. We all do it – me included. For me it’s a work in progress.

It needs to be for all of us.

Stay away from the trivial irrelevancies and recover the Truth in the simplicity if Christ’s Love – the Gospel.

It’s time to un-clutter our Spiritual walk, lose the baggage and return to Him who first freed us.

The Nature of God: Friend

“You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is about; but I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, I chose you; and I have commissioned you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that whatever you ask from the Father in my name he may give you. This is what I command you: keep loving each other!” [John 15:14-17 CJB]

Jesus is repeatedly accused of being a friend of sinners in the Gospels. It’s a clear sign of His nature as God and a perfect Man that models what our nature was intended to be. Relationship is central to His message, but never so clear as it is in the fifteenth chapter of John when He speaks to the disciples.

The statements can be easily misunderstood. When Jesus says we are His friends if we do what He commands it is clearly not meant to be coercion on Jesus’s part. It is simply a fact. He calls us friends more because we follow His commands as a natural consequence of being His friend, not to win that friendship. This is mirrored in human relationships. I do not behave in certain ways to my wife as an obligation, rather it is an overflow of the loving relationship we have that drives me to do things I might not otherwise do to deepen our relationship. For example, I am a diagnosed sufferer of ADD and OCD, both of which tend to unfinished projects and hoarding “to get to it later”, but later never comes. My wife, Rene, has been a saint in her tolerance of my issues and as a result I want to change my patterns and overcome as far as I can the issues which caused the trigger of the illnesses – undiagnosed depression for almost 15 years and PTSD. Even I find myself hard to live with because of the clutter in my life. Rene supports me but she leans towards minimalism in her surroundings, or at the very least order (as she understands it) which is very different to the mind of someone with my psychopathology. I choose to change in my relationship with her for the same reason I choose to be transformed by my relationship with Jesus. I love them and I don’t want to be in a situation where my actions reflect badly on them.

Everyone has demons they are dealing with. In most cases these are metaphorical, although I have been witness to several actual exorcism-type prayer sessions and I firmly believe there are very real spiritual powers actively seeking our destruction. I believe when CS Lewis wrote “The Screwtape Letters” he hit a deeply profound and too often dismissed element of Christianity. We are in a war that we can only truly win if we stick with our Heavenly Family (see, I’m not off topic!)

Jesus calls us friends, not slaves. God does not seek blind obedience, but relationship with us as individuals. I find it mind-blowing that if in all of history I were to be the only person ever to accept the sacrifice Jesus made, He would still have gone through everything just for me.

Or you.

We forget that at our peril. Each person has a testimony of what God has done in their lives and how He has used them to bless others. I remember a service at a church I attended where a young man I’ll call Ed stood up and said “I feel God wants me to say ‘Smarties’ as a response to someone here.”

There was a stunned silence and Ed took his seat again. At the end of the service we were talking when a visitor to the church came over to us and said to Ed “I asked God if He was real to prove it by having someone make a fool of themselves and say ‘Smarties’. Will you pray with me?” It was an honour to lead this man into a relationship with Jesus as a result of such simple obedience on Ed’s part. How many others in the service had had the same thought and not spoken out? This man may go on to become a great man of God who changes the World, all because Ed had the courage to say one surreal word in faith because his Friend asked him to.

Another occasion I was praying alone about financial issues over something I believed God wanted me to do but I simply couldn’t afford on my income. I never interrupt my quiet times, but in the middle of it my phone rang and I was compelled by something in my spirit to answer. A friend on the other end said to me “Dave: I was just praying for you and God told me if He places the order then He pays the bill. What are you planning?”

Family. God watches over His own. All 7 billion of us. His photo album must be huge. And He knows us intimately and invites us to know Him at the same level, to know even as we are known by Him.

This is not some transcendental Shylock demanding His pound of flesh, but a loving, caring Father wanting to do the best for every one of His children.
When Jesus taught the “Lord’s Prayer” – actually a model for how to pray not literally the words to use, that’s religion not relationship – He invites us to call God “Abba”. “Daddy” is the best fit for the context. Religion got hold of it and twisted it a bit and made God more distant, less directly involved.

That’s not the God we see in the Bible.

We see a Daddy looking after His family. Whether it was parting the red sea for the Exodus or simply holding the hand of a single leper He did it to build relationship with His family.

With us.

As His Friends.

The Loss of Humanity

I don’t normally write political stuff here. It’s usually not what the site is about, but there’s a link to the agenda of the ministry if you’ll bear with me…

This week was a travesty for the fight internationally against corruption and crimes against humanity. And it was perpetrated by Jacob Zuma and his cronies. A man known to be responsible for genocide, ethnic cleansing and torture to name but three of the charges the ICC has laid against Omar al Bashir, president of Sudan.

As Christians we need to weep not just for the victims of al Bashir, but the blood now on the collective hands of South Africa by its president’s actions.

This is not the South Africa that Mandela gave up his freedom for. He fought for equality and dignity for all members of a society that needed to heal. For peace.

Zuma and his allies have decided to take a stand against the “imperialistic” attitude of the Western world towards Africa. And apparently human rights have no part in what Africa should be.

Imagine a world where that message was the message of it’s saviour.

The message that the rich and powerful can commit heinous acts of torture and murder if it serves their own personal agenda. Zuma, I have read, is in a position of authority in his local church. What kind of a church is it that fails to hold this man accountable for the crimes he commits against God?

And there’s the big link.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned. Yet he was never once rebuked by God for his own actions. His faithfulness led him to go from imprisoned slave to the second most powerful man in Egypt. Imagine a man being freed from death row to be inaugurated as Vice President of the United States in a day. That would be the modern equivalent – if the man on death row were also not an American.

To the outside world things may appear to have changed in South Africa, but what has happened it the opposite. The country exchanged a minority rule by rich, nepotistic, greedy people who appointed their friends and cronies to positions of power and influence and robbed the majority of the country blind for decades who were of white European ancestry. What the country now has is a minority who are rich, self-entitled, greedy people appointing their friends and cronies into positions of power and influence and rob the majority of people in the country blind, but now it’s ok because they are of black African descent. Not only that, they are of the right Black African descent.

The tragedy is that the increasingly invisible majority have their human right to dignity stripped from them. They are herded still into “informal settlements” outside major cities. The largest near me is Khayalitsha. In the last ten years it has more than tripled in size as people flood in to the city looking for streets paved with gold and work possibilities. All the meantime being deceived by the lie that BEE – Black Economic Empowerment – will trickle down to them from the top.

The ponzi scheme South Africa calls its government has to eventually fall apart. Another Zimbabwe awaits. Increasingly South African qualifications are viewed sceptically by other countries as the pass marks have been lowered for certain ethnicities to allow for “equal distribution of labour” If it’s a guy with a pick and shovel, fine. If it’s a brain surgeon, less so.

The humanity of Jesus wept for the disenfranchised of all castes and backgrounds. The Divinity of Jesus went to the Cross for them.

While Pilate washed his hands, Jesus washed their Souls.

To see a true leader we must look to Jesus.

  • Humble – never stating He was either more or less than who He was.
  • Loving – every action borne from a place of complete Love, whether allowing a prostitute to wash his feet with tears or driving dishonest traders out of the Temple
  • Strong – He stood up to His enemies and faced them down
  • Gentle – He lifted the people who came to Him and restored them
  • Passionate – He gave everything He had to see His people uplifted and fulfilled
  • Selfless – He gave up all personal earthly treasures to allow the prosperity of His Children

What a contrast to what we see in Worldly leaders today, not just Jacob Zuma, but almost al political rulers are the opposite of those standards they claim to live by. Most Western leaders pay lip-service to the notion of being “christian”, yet wouldn’t recognise Jesus if He sat in on a Cabinet meeting.

I wish the list I gave had a wonderful acronym, but it doesn’t. At least, not in English.

We must be the true leaders to restore the humanity lost, cast aside by the rich and powerful. I came across a family recently where one member had lost everything financially and was about to lose their home. Another member of the family had the resources to help and refused, even stating they were offended to be asked. The rich family member’s husband is connected to power.

Power corrupts. It diminishes humanity. JRR Tolkein showed it in The Lord of the Rings. Saruman is seduced by Sauron from being a wise wizard to nothing more than an egotistic maniac with the sole dream of having more power. Smeagol is swallowed alive by the One Ring of Power and becomes Gollum, twisted and evil from the power of the ring he loses himself in the power he holds.

So be humble. Be loving. Be strong for the weak to lean on you, be gentle so they don’t fear to approach you, be passionate so they can see the love you carry, and be selfless in your actions. These are the marks of a true leader.

These are the things that will restore Humanity and draw all people ultimately to Jesus and the Father.

Missing the Point

I am an avid fan of the TV series “Bones”. Having been living in South Africa for the last 12 years I discovered it by accident at a DVD rental store and then went out and bought the seasons as they became available. I do this with all the series I enjoy as I – unlike my wife – enjoy watching them repeatedly. Incidentally, my thanks goes out to the inventor of headphones – I think you saved my marriage.

While watching an episode from Season 9 tonight, “The Spark in the Park”, I found myself drifting into a thought that rarely happens when I’m watching. I generally use amusement in the classical meaning – muse being thought and therefore a-muse being without thought. It’s a way to relax at the end of a day.

The plot of the show concerns, as all the shows do, a murder. In this case, the murder of a Physicist’s daughter. Naturally, the protagonists, Booth and Brennan, gradually peal back the layers until the killer is identified. The end of the show left me thinking, however, that something was missing.

The father is visited by Bones, Brennan’s nickname, to see how he is coping. His way to get through is to calculate his daughter’s life as a mathematical equation from body at rest in her crib at birth to body at rest at her death.

He misses the point in doing so. I don’t doubt that somewhere out there is someone who could do the same for me with regard to my brother’s life, but life has so much more to it than mathematical equations can express. Maths cannot explain a smile, a memory, love. It cannot even begin to fathom the depths of a person’s Soul.

The father draws comfort from science.

It can only last for so long. The solace he finds will be short lived because his own equation goes on, her being a part of it, influencing every interaction that follows. My whole personality changed when my brother died. I had been driven and was learning focus at the time. I would have developed into a type “A” personality, and there are a few tendencies in me that still show that, but in Robin’s loss I found a need for type “B” traits as a means of survival. They allowed me to access my Soul and accept Christ, something I may not have been able to do had I not made the change.

Of course, we don’t see the ongoing timeline of the victims in the show. That kind of loss is often too difficult to portray. I find it hard 30 years after Robin’s death to explain my feelings about it. There is great sorrow and great joy intertwined in the loss. I was lost emotionally for some time. That led me to make BAD decisions about girlfriends in particular. I jumped in with one when there wasn’t any real feeling – sorry – just that it was convenient. I had power in the relationship, not love. My next relationship was similar, just shorter. In between I missed out on a wonderful person because I didn’t want to have the hurt of the loss of the relationship when it ended, so I live with the loss of it never having happened.

Maths may describe my life. Or Robin’s. Or the existence of everything in the universe. But to truly explain my life takes more than numbers. It requires something that transcends mere science and enters the realm of Faith.

“Pure” scientists are often agnostic or atheistic in my experience. There are always exceptions of course – something “Bones” touches on in that one intern is a devout Muslim – and they are often left with more questions than answers as their knowledge grows.

Science can only explain so much, then Faith has to fill in the missing pieces. Questions such as “if there was nothing before the Big Bang, what caused it?”can’t be answered by science alone. But Faith is the substance of things hoped for we are told in Hebrews. The universe is a result of God’s Hope and Faith producing the Big Bang. Scientists can’t deal with this concept because God doesn’t fit in the microscope.

Relativity, from my limited understanding, suggests everything happens at the same time for light, so at the speed of light there is no passage of time. In that context, Jesus describing Himself as the Light of the World so many times makes sense of his saying “before Abraham was I am” in John 8:58. He, as God, is light, so for Jesus everything is now. As He hung on the Cross in linear time 2000 years ago He experienced every sin and thought we would ever have and took it into Himself from Adam to the day of His return and Judgement. God as Light makes this possible. Time as a linear progression only does not.

Science has missed the point by ruling out religion and Faith. I know very devout Christians who are also scientists, my wife among them as a doctor is able to see God’s hand in the bodies she treats and His life in the lives of others.

As Christians we must be careful not to go the other way and disregard science. Evolution is a hot potato we often don’t touch, and I find it hard to believe I’m descended from algae, but we see evidence of it in everything around us. Wolves were tamed and selectively bred into the dogs that sit at my feet while I’m writing this over hundreds of generations. Cats, rabbits and goldfish are all included, there’s no denying evolution within species.

I don’t know where to stand on some issues so I keep an open mind as far as I can. I agree with some teachings from other beliefs, but not all of them.

We need to stay on point, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We have to keep ourselves open to the possibility of anything changing at any moment.

Maths can’t give us the point of life, only the equations of the physical.

As Christians we must look beyond that.

Non-Prophet Organisations

I was contemplating what has come to be referred to as the “Fivefold” ministries in Ephesians recently. I found myself troubled as we generally only see three of the five represented, especially in the news.

We hear a lot about Pastors and Teachers, particularly when they make changes to their standpoints on controversial issues like Tony Campolo did this week. I respect and admire Dr Campolo’s work, and have done for over 20 years since I first came across him at a conference in England. Much of my current belief system was shaped by listening to his teaching and reading his books, and I stand by the foundation they gave me.

Similarly we hear a lot about evangelists. These days to be described as “Evangelical” has become something of an insult bandied about by the loony left who embrace panantheistic ideologies as being in line with Christ’s teachings and suggest we say “Our Mother” at the start of the Lord’s Prayer – for the record, Jesus never once uses the word “Amma” to describe God, where the personal pronoun is used it is, without exception, “Abba”.

On the other side we have the right-wing extremists who seek to beat the Gospel into people. These religious zealots hold the same mindset as those who burned the “witches” in Salem or condemned producing the Bible in the language of the common man, whether it be English, German, French or whichever country they resided in. It was a weapon to be used to subjugate the masses and keep people in place.

Evangelists have got a bad name because of these extremes, and we see televangelists as the worst of them all. Flashy cars, expensive suits, private jets are standard equipment for many of these people we regard with disdain.

Of course, behind the glamour and glitz there is often a humble man who gives abundantly of his time and money to help those less fortunate. But we only see the half-hour or one hour show once a week. We don’t see the other six days and 23 hours. We choose too often to ignore it and condemn the excesses of their assumed lifestyle.

I had the privilege of meeting a well known evangelist some years ago at a conference. I “knew” him through his TV show, and went with my own anger ready to jump on him for his greed and excessive lifestyle. But the man I met that day was very different from what I imagined from the TV show. He had the same passion and vigour as we saw on the screen, but it was tempered with a humility that caught me completely off guard. As I spoke to him, he asked my opinion on what he had been speaking about. The sincerity of our conversation was totally opposite from what I’d expected.

He introduced me to some of his colleagues from behind the scenes who travelled with him. He chose his crew carefully and was quick to introduce me to one specific member. He described him as the conscience of the group. A man who was gifted in Prophecy.

This mighty giant of TV made sure he had someone with him at all times to keep him grounded and keep him cognisant of his humanity. He made a point of stating his ministry would fall apart without this input.

Too often we think of prophets as fortune tellers who predict the future. It’s a common misconception. The Prophets of the Old Covenant predicted Jesus after all.

But they were so much more than that. Jeremiah was an advisor to kings. Daniel and his friends became the conscience of their captors, and Joseph became de-facto leader of Egypt through the wisdom gained by prophecy.

We forget too easily how we reached the place we are now. America was founded in part because of religious persecution and a desire to worship God in a particular way, and for that way to be handed down. Fast forward a couple of centuries and the America of 2015 bans teaching the Bible in its schools, and under no circumstances should there be a mention of intelligent design when dealing with creation in public schools.

At the other extreme again, there are the so-called “Creationist” private schools that teach the planet is only 6000 years old (approximately) based on the genealogies in the books comprising the Old Testament.

Both sides need to be tempered with true Prophecy. An understanding of the meaning of the Bible beyond the simple grammar and verse to the Spirit behind it. By cutting true prophecy out of the equation as both extremes do we change the picture completely. When King David rode into battle he carried a bronze sword, not an iron one. In the New Testament, the soldiers used iron and steel to nail Jesus to the Cross and pierce His side.

Prophecy interprets and allows us to understand that the technology had changed and life had changed with it. David was a great military leader because he relied on prophets to guide his battle plans and he listened for God’s voice. He never imagined atomic bombs capable of destroying a city with a single strike as the Allies did with Hiroshima in 1945. His tactics were guided by wisdom through prophets guiding him how God would use the methods available to him.

Churches today often abandon the idea of prophecy. Many think it ended when the last of the 12 disciples died. Understandings of modern times are spoken through the eyes of modern society and sociologists rather than sages of Spiritual leadership.

In the last hundred years we have seen two global wars that wiped out the majority of a generation each, leaving young men with no fathers. The result is what we refer to as the second half of the 20th century. Generation X – my own generation – who wander lost much of the time because our fathers had no fathers to guide them so often. Generation Y – my generation’s children – are now growing into the age of adults with the guidance of children.

Where are the prophets for today?

Where are the voices who will stand up and say we need Jesus. Who will say amid the jeering and embracing of false teachings and idolatry that we need to change how we live?

Churches in many countries are considered non-profit organisations.

Let’s stop be non-prophet as well.

God's Nature: Free Will

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26-28 NKJV]

In our image. Our likeness. Modelled in the same way we are.

God’s description of the humans He just made is unlike anything He did before. Plants, animals were all created as beings that had a measure of life to exist through His Word in them. Mankind had more than that. It had God’s own character – freewill – seared into the psyche.

The ability to choose its own destiny.

The ability to know right from wrong.

The devil knew this. It’s what made the first temptation so easy. He could see man had a choice.

But man had already made the choice. He chose to exaggerate God’s command.

When God told Adam in chapter 3 not to eat of the fruit nothing was said about touching it. Yet it appears that Adam added to the rule God had given and told Eve that even touching the fruit would result in death. So when the serpent touched the fruit and “lived” the foundation for the fall was set. The trap was primed. Eve had received the instruction second-hand, not directly from God Himself. Adam’s embellishment, made to seemingly protect, separated the rule of man from the law of God.

One rule. One law.

Destroyed by exaggeration.

Eve is deceived, but Adam is there with her as she moves in to take a bite. The one who has this chance to banish the enemy, to go to battle for his wife the way God designed him to do, falls at the first test. Instead of striking the apple from Eve’s hand and banishing the demon, he lets the temptation live.

I live, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, in South Africa. It’s a hot climate. Even in the winter time the daytime temperatures are regularly in the mid 20’s Celsius (mid 70’s Fahrenheit). It results in the height of summer in clothing becoming so small that in many cases it might as well be left off completely.

Noticing it is one thing. Allowing our thoughts to enter into more than acknowledgement is another. Flesh appears all around, some of which you are easily able to put out of your mind because it leaves a scar wanting you to gouge your eyes out – there should be a size limit on certain fabrics, particularly Lycra – and some because the young (and to be fair not-so-young) carry it well.

It’s turning for the second look that’s the trouble. That’s where noticing becomes lust, for both genders and all generations. Unfortunately for all age groups, but that’s a topic for another article.

The nature of God is to allow us freewill. He won’t step in to prevent us taking the second look because He placed it in all of us to not make it. Drawing close to Him gives the strength we need to do so. The other thing is that he places in us the knowledge that we shouldn’t tempt others to stumble by our behaviours. I work with two muslims and a hindu, my wife and I and one other partner are Christians. Yet we never have pork products in the communal fridge and the meat we – or rather I – buy for the business is halal for the sake of our relationships with our colleagues. Harmony in the workplace is vital as these little gestures speak about our sensitivity to them in a way that putting Bibles in their rooms would not. We veto any magazine with a religious theme as we are a secular business, whilst eliminating the ones which are overtly sex-focused because we are aiming at young families and frankly they don’t need, “How to improve your Orgasm” as the front page headline for their kids who just learned to read, and worse for the children coming for counselling for abuse.

We exercise free will as given to us by God to ensure there is a balance. We don’t refuse treatment to anyone based on gender, orientation, nationality or religion – let me know if I missed any and I’ll gladly add them to the list. I’ve had the opportunity as manager to interact with some amazing people from all different walks of life in the last year. I try to express my faith the way Jesus extended His, without judging the person but being aware of the action. At the end of the day, that’s where free will comes in.

Being able to separate the individual from the action.

I have gay friends and straight friends. Christian, Muslim and Hindu as well as atheist friends. I try hard not to be a different person with one than the other. I refuse to compromise my beliefs and capitulate, but we respect one another. We have more disagreements about business than religious views – which is how it should be. Slowly people eventually ask me what’s different in me as the “Christians” they know spout judgement and hell fire to them.

Not my thing as it’s not my Jesus. When He went to the synagogue in Luke 4 Jesus stopped reading as he declared the day of Jubilee. The next verse in Isaiah declares the day of vengeance of our God.

The implication is simple. For now we have a choice.

People are hungry to choose Jesus, but He’s so often misrepresented that it’s hard to find the one to give your free will to.

Some look to actions, orthopraxy, as the method of salvation. But orthopraxy alone is not enough. Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 13:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. [1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NKJV]

Speaking in tongues, prophecy, knowledge and even faith are worthless without love. The love referred to here is agape love – all consuming and overwhelming. Making these right actions from a wrong motive are worthless. We need the understanding to drive the action.

We need the Love. And we have been given the will to find and act on it.

Free Will. We need to exercise the Free Will Jesus gave us back after Adam surrendered it. Then, and only then, can our actions be meaningful.

Be cautious what you do with your free will. You have the power to look a second time, but the second look is planned and often motivated by ungodly lusts in both men and women.

But the choice is ours to make.

God's Nature: Only the Best

I’ve been heavily into John’s Gospel for the last few weeks, refreshing and revitalising as I feel a dry spell in my heart coming on and need to soak in God. I generally like to spend time in John for this because there’s so much in that Gospel to soak up.

In Chapter 1 we see the description of Jesus and His incarnation being recognised by John the Baptist.

At the start of Chapter 2, John moves into a mundane situation. An everyday occurrence. In this case it’s a family wedding. Jesus, his family and disciples are invited guests. It seems the groom has made an error of judgement at this party. Either more people arrived than he expected or he underestimated their capacity for wine consumption. In either scenario we are left to hear from Mary that the wine is finished.

In a 21st Century environment this is an inconvenience easily resolved by going to Tesco, Wal-mart or whichever the nearest wine retailer is to top up supplies. In 1st Century Cana this was not an option. Mary calls on Jesus to help the groom and his family from avoiding the humiliation of the situation.

Although His time is not come, Jesus defers to His mother’s wishes, honouring her as His mother. He spots six jars which will hold around 30 gallons each (150 litres +/-). That’s 180 gallons of water. 900 litres. almost a thousand standard bottles of wine to be produced.

Jesse Duplantis says often in the messages I’ve heard of his “God’s not enough – He’s too much!”

Such is the case here. Instructing the servants to fill the jars, Jesus turns 900 liters of water into 900 liters of the finest wine. Not just any wine, but the best. God doesn’t deal in inferior goods. Only the best is good enough – and He will raise the bar where He wants.

The steward calls the groom over and comments on the wine.

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:10 NIV)

 The Best.

No cheap plonk or table wine for Jesus. Only the absolute best will do. This is a representation of God, after all.

A thousand standard bottles of the finest wine are given freely. He’s too much.

This shows us the nature of Jesus, and the nature of God Himself.

Later, Jesus says “Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19) So we hear from Jesus Himself that He only does what God does.
Only what God does.

1000 bottles of choice wine. The very best.

The inference? God only gives the best.

Look at your life. Look at what is going on in it.

If you’re anything like me, there’s problems. I get problems with my health. For six weeks I’ve had chronic nausea and vomiting because my Medical Insurance forced me to change diabetic medication based on cost, not clinical results. As a result I’m seriously ill physically right now – it may or may not get better with time, but this is where I am right now. My wife has been sick for several years, facing a terminal illness in fact. Our finances went down the pan and we live on financial gifts from our family having sold our home, car and business to raise money for medical treatment for her.

Problems abound.

But not once have I said that God has placed these in my life to teach me something.

That’s not God’s nature. Not the God Jesus demonstrated. I challenge anyone reading this to find a reference in the entire New Testament where Jesus caused illness or poverty to come into someone’s life as a blessing. One reference showing Him turn someone away saying they needed to learn from what they were going through.

I’ve left churches for suggesting that. If you have a God who does that, you worship the Devil. These things are listed as curses in the Old Testament. They don’t become Blessings in the New Covenant.

God’s gifts are the BEST.

Satan will try to prevent us from receiving them – often with a lot of success because wrong but well-meaning teachers have told us that these things are sent to teach us. They base this on one quote from Paul’s letter to Romans

 “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

The concept that these tribulations and problems issue from God to build our character, hope and perseverance levels has been popular for decades. It’s convenient. It removes responsibility on the suffering individual to get up and fight the real source of the pain being endured. It prevents us from fighting with the sword of the Word of God to counter the effect of this suffering in our life.

Jesus cared about the humiliation the groom at Cana would suffer if there was no more wine. He cared so much He produced far more than they could possibly need.

He did it again at the feeding of the 5000, turning a packed lunch into a feast for 5000 men plus their families. There could have been up to 20,000 people there that day, and there were 12 baskets of food left over. God’s too much.

Again.

And again.

This behaviour of Jesus, so simple we can miss the significance of it, is a siren letting the World know it’s creator is here. Telling Creation that second-best is no longer good enough for God’s Children.

All through 1000 bottles of wine.

God’s character is revealed in all His Glory in six simple stone jars and 180 gallons of water.

He gives the best and only the best, no matter where you are in the feast. In spite of all that has gone before, all our own best efforts mean nothing. God surpasses our best intentions in less than a heartbeat.

That man dying of cancer. The girl with HIV. The boy born blind. The bankrupt father trying to make a home for his family. They can all call on God through Jesus and expect the best. Healing. Restoration. Provision into abundance.

Look at Jesus’s actions. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. Yes, He condemned the love of money preventing people from receiving Him, but we also see men like Nicodemus – wealthy men – being welcomed into His family. Zaccheus surrendered his love of money and exchanged it for a love of God. Nowhere does it say he walked away penniless. Poverty is not God’s Best. Abundance is.
1000 bottles of wine. Abundant provision.

God’s nature is to give freely to His family. And by accepting Christ we are His children. His Family,

yet we settle for less than the best because we don’t recognise the immense significance of small examples in the Scripture.

Abraham believed God and received wealth so great he was asked to leave nations because his household was bigger than the nation. Solomon asked for wisdom and received not only that, but wealth unsurpassed in the history of mankind.

And we think that the God who would do that in the Old Testament will withhold in the New.

We fail to grasp the simplicity of God’s nature. Yes, He is complex on some levels, but His generosity is demonstrated over and over again in the Bible. Why do we not see it?

Read the wedding story in John 2 again, and look at God’s nature to give.

And if that’s not enough to convince you He only gives the Best, read chapter 3 as well.

He gave Himself for ou
r salvation. Why would He refuse our daily needs?

His character shown in the Bible demonstrates clearly that He won’t.

Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.

Option 3

Often, too often, when we pray we give God an ultimatum. Lord is it choice X or choice Y?

We forget to leave space for God to offer a different option – His Will for our life.

There are paths we can take that seem safe and religious and even right, but they may well be a disguised trap to lure us away from His simple Truth.

Come, give me your burdens and let me carry you is the invitation we are offered. We generally try to hold on to the troubles and be carried, but Jesus wants us to lay those fears down and rest in His arms.

What is your weight today? What is your burden?

Perhaps it’s financial. Maybe it’s a career choice. Should we have another baby?

So many choices we all wrestle with and all seem like a “yes” or “no” answer is what we need. Perhaps we need something different.

In the movie Brewster’s Millions from years ago, the protagonist, Monty Brewster, is given a task: spend $30m in 30 days and he will inherit $500m. But at the end of the 30 days he must stand with nothing but the clothes on his back. He must get value for his money, nothing frivolous.

As part of his attempt to chew through the money for the prize he runs for mayor under the slogan “None of The Above”. As the job would carry a substantial salary he would lose the inheritance if he takes it. So he withdraws for the greater prize that is to come.

I’m sure the allegory was unintentional, but it rings true in me tonight as I write. My prayers recently have included the phrase “or whatever You have in mind for me, Lord.”

Things change. I’ve had offers come in I’d never have dreamed of and the doors are opening faster that I could have imagined. Granted some will close again, but the important thing is that I couldn’t even see the doors before. Now they are opening to me and a myriad of potential futures awaits me.

So I’ll keep this short.

Remember when we pray that it’s not always “either or”.

Stay open to option 3.