So What Did God Do In Your Life This Year?

2015 has been a year of upheaval for me. There have been some major changes. I no longer volunteer to submit to one site because of how they edited an article I wrote which changed it’s meaning. Normally I’d enter a dialogue, but the article in question was my Testimony of a vitally important part of my life and how Christ has carried me and my family through it. For a while the editing came close to driving wedges between me and pretty much everyone who has been a source of Godly support to me in the last few years.

Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth,
And put devious lips far from you.” [Proverbs 4:24 Amplified]

So I walked away from that door. The representation was misleading and I chose to put them away from me.

After two years of living with my mother – not easy since although I love her tremendously we have a difficult relationship – my wife and I will be moving home next week to our own flat. Close enough that we will see her regularly, but far enough for independence. The decision was easy, but finding a place and actually moving is very stressful. We get through by looking beyond what petty things hit us as we are in the throes of the fight to the very real new home we collected the keys for today.

Registering this ministry officially here in South Africa has been a more complex task than the Government websites on the subject indicated and is taking much longer than I had hoped, but the wheels are turning. God is opening doors I’d not even seen and I trust Him to guide me. I have invitations from several places to travel to minister in their countries through Africa and into parts of the world I had to use Google to locate (I never studied geography at school – I was supposed to but I didn’t!)

Finances are a tricky subject for a fledgling organisation in that perspective. The work of the ministry has already grown beyond what my personal time and effort can cover and I would ask you to consider if God lays it in your heart to support us that way – and from this point forward it needs to be more than just one person involved – please use the “contact” button to email me and we can chat initially about how to pray together and how to fund the next step. The ministry will “Reverse Tithe” any funding that comes in, meaning the work itself, travel for conferences, venues etc will account for 90% of all donations and 10% for salaries. It’s about the Gospel, not profit, but in Paul’s words:

So also [on the same principle] the Lord directed those who preach the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” [1 Corinthians 9:14 Amplified]

We do not seek wealth here on Earth. Our true reward is in Heaven when we shall meet face to face and hear our testimonies in person of how we have changed each other by our shared faith. That being said, a harsh reality is that in this world we do have needs. There are churches this ministry wants to commit to support in areas where they have large numbers of orphans and a spirit of poverty grips the nations. I would urge my brothers and sisters from this world to offer time to prepare the teaching materials they have requested and to help us to channel funding to places where their own currency is too weak to be able to afford more than subsistence living so we can provide church buildings and help them establish cottage industry to develop their own strength. Together we can change the world, one heart at a time, one child less who goes to bed hungry. One family less who cannot afford what we take for granted in more developed, wealthier countries.

My heart has changed this year. Personally I have had many major blows to my own health and the health of those I love, but I refuse to give in to the attacks of the enemy. I will not accept anything less than the Victory Jesus has secured for us. Much of my time in quiet moments has been spent thinking of my Grandfather. He was involved in the Normandy landings in 1944, and while he came home safely many of his friends did not. When he passed away in my teenage years I was given his service bible, issued to all the soldiers in the British army, which was worn, well used but well cared for as something of great importance to him. He fought cancer for many years longer than expected, never entering remission but at the same time never giving up hope. Our life as Christ’s followers is like those beach-heads in France. First we reclaim a foothold, then we drive the enemy back – often under extreme resistance – until we have and hold the Victory in our hands.

I’ve always been a fighter, but in the last few years I’ve tried to step back from the fight. I’ve been pounded on like never before as a result. My heart has returned to it’s first calling – Battle. I’ll not rest until I see Victory, just as Grandpa didn’t rest until they arrived in Berlin.

I’ve been challenged in my friendships. My closest friends are all women, and not all Christians. This has brought frowns into my life I could have done without, but in each life it has been my privilege to call a friend I can offer strength and comfort – with the full support of my wife I must add – with no fear of anything ungodly going down. These women are my sisters and I seek to be their brother. I have begun a new life in a new local church, which has been challenging as well. I don’t agree with everything said from the front but I’ve never met any teacher I agreed with 100% of the time. Over the years my most rewarding friendships have been with people I could clash heads with and we could thrash a path to Truth together – iron sharpens iron.

My encouragement to my friends reading this whether in England, Canada, Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Iraq or wherever you are is to look beyond the hardships of the year – no matter how deeply you were wounded by them – and see the Blessings God gave us every day. Look at the year afresh as it closes and see the beauty it held.

And consider what next year can bring!

Christmas 2015: The Only Way

“Jesus said to him, “I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” John 14:6 (Amplified)

I “follow” a page on Facebook about what refers to itself as “progressive christianity” (and I refuse to use capital letters there). Recently it posted that we should consider that this year (2015) the celebration of the birth of Mohammed falls on Christmas Day and the significance of this.

Anyone who’s followed my writing knows I struggle with finding a definition of my own Faith. Given the teachings of the “progressive” movement I increasingly find myself drawn to “Regressive” as a description. I want to return to the Christianity taught by Paul, by Peter, the beliefs that Stephen was martyred for within five years of Jesus’s Resurrection.

I am astonished and extremely irritated that you are so quickly shifting your allegiance and deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different [even contrary] gospel; which is really not another [gospel]; but there are [obviously] <sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-AMP-29065b" data-link="[b]”>some [people masquerading as teachers] who are disturbing and confusing you [with a misleading, counterfeit teaching] and want to distort the gospel of Christ [twisting it into something which it absolutely is not]. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we [originally] preached to you, let him be condemned to destruction! As we have said before, so I now say again, if anyone is preaching to you a gospel different from that which you received [from us], let him be condemned to destruction!” Galatians 1:6-10 (Amplified)

“A different gospel” is certainly what is being taught. The Gnostics of Paul’s day considered all religions leading to the same destination and he condemns them for it. Pantheistic and Panantheistic teachings have been decried as heresy since before the council in Nicea, yet these teachings are being put forward again now.

Why?

The answer is simple. They are “Politically Correct”.

I was horrified to hear that  under British Law a TV program was banned from being broadcast on a UK based Christian TV channel for saying “Jesus is the only way to God” instead of “The Bible says Jesus is the only way to God”.

Utterly ridiculous.

 Limits get placed on free speech if it comes from Christians and often uses the words of Jesus when quoted by Christians to indicate so-called “hate” speech. Granted there are a few people out there who try to pass themselves off as Christians and spout nothing but hate from their podium, but thankfully they are a minority – albeit a vocal one.

To define Jesus as being the Only way to Life and a relationship with God isn’t hate speech. To seek to draw people to the Cross so they can join us as our co-heirs with Christ in Eternal Life is not a form of entrapment, it’s Freedom in it’s purest sense.

I have very little time for traditional “conservative” christianity as it is portrayed today, particularly the way it has been hijacked by some political candidates. They use the Bible as a rod with which to beat down anyone who disagrees with them, when Jesus intended His words to be a Key to relaease them from their chains.

It’s not politically correct to say Jesus is the only way to God.

But if we read the Gospels, very little of what Jesus said would have been deemed politically correct by the Romans or the Jewish Sanhedrin of the First Century. Certainly the Pharisees and Sadducees were offended by Him. Their power was threatened by the Truth.

Today we see the same thing. Those with power – especially political power – either deny Truth altogether or twist the words into a hammer. In places where other religions hold power we see bans on Christianity and prison terms for those who stand against them. Brunei, Somalia, North Korea and China to name just a few have tried this tactic. But look at the Book of Acts in the New Testament and what happened during the first 250-300 years AD. That same kind of muzzle resulted in the fastest growth spurt Christianity has ever had!

So let the World say what they will. We are called to remember Christ as our centre and our Life. That’s what being a Christian is about after all. Put Him at the centre of our hearts to live His way and refuse other false teachings.

This Christmas remember those who have been imprisoned and tortured for their faith through the centuries and who continue to be today.

And remember why as well.

The World, and the one it still gives itself over to fear nothing more than the rise of Christianity and the recognition by all people of one simple Truth.

Jesus, nestled in a manger to hanging on a Cross to walking out of the tomb gives us the Only way to God.

Advent 2015: Godly anger, or Braiding a Whip…

I’ve recently stopped an anti-depressant medication. I don’t like having to take medication if I can help it, so under the watch of my doctor I’ve come off what is actually a “mood stabiliser”.

It’s like I’ve been released from chains. Yes, I’m having highs and lows and as I’m moving house in two weeks – yes, just after Christmas – it may not have been the world’s greatest timing, but for the first time in over two years I’m beginning to feel myself again rather than feeling like I’m watching someone else moving me about and barely feeling the life – good and bad.

For the last 2 years I’ve been staying with my mother. I love her dearly, but it’s much easier when we’re not under the same roof. I have a fairly quick temper that I’ve had to learn to control. Because I’m told I come across as easy-going in general when people see me get angry it usually alarms them. When I went for counselling about my temper a few years ago my pastor asked me if I was sure I was talking about myself.

I’ve written about anger before on this blog, but find it on my heart again tonight for some reason.

There’s several origins of anger. I want to just look at three:

1) Self

Selfish anger is just that. Selfish. It’s characterised by feelings of being cheated or “done-in” by someone or a corporate body, company or the dog. Basically anything that invades us and interrupts our routine or forces us to change our plans or pre-conceived notions about life that we’ve come up with by ourselves through experience – the school of hard knocks – which is a harsh school to attend.

2) Satan/Demonic forces

This one is tricky as it often gets confused with other sources. It draws on a sense of entitlement and self-righteousness that we cannot truly escape in this World. The “old man” nature is there in all of us, and it doesn’t need much to be triggered, just an accusation here or there whispered into our minds at the precise moment and we’re there running from God’s path so fast we don’t even realise it.

3) God

Godly anger is different. It is borne out of a passion to see God’s Will and His Love expressed. Jesus braiding a whip and then driving the traders from the temple was Godly Anger. Moses asking God to destroy the Israelites not so much.

Selfishness is easy to recognise if we look at ourselves honestly. We get this anger when our sense of self has become greater than our reliance on Grace. King David was consumed with Godly anger when the prophet relayed the story of the rich man taking the poor man’s only lamb to offer as a sacrifice. When it was revealed that he was the rich man he saw God’s perspective and repented. He recognised his own selfish nature, his pride and jealousy that had angered him to the point of having Bathsheba’s husband killed. The nature of his anger became Godly as soon as he saw God’s take on what had happened.

The enemy is skilled at deception. He will drop thoughts in when we are vulnerable and we have dropped our guard. “It’s not fair” is how it often starts. And maybe it isn’t fair, but that’s how it is. We need to remember that he will take any and every chance to draw us away into carnality and sin, and especially cloaking it in apparently “righteous” motives.

Godly anger feels different. There’s a peace within it that no other form of anger has. It can move us to extreme actions. We may withdraw from the offender, severing ties as far as possible. In extreme cases we may go to war because of it. Godly anger is, at it’s core, a battlefield where we live as Christians. We are called to be angry at things that anger God, but not to allow that anger to become sin. Spiritual warfare.

Sometimes we may even need to meet force with force. It’s not enough to say in words. There is a time for physical action – braiding a whip and overturning dishonest money-changers being the best example I can think of. It wasn’t sinful for Jesus to do what He did.

Meditate on that for a second: not all anger is sin.

All we can do is to examine the root and the anger itself before we act. We must give our anger to God and ask Him what to do and if it’s from Him.

If it isn’t, cast it aside and look at yourself. Have you let the Enemy get a foothold in your mind?

If it is, go braid your whips. It’s time for Battle.

Advent 2015: Just Good Friends

With the hysteria of the Ashley Madison debacle slowly subsiding (although to my annoyance I still get pop-ups from emails despite anti-spam software) there remains a lingering question in the air.

Can men and women – especially Christians – just be friends?

I remember watching “When Harry Met Sally” for the first time a few years ago, long after its original release. I found the characters’ opinions to be quite cynical – albeit excellently acted – in their attitudes. The male opinion that sex always gets in the way almost inevitably was backed up in true Hollywood style, and to provide the necessary feel-good ending they end up married.

The answer seemed to be a firm “no”. These two tried for years to just be friends, but ended up in bed anyway.

My best friend happens to be female. In fact outside my family, my four closest friends are all women younger than me. To my knowledge this gender difference has never been a problem in any of these relationships. Two are non-Christians and two – including my very closest friend – are Born-Again.

I’m married, but my relationship with my wife is not simply a friendship. If it were then I think we’d be in real trouble. It goes so much deeper than a mere friendship and I can’t imagine having that bond with another person. I was engaged before I met my wife and the depth was never there strongly enough. When she gave back the ring and called off the engagement I was hurt, but I knew immediately it was the right thing and I had peace in my Spirit within an hour (although it took a bit longer in my head!)

At the age of 43 I’ve seen more than my share of life. Just the highlights for the purposes of this article are: 1981, my favourite aunt died in a house fire; 1985 my younger brother was killed in a road accident; by 1993 both my mother’s parents had died of cancer and my father had been treated for skin cancer; by 2000 both my dad’s parents had died from heart problems and my dad had died of a brain tumour. I’ll stop there because this isn’t a list of my problems, it’s a point I want to make: as a child from 1981 – 1990 my “friends” were predominantly superficial acquaintances (some of whom have resurfaced in my life through Facebook) who I never really got a lot of support from. They were also all my own gender. I left home in 1991 and the demographic began to change. I met new people when I left home and moved from a boys school into the wide world. I went to live with the girl I was dating at the time – which is not something I advise anyone to do based on our experience, and I’m sure she would say the same thing. I became friends with her fellow university students, a mix of young men and women, but developed particularly close friendships with two of them who both happened to be women.

Obviously friendships change from childhood to young adulthood, and that would account for some of the changes in support, but I found back then that it was more natural for me to have friendships with members of the opposite sex than with other guys. My best friends from childhood who had helped me through losing my brother had gone off on their own paths, and after 25 years since leaving school I’m no longer in touch with the people who were around me then.

My 20s saw much change in my life. My closest friends were a mix of both men and women and for the most part it was an even split. When my dad died in 1999 I isolated myself from all but the most stubborn of my friends who refused to let me cut them out completely.

After I met the lady I married I moved to Cape Town and my established friendship-base dried up completely. It was still before the Facebook and Skype era and international phone calls are expensive. While I still have contact with a few of the people who helped me through losing dad the depth of friendship is hard to maintain from opposite ends of the planet, even when there’s only an hour or two time difference. But the odd thing is the one person from back then who has maintained regular contact and tried to make it meaningful contact has been one of the younger women I was friends with.

The key issue is not the gender of our friends. The issue is the intimacy and the nature of the intimacy of the friendships we have.  The World will try to make it about sex – and it does so with disturbing efficacy. Movies show us repeatedly that irrespective of chronological age, age difference or social status men and women just have to have sex as part of the equation and a platonic relationship is impossible.

It’s a lie.

Yes, we do need to be aware of the potential for sin in our friendships – especially sexual sin – but (disturbingly) these days even same-gender friends are potential sexual partners according to the World.

I have 2 close friends who are not only women, but Muslim as well. We talk about our lives, our troubles and our victories and they are people I pray for regularly in my quiet times because of the things they are going through. Somehow the people I’ve met who have become friends in the last ten years are predominantly women. It’s just how it happened.

So what are we supposed to do as Christians? What am I supposed to do as a man?

For me the answer is simple: keep Christ as my centre.

My wife has told me she is not threatened by my friendships. I am not threatened by her friendships with the men she is close to.

We keep Christ at the centre. (as much as possible)

The last few years have been a dark time for us as a couple, dogged by major health issues which have taxed our faith to the limit. My wife has definitely been shaken to the core as things have hit her harder than me for some reason on an emotional level. We’ve both been tempted to lose hope, which Hebrews 11:1 makes clear is what we draw Faith from. Without hope, faith is impossible – and in recent time hope has been scarce in her eyes. But still she tries to keep her eye on God.

The same events that have shaken her have pressed me into Christ because I can’t handle them in my own strength. The pain and heartbreak we as an extended family have experienced is more than anyone should bear, and the only refuge I’ve been able to find is the hope that spring follows winter. That lets me keep Christ as my core.

The people who have been there outside the family to help me maintain that focus have all been women of God.

We should not be afraid to have friends of the opposite gender, whether we are men or women. We should, however, be completely honest with ourselves, our spouse and our leaders about these friendships.

The key is accountability and it’s not optional.

But that accountability lets anyone be just good friends.

Advent 2015: The Problem of Pain

CS Lewis wrote a book with the same title many years ago. He had experienced much pain in his life.
31 years ago in February 1985, my younger brother died in a road accident. It was nobody’s fault. He was ten years old and didn’t see the danger of turning right across a road on his bicycle. My heart went out then, and still does, to the poor driver who collided with him. He never stood a chance.

Neither did Robin.

Pain came in that day. Many people have such experiences in their lives from both sides. We live in a fallen world, no longer in the shape God desired when He created it and us. Pain, suffering and death came into the world when Adam took the fruit of the forbidden tree. It was then that he accepted sin into his heart. That sin is our birthright as descendants of Adam.

Hurt is rife in the world. There is suffering in this world beyond imagination. My pain pales in comparison to that of mothers who lost many children. It’s different to those suffering with HIV or cancer. War and famine ravage the entire planet and ISIS is murdering innocent people for simply not believing what they believe.

The common factor is pain.

The pain of loss. The search inherent in all of us to try to find what Adam surrendered in a moment. Some look in a bottle. Some use drugs. Some – including me – succumb to depression and attempt suicide or self-harm. All we see is the pain. We lose sight of the big picture.

John 14, 15, and 16 deals with the issues all believers will face in their lives. Jesus begins by saying “let not your heart be troubled.” It seems impossible. Like we have control over our emotions.

That’s exactly what Jesus was saying.

Our emotions are like an unbroken horse. Wild and powerful, but they can be controlled and used to build strength in our lives – even those caused by pain.

It took many years before I could face that pain, the wound inflicted in my heart by Robin’s death. It was so senseless. The lies poured in as accusations: “you should have been with him,” “your last words in this life were spoken in anger” and many others haunted me for years until I began to hand them to God.

I became a Christian in November of 1985, a few months after Robin died. I didn’t fully understand the change in me as the church I was a part of didn’t teach about conversion. It was a conservative Anglican church in my hometown – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I stayed there as a Server (similar to an altar-boy but I was six feet tall and 180lbs!) assisting in conducting services and even helping lead some of the youth services for many years until I moved away as life changed.

But the pain stayed with me.

Bad things happen to good people. Innocents are abused, raped, and murdered so often in my current home of South Africa, that it barely receives a mention on the news unless it’s a high profile case like Shrien Dewani or Oscar Pistorius. But the thousands of good people who die each year in gang related incidents, caught in the crossfire that claims no other lives, largely go unreported locally, never mind internationally.

Pain. Suffering. Yoda would call it the path to the “dark side.”

I’ll be honest. I’m human. I get angry. One gift God has given me is a heart for the broken. Many of my acquaintances have suffered pain because of abuse, rape, or murder. It seems they are “sent” to me as they simply start pouring out their hearts the first time we meet – to the point I’m considering taking a course to register as a counselor. Usually all I can do is pray. A lost home through eviction, his child raped by the school-bus driver – the list seems endless.

It is.

I’m not alone in this gift. My wife – thankfully as a doctor has training to some extent to handle the stresses – also attracts broken people. God uses her to bring healing into their hearts. As Jesus promised, He binds up the brokenhearted. We certainly can’t do it ourselves. We were not designed for the world in its current state, but for paradise. When God created Man it was for a sinless and deathless existence. Not this mess we live and die in.

So pain is real. And we have to deal with it.

Compassion is a gift. We are Christ’s hands and mouth on this earth for a few short years. Some He gives much responsibility to because of their faithfulness in small things. Some simply scrape by, a constant struggle with their own demons. Some are somewhere in the middle. Most actually.

I’m not perfect. I still see counselors for depression regularly. The wound is deep, but it is healing.

Be wise in your choices when you are in pain. My anger makes me fragile and drives me away from God because of what I do with it. When I heard a friend’s child had been raped my first instinct was to hunt the perpetrator. Make him pay.

I still struggle with that, despite the police and courts being involved.

I’m human.

The first step towards defeating the pain we all feel is to forgive the one who caused it – even (or maybe especially) ourselves.

Where God takes us for step 2 is a very personal journey and becomes our testimony, a gift to help us bring peace to others hurting.

My brother’s death became a catalyst for my accepting Christ. Things work together for good when we love God and seek Him. Even in my pre-converted state a part of that was present in me.

My step 2 is my story, and too long for a single article, possibly for a single book.

Yours, like mine, begins with forgiveness.

Forgive and begin healing. Today.

Advent 2015: Growing or Dying

All organisms have the same choice. Grow or die.

Our Faith gives us that same choice. We choose to follow Christ and drink deep from the Living Water. It revives and refreshes us. We are challenged and face issues in our hearts we must confront to grow closer to Jesus. Constantly we are bombarded with issues that challenge our understanding of our Faith in the current day. The values and beliefs we grew up in to believe were sacrosanct are more under attack now than at any time in the last 2000 years.

Post-Christian western society poses a moral dilemma to us. Since the Old Testament was still being written, certain behaviours have been considered inherently sinful. Murder, idolatry, theft, sexual immorality, lying and coveting are all listed in a book written by Moses thousands of years ago and were accepted until the 20th Century. Through the centuries there have been attempts by men to pervert the Gospel for their own ends. Scripture was picked out of context to justify the crusades, slavery, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and many other atrocities performed by selfish, ignorant and arrogant men.

But through the centuries there have been men who have taken a stand against the morality of the age and guided nations back to Christ. Men like John Wesley and his brother Charles, William Wilberforce, George Whitefield, William Booth, Billy Graham, Martin Luther, Alexander Campbell and hundreds more have stood up to a tide of sin that threatened to obliterate the church in their countries by perverting it to serve the will of man. They faced ridicule, exile and death to hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus. As a result of the actions of these men, the organism that is the Church grew with each Revival.

All these men watered the dry land with the Living Water of Christ and His message of Salvation.

In 1903, William Booth lamented the fate of the 20th century. ” I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost; Christianity without Christ; forgiveness without repentance; salvation without regeneration; politics without God; and Heaven without Hell.” The man who faced angry mobs and changed Western Society into one resembling a moral society had fears for its future.

He was right.

In today’s upside down world we see all manner of sin celebrated as something positive to be embraced. We live in an age where sexual immorality has become the norm. The richest members of the society pass laws keeping the poorest at the level of poverty that is just enough to make them be prepared to put up with it in the West where they have education, and so uneducated that they can’t see they deserve better from their leaders in the developing world. They steal the very bread they should be providing from the people who need it most – and are praised for it.

I’ve witnessed both extremes first-hand.

And both types of society are dying. Starved of the Life that only Christ can bring.

Men strive to become idols to others, and society strives to make them so. We covet positions of power, advertising makes us covet things we don’t need as if our very lives depended on having them. Like the latest toaster. The newest car. The bigger house. We covet all material things.

Television shows around the world are made to show what the rich and famous have. Bigger cars, houses and higher incomes. But the message behind it is always that this is out of reach for the lowly viewer. We are entitled only to watch and idolise those who have and covet their belongings.

Presidents and leaders of more countries than imaginable 100 years ago lie to the public with impunity. Where Nixon was disgraced by Watergate, Clinton was embraced after his affair with Lewinsky. South Africa has moved in only 20 years from the selfless leadership of service offered by Nelson Mandela to the greed and corruption rife under the current regime.

The nations are choking for lack of True Guidance from the One Source.

Where are the Wesleys, Whitefields and Luthers of the 21st Century? Who will water the Church to let it grow and recover to bear fruit in the way it has for so many centuries? The loudest voices at the moment actually seem to embrace the current man-made morality of Post-Christian society.

And we all die a little every day because of it.

We have a choice: Live in Christ, or die in man.

30 years ago I chose to Live in Christ.

I will be a single voice calling in the wilderness of the 21st Century if I have to, but I will not reject my Jesus to fit in. I want to live and grow, even while others around me wither and die.

The saddest part is that people have bought the lie of the enemy so completely they believe their path is God’s. Biblical illiteracy is at it’s highest since the Scriptures were translated into common language. It can only lead to death.

There’s a way of life that looks harmless enough;
    look again—it leads straight to hell.
Sure, those people appear to be having a good time,
    but all that laughter will end in heartbreak.” [Proverbs 14:12-13 The Message]

Another translation says “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (NKJV)

The way of death seems right to a man.

How can that be?

Advent 2015: No Fear!

There’s a lot bandied about these days under the term of a “phobia.” Homophobia and Islamophobia are the two big ones right now (although Trumpophobia might be a good one to add).

A phobia is characterised by fear. The terms are as incorrect as they are offensive.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m heterosexual and Christian, but I’m not afraid of homosexuals or Muslims, in fact I have close friends who fall under one or both of those categories. The real issue is sensationalism by the media.

In 1985 my family was directly affected by this in a very personal way. My younger brother was killed in a road accident when he was hit by a motorist driving legally and as safely as that particular road allowed. Robin suddenly decided to turn right across the driver’s path – we drive on the left in England. The poor driver had no chance to take avoiding action and Robin was knocked to the ground, hit his head and died a few hours later of brain injury.

The newspapers said he was “thrown over the car,” an image far more sensational and headline grabbing than what actually happened, but the image it put in our minds was horrific: his body thrown into the air, terror in his eyes as he saw the ground coming to meet him then the shock of the impact.

I wasn’t with him, none of my family were, but the one witness said it happened so fast he wouldn’t have known what was going on. He knocked his head on the car bonnet – probably rendering him unconscious – then fell off onto the ground, striking his head against the curb – probably the blow that caused the fatal injury.

That’s not sensational enough to grab headlines, and that was 30 years ago in local media.

Recently over 120 people were murdered in Paris, France by ISIS. The reports I have read include the words Islamophobic and xenophobic prominently. Should we be concerned about terrorism in Europe? Certainly. Should we be aware that ISIS may be sending terrorists into Europe and America disguised as refugees?

Of course.

But phobic? An overreaction at the very least.

We should be cautious. We should be wise. We should be aware. But as Christians we should not be afraid.

Sensational, headline-grabbing editors want their writers to strike a chord – however inaccurate – in people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way minimizing the events in Paris, but we need to get a grip.

Hate cannot drive out hate. Emphasising the “religion” claimed by these men – and I use the word in it’s loosest sense here – simply breeds hatred towards it. I’m no fan of Islam, I don’t see it as a path to God, but one of many paths that are close, but wrong. CS Lewis likened other religions to maths puzzles in Mere Christianity, where there could be many routes to an almost correct answer, but only one to the actual right answer.

If we are to defeat the hate of ISIS, we must fight hate with the only thing powerful enough to overcome it: Love. Love, coupled with forgiveness, will overcome hate every time.

Considering that the central part of many of Jesus’s teachings mention this, it’s something to be taken seriously.

I have several Muslim friends as I’ve mentioned before. One or two are becoming more… let’s say “assertive” in their posts on Facebook and statements in conversation. In some ways I understand it.

Their religion is being hijacked by extremists the way Christianity was during the crusades 800 years ago. But the anger and bitterness they express is something to be concerned about. They are being consumed by fear.

Fear is a very real experience, but it is one over which we, as Christians, have been given the Victory over already. As He walked over the stormy sea to the disciples in the sinking boat what happens?

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”” (Matthew 14:27) 

Peter is the only one who gets it. As a result he walks over the raging sea to Jesus. Fear begins to take him as he sees the storm, but by taking Jesus’s hand he is able to rise again and walk back to the boat with Him.

Fear is defeated in Peter.

Let’s let go of it and walk a victorious life as well.

Fear is defeated!

Advent 2015: Size Matters

Size. It’s a central part of modern society. Bigger is better is the message.

From shopping malls to airports to planes to cars to churches, the message is the same. Size matters.

Yet Jesus started the Church with 12 disciples, increased it to 72 at one point and when the Holy Spirit fell the first day of Pentecost the entire Body of Christ could fit in a single upper room in a house in Jerusalem.

Peter’s first sermon added 5000 to their number, but even then the Church grew rather than the size of the congregation. Churches met in people’s homes. They would gather in small numbers and have an intimate relationship with each other and Jesus together.

I have visited several larger churches, by which I mean a congregation over 400, and felt overwhelmed. Now I don’t include rallies and events similar in this statement – they have a different place in uplifting the Body. But you reach a point where a single minister or pastor simply can’t be the pastor to a flock so large he cannot get to know the names, never mind the story, of each of his congregation.

The church I grew up in, All Saint’s with St John’s in Stamford, Lincolnshire, was shepherded by a highly intelligent teacher who made a point of visiting his parishioners when he could. He would pop in just for a chat every so often and try to keep up with what was going on in the lives of his flock. Even with around 130 members it was a hard job for him. It was at least 3 home visits a week in addition to all the administrative duties he had as Vicar. Some families saw him more regularly than others simply because of their circumstances. He spent a lot of time with us as a family after my younger brother died in a road accident, then again a few years later when I was considering the Anglican Church as a career. In between times we saw him once or maybe twice in a year and he would always call first to make sure we’d be there. Had the church been any larger he’d never have been able to do even that.

When I left home I joined another Anglican church in Buckfastleigh, Devon. The Vicar there, the late Paul Wilson, was a very gentle man – when not driving – who at first glance came across as bordering on insecure. But his passion for his flock was unrivaled. He knew every member’s story. Some loved him for it, others were more hostile to him because of it, but he reached out to all as often as he could. I saw him regularly and counted him as a dear friend. The church was about 90 regulars, but Paul made sure he saw as many as he could as often as he could and appointed home group leaders to help him – a wise move as it helped in understanding him and him to understand us.

My next move was to a church that had recently suffered a split and was a congregation of about 100. I went through Adult Baptism there before I joined as a member and spent several years there. It was a congregation of Baptists, United Reformed and New Frontiers members, an eclectic group to say the least, but with younger members, had an outward passion the more reserved Anglican churches had not shown so easily. Home groups were very important as the church grew and from the beginning of the growth the church leader appointed leaders within the congregation and Elders to be pastors within the church so no group was without a pastoral presence.

Larger churches, especially the so-called “mega-church” concepts leave me bewildered. I visited one for five weeks in a row and was greeted by the same person each week asking me if it was my first visit. I was one among many and it wasn’t important to remember me, or anyone else. I tried to join one of the small home groups but there was a distance kept in place. When I stopped going, nobody ever called to ask how I was or why I’d gone. I was simply a passing ship.

So size matters. But not in the 21st Century concept.

We must be mindful of sacrificing quality of relationship within the body of Christ for numbers in pews on a Sunday morning. It’s the relationships we have that will determine our peace in a church, not how many other zombies sit there for an hour or two, never being real or recognizing the issues in other’s lives.

Smaller is not necessarily better, but it allows for pastoral work to be done on a more intimate level.

Aristides wrote in his apology of Christianity: “And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them.”

This description was written in a letter to either the Roman Emperor Hadrian or his successor as a call to end the persecution of the Christians in the empire. It was a time when congregations still met in each other’s homes. Intimacy and relationship were the keys that were lived by.

Imagine for a moment if all 21st Century Christians with serious wealth were to live in the way of the first and second century Christians for a year.

Poverty could be ended. Relationships equalized and no longer based consciously or unconsciously on a social hierarchy based on income as we could have all things in common like the earliest Followers did.

But it can’t come through a mega-church mentality.

Size matters. Too big and relationship is lost. Too small and we can’t help each other.

Maybe Jesus was onto something when He started out with 12 intimate relationships.

Maybe we need to find that place again as well.

Advent 2015: Hope over Despair

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these Love”
1 Corinthians 13:13

“Hope springs eternal” as the saying goes. I’m a big fan of the TV series “Boston Legal” where Bill Shatner’s character quotes it as “Hope springs a kernel” referring to a farmer planting seeds. It made me laugh.

It made me think.

We plant seeds every day. Hebrews 11 tells us faith is the substance of what we hope for. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that if the greatest is Love , then logically we read importance backwards, making hope the second most important.

Without hope we can have no faith.

We accepted Christ out of Hope for a future Eternal Life in Him and Salvation through His Sacrifice. That hope allowed us to receive the Faith from God to believe.

Love may be the cornerstone of the bridge, but Faith and Hope are either side holding it in place.

Hope, then, is crucial to the Christian life. Hebrews 11 describes Faith as the substance of that which is hoped for. Without hope there can be no Faith. We would be lost.

The message of the Gospel, the words Jesus Himself spoke, were the “Good News”. He announced His ministry’s commencement in Luke by reading the prophet Isaiah’s words that said the Messiah would declare a year of Jubilee – the acceptable Year of the Lord. To us in our modern world this doesn’t mean much, but the announcement by Jesus to a synagogue full of Jewish listeners would have been profound. Only the Christ would make such a declaration. A declaration of Hope in a time of complete despair. The voices of the Prophets had been silent for hundreds of years, then came John the Baptist announcing the coming Messiah. Now Jesus declared His arrival.

Hope rekindled in listeners’ hearts.

Many thought he was blaspheming in the worst possible way. He’d grown up in Nazareth and was known by them. Now this declaration. They moved to kill Him on the spot:

“So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.” [Luke 4:28-30]

A message of Hope in a space where only despair has been known for so long seemed impossible.

Things are no different today.

We live in a time where the rich and powerful control everything. The poorest of the poor in the Third World are in countries crippled by debt to the First World banks. Even those African countries that might be able to be self sufficient are crippled by this debt.

Living in South Africa I see a world of contrasts every day. I have a friend who lives in a makeshift house cobbled together from corrugated iron and without running water or electricity. Another rents a room for herself and her daughter in a space too small to park a car in. Her six-year-old daughter was so proud to tell me they had moved in because now they had their own toilet.

Then there are the people I work with. Series 5 BMW car, living in an area where the regular power-cuts due to mis-management of the utility provider for 20 years don’t affect them. Houses there are large and have massive gardens. Some even measured in hectares. These homes cost millions of Dollars – tens of millions of Rands.

But more than the contrast I see one thing. The poorest people have long since given up hope of ever improving their situation. What looked so promising with Nelson Mandela’s election is a lifetime ago.

Hope wanes, and Faith goes with it. Just like ancient Nazareth under Roman rule.

Christianity at it’s heart is a message of Hope. It is a gentle wind to fan the embers of shattered hope back into a flame. Hope for the poor. Hope for the sick. Hope for the tired, the broken, the lonely.

Hope for those who are dead and empty inside. Jesus declared He had come to bind up the broken-hearted.

Depression defeated.

I’ve suffered depression. In 1999 I attempted suicide. Four times in less than 2 months.

I lost hope.

My friends and pastor were able to get alongside me and slowly pry the Hope of the Gospel back into me. After a year of deaths and illnesses I was gently brought back by the message of the Gospel. My broken heart was bandaged and healed by the Love of Jesus shown me through His people.

My life now is far from easy. Again, illness has rocked my family, but I have been able to hold onto the thread of Hope in Jesus so leaving a job that was making me sick and finally being diagnosed with ADD didn’t decimate me – rather it gave me answers to build on.

My Faith holds fast because I have Hope in the face of despair.

Read psalm 23. The table is spread in the presence of our enemies. Those who would seek to destroy us get to watch us feast – if we hold fast to the Hope He gives us.

Our hope is more than an Earthly one.

“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Colossians 1:27] 

When we look at the Bible as a commentary on itself and consider Jesus’s teachings at the Last Supper, the hope we seek comes from two places: perspective and Godliness. Growing towards God will only bring hope. As we move through this life trying to do that we need to hold fast to perspective. When the World strikes us down in whatever way, we can find Hope in God’s message that all we are going through now is a birthing process for Eternity in His presence.

Surely that is something to have Hope about.

Advent 2015: The Fallicy of a "Normal" Life

It’s that time of year again. Actually it’s been “that” time of year since October in the stores. Pseudo-Christmas music blares from the speakers in shopping malls and advertisers tell us it wouldn’t be Christmas without “X” – whatever goods or services they represent.

We get sucked in to this “normal” way of life in Western-style cultures. Blindly accepting the fact that Christmas was actually developed as a way for Sony and Nintendo to sell more units, Coca Cola to increase its profits, Apple to launch a new gadget and some guy who grew more pine trees than he knew what to do with has an opportunity to get rid of them and make a buck at the same time.

That’s “normal” these days.

How have we managed to accept this “normality”?

Look back 150 years and Christmas had more meaning. It was a time to remember Jesus. Advent looked not only to the coming celebration of His incarnation, but also to the return in Glory on the Last Day. St Nicholas was a tall, thin man with a dark beard in a blue coat who was remembered as the man who threw a handful of coins through a window of a poor man so his daughters could get married. Fast forward and he’s become an overweight red-faced, white-bearded giant of a man in a Coca-Cola Red suit (yes, they were the ones who put him in red) who parks flying reindeer on the roof and climbs down impossibly thin or non-existent chimneys to put the previously mentioned Nintendo into a stocking.

We need to be better than this. The Manger leads to the Cross and mankind’s Salvation.

Stockings and consumerism don’t feature in any other religion in the world. Anyone ever wondered why that might be?

Satan has no interest in undermining false religion that leads people away from God and Salvation through Jesus. Christmas he makes about a fat man in a red suit who bears more resemblance to the Roman deity Bacchus than Jesus or even Saint Nicholas. Easter becomes about rabbits hiding eggs for children to find, chocolate consumption inducing early-onset diabetes in already obese Westernised children and the other Christian festivals are ignored and abandoned altogether.

And we’ve accepted it as “normal”.

That strange rattling in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is St Peter turning in his grave.

We bought the bait and set the trap ourselves, embracing consumerism instead of Christianity. The rhetoric of hate-speech currently pouring out of Donald Trump – a man I admit I once respected – is as far removed from the Gospel as it is possible to be. His plans are reminiscent of Hitler’s identification of the Jews in the 1930’s leading to the Holocaust.

And we sit blindly by likening the refugee crisis to a bowl of M&M sweets where 2 out of 20000 have been laced with poison and we are asked in this obscene picture how many we will eat!

Don’t get me wrong. There is only ONE way to Salvation – Christ’s work on the Cross and Resurrection. Islam is a false religion of legalistic dogma and predestination not free-will. I have a friend I care about a great deal whose husband is divorcing her for the third time (yes, the third time) who I may not have any contact with for 3 months now because I am male. She has to stay in her home and not even wear perfume until she has had three periods to prove she is not pregnant with his child as the divorce is finalised. He on the other hand is free to marry another woman the moment the ink dries on the divorce certificate.

But this isn’t about bashing other religions. It’s about shining a light into dark places.

That’s what Christmas is about.

Eliminating the false concept of what has become a “normal” life and rediscovering the Truth of a restored relationship with Jesus and God the Father.

This year, how about we do away with trees and tinsel and perhaps go feed a destitute Muslim family over the holidays. I can’t think of a better way to honour and respect the tru meaning of Christ’s incarnation than that.

He forgave the soldiers as they were killing Him. He forgave the torturer flaying the flesh from His back with a scourge-whip interlaced with flint or bone slivers to cut deep into the flesh.

That was the purpose of the Manger. That is what we must remember this Christmas.

Not a new Playstation.

Not a Worldly “Normal Life”

Look to the Cross behind the Manger.