Can I Get An "Amen"… Oh Brother…

Ok, so anyone who has ever read anything on this site knows I’m a Christian.

I hope.

But I tend to be a bit more chilled out than it may seem from some of my writing.

I write like I would speak at a conference. Or like I’ve heard people speak at conferences in the past. And there’s nothing wrong with it for me in that environment.

But I can’t take a non-Christian friend to a church that’s that way every single week!

I don’t like having to Translate for people I take with me.

I remember the first very “evangelical/charismatic” church service I was taken to. I’d been a Christian a couple of years but I was still only about 14 or 15 at the time, and had only known the Church of England up until then, I thought these people were out of their minds.

The preacher kept asking “Can I get an ‘AMEN’?” from the congregation.

I kept wanting to ask “Why?”

These preachers who have to ask bug me when it’s every week.

Conferences are different. You don’t know the group. They don’t know you. So it’s different at a conference. The crowd comes from all backgrounds and all walks of life, every colour, accent, race background you can imagine all there for one reason – to hear you talk about Jesus. It’s a VERY different experience.

But every week?

Oh Brother!

I took a friend who had been moving towards God to church a few times in England. Then we went to a cell group with his girlfriend – who hadn’t been to church with us.

He was fine, but the girlfriend was completely freaked out. She’d never been to church of any kind, and even a friendly and laid-back “charismatic” setting was too much for her.

And we only had one “can I get an ‘Amen'” in the meeting – ironically from me!

We need to be salt and light to the World. That means they need to understand us.

Jesus drew the most broken people to Himself. Prostitutes. Shepherds. Tax collectors.

In modern society it would be the drug addicts, hookers, bikers, “gangsta” types that He’d reach. Exactly the people so many “evangelical” churches push away with the self-righteous crap they spout.

Their are certain moral absolutes that the World expects us as Christians to overlook today. Sexual immorality – and I’m not only speaking about the LGBTetc extreme here. Sex before marriage has crept so subtly into everyday society that many churches don’t even think to mention it. Not long ago divorce would have ended a local pastor’s ministry following an affair. These days it’s barely a ripple in a high-profile “evangelical” ministry leader’s resumé to be divorced.

The issue is the way the church’s self-proclaimed recruiting branch – the evangelicals – spends the majority of its time behaving in a way that actually drives away even genuine Christians because they can’t relate to the condemnation that pours out of the pulpits.

Again, don’t get this wrong. I’m not endorsing homosexuality, infidelity, promiscuity or any other form of sexual sin. That’s what it is: sin.

Equally, you won’t find this site endorsing greed, selfish ambition, vanity or any other sin.

Sin is self-worship. That’s why it drives a wedge between us and God. We are designed to worship. We all do it. Everyone worships something. Be it Christians, Muslims, Hindus or atheists, everyone worships something.

That’s why the whole “Can I get” gets under my skin. It smacks of worshipping the speaker rather than the speaker pointing to the Lord. And it’s so subtle the way it has infiltrated the “evangelical/charismatic” branch of the church disguised as some kind of Godly behaviour. But it needs a translator to understand it, and it alienates anyone not in that group.

Jesus came talking about sheep to shepherds, lost coins to widows, fish to fishermen and judgement to Pharisees – the judgemental.

He met people where they were. Even when they were dead.

How simple would it be for us to do the same? He saw the hurt in the Samaritan woman at the well. Just think about the story for a moment.

You can find the story in the whole of John 4. It’s quite long so rather than reproduce it here I’ll add it as a link here.

But here’s the breakdown. Jesus sits down a noon. It seems innocuous to us. But this is Samaria. A Jew sitting down in a town in Samaria. At the hottest time of the day.

The woman comes to the well, carrying a heavy water-jar. Again, it seems to our modern world. But this is 2000 years ago. Mid day was not a time to go and fetch water. But this woman comes now. Everyone in the town knows her story. Her heart must have sunk as she sees a stranger sitting on the wall of the well.

A Jew. She’s a Samaritan. She knows what they think of her just for being a Samaritan. Quislings. Impure. Worse than a tax collector.

So she sighs and goes to the well. Broken down. Broken hearted.

Then Jesus speaks to her.

She must have almost died of shock. Firstly He’s a Jew. Secondly He’s a man. This breaks so many “rules” it’s impossible to list them all.

He asks for water. For Him to ask for water from her is as likely as Him asking for a pork chop dinner. She’s a Samaritan!

She draws the water for Jesus. She probably expected Him to use it to spit on her. But her curiosity is peaked. I love verse 9 in “The Message”:

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus doesn’t care about convention. He tells her she should rather be asking Him for Living Water – eternal Life.

For a moment, she is confused. He has no bucket, no rope, nothing to draw water with. After all, He just asked her to give Him a drink.

Jesus explains, and for the fullness I look to the Amplified translation of verse 14:

But whoever drinks the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. But the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water [satisfying his thirst for God] welling up [continually flowing, bubbling within him] to eternal life.

She’s all but forgotten her initial fear now, and asks Jesus for the water He offers.

I’d love to see the look on Jesus’s face. A thirsty heart, here in Samaria. Looking for Him, the Messiah. One who truly loves His Father. I can imagine the twinkle in His eye as He sees her heart open to everything the Father offers. His playful nature shining through His smile.

But she misses it for a moment. She doesn’t see the twinkle as Jesus says “Fetch your husband”. Her heart breaks. But there’s something different in Him.

She could have said “He’s out of town”. Or “He’d be in the fields now”. Or any number of other things except the truth.

But she tells the truth. “I have no husband”.

Well, part of the truth anyway. She’s coming to the well at noon to avoid the accusations of the other women. She’s living with a man who won’t even give her his name, but he must have been taking a “husband’s” pleasures. Giving herself to a man who refuses to enter a covenant of marriage because she believes for whatever reason that it’s all she’s worth.

The town harlot. Condemned by everyone in the village. Jesus is the first person she’s met in years who speaks to her with respect, who doesn’t instantly judge her. Who isn’t repulsed by her presence. So a half-truth will suffice. The stranger doesn’t need to know she’s “sexually immoral”. He can just think she’s unmarried, or a widow. No need to rock the boat of this man who’s treated her with decency.

But Jesus knows already. “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.” (The Message)

Her heart must have broken even more, but she tries to deflect. “Oh, you’re a prophet?” Quick, change the subject before it gets ugly – after all, she still needs to draw the water.

You [Samaritans] do not know what you worship; we [Jews] do know what we worship, for salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming and is already here when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit [from the heart, the inner self] and in truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshippers. God is spirit [the Source of life, yet invisible to mankind], and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:22-24 Amplified

He calls her out again. It’s not about where you worship. Samaritans don’t know the truth.

But there’s no judgement in His words. She replies that she’s looking for the Messiah.

The absolute Joy Jesus must have felt when she said that. The delight in His heart as He says ““I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”” (verse 26, The Message)

Then the disciples return. They must have been used to the unusual by this point. It may only be chapter 4, but they already know by what already went down that Jesus is not your average bear. After all, He already turned water into wine – a lot of wine – in Cana, drove the traders out of the Temple in Jerusalem, prophesied His own Resurrection, and begun His miracle ministry.

But this is still a shock. He’s talking to a woman. No respectable Jewish man would talk to a woman in public – especially a Samaritan woman. But they know well enough to keep their mouths shut about it.

The woman runs back into town telling everyone about her encounter with Jesus. The Message says in her confusion she left her water jar, but most of the others just say she left it. She came to the well with a burden, literally and spiritually, and runs back into the town with neither.

There’s a parallel here with the day of the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, is the first person to declare the Resurrection. Here, the town harlot is the one to reveal the presence of the Messiah.

But Jesus never once asked if He could get an “amen” from the crowd…

"Constructive" Criticism

Criticise all you want. There’s definitely change in the air.

But, as many have noted before, change for the sake of change is pointless.

Take the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare. Trump is starting to dismantle it without having anything to replace it with – which he kind of admits. His own fanbase in the voting pool has just realised that they no longer have health cover because they’re too old to be on their parent’s now they are at university.

oops…

But the Donald can’t take it when he’s crossed. I’ve never seen such a thin-skinned US president. Even when the comment is supposed to help him get back on the right path. Like firing the AG, not really because of the criticism, but so he could put in another “Yes” man.

OK, this is a Christian blog. What does this have to do with Christ?

Actually, a lot.

Like it or not – and most believers I’ve spoken to don’t – Trump is president. Some voted for him and regret it, some voted Clinton, and some didn’t vote because they thought it was a slam dunk for Clinton – so why bother.

I don’t believe (as I’ve said before) that either candidate was suitable. I was horrified to see the list of famous preachers lining up to kiss Trump’s ring – some people I had expected, but one or two that truly worried me.

Not being American, I didn’t get a say in who the individual charged with “leading” the “free world” would be last November. Honestly, I wouldn’t have voted for either of them. But there was one thing that alarmed me most about both, but Donnie in particular: their complete unrepentant attitudes.

Neither could take criticism, both tried to pass the buck. And that’s not a suitable attribute for any president, especially one (as both do) that professes to be a Christian.

And that’s the point.19b87-grindstone

“As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion]”

Proverbs 27:17 Amplified

Discussion involves criticism. It requires honing the individual, just as honing a blade sharpens it.

I usually have a knife in my pocket. I know a bit of first-aid and it’s a useful tool to carry. Yesterday I found a paramedic whose car had broken down outside our office. All he needed was a knife or pliers. I leant him my knife and he tried to use it to cut a steel cable.

Now I keep the blade sharp, but not that sharp! After it inevitably failed to cut through the cable, he returned it. The first thing I did when I got inside was to sharpen it.

Why?

It was so dull after trying to cut the cable that I couldn’t have cut butter with it. I keep it sharp to be able to cut a bandage, or wadding, or (on myself twice in the past) even open a smaller wound to allow cleaning it properly. In the field, a blunt blade is useless.

But here’s the thing: you have to wipe the blade after you sharpen it, because (if you did it right) there is now metal dust on the blade – not something you want to get in a wound.

I use a ceramic sharpener, so the metal can only be from the knife. When I sharpen the carving knife before a meal it’s the same. To sharpen it, you must remove the dull part.

We are supposed to take the rough edges off through truly constructive criticism. But we have to be tough enough to take it.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to criticise. His followers weren’t afraid to let Him.

Peter wasn’t offended when Jesus called him out for rebuking Him over his path to the Cross – “But turning around [with His back to Peter] and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan; for your mind is not set on God’s will or His values and purposes, but on what pleases man.”” (Mark 8:33 AMP)

These days, feeding the 5000 might actually look like this:

5000 modern issues

But Jesus would never have stood for it! Jesus was not subtle. He didn’t beat around the bush. He called things exactly how He saw them.

If that sounds eerily familiar, it should. Donnie said that’s what he does.

But the big difference is he can’t take it when someone does it to him.

As Christians, we are the real leaders of the world. Salt and light. But to be effective, we must be sharp. So we must avoid being loners. Stay around other people who are real believers. Not who believe in God, but as I have said in previous posts, people who believe God.

If we truly believe Him, we won’t mind when He sharpens us through others.

So we need to learn humility. Accept constructive criticism.

Believe God.

Trust Him.

Act like you do once you truly do…

And together we can change the world.

Together. Not alone. Not “only me”.

This isn’t “Highlander” – “There can be only one” in the real world needs to be referring to Jesus, not ourselves.

Let’s step out together with Jesus.

The World won’t know what hit it!

Facing Fear

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believeand tremble!

James 2:19 NKJV

I deliberated what to use as the “featured” image for this post. All of us fear something. Even the toughest-looking biker harbours fears in his heart. The toughest warrior is scared of something.

It’s in our nature.

Without fear, there can be no courage. Courage is that part of our nature that feel14bd5-robins the fear, but gets on and does what needs to be done anyway.

My fear has always been losing the ones I love. The small freak in the picture is my younger brother, Robin. It was taken in late 1984. A few months before he took a right turn on a bike and changed a lot of lives forever by losing his own. But he wasn’t my first loss. My dad’s sister died in 1981, killed in a house fire in London.

So I fear losing the people who matter to me.

For a long time I dealt with this by not letting anyone get close. I hardened my heart and refused to allow myself to care about anyone. Or so I kidded myself.

I’ve recently realised there were people in my teenage years that I actually did care about. Some of them have – courtesy of Facebook – come back into my life in the last ten years or so.

I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with fears from my teenage years that I didn’t let myself feel then, as well as the new fears that come with developing relationships as a 40+ adult.

So I do the only thing I know that genuinely works.

I lean on God.

Yep, it sounds trite to me too. But it’s what I do, and it works.

There’s a lot in this world we can’t control. But believing God isn’t one of them.

And yes, I didn’t say believing in God. Most people on this planet believe “in” God. It’s why Satan has been able to twist hearts and minds with false religions and idols. We are designed to worship, and even the most ardent atheist worships something. They just use a different label to describe their actions.

But believing in God and believing God are completely different.

Satan believes God – and it terrifies him.

Abraham believed God and Isaac was delivered from death.

David believed God’s promises and consequently he killed Goliath.

Joseph believed God’s promises and despite going from pit to slave to dungeon he held fast to the promises and saved Egypt and his own brothers who had sold him into slavery.

Josiah believed God and saw revival in Israel.

Esther believed God and spoke to the king, saving the Israelites.

Samson, even though he’d faltered, believed God at the end and saved his people.

Mary believed God, and we all got Jesus as a result.

They all overcame fear to believe God. Abraham had only one son, David was a youth not a warrior, Joseph was an imprisoned slave, Josiah was a child, Esther faced death for approaching the king, Samson had to face his own failure, and Mary could have been murdered for believing God.

Believing God is scary. Dave Duell used to say “if your dreams don’t wake you up at night, you’re not dreaming big enough!”

My dreams stop me getting to sleep.

My dream for this ministry is to help the people these words have touched in more than words. My brothers in 7d88d-truthKenya who have to worship under a tree because they have no money even for a tent. In Myanmar and Pakistan who meet in secret so they don’t get killed for speaking out loud what I take for granted.

My friends in America who are scared to describe themselves as “evangelicals” since November 9th 2017, and more who are accused of “hate speech” for simply speaking the Gospel as it has been written and settled for 2000 years.

At a time where “fake news” is anything that disagrees with the US President, we all should have some fear.

But we must face that fear and speak out the Truth.

People will ·put you out of [ban you from] their synagogues. Yes, ·the time [an hour; an indefinite reference to a future time but likely connected to the period after the death and resurrection of Christ] is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering ·service [worship] to God. They will do this because they have not known the Father and they have not known me.”

John 16:2-3 Expanded Bible

Make no mistake, in Germany after Hitler took power telling the Truth got preachers sent to Dachau and Auschwitz alongside the Jews. How long is it going to be before Guantanamo Bay starts getting preachers who dare to speak out? The holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers. It started with travel restrictions and registration based on religious views.

Some fear is warranted, based on history.

But we must face that fear. The Truth must be spoken.

“Humanists” in England tried to stop Andrew Wommack being allowed to speak at a Christian event a couple of years ago because he dared to say what the Bible says about sexual immorality in general, and homosexuality in particular – it’s sin. I’ve listened to a lot of Andrew’s teaching, and he does say that. Mind you, so did St Paul. Both of them also teach against greed, selfishness, idolatry and all the other things listed as things that drive a wedge between us and God, and the path back being through Christ.

But there’s something about sex that’s different. Even Paul noted it:

“Run away from sexual immorality [in any form, whether thought or behavior, whether visual or written]. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the one who is sexually immoral sins against his own body.”

1 Corinthians 6:18 Amplified

I hate summer. It brings temptations every year that make fleeing thoughts very difficult. Clothing gets smaller, sometimes to the point where you have to wonder why it’s being worn at all. My wife and I hope to have a baby in the next year or two, and I fear the world they will grow up in given the current trend.

 But it’s time to face our fears.

I’ve not counted myself, but I’m told “don’t be afraid” or something meaning the same is spoken 366 times in the Bible. It’s a nice concept, but whether there is one for every day of the year, even in a leap year, or not all it took for Peter to walk on water was one word. A sentence should be enough for any of us!

In the last 12 months the world has changed completely. America had to choose between two candidates who were unsuitable for the office. Britain chose to leave the EU by a narrow margin. Globally racial intolerance is becoming “acceptable”.

There’s certainly enough to fear.

But God is bigger than the hate that pours out of the mouths of politicians and their drones.

As Christians we need to focus on Christ, not the rhetoric in the media. We need to reconcile in ourselves that there is a big difference between the action and the person. The thief on the cross faced his fear of rejection and was rewarded with Eternal Life. Jesus didn’t see his sin – He saw the man’s value to His Father.

We are called to do the same. If your answer to abortion involves killing the doctors who carry it out, you’re missing your own point. God doesn’t hate homosexuals, but the Bible is clear about homosexuality. Too many people on both sides fail to differentiate between the behaviour and the person. The sin and the sinner.

We fear the sin. As if somehow someone else’s behaviour contaminates us. But Jesus hung around with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors without becoming one Himself.

Time to face down the fear. It has no hold on us any more.