Fresh Start

OK, this New Year fits several categories…
Marathon
Capable
Someday
Exquisite
Hopeful
And hopefully Successful

The year began with the news we have been wanting for three years. My wife has been offered a job in England. For three years we have fought our way through what has felt like a monster battle, a marathon of a race, where we have lost almost everything except our lives – and even that’s been touch-and-go at times.

It’s often felt like a “someday” existence, looking for hope. The writer of Proverbs said:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick”

Proverbs 13:12a (NKJV)

It’s certainly felt like that for us. So many times our hopes have been dashed or postponed. The torture has felt never-ending.

Depression. Heart-sick existence.

But then the year started with a call from England. An agency who had rejected her had a new person look at her CV and called to ask if he could put it forward to a hospital group he felt would be a perfect fit. We agreed, not expecting much as the group he mentioned had rejected the CV out of hand six months earlier.

The next day came the call to set up a Skype interview with the hospital the following Thursday. We agreed, and I taught my wife very hurriedly the basics of how to use Skype!

The interview went ok. I was sitting out of sight and found myself wincing at some of her answers to their questions. To be honest, had I been the interviewer, even making allowances for technology and nerves I’d have questioned if the fit was going to be right.

Friday morning, 11am South African time – 9am UK time – the phone rang. The hospital wants her so badly they are going to apply to be sponsors with the Home Office so they can employ her faster.

We were completely bowled over.

“But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12b (NKJV)

After 3 years, her ability has been recognised. The offer is there.

Exquisite doesn’t begin to describe the pleasure of that moment. Even being admitted to hospital the next day didn’t tarnish the feeling.

Of course, now we have a new marathon to run. Immigration to the UK ought to be a simple affair. After all, I’m British and we’ve been married over ten years. Nobody could possibly call the last few years a marriage of convenience. But paperwork is needed. The length of our relationship is, apparently, irrelevant to the UK. As is me being a British Citizen, because I don’t have an adequate income in Pounds. So the next part of the race begins.

But it’s a fresh start. There’s hope again. Suddenly “someday” has become “8 weeks from now”.

House-hunting, finding a suitable job to generate an income for me, organising the quarantine for our dogs, packing and re-packing boxes has become a daily ritual. Writing – which I feel passionately is what God has for me moving forward – gets pushed aside for the “practical” stuff.

It’s easy to lose sight of the truly important in the busyness of the business of moving our life to the other end of the planet. But writing, and when the doors open speaking, is what I know God has called me to do.

His timing is perfect. And He calls us to be fully alive – that is His Glory. Our success – whatever He calls us to do – brings Glory to Him.

So my prayer for us, and for anyone taking time to read this today, is to find His purpose for our life, keep Him at the centre of it through the teething time of a new beginning, and let Him lead us into success beyond our imagination!

Simple Hope

Candle Breakthrough Trust Promises Transformation Hope

OK, so there’s a few “pingback” links here.

You may have noticed I’ve been absent in the writing world for a couple of weeks or so.

I needed a break. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes we need to step back. I have a mountain of emails to reply to. If you’re reading this and you’re one of them, forgive me. You’ve been in my prayers but life sometimes gets in the way – especially for a Gospel Warrior!

Right now isn’t the time (or place for now) to share everything that’s happened.

But I can share some of it.

There are changes brewing for me. Some Major changes.

I’m planning a move, geographically. 9000 miles. Moving back to England.

Most of the people in my day-job have no idea. But it’s something I need to do.

My hope for growth in South Africa is all but shattered. I’ve been trying to raise funds to help a church in Kenya that has to meet when it can because they have a tree, not a building. Another church needs Bibles and literature to learn from. They’ve asked for help based on what they’ve seen written here.

I’m humbled by the trust these men of God have placed in me.

I’m ashamed at the level of help I’m able to give.

Every day I see “Christians” driving their new cars, shopping in the upper-class malls with trolleys full of luxury items who don’t want to help their brothers and sisters who have nothing.

In fairness, I also see Christians with trolleys full of food and clothes they have bought to clothe the homeless, feed the hungry and who go and offer shelter where they can. This is not a rant about all those hypocrites.

If it were, I’d have to be complaining about myself a lot of the time too.

I’m an incurable optimist. I see the best in everyone. It has got me into trouble more than once. I trust too soon, far too often. The result is I get damaged. And so does my mission.

I spent much of my degree studying marketing and psychology. I hate the idea of using psychology to “sell” a ministry, but I’ve realised it’s what is needed.

Branding is also important, both personally and for Eagle’s Wing Ministries. There needs to be recognition for me personally and for the work of the ministry so if anything happens to me the work can continue.

I’ve been reflecting on forgiveness for the time I’ve been away. Reading the parable of the Prodigal Son, and realising it should actually be called the Parable of the Loving Father.

Max Lucado, one of my all time favourite writers, speaks of the Father in his book “Six Hours One Friday” (available on Kindle via Amazon.com). I’ve gone through half a dozen copies of this book in paperback, worn them out by re-reading them so now I have it on my phone and computer. But his take on the Father is this:

If there is a scene in this story that deserves to be framed, it’s the one of the father’s outstretched hands. His tears are moving. His smile is stirring. But his hands call us home. Imagine those hands. Strong fingers. Palms wrinkled with lifelines. Stretching open like a wide gate, leaving entrance as the only option.

When Jesus told this parable of the loving father, I wonder, did he use his hands? When he got to this point in the story, did he open his arms to illustrate the point?

Did he perceive the thoughts of those in the audience who were thinking, “I could never go home. Not after my life”? Did he see a housewife look at the ground and a businessman shake his head as if to say, “I can’t start over. I’ve made too big a mess”? And did he open his arms even wider as if to say, “Yes. Yes, you can. You can come home”?

Whether he did that day or not, I don’t know. But I know that he did later. He later stretched his hands as open as he could. He forced his arms so wide apart that it hurt. And to prove that those arms would never fold and those hands would never close, he had them nailed open.

They still are.

[Lucado, Max. Six Hours One Friday: Living in the Power of the Cross (pp. 87-88). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.]

I first heard that passage read by Mike Yaconelli at Greenbelt Christian Festival in 1991. I can’t read it without hearing the passion in his voice. I hear in my head the pain of the boy, feel the shame of the businessman.

But I feel the hope Jesus offers as well. The forgiveness.

The hope is simple. It’s the hope of a second chance.

I’ve had more than my share of second chances.

As a biker I’ve had close calls I have no clue how I survived, never mind walked away from unharmed. I’ve walked through gang territory and been untouched when others were terrified for me.

I’ve been spared what insurance companies call “dread disease” even after exposure to so many in South Africa – TB, HIV and many more. I’ve had knives pulled on me, and even once the threat of a gun, yet I never feared for my life.

I walk in Hope.

I walk by Faith.

Faith, according to Hebrews, is the substance of what we hope for, and the evidence of what is – as yet – unmanifested in the physical world we inhabit.

Faith provides a tiny flame in the darkness. A candlecandle which seems like it should be snuffed out at any moment, yet flickers on.

The darkness cannot overpower the tiny flame of a candle, no matter how black it seems. The flame burns on through the night.

I often sleep with a night-light candle burning by my bed (safely in a completely fire-proof holder that cannot be knocked over – I’m not stupid!) The light it gives off is soft. At the red end of the spectrum, giving a warm and relaxing glow that encourages sleep and peaceful mind – something I need very much.

But I light is mainly to remind myself when I wake up that darkness cannot quell this light. And what God has placed in my heart cannot be overwhelmed by the power of Darkness, it can only be surrendered by me.

My breakthroughbreakthrough began a few weeks ago when I visited Jongensgat for the weekend. It’s amazing what being unplugged from the 21st Century for even a couple of days can do for your soul.

Four days with no internet, television, telephone, cell reception and having to cook over a fire – slowly – does wonders for the soul. jongensgat-sea-1And your relationships. For me it reminded me how closely I need God. Even in the work of writing for Him, sometimes it becomes more about publishing by a certain time and less about the message.

It gave me a much needed time of refreshing with my wife. We are closer than we have been for a while as a result. We still don’t communicate as well as we should, but at least we know that now!

When I became a Christian, there was a change in me. Not everyone could see it because I help on to a LOT of pain, but a few could see the transformation beginning. The Featured Image of this article is one of my favourite nature images: a butterfly emerging from a cocoon to begin a new life, casting off life as a caterpillar and becoming something of incredible beauty instead of something that eats your prized cabbage leaves.

That transformation is a work in progress. It will continue in this world until I pass through to be with Him. My Grandfather became a Christian at the age of 16. Two weeks before he died he phoned me, incredibly excited, to share what God had shown him in his quiet time: “He told me to get ready for the greatest adventure I can imagine” was what he told me. Neither of us imagined such a strong man would then pass away so soon – but what an adventure awaited him as he walked through the Gate of Heaven after 64 years of service!

Trust has always been an issue for me. Trusting people when I was young resulted in me getting badly hurt, so I stopped letting people in. I trusted a friend who then set me up on a blind date which led to a very messy month of dating where I had no clue how to talk to a girl – and this particular girl was one I had known when we were very young – I was 5 and she was 4 – now we were teenagers and I had expectations of myself I knew I couldn’t live up to. I don’t know what her expectations were of me because I was too scared to ask! I tried to trust, and I got very deeply hurt. That hurt burned the good memories from a time of innocence as friends in primary school to ash. So the next girl I got involved with I am ashamed to say I did so for expediency. She pursued me, and it was convenient for me to be caught. Not a recipe for a good relationship.

After that I got involved with someone I wanted to trust, but by that point I was so damaged I couldn’t trust myself. All that was left was anger and when cancer attacked a family member that was all I could express. She was hurt, I was hurt and my ability to trust was – once again – damaged.

Then my dad died. My mum and weren’t close and despite her best efforts I found myself alone. I’d just moved church and most of the members didn’t know me. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone so I became a virtual recluse. Depression set in and four suicide attempts followed on.

But the members of this new church refused to let me stay alone. They inserted themselves into my life – often at great personal risk as I had major anger-management issues back then – and gradually forced me to trust them.

They forced me to trust them by not letting me push them away. They rang back when I hung up on them. Repeatedly. If I then didn’t answer their call they would knock on my door and not go away until I’d let them come in and make sure I was ok.

They forced Love into my life in a way I didn’t expect. It rebuilt hope and trust in me as they refused to simply give up. They refused to give up on a guy they mostly barely knew and had only just met.

For several years, this mis-matched group of people became my most trusted friends.

Much changes in our life as we walk with Christ. And feel free to slap anyone who says it’s easy to be a Christian.

It isn’t.

It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s scary. It means reaching out to the unloved and the unlovely. It means seeing past the darkest part of yourself and seeing the light of Christ shining through in spite of it.

I still have anger management issues. People will tell me to “just do ‘X'” whatever “X” may be, with no understanding of what it is like to be inside my mind and deal with the issues I have. I get the urge to slap people who do that. That’s the “old nature” Paul writes about. I sit and close my eyes and let a tune run through my head until the feeling goes away. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes It takes too long to be able to keep my eyes shut. So I stay quiet instead and take it to God when I get a chance to.

We all have issues we wrestle with. Read my other entries and I’m sure you’ll realise quickly that mine is usually my temper.

But so were James and John. Peter lost his cool and hit Malchus with a sword in Gethsemane. The real issue is how we channel our tempers or whatever it is we struggle with. We have a choice.

Be transformed by the renewing of our minds is the invitation of the Gospel.

It’s not easy.

But the choice is simple.

Hiding the City on a Hill

City On a Hill

I live in Cape Town at the moment. It’s a beautiful city, nestled in the shadow of Table Mountain in South Africa. If you go up the mountain it’s impossible not to see the city as it sprawls out below you.

My favourite city I’ve visited is Rome. Built on seven hills it’s imposing as you drive towards it. You can’t miss this combination of modern and ancient architecture from a distance. In the city itself is the Vatican City, an independent city state within the city of Rome. Despite its size and fame, the first time I went to Rome I walked right past it twice before I found the entrance.

You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” says Jesus in Matthew 5:14, yet somehow we try to hide this city. We are supposed to be salt and light to the World, yet we’ve missed that as well.

The very notion of Christians having something relevant to say has been usurped by bigoted stereotypes wandering around with an attitude of “You’re all going to Hell, directly to Hell, Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” towards everyone. So little Grace is expressed, so little offer of welcome and forgiveness. Small wonder people think the KKK represent Christianity today. True Christians are virtually silent!

Why are we trying so hard not to make waves today? Where is the outrage at unjust and bigoted speech from the so-called “evangelical” political groups? Where is the commentary on the bigoted speech of the candidates themselves?

We’re hiding our cities way too effectively. So effectively in fact that nobody realises they’re there!

It’s not acceptable for the voice of the “Christians” to be a representative from a xenophobic, racist, sexist group. That is not our city!

Christ calls us to be a group where everyone is welcome, equal before Him. No one sin is to be called out as worse than another. If He is coming from a place with many mansions (John 14) then that sounds like a city to me. Is it so terrible to think that someone is worse than we are because their sin is different than our own?

Greed is sinful. Can anyone honestly tell me either of the two US frontrunners don’t exhibit greed in their lifestyles? Trump has his private jets with gold fixtures, Hillary hasn’t driven herself in years. Yet they both claim to be in touch with the “average” American.

Right. Sure they are. And I bet they wash their hands as son as possible afterwards.

Folks, why are we hiding our city? Why is the Salt and Light to the World putting itself in a cupboard or under a table instead of shining out for God’s Righteousness?

We are called to be in the World, but we behave of the World too much. All of us.

I watch too much TV. I don’t watch when broadcast, but I like to find a good series and I’ll watch the whole thing as fast as possible. “Boston Legal” – all 5 seasons in 2 weeks. “Stargate:SG1” 10 seasons in 8 weeks. You get the idea. I watched “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” in short order as well. The morality of the characters is borderline, the behaviour is so far from Christian values as to be not worth considering. On TV, almost without exception, Christians are portrayed as out of touch do-gooders, moralistic and holier-than-thou, interfering busybodies. Ministers are shown as weak and boring. I have yet to see a series where Christians are accurately depicted. Why? Because non-Christians can’t write Christians and non-Christians (generally) can’t play them convincingly. The Christian TV movies that get made generally go straight to video, and often make me cringe. The message is almost always too judgemental.

Oh yes, I’m judgemental too. Add that to my list of sins.

We are a flawed city, a city made of broken and damaged stones that Christ has rearranged into something beautiful. We need to acknowledge our flaws – all of them – and step away from them. My late Grandad died at the age of 80 having been a Christian since his mid teens. He was in the Salvation Army as a minister during the War from 1939-1945 and was a good man. Not a perfect one. Even after 60+ years he was still learning new things about his Saviour. A few days before he died he phoned me, very excited, because he had a sense that God was calling him on to new things. He had been to a service the previous day where he had felt moved to go to the “Mercy Seat”, kneel down and cling to it. Now Grandad was many things, but good at getting on his knees physically was not one of them, yet this octogenarian minister felt Christ lift a burden from him and could do nothing but fall to his knees – literally – in worship. He never hid his faith, but he never forced it on anyone either. People would stop him in the street and ask him what was so “different” about him.

When was the last time that happened to you? It’s been years since it happened to me.

We hide our light too much. We collectively hide the City of God and hope to blend in with everyone around us far too much.

In “Boston Legal”, James Spader’s character, Alan Shore, says to a clown “You’re a clown. Be funny.” It’s obvious that this guy in funny clothes and make-up is supposed to make children laugh, but he talks about unfunny things.

You’re a Christian. Be Salt and Light to the World.

Be a City, Built on a hill.

Openness

There’s many examples of openness in the Gospels. Many of absolutes as well. Certain things that had been “sinful” behaviour in the Old Covenant were redeemed by Jesus’ actions in creating the New Covenant we commonly refer to as Christianity.

The problem is that what today is touted as “Christianity” is a far cry from what Peter preached on the day of Pentecost when thousands became Christians. It’s removed from the Grace shown to all and by all in that first century movement that terrified the Roman Empire.

The wake of the horrific shootings at the nightclub in Florida have caused an outpouring of “You are in our prayers” statements from denominations that would rail against the individuals lifestyle if they pitched up at the church on Sunday morning. The hypocrisy stinks.

But there’s elements in Christianity that always get pulled out by atheists and especially by “enlightened” ex-Christians when something like this happens.

So I want to be open.

There are certain things which had been considered sinful in the Old Covenant – the one the ex-Christians and Atheists love to quote – which are overturned by the New Covenant.

Lets look at Pork and Lobster. Both are declared “unclean” foods in the Old Testament in the same books that say homosexuality is a sin (I’ll come back to this in a moment, so bear with me). Jesus teaches that what enters a man through his mouth passes through his body and is expelled. Peter has a vision:

The next day, as they were on their way and were approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof of the house about the sixth hour (noon) to pray, but he became hungry and wanted something to eat. While the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet descending, lowered by its four corners to the earth, and it contained all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “Not at all, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common (unholy) and [ceremonially] unclean.” And the voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed and pronounced clean, no longer consider common (unholy).” This happened three times, and then immediately the object was taken up into heaven.

Acts 10:9-16 Amplified Translation

All kinds of animals, wild and domestic. Another translation includes reptiles in the description. Peter initially balks at the call, yet the voice is clear, God has made these things clean. So there goes the anti-bacon and anti-lobster crowd’s argument.

Paul refers to food and sex in 1 Corinthians:

 Everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything [and brought under its power, allowing it to control me]. Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will do away with both of them. The body is not intended for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body [to save, sanctify, and raise it again because of the sacrifice of the cross].

1 Corinthians 6:12-13 AMP

He goes on:

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. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, whom you have [received as a gift] from God, and that you are not your own [property]? You were bought with a price [you were actually purchased with the precious blood of Jesus and made His own]. So then, honor and glorify God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 AMP

The word used for “Run away from” literally means to “flee in terror”. Paul never held back in his letters. When he says our own righteousness without Christ is as “filthy rags” the 21st Century equivalent would be “used tampons”. This was not a man afraid to speak whole truth.

Yet he still stands by and says homosexuality is a sin.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1:24-32 NIV

There’s no room for interpretation here. Sexual immorality – ALL sexual immorality is repugnant to God, not only same-gender sex, but any sexual activity outside the bounds of Marriage. God created sex to be immensely pleasurable – and it is. We wouldn’t want it and do it so much if it wasn’t!

But as with everything in this world, the Enemy got hold and twisted the action. God doesn’t say accumulating wealth is sinful, He says greed and making that wealth accumulation is sin – because money and material possessions become your god. He doesn’t say sex is sinful, just the twisted, lust induced instead of the love-induced He designed.

A dear friend of mine who I love and care about immensely was badly hurt by the church. He was sick with an illness the church he moved to told him he should be able to overcome by prayer.

It’s not that simple. His wife had an amazing gift for worship. Within a few months of moving to this new church where they had been invited to be leaders in a Worship setting, they had been undermined and lambasted to the point that they left the church, hurt by the hypocrisy and judgemental attitudes of the leadership. Without a strong Christian support network round them their marriage failed and both he and his wife now actively campaign against Christianity.

God-haters. Arrogant and boastful. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

How does this post support the victims of the Orlando shootings?

I’m being open.

But many readers will only see hate and “homophobia” in my words.

I’m not afraid of homosexuals. I have a number of dear friends who know where I stand on the issue and love me back anyway.

You see, God doesn’t hate Homosexuals. Quite the opposite. He endured flogging, humiliation, torture and the most excruciating death imaginable for homosexuals just as much as he did for everyone else. When the woman caught in the act of adultery is brought before Him, Jesus doesn’t ask who she was with. He doesn’t care. It is not specified that it was a man, just that she was sexually involved with the other person.

She may have been with the wife, not the husband. Jesus doesn’t care because she is repentant. He cares about the hypocrites with the stones in their hands and murder in their hearts. He is the one person there who is Perfect and therefore eligible to throw the first stone. When He challenges the hypocrites, calling them out on their own sin, they all walk away, the thud, thud, thud of falling rocks as their guilt over their own sin overcomes them and they walk away leaving only Jesus and the woman.

He doesn’t ask her about the affair. He doesn’t ask her about her life. He asks if nobody condemned her. Then He tells her He doesn’t either, but to go and leave her sin behind.

Why do we get so worked up about homosexuality? Personally I’m way more bothered by the obvious greed and misogyny of Trump and Clinton clawing their way to gain power and wealth, yet nobody seems to call out those sins. Probably because they aren’t gay.

I can’t refer to myself as a “Conservative” Christian any more. The description understood by the World would likely get me lynched in many circles. “Conservative” christians would have a problem with my marriage – my wife and I have different levels of melanin in our skins. What a ludicrous reason to reject someone. It’s like saying “oh, your blood type is AB+? You’re not as good as me, I’m O-“. How pathetic a reason to launch hate at someone.

Be open enough to admit, please I invite the KKK to do this, that your hate is based on fear of someone who simply looks different than you. How pathetic you are for that attitude.

But Jesus did die for you as well, just not exclusively as you seem to think.

I love the joke where the KKK Grand Wizard dies and goes to the Pearly Gates where St Peter meets him and says “God wants a word with you. Your work has been noted and pointed out for special attention from the Lord, but there’s something you should know going in.” The Grand Wizard pulls himself up and says “What is it I should know?”. Peter responds “It’s about God… She’s Black…”

In “Boston Legal”, Alan Shore (played amazingly by James Spader) has to defend a family of White Supremacists, and despite despising their beliefs he does so – successfully. The family begin to sing “Michael Row The Boat Ashore” to thank him and he turns to them and says “You do know Michael was a gay Jew from Mexico I assume?” and walks out, leaving them shell-shocked, and the audience (in my house anyway) in stitches of laughter, the comedy making a very serious point – we’re all equal in God’s eyes.

The character’s open nature about himself and his flaws draws me to him in the same way another of Spader’s characters, Red Reddington in The Blacklist, draws me. They are very different men, but their common theme is that they recognise their own flaws.

So here are mine. I endure physical pain constantly. I found out why this week, I have a condition that has weakened my spine over the years (physically) and left me in constant pain as a result. Consequently I can be very short-tempered. People don’t get that. All they see is a bad tempered man weighing 200 pounds, often riding a motorcycle.

I carry emotional scars, more than I care to share today, but many which have been open wounds for decades. Raw nerves in my mind that trigger a short-temper when touched. Most of my friends have seen it and distanced themselves from me for a time, some of them years. It makes me lonely.

I have 3 people I consider close friends. They are all young women in their 20s. I get judged for this because I am a married man in my 40s. It bugs me more than I like to admit. My closest friend and I worked together for a while and had lunch together every day for a year. My family – especially my wife – knew about this and were cool with it. But I had comments made that were thinly veiled accusations of impropriety. Partly to bug them I pressed close and as a result this lady is my closest and most trusted friend. But I still wanted to show up the hypocrisy of the accusers.

I’m sarcastic and cynical, not qualities usually admitted to by Christian writers.

I find the practice in Africa, where I currently live, of referring to yourself as “Brother” or “Prophet”, “Apostle”, “Bishop”, “Pastor” or whatever before their name ridiculous. If you have to state it, you’re not living it right. I prefer people just call me David and be done with that. God will not call me by a title, but will recognise me by a testimony. Heck, I don’t even like to be “Mr”. I treat everyone the same. Some people are offended by this. Others are enthralled. Dignity and respect – but don’t take me for a fool because you interpret this as weakness.

So I try to be open

.

I wish more Christians would, just for a moment. Maybe then there would be fewer ex-Christians.

Open

Conform or Transform


 

And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].
Romans 12:2 AMP
My thoughts this month are very much about being one thing or another. Christianity is, at it’s core, a black-and-white issue Faith. There’s God’s Way – redemption through Jesus and only through Jesus – or Hell. No in betweens.
Star Wars has only the Sith believing in absolutes, which is something portrayed as being a bad thing. The “Dark Side”. Evil. It’s the realm of Darth Sidious, Darth Vader and Darth Maul. Look to Obi-Wan Kenobi and you see, especially in the original movies, “truth” is portrayed as being based on your perspective. The World is big on this concept.
Very big.
Or look at the Narnia and Lord of the Rings movies. When CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein wrote the books the films are based on, the central characters undergo a transformation, but certain characters know beyond doubt their call from the start. Through “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, Peter goes through transformation from uncertain boy to High King in both the book and the movie. In “Prince Caspian” he retains that sense of destiny in the book, but in the movie he is portrayed as doubtful and hesitant. Similarly, Aragorn – although he has lived the life of a Ranger in Tolkein’s books, is mindful of his destiny. In the movies he seems to be reluctant and the elves have to pressure him to take up the re-forged sword and claim the crown. The hobbits go through a major transformational journey in the books that leads them back to the Shire where they encounter the remnants of the evil they have fought in Mordor, and easily defeat it. In the movie, they travel, become warriors and battle hardened, then go back to hiding in the corner of the inn when they get back to Hobbiton, and the greatest act of “bravery” demonstrated is Sam asking Rosie out for a drink.
Quite a difference.
The movies reflect the attitude of the day. Even in the Marvel movies we see heroes riddled with doubt about themselves being hailed as the greater ones, while the confident and certain are portrayed as arrogant and dangerous.
That’s where we need to begin to focus.
Is declaring Truth arrogant? To the World it’s certainly dangerous. Imagine if Donald Trump were to suddenly be stood up to by a group who actually knew the whole Gospel. Or Hillary Clinton had to face the consequences of lying about her actions before the election campaign. What if there were real consequences for the rampant hate speech most of the candidates have engaged in?
But a Christian who dares to say what both old and new Testament alike say about certain sins like greed, hate, envy, lust and homosexuality – yes, I went there – is decried as being “out of touch”, “extremist” or “phobic” about whatever the issue is. The buzzwords are “homophobia” and “islamophobia” these days. Anyone who dares criticise the almighty Republican or Democrat stance is branded un-American at best, even a traitor in some cases. Beating up people who disagree with your political view has become something celebrated at Trump’s rallies and rendered the Republican front-runner into a demagogue drunk with power, his rallies beginning to resemble those of the Nazis in pre-war Germany in their hatred for those who they perceive as “different”.
And we are stuck as Christians trying to take a stand for clear definitions of right and wrong when all anyone wants to do is make everything grey. The shade they like, buy grey nevertheless.
And so it was for Paul as he wrote to the Roman church. He saw the pressure they were experiencing, pressure very similar to what Christians face today in the West, to water-down the Gospel and make it more “socially acceptable” and less disruptive.
But consider the life of Jesus. Everywhere He went and spoke there was one of two reactions: they loved Him and flocked to see Him and hear His message or they tried to kill Him. There was nothing in between. The broken, the disenfranchised, the marginalised and the outcast and foreigners flocked to Him. The establishment sought to discredit and murder Him.

Compare it to today. Evangelicals who have called out candidates on certain stances have been held out with contempt by the ones who want to be the Boss of the USA.

And I do mean “Boss” not “Leader. Consider the true leaders of the last few decades. JFK, Jimmy Carter spring to mind in politics. Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates in business. Dr King and Billy Graham in the Ministry of the Gospel.

These men preferred others over themselves. They put principles first and yes, they may have become wealthy, but their wealth was not at the expense of others.

Consider the bosses of our time. Trump, Clinton, Reagan, both Bush’s in the US and Thatcher, Blair and their ilk in UK politics (and business in Trump’s case). We are not called to judge men, but we are called to look at the fruit they bear in their lives. Self, greed, envy, fear, hate and doubt are the politics of today. Shades of grey, as I’ve had on my heart recently, have become the norm. Nobody dares to speak in terms of moral absolutes any more.

And we are called to make a choice as Christians.

There is only one choice.

 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore, you shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding closely to Him; for He is your life [your good life, your abundant life, your fulfillment] and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord promised (swore) to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

[Deuteronomy 30:19,20 AMP]

Life or death. That’s the choice. As Romans puts it, conform to this world or let God transform us into His likeness through Faith in Jesus.
God sets out, thousands of years ago, the prescription for today’s great problem by boiling it down to one choice. Live or die. All in Adam die, and all in Christ are made alive.
We become bogged down on semantics about single issues. Certainly sexual sin is important – Paul writes that it is the only sin that a man commits against his own flesh – but we need to look at all the fruit we bear and prune away the dead wood, or rather let Him prune it away so we can bear good fruit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Temperance. The fruit of the Spirit. People are so focussed in on the individual sin that they, that we  are missing the big picture. We run around trying to convince everyone that they are sinners and they need God by telling them about their sin. It’s like running to a depressed person and telling them their problem is they’re depressed or to a hungry person and telling them they have no food.
In their core, in our heart of hearts, every man, woman and child knows they are far short of God’s standards. False religions thrive on this as they set out how mankind can make themselves right with God. Pray five times a day, don’t eat bacon, it only counts if you’re facing East or West, standing, kneeling or prostrate, if you wear a specific outfit or cut your hair and beard in a precise way or not at all, if you deny anything invented after a certain date. Do this and you’ll be safe from God’s wrath is what the false doctrine screams. It’s a salvation by works.
What Christ offers is so completely different. Yes, Works save us. But it is the Works of Christ on the Cross, not our own. And on top of that, God Himself gives us freely the Faith to receive Him. Eat what you like. Pray constantly or once a week. What’s emphasised is regeneration through Salvation received as a Gift from God, not because we earned it.
All fall short of God’s standards. That’s why He needed to be the one to restore us Himself, to take on our infirmities of flesh and bone, stand up to the temptation as a human man where Adam had failed and gift to us His own inheritance by transforming us into His own image.
So we have a choice.
Truth is very unpopular right now. People look to politics and science, rejecting faith as quackery. But God makes it clear that in the eyes of Mankind, His wisdom appears foolish. The New Testament asks we be fools for Christ. Transformed. Renewed.
So choose today to conform to this World’s standards, as low as they are. Look to a dictator to order you how to live.
Or be Transformed by the renewing of your minds. Let God make you over in His image. (repeat as necessary). Be a Living Sacrifice and allow the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth Jesus spoke of, to guide you in your heart. Leave the facts of this age behind and return to the unchanging Truth of God.
Yesterday, Today and For Ever, God is the same. That means if it was opposed by Him 4000 years ago, it’s still opposed by Him today.
Choose.
Choose Life. Don’t follow the crowd.

Everything changes…

When I was at primary school – under 11 – we had assembly most days. There would be a hymn and a short talk, usually from Mr Ward, the Headmaster. One hymn that has never left my head goes like this:
“Ev’rything changes,
But God changes not;
The power never changes
That lies in His thought:
Chorus: Splendours three, from God proceeding,
May we ever love them true,
Goodness, Truth, and Beauty heeding
Ev’ry day, in all we do.
Truth never changes,
And Beauty’s her dress,
And Good never changes,
Which those two express:
Perfect together
And lovely apart,
These three cannot wither;
They spring from God’s heart:
Some things are screening
God’s glory below;
But this is the meaning
Of all that we know:”
The meaning in this little hymn is lost on many. Yet it’s based on scripture. Hebrews 13:8 to be precise.
I was reminded of it again earlier today when a friend said to me that we should remember the world is changing, and we need to change with it.
That is a lie.
We need to base ourselves on something better than the current whims of the world.
At one point in Holland, tulip bulbs were worth more than houses. Then the world changed and they weren’t any more. In the Roman empire at one point tin was the most valuable metal. Things changed. Through the whole of history only one thing has remained constant. God.
God’s values don’t ebb and flow with the tide of popular opinion. He will always hate Sin, no matter how it is dressed. Even when the world’s view is that it isn’t sin any more.
I remember reading a story of a man in his late 90’s who applied to be re-patriated to England from Australia. He had been in the country for decades, and had never left since his arrival almost 70 years previously. When asked why he now wished to go back to England, he reportedly replied that as a young man when he arrived he was informed the penalty for homosexuality was death, by the time he was 40 it was 20 years hard labour, by 60 it was a fine, and it was legalised a little while after that. When the debate about gay marriage began he decided to leave before it became compulsory…
The world changed, but God didn’t.
Sodom and Gomorrah had the opinion of the modern world regarding sexual sin. God judged them. The Greek and Roman empires both fell as they became more and more obsessed with appearances than substance. Israel fell into the trap more than once in scripture. The world’s views change constantly, like shifting sands. We build on them at our peril.