This blog has been like that for me the last few weeks. My ISP has let me down horribly and my connection speed was faster when I had dial-up 20 years ago.
I spent last weekend at a little reserve called Jongensgat near Stilbaai in South Africa. It’s about 4 hours drive from my home and it’s the most amazing place to go to reconnect with life and people who are important.
It has no cell reception.
Cooking is done over a fire in a poitjie (kind of like a small cauldron) and takes 2-3 hours.
Everything is slow, intimate. Just the way it should be. There’s no
interruptions from whatsapp or email. No inane television forcing you to tune in and
zone out mentally.
You get to reawaken from a slumber you don’t even realise you’re trapped in.
Basically you get to wake up and realise what the important stuff in your life is that is unfinished.
And 4 days there isn’t close to enough.
We left under a dark cloud. For those married guys reading this, some free advice: Be open and honest with your spouse at all times. This includes if you have a close friend of the opposite gender – even if he mother is your age (perhaps especially) – and you write her a note, avoid the greeting “Hi Beautiful”. If your wife finds this (and she will) it will cause an issue you may not have intended. What appears to a “Y” chromosome to be a friendly greeting to a friend carries VERY different connotations to your wife. Just don’t do it.
Thankfully, the location means we had nothing to do but talk through the issue and reach a resolution. I understood why it hurt her, she (I think) understood that it wasn’t intended as anything more than a face-value “hello”.
But I won’t be doing it again.
Four days. We arrived at 2am. I don’t recommend this. The sun will wake you around 6am. There is no escape to this.
But we had four days of watching Cape Robins hopping across the deck outside our door, rock dassies running helter-skelter around the cliffs and grass, and tortoises meandering about the area. The only sound is the crashing of the ocean, literally a stone’s throw from your door (if you have a good arm).
Peace. A chance to hear God again away from the bustle of everyday life.
I love this place. No distractions except what you bring – so pack selectively. A couple of good books, my laptop and a few selected DVDs to play on it.
And most importantly, an open heart to pray and hear God.
In that time, my wife and I rediscovered part of why we love one another that in everyday life gets buried – we enjoy each other’s company. I had a chance to simply sit with God knowing I wouldn’t be interrupted by email, telephones, cell calls, messages or anything else.
And I was able to pray for an outcome to some issues we’ve been facing.
We’ve come home, and some of those issues which were so huge when we left are almost resolved. Job offers out of nowhere. Opportunities to move forward. Answers to uninterrupted prayer which had the chance to be truly prayerful and focussed on listening.
We spend too much time giving Go a laundry-list of demands and not enough time listening. Our prayer goes unfinished.
Take the time to go somewhere. Or just turn off the electronics for a day. Reconnect and finish that most important thing: the next step of your relationship. Intimacy.
Don’t quit, finish the task.
Let your spouse know they are the most important human relationship you have.
Let yourself remember the most important relationship you have is with Jesus.
Deep inside all of us there is a desire for God. Our souls cry out for Him, even when we try to deny it. Most people will end up filling this void with meaningless junk and false idols. Nobody is immune.
We crave God’s presence in our lives.
For once I stayed out of an online conversation between an atheist and a Christian recently, choosing this time to watch as the argument unfolded.
Sadly, atheists are blinded to their own situation.
For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense.For even though they knew God [as the Creator], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened.Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.
Romans 1:20-23 [AMP]
Paul doesn’t pull his punches when he writes to the Roman church. The city was in a very similar place spiritually to 21st Century Western society. There were so many false gods, Apollo, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and many more, that it was inevitable that the Christians would be exposed to them. The temples often had prostitutes working in them so sex was offered as a “sacrifice” of sorts to whichever deity it happened to be. Switch to 21st Century times and in place of the Roman gods we find actors, pop stars, politicians and even televangelists being “worshipped”. The prostitution of pornography on the internet and television & movies may be less exposed, but it’s no less real. Remember Christ told us that even looking lustfully at someone was as bad as adultery to God. Porn is designed to incite lust. Satan doesn’t need to have actual prostitutes any more, the images on the screen mean tens of thousands of men and women give themselves over to his influence on an hourly basis. North Korea, by blocking contact with the outside world may be isolated in terms of technology and society, but it’s about the only place relatively unaffected by the sewage flowing from the porn industry online.
And then there’s the modern “golden calf” brigade. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Harley-Davidson, Daimler-Benz and so on. Every brand has its devotees and fans, but few conjure up an image like Harley does – and I can’t think of another company that is so worshipped that its acolytes actually have the company logo permanently tattooed onto their body!
The difference is that the “educated” atheists don’t realise they are worshipping a false god when they religiously polish the chrome or wax the paint of their chosen steed for three hours on a Sunday while the neighbour goes to Church. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.” Today I’m sure Paul would add television and movie stars and most of the brands we “have” to own.
Now I’m not knocking the brands – don’t get me wrong. I have owned a Harley a few years ago, and I would buy another if I had the resources for it, but my reason has changed over the years. When I was a kid I liked the idea after watching “Any Which Way You Can” and “Every Which Way But Loose” with Clint Eastwood as the bare-knuckle fighter “Philo Beddoe”. I was very young, and didn’t notice the surname was spelt differently to my own – but even now I’m in my 40s I love the movies! Since then I learned to ride and ended up getting my first Harley based on a test-ride and finding it was simply the best put together machine I’d ridden. In terms of the “look” I was more drawn to the Yamaha Virago!
We look for something to fill the hole in our lives. As Christians, we know that hole is God-shaped and nothing else but Jesus will fill it. The World, however, can’t see it. It runs around trying to put a square peg into this round hole and no matter how close it seems for a while, it never quite fills the void.
Everyone worships something. At our core it’s what God designed us to do: build relationship with Him through worship. Satan corrupted this and now we look in all the wrong places. Sex, money, drugs, science, titles, “success” in the eyes of the World. All this and more are used to try to fill the gaping void.
Atheists are so blinded that they can’t even recognise the infirmity of their own standpoint. They decry the teaching of Christianity in schools because it disagrees fundamentally with their belief that there is no God. They are so blinded by this that they then insist that evolution be taught as scientific fact. In truth, evolution is a theory. Maybe it’s a good one, but it’s still a theory with no conclusive evidence to confirm it beyond a scientific doubt: which is why it’s a theory. It’s technically a philosophy.
From a non-Christian perspective, this makes some sense. But then it begs the question “where is another theory to compare evolution with?”
Christians can point to Intelligent Design at this point. But the millisecond the concept of a creator higher than mankind on their evolutionary scale is mentioned the poor, persecuted atheist announces it can’t be because scientific proof can’t establish evidence of God’s existence. But from their perspective, Christianity is also a philosophy.
And so the argument goes on. Carbon dating to show age in millions of years, then the hard-core fundamentalists jump in and declare the planet is only 6000 years old because of Genesis.
Personally I think the Truth is lost in the argument. It doesn’t matter if the world is 6000 years old or 600 million or older than that. What matters is that God Loved us so much that He took on the form of His creation to win back the authority Man had surrendered to Satan rather than destroy everything and start again.
We devote our lives to a search for meaning. We ask what we think are deep, meaningful questions and debate them endlessly. We argue among ourselves and become divided about minutia that are irrelevant.
So what should we do?
Jesus had the answer.
Three steps that we see illustrated perfectly in Paul’s life.
Ask. Ask God who He is. Trust me, He can take the question. When He knocked Paul off his donkey on the road to Damascus the first thing he says is “who are you?”
Seek. Search out intimate knowledge of God through Jesus. Sit under teachers with a solid foundation and learn from them. Paul knew the Old Testament, but he went after he met the Risen Christ and learned from Ananias and the disciples in Damascus, then joined the Apostles in Jerusalem for a time before he went on his journey.
Knock. Paul took every chance he had to knock on the doors of people’s hearts. It’s impossible to read Acts without seeing this in his every action. The nickname “Christians” was given by the church in Antioch. It literally meant “little Christs” or “little anointed ones”. The only way they would be given that title would be if they acted like anointed ones who had the same Spirit they spoke of in Jesus.
Ask. Seek. Knock.
It’s so simple when you think about it. And oddly, everyone does it.
Everyone asks. The nature of mankind is inquisitive. We invent new and varied ways of doing everything from hunting for food to moving around to finding shelter to heating our homes. It’s said Edison tried 10,000 combinations before he made a light bulb. He kept asking “what if”. We all do.
What if I apply for this job?
What if I ask her out?
What if we live in this town?
And we all get answers. All who ask, receive. What the real trick is, however, is asking the right questions.
Paul asked two: “Who are You?” and “What do You want me to do?”
Seek. We all seek something. What we eventually (hopefully) realise is that we are seeking Jesus. But the reason is the issue. Why do we seek Jesus?
We seek Jesus so we can find God. So Satan puts up counterfeits everywhere. The tin-pot idols of today that satisfy for a moment or two but then leave us thirsting, craving, more. Like drinking salt water, it cannot meet our need. Our being was created to run on God’s intimacy and input in our lives. I worked at a filling station for a while and one day this beautiful sports car pulled in and the attendant somehow filled the tank with diesel instead of petrol. A petrol engine can produce power from combusting diesel, but it’s not going to give the performance it was designed to. The car pulled away, coughing and spluttering with billows of smoke behind it as it burned the wrong fuel. It still moved, but it was not happy. We drained the diesel, flushed the tank and filled it with petrol. The result was immediate. With the right fuel, the engine purred as it ticked over, and screamed as the car drove away.
Knock. We don’t do this very well. It involves being around other people much of the time. Knock to have the door opened for us. Not “push”. Knock. It allows us to be dependant on God working for us through someone else. Paul was good at it. We, generally, are not so good. Modern society praises the “self-made man”. Frankly I like it when someone describes themself as “self-made”. It means they accept responsibility for the screw-ups they’ve made. Of course, they just sit with a blank expression and wonder why I’m laughing…
I don’t like relying on other people. Growing up I played individual sports. Tennis, Squash, Badminton, Fencing. I hated team sports like rugby, soccer and cricket. I had trust issues from being “different” from everyone else. I didn’t mind being different, but it meant I walked to the beat of a different drummer, and as a result I am still not very good at the “knocking” part of the Christian life. Yet it’s vital to our maturity. Salvation is a solo path, but Church is a team sport. We don’t all have the same gifts, but to mature we need to be exposed to Pastors, Teachers, Evangelists, Apostles and Prophets. Miss any of them and we don’t get the whole picture.
And our craving grows bigger.
But if we do get the right mix it grows better. We crave more of the right things. I did the Atkins Plan for a while to get healthy in my late 20s. It worked brilliantly. My body ran smoothly eating fats and protein instead of carbohydrates. My muscles were stronger and more defined and I had less brain-fog. But I went back and began eating starch again. The weight came back and the muscle tone vanished. Now in my 40s I’m trying to move back to the higher protein & fat diet I had so my body will grow right again.
Spiritually it’s the same. I’ve been in churches that were like McDonald’s. All starch and no substance and ultimately highly toxic on a Spiritual level. I’ve been in churches that were the opposite as well. Lean and fiery. And I crave that in my walk again. But when you’ve been toxic long enough it’s hard to break the habits even though you know they’re killing you. Like an alcoholic keeps drinking or a lung cancer victim keeps smoking, we sit in toxic spiritual environments because we are addicted to the junk.
But all it takes to satisfy our true craving is to Ask, Seek and Knock.
At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed:
Such place eternal justice had prepared
For those rebellious, here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of heaven
As from the center thrice to th’utmost pole.
Paradise Lost: Book 1 [John Milton]
What a description. Milton’s vision of Hell, a realm of Darkness
This place, forged by God before time itself began in preparation for any rebellion.
Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden of Eden, but Satan was sent to Hell. Milton’s imagery is stark and unrelenting. There is power in the words, but as vivid as the description is it does not begin to describe the war we are fighting.
In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.2 He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God.3 All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being.4 In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men.5 The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].
John 1:1-5 Amplified
“The darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].” How much more of a description of the situation in the World today do we need than these words, penned by John, the Beloved Disciple around 2000 years ago?
Prophetic? Maybe. Accurate? Certainly.
We walk as figures of Light in a dark world, just as Jesus did. Soldiers of Christ in a war that makes the Normandy Invasion look like a kindergarten outing.
The World – especially in the West – stands against everything the Gospel stands for. We must live in the World, without being corrupted by it. And that’s not easy.
We start out as children of darkness, then we are born into the Kingdom of Light when we accept Christ. But this transformation is an ongoing process. It only truly ends when we pass from this fallen World into the World to come, where Christ makes all things new, wipes away every tear and Death itself is vanquished.
Some of my wording in this entry is deliberately reminiscent of the older hymns I grew up singing as a child and young Christian.
“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to War”, “Soldiers of Christ! Arise and put your armour on”. Calls to battle. Powerful words from an age when Christ and Christianity was taken seriously, when Christians shaped all walks of life by building schools, prisons, hospitals and a welfare system to support the poor – which in the majority of places have been taken over by Government and the Christian beginnings eradicated until we are left with schools where God is eliminated from the curriculum in favour of the religion of Atheism; prison systems where if you weren’t a hardened criminal when you went in, you are by the time you come out; hospitals where religious influence is minimised at best and usually restricted to prayers over the dead; and a welfare system that encourages the poor to stay poor rather than seeking to help them find a way out of their poverty – it encourages the disabling of the most vulnerable.
How can we not see the darkness in this change? As Christians, how can we live with the bastardisation of what was created by our forefathers to uplift and help all people, beaten into a tool to keep the weakest weak and protect the most powerful and rich?
I think Jesus would look at the Church today, or rather what passes itself off as it, and wonder what happened. There were so many things in the first hundred or so years of Christianity that were done by Christians without hesitation. They gave up possessions, land, houses, family and ultimately their lives rather than see another person in need or deny the presence of Christ in their life.
Today, things are somewhat different. Too often church has become a social club we go to on a Sunday – sometimes – rather than a description of the people who make up the group.
I had the experience of living in the lives of about 30 or so young Christians when I was in my 20s, from the area around Totnes in Devon, England. We lived in each others lives, ate at each others homes. If one person had a car and another needed transport there was no question of demanding petrol money – it was practically forced on the car owner! We would go over to see someone for coffee and end up staying three days. We met together as a group, yes, but the group didn’t define us. Our presence in each other’s lives did that. It was the most amazing time of my life, Spiritually, and although it somehow evaporated those people remain fast in my heart. I would not, no: I could not be the man I am today without the input from those young men and women of God. At 25/26 I was one of the oldest in the group. I was regularly admonished and corrected by younger members, some of them still under 17, who held wisdom and insight far beyond many adults – and I deeply miss their presence in my life on a daily basis.
There was Light in that group. A Light that the darkness of the World couldn’t grasp and couldn’t overpower. We shared everything and thought nothing of it.
But the driving force wasn’t from us, the members. It wasn’t from the church eldership either. The power behind it was we were drawn together by something much bigger than ourselves. Bound together by love, respect and a desire to grow ever closer to Christ as one body. Young men and women sharing space with no question of impropriety even occurring to anyone. We’d crash on the floor together at the end of an evening, sleep on sofas and beds in spare rooms without any question of “motive”. It was simply we were drawn by a desire to grow together.
Darkness never entered the group.
It couldn’t. We looked out for each other too much for it to have a chance to.
It was a reflection of Paradise for me. Heaven on a smaller scale (with less gold on the floor).
It’s not too late. If it could happen in a small group of youth, it can happen on a larger scale.
We can build a vision of a reflection of God’s World in this Fallen state simply by returning to the principles of the Church as led by Peter, Paul and the Apostles.
I’ve had this song stuck in my head for a couple of days now. I like Simon & Garfunkel. Their songs often reflect where I am. Billy Joel is another favourite of mine, in fact I’m fairly sure his “Innocent Man” album was written specifically about my life at that point!
I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts recently. My focus, which with ADD isn’t great to start with, has been off. Physically I’ve been in pain for longer than I can remember and it’s getting worse, my psychologist had to postpone my appointment with him for this coming week (I see this guy because he’s also got Bible Study qualifications – my experience with non-Christian psychologists has been less than great and very expensive) and my ability to help the people I care about as an individual is compromised because of all of the preceding factors.
Things are changing. Finally.
Despite the best efforts of my family I’ve felt very isolated the last few years. As a group we’ve had some major issues to deal with, which are not my testimony to share, and as an individual I’ve had to deal with an altered reality after finding the context of my early life changed by initially one, now two medical discoveries: ADD being the first, and a diagnosis of Schoemann’s Disease – a condition where the vertebrae in the thoracic part of my spine are not “normal” leading to chronic back pain – being the second, and I only found out about that a month ago. It changed the context of my life – again – and I’m dealing with the change that means for me, and my perspective of who I am and have been for 44 years.
“Have you considered my servant Job?” asks God several times in Job. Satan takes his family, influences the “helpful” comments of his wife and friends, bankrupts him and finally is given leave to attack his body as long as he does not actually kill the man of God.
Job refuses to curse God or blame Him for his current situation, no matter how bad it gets. He can’t see it, but somehow he recognises there is another perspective to what he’s experiencing and God will be faithful if he remains true to his God.
So true he remains.
And God restores him with more than he’d originally lost.
Job realises his life is part of a context he can’t quite see.
Now I said things are rough. I’m not Job, but I can see how the guy could be tempted to quit. Isolation is not a good thing. Job’s friends and his wife left him feeling isolated, marooned on his own private island of contemplation.
That’s the part where I identify. 17 years ago at this tie of 1999 I was facing the imminent death of my dad from cancer. We knew it was coming, the tumour in his brain could not be completely removed because – as I understand it – a glioblastoma sets “roots” into surrounding tissue. Brain tissue. The tumour they removed was the size of a grapefruit. For a while dad’s personality returned, but there was damage. He lost his sense of balance and had to use a wheelchair or walking sticks to he didn’t fall over. I had made a mistake that had undone my faith to see him healed: I had asked the doctor straight out if the tumour would kill him. Rookie mistake. We place weight on the words spoken by experts, and when the answer came back “yes”, my ability to pray without doubt for healing was shattered and I didn’t have enough time for it to recover before he died.
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I felt alone then, despite my mum’s best efforts. I realise now she needed me to need her so she wasn’t alone, but I was broken badly and couldn’t get past it.
In many ways I feel similarly broken at the moment. Lots of people are reaching out to help, but I seem to be unable to express what I really need – probably because I’m not 100% sure. I want them to be around and help me with what I’m going through, but at the same time I want them to butt out and leave me alone to do things my own way. The two are mutually exclusive.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armour,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
But things are changing. My time as an island is drawing to a close, finally.
Our regular receptionist is on leave this week so we have another lady filling in. I find it easier to relax with our stand-in for some reason I have yet to figure out. My wife is going to be in doing more hours, which I’m nervous about but is a good thing in the long run. We have a lady starting this week who I’m training to take over the part of the job I can no longer do. Exciting times.
We live in an isolated world today.
Growing up, “social networking” meant having my best mate over to play “Elite” on my computer, a few of us getting together to go for a walk, cycling to the local reservoir or just to hang out and talk. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, and my current SIM card has more memory than my computer did then.
Simpler times. And harder to be isolated in. We were there – physically – for one another. When my brother died I was with a good friend. I spent the next few days in the company of him and a handful of other real friends, not “virtual” ones.
I wasn’t an island. I couldn’t be. At a party I’d be the guy sitting in the corner making small-talk with the potted fern, sure, but in real-life when the ones tormenting me were split off from the group I was also the go-to guy for real advice. And I had go-to friends when I needed advice as well.
There’s a place here in South Africa I love to visit, although it’s been a couple of years since I was able to. Jongensgat has 2 timber cottages that have electricity and running water but no phone. No TV or internet either. My cell-phone gets no reception there.
When you go with a few people you have no option but to interact. There’s no sense of urgency. Whilst there is a kitchen, cooking is done over a slow fire by the door in a potjie – a cast-iron pot that resembles a small cauldron – and the stews it creates take several hours to cook, so you settle down with a glass of wine, scotch (or two), cider or beer and talk. It’s a great way to be.
You get to really know people after a few days in that environment. The artificial barriers we put up as social norms begin to come down and we rediscover we were meant for fellowship. God was right when He said it is not good for man to be alone. Alone we kind of find new and improved ways of screwing up – not that it is possible to underestimate the impact of large groups of stupid people.
But to be able to unplug with people you care about and remind yourself why you care about them is very important.
Even Jesus had friends. He spent over 3 years walking around the countryside with 12 guys, talking, joking, eating, sleeping and praying together. And that’s just the time we know about from the Gospels. He was over 30 when executed, so some of those guys He’d probably known for some time. He was God, but He was human too – and humans are designed to function around other humans. His nature as God could not escape the fact that as Man, Jesus had needs. He needed rest, sleep, companionship. Maslow’s hierarchy would apply to Jesus just as much as it does to you and me.
Yes, Jesus drew away from time to time to be alone. We all need to do that sometimes, but He came back because as a man He was designed to need company of humans – and God designed humans to be His friends, not automatons mindlessly worshipping Him. Before the Fall, Adam walked with God in the cool of the evening as a friend. God wanted to get that back, so He dressed Himself in Jesus’ body and became that He wanted to be reconciled with.
God didn’t want to be an island. He didn’t design man to be either.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
We’re not islands. Our lives have a context within the life-stories of those we are around.
My dearest friend is a young woman I met a few years ago. She was my boss at the company I was working for at the time, brought in from another city. I miss her company dreadfully because other than my wife, she’s the only friend I’ve had in over 20 years who makes me forget to check my phone every five minutes. The truest friend I’ve made in many years. One of her poems is an entry on this blog, “If I Give Up Now”, and is a post I frequently re-read myself. Please have a look as I know it will Bless you in ways you won’t realise unless you read it!
I’m not afraid to have female friends. It’s part of not being an island for me. Billy Graham made a point of never being alone with a woman so he could never be accused of improper conduct. There’s wisdom in that, but sometimes the softer nature or stronger nature of the opposite gender is exactly what we need. If the only waves to strike shore were stormy the coastline would be destroyed in no time. Similarly if all the waves ever did was to lap gently on the rocks there would never be any change. Nature needs soft and hard impressions, so do our spirits. That’s why God made men and women different from one another. A woman’s strength is often hidden in softness, a man’s softness hidden by strength.
Things happen in life. During the last 30 or so years in mine I’ve seen new lives enter the world, held the hands of the dying, attempted suicide, buried over 20 family members – some of whom I’m now older than – made and lost friends, loved and been loved.
I’ve also isolated myself and allowed myself to be brought back in by the ones who love me.
I’ve learned that while I can be an island, this life is so much better if it’s shared.
Christianity is about more than simply “getting into heaven”. In recent years the Gospel has become little more than an After-life Insurance Policy.
Add to that the erosion in the belief of a literal Hell and it’s small wonder so many people simply can’t be bothered to believe until the last minute.
Let’s face it, the Christian life is not easy. Look at the list of things under the “not allowed” column.
Hang on, that’s not accurate. It is what often gets taught in some denominational churches, but it’s not what the Gospel is about.
Consider sex for a second.
It’s allowed. There’s a Godly context for it – Marriage – but it’s created to be fun. Pleasurable. Enjoyable. The pinnacle of Earthly intimacy.
Of course outside the boundaries of a Godly context it’s the opposite. It may seem like fun in the moment, but I’ve had so many conversations where the theme has been “I wish I hadn’t”. In the original version of “The Magnificent Seven”, Steve McQueen’s character tells of a man who took off all his clothes and jumped on a cactus because it “seemed like a good idea at the time”.
What about money? Didn’t Jesus say money was the root of all evil?
He said the love of money was a root of evil. If money were inherently evil then any amount would be dangerous. Abraham was Blessed by God to the point that countries asked his family to leave because his family on its own was more bountiful than the entire country they were resting in. Solomon was the richest man ever because he trusted God. After Job was restored, God gave him back more than he’d lost. Money is not evil, but making it your idol is.
Power corrupts. So they say. But if that were true why did Jesus say the disciples would receive Power when the Holy Spirit fell on them? Surely He was therefore corrupting them if power corrupts in every instance?
Selfish ambition corrupts good morals. I look at the Presidents and possible Presidents from around the world. Robert Mugabe started out as a decent man who wanted freedom for his people, but after so long in power he has a need to hold onto that power. Jacob Zuma was a freedom fighter alongside Nelson Mandela, but his rise to power has been about personal gain rather than the betterment of life for the people he “governs”. Donald Trump seeks power to match his alleged wealth, Hillary Clinton seems to have her own selfish agenda behind the scenes as well. They seek power when the Presidency is supposed to be a role of Service. Somehow I can’t see many of the World’s Presidents wrapping a towel around themselves and washing the feet of their companions.
Ah, there’s the root.
The Gospel is about Companionship. Fellowship. God Himself originally designed man to be His companion, and woman to be man’s companion.
He gave mankind dominion over the Earth. The only other being said to have dominion is God Himself. Christ recovered that dominion, and immediately handed it back to us – with Him as co-pilot now, not as a dictator, but as a companion to walk through life with.
We need His companionship, and He desires ours. He desires ours so much He had Himself nailed to a Roman Cross 2000 years ago so we could have Him as a companion in this world.
As He looked out from the Cross, our companionship was the Joy set before Him. It was the motivation behind His actions, His Sacrifice.
What amazes me is the idea that a Perfect God desires our companionship. He could have just wiped out mankind and started again, but His Love for us stopped Him from doing that and drove Him to rather seek us out and give up Himself for our sake.
My wife is my companion. Marriage is a portrait of God’s relationship with us. It’s not always easy. In my 13 years of marriage we have endured some heavy battles, but our companionship with each other has seen us through them.
My friends are my companions in this life as well. I have few people I reserve the accolade of “close friend” to these days. They are people I allow to speak into my life and who allow me to speak into theirs. Currently I can count these companions on one hand.
And companionship has nothing to do with proximity. My Best Friend lives a thousand miles from me, but when we communicate there is a kinship there I have nowhere else except in my marriage, where the bond is strongest.
The “Featured Picture” here I took a couple of years ago at my home. I grow my own herbs and at the end of the season there’s always something I’ve not used all of. That year it was mint. The plant flowered, something I rarely see as I use a LOT of mint when I’m cooking, much to my wife’s annoyance (she thinks I’m trying to make dinner taste like toothpaste).
I was sitting on the stoep of the house and along floats this bee. I never antagonise them. They usually die if they sting us, so I’m not worried about a single. It calmly floats over to the mint flower and settles down, collecting nectar.
It had never occurred to me that mint could have nectar until that moment. I grabbed my camera and snapped the shot, such simple beauty. And the bee, so perfectly designed to perform the job of collecting nectar from such tiny flowers.
I looked at the mint, it was suddenly a thing of such visual beauty to me, not just another herb. The flowers in a bunch at the tip of each stem, perfectly aligned for a bee to come and collect from them.
So I began looking at other things. This sunset was taken in September 2003 at Slangkop Lighthouse near Kommetjie. The picture is a little grainy because it was taken the old-fashioned way – film not digital. I’ve been to the spot many times since, but never seen the alignment of sun and lighthouse the same way again. The timing was perfect for the photo.
We live in a world created so perfectly ordered that we can predict to the second when an eclipse will take place, when tides will be high or low, and how high they will be days, weeks in advance.
Consider the laws of nature, the constants that allow us to fly in aeroplanes: gravity, thrust, lift, stalling speed. These constants are set in stone. A scientist can predict precisely how much thrust is required at a certain wing dimension to achieve lift and therefore flight, and at what speed the airflow must continue to travel around the wing given its dimensions to maintain that flight – the stalling speed.
Frequency of light and sound. 186000 miles per second, the speed of light is a constant. 1100 feet per second in air is the speed of sound. These are constants. Certain mediums change the rates, so different gasses produce different speeds for sound and light, glass, perspex etc change the speed of light to produce filters, but this is only possible because the initial speed is a universal constant.
Mankind is now looking at ways to get humans to Mars, presumably because we need to find more landfill sites. But the trip is only plannable because we know exactly where Mars will be at any given moment.
It is known when Halley’s Comet will be round next, and when it’s been around before. It has been hypothesised that it may even have been the “star” the Magi followed to Bethlehem spoken of in the Nativity story – the exact date of Christ’s birth not being known but the time the comet was about is very exact, and fits the general timeline.
Consider the mathematical odds of life. Billions to one against this rock floating around a star of sufficient size and density, far enough away that it doesn’t scorch the ground, close enough that the rays provide enough heat. All the other variables that even 0.0001% out mean life cannot exist. Yet so many choose to convince themselves God cannot be a reality.
I bet you were wondering when God would appear in this post.
The requirements to not believe in God are so much greater than the requirements to believe. To be able to be convinced that life happened here by chance takes far more faith than believing everything was created by something far bigger than we are, with a form of intelligence beyond our own. The arrogance of it is even more staggering.
To believe there is no God is staggering. Being convinced that the world and life is a chance fluke is ignorance of the highest order. I can’t explain the process an egg goes through to grow into a chicken in terms of the science behind it, but I’ve never met a scientist who could answer why life happens in that egg. We know the chemical make-up of the egg. We can mix the ingredients to the exact proportions, but if we put it in an incubator we’ll never grow a chicken. Life is not simply a chemical reaction. If it were we could replicate it.
The perfection of creation is only matched by the flaw it carries. Us.
When we rebelled against God we brought death into this universe. God responded by giving us Grace to counter it. The cells in my body replicate themselves and produce identical copies of themselves. We call this “growth” and “life”, but if the new cells are identical to the old ones, why do we age? Chemically there’s no reason for ageing I’ve yet to be told, although I’m open to comments on this post explaining it (as long as you use small words please, I’m a simple man of faith, not a brilliant scientist – I leave medicine and science to my wife, a doctor, who can’t explain it either).
An atheist is simply a man with no invisible means of support. What hope can there be in an atheistic existence? For an atheist, the purpose of life is to die. The end product is to return to being nothing more than a pile of chemicals sitting in the dust.
I may not be perfect, but as a Christian, my faith gives me hope. Hebrews 11 states Faith is the substance of what we hope for. It is the evidence of what we have not yet seen. How perfect that is.
Firstly, try saying the title of this post quickly after a large scotch (or your favourite drink). Yes I’m a Christian writer who likes whisky – a decent single malt – and movies some “christian” writers would avoid. I’m 41 and I don’t see a problem with either depending on the genre. I’m obviosly not referring to pronographic films or gratuitous violence, but movies such as Braveheart, Gladiator, and Lord of the Rings need the violence to reflect the story itself rather than to fill space and make it a movie not a TV episode.
I read a wonderful article by John Piper recently on the folly of Men arming Women for Battle.
This kind of leads on from my reflections on that.
Barak Obama – a man I don’t agree with in entirety but I have immense respect for as a man of integrity (normally) – recently supported the placing of women in front-line combat units. It was hailed as a sign of equality in the workplace almost universally, with only a handful of dissenting voices – mine among them – who are concerned at the blurring of male and female roles in society.
There are definite roles which are gender specific. Men, on the whole, are built more heavily with higher muscle-mass and strength than the average woman. Don’t shout me down here, it’s a biological fact. I don’t often meet women taller or heavier than me, I’m 6′ tall (181cm) and weight about 100kg (+/- 220lbs – 15-16 stone) I’ve been heavier – 20stone at my heaviest and lighter – 14 stone, but I’m a bit guy. 51″ Chest and shoulders to match. 38″ waist. Suffice to say I’m big and not a lot intimidates me.
My wife is smaller. She’s strong, but I can easily hold her off when we wrestle (and yes I mean wrestle!).
Size isn’t everything and I acknowledge that. A girl I am friends with threw me six feet across a floor using judo moves I’m not trained in. She’s even smaller.
But the fact is that if I were walking her home and we were attacked I’d be horribly out of character to step back because she has a back-belt.
And so the antithesis comes in.
Women were not designed to fight. Muscular women do not show femininity. When Madonna – who I never really thought was that attractive – traded her softness for the muscle look in the 1990’s I was horrified. My muscle definition as a dancer was never that toned. Aside from obvious gender differences she looked more manly than me!
Tonight Barak Obama tweeted “I want every young man in America to know that real men don’t hurt women”.
I totally and completely agree with this statement.
But it is the antithesis of placing a woman on the front line of a combat zone.
Women are formidable warriors, don’t mistake what I’m saying. I’ve seen first-hand the power and strength of a woman protecting her children from an assailant – one who backed off when a man stepped up to help her. But the front line of a war zone is not a place they should be. No matter how they are traned, men are still men. The instinct to protect will still be there.
Women are women. There is nothing wrong with that. Everyone uses the “men can’t carry babies” argument, so I’ll leave it out. But watch what games girls and boys play. Boys gravitate to physical games. Rough play is more common. I worked at a primary school some time ago and in the time I was there I didn’t have to break up a single fight between 2 girls, but every single day I had to deal with boys.
I was a quiet boy. I went to a boys school for my secondary education (11-18 years old) but my hobby was ballet. I got ridiculed and accused of homosexual leanings – the other boys had NO idea how difficult it is for a pubescent male to “control” himself in a class of 15-20 attractive girls! But I was shy. I had very little conversation with these young ladies, except one who I was very fond of as a result, and I struggled. As a musician and a dancer rather than athlete and scholar I found it hard to cope much of the time in an environment where I was operating in what that society perceived as a female-led role. Ignoring the physical rigours of ballet and the focus of music, it was a tough time.
But I was a boy. Computer games involved shooting things. I was in the gun club at school – and I was good. I still shoot today (yes I’m a Christian who has no moral objection to hunting with rifles for game like buck, boar etc. I’d never shoot a Lion or Elephant unless it was their life or mine. Deal with it.) I made a bow and arrows. It wasn’t Robin Hood, but it worked – kind of.
But the thought of putting a woman in battle instead of me? Never. My back pains, my knees are stiff and I’m seriously out of shape and I’m over 40. I’d still rather go into battle in my condition than have a healthy 25 year old lady go in for me.
I wouldn’t put her in harm’s way.
Politicians seem to miss that. There are female warriors in Scripture, but the point is made clearly – it is to the shame of the men if they insist the women go with them.
So Mr President, please be consistent. Equal but different roles.
Enough of the antithesis of “political correctness”.