Carefree Living

There’s a lot of terms that can be used to sum up life in my home for the last few years.

Carefree” isn’t one of them.

Just on my side I’ve battles ongoing with PTSD, ADD, Diabetes and now (finally) I know my back pain is actually a condition called “Scheuermann’s disease” and I’ve had it since my spine was still developing. It’s fun living in this body sometimes.

The one thing that has never been dampened through all of it is my faith.

I can concentrate for longer periods when it’s something to do with God than other stuff. I’ve struggled to stand or sit for long periods – except (usually) when it has something to do with Jesus.

I don’t think that’s coincidence.

Jesus never promised our lives would be carefree if we followed Him. In fact He promised the opposite. We would face persecution in many forms because the World would hate us just as it hates Him. We become Christians not to get an easy ride.

Anyone who thinks being a Christian means getting the top job with a good wage, 2.5 kids, a house in the ‘burbs with a dog and no confrontation or problems is delusional. Anyone who claims they never have any problems because they are Christians is probably doing it wrong (or smoking the really potent stuff).

The late Dave Duell said at a meeting in England several years ago that if we don’t run into the devil it’s because we’re going in the same direction.

And for the record, the devil’s name is not “Donald” or “Hillary” or “Republican” or “Democrat”. He’s the accuser, the father of lies, the destroyer. He comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

Maybe I should rethink the “name” comment?

There’s enough hate being spewed by all sides in the US election garbage coverage that gets put out over the internet to fertilise the whole of Texas.

Twice.

Weekly.

And the most alarming thing for me is who is spouting this latest drivel. Men and women I’ve previously respected as Christian leaders decrying the Democrats as the “enemy” or Donald as the “antichrist” (ok, that was a bit far, but I can see why they said it).

There’s nothing carefree about being a Christian at the moment.

This time in history is seeing a marked increase in the aggressive nature of Muslims – and I’m not talking about the politicised version present in Daesh. I’m talking about people I know, who I consider friends becoming more radical in their statements, their Facebook posts and tweets.

And it’s a response to what the radical “christians” are saying.

“Love your neighbour” has been replaced with “Love your neighbour as long as he/she is an accurate reflection of your own values”.

It’s a good job Jesus rose again, or He’d be turning in His grave…

Carefree living is what these “leaders” (in the loosest sense of the word) are promising. The freedom to live free – behind a wall. To worship freely – as long as you’re in the same denomination as the elected one. To carry guns freely (unless you’re not white) – because they don’t understand their own constitution.

Orwell wrote in “Animal Farm” that Napoleon the 1984Pig re-wrote the rules to say “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” You don’t have to read the whole book (although you should) to see he was right. 1984 was meant as a warning, but is being used as a “how-to” guide for leadership.

The image here may be a fake – to be honest I’m not certain – but it certainly isn’t far from the truth of the way the world lives right now.

We are supposed to live a life of Freedom, but we happily trade this Freedom Christ gave up everything to purchase for us in order to feel “protected” by the close eye of, well these days anyone with a video camera and a home computer. My cell phone has not one, but 2 cameras on it, designed to get perfect shots in near darkness. My computer has just one – usually covered with masking tape as they didn’t make an “app” that can remove it yet.

But I’m sure Apple are working on it.

The irony is we were far more carefree when we didn’t have access to so much “important” “news” like the Kardashians, who wrote Donald’s latest speech, who allowed some fool who thought he was entitled to hold an opinion different than everyone else at the RNC – and air it.

Folks, I have disabled 90% of the news feeds that were automatically loaded on my phone when I got it. And I still get swamped every day by worthless words.

In fiction there was always said (in the books I grew up reading anyway) to be power in names. Dragons, mermaids etc would never divulge their name to a human because it gave that human power over them.

In Scripture we can see the Truth in the power of Words.

The old adage “words will never hurt me” was obviously said first by a hermit who had never encountered another living person.

Jesus was careful with what He said and to whom He said it. Consider the length of the Sermon on the Mount, and the last teaching He gave the disciples before His arrest in John 14-17. Compare it with how much He says to Herod and Pilate.

Words taken out of context can kill you.

In Business Communication we talk about “interference” in communication. This term refers to what was meant by the speaker and understood by the hearer of a simple phrase.

Take this one:

“God is for you”

Where we put the emphasis can change the meaning completely.

God is for you”, “God is for you”, “God is for you” and “God is for you” all hold different meanings. And by stressing more than one word the number changes exponentially. It’s how the written text in the Bible has been twisted from a key to freedom into a hammer to beat down peoples throughout history.

And we add words to the statements as well. That’s what got Eve into trouble. God said “Don’t eat the fruit”. Satan asks her about it and the message is embellished to “don’t even touch it” either by Eve wanting to sound emphatic or because Adam had added to what God had told him.

We all know the result. Sin. Death.

God is not a Republican. Neither is He a Democrat. He’s certainly not a Communist or a member of the ANC, Conservatives, Labour, Liberal-Democrat or any other political party even (possibly especially) if it says “Christian” in the name of the party.

We are supposed to receive Life in abundance, not elections, and certainly not long-winded self-serving speeches.

Maybe not carefree – that will come after Christ returns and we go to spend eternity with Him – but certainly not oppressed the way we are today.

Russia has just banned all Christian meetings not taking place in a recognised church, and no correspondence of any kind mentioning God may be entered into by two people. Thankfully we are advised in Acts 5:29 to obey God, not men – although in Russia this may start to mean a long state-sponsored holiday to Siberia the way it did pre-Glasnost, and in the Middle-East it could result in decapitation at the hands of a lunatic. In the West and some emerging economies it will probably start costing promotions, employment, housing etc and Christians will be told to “get over” themselves because it’s not “real” persecution. After all, nobody in the West is ever killed for being a Christian. Unless you count Ireland where you need to be the right type of Christian, or America where you need to be the right colour of Christian.

So maybe my life isn’t carefree. In reality it never was after I left home – and for several years before that.

Neither is yours. But we can make moves together to walk back in the direction of the Cross and a life free of the cares of this World if we can just get past our own egos.

Make the step today.

Seeing Despite the Clouds

Clouds

A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost his light; and dark black convictions are no arguments that God has laid aside His mercy.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There’s been a lot of turmoil recently in the world. Brexit, the bombing in Istanbul, continuing political turmoil in America. A lot of problems.
The World loves problems. It loves to try to block out the Light by throwing clouds across the sun, or rather trying to hide the Son.
CS Lewis said “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” There’s a lot of truth in that, as with most of what Lewis wrote. The man had a deep and profound wisdom that I hope in another 30 years I might have 10% of.
But the World hates the Light. It wants to try to dim God’s Glory by throwing clouds across our path. As I’m writing this there is a heavy rainstorm going on outside my window, rattling on the roof and a draught blowing through a crack in the window-frame. It reminds me of another storm.
Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus their women and children. Conservative estimate may put the total at 12-15000 hungry mouths. And He did it with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Pretty amazing stuff. You’d think it would make an impression on His closest friends.
I love the disciples. They see such an amazing miracle and then a storm on a boat and they forget exactly who it is they walk with. Clouds cover the event from less than a day before. They get focussed on the immediate situation, the storm.
The clouds.
They lose sight of the One they are walking with.
Peter does a bit better. They all see Jesus walking across the surface of the sea through the storm towards them. The boat is sinking, but Peter realises there’s something more here. He cries to Jesus.
Now something I’ll write about another time is how to ask Jesus a question. It’s too big to go into here in detail. Suffice to say Peter generally before Pentecost tended to open his mouth for the express purpose of changing feet. “If it is you” he calls to Jesus.
“If”.
What’s Jesus going to say? “It’s not me Peter, stay in the boat”? He puts God on the spot. He opens up himself as well.
The storm rages on. The swell is swamping the ship. It’s sinking, and there’s nothing Peter can do to stop it. He’s a fisherman. How many times might he have lost friends to a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee? Now it’s him that’s caught in one.
But for a blinding moment Peter sees through the clouds and gets out of the boat. In the middle of the sea. And he walks to Jesus. Only when he begins to see the clouds, when he takes his eyes off the Christ, does he begin to sink.
I’ve never “begun” to sink. I step onto the surface of the swimming pool and I don’t “begin” to sink.
But Peter begins to sink. The clouds of the storm have distracted him, but he is still aware of the Son behind them – so he calls to Jesus again. And they walk back to the boat together, over the surface of the water.
What clouds are in your life? Finance? Sickness? Unemployment? Losing a home? Unhappy marriage?
The worst thing you can say to someone who’s depressed is “just pull yourself together”. The clouds of that illness overwhelm to the point that they are blinding.
We lose sight of the light behind the cloud. It’s easy to do.
About 17 years ago my dad was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a particularly nasty brain cancer with a life expectancy of around 12 to 16 weeks after diagnosis. Treatments available at the time didn’t increase the time he had left, they simply made his last weeks miserable with nausea, drug induced diabetes, and so many tablets it took my mum aver an hour to get them all into him. He’d just be settling from the breakfast dose when she had to start with the lunchtime round.
Dad and I were close. He was my closest friend, my Spiritual brother. We had played and prayed together for most of my life. Now I was losing him. The clouds closed in around me, and despite having been a Christian for almost 15 years at that point I lost sight of the Son behind the clouds.
Depression followed, and brought 4 suicide attempts – a much longer story that I’ll share another time. The clouds swallowed me because I forgot how to look behind them.
Just a few days before he died there was a total eclipse in England. We went up to the top of the local hill where the parish church had stood until arsonists destroyed most of it a few years before. It was an amazing experience, watching the moon’s shadow cover the sun. Birds went to roost, flowers closed, New Age hippies rattled tambourines (much to everyone’s annoyance) but not once did anyone – even the smallest children – doubt that the sun would come out again.
We can deal with an eclipse, but we think the world is ending because of a cloud!
I see death and suffering on a daily basis in South Africa. It’s hard seeing someone come through when they just got the news that they have cancer, or HIV, or whatever the reason is they come to see us (I work at a medical practice). It’s part of the reason I’m getting out from working in that environment. It’s secular. I can’t turn to them and remind them that the Son is still there and on their side. We see many different religious beliefs as well as agnostics, and it tears me up inside to not be able to shake them sometimes and rattle the clouds away even if just for a moment.
I do get the chance sometimes, and that’s very rewarding. But I need more.
We are called to be the Light to the World, to let Jesus shine through us. But then we wrap ourselves up in the same clouds everyone else is covered by and try to hide so we don’t “offend” them.
It’s time to offend some people. Ever notice how the World doesn’t think twice about offending Christians? A conservative estimate suggested a couple of years ago that there are over ten times the number of committed Christians in America than homosexuals – not taking into account those who claim to have a foot in both camps.
Ten times the number.
Where are the “Christian Pride” rallies? Where are the vocal Christians? And I’m not referring to the cranks and crackpots lining up to endorse assorted political “leaders” (and I use the word under advisement), but the voice of the real, grass-roots Christians who can see through the clouds and smokescreen the media whips up.
How have we reached the point where the darkness is overcoming the light?
Clouds blow over. The sun is always there, just behind them.
Look past the clouds in your life today and see the Son shining, reaching out to you.
I’d like to hear: What are three things we can do to help us remember that even when the clouds are there, the light shines through?
And please, no “read the Bible more” or “pray harder” type answers.
Blow the clouds away!

The Sacrifice

Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God given for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies
That I might live, that I might live

Amazing Love: Graham Kendrick

I’d be the first to admit I’m not a huge Graham Kendrick fan. I find his songs too simplistic often. It feels like the magnitude of Christianity is minimised to me in some of them.

But then there’s “Amazing Love”.

From the first time I heard it around 1991 it gripped me. For once the simplicity magnified the message.

John and Charles Wesley wrote of the magnitude of God, His Majesty is ever present in their hymns. I grew up singing traditional hymns in a traditional church in England. The words meant less to me then than the music did. I was singing “Ave Verum Corpus” by Mozart at the age of 10 as a soloist, and I revelled in it. There was something majestic in the sound.

After my brother died, about 9 months later, I committed my life to Christ in the quiet of my bedroom in November 1985. Maybe I’ll write the whole story here some day, but not today. Suffice to say nothing changed in my circumstances, but how I listened to things changed.

Suddenly the words were more important than the melody. The heart behind the music rather than the music itself. At school we sang Durufle’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem and other pieces that my classmates sang for the music, I found myself singing for what was behind it.

“Amazing Love” came into my life as a song a couple of years after it was written, and a couple of years after I’d left school and moved away from home. It was a time of upheaval for me. My first serious relationship had ended and I was back in church regularly as a member of the choir. And annoying other modern marvels were being forced on us by a group determined to be “relevant”, who lacked the social connection with the “youth” required. The attempts were laudable, but doomed.96953-calvaryencaustic

Then there was this simple chorus. The words and music captured my heart for Worship and it reached a place of relevance for me.

“The Son of God, Given for Me”

The concept was one that had been on the back burner for me for a couple of years. A well meaning member of the clergy had inadvertently stopped me going to seminary, in fact put me off going to church completely, by giving me advice in a way I couldn’t respond to. Consequently I left home and moved in with my girlfriend instead of going to Bible College.

Now this song poured fuel on the embers that had been stoked and my Faith was growing again.

“My Debt He pays, and my death He dies, That I Might Live”

The whole Gospel summed up in once sentence. I didn’t weep because I was too broken emotionally to be able to – another VERY long story – but something inside me snapped home.

My debt, His Sacrifice. He went to the Cross for me. If I were the only one who would ever respond to the event on that hill, Jesus would still walk up and let them execute Him, just for me.

Just for you.

It blew my mind. Even now over 20 years later that chorus strikes my heart like very few others have done.

Jesus died for me personally. Now I’m a huge believer in the importance of being part of the Body, but the thought that it was so personal was brought back to the front of my mind by this one little chorus.

I love the old hymn “Amazing Grace” because it does much the same, but this was fresher for me. I needed the refreshing splash of the reminder against my weary face.

933ba-dali2b-2bchrist2bof2bst2bjohn2bon2bthe2bcrossThe modern church has done much to make God accessible again, the way Jesus and the disciples did 2000 years ago. Sometimes it tries too hard and misses so badly I want to distance myself from it. But then there’s songs like this one. Priceless gems hidden, even forgotten now because it was 25 years ago when it was written, that can rekindle a flame.

We get reminded every so often that Jesus came on a very personal and intensely focussed mission by books. Authors like Max Lucado, CS Lewis and John Eldredge remind us just how Jesus was a soldier battling the forces of the enemy from inside enemy-held ground.

I loved the movie “The Dirty Dozen” growing up, and “Where Eagles Dare” and “Guns of Navarone” were favourites too. More recently the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy struck the same chord. The heroes had to go into territory held by a ferocious enemy that would not hesitate to kill them if they were caught. If we read the Gospels, particularly John’s, we see the same threads. Here is an individual set down in occupied land, surrounded by people who want to kill Him. When we teach Sunday School, how often do we remind the children that Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys under the age of 2 years as part of the Christmas Story? I don’t remember that being part of the local pageant.

But it sets the scene. Eldredge described Jesus as “hunted” in “Beautiful Outlaw”. If I listen to Andrew Wommack’s teaching I can’t help hearing the way the enemy was hounding Him, and as a result us.

He gave up Heaven. Streets of Gold with gates made of a single pearl were exchanged for a cave, surrounded by livestock and a food trough lined with hay for a crib. This is the ultimate “black ops” mission. The fate of the entire human race is at stake. Jesus undertakes it willingly and humbly.

How dare we not be in awe of that?

Awe

A Daily Struggle

It’s been a rough week for me personally. In general I don’t like to get too personal in this blog as although Testimony is critical to our Spiritual walk it can often involve other people, and their story is not mine.

As far as possible this will be about my struggles recently.

Regular readers (both of you) know I’m starting this project as a result of a call on my life made 20 years ago that became developed into what is now this blog, and the newsletter soon to be produced for the mailing list. From there, the vision is to register formally as a non-profit Christian Charity with social change and outreach as goals. The newsletter will make the move into a self-financed print magazine using testimony and teaching provided by local and connected churches and ministries. It’s a challenge for someone diagnosed with ADD to head this up, and I am VERY aware I can’t do it alone.

I had a list of things I was going to do over the last 3 weeks towards EaglIMG_20160531_154122e’s Wing Ministries as a project. None of them got done. My oldest dog, Beamer, stopped eating and began drastically losing weight. The photo here was taken in January before she got sick. She was 36 kilos (about 7olbs) and although she was 12 years old she had just got her second wind as far as activity was concerned. She had a bit of pain in her hips, but nothing we couldn’t control, and the smile in this picture was typical of her when she was playing. We’d just taken a break from playing with the toy between her front paws, a “Kong”. She loved it and we’d had 3 in her life.

Fast forward twelve weeks and that smile was less enthusiastic and she was down to 27kg (55lbs +/-). For any creature losing that much weight that fast is a bad sign. We took her to a vet and she was treated for a gastric infection. It didn’t help and a week later she was 25kg. We took her back and the senior vet, Dr Futter, examined her. With half a century of experience he was able to confirm what I’d dreaded hearing. She had cancer. He offered to run tests to confirm it, but a physical examination had found her liver was not right. She would go downhill fast and be in a lot of pain.

Much as it hurt, my wife and I took the only choice we had and said goodbye to her. I knelt stroking her paws and her head as the injection was given, and my wife and I were the last faces she saw as she slipped away.

I’ve faced loss. My dad’s sister died in a fire in 1981, his cousin from cancer in ’83. My brother died in a road accident in 1985, Both my mum’s parents died from cancer in ’88 and ’91. Dad’s parents died relatively peacefully from their hearts giving up, then in ’99 my dad died of a brain tumour at 56, 7 years after retiring on health grounds and beating melanoma.

I know loss. We are intimately acquainted. There’s a lot more, but those stories belong to other people as well.

I saw more struggle and suffering in the first 28 years of my life in England than most see in 70. And it’s not given up. I’m 44 now and the hits keep coming.

But we weren’t promised an easy life. We are in a war as Christians, and soldiers are uniquely open to suffering.

6342a-dali-christofstjohnonthecrossJesus suffered. He sweated blood the night of His arrest. He was whipped until He was unrecognisable as a man, then He was nailed to a timber beam and left in the sun of a Middle-Eastern day to be suffocated by his own bodyweight dislocating His shoulders and elbows as He fought for every breath. His weight would cause His lungs to begin to collapse and finally He would die of suffocation, naked and in agony, a combination of blood-loss from the whipping, heat exposure under the sun and crucifixion. The final confirmation, a spear thrust into His side and what was left of His blood flowed out, already visually separated to look like blood and water.

Jesus suffered.

Jesus chose to.

Most of us don’t. In the two weeks since Beamer died we have had to rehome our other two dogs, Maggie and Sam, after they attacked and killed the family cat of my brother-in-law. We struggled with the choice. My first instinct was euthanasia – once a dog has a taste for the hunt they rarely lose it. Sam, having survived being hit by a van and a resulting collapsed lung and shattered pelvis had to have his femoral-head amputated to give him any mobility. The choice to let him suffer not knowing what his quality of life would be was a hard one, but nine years ago he was only a year old so we gave him the chance. Eight years ago his uninjured hind leg developed a tumour in the foot and to save him the whole leg had to be amputated. The specialist called it a “wide margin” to make sure there was no other cancerous tissue left. Any wider and he’d have had to decapitate him! Against the odds, he survived. In fact, he thrived.

He became the hunter of the family. We never had a rat problem. Sam caught and killed every rat that set its foot on the property, some of them as big as a cat…

Now he killed a cat. Not just any cat, but one much loved by the whole family. The choice was hard, but I made it. But grace was offered that I could not have done in the same situation. Lucien and Wendy asked us not to put Sam and Maggie to sleep because of this.

But we all felt since they have children that the dogs must be moved.

Two weeks of struggle.

I’ve read about the shootings in America, the issues with ISIS, atrocities by everyone in the Middle-East, and my struggle this week has been the behaviour of my dog. It seems small to most people. “It’s just a dog” is a phrase I’m used to, and it’s helped me reduce the number of “friends” I have on Facebook.

Maggie and Sam have been taken to my mum’s house, where 2 weeks ago Beamer – their mother – was staying. Her room, bed and blankets are now theirs. I watched them excitedly rush to find their mum today. Her scent must be overwhelming for them. I saw them mover the blankets and the mattress, then scratch at the door to go outside. I watched as they ran to Beamer’s favourite spot to lie outside, only to find it empty. I watched them try to understand their mum wasn’t there, and I couldn’t explain to them she wouldn’t be back. They have a struggle with that. We’ve gone from 5 dogs to 2 in 6 years. And you can’t explain it to them.

Struggles come in all shapes.

These came as a distraction to me. I have admin work for my day-job that needs doing, and marketing and desktop publishing design work for the ministry that is left undone for now because of these struggles.

They may seem petty in light of world events, but our personal struggles are things God cares about just as much as mass shootings. He notices a sparrow’s life (Luke 12:6), how much more does He notice ours? The trick of the Enemy is to make us feel our struggles are unworthy of God. Things we “should” be able to deal with ourselves.

But not giving God the little things is like trying to get a Ferrari to run on diesel. Technically the fuel might move the car, but it’ll never be what it was designed to be. A Ferrari is designed to run on high octane fuel. A human was designed to run on reliance on God.

Remembering that is the biggest struggle of all.
Struggle

Anger Management

“Be angry, and do not sin” Ephesians 4:26a

I have a temper. This I know. I’ve struggled with it for most of my life. More than lust, more than anything else I get angry. I see red.

Especially when someone I love has been hurt.

But not exclusively.

Anger gives place to the enemy in my life. It always has done. I have a mean streak that can be downright sadistic at times, and it’s not something I’m proud of. This is a confession, not a boast. It is the source of my greatest weakness, but when channelled correctly it can be a source of great Godly strength.

Unfortunately for me, most of the time it get misdirected.

We all have an aspect which allows the enemy to get a foothold in our hearts. Mine happens to be my temper, but I know people who struggle with greed, lust, envy and all manner of things that can be positive attributes if we use them the way God intends.

What it comes down to at the end of the day is pride.

It’s a sense of being wronged either by a perceived sleight, or someone else getting the promotion, the raise, the lotto win or anything where we believe ourselves to me more “deserving” than the other.

Sometimes it’s not wrong. I have had several people through the last 30 years come to me for help because they have been raped, assaulted or abused in some way. It’s not wrong to feel anger about the event. Nobody deserves that kind of tragedy in their life. It’s not wrong to be angry that cancer has afflicted a member of your circle. God hates those things. When Christ returns and the World is destroyed and reborn they will cease to exist. All pain and anguish will vanish and we will be left with Joy.

The problem for me – and many others – is the inability to separate the action from the perpetrator. Christ drove out the money-changers and traders from the Temple (twice) because He was overcome by zeal for the Holiness of God, not hatred for the men themselves. He went to the Cross as much for the traders as He did for the Disciples. Some of them may have been in the 5000 added to the Christian numbers after Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts. Others may have never returned to the job. For all we know, Zaccheus may have been among them.

Anger in itself is not sinful. Consider Jesus’s actions:

  1. He sees the Temple court being used for decidedly ungodly trade
  2. He looks around for cords and takes the time to braid them into a whip
  3. He takes the whip and marches into the Temple
  4. He starts a riot. Tables are overturned. Animals are driven into a frenzy.
  5. His anger is controlled. He gently releases the doves rather than throwing the cages to the floor

There is nothing pacifistic about the actions of Jesus that day. The Renaissance paintings portraying Jesus as about 120lbs soaking wet cannot be accurate. Could such a man single-handedly cause such a riot? This was a freight-train power, unstoppable and immutable. Hardly a nine-stone wimp’s actions. I weigh over 200lbs and I doubt I could do what Jesus did that day.

Yet there was no sin in His behaviour. It was a measured, calculated and controlled use of force. There are no recorded injuries from His actions (except the pride of the traders). Even the animals are unhurt, if a little panicked. Sinless anger.

Would that this were my skill.

I don’t fare well when I’m angry. And people get hurt. Usually emotionally, but I’ve been known to throw a punch (although not in the last 26 years or so). But that capacity is constantly present, just below the surface.

Paul says we need to take our thoughts captive and submit them to Christ. It’s something I struggle with. I remember Tony Campolo, a man whom I respect but don’t always agree with, at a festival in 1990 in England saying he was once asked “Would you be free from your burden of sin” and his response was “Ya know, it’s not really that b2ec7-p1030925_editedmuch of a burden. Actually I like it. I wouldn’t do it so much if I didn’t enjoy it!”

I can identify with that when it comes to anger. It’s a place I feel comfortable. It’s familiar to me. Anger has been a refuge for me for 30 years. I hide in it and let my sheer physical strength and mental brute force run amok of anything that gets in the way.

Hardly Godly.

But we are called to control ourselves. Or rather we are called to submit ourselves to God before we react. For me that’s a work in progress.

But we can make progress.

I have more peace in my heart now than I did when I began writing this post a few hours ago. Nothing externally has changed, in fact in some ways things have got more complicated.

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.