Keep Calm and…

Carry on Learning

23rd August saw the 17th anniversary of my dad’s death. I don’t usually keep track of the day, for several reasons – not least of which is that the event was a major part of the trigger that launched me towards depression and four [failed] suicide attempts.

Keeping calm isn’t my strongest suit. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a short temper. But I do consider myself to be a lifelong learner.

We essentially have two options in life. Growth or death. There is nothing else.

For over a year after my dad died I actively sought death. Instead of allowing myself to grow, I sank into a black pit of depression.

Just a few weeks before dad was diagnosed we had gone to a conference in Devon, just for the day. It was around the time of the Columbine shootings.I remember as one of the teachers had to return to his church in Littleton. We listened, worshipped and prayed. We went and had lunch, then the afternoon and evening sessions. Great teaching and amazing worship. Then a call for someone with cancer to go and receive healing. Nobody moved.

I didn’t know at the time, but my dad was already taking massive doses of painkillers for headaches. And I mean MASSIVE doses. A box of Nurofen a day.

A month later he collapsed with a massive brain tumour. He lived just 3 months more.

We both learned a lot from the experience. One important thing I learned was that not every minister gets it. At my dad’s bedside the day he went Home, the vicar came to pray with us and for him. He asked Jesus to take dad to himself and give comfort to those left behind. He said we can’t know God’s plan.

Dad had fought this sickness. Even then, he was fighting. I told him if he wanted to go that we’d be ok, even though I wasn’t sure. John, the vicar, was a decent guy. He wanted to do the right thing. But my dad was 56, just 12 years older than I am now, and far short of three score and ten. God limited man’s days to 120 years after the flood. 70 or 80 was an observation by Moses, not a decree of longevity by God. There were prophetic promises spoken over dad just a few weeks earlier that went unfulfilled because of his death. God’s Word does not return void, but we can curtail it’s effect.

When Jesus went to Nazareth in His ministry, the Bible says He could do very little in His hometown because of their lack of faith. He was not honoured because they thought they knew Him.

They didn’t.

They knew their concept of Jesus. Son of the carpenter. Brother of James and son of Mary. His earthly siblings were still living there. They couldn’t see the forest because their own trees obscured it.

I love to look at nature. The complexity of a flower and the intricate design of a pollinating Beeinsect like a bee or a butterfly. I try to not allow my own concept to prevent me seeing the glorious design God has put in place. Bees are truly incredible creatures. There is so much we owe this humble insect, yet most people seem terrified of them. Most people don’t get that if a bee stings you, it dies. Stinging is not on a bee’s “to do” list every morning.

The bee flies because it has no concept of aerodynamics. I’d never get into an aircraft that looked like a bee because at school I studied aerodynamics. I don’t know how a bee flies. It shouldn’t.

But a bee doesn’t know it shouldn’t, so it does. Simple faith.

I sit on chairs in the faith that they will hold me. I’m a big guy, 220lbs, and there have been times that faith has been misplaced. But generally chairs hold me. Otherwise I’d stand all the time.

I learn.

We do what we know we are. Proverbs 23:7 says “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” The context is of a selfish rich man paying lip-service to giving, but the concept holds true to all of us. We cannot behave in a way other than how we perceive ourselves to be. If we are not committed to growth, we will perish. It’s that simple.

Growth is not just the concept of new ideas, but to be prepared to stand fast on ones that have stood for thousands of years despite current societal and political trends. It’s hard when the World labels us “backward” or “x-phobic” (whatever the “x” of the moment is). But I’m more concerned about opposing God than man. We all should be.

God doesn’t change. No “shadow of turning” as the hymn puts it. “Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not; As thou hast been, thou for ever wilt be” (Great is thy Faithfulness).

We forget because remembering puts us in a quandary. There is no genetic reason for most behaviour. Including homosexuality, but not limited to it. Nature vs Nurture would seem to suggest heavily that Nurture – or errors in it – plays a role, a significant one, in our development.

I was accused often of being gay at school because I wasn’t a sportsman I was a musician, and outside school my main hobby was ballet. At six feet tall and about 190lbs I was the least likely dancer you could meet, but a dancer I was. I loved it. It was a “safe” place for me. I got the chance to express something through dance I couldn’t anywhere else, even in music. But I never doubted my sexuality. Very definitely NOT gay! I learned that respect for women Marilyn Monroe spoke of in one movie, a girl can walk through a backstage area nearly naked and not be molested, but put the same girl fully dressed in an office and she’ll be harassed was the sentiment. I forget which movie it was, I seem to remember a billionaire pretending to be a normal guy to woo her in it. I just remember the idea and thought about it a lot. Several of the girls at dancing were also at the sister-school to the boys school I went to and the comments the boys made were usually disgusting about them fully dressed. I can honestly say I never even thought that and I’d seen WAY more than they had over the years. The ladies were people to me, not objects.

I also learned young that looks change in a second. It’s folly to base a life on appearances. What taught me was the story of Simon Weston, the young officer badly burned in the Falklands War in 1982. He became a hero and a celebrity after his injuries on the HMS Sir Galahad scarred him physically, but the strength of who he was came through.

Learning is not optional.

Actually, I suppose it is. We can walk around ignorant if we choose to. Dad used to say “You can lead a horse to water, shove it’s head under the surface and waggle it’s tongue up and down. It drinks or it drowns!” He never literally tried it, but as a teacher he saw it with kids in his care, and the colleagues he worked with. The older, more experienced ones retired as the younger, inflexible and arrogant became the bosses and learning was replaced with memorising for testing.

The burden of working with the short sighted system pushed him into retirement.

We try to carry more than we should much of the time. We forget or ignore Jesus’s 8e422-unequal2byokeinvitation to take up His yoke and let Him give us rest, so we end up laughably unevenly burdened.

The result is burnout on a massive scale.

I know many people, formerly solid foundation (seemingly) based Christians who have walked away after a rough time hits them.

Broken marriages, depression, rejection by churches that should know better. They contribute to the destruction of the lives of the men and women, and the children they bring up.

Sadly, it’s too often the case. The psychological persecution is more effective than threat of a sword or a gun. A better example for the enemy’s camp is to turn one away from God, because that’s what people remember, not the thousands who stay, but the one sheep that wanders off.

But if we remain open to correction and growth, we can withstand anything.

Ask, Seek, Knock…

Craving

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]

9a93a-wrong2band2brightPaul 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 03382-atheismtheir 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.

  1. 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?”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Everything has a Context…

“I am a rock,
I am an island.”

I am a Rock; Paul Simon 1965

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.

BUT…

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from Jongensgat cottage

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.

 

Island

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.