The True Value

Realize The  Value of the Tree.

 

I’m 44. I’ve been a Christian since November 1985 – coming up 31 years.

Currently I don’t go to church every week. I’d like to, but it’s not always easy. When I do go, I’m not well known or easily recognised these days. I sit and pray, listen to the Word being taught and worship with all my heart. Sometimes when I worship I even join in the songs.

I’ve met one of the pastors once or twice personally, but I’m not known by them – or them by me. I simply go when I can to be around other Christians.

I usually get raised eyebrows when I “confess” my current non-member status of a local church. I’ve applied for jobs where I’ve been rejected because I don’t have a “current” pastor and the last Pastor I had is not in “ministry” any more so apparently he’s not a good enough reference. I’ve been self-employed most of the last 20 years, but organisations want the reference of my last employer or manager.

Eventually it always comes down to one thing when I tell people I write a Christian Blog and I’m working on a book.

“What makes you think you’re qualified to write or talk about God in your current ‘spiritual condition’?”

There is much in my life I don’t share with everyone. There’s a good reason for that. It’s none of their business.

What I do share s what Jesus in my life means.

I didn’t become a Christian so I would avoid Hell – and yes, I do believe there’s a literal Hell. I didn’t become a Christian because I wanted a comfortable life. Or a good job. Or no problems.

Or a million other reasons than people who don’t really know Jesus think I became a Christian for.

I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of 13 because I knew I was terribly broken, and He could fix me. The break was something missing. I recognised I needed a relationship with God to be whole. And no matter what I did on this earth it would never be enough to earn that relationship.

I realised the value of the Cross.

I read an article about a man who described himself as a “secular follower of Jesus” a few days ago. He said how he was better for living by following Jesus’s example. He befriended prostitutes, the homeless, the broken. He made time for veterans begging on street corners in his city. He refused to judge people by their skin colour or religious background. He simply went about doing “good”.

And missed the point completely.

 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:40-43

The thief on the cross next to Jesus didn’t go out and make friends with the poor. He never even compensated the people he’d stolen from. All he did was accept Jesus as Lord. He realised Jesus’s Kingdom was not of this world, but rather was a place beyond and above this mortal coil. He didn’t go and embrace the LGBTQ (and any other letter they want to add) community.

All he did was realise the value of the tree Jesus was hanging on.

I’m looking forward to meeting that guy. I’m longing to know his name. But I know his story. His story is my story. He realised he was broken and the only was to find the relationship He realised in his dying moments he needed was to embrace the one hanging next to him. Jesus.

Somewhere in the last 150 years we’ve lost sight of the Cross.

How did it happen? How has the central message of Christianity become so sidelined by false issues?

We’ve become so politically correct in the way we treat one another we’re afraid to say anything for fear we’ll offend someone.

A few years ago I worked in property maintenance for a while. I loved the job, but the best part was the friendship with my boss, Duncan. We used some tools manufactured for American companies although we were based in England, and the safety instructions were amazing. All the instructions were in cartoon form – no words. There was a cartoon of a man chopping his fingers off by putting them into the rotating blades of a lawnmower.

Now I may not be the sharpest tool in the work-shed academically, but I don’t need instructions, cartoon or otherwise, to tell me if you have a razor sharp blade rotating at 300rpm underneath a solid steel plate which wraps around it and holds it close to the ground that it’s probably not the best idea in the world to flip it over and put my fingers into the path of the blade.

What does that have to do with Jesus?

It’s an example of how we’ve become so obsessed with coddling people. The manufacturer of the mower was sued by a man who cut his fingers off by putting his hand in the path of the blades while it was running. 75 years ago he’d have been called an idiot for doing such a daft thing. But 20 years ago, he won the case.

Because of a side issue.

The real issue was his foolishness to put his hand into a moving lawnmower. The case made it about the manufacturer not putting adequately visible warning signs to keep fingers clear of the moving blades.

Our real issue is we are inherently sinful and consequently separated from God – He even gave us an instruction manual we call “The Bible” outlining what the real issue is and how to circumvent the consequences.

The sheep mentality of the 21st Century has spent all it’s timebc346-sheep screaming about women’s rights (which would be advocated in a truly Christian society), whether Bush was a good President, whether Obama was a good President, why the Republicans chose Donald, whether Hillary should be wearing a pantsuit, what went wrong with Brad and Angelina, can Justin Bieber sing, is the Hulk stronger than Thor and most importantly, will there be another “Harry Potter” book.

Incredibly, the fact that Islam is a false religion that leads people away from relationship with God and back into slavery of religious duty has become a dirty statement for Christians to make. What God says about sexuality – which He designed in the first place – has been decried as outdated and anyone who dares mention out loud that the Bible says God never changes, that He is the one constant, is now called a heretic. We’ve had 30 years of “famous” preachers who have become household names. Those who have stuck to the Biblical teaching are ridiculed and those who bow to the tide of public opinion instead of the declared, known Will of God on the topic are lauded as the “real” christians because they don’t “judge” people for their choice.

What they actually do is become sightless guides, leading people into a pit.

Now we’re not called to judge people, but we are called to recognise them by the fruit they bear as to whether they are from God. Jesus spent His time talking to prostitutes, tax-collectors, adulterers and Samaritans. But it didn’t mean He was making use of the prostitute’s services, swindling the people out of their money, cheating on people’s spouses or abandoning God. It meant He saw in each of those people a fertile soil for the seed of His Word to grow in and lead them away from the actions that pulled them away from God.

That’s what the Cross was about. Rebuilding relationship with a Loving God who created us specifically in His own image so we could have a relationship with Him.

The “progressive” message is insidious in it’s phrasing. It starts with a measure of Truth: Jesus wouldn’t reject this person because he/she is gay/queer/trans/Muslim/etc. I completely agree – He wouldn’t. He would offer them unconditional Love. What He wouldn’t do is leave them in the place He found them – which is what the “progressives” want us to do.

Take the woman brought to Him from the very act of adultery. Probably at least partly naked. Terrified because this mob wants to kill her. Thrown to the ground in front of this man known for His Holiness, His righteousness. The Law is clear…

So this Rabbi turns away from her a little, crouches down and begins to write in the sand.

Everyone looks at Him. What wisdom is He writing? Why has he crouched there?

How tender. How merciful. A moment before all eyes were on her – and her nakedness. Now everyone’s attention is on Him. She has a chance to cover herself. She has an opportunity to restore some dignity.

He stands and turns back to her. What is most significant now is what Jesus doesn’t say.

He doesn’t say “Where is the one she was with?”

He doesn’t tell them “The Law says do it!”

He turns the accusation back on the accusers.

However, when they persisted in questioning Him, He straightened up and said, “He who is without [any] sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7 (Amplified)

And they walk away.

Then He turns to the woman.

Again, Jesus doesn’t ask who she was with. Or if it was a man or a woman. Or for the details of what they did. He knows what they did was sin – that’s all that matters to Him.

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She answered, “No one, Lord!” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

John 8:10-11  (Amplified)

The “progressive” attitude omits His last sentence. “From now on sin no more.” But that’s the key to the real issue. Sin separated mankind from God. Trusting Jesus, giving our life to Him and really nailing our past to the Tree with Him, is what restores that relationship. Sin no more.

Every time Jesus talks to someone crippled because of sin He tells them to stop that sin. In one case he even warns something worse may come. (John 5:14)

Forgiveness without repentance. It’s the “progressive” gospel, but it’s a lie. Unconditional acceptance is not the message of Jesus. There’s one condition: repent. Repentance means realising the significance of the Cross. It means accepting Jesus and the price He paid for us and as a mark of that acceptance, turning away from our past life. An outward manifestation of this Salvation is Regeneration – a change in behaviour, speech, even associations.

But the lie of the “progressive” movement is that you’re saved and forgiven. It’s a lie of omission. To be forgiven we must repent. To show we are saved we must demonstrate the regeneration inside us.

For the geeks out there, imagine Dr Who goes through his regeneration and is still exactly who he was before. He looks the same, he talks the same. He is the same. Now for fans who like David Tennant (or Tom Baker if you’re my age) that might be a good thing, but the story doesn’t change. There’s no difference. It’s as though the regeneration never happened.

I never imagined I’d quote Dr Who in an article here.

But it’s a brilliant analogy. Each regeneration of the Doctor changes his character. Tom Baker’s Doctor was nothing like William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton or John Pertwee before him, and Peter Davison bore no resemblance to Tom Baker and so on. The character changed when the regeneration happened.

So our character should change – be restored actually – to what Jesus intended it to be when He designed us and gave us the Gifts we carry. I’m still quick tempered now, like I was before I committed my life to Christ, but what I get angry about has changed. Mostly. Like everyone I’m a work in progress. As Andrew Wommack is fond of saying in his sermons, I may not have arrived – but at least I’ve left! Praise God!

Go to the Cross.

Right now. Go there in your heart.

Look at it. Really see what Jesus did.

I have no words better than Isaac Watts, so I’ll leave with this thought:

 

 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

 

The Folly of Legalism

What to do when everything is Forbidden

“Thou shalt not…

So says much of the opinion from the Pharisees. It’s echoed in the doctrines of Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutherism. Calvinists swear by it. Southern Baptists in particular have a long list.

The Law in the Old Covenant was misunderstood in a huge way. The ancient Jews thought it had been given to them so they could earn a way to Heaven. They completely missed the point.

A couple of years ago I read a great book called “The Year of Living Biblically” by AJ Jacobs. He describes it as “One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible”. It’s a brilliant and funny look at the crazy Laws of both the Old and New Testaments. A satirical (I hope!) look at legalism.

The thing is, as amusing – and trust me, it’s amusing – as it is, Jacobs focusses on the things forbidden by the Bible. I think to make a point.

And it did. It got me thinking about what I believe, and why I believe it.

The point of the Law was to demonstrate to the Jews that Salvation in every area was impossible to achieve by following a set of rules. Jesus equates holding anger in your heart to murder and “appreciating” the figure of the girl across the street as adultery. Just in those two simple thoughts at some point we’ve all been guilty of murder, coveting, adultery, etc, etc…

And I do mean all been guilty of it.

Pretty much the only thing that got a jail sentence under ancient Law was debt. Everything else, they killed you. That’s why when Jesus is brought the woman caught in the act of adultery nobody throws a stone. In retrospect, every one of them realised they were as deserving of stoning as the woman was.

I heard Donald Trump say he’d never asked forgiveness from God because he’d never done anything that needed forgiving. Maybe in terms of outward actions he’s right – unless you count adultery anyway. But he’s demonstrated what his thoughts are countless times, and I think we can agree this is a man who lacks a moral compass.

Not that Hilary Clinton is any better. She just knows how and when to keep her mouth shut (mostly). Politics is rife globally with morally bankrupt pseudo-leaders claiming innocence. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma was tried for rape shortly before being elected President, and the Constitutional Court held that several hundred counts of corruption and failing to uphold the Constitution should be prosecuted against him.

It seems like anything goes these days.

Nothing it forbidden any more.

St Paul had a similar problem in the church in Rome. Much of the society there can be seen in modern attitudes. Things which were absolute negatives by Mosaic Law were so commonplace nobody noticed them as sin any more. They were just a part of the way things were. Temples had prostitutes in them – some had more than the brothels did – murder was put on daily as entertainment in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus in Rome and the amphitheatres around the Roman Empire.

What do you do when society demonstrates no moderation?World Law

Demonstrate Holiness.

Worldly society is gradually changing the rules for mankind. When warned of changes, Christians need to be the ones to initiate reforms. Throughout history for 2000 years that’s what has happened. Abolition of slavery, education for all, welfare handouts (alms), legal age of consent, age of majority, ending racism and sexism (or trying to). These have been done, and are being worked on by Christians. Men like William Wilberforce, John and Charles Wesley, William Booth, Billy Graham, CH Spurgeon and many other lesser known but equally important men and women of God have changed history.

But their focus was mainly on what was not forbidden rather than a list of decrees on stopping behaviour.

Consider your toddler. “Don’t poke the dog” is seen less as a command and more of a challenge issued to small children. My own brother died because he didn’t listen when my parents told him not to go out on his bicycle to the local garden centre because the road was too dangerous. He was nine. He caused an accident that left him dead and scarred an innocent motorist’s memory for life because of Robin’s actions.

No, “thou shalt not” has never been particularly effective. Even the death penalty doesn’t deter people these days. And why should it? Popular society has decreed there is no literal Hell, the devil doesn’t exist and God is this guy in a dressing-gown with a beard down to his knees who is a vegan pacifist. Of course that god would let anyone in to heaven.

But there are moral absolutes. God’s opinion on sinful thoughts and actions is perfectly clear. The Bible also says God does not change, but rather:

Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same yesterday and today and forever

Hebrews 13:8 (Amplified)

The Holy Spirit gives Peter a vision of all kinds of animals lowered in a blanket from Heaven, and he is invited to kill and eat (Hebrews 10 & 11) both kosher and ceremonially unclean animals. (Personally I’m glad. I love bacon!) This is an echo of Jesus’ words that it is not what we eat, but what comes out of our mouths in the form of anger or hate that makes us “unclean”.

All things are lawful [that is, morally legitimate, permissible], but not all things are beneficial or advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life]. Let no one seek [only] his own good, but [also] that of the other person.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (Amplified)

In the New Covenant, Jesus has completed the Law and granted permission to us to act how we choose. But Paul shows this freedom is only free because it has boundaries of morality and decency.

Not all things are good for us – even if the law of the World says they are ok. Man’s laws must be placed behind God’s, and it’s our place as Christians to see that they are.

Now before the extreme right wing gets their rifles out let me quantify that. (For the extreme right wing, that means I’m going to break it into small words for you so you understand.)

We should seek to protect those who cannot protect or speak for themselves. That includes babies being terminated.

PUT THE RIFLE DOWN!

It NEVER means “go shoot the doctor and blow up the clinic”. There are times when the safety of the mother needs to be considered. In the case of pregnancy by rape, the issue must never be an absolute forbidding of termination.

What it does mean to be “pro-choice” is that you are free to make the choice before the pregnancy. Sex outside marriage is not God’s plan, but if you’re going to do it at least make sure no unplanned pregnancy can happen. Abortion should never be a contraceptive option. No baby should be aborted because they will be inconvenient.

Sex before marriage is permissible in so far as it’s no longer something to be executed for, but it’s not beneficial for us. It gets in the way of our relationship with God.

I love “Bones” on TV. One of the greatest things is the battle inside Booth, the “good” Catholic, over his standing with God before he marries Brennan. He has a child with her and they live together but he can’t go to confession any more because he would have to confess sexual immorality and he can’t get absolution because his confession needs to be from a place where he will repent and completely stop the unGodly behaviour, but he won’t because he’s “in love” with Brennan.

Forgiveness is hard to come by when everything is forbidden.

It’s easy to go to God and be forgiven when it’s something we didn’t mean to do, want to do and will never do again. But when it’s something that brings a little happiness it makes it difficult. Blocks between us and God get put in place the second we say “forbidden”.

Samuel L Jackson’s character in “The Negotiator” tells his colleague to never say “No” to a hostage taker. It closes options.

God, I believe, recognises this in us. He meets us where we are.

And what was forcibly forbidden under the Old Covenant is more gently guided out of society through forgiveness and repentance – the complete turning away from these actions that threaten our relationship with God.

Forbidding leads to intolerance and hate.

And there’s enough of that without the Church adding to the mayhem. We should be the Peacemakers.

Facing the Past to Move into God's Future

We all have them. Skeletons in our closets that make us feel unusable. Things we wouldn’t want the people around us to know.

“Peter had an affair”. “John left his wife”. “Before she joined the church Anne was a prostitute”. “Alan embezzled to get where he is today”.

Maybe not as big, but we all have them. Events from our past that haunt us. Playing “doctor” as a child and exploring the opposite gender for the first time – or the twenty-first as an adult.

It’s the seemingly little things that haunt us. The accusations that come in the night when we’re alone. Our husband or wife asleep beside us and the guilt that floods our minds. Images real or imagined flood through our beings and we lose sleep. Actions whether taken or not haunt us as God’s Children. We feel the missed mark more acutely than the bullseye.

I remember very little of my childhood. My brother died when he was ten and I was 13, and the majority of the time we had together is more a memory of a memory. There’s very little clarity in my head. I remember the loss. The pain of losing Robin but not the joy of having him in my life.

I remember skeletons we shared with cousins and friends as small children do, exploring out of sight of adults the mysteries of our differences. Why did this cousin play with dolls and this one with toy guns? Robin died in 1985 and personal computers – although available – were things of luxury. We finally got one just a few weeks before he died and instantly all our friends wanted to come and see and play games on it. But mostly we went to other people’s homes and played traditional games.

Simpler times. No cell-phones or facebook to interrupt us. We played and explored as generations had done before.

Something happened as we grew up. Friendship got replaced with BBM and Whatsapp. Facebook dominates the time of the majority of the youth at a time when they need to find out who they are they are too busy trying to find out if Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears are wearing underwear. A few years ago in the movie “True Lies” (1994) a character laments that Axl Rose and Madonna are the one’s raising their kids these days, not mom and dad. 21 years later how much has that deteriorated. Now most parents might be happy for that influence instead of Ashley Madison…

The assault on the nuclear family in the media has been relentless. Pre-nuptuial agreements, contracts settling how equity will be divided in the event of divorce are routine contracts these days. The concept of “All my worldly goods with you I share” is replaced with an addendum “except the lake house in Virginia, the ski lodge in Aspen and the Yacht in Miami.” Marriages are entered into with the expectation of failure.

At a time when families are needed more we have fewer men capable of being real men because they have never been fathered themselves.

I was blessed that my grandfathers both survived the second World War, one as a minister on the Home Front – something he regretted to the day he died as he wanted to go to Europe and fight the Nazis, and the other as a Major in the British Army serving as a motorcycle outrider and accountant for the regiment with distinction gained for valour on the Normandy Beach assaults, D-Day, June 6th 1944.

The foundation these strong men left was passed down to me as an example of what a real man should be. Fearless in battle, both spiritual and physical, a protector.

Too many of my friends growing up didn’t have what I had. Parents had divorced, grandfathers had died and fathers had had no guiding influence because their own grandfathers had died between 1914 and 1918. Two lost generations dead physically or too traumatised to raise sons to be Men.

This is the past we must face.

This is what as Christians we must overturn.

The steady moral decay from the 1950’s through to today, removing Christian influence in schooling in the 1960’s, the rise of a powerful atheist minority who make a lot of noise while the Church stays silent has resulted in a world gone mad. Smaller wars like Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands, Afghanistan, Desert Storm along with genocide in African countries and now ISIS and their atrocities added to “ethnic cleansing” in central Europe makes for a holocaust of slaughter that Hitler himself would be proud of.

We must repent of our past.

Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech 53 years ago this year. He called on citizens to rise up and break the bonds of tyranny and segregation. Just 20 years ago my wife and I would be criminals in South Africa as I am white and she is not. I have been accused to my face of betraying my race by both black and white individuals.

It is a past we need to move beyond.

God has a plan for the future of Mankind. He called it “Incarnation”

He took our own form, lived a human life and died a human death so we could have a future in Him after His resurrection.

His plan for the future is what we need to remember.

My wife and I watched “Evan Almighty” recently. God appears in the form of Morgan Freeman and instructs a young congressman to build an Ark like Noah had been told to.

His explanation after a burst dam floods a housing project and the ark has saved hundreds of lives is that to change the world, all we need to to make one act of random kindness a day.

Act of
Random
Kindness.

ARK.

The simplicity of the message is right up there with the parables if we approach it from a Godly standpoint rather than an entertainment one.

What if God’s future were really based on building on Acts of Random Kindness? What if we could effect change simply by adopting a puppy or making peace with a neighbour?

That’s a personal dig at myself. I can forgive people who steal from me – and I do so easily. I have forgiven people who threw the first punch physically (even when I threw the last one) and gone on to have long friendships with them, but forgiving my literal next-door neighbour has caused me great anxiety. My olive branches have been made into kindling to start a new fire. After an attempted break-in on our property which sent our dogs nuts at three in the morning I went round to apologise and ask if they were ok as the intruder had jumped the fence between our properties. I left feeling like I was the bad-guy because his sleep had been disrupted.

Forgiving him has been difficult. And is a work in progress.

It’s also essential for my own growth. Unforgiveness is a cancer in the soul that prevents us moving to the next level with God. To move into the future I must forgive the ones who have hurt me.

All of them.

So do you. We all have the annoying neighbour, relative or acquaintance we can’t escape. Sometimes the easiest way is to decide to forgive, but to sever contact with that person. It’s not always easy. Especially when it’s family – believe me. But in the end we don’t need conflict in our lives. Conflict prevents God from giving us the Best He has for us. Forgiveness opens that door.

So face the past. Acknowledge it, but don’t hold onto it.

Move into the Future God has for you.

You’ll never regret it.
Mistake