It's [Not] Complicated…

Complicated and Confused

The biggest issue I hear when I tell people I’m a Christian is “Isn’t it terribly complicated? I mean, there’s all those things you can’t do.”

The hardest thing about my Faith in my experience is explaining how simple it actually is. Most people seem to think Christianity is either irrelevant – which is ok because they have a clear idea of what they’re rejecting – or similar to the Gordian Knot in it’s complexity.

In point of fact, Christianity is a very simple system. It goes something like this:

  • God is a just God.
  • He gave Adam one “don’t” instruction and told him the consequences of breaking it.
  • Adam broke it.
  • Rather than wipe out all His creation and start over, God chose to take His own punishment on behalf of Adam’s descendants.
  • He gives us the choice to accept His gift or reject it.
  • Acceptance makes us right with Him for eternity
  • Rejection means we face His judgement.

The issue most people today have is trying to deal with the thought that a Loving God will send people to Hell.

Mostly this is avoided by simply not believing in Hell. It makes it easy because people stop seeing consequences to their actions. The death penalty is no longer an effective deterrent to criminals in part because they have no concept of what lies beyond. Consider how in the USA the number of mass shootings end with suicide by the gunman. There’s no fear of an eternal consequence for their actions.

3909d-william2bbooth

William Booth spoke of the

consequences we face today at the turn of the 19th Century.

He was largely dismissed at the time as people couldn’t imagine a world where his predictions could happen.

Within 2 decades the First World War broke out and Western society changed forever. Just 21 years later in 1939 the Second World War took out the second consecutive generation of young men on a global scale and the change was effectively complete. By the late 1950s and early 60s the concept of Hell was all but dropped by most preachers. Many wouldn’t touch it because of the experiences so many had had during the War, either by bombings or on the battlefields of Europe and the Far East. Korea and Vietnam didn’t help, and the concept of “Hell on Earth” became popular and having been through it, Heaven would surely be the reward for everyone.

Now Christianity is straightforward, but not that simple.

Christianity is such a straightforward offer that it requires special talent to misunderstand it. Unfortunately, there is much of this talent available.

God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). He is undoubtedly a God of order. You can’t look at the way the planets rotate or how perfectly a honey-bee is able to draw the nectar from a flower and truly doubt the perfection of His design. Such design can only be achieved through order.

Yet somehow Christianity has been relegated to a “get out of Hell free” card in some transcendental monopoly game. So often there is little, if any, sign of Power in Faith. I’m not talking about political power, but real life changing power as the Disciples showed.

Over the last 2000 years there have been times of growth and times of stagnation in the Christian Faith. Every time of growth has corresponded with a return by a significant group to the simple, basic Truths of the Faith that have been central since Jesus’s time.

Capitec, a small bank in South Africa, advertises with the tag-line “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.” It’s true. The theory is sound. The simpler things are, the better they work.

Compare the simplicity of Christianity with the legalism of Islam. Eat anything because it’s what comes out of our mouth that shows us to be clean or unclean. Pray without ceasing, facing any direction you want and don’t worry if you didn’t bathe first – just talk to Me. Don’t rely on your own efforts to be “good enough” to get to Heaven, just rely on Jesus to be good enough and let Him bring you in.

I have several friends who are Muslim. We don’t often discuss religion as with some it has caused offence in the past. These days I lean more to living Christianity around them and let them ask why I’m doing what I do. It’s difficult, but I’ve always struggled with the people I’m closest to in terms of “evangelising”. I’m not a natural evangelist. On the few occasions we have spoken the differences between our faiths is stark. During Ramadan I spoke to one friend about fasting. She asked how fasting differed for Christians from the Muslim fast. I explained that when I fast I fast for a few days at a time. During that time I will eat nothing and drink only water and tea. She asked me what time each day I stopped. I explained that I didn’t. Fasting is total abstinence from food 24 hours a day while I fast.

She nearly fell off her chair. Not being able to eat at sundown was beyond her comprehension. She asked how long I have to fast for, what the “requirements” were. Again, it was obvious that my response was a surprise. I know people who have fasted for three weeks or more in that way, and some who fast just a day or two.

The freedom from a legalistic requirement on how and when to fast or pray is integral to the concept of Relationship in Christianity. If Alexander Graham Bell had been around in First Century Jerusalem, I’m 100% certain Jesus would have likened prayer to a personal call to God from His children – and He was just waiting for it to ring. The Bible was the call to us, kind of like an answerphone message, begging us to call Him back.

My mum tends to phone me around 8:30pm most nights. If I can’t answer for some reason she leaves a message and if its not too late I call her back. But I can call her or vice-versa at any time during the day. Imagine if I could only call or receive a call at a specific time from a phone plugged in to a particular socket. That wouldn’t be relationship, it would be ritual.

Jesus is all about relationship. His purpose was to restore Relationship with the Father by His sacrifice. The breaking of the legalistic requirements of the Law by completing it was the method. The point of the Law was to show mankind that we could not make it to God ourselves, but rather to point to Him as the one we needed to receive salvation. Any religion that then takes us back to following a set of rules instead of the freedom of Grace confuses and complicates our existence.

There are rituals in Christianity. The most obvious is Communion, but while it is important, the point is not transubstantiation of the sacraments, but rather the symbolic being part of Jesus and Him being part of us. The ritual isn’t supposed to replace the relationship, but remind us of the reason – Relationship.

Simple, clear and plain.

It’s really not that complicated.

The "Microwave" Ministry

Slowly

The word has little relevance any more. We live in a fast-food society in the Western and pseudo-Western cultures of the world. Everything needs to be instant.

I lamented in a post several years ago (I can’t find the item now, but will link in comments if I do) about an experience I had at a drive-thru McDonalds where in complete earnest the young cashier apologised that I would have to wait “about a minute” for my food.

A minute. For this I got an apology. More recently I was offered a free drink because my order would be five minutes – and that was in a sit-in branch.

We are a people obsessed with instant gratification.

And it’s hit the Church as well. No sooner has someone converted than they are made a leader. And we wonder why so many churches are in crisis.

There is a brandy I read of where a whole pear in contained inside the botpomme_prisonniere_800x600no_boxtle. “Pomme Prisonniere” is expensive, last I saw it was about £100 a bottle so too rich for my pocket, but what struck me was the time and patience it takes to make.

The pear is selected just after the fruit sets. A bottle placed over the new fruit and secured in place. Then the fruit is nurtured carefully and allowed to grow to ripeness inside the bottle. At the time the fruit is ripe it is carefully cut from the tree, the bottle filled with good quality brandy, corked and prepared for distribution.

Aside from the time it takes to distil a fine brandy, the producers add months to the process by waiting for a pear to mature. Producers can lose 30% or more of their crop because the fruit may drop before it ripens or a contaminating agent manages to get into the bottle. Most places that produce this fine liqueur don’t produce much as a result, so the final product is justifiably high-priced.

Imagine the producer wants to make it for sale next week. It’s not possible.

I am privileged to live in a country that, while it seeks to be “Western” in its style, is still very much a developing country. South Africa’s neighbour to the North West, Namibia, is even more left in the past in many ways.

This, in many ways, is a good thing. Age is respected for the wisdom it brings. Character in the small communities is more important than personality. Sadly this isn’t reflected in the political scene in South Africa as the population 25 years after Apartheid is still stuck with a minority elite who hold the money and power, except now they are ethnically black instead of white, and the poverty the majority live in is in stark contrast to the opulence of the fat-cats at the top who feed off them.

I knew a man who worked for a company in Namibia that sold microwave ovens. He was sent to find out why in the smaller towns their stores hardly sold any. His quest returned with the simple answer in the form of a question: “Why do I need a microwave? I have my fire!”

Much cooking in this part of the world is done slowly in a black iron pot over a fire. Not much use for a microwave. I’ve come to appreciate this, and when I go on holiday I look for self-catering places that have a fireplace and iron pots available. The richness of a stew that has been allowed to cook for hours over a slow fire is something I’d never experienced in England, and something should I ever go back that I will continue to do myself.

Mutton has a deeper, richer flavour than lamb. But it takes longer to cook or it is tough. But it’s worth the wait because the meal is richer for the maturity.

So we look at the Church.

Jesus didn’t call the disciples on Monday and send them out on Tuesday. They walked and Jesus Israellived with Him for at least 3 years before the Crucifixion. I looked at a map of the Holy Land recently and realised just how much time they must have spent walking. Jesus’s ministry took Him from the far North to the far South of Israel.

We know He spoke of Tyre and Sidon in the far North of the country, and ministered around Galilee and South to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

That’s a long way to walk. The disciples weren’t marathon runners. A journey on foot of a hundred miles would take days at best, and the group travelled extensively.

Time consuming.

But Jesus probably didn’t walk in silence. He would have been talking and teaching the disciples the entire time. So much that the Gospels don’t directly record in detail because there would be so much to write down.

After Paul’s conversion he goes to be taught of Jesus for several years before he began his missionary journeys. If you’re determined, you can read all four Gospels in a day. But to truly know them takes a lifetime.

By the time I was 11 I knew the basic highlights of Jesus’s life, David and Goliath, Jericho’s walls, Daniel in the lions’ den etc, but I was no way ready to lead a church. In my 20s I sat as a member of the parish council in the church I attended. More prepared, but really I think looking back I was too young and headstrong. I offended many people, and was offended by them during my time in leadership there.

As I got older, my fire was tempered and became controlled. The result was the ability to preach effectively and not alienate people. Now I’m in my 40s and my fire is more explosive again, but with a different outlet – this one – for the words I’ve spent the last 30 years learning and fully expect to still be learning for decades to come.

My ministry of words has taken three decades to reach this point. I have much respect for those who have been able to learn the original languages of the Bible as it’s something I’ve never been able to do. Languages in my own alphabet are not something I’ve been able to master. Ancient Greek and Hebrew alphabets and their associated sounds have thus far been beyond me. But thankfully I have access to dozens of translations that I use to reference my learning. But it’s taken 30 years to appreciate that it takes 30 years.

There is a need for “relevance” in society that is a red herring in Christianity. Jesus talked of fishing and tax collectors and shepherds because his audience was made up of fishermen, tax collectors and shepherds as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked down on them. But His stories are still relevant today.

I lost R100 (about $8) a few weeks ago. It doesn’t sound like much, but in a country where many earn less than R5000 ($400) in a month, and some even less than half that, it’s a lot of money. I turned out every pocket of every item of clothing I’d worn that week. I looked in every bag and under every chair at home and in the office. Eventually I found it fallen under the seat in the car, crumpled up and looking like a till receipt ready to be thrown away. Nobody can tell me the story of the lost coin has no relevance today.

A few years ago my dogs escaped when someone broke open the gate to my home. I spent hours going through the local township opposite my house looking for them. One came home on her own, one was hit by a van and spent time recovering – several weeks. His father sat guard over his broken body in the road and refused to leave him. Finally I found his sister far away from home, put her in the car and took her home. Don’t tell me the lost sheep isn’t relevant.

This country is paranoid about immigrants. At times it makes Donald Trump look tolerant (not often, but sometimes). Xenophobia, racism, sexism are part of daily life here. As an immigrant I regularly encounter it. I live daily as a member of a racial minority where the law is stacked in favour of the majority – at least theoretically.

The leaders need maturity, especially the Church. The necessary wisdom to be a moral compass can only come with time spent in the trenches of the Church. It’s impossible to be a good leader until you know how to follow.

This is obvious to most. But it gets overlooked because an individual is popular and they are promoted to positions of power they are simply not equipped to handle. bc346-sheepThe result is disastrous for followers. They produce borderline heretical teachings (both sides of the border) and like sheep the people follow, assuming that their “leader” knows what he’s talking about because they know the face.

It’s impossible for someone who hasn’t yet matured to impart maturity to others. Look at the secular dictators and pseudo-dictators “elected” in the last century, as well as the “popular” choices being offered come November in America. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Peron, Mussolini, Mugabe and so many others were swept into power on a surge of popular opinion and given positions no sane people would offer such tyrants if they understood the facts. But their nations were so indoctrinated by fear that they let themselves be led into wars by these men because they were blinded by the rhetoric they spouted. They could all have been truly great leaders if they had been able to follow before they were handed power. Instead they had power get them drunk and paranoid.

6d3b6-shepherd-leading-sheepWhat we need in the Church now are real shepherds. Men and women who have sat and learned from experienced leaders from the past and have a sound foundation and understanding to build on. So many “mega-church” congregations have recently hit trouble because they were built on the personality of their founder instead of the teaching of Christ. The need is perhaps greater now than ever before for maturity in leadership. The strength to stand against popular secular opinion unflinchingly, teaching the Truth of the Gospel rather than pandering to popular opinion.

There’s a reason the Bible says God is unchanging.

It’s because man’s opinion isn’t.

Anyone who’s ever led a group in business knows the danger of “Group-think”. It’s the phenomenon where the group simply accepts without question what everyone in that group says simply because they are in that group. Cults are born when that happens in Church. Heretical teaching leads people away from God by simply not challenging one another. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. It seems impossible to stop and inevitable that it will happen.

The church I was a member of in Torquay a few years ago had wisdom over it. The individual home-groups were regularly shaken up, members moved around and the result was a solid foundation in a young church. In 3 years I was a member of about 7 cell groups. The shake-up was initially an irritation for me. I wanted stability as my dad had recently died and my world was a mess. It’s only looking back that I realise the changing was what kept me stable and gave me the strength to walk out of depression that almost killed me. Different people at different times in those 3 years spoke words into my life that guided my recovery, something I didn’t see at the time.

But everything hinges on maturity.

My wife tells me to not “druk die vrugte ryp“, or try to force the fruit to ripen. You can’t make the pear in the bottle ripen faster by poking it to make it soft. All you do is end up with rotten fruit.

Spiritually we try to microwave our ministry too often. Granted sometimes we miss the season by waiting, but seasons change and the chance comes round again because God’s promises are without repentance. It took me 20 years to do more than think about Eagle’s Wing Ministries, despite having the chance in the late 90s to step out and create an organisation. I was too afraid, partly, that I lacked the maturity needed to do what I’m doing now. I was nervous that I didn’t know enough about following to be able to lead.

Looking back, I think in some ways I was more equipped then than now to do this. I had a larger support system, more friends – real friends, not acquaintances – who were prepared to call me out if I was wrong, and financially in a significantly stronger place. Today I can count my real friends on one hand, and I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like to. I rely on email and phone calls to keep me strong and on-track.

But I know more about following now than I did then.

I hope age is giving me maturity.

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.

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

Always Present

Companion

Christianity is about more than simply “getting into heaven”. In recent years the Gospel has become little more than an After-life Insurance Policy.

Add to that the erosion in the belief of a literal Hell and it’s small wonder so many people simply can’t be bothered to believe until the last minute.

Let’s face it, the Christian life is not easy. Look at the list of things under the “not allowed” column.

  • Sex
  • Money
  • Power

Hang on, that’s not accurate. It is what often gets taught in some denominational churches, but it’s not what the Gospel is about.

Consider sex for a second.

It’s allowed. There’s a Godly context for it – Marriage – but it’s created to be fun. Pleasurable. Enjoyable. The pinnacle of Earthly intimacy.

Of course outside the boundaries of a Godly context it’s the opposite. It may seem like fun in the moment, but I’ve had so many conversations where the theme has been “I wish I hadn’t”. In the original version of “The Magnificent Seven”, Steve McQueen’s character tells of a man who took off all his clothes and jumped on a cactus because it “seemed like a good idea at the time”.

What about money? Didn’t Jesus say money was the root of all evil?

No.

He said the love of money was a root of evil. If money were inherently evil then any amount would be dangerous. Abraham was Blessed by God to the point that countries asked his family to leave because his family on its own was more bountiful than the entire country they were resting in. Solomon was the richest man ever because he trusted God. After Job was restored, God gave him back more than he’d lost. Money is not evil, but making it your idol is.

Power corrupts. So they say. But if that were true why did Jesus say the disciples would receive Power when the Holy Spirit fell on them? Surely He was therefore corrupting them if power corrupts in every instance?

Selfish ambition corrupts good morals. I look at the Presidents and possible Presidents from around the world. Robert Mugabe started out as a decent man who wanted freedom for his people, but after so long in power he has a need to hold onto that power. Jacob Zuma was a freedom fighter alongside Nelson Mandela, but his rise to power has been about personal gain rather than the betterment of life for the people he “governs”. Donald Trump seeks power to match his alleged wealth, Hillary Clinton seems to have her own selfish agenda behind the scenes as well. They seek power when the Presidency is supposed to be a role of Service. Somehow I can’t see many of the World’s Presidents wrapping a towel around themselves and washing the feet of their companions.

Ah, there’s the root.

The Gospel is about Companionship. Fellowship. God Himself originally designed man to be His companion, and woman to be man’s companion.

His friend.

He gave mankind dominion over the Earth. The only other being said to have dominion is God Himself. Christ recovered that dominion, and immediately handed it back to us – with Him as co-pilot now, not as a dictator, but as a companion to walk through life with.

We need His companionship, and He desires ours. He desires ours so much He had Himself nailed to a Roman Cross 2000 years ago so we could have Him as a companion in this world.

As He looked out from the Cross, our companionship was the Joy set before Him. It was the motivation behind His actions, His Sacrifice.

What amazes me is the idea that a Perfect God desires our companionship. He could have just wiped out mankind and started again, but His Love for us stopped Him from doing that and drove Him to rather seek us out and give up Himself for our sake.

About DavidMy wife is my companion. Marriage is a portrait of God’s relationship with us. It’s not always easy. In my 13 years of marriage we have endured some heavy battles, but our companionship with each other has seen us through them.

My friends are my companions in this life as well. I have few people I reserve the accolade of “close friend” to these days. They are people I allow to speak into my life and who allow me to speak into theirs. Currently I can count these companions on one hand.

And companionship has nothing to do with proximity. My Best Friend lives a thousand miles from me, but when we communicate there is a kinship there I have nowhere else except in my marriage, where the bond is strongest.

But my most important companion is Jesus.

And He’s only a whisper away.

That’s Companionship.

 

 

Openness

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

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

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

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

So I want to be open.

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

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

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

Acts 10:9-16 Amplified Translation

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

Paul refers to food and sex in 1 Corinthians:

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

1 Corinthians 6:12-13 AMP

He goes on:

Run away from sexual immorality [in any form, whether thought or behavior, whether visual or written]. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the one who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, whom you have [received as a gift] from God, and that you are not your own [property]? You were bought with a price [you were actually purchased with the precious blood of Jesus and made His own]. So then, honor and glorify God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 AMP

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 1:24-32 NIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m being open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I try to be open

.

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

Open

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.