Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christ and Consumption

In a recent survey of 2000 households, over a quarter indicated that unsecured credit card debt had become a problem. Although the average credit card debt was placed at £1747 per person in April this year, the average interest charged on credit cards (16.68 per cent) bears little relation to current loan rates (approx. 8.5%) or the fairly modest Bank of England base rate of 0.5 per cent.

It was reported in May this year, that one in seven credit card holders is relying on plastic to pay for household bills, such as utilities. Yet, around half were reported to be also using them to fund big ticket purchases, such as TVs and DVD players. http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/credit-and-loans/credit-cards/article.html?in_article_id=505276&in_page_id=53936

Given that these two groups are not mutually exclusive, we can conclude that some households are purchasing these expensive consumer goods and yet paying some of their monthly household bills on credit.

Men have an average of £3,425 in personal debts, compared with £3,353 for women. This is an interesting statistic given the gender income disparity. A uSwitch survey reported worryingly that female shopaholics spend 19% of their income on debt repayments, compared to a national average of 8. What proportion of your pay goes to pay off debt? It takes shopaholics approximately seven months to clear a debt. How long does it take you?

http://www.ismartsolutions.co.uk/iblog/debt-management/shopaholic-brits-rack-up-almost-24-billion-debt/

So what is the truth behind the intrinsic value of consumer goods? Well, let’s look at the current icon of consumer electronics, the iPhone. Its market share rose from 8.2 per cent in 2008 to 14.4 per cent in 2009. You can buy a SIM-free iPhone 4 for about £450. Alternatively, you can get one for £99 under a 2 year £35 per month (Total = £939).

But what does it cost to manufacture an iPhone? An article published in January 2007 indicated a 50 per cent gross margin on each iPhone sale in the US :

Based on a preliminary functional Bill of Materials (BoM) estimate, the firm calculates that the 4Gbyte version of the Apple iPhone will carry a $229.85 materials and manufacturing cost and a $245.83 total expense, yielding a 50.7 percent margin on each unit sold at the $499 retail price. http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/07/01/18/apple_may_see_50_percent_margin_on_each_iphone_sale.html

If anything, the unit cost of iPhone manufacture would have decreased as production ramped up and R&D, start-up costs were absorbed. In contrast, the unit price has increased.  So how do you manage to sustain this sort of margin in the competitive smartphone market? In two words: YOU ADVERTISE.

In 2007 Apple’s advertising budget was $467 million and much of it was allocated specifically to market the iPhone. The result is that the iPhone was responsible for 39% of the company's revenues in Q4 2008.

A key part of the advertising strategy is positioning. The iPhone is provided to a variety of high-profile music and sports stars free of charge. As we watch these widely-admired celebrities using these products, we assume that these products are part of that charmed world of leisurely success that they enjoy. We buy into that image and it is this assumption that drives consumer demand. It is this distinctive emotional connection called BRAND that advertisers try to build in our minds.

So what has this to do with Christ? Definitively, Jesus said ‘You cannot serve God and Mammon’. (Matt. 6:24) Mammon is the personification of worldly success and material security. It is BRAND objectified. A brand image distorts our values, so that an item that only cost $250 to manufacture is purchased for $499. If it’s bought on unsecured credit, at the typical 16.68 per cent interest, the overall cost to the consumer is extortionate. The image of success is a deception aimed at making us part with money we don’t have, in order to demonstrate that we’ve achieved a status that we can’t really afford.

These things have no power to keep us safe from hardship, or harm. They are fragile and yet we look to them for security. As Christ said: ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness,
for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’
(Luke 12:15)

For the love of money (wealth) is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money (wealth), have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’ (1 Tim. 6:10) Many a debt counsellor would attest to the truth of this scripture.

Paul speaks of what repentance meant for the first-century Christians, ‘how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ (1 Thess. 1:9)

The clear teaching of Christianity is for us to renounce the idolatry of paying inflated prices for fragile goods that simply maintain our successful persona, especially when it becomes an extravagant abuse of borrowed money. By all means get a decent mobile phone with good reception, but when advertising influences you to pay or borrow 70 per cent of a typical monthly house payment at 17 per cent interest (or spend more than £900 in phone charges over 2 years), you have to question whether Apple or any other technology company deserves a 50 per cent gross margin.

Of course, once you’re hooked on spending that sort of money through consumer credit, there’s little left over for personal or anyone else’s emergencies.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Marriage and the Three-Legged Race

When I think of marriage and its challenges, I think the curious analogy of a three-legged race is a useful one. The ideal pairing for winning this race is a set of identical partners. However, in real life, there is no perfect match. Instead, you are joined to a runner who has little knowledge of your stride pattern or gait. However, it’s only when you start running that you realise that there's a mismatch and the faster that you try to run, the worse it gets.

You scream at each other to keep to the same pace, and then to stop shouting because (I’ve been told) ‘SHOUTING DOESN’T HELP!’ The combined movement is more akin to a sputtering engine than a well-oiled machine. Of course, ever so often, you're meant to stop to adjust the tie that binds you together carefully and gently.

At some point, one or both partners may say (or think), 'What's the point? I'm faster or at least happier by myself. I'm almost carrying you and that's not fair. If I had known you had shorter/longer legs than mine or your tendency to lose your temper or give up so easily, I would have chosen someone else. I was conned. I don't know why I was paired with a total opposite. Obviously to turn me into a complete laughing stock!'

So, you start to either fix the bond carelessly, or forget the bonding altogether. So, with no need to pause, running seems easier. You don't even have to look at each other or match stride patterns. As freer individuals, you both seem to be passing other more closely attached couples who, by comparison, are only plodding slowly. I should know: I did this for years.

Some time before the end of the race, the bond is lost. However, not before the contempt-laden accusation is levelled: 'You’re not even making an effort!'

You can now see other solitary runners making their way up to the finish line ahead of the paired ones. You might even size up one of those running alone as a potential future partner. This one better matches your stride pattern and appears more suited for the long haul. Of course, if you’re partnered on the finish line, It will look as though you still respect and play by the rules.

At least for a while, with the new partner, you might seem more synchronised. You believe you can reach the finish line way ahead of the competition, and feel like a winner.That is, until one of you gets fatigue and slows down. And anyway, you will only find yourself disqualified at the end for cheating.

In contrast, for those who arrive at the finish line alone, the only acceptable excuse (I’ve been told) is that their partner’s run was ended by severe illness or that the other person ran off along the way. Of course, the race footage is a perfect record of when and how the partner was supposed to have 'run off' and how the bond was lost. It shamefully reveals that you were both already running at cross-purposes beforehand!

The whole purpose of this type of race (and marriage) is to challenge us to find cleverer ways to merge our styles. You won't be partnered with a perfect match. You might start out looking slow and awkward. People will laugh at your plodding efforts to make headway. Perhaps they will encourage you to give up altogether.

If you want to make it to the finish together, you have to slow down and make major adjustments to your own individuality, pace or stride pattern. You must be prepared to accommodate the good and bad peculiarities of the other runner gradually WITH A MUTUALLY AGREED AGENDA FOR CHANGE. This is the crux of the problem: NEITHER PARTNER WANTS TO SLOW DOWN.

So I guess, couples in crisis (‘been there, done that’) have to decide whether they want to explain to God how and why the bond was lost and be disqualified at the end of that long race that we call ‘life’. Or they might both submit to a mutually agreed agenda for slow, deliberate change. One that enables them to accommodate each other without compromising their core individuality and values about life.

Questions for each partner to ask themselves might be: 'Should the world just accept that I have no great desire to change my behaviour for anyone? How much am I prepared to change as an individual in order to match my partner's stride pattern? Do I think that the prize of lifelong marital harmony is worth the sacrifice and discomfort of changing my ingrained behaviour and approach to life? Do we need to seek outside help in order to effect the personal change needed to achieve harmony?’

However you choose to answer those questions, remember the wise words of Ecclesiastes:

‘I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.’ Time and chance will thwart the advancement of those who end their marriages for selfish and mercenary reasons.That’s just how God’s universe works!

Friday, 3 December 2010

If you think that God won’t get you…

Continuing the theme of overcoming selfish desires, I remember that Dolly Parton penned a great tune many years ago about the effect of illicit obsession as it corrodes the conscience. She weaves in the titles of great gospel and country music.

The tender love lyrics remind me of the Song of Solomon. Of course, it’s not a hymn, but a ballad of forbidden love describing how it plays on the mind. Dolly truly articulates the pangs of guilt and moral contradictions that we know can only be purified by recognising the price paid to remove them: the blood of Christ. It’s a reminder that sin’s pay packet (wage) is really an intolerable expense to the mind and soul in this life (as well as the next) that no-one escapes without repentance. I read this as a challenge to my own bad choices. I hope you do too:

Sometimes in my sleep I hold you close against my skin,
Waking’ up I wish that I could sleep and dream again,
Because only in my dreams can I know how it might have been,
But cheaters never win, their heartaches never end,
But sometimes I get crazy as lovers often do,
Trying to please him and wondering if she’s pleasin’ you
Though they have every right to any part of us they choose,
I still live just for you and our secret rendezvous

Chorus:
‘Torn between two lovers’ on the jukebox,
I’m thinkin’ how I could have wrote that song,
Wonderin’ if God loves us when we’re cheatin’?
Oh, but why he lets us feel things, if it’s wrong,
And I guess I should be singin’ "Rock of Ages"
"Amazing Grace" and some of those good songs,
But my ‘cheatin’ heart will tell on me tomorrow’
If you think that God won’t get you, well you’re wrong!

Thou shalt not commit it, it’s written in the ten
The spirit’s always willin’, but the flesh is weak again,
And you’re as close to heaven
as I might ever fly
And angel in disguise
A wrong that feels so right

Chorus:
‘Torn between two lovers’ just keeps playin’
 
‘I don’t want to be right if loving you is wrong’,
Wonderin’ if God loves us when we’re cheatin’?
Oh, but why he lets us feel things, if it’s wrong,
And I guess I should be singin’ "Rock of Ages"
"Amazing Grace" and some of those good songs,
But my ‘cheatin’ heart will tell on me tomorrow’
If you think that God won’t get you, well you’re wrong!

TRUTH!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Lust of the Eyes 1

In Genesis, we are told that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was ‘pleasing to the eye’.

Some detractors would question why a perfect God would give us the sense of vision and then place a visual source of temptation in a perfect world. They argue that if God really loved mankind, He would shield us from harm, making the world a cocoon of virtual experiences devoid of authentic sensory stimuli (a bit like the Matrix?). I would counter that this argument does not identify the real cause of temptation, which is our defiant independence from God. As Paul said, ‘When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.’ (James 1:13 – 15)

It is the dismissal of and efforts to avoid considering the longer term harmful implications of our choices, that constitutes the real cause of temptation. It is our wilfulness, for when we want something badly enough, we belittle the harm it can cause us. Before his approach, Satan would have seen Eve eyeing up the beautiful Tree of Knowledge day after day and wondering how tasting its attractive fruit could really be lethal. She might have wondered why God was so averse to their participation in something that appeared so attractive on the outside.

Without doubt, she would have also felt she was missing out on a new experience of discovery. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? Why would God want to stifle the natural curiosity that He had bestowed on mankind Himself? There must have been something He wasn’t telling them. What if God had imposed this restriction to safeguard HIs position of superiority? What if the Tree of Knowledge could impart complete unrestricted self-determination to humans? In other words, equality with God? ‘Covetousness, which is idolatry’ (Colossians 3:5) is how Paul describes this thinking.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains how this independence from God led men astray to worship their temporal environment: ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 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 of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen’ (Romans 1:21 – 25)

The fall of Man involved a speculation that if we were unshackled from our subordinate authority by which God granted us dominion over the entire natural world, we could enjoy unhindered self-determination. Rather than respecting our position under God as His highest created beings, we presumed that only this restriction stood between us and equality with God Himself. To this day, we choose to experience of good and evil, rather than to avoid them by accepting God’s word. We believed Satan’s lie. To those who, with Adam and Eve, are thinking in this way, God declares: ‘These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face’ (Ps. 50:21)

Far from elevating us to share His divinity, unconditional moral independence venerates our short-term human wants above reliance upon God’s own statement of what we need to keep us safe in His universe. When they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve did just that: by not subordinating their material desires to God, the put them on a par with God. In short, they committed the first act of idolatry.

Idolatry is an attempt to negotiate for more from our environment without recourse to God, visualising and grovelling for the privileges of those man-made ideals of achievement, power and security in human society and the natural world. We become hostages to our immediate context, even making sexual choices that lack any consideration of the natural order or of their long-term impact on our own moral framework or society. In short, we become blind, trading our principles to the highest bidder in following the trends, brands and influencers of the current age. We invent countless permutations of the abuse of the natural world, our bodies and God’s order for them. Anything for a momentary escape from the boredom of our finite human condition.

The appearance of the serpent only served to expose Eve’s internal conversation about the Tree of Knowledge. The last stage of Eve’s descent into sin would have been to ask why God had put the tree in that central position, knowing her weakness for its fruit and that it would, for her, amount to a major distraction.

This argument is as lame as that of a career criminal who argues that since there would be less opportunity to offend in a totalitarian state, the opposite: our democratic State, is partly responsible for his misdeeds. As if restraining an individual’s bad choices is the State’s complete responsibility and that it should be the major consideration when balancing personal freedom with State control!

Christ declared to the Samaritan woman at the well, that God is actively seeking true worshippers. It is Satan’s perpetual accusation is that Man will only serve God for what He provides, rather than offering an obedience that springs from our recognition that the natural beneficial order of the universe is a stupendous token of His greatness, goodness and love towards us.

Overcoming the lust of the eyes involves a recognition of how easily we descend into blinkered, short-sighted greed (temptation) if we don't perpetually ask God to show us the unavoidable longer-term suffering and breach of our relationships (evil) it will cause. Hence, in the Lord’s prayer, we cry: ‘And lead us not into (i.e. away from) temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is a responsible and loving God who provides an opportunity for us to make choices (albeit, in many cases, wrong ones) and then affords an ultimate means of escape from their power and consequences through Jesus Christ, our LORD.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Lust of the Flesh

Jesus was very clear about the demands of the role that He undertook to become our Saviour. He expects that same clarity of purpose from His followers.

Prior to His public ministry, there were forty days of spiritual preparation in which Christ denied His body, His temporal being to focus on the eternal goal of our salvation.

In His first wilderness temptation, He was challenged to use His divine power over the natural world to satisfy His hunger. This is the lust of the flesh: ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ (Matt. 4:3) Satan’s subtle interrogation insinuated the idea that people would only believe in Jesus if He demonstrated the absence of human vulnerability by miraculous means. The subtext is ‘perhaps the cross is more a hindrance than a help to your divine cause’. The fear of inadequacy is Satan’s only foothold. Jesus’ rebuttal returns the Devil to another wilderness of temptation: one in which the Israelites grumbled against God over its hardships and were denied entry to the Promised Land. If we go back to the original text that He quoted, we see how relevant it was to Him, and by extension, to us.

The full text from Deuteronomy 8:3 - 5 goes like this: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.’

From Adam’s time until then, men knew that by the sweat of their brow (hard labour) they would eat bread. The LORD said, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’ For thousands of years, Men have worked hard to discover better ways to extract sustenance from the harsh and hostile natural environment we call Earth. We’ve even become good at it, but this is no preparation for the adversity of war (spiritual or otherwise), any more than reading books on army survival tactics.

The only way to prepare Israel for that higher dependence on God needed to conquer the Promised Land was to reduce their sense of self-sufficiency through inadequacy and vulnerability.

God was not looking on and smugly exposing their weaknesses by natural deprivation for His own pride and amusement. Like an SAS Sergeant, He was imparting the survival skill of dependence on God’s promise (word) as enough by itself to sustain them in sudden, impossible situations and to overcome physically superior forces.

They needed the drill: ‘When times get tough, we don’t complain, we give our best and pray God’s reign!’ This was the battle cry  needed to unleash divine power.

‘Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.’ (Lev. 26:8)

The SAS training regime does involves physical endurance, combat, survival and evading capture.  Recruits are also told that part of the selection process involves torture. In spite of this, many crack under pressure, hoping that the interrogator will relent and restore comfort in exchange for betraying the positions of comrades and publicly damning their own country and its policies. Only 2 – 7% of recruits are selected.

May God help us to overcome as Jesus did, seeing ourselves as God’s recruits in deprivation training. For it is better to die loyal, than survive as a broken traitor.

Three kinds of temptation

Jesus returned from forty days in the wilderness, empowered by the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had this to say, ‘For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.’ (John 3:34)

As a result of His limitless restorative powers of divine insight and healing, Jesus’ public lecture circuit drew crowds from far and wide.

Look at the map below and then consider Matthew’s description of His ministry:

‘Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.’ (Matt. 4:3)

CNM02-Jesus-Year1

I would suspect that the attendance at His public speeches matched the scale of an open-air rock festival. Everyone wanted to see the healer from Nazareth.

The crucial factor in the success of His ministry was overcoming the wilderness temptations. The Christian path is always challenge and then blessing. So we would do well to study and understand how Christ overcame the challenge and thereby enjoyed the consequent blessing in His personal and public life.

The tenth commandment states: ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ (Ex. 20:17)

In the New Testament, Paul expands on this idea of greed overstepping the rights of others: ‘I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.’ (Rom. 7:7).

Lust is a form of covetousness. While we are encouraged to work hard and then rest to enjoy the fruit of our labours, we can easily think more about what we don’t have. Ambition should not prevent us from being thankful and contented with what we have at present. The thinking behind lust says, ‘Well, God willing (or even if He isn’t), I still want this for me’

In this regard, let’s compare the fall of Adam to the victory of Christ. This is important, since Paul says, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’ (1 Cor. 15:22)

The basis of Eve’s desire to taste from the tree of knowledge was threefold: ‘good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom’ (Gen. 3:6)

John identifies the threefold temptation in this way: ‘For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.’ (1John 2:16)

Comparing the texts, we see that:

Good for food = lust of the flesh;

Pleasing to the eye = lust of the eyes;

Desirable for gaining wisdom = pride of life;

So the ‘tree of knowledge’ relates to the three kinds of worldly temptations that we have to overcome in order to remain in the will of God.

In future posts, we will discuss the means by which Jesus tackled the three kinds of temptations and how His approach can help us to overcome sin and enjoy the rewards of faithfulness.

Friday, 19 November 2010

What becomes of the broken-hearted?

For the second time this year, I have been heartbroken. I lost my Dad in May and this blog post may only serve as a reminder that we are not just spiritual creatures, we are flesh and blood. Whatever our choices moving forward, we shouldn’t conceal the past by claiming that we protect others when we really are protecting ourselves from their ostracism and rejection.

It may go against the grain of privacy to put this in the public domain, but I feel compelled to declare that I have known and lost love. By the conservative Christian standards that I learnt, divorce and re-marriage is prohibited. I may eventually learn to live with this as my fate, or discover a less censorious way of life in the future.

Some people come into your life as a breath of fresh air. I am not ashamed to say that the breath in my life has been Fran.

I have not lived in a moralist bubble for my 19 years in England. I defy any Christian to exist in isolation with minimal family contact to that extent. Judge me and you call upon yourself the same wilderness of solitude that I experienced.

The measure of someone’s worth to you is whether they unite with all of your challenges, hopes and dreams. Where are they in your moments of darkest doubt? When you stay up all night to meet a deadline, are they fast asleep, or doing what they can by making coffee to keep you awake.

How do you spend time together? Thrilled by the same tastes, or at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. Do friends and family look on and marvel at the strength of your commitment to each other?

Look at your pictures together. Do you see unrestrained happiness and giving, or perfunctory settling for what you can take? Do you always need, or tire of each other’s company?

To all those questions, Fran provided a resounding yes.

Wherever her life goes, I also know she brought me back to Christ. For this, she will be blessed. This may be the epitaph: She always wanted the best for me and knew He would and could provide it. Unfortunately, my single-minded pursuit of God made her faith in her claim on me a lot less sure. For that, I am sorry.

So judge, if you will, two people bereft of what could have been partnership and love of their lives.

I cannot deny the love that was mine.

As Michael McDonald sang:

It was so right,
It was so wrong almost at the same time.
The pain and ache a heart can take.
No one really knows when the memories clear.
And keep you here 'til you no longer care.
You can let go now.

It's wrong for me to cling to you.
Somehow I just needed time from what was to me.
It's not like me to hold somebody tight.
But I was tossed high on love.
I almost never came down.
Only to let in when love's no longer blind or I'm no longer blind.
I can let go now.

To Fran.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Give me a drink…

With such a simple request, Jesus began what can only be considered a Master class in person-to-person evangelism.

In a previous post, I stressed the distinction between evangelism and personal witness, the latter being your personal story of redemption from harm and godlessness. Today, I want to show how we can all gently lead a wandering soul into Christ’s flock.

1. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, assume that men and women of all walks of life are candidates for conversion to Christ.

The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (John 4:9)

It’s easy to discriminate and make the sort of assumptions that Samuel did when he was sent to the family of Jesse to anoint a successor to the wayward King Saul.

‘When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD." 'But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."’ (1 Sam. 16:6,7) Seven of Jesse’s sons were brought to Samuel and all were rejected by God as morally unsuitable. It was the forgotten youngster, David, left outside to guard sheep, whom God recognised as being teachable enough to learn godly leadership from Him.

2. If you only knew…Demonstrate (through exceptional generosity and forbearance) the wonders of your eternal relationship with God in Jesus

Christ said, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ (John 6:44) Christ uses water as the metaphor of this higher, ever-enduring relationship with Him. This relationship achieves a permanence of life beyond all circumstances that only He can provide. He doesn’t offer a detailed explanation. However, He does provide a simple assurance that she would want this higher experience of life if (1) she understood the value of transcending all circumstances as God does and (2) that He as the Son of God, was capable of imparting it.

3. The unconverted mind will reduce spiritual goals to their worldly equivalents

In the absence of an immediate show of divine supernatural power, the initial response of this woman (and of many today) was to interpret Christ’s metaphors in natural worldly terms. Similarly, Nicodemus says regarding the new birth: ‘How can a man be born when he is old?"…"Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!’ (John 3: 4). The Pharisees also had the same problem with Jesus’ spiritual metaphors, claiming, ‘This is a hard saying, who can hear it?’ (John 6:60)

So, this woman’s comparison with Jacob’s well misses the significance of Christ’s metaphor by a mile.We also do the same today e.g. Christian peace (the assurance the God has ensured that all things ultimately work for our benefit) is equated to world peace. Also, divine justice (fulfilled in the cross and resurrection with its promise of eternal amnesty for the penitent) is exchanged for its earthly equivalent: working for a godless equality within a man-centred temporal framework.

4. Don’t give up too easily

She responded by accepting His offer on the basis that it would replace the constant need to visit the well. Similarly, many people simply see religion as offering a more civilised, amenable life down here. However, they abandon hope when they are hindered in their progress towards these admirable, yet temporal, goals. We must always remember the eternal goal: the reunion with the Messiah Himself at the end of time.

Many Christians would end the conversation at this point, frustrated by the constant misunderstandings. Yet, in spite of this, the Holy Spirit compassionately identified the main obstacle in her life: relationship despair.

5. Tackle the underlying spiritual obstacle/distraction by praying for and declaring God’s insight for our lives, the hidden facts behind our life choices. Depend on the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is crucially important in responding to Christ. Rather than just working for closer political cooperation between Samaritans and Jews, Jesus applied the Holy Spirit to solve her personal problems supernaturally. Beware of those who preach the gospel without reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

This woman had gone through five divorces, each a major unflattering stamp of disapproval and she had finally given up on marriage. I came to Christ in a similar state caused my belief that I was far too flawed physically and emotionally to find and maintain even a short-term relationship, far less a marriage. I assumed that all relationships would end in failure, including one with Him.

6. Realise that the natural reaction to God’s scrutiny is to resort to diversion. We fear exposure and shame, even though God only does this to cure and help us to completely understand our mistakes. Provide reassurance of this outcome.

The incisive nature of His supernatural insight caused her to evade scrutiny. As a diversion, she cited a major religious controversy of that time.

There are many who try to divert attention from their need to change by citing a major ethical controversy, e.g. women priests, the Pope, abortion, in fact, anything that avoids direct personal scrutiny. ‘Anyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light lest his deeds should be reproved.’ (John 3:20)

6. Avoid diversions and focus on the core demand and the goal of the gospel: accepting that God’s Messiah should have the highest claim on your life choices, relationships and resources. Does He or doesn’t He? Where’s the biblical proof in our lives?

Jesus contrasted the political dispute over the true location of the temple with His Father’s quest for true worshippers whose genuine heartfelt reverence would transcend externalisms. In short, worship is a practical inner commitment to God’s rightful claim on our lives.

7. Present the insight of the Holy Spirit as a validation of God’s demand to end our persistence in wrong choices. As the death-conquering Messiah is the only person carrying God’s DNA, Jesus is the perfect expression of our Maker’s will. Accepting Jesus is accepting God. Will we accept or reject?

Although she acknowledged His insight as prophetic (as many do today), this was not enough to effect Her salvation. She even believed the scriptural promise that the Messiah of God would make all things plain. The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 

Christ directed her belief in the Messiah’s guidance to Himself: “I who speak to you am he.”

Suddenly, it all made sense. She was able to relate His miraculous knowledge of her personal history and its problems to His metaphor of living water. The divine insight and discovering the constant reassurances of God’s care would save her from a future of relationship despair. She now knew that, by constantly trusting in the guidance of His Word, she would never find it impossible to make the right choices in life again.

This was her new-found deliverance through Jesus as the all-explaining Christ. It was confirmed by her own testimony: ‘Come see a man who told me everything I ever did, Is not this the Christ?’

And that’s how a beleaguered soul is won over by Christ!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Offences must come…

‘but woe to them by whom offences come!’

Example 1: Imagine if a wild outrageous pop star, on hearing the gospel, suddenly abandoned her saucy and promiscuous persona and turned to strict celibacy, giving up a successful secular music career to sing sacred hymns. In retaliation over lost earnings, music moguls would stir up a media witch-hunt portraying the church and its ministers involved in her conversion as an extremist brainwashing fringe cult. Mainstream faiths would probably chime in and add to the widespread condemnation.

Example 2: The traditional Christian view on homosexuality is clearly at odds with the Equality Act. As legislation is drawn up in White Hall that will grant homosexuals full marriage rights, the prospect looms large that the councils could suspend the right to register legitimate marriages from any vicar who opposes their plans to make the endorsement of gay marriage a standard requirement in this country. Christian registrars have already lost their jobs over this issue. It’s no wonder that, despite its admirable social goals and working class roots, the Labour government that framed the morally offensive statute is now out of power.

Example 3: Now consider Paul preaching to a small outdoor Sabbath-day prayer meeting (Acts 16:13). He tells his audience that the evil, rebellious world of his day is imploding upon itself and that civilised society is disintegrating intolerably. He could see that all men (however outwardly noble and including himself) were responsible for the moral decline. He might have declared, ‘it can’t go on forever: the increasing hardships we face under Roman rule are storm clouds brewing before disaster strikes. God has always intervened to dispossess selfish societies and erase them permanently after long periods of forbearance. This time the sword is drawn, the judgement of all mankind (including those long dead) is ready to be executed.’

Paul would have also described how the prophets had foretold of God’s final plan to save a small remnant of mankind from the brink of destruction. This remnant, drawn from all walks of life, would unite in their inward transformation and adherence to the message of the Divine King in heavenly exile, Jesus, the Nazarene. By healing every imaginable sickness and by rising from death to the exalted place of highest authority in heaven, the right-hand of God, never to die again, Jesus had clearly demonstrated His unique credentials as the Son of the only true and living God. As the Leader of the new universe ruled by God, Jesus the Messiah would bless the penitents who returned to Him with inward renewal, imparting His own power and immortality through the Spirit of God Himself.

I could imagine him exclaiming, ‘Admit to God your participation in this mess were in and seek His forgiveness now. Even your long-forgotten crimes, grievances and every sordid secret will be exposed and punished accordingly. However well-disguised, the shameless conscience will not escape the fire of God’s judgement. Don’t test God’s patience with contempt anymore!’

Paul’s message was well received by the riverside audience. That is, apart from constant interruptions by a spiritually disturbed, attention-seeking slave girl. Overtaken by an unclean spirit, she declared, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved’. It was a shrewd attempt by the spirit to discredit his testimony. Paul’s listeners would have been distressed by such an unworthy heathen endorsement.

Much as we are today, pagan society would listen to anyone who could promise a quick fix for future calamity. Religion was steeped in materialism: you paid mediums to consult the spirit world on your behalf and, in return, their guidance was supposed to steer you towards the commonly-held dream of lasting happiness, domestic bliss and worldly prosperity. Heathen culture tried to discern this guidance by the contrived interpretation of natural events and rituals involving chance. These rituals offered symbolic reverence towards the invisible, but powerfully destructive and deceptive spirit beings that were assumed, in the place of God, to control providence for the future.

As a medium, the slave-girl could become a spirit’s frenzied ventriloquist doll, making bold, impressive, but largely unsubstantiated pronouncements. Her trances and tricks would influence gullible folk to part with hard-earned cash, all of whom hoped for a glimpse of their uncertain future. It also gained for her masters a handsome dividend.

Eventually, Paul had heard enough of her, he commanded by the authority of Jesus (as the Son of God) for the fortune-telling spirit to leave the girl alone. It left immediately.

The sudden loss of their regular income from their slave aroused her owners’ anger. They arrested Paul and dragging him before magistrates with the charge that his actions contravened the laws of Imperial Rome. In short, Paul’s actions in releasing the oppressed girl won him a public flogging and he was held in prison custody, pending a criminal indictment.

The corollary is that offence can arise out of the most innocuous efforts to maintain a moral, godly stance in a godless age.

Example 4: John the Baptist lived a segregated, austere life. He devoted himself to prayer and challenged his society to return to follow God’s laws. As with Jesus, the crowd questioned his views on public and private morality. His answers were specific and unequivocal. Ordinary citizens were told: ‘The man with two tunics should share with him that has none, and the one who has food should do the same’. Those who collected taxes that expanded Roman rule heard: ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to’. Soldiers working for Herod were instructed: ‘don’t extort money and don’t commit perjury for money – instead be content with your pay!’ (Luke 3:10 – 14)

Regarding the issue of marriage, he fearlessly proclaimed that Herod Antipas had set aside his previous marriage on unwarranted grounds. He also insisted that his subsequent marriage to Herodias, who was previously married to Herod Philip, his half-brother, was unlawful. Yet this was in a time ruled by licentious Romans, who were only concerned with maintaining the expansion of the Empire, so who gave him authority to say that?

Well, John’s position on marriage was based on the Mosaic Law and the historic prophets of Judaism. Herodias was the wife of Antipas’ half-brother. John held, as Jesus did, that God could only sanction a lawful union between those who were free from other legitimate claims on their devotion. Their marriage was a lifetime commitment, so the concession of a divorce was only permissible when the union was subverted by the most extreme cases of betrayal and desertion. Also divorce, as a limited concession under Moses law, did not provide an entitlement to re-marry while the previous spouse was alive.

Although his hard-line position won a following among the crowds who saw the chastening hand of God in Rome’s oppression and its puppet rulers, it also aroused a bitter resentment in Herodias, an ambitious woman of noble birth.

Herod Philip and Herod Antipas were sons of Herod the Great by different marriages. Antipas, the younger son, inherited rule as a tetrarch over Galilee and Peraea. His elder brother was bequeathed a larger territory. In spite of his youth, Antipas was showing the makings of a great king through the ambitious civil projects that he undertook. Perhaps, it was this enterprising arrogance of the younger, more malleable brother that attracted Herodias. It is commonly accepted that they met on a trip to plead over the disputed bequests before courts in Rome. Josephus, the first-century historian, relates the grievance and scandal that their illicit affair and offspring caused. Beyond setting aside his first wife without due process, a marriage to Herodias would never be right. She was his half-brother’s wife and even if Herod Philip died, marriage to a former sister-in-law was only allowed where no children were involved.

This act was also a humiliating betrayal of his first wife’s father, Aretus, who sought revenge against this insult and took it by way of battle in AD 36.

Given the public furore and his new wife’s dismay, we can understand why Herod threw John into prison without trial. After a long period of languishing in jail, Herodias finally won her revenge. Her young daughter danced to the delight of Herod at a birthday function held by Antipas and attended by his court along with Roman and local officials. He promised by publicly to grant anything she requested, but he must have fallen from his couch when heard a mere child echo her mother’s demand: ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’ (Matt 14:6 - 10).

For all the offence his illicit marriage had caused, Herod Antipas was unwilling to go back on his promise and lose face in front of his dinner companions. He called for the execution to take place. The gruesome trophy of her contempt must have made his guests’ stomachs churn with revulsion. However, for Herodias, it was sweet revenge served dead cold. She must have laughed with delight as John’s followers took his body away for burial. Little did she know that, many years later, her husband’s forces would experience a crushing defeat at the hands of his offended ex-father-in-law. No one escapes the judgement of God.

John’s death was the catalyst that precipitated Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, it was His time to stand up against unjust men and the society that they had corrupted by poor example. ‘Repent you, for the Kingdom of God is approaching’ he declared. Yes, the new followers would need to help, support and forbear each other in the interim, but in His mind, there was still no room for compromise. All the basic tenets of the Mosaic Law still held true. (Matt. 19:1 – 11)

We should also remember how He compassionately spared the woman caught out in illicit sex by vigilante moralists with the words: ‘Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more’ (John 8:11)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Biblical Account of Creation

I recently re-read Genesis to clarify the Biblical account of creation. My effort coincided with the discovery of the farthest galaxy last week.

080212-galaxy-art-02

As a person who enjoys learning more about the physical world, I find myself tiring of blanket religious negations of scientific evidence.

I have no doubt that those belonging to the creationist, evolution and intelligent design schools of thought have become so polarised and entrenched in their positions that my interpretation may well be dismissed as invalid by all parties to the debate. I will still endeavour to present scripture that demonstrates that the biblical account can support some aspects of modern thought which traditionalists assume to be at variance with the scriptural view of the universe’s origin.

We read: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep’ (Gen. 1:1,2)

We have no idea of the time span between verses 1 and 2, nor a complete description of the process. Paul states, ‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’ (Heb. 11:3) Paul explains the context of ‘framed’ (Gk. katērtisthai, meaning prepared or fitted, i.e. ordered);  that simply the chaos of the universe required a non-physical unified intervention of supreme power to bring it into an order that could sustain life and promote man’s well-being. The physical universe came into existence and order out of nothing less than the will of God.

Consistent with this idea of initial chaos, physicist Adilson Motter has used rigorous mathematics to prove that this was indeed the state of the early universe. Specifically, the earth, in its infancy, is described by scientists as a rotating cloud of dust, rock and gas. So ‘without form and void’ is an apt description.

Genesis 1: 3 establishes transition of the universe’s energy into the visible spectrum: ‘And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.’ My initial assumption was that surely this is a problem: since light has always existed. However, physicists refer to a specific primordial epoch as the Dark Ages of the Universe.

When the Universe cooled down after the Big Bang, about 13.7 billion years ago, electrons and protons combined to form neutral hydrogen gas. This cool dark gas was the main constituent of the Universe during the so-called Dark Ages, when there were no luminous objects. This phase eventually ended when the first stars formed and their intense ultraviolet radiation slowly made the hydrogen fog transparent again by splitting the hydrogen atoms back into electrons and protons, a process known as reionisation. This epoch in the Universe’s early history lasted from about 150 million to 800 million years after the Big Bang. (Galaxies during the era of reionisation: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1041a/)

So, ‘Let there be light’ refers to the later period of star formation and intense UV radiation that ends this phase of dark gas by splitting it into positive and negative particles. The sun and solar system eventually form and the rotation of that early accretion of material called Earth gives rise to the first terrestrial day and night:

‘And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.’

The meaning of Genesis 1:6 – 8 has always seemed very specific and yet obscure: ‘And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day’

The Hebrew word is for firmament means ‘a spreading outwards’. From the standpoint of the earthly observer, the sky is a canopy surrounding the earth in all directions. As the earth cools, water collects forming oceans, on one hand and on the other, spreading outwards or evaporating as vapour and clouds in the sky. A dense atmosphere now surrounds the earth.

Evaporation continues as dry land appears, separating the oceans:

‘And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good’ (Gen. 1: 9 – 10)

Verse 11 is startling. It should be contrasted with the creation of man. It firmly indicates that the earth is permitted to generate and sustain life naturally, rather than requiring a supernatural intervention. It does not say, ‘And God said, Let there be grass, the herb yielding seed…’ Instead it says, Let the earth bring forth…’ We can deduce that God has by the previous events established the conditions for nature to do its work under His providence. It only needs his permission for a natural, rather than supernatural, chain of events to occur. If God had said of childbirth, Let women bring forth children, should we assume that any such offspring are born supernaturally?

The same is said of the oceans: ‘And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.’ With the right conditions for life in place, the waters have the capacity to bring forth all kinds of animals, from simple organisms to fishes, reptiles, amphibians and birds.

In the next verse, the focus turns towards the dry land again, as the agent of land-based mammalian life. So the clear biblical teaching is that creation, beyond the initial chaos appearing out of nothing in Genesis 1:2, is God initiating a sequence of natural events. This does not deny the Big Bang or evolution entirely, it is the ordering of existence from chaos. Although the natural sequence was now complete in six days, scripture gives no detail on the full mechanics of the universe’s origin. We only understand in Genesis 1: 28 – 29 that the whole process is the culmination of a gift of providence towards man.

The only exception to God’s employment of earth and water as intermediate agents is Man. God Himself fashions man from frail dust to bear the imprint of God. He comes to life by supernatural intervention ‘the breath of life’, rather than by natural means.

This distinction as the pinnacle of creation is borne out the reference in Genesis to man’s God-given authority over all other creatures.

In summary, any careful reader of Genesis is left to wonder how the biblical account is so remarkably consistent with the discoveries of modern cosmology. The only plausible explanation for this unique accuracy in such a primitive record is divine inspiration.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Pearl Trader’s Dream

In Christ's parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46, perhaps His shortest spiritual illustration), He describes an avid merchant. For this man, trading precious stones not a hobby, it's a livelihood. We can also understand that his greatest ambition is to discover that once-in-a-lifetime Pearltreasure, the pearl of great price. One important point to make is that, unlike other gems, the value of a pearl can’t be substantially improved upon by human effort.

As an aside, Jesus also had a lot to say about treasure. For instance, 'lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth which moth doth corrupt and thieves break in and do steal' (Matt. 6:19). Treasure is a store, reserve or fund. Of course, God wants us to be free from daily worries over our bodily need for warmth and nourishment. However, the build-up of material reserves for ourselves beyond our daily requirements is conducted at the expense of the more pressing needs of others, who may be stricken by calamity, or sickness. It's all too easy to accuse the afflicted of improvidence, saying, 'it's not my fault that they didn't they take out a bigger, better insurance policy' (as if only guilt, rather than love, justifies ending selfish behaviour).

Accumulating funds for long-term individual financial stability is similar to the Israelites who tried to store up the manna from one day, just in case God might neglect to provide for the next. The behaviour smacks of distrust in His providence and no fund (however large and well-managed) is ever safe from erosion, devaluation or dispossession.

Even relationships can be corroded over time. A young love, that starts out as fresh and exciting, can lose its appeal through neglect, beginning a vicious spiral of serial monogamy, or worse still, thoughtless promiscuity.

Back to our merchant and one day he chances upon a most extraordinary find: a single perfectly spherical pearl with astounding blemish-free lustre and massive carat weight. He wants it.

After considerable negotiation with the owner, he realises that his trade account cannot nearly meet the agreed purchase price. He's haggled as far as he can, and yet this bargain will cost more than he has in cash and securities.

Then he has an idea: liquidate everything. 'what if I also sold you my whole collection, everything I've examined and amassed over my 40-year jewellery career?' Under tight security, he fetches his precious assets to be valued and waits for the verdict...still short by hundreds of thousands.

Desperately, he asks, 'But what if I sell my house and its contents?'... 'still not enough.' the owner replies...'Clear my emergency fund?'…'Maybe?'

The owner adds it all up and finally delivers the good news. The merchant beams with satisfaction, though stripped of his worldly possessions, he has what it takes. The precious pearl is his forever.
Later that day, another gemologist examines the pearl asking 'How much did you say you paid him?’ The anxious merchant tells him the figure, his heart sinking at the thought that he's been sold a dud. 
The feeling is short-lived. 'Well, it's quite frankly the best in the world, it's unique and worth millions more than you gave up for it...is the pearl’s former owner a best friend, or something?!''

Christ used the parable to describe the eternal Kingdom of God. Salvation may be freely given by the Owner, but it's not void of personal sacrifice. Paul, in response to God's forgiveness of his former life (that included persecuting Christians), realised he had to abandon the comfort and privileges of his Jewish roots in order to fully embrace his Christian calling. He describes what happened, ‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ’ (Philippians 3: 7,8)

So which aspects of my current lifestyle are on the auction block in order to win Christ? How many of those things relegate an all-consuming passion for Christ to second place or worse? What legitimate pursuits will you or I, like Paul, abandon to gain Christ?
'For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also'  (Matt.6:21)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Rest for the weary

Moses reminded the Israelites that the one God, who liberated them from impoverishment and thereby owned them, was the Origin of all things. Paul says, ‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear’ (Heb. 11:3) All existence was created by God out of nothingness.

Creation is the first act of divine providence, building a universe filled with awe and wonder (see Psalm 19). Let’s be clear: There is no discussion of the time span between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1. Some creationists refer to Isaiah 40:22: ‘He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.’ The stretching of space is considered by some as the ultimate display of omnipotence in controlling relativity: He who can make the sun stand still, can accelerate time on earth, completing creation in seven days and dilate time elsewhere. ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ (2 Pet. 3:8) (see Dr. John Hartnett: Starlight, Time and the New Physics)

What we do know is that God enjoyed the reward of His completed creation. He called on Israel to do the same in imitation and acknowledgement that they owed God (as we do) the fruit of their labours.

In the Old Testament, the keeping of the Sabbath was enforced rigorously: (Num. 15:32 – 36). Of course, there were offerings for unintended personal errors, but, if Israel was to fulfil its singular mission as the medium of God’s salvation to the world, open, flagrant rebellion had to be put down immediately.

In the New Testament, Jesus demonstrated that Sabbath-keeping could easily descend into a ritualised externalism that contradicts the immediate, internal promptings of practical love from the Holy Spirit. Paul considered its observance discretionary: ‘One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.’ (Rom. 14:5). In other words, empowerment by the Holy Spirit should inform individual consciences and allow for a level of discretion that the Old Testament didn’t. Paul was sure that all Old Testament externalisms had been cancelled on Christ’s gibbet of crucifixion. ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.’ (Col. 2:16)

So what rest is there for the Christian? After all, there is nothing quite so frustrating as pointless effort. You can walk through a busy city seeing hundreds of purposeful citizens rushing to and fro, but what if their pay or working conditions didn’t measure up to the efforts they expended?  They would soon lose motivation.

This is no less true of Christian endeavours, but it doesn’t come down to financial rewards. Relentless labour and material accumulation for its own sake always ends in dissatisfaction. There are eleven instances in which the writer of Ecclesiastes refers to this focus on ‘things under the sun’ or temporal pursuits as ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’. As humans, we need relationships and assurances that transcend material transactions and stand the test of time.

Paul elevates the idea of Christian rest beyond the Old Testament promises. In Hebrews 3 and 4, he explains that the unbelieving Israelites were condemned to die in the wilderness for their unbelief. They missed out on the rest provided in the Promised Land. Let’s be clear, God didn’t demand blind faith. These people had seen God’s mighty acts of deliverance from Egypt, but, at the first hint of hardship, they still accused God of, at least, indifference, if not pleasure in seeing their frailty : ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’ (Ex. 17:3). They could have chanted, ‘We know that the God we serve can do anything, He gives us manna from heaven. He can turn this desert into an oasis. Is anything too difficult for Him?’ But they didn’t.

David recounts this incident in Psalm 95 as a warning to us. ‘Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come’ (1 Cor. 10:11)

The verdict upon the ungrateful was then as it is now: ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ (Ps. 95:10). They would never understand how divine power always exposes human frailty before intervening in loving mercy, that God will not share credit for His accomplishments with anyone. Indeed, He declares unequivocally that ‘no flesh shall glory in my presence’ (1 Cor. 1:29). God’s strength and human weakness are a perfect match.

In the same psalm, God declares another rest, a rewarding conclusion to the outworking of redemption beyond the land promised to Abraham’s descendants. ‘There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.’ (Heb. 4:9,10)

Scripture reassures us on countless occasions of this ultimate reward that can’t be measured in human terms: the goal of a life devoted to God. For example, Paul reminds ‘Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due time we shall reap if we faint not’ (Gal. 6:9)

‘To those, who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, honour and immortality, eternal life’ (Rom. 2:7)

We are also encouraged to look away from temporal distractions and focus attention upon the eternal goal. As Paul said, ‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’. (2 Cor. 4:18) We should all be discussing the book of Revelations every week to understand our sacred inheritance: ‘but in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.’ (2 Pet. 3:13)

Consider the hardships that Paul endured in spreading the good news that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of God’s final and eternal restoration of the universe: ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,…’ (2 Cor. 11:25). Yet, for all this, he also explains, ‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’ (2 Cor. 4:17). He reminds the Corinthians of Isaiah’s prophecy, ‘However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.’ (1 Cor. 2:9,10)

What Paul saw in his visions of the omnipotent God united with humanity in the ascended Messiah and in the final victory of His people was so astounding that he needed a counterbalancing affliction to keep his pride in check. (2 Cor. 12:7) If you spend a few nights reading the book of Revelations, you’ll get some idea of what the apostles saw in the Spirit. It gave them a different perspective on their troubles. It gave them insight. Indeed, we are guaranteed this same level of insight in our single-minded pursuit of the kingdom of God: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.’ (James 1:5)

This unseen future for which we labour on earth, our Promised Land, is our steadfast hope when all earthly hopes are removed. Without it, for all of the comforts of our daily lives, we are reminded that ‘if we have hope in this life alone, we are of all men most miserable.’ (1 Cor. 15:19).

‘For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Heb. 13:14), ‘…a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ (Heb. 11:10).

Instead of a worldly empire of social equality, this city, the New Jerusalem is surely the eternal rest for which we toil in this world.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Anointed in waiting

This post serves as a word of encouragement to every  zealous Christian who languishes in Church limbo. Compared to many others, you may feel a stronger sense of your calling and responsibility. The Holy Spirit will empower willing hearts and won’t wait for church elders to finally recognise commitment. This is, especially, if the pulpit privilege only peddled out for prestige. It is unfortunate that many people still use it to win their ‘pillar of the community’ endorsement.

You may even work within the church in a limited way, but as you consider the greatness of God and His mission in Christ, you want to do more in his service. The only problem is that, in spite of your commitment and gifts, you may still find yourself sidestepped by church leadership.

I would like you to consider two Old Testament characters, Joseph and David. There are many more such examples, but I believe that these are the most appropriate to the subject.

1. Don’t be sidetracked by self pity

Joseph was a long way from home, sold into slavery by jealous brothers. He could have lapsed into self-pity, abdicating every responsibility that came his way. He didn’t forget his hopes, but he turned tough circumstances into opportunities.

Equally, David became a target of Saul’s jealousy. Yet there were still many unorthodox opportunities for courageous endeavour, even if the King could only view them with jealous disdain.

2. Hone your talents wherever you are

Joseph found himself in Egypt surrounded by heathens. It might have been easy for him to lapse into idolatry, to abandon his dreams as empty musings and to neglect his talent for leadership. First as a slave and then in prison, on a downward career spiral, he developed his leadership on a smaller scale, shared his prophetic gift and demonstrated to those in charge that he was reliable.

David honed his slingshot precision as a young shepherd guarding his father’s sheep. It was said  that the best Israelite slingshot warriors could hit a small target at great distances. He learned, as we should, to stay calm, fearless and accurate when the wolves attack.

3. Apply your talents to unorthodox small scale endeavours and strategise laterally

David’s unorthodox combat experience with the sling meant he was fully prepared to deploy an unexpected asymmetrical assault against Goliath’s chief vulnerability: his size. He used lateral thinking to opt for manoeuvrability and lethal long-distance precision over close-quarters combat and won.

Instead of striving for pulpit visibility, think laterally. Work with individuals and organise small groups, encourage critical thinking and articulate your religious views in on-line discussion forums. Develop unorthodox methods to deliver calm, respectful, deliberate and rigorous reasoning. These are the qualities that characterise the best preachers and teachers. Work with non-religious organisations, e.g. hospitals, schools and prisons, where the staff and residents may only pay lip service to institutional religion any way. They will respect you more. Remember that David fought with the Philistines in exile for several years before returning to Israel.

4. Satan will use familial contempt and unintended offence against established authority to thwart your progress

David didn’t mean for his victory to arouse jealousy. His brothers had accused him of the worst motives for visiting the Philistine battlefront. The Israelite war chant, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands’ (1 Sam 18:7) also placed him on a collision course with the King’s ego.

Joseph was similarly mistreated by his siblings. Potiphar’s wife expected sexual privileges and when none were forthcoming, she made an indecency allegation against him.

5. Take on unorthodox challenges that the orthodox churches balk at and use fearlessness and faith to seize the moment

While the rest of Israel reeled at the Philistine taunts, David seized the opportunity for God. David bypassed the normal, plodding military combat methods. His courage fast-tracked him into ‘special forces’ leaving his career soldier brothers behind. God is looking for dedicated, courageous spirituality to challenge the materialism, immorality and intellectual contempt of today’s society.

Joseph’s gift of prophecy was lost on his brothers. The dreams spoke to them more about a complete undermining of the elder status that they abused, rather than his role as an instrument of their eventual deliverance. Eventually, through a career of insight and leadership, many heathens found him to be a trusted source of inspiration. He continued to excel in exile as a leader and when the opportunity finally came, he seized it to influence Pharoah for the good of others. It must have taken faith to build and fill grain silos for seven years, rather than trade it for gold. Of course, gold is not much use in famine.

6. You will be vindicated, but not before you are humbled enough to embrace the forbearance that comes with maturity

David was eventually crowned King long after his anointing by the prophet Samuel. He was now mature enough in forbearance to be truly saddened by Saul’s demise.

Joseph’s dream also came true, but by that time, he was disguised by age and the robes of Egyptian high office. He was completely unrecognisable to his humbled brothers. By then he had grown enough to say to them ‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’ (Gen. 50:20)

Importantly, both Joseph and David eventually learned to see the reflection of their own failures in the prideful mistakes of others. It made them the compassionate leaders that God wanted.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Assisted suicide

‘But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.’(Luke 10:33)

In several countries, there is a legal duty of rescue imposed on anyone who fails to help someone escape from further peril. The most famous case of this kind in recent memory was the investigation of the photographers at the scene of Princess Diana’s car accident. The crime of "non-assistance à personne en danger" (deliberately failing to provide assistance to a person in danger) is punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a fine of up to €100,000. There are similar laws in the US and other EU member countries.

Members of the medical profession also have a general duty to rescue the public within the scope of their employment. Significantly, Americans refer to these as Good Samaritan laws.

Even where there is no legal requirement, the parable demonstrates that we all have an ethical duty of rescue.

When we consider suicide, we should realise that it is an act of desperation. Even if a person who decides to take their own life appears calm, rational and lucid, you may still consider their circumstances unique and desperate. We can also never know the extent to which they may be subtly persuaded to avoid further burden to family or society.

Those who favour assisted suicide are essentially proposing two fundamental challenges to the ethical principles that I’ve outlined so far.

1) That suicide is not only permissible by law, but that aiding a person in the commission of suicide is not a crime. Individuals, including medical staff, will no longer have a duty of rescue towards a person who calmly and rationally decides to commit suicide, but just doesn’t have the means. Apparently, the duty of rescue has now been perverted into a duty to despatch that person, once they formally indicate that life has become intolerable. Suicide counselling will eventually involve discussing the patient’s ‘termination alternatives’.

2) That suicide is not only a liberty right, simply permission to do something. They believe it is a claim right: that it imposes a consequent obligation on society to perform it on behalf of an incapacitated individual.

Of course, that claim, if accepted, will place society into an ethical quandary: whether the new duty of care to assist suicide trumps the duty of rescue to prevent it.

If suicide is seen by its proponents as a right, why should they suddenly stop at terminal patients. Why shouldn’t they extend it to a general right of all responsible citizens. Also, what constitutes incapacity? Is it simply that the person is too physically weak to despatch themselves properly, or that they lack the know-how and emotional composure.

Advocates also challenge the moral concept regarding the sanctity and dignity of life. Sanctity simply means ‘set apart’ or dedicated to a higher purpose. The dignity of life is a universal and precious attribute of all humanity. However impoverished we are by suffering, life is a gift from God. In learning through suffering God’s higher purpose, we discover our true worth. Indeed, Christians believe that tribulation is part of God’s redemptive purpose. "If we have received good from the Lord, shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10)

‘Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance’ (Rom. 5:3)

Of his impending brutal ordeal, Jesus said, ‘the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?’ (John 18:11)

We would also have to consider whether the Christian tradition in desperate situations is to confront extreme harm, or escape through suicide. Even a cursory review of Fox’s Book of Martyrs would indicate that the Christian tradition is to demonstrate the power of God’s love by enduring, rather than running away from our afflictions. Of course, this doesn’t mean we abdicate from showing practical compassion towards those in need.

Dr. David Rabin died in 1984, after a five year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. This condition causes gradual paralysis to a point where the patient can no longer write, nor speak. David lost control of every muscle group in his body, except his eyebrows.

A colleague told him of a computer that could be operated by a switch connected to one muscle group. He used that computer to talk to family, tell jokes and write award-winning medical papers. At no point in the disease’s progression, did he indicate that his life lacked dignity.

Suicide is, in essence, a wilful abdication from this life and its burdens. Though tragic, it is a total evasion of responsibility for the investment that society makes in the individual. To then think that the society so abandoned should also carry the weight of responsibility for despatching that person is the height of irresponsibility.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Leaving for home

My father’s spirit passed into the presence of God last week. He had battled cancer for over seven years, but succumbed at 77. The calm, serene man whom I re-discovered after 18 years of estrangement was a far cry from the stern, forbidding disciplinarian that I grew up with.

A harsh approach typified my early interaction with my Dad. Perhaps, he was simply mirroring his own father’s behaviour. Whatever the reason, his parental skills were characterised by the adage, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. There were countless instances of ‘applying the rod of correction to the seat of understanding’.

I am sure that there were many times when I deserved chastisement, so let me be clear: I’m not advocating a wholesale rejection of parental discipline.

My father re-married and although I tried to maintain contact, it became increasingly obvious that I was the outsider.

I got on with my life and converted from an aimless life to Christ at 20. I got married and took comfort in the knowledge that, by God’s grace, my daughters would enjoy a loving father.

In my conversion experience, I felt immersed in a deep reassurance of God’s fatherly love: a Father who relinquished His most cherished possession, His Son, to become the object of His wrath against our sins on our behalf. I still tried to ignore the nagging fears of abandonment. Although God had done His part in bestowing amnesty, the show of gratitude seemed to be up to me. I struggled to believe that dedication to God was as much of a gift as my conversion. Yet Paul stresses the contrary, ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32). Again, challenging a return to ritual and self-discipline in order to advance their spirituality, he asks the Galatians, ‘Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?’ (Gal. 3:3)

Over many years, I began to think that some relationships could never be healed. So I thankfully acknowledge the efforts of my Mum, who called my half-brother and passed on my Dad’s London phone number. She had heard that he had returned to the UK for cancer treatment.

Although it wasn't easy at first, we began to build up a bank of new memories. In bereavement, I hold them all up as precious jewels of experience.

For instance, I remember taking my Dad to Brighton earlier this year with my brothers. We had a wonderful time, although we cut the visit short because of Dad’s discomfort in the hot weather. He was trying to sit up on the seafront bench and the planks began to dig into his frail ribcage. I ran over to the Cargo Store and bought him a cushion to sit on: I relished another chance to love my Dad. He made a point of thanking me in a way that melted past pain and fears. We were and still are reconciled. And God has persuaded me to yield to the in-working of His Spirit, rather than trying to prove my worth to Him.

So, a few hours before my Dad died last week, I held his hand. He was beyond speech, but the nurse reassured me that hearing would be the last of his senses to go. I reminded him of how precious he was, that I wouldn’t forsake our pact to believe God for a miracle unless he chose to be with the Lord. I told him that I loved him so much and that I would take care of my brothers. A few hours later, Erskine Earl Shepherd, a man of God and my father passed, not away, but above.

I hope you can understand what Christ meant when he declared, ‘Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Matt. 5:9)

Far more can be gained from reconciliation, than maintaining estrangement. So if your life is characterised by reconciliation overcoming lasting resentment, you have reason to rejoice. In the family of God, it’s the defining trait.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Half-hearted hospitality

In poker, a ‘tell’ is a subtle, but noticeable change in a player’s behaviour. A flushed face, or an unconscious attempt to hide cards may indicate a strong hand. A brash, vocal exchange may be used to hide a weak hand.

Christ was a master of interpreting spiritual ‘tells’. He could say on first meeting the guileless Nathanael: ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ (John 1:47). Nathaniel had a reachable spirit, unencumbered with those layers of self-deceit that justify the status quo in our lives.

This is borne out by the ensuing conversation: Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?”. The answer: ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ astounds Nathanael to the point of declaring Jesus to be the Son of God!

The same can be said of the Samaritan woman at the well: ‘Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?’ (John 4:29)

In each case, the spirit was open and reachable: seeing no reason not to accept Christ at face value. They subject Him to no more reasonable scrutiny than elsewhere in their lives.

In contrast, although several Jews accepted the miracles, they lacked complete emotional engagement and asked for a sign from the sky. They only went as far as to accept Him as an exceptional prophet, but no more. They wore a mental straitjacket that blunted His impact on their resolve. For this reason, John records of Christ, ‘But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man’ (John 2:24,25).

Imagine having to admit, ‘I could have gained more insight into God’s love, compassion and authority, but Jesus doesn’t trust me because I have spiritual commitment issues’. Their acknowledgement was half-hearted, lacking complete emotional surrender. Sadly,they were not part of his inner circle: He did not entrust himself to them.

‘For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1: 6-8)

As for the ‘tell’ that disguises this ambivalence, consider Simon the Leper. He extends as much measured hospitality towards Jesus as you would expect at a Middle East peace summit. Only enough as to prevent offence. Christ contrasts his sceptical reluctance with the emotional gratitude of the forgiven prostitute: ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ (Luke 7:44)

This feast is a turning point. Judas openly criticizes the extravagant waste of costly perfume. He now realizes that the mission is more about Jesus himself, than some immediate social or political agenda against injustice and poverty. His disappointment will turn to lethal hostility in a few days.

So what do Abraham, Lot, Rahab the harlot, the widow of Zarepta and Dorcas have in common? They all demonstrated exceptional practical kindness towards the saints: those who publicly side and work with God against the spirit of the age.

To extend the warmth of human comfort towards those commended to us by their loyalty to God: Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts. 15:26) is ample demonstration of our faith.

‘That’s how it is with God’s love,

Once you’ve experienced it,

It’s fresh like Spring, you want to sing,

You want to pass it on’

As Paul said after stern words: ‘Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation’ (Heb. 6:9)

The reason for Paul’s confidence is in the next verse: ‘God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.’ (vs. 10). In practical faith, they had despatched disaster relief through the apostles to alleviate suffering during the famine predicted by Agabus, the Jewish prophet (Acts 11:28)

‘No washing my feet,

No oil for my head,

No tears for Christ’s brethren,

Such cold faith is DEAD!’

May Jesus reveal the ‘tells’ of dead faith. May He rouse us all to a lively commitment in showing genuine hospitality, alleviating hardship among his brethren in these difficult times!

I want to ask any who read this to feel free to drop me an e-mail whereby we can begin to share your burden, be it financial or otherwise. It’s time for me to pay God’s love forward.

Monday, 21 June 2010

He (God) loves me!

Physical and emotional abuse takes its toll on a relationship. For many years, I gave up on trying to overcome the scars of an aloof, censorious father who preferred corporal punishment to a reassuring embrace. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was an unwitting casualty of my parents’ divorce. It didn’t have to be this way, but I eventually realised that my Dad was happier starting over again with a new family that didn’t include me.

Thanks be to God that life changed when I encountered Jesus. In my conversion, God bestowed an almost telepathic assurance that He understood and that He could heal and fulfil my life: changing everything for the better. For all my own mistakes, He didn’t fail. Numerous interventions later, I remember a song by a gospel singer called Evie that perfectly captures the overflowing assurances that He continues to bestow on an otherwise unlovable Dave through the power of my personal friend and living Lord Jesus:

‘He loves me and that’s a brand new story,

He loves me and that’s a brand new song,

He loves me! He loves me!

And I just can’t keep from singing,

And you ask me, Do I need Him?

Well does a river need the water to get along?’

‘Nuff said!

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Battle of Britain

In eleven days, we shall commemorate the 70th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s most famous House of Commons speech. As I read it today, I was moved by its simple, yet staggering resonance with what is best in British people: a steely resolve to commit ourselves to the most horrendous of challenges and then refer to it as our mere duty under God. As we fight tyranny and hardship today on several fronts, we should return to this commitment to duty, both towards the God who delivered our ancestors from Hitler and our fellow man:

‘We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, What is our policy? I will say; "It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy." You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory - victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.’

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Taking on Goliath: ‘Is there not a cause?’

God has called us to endeavour to ‘if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18). James also calls upon Christians to be: ‘quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (James 1:19). This does not mean ‘peace at any price’. There have been many instances in which godly men have been rightly incensed by brazen contempt for God.

In Exodus 32, Moses leaves the Israelites at base camp to commune with God on Mount Sinai. In his absence and under the cowardly leadership of Aaron, the Israelites insultingly replace the prescribed worship of God (who transcends the material universe) with servile subjection to an embodiment of their mineral wealth, the golden calf. Today’s golden calf is the idol of self-reliant capitalism and consumption-obsessed business acumen. We proclaim them as the means by which we escaped the hardship of the past, or as Aaron put it: ‘These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt’.

On his return, in disgust, anger and grief, Moses throws down the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. In comparison, how do we react to humanist contempt for the past deliverances of our nation by the One transcendent God today? Do we avoid confrontation at all cost?

The Philistines settled in the coastal region of what is now Lebanon. As a nation, they displayed great military prowess. They were involved in many border skirmishes with their Israelite neighbours.

Goliath was a mountain of a man, a fully armed and trained combat assassin with a terrifying body count to his name (1 Samuel 17). He taunted the Israelites on a daily basis, challenging one of their number to approach and engage him in mortal combat.

Today, we see liberal Goliaths, prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman, and sexual ‘free-thinkers’ like Peter Tatchell, who advocates lowering the age of consent to 14, throwing down the gauntlet before the Church every day. They trust in their armour of modern media savvy, derisory wit and the assumptions of materialist science: casting faith in Christ and the holy scriptures as an ill-informed choice at every turn.

David was simply running an errand for his father to carry food to his enlisted brothers and return with news from the front. David enquires about the bounty on Goliath’s head and declares his sheer contempt for anyone who would be stupid enough to think they can succeed in taking on the might of Yahweh’s army.

He is accused of the worst possible motives by his jealous elder brother. Inevitably, anyone who tries to end modern contempt will endure the same accusation of presumption. After all others have tried and failed: who do you think you are?

David’s reply is as meaningful today as it was then: ‘What have I now done? Is there not a cause?’ (1 Samuel 17:29) He is immediately incensed enough to take up the challenge of ending the mockery of God, but rather than meeting the challenge on Goliath’s terms, he abandons traditional combat armour and fights asymmetrically.

He resorts to guerrilla tactics: using speed of manoeuvre and a short-range missile launcher (sling) with lethal precision. Goliath’s size makes him less manoeuvrable and the resulting brain injury is instantly fatal. The Philistine champion is slain by the tactical superiority of a shepherd boy!

Paul did the same by preaching with supernatural power and by example: ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds); casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:5).

To end the insulting derision of our faith by godless theorists, can we really do any less?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A house of prayer?

The word ‘church’ is derived from the Greek word, kuriakon, meaning of the Lord. It’s a contraction of kuriakon (dōma): ‘house of the Lord’.

In the last blog post, I placed Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple into a present-day tabloid news context. Jesus was incensed by the contemptuous abuse of the ‘house of prayer’: usurped by secular interests, it had become a ‘den of thieves’!

I worked in Cambridge today and passed St. Paul’s Anglican Church. I was shocked to see the following poster advertising Pole Dancing classes on church premises.IMG_0008

At this church, it was clear that explicit references to the saving work of Jesus were secondary to a wide range of secular promotions. A church named after St. Paul, but lacking in his missionary zeal is a pathetic irony.

IMG_0011

Those who defend church sponsorship for these activities will, no doubt, cite the need for Christians to operate at the ‘heart of the community’ and stay ‘relevant to modern society’. The health and self-esteem benefits of this form of ‘exercise’ will also be touted to counter any criticism. But should we be so desperate for community acceptance as to allow secular pursuits to relegate the ministry of promoting the gospel?

I also wonder whether this blatant abuse of a modern day ‘house of prayer’ would garner a similar response to Jesus from 21st Century Christians.

I would hope that all professing Christians would be as hot with indignation as Jesus would be over this. But Jesus did say, ’because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold(Matt. 24:12)!

How would Jesus want you to challenge this act of flagrant contempt today?