Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Black and White - a Gospel of Absolutes

The Gospel is a Gospel of absolutes. In Christianity there is no space for shades of grey. Jesus spoke in parables, but His message was crystal clear. He is the only path to Salvation, righteousness and acceptance by God. Anything else that sets itself up as a path to heaven is at best deluded fantasy, and at worst, antichrist.

Satan would love us to get bogged down in the irrelevant and minutia, as I’ve written previously. The problem for us is discerning where the minutia ends and the meat begins. The best place to start is to look at the Old Testament. This may surprise us, but the absolutes Jesus taught were first shown in the actions God directed in the hands of the Judges and the Kings of David’s heart. The prophets such as Moses, Elijah, Isaiah and the others all spoke in terms of absolutes with no space for compromise. Compromise would have seen Daniel eaten by lions and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego burned to a crisp. It would have seen Elijah die in a drought or starve.

We are not called to compromise. We must call sin “sin”, even when it’s unpopular to do so. Calling out sins and teaching that we can be freed from their hold over us is not popular today. The world looks to compromise for its religions. It’s only conservative evangelical fanatics who see sin for what it “used” to be. 

An absolute is, by definition, unmoving. God is an absolute in that He never changes. And if He never changes and His Word is never to be changed, why do we insist on watering it down to make it more palatable to the masses? We voluntarily become lukewarm and invite Him to vomit us out. I’m a tea-drinker, and I can drink iced tea very cold or a strong Ceylon blend very hot. Don’t give me lukewarm tea – it’s revolting. Unpalatable.

We all have food like that in our tastes. Salad that’s gone limp. Stew partially congealed with the fat setting 
but still a bit warm. For most of us it would turn our appetite off completely to be served this kind of food, so why do we suddenly in the 21st Century expect God after thousands of years accepting only hot or cold to be content with tepid followers?

Obviously this article is aimed at people who are already Christians, not those seeking. Or maybe it is. I was young, just 13, when I gave my life to Christ. But I remember I wanted something that set out black and white, right and wrong in no uncertain terms. I needed the discipline, even when I didn’t like it, of a faith of absolutes that were unshakeable. A God who didn’t blow hot and cold, but was constant so I would have a rock to rest my feet on, something solid on which to stand. My brother had recently died in an accident and I needed something more than my parents alone could offer. I looked into other religions, but I found strength and Truth in Christ simply because of the consistency of the Bible as His Word. Every action was motivated by Love, even the “genocides” of the Old Testament.

Consider the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were cities of influence. Modern teaching would have us believe their sin was being inhospitable rather than sexual in nature, but look deeper. The greatest sin was that they no longer considered sexual immorality – both heterosexual and homosexual – to be sin. It was the normal way of life, much like today. So how was their destruction an act of Love? It’s simple really. Their influence was such that had they not been destroyed there may not have been any virgins of child-bearing age by the time Jesus was to be born. The Saviour needed to be a Virgin Birth, and their actions would have rendered it impossible.

And that’s just a single example. Look at the Old Testament, even the slaughters in it, as a Love story, everything designed to make Salvation through Jesus possible, and everything designed to point to Him from the commands of the Law to the Prophet’s writings, it all is one huge story of God pouring out His Love onto an unworthy people to make them – to make us – acceptable in His sight through His own sacrifice on the Cross.

A relationship of Love is not an easy one. God’s kind of Love is sacrificial in nature. It’s not romantic. It’s deeper than brotherly. It requires sacrifice and choice on both sides. We need to choose to give up our sin. He needed to choose to accept it into Himself so we could be absolved.
Repentance is an ongoing choice. Forgiveness is not a one-time deal. It’s ongoing. It’s unchanging.

It’s absolute.

The nature of God is unchanging. What He said was sin 2000 years, 4000 years or longer ago is still unacceptable to Him today. It’s still sin. Pride, sexual immorality, coveting, hatred and all the other issues He declared to be unacceptable in history are still sinful today.

But so is His nature to forgive and heal. Abraham didn’t just believe in God. He believed God, and this is what was credited as righteousness (see Galatians 3:6). We are, as Paul wrote, justified by faith, not by compromise. Our faith must be absolute, but in our bodies, this absolute is a work in progress. I acknowledge my imperfections, and I recognise God’s forgiveness. And I welcome it. Without it I would be lost forever.

But we need to return to the recognition of absolutes in our walk. We need to hear the voice saying to turn right or left. God never said “Hey man, go your own way, I’ll catch up.” We follow Him, not the other way round. We need to recognise His leadership, not ask Him to accept us the way we are and let us in on a pass.

Absolutes. They are essential to us in order to walk with Jesus. Jesus didn’t do half-measures. He didn’t leave the blind as partially sighted. He didn’t leave the lame with a limp. The totally deaf were not hard of hearing, and the lepers didn’t get left with missing parts. Restoration was complete, final and absolute.

He asks no more or less of us. We cannot give more. How dare we give less?

Be uncompromising. Walk as we first accepted Christ, unshaken and unbowed to the whims of the World. Don’t seek to be popular, seek to be right. This isn’t a Dr Phil show. We need to be Right to be able to receive supernatural Joy. That Joy surpasses happiness. It will go on and sustain us long after the transient nature of the notion of “happy” has passed.

The World relies on emotion. It looks to personality not character. It looks to popularity not Truth. It looks to compromise not absolutes.

And in compromise there is nothing but death.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

God's Kind of Humble

We all know God opposes the proud. It's in proverbs and most of the scripture says so in a roundabout way. Jesus's entire ministry about the Pharisees had their pride and lack of humility as a central theme.

But what is humility in God's eyes?

It's easier to say what it isn't. It isn't self-deprecation. Putting yourself down is actually pride. Inverted pride, but pride nonetheless. It's obviously not puffing yourself up, making yourself out to be more than you are.

True humility is acknowledging exactly who and what God says we are. No more, no less.

We've lost sight of that kind of humility. Uncertainty has become a virtue of modern times. Classics are re-written for the big screen changing the nature of the central characters. Aragorn becomes hesitant and has to be pursuaded toleave the ranger behind in the movies. In the books, it's him who orders the sword re-forged. Bilbo's heroism against the spiders in the books is eliminated in the movies. In the Narnia movies, Peter's character is more indecisive. Susan's is more abrasive. The natures written by Tolkein and Lewis are lost in the Hollywood themes of the day.

But Tolkein and CS Lewis had a better grasp of what true humility was. You don't find true humility in modern literature. Certainly there are characters who have flaws, but the flaws are played down or overcome easily. In weightier books of the past the protagonists had to wrestle with more difficut hardships, but their characters grew. Consider the end of Lord of the Rings. In the movies, Frodo and the hobbits return to the Shire and resume their old lives as demure and insecure nobodies. In the books, Saruman had escaped to the Shire and the last confrontation they have is with his cohorts - steeled and battle-hardened young men, with a toughness and courage about them that's lost in the movies.

God calls us to be certain of who we are. In this we can then be certain of who He is. Rather it is the other way round.

He calls us to know Him intimately. To enter into a deep and loving relationship with Him where commuication is key and reality is forged by a deep foundation of trust and knowledge. We have the certainty of who Christ is, and building on that we can have the certainty of who we are in Him. Accepting that is central to becoming humble.

I was told what gifts I had for many years. I moved in them, spoke out and gave advice, but always denied the nature of the gift itself. Uncertainty was my shield, my "humility". Then it was pointed out to me that not acknowledging the gifting God had placed in me would effectively mean I was disregarding God's call on my life. Part of that call was to write, and the blog and articles I write come from that. There are other things I feel it's not appropriate to share here in this forum, but among the gifts I have are hospitality and a call to pastor and teach. I seek to do this with all my heart, and other gifts come and go as they are needed in respect of the main call on my life - teaching, be it through written or spoken mediums.

But it was a long time in accepting them because I thought denial was humility. I believed I was being humble by making myself out as less than I was created to be. All that happened was that I grew away from God as a result.

God's kind of humility is one simply where we say who He says we are. People's opinions will vary, we will be accused of pride and arrogance sometimes. I know a man called to apostleship who that was said of repeatedly until he quit his ministry. I've seen it with people gifted with generosity and prophecy, where the gift was strong and people abused them for using it to the point that they stopped.

We need to accept who God says we are.

It's central to following Him and walking His path.

So be who God says you are - no more, no less.

That's His kind of Humble.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Violent Pacifist

We have an image of Christ through stained glass windows and renaissance painters of a pale-faced 120lb wimp who wandered around carrying sheep and ruffling kids hair.

It's only half a story.

He has been held up as the ultimate pacifist, surrendering His own life rather than defending it at the cross on Calvary. But this is a misrepresentation.

The cry from the Cross "It is FINISHED" (see John 19:28-30) was a Battle Cry of Victory. His yell announcing to the Host of Heaven and the Men around His feet and the Demons in Hell itself that Jesus the Man and Christ the God, in flesh made one, had completed the part they had to play - to atone for the Sin of humanity, to take back the ground Satan had claimed as his own with Adam's fall and to wrench the keys of Death and Hell from the enemy. That task was now complete. The Messianic prophecies concerning Jesus's life fulfilled in their entirety - even down to not having a single bone broken in His death - he died before the religious leaders gave the order to break the legs, which allowed them to look on the one who was pierced by a Roman spear when blood and water flowed. No broken bones made the final prophecy complete.

Jesus lived His while life a warrior behind enemy lines, running and withdrawing, gathering His silent army of followers from the commoners for the most part, but an army that were so transformed by the acts of War - Heavenly War - performed in their lives that they could do nothing but sit in awe and tell everyone about it.

He picked His battles. He chose the most strategic locations and people groups, from a synagogue on the Sabbath to a Samaritan woman at a well to a cripple dropped through a roof in front of His feet. Acts of Faith were acts of War in the Heavenlies.

Ask the woman with the issue of blood. Ask Jairus or the Widow of Nain, or Lazarus. Satan threw down the gauntlet and Jesus didnt just pick it up, He shattered it. One Word undid all the enemy's evil. Every time.

And He said we would do greater work than this.

Nut we alk around so pious with our hands folded and afraid to say boo to anyone. We became "politically correct" in the expression of our faith. Now corporations in America hide behind their 1st amendment, never intended to protect a behemoth of a company, to say who can and can't get what health benefits based not on their own choice of belief and interpretation of God's Word, but on the CEO's. And Heaven forid the CEO be challenged.

Jesus would have strung him out with the Pharisees. Forcing man's rules on God's children, and dragging them away from Christ as a result.

Jesus was a peaceful man, yes. But by modern society He could not be described as a pacifist. A pacifist does not see what is going on in a temple, take time to braid a whip from leather cords - and that takes time for the purpose it was used for - then march, eyes on righteous fire, into the centre of corruption (imagine the effect in Wall Street or the Dow Stock Exchange) and screams that they are thieves and defiling His Father's house. He takes His home-made whip and drives the cattle out. He drives the sheep and lambs out. Throws over moneychanger's tables, but stops to gently release the doves. The whip protects him from the cowardly men and incites stampede in the previously docile livestock.

This man is no pacifist. He defended His Father's House - just as we would our family home. He flies in a rage at the dishonest scales and berates them all as he attacks them. Not the peaceful guy with the lamb on his shoulders and the kids at his feet, but the Warrior of Heaven, striking at His enemies - not the men themselves, but the Spirits behind the men. Greed, avarice, selfishness.

Modern pacifism is demonstrated in the movies by the Amish communities in the USA. It's a closed community I know little of, other than what I've seen on TV, but it is portrayed as beyond pacifistic to the point of utter doormatness. They are shown as demonstrating great respect for God and trning the other cheek, but I look at the charicature and wonder how much is fact and how much is exaggeration? How do they reconcile the Jesus who drives men and animals out of the temple with the pacifism they are depicted as demonstrating?

It's a conundrum I know little of, but one I would love to learn more of. A simple faith and a simple life in a modern world. There is definitely much we can learn from a meeting of the minds.

But was Jesus a pacifist?

I would have to say it depended on the situation.

I am a (relatively) peaceful man, but I have a temper. Now I'm older it's less physically violent, but I explode nonetheless. My wife, who needs it least right now, caught a blast of it today. Tired and irritable she asked me to buy food for our dogs. My response - totally out of proportion - was to explode about how much I was already doing.

I was completely out of line. Most of the time that's not me except when my family is threatened. And my family extends beyond my blood kin. You assault my fellowship and I'll take it personally. You physically attack my close friends and they know for your sake not to tell me who they were attacked by. In some ways I am Absalom to Tamar. My ability to exercise vengeance can run for years. I struggle to let go. My cousin was once assaulted with a hammer. It's been years and I still want to return in kind, blow-for-blow the attack.

I try to repent. I try to place myself in Jesus's shoes. Jesus would forgive. So I forgive. Until it crosses my mind again. I have murders in my heart to answer for on the last day if today is my last day. I know at least 8 people who suffered rapes, more who were assaulted by muggers. The only people I can honestly say I harbour no malicious intent towards are the three would-be muggers who attacked me as a teenager from whom I was able to get away bruised but with no loss of dignity, (I gave a "good fight" and they left in worse shape than I did, which may have something to do with it) and two teenagers who attacked me and left me unable to stand in a church in Stamford. Oddly for me, they never received any payback for their actions, and I wish n one to them from me or anyone else.

That is true repentence. On my part. It occurs to me that the wronged party being me is easier to forgive than when it is someone I care about.

That's what makes Jesus so amazing. He is always the wronged party ultimately. What He went through was for us. It looked from the outside like a pacifistic act, but it was actually an act of War. A Violent act to help us end the need to avenge violence with violence in our own life.

So let's follow this violent pacifist. And reveice His kind of Peace as a reward.