|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on January 9, 2017 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
Have you ever heard the phrase "Charity begins at home"? Often it is taken to mean "Look after your children, your family and close friends and then worry about everyone else afterwards". Before I look at the phrase further, let me applaud the attitude that you should care for those close to you. It is biblical to do so...
"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." ~ 1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV)
"Urge the younger women to love their husbands and children..." ~Titus 2:4 (NIV)
Proverbs 31 concludes with the example of a woman who works hard to ensure that her family and household are all in good order.
Perhaps the strongest case for caring for one's own family came from Jesus himself when he was making note of the Pharisees' habit of neglecting their family so they could give money to the temple and, in effect, wash their hands of responsibility. See Mark 7:9-13 (NIV):
"You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions. For Moses said, "Honour your father and mother," and "Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death." But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) - then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."
So yes, I approve of the attitude that you should look after those close to you. It is human nature, instinct, and even rife within the animal kingdom that individuals care deeply for those close to them. People who maltreat their own family are seen as abhorent in all walks of life.
However... we need to understand the phrase better. "Charity starts at home" doesn't actually mean that at all. Originally the phrase meant that the art of charity begins in the home, i.e. you teach your children how to be charitable.
This is vastly different although there should be similar outcomes! It is similar in that hopefully one will teach their children to love and care for their family and friends, however it goes deeper. Charity is to be taken beyond those we are close to and shared generously with those we don't know very well, those whom we have never met, and, wait for it, those we don't like!
Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 was a fine example of charity in action (see my page on parables) In short, a Jew was attacked on the road, other important Jews passed him by and left him for dead but a Samaritan (a race not normally friendly with Jews) stopped and cared for the injured Jew. He gave up his time, resources and money and paid for him to be nursed back to health.
This is an admired parable but if we take the "Charity starts at home" phrase to mean what so many people believe it means, that we care first for our own family and friends, then I wonder at what point we begin to look outwards to others who are in need. Surely there is always something else we can be doing to support our family? There is always more to give. If we limit our love only for those close to us, we fail to love more widely as God does.
I have heard it said many times that "We shouldn't be giving so much money abroad when our own country is in such a mess!" I challenge that. Really? Is the UK in such a mess compared to the countries they refer to. We largely have clean water to drink, sanitation, roofs over our heads, schools to attend, a publicly-funded healthcare system, democracy, jobs, freedom of speech, etc. etc. and yet you want to deny any money going to a country where people die because they cannot drink clean water, they struggle to make it through to the next day, they are terrified by terrorism or oppressive dictatorships, they fear for their very lives, bombs are dropping, lives are lost, people are screaming, the nightmares never end.
The UK is, by comparison, a cushy place to live. Sure, it has problems, and many of them are getting worse, but to completely deny aid to others is somewhat selfish in my opinion. God calls us to love everyone, not just those on our shores. We are all made in His image, we are all of equal value to Him.
I have heard it also said that people refuse to give money to charity because they don't believe it will make a difference, either because the problem seems so much bigger than what they believe they can contribute ("how will my £10 help remove world poverty?!") or they have developed a scepticism for how charities operate. I'm sure there are some dodgy goings on with some charities. You give money to them and they end up in politicians' hands, but this is not the case of all money or all charities. To harden yourself against generosity in this way is an excuse for apathy.
May I encourage you to find ways to share your money, time, talents, skills, resources, knowledge or whatever with other people less fortunate that yourself. Supporting charities is not hard. You can donate to charity shops, give money to a cause that is important to you, or volunteer. I recommend the latter for those blessed with time, and indeed those who are sceptical about where their money is going. If you genuinely believe charities are screwing you over and taking all your money and spending it unwisely, then there is no better solution than to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. You don't need to sign up to an overseas project to help. Local charities and volunteering organisations can offer all sorts of opportunities for any kind of skill or talent. We all have something we can give. Lendwithcare.org is a wonderful initiative which enables you to lend money so that a struggling entrepreneur can get their fledgling business up and running. When they earn your money back, you receive it in full and you can choose to cash out or reinvest in another entrepreneur. Open Doors International are a charity supporting persecuted Christians who offer you the opportunity to put pen to paper and support by writing letters of encouragement. MissionAssist is a great company that lets people support world mission from the comfort of their own homes in numerous different ways, for example by typing up the Bible in other languages to be digitised. Toilet Twinning is a way of supporting those who have nowhere to go to the toilet - you receive a framed photo of your sponsored toilet that you can keep in your bathroom... the list goes on and on and on. There are charities and initiatives for almost any issue in the world and it shouldn't be hard to find something that speaks to your heart. If money is not your gift, give time, or share your resources, but please, look beyond your own home and be compassionate to anyone who is in need and less fortunate than yourself. If you are concerned as to how your contribution will be used then pray that God uses your money or efforts but then trust it will be handled well. We were designed to be social creatures and we find true happiness not by looking inwards but by reaching outwards. You can rest in the knowledge that whatever you do for others, you do for Him:
"'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" ~ Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on December 28, 2016 at 5:10 PM||comments (0)|
If you had to write a top five of things you most enjoy about Christmas, would receiving gifts make the list? They certainly would for me! I can be thinking of things I'd like for Christmas months beforehand!
One of the reasons we give gifts to each other at Christmas is because the wise men (however many there were; the Bible doesn't say!) came to Jesus sometime after his birth and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These respectively symbolised that Jesus would become King, High Priest and Saviour of all. This could warrant a blog entry of its own!
But besides the gifts that were given to Jesus around his birth, we'd do well to remember that actually Christmas is more about the gifts that God has bestowed on us. In sending his Son to become human and identify with us, he has lavished gift after gift on those who choose to follow Jesus. Here's a few for starters, which we can enjoy when we accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour:
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." ~ 1 John 3:16 (NIV)
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace that you have been saved." ~ Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)
"But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" ~ Romans 5:15 (NIV)
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." ~ Romans 5:1 (NIV)
"Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." ~ John 16:24 (NIV)
"We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
THE HOLY SPIRIT
"Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" ~ John 20:21-22 (NIV)
ADOPTION AS GOD'S CHILDREN
"But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir." ~ Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)
ACCESS TO GOD
"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." ~ Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD
"We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life." ~ 1 John 5:20 (NIV)
FREEDOM FROM SIN'S POWER
"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been set free from sin." ~ Romans 6:6-7 (NIV)
VICTORY OVER SATAN
"The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." ~ 1 John 3:8 (NIV)
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~ Romans 6:23 (NIV)
So when you're wondering whether to follow Jesus and commit your life to him, think about this list and whether the cost of being a Christian is ultimately worth it!
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on May 25, 2015 at 8:15 AM|
First things first, I want to say that I don't normally blog about "topical" issues in Christianity because they tend to detract from the important matters and leave people nit-picking, becoming judgemental and missing the spirit of the law in favour of traditionalism or legalism, which Jesus opposed strongly on numerous occasions. The Pharisees in Jesus' day were very good at following the letter of the law but they missed the point of them, and Jesus didn't beat around the bush when he made them aware of their hypocrisy and cold-heartedness. So I don't normally focus on what I tend to see as "trivial" matters which really shouldn't become the main focus of our faith, because they distract people from God's immense compasion and love which should always be paramount.
So I am very disappointed that the church plays such a small part in the everyday lives of most people who live in the UK today, even if we still largely consider ourselves a Christian country. The church should be prominent by living out Christ's compassion and loving values all the time in our communities. Sadly the church is normally seen as being old-fashioned and obsolete and a bit of a joke. Chrisianity features in our media only when it's portraying a well-meaning but clueless vicar in a sitcom (Vicar of Dibley being a refreshing exception), showing people fainting and speaking in tongues at American charismatic events, or on our own news stories as being a hurdle to progression when it comes to rights for women and homosexuals.
Why is this such a big issue? I just don't get it. The Bible is a massive book encompassing so many topics yet small verses, often only appropriate to the culture in which they were written, are blown out of proportion and made the centre of attention when they were never meant to be serious stumbling-blocks to faith.
So yes, there is mention of homosexuality in the Bible and homosexual acts are explicitly frowned upon, but there are several things worth mentioning here. Firstly, the number of times homosexuality is brought up numbers only a few verses in both the Old and the New Testaments out of over 30,000. It is clearly not meant to be a huge issue. Secondly, Jesus himself never talks about it, or if he did, it's not recorded. He spoke of fidelity in marriage and warned of being judgemental, however, so these are worth taking note of. Thirdly, there is argument to suggest that homosexuality and the issues surrounding it are cultural. Slavery and the role of women are perhaps other issues which need to be viewed with the right cultural mindset. Jesus didn't preach in 21st Century UK; he walked the earth 2000 years ago in Israel. The Old Testament is thousands of years older still. It's misguided to apply the Bible literally at all times with our perspective. This goes back to my previous comment about making sure we understand the spirit of the law.
The long and short of it is that I don't know what Jesus would say today about homosexuality, issues about gay marriage or two men or two women adopting a child. Perhaps he would disapprove of it; perhaps he would have a more complex response. I am not in a position to say. But he did continually teach us to be compassionate and not judgemental, and this really needs to be brought home to people who are abusive and exclusive yet call themselves Christians. If homosexual acts are indeed a sinful, then we do not have the right to judge unless we are sinless ourselves. Jesus illustrated this with his treatment of the condemned adulterer:
(John 8v3) The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group (4) and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. (5) In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (6) They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. (7) When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” ( 8 ) Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
(9) At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. (10) Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
(11) “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
~ John 8:3-11 (NIV)
If anyone had the right to stone her, he did. But he didn't, and that's crucially important. It saddens me when I see people who call themselves Christians but pick on other people yet don't acknowledge their own problems. Jesus preached about this too:
(Matthew 7v1) “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (2) For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
(3) “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (4) How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (5) You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
~ Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV)
OK, so let's say that homosexual behaviours (as opposed to homosexual feelings, which I don't believe anyone can help) are not approved of by God. Or at least it's not what He intended for marriage. One man, one woman and a union that lasts a lifetime = marriage. I believe that Christians who read the Bible and come to this conclusion should be allowed to hold this view without fear of persecution themselves. It's one thing to protect gay people from prejudice and aggression, but sometimes I wonder whether it goes the other way enough. I see people who are exercising their right to freedom of speech and following their conscience but are then bullied and prosecuted as a result. This isn't right either.
Recently the story of Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland hit the news because the two devout Christians who worked there refused to write "Support Gay Marriage" on a cake they were making for a gay couple. It's interesting to note that the bakers did not refuse to serve the couple or make the cake they requested depicting Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, but only objected to writing a statement that their conscience disagreed with. Yet somehow this has gone to court? The Telegraph article that covers this story raises an interesting point that a Muslim printer asked to produce a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed might have similar reservations. I'm sure each and every one of us, regardless of our religious beliefs or political values, has a subject close to our hearts that would make it difficult for us to publish a statement in opposition to it. I feel therefore that the rights of the bakers in this instance need standing up for. They did not discriminate, show hatred or maltreat their customers; they simply couldn't make a statement against their conscience.
The two points I want to make from this blog post are that people should be allowed to follow their conscience without fear of persecution, and that Christians need to remember to be loving and compassionate at all times, which obviously includes the gay community. God loves each and every one of us, and there are numerous gay people who have felt God's deep love for them and let that be what defines them. If this is a topic that interests you, Sam Allberry's book "Is God Anti-Gay?" might be a worthwhile read for you. Sam knows what it's like to feel attracted to other men and has a strong relationship with God regardless so don't let anyone tell you that God hates gays!
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on October 5, 2014 at 4:40 AM||comments (0)|
Recently I came across this quote attributed to the American rapper, Eminem:
"I don't care if you're black, white, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. Simple as that."
I'm not sure where the quote originates from, whether it was in an interview or what, but the sentiment seems to be shared by a number of people, resulting in this quote being widespread across the Internet and undoubtedly "Liked", "Shared" and "Retweeted" across social media to further encourage this honourable philosophy.
I agree with it too, and can see why it is popular. The thing I think it conveys most is a sense of having no prejudice. People are keen to ally themselves with this method of thinking in order to publicly state "Look, I'm not racist, homophobic, sizeist, or otherwise discriminatory!"
And so we shouldn't be. Numerous places in the Bible show that God looks on us as equals, regardless of who we are and it is always important to remember that we are no "better" or "worse" than anyone else we meet. It's quite a humbling experience to know that.
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile [non-Jew], neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ." ~ Galatians 3:28
"Then Peter began to speak, 'I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism'" ~ Acts 10:34
"For there is no difference between Jew and Genitle - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him" ~ Romans 10:12
But despite the quote having the focus on prejudice, or rather a lack of it, it's the conclusion that I think we should focus on. Yes, I agree completely that if someone is nice to you, you should be nice to them. What sort of person is nasty or rude to someone who is pleasant or respectful? It's just common decency, surely? I think that the issue being addressed here is that some otherwise lovely people turn into more arrogant or intolerant people when they meet someone against whom they have a prejudice and suddenly their common decency disappears.
But moving beyond this philosophy of equality, let's look at the crux of the matter:
"If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. Simple as that."
Yes, that's perfectly simple. Or is it? What about when people are rude, abusive, nasty, unpleasant, judgemental, or aggressive towards you? How do you respond then? Do you give as good as you get? Fight fire with fire? Ignore them? Get revenge? Or what?
This, I believe, is where human nature and God's instructions are going to differ. Human nature is riled by rudeness. If someone isn't very nice to you, likelihood is you're not going to like it and you will react in a negative way in return. How one reacts depends on the severity of the situation and the personality of the people in question. There may be retaliatory violence, harsh words or just muted ill-feeling that gnaws away at the victim.
But God taught us a revolutionary way to handle abuse and aggression, but it goes against our human nature and that's what makes it so difficult to carry out.
Christ taught us repeatedly to love and pray for those who aren't pleasant to you, and this can be extremely tough. But Jesus led by example and he suffered more than most of us will ever experience yet he did not retaliate. His most trialling time came within the last week of his life, when he was subjected to verbal and physical abuse at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities. He was insulted, lied about, slapped, beaten, tortured and eventually crucified yet even at this most anguished time in his life, he called out to God, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
Jesus forewarned us to expect abuse and hatred. Everyone suffers it to a greater or lesser degree in their lives. Sometimes there is little justice or rationale behind someone's nasty attitude and sometimes it is more expected. But God looks at the way we handle ourselves in such situations. Jesus and his disciples suffered a lot as the early Church sought to spread its message far and wide and most of Christ's followers met early deaths and suffered greatly for their faith. But throughout the New Testament, the overriding principle in matters of persecution is one of compassion and forgiveness. Love is the strongest emotion of all.
So I conclude this blog entry with some quotes of Jesus and his followers on the subject of how to handle ourselves when we encounter people who aren't nice to us first:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" ~ Matthew 5:43-48
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" ~ Romans 12:14
"Do unto others as you would have them do to you." ~ Luke 6:31
"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty give him water to drink" ~ Proverbs 25:21
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil." ~ Romans 12:17
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." ~ Matthew 5:11-12
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." ~ Matthew 5:38-42
"But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and enduring it? But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God." ~ 1 Peter 2:20
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on May 23, 2014 at 5:10 PM||comments (0)|
I found this little story the other day (paraphrased). Very thought provoking:
In a mother's womb were two babies. One asked the other "Do you believe in life after delivery?"
The other replied, "Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what will be later".
"Nonsense," said the first. "There is no life after delivery. What sort of life would that be?"
"I don't know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat with our mouths".
The first said, "That's absurd! Walking is impossible. And eat with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition. Life after delivery is to be excluded; the umbilical cord is too short".
"I think there is something, and maybe it's different from how it is here".
The first replied, "No one has ever come back from there. Delivery is the end of life. The after-delivery is nothing but darkness and it takes us nowhere".
"Well I don't know," said the second, "but we'll see our mother and she will take care of us".
"Mother? You believe in mother? Where is she now, then?"
"She is all around us, we live in her. Without her there would not be this world".
"Well I don't see her so it's only logical she doesn't exist".
The second replied, "Sometimes when you're in silence, you can hear her, you can perceive her. I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality".
I'm sure you can see correlation between this story and our lives. We are not babies in the womb any more, yet I really do believe that in some ways we are. We are here, on earth, right now, to prepare for something new and much better which will not come to fruition until we die.
To the first baby above, delivery is a death sentence. It is the end of the world he knows and the end of certainty and existence. Delivery is something which is inevitable but because he can't see beyond it, it is a daunting and final event.
The second baby takes a different view and sees that perhaps there is something more, something better which won't happen until the babies are born. Walking with legs and eating with mouths seems a ridiculously ambitious concept to a baby in the womb. Some things that children and adults do is totally beyond the comprehension of the baby. Yet isn't life outside the womb so much better?
The reasoning employed by both babies closely resembles discussions between those who believe in life after death and those who don't. If it cannot be seen and proved and measured, then let's not believe in it. But the second baby does not deny that no one has come back to tell of their experiences outside the womb. He just believes that it is possible that something better might exist afterwards and that the womb is merely a preparation area for something much better.
I think heaven is like this. No one can tell you exactly what to expect with heaven and I would be cautious about believing that it's all full of clouds and harps! Phew! But I do believe that it is incomprehensibly better than what we know and love at the moment. Yes, this world is impressive, beautiful and feels like home but it's temporary. At the most we will live here for a few decades. But heaven is going to be like the prelude ending and the main story beginning.
Jesus Christ often spoke to his disciples and followers about heaven to give them glimpses of how much better it will be and why it is worth living with an eternal perspective rather than one focused entirely on this life. For example, in Matthew 13: 31-32, Jesus says,
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches".
This allegory is a wonderfully vivid picture. We see seeds all around us on all types of plants. They are beautiful in themselves but the seed has to fall to the ground, shrivel up and die before the true beauty happens - it grows into a much bigger and more impressive or stunning plant. Shrivelled acorns, for example, aren't a sight to behold but a glorious oak tree is phenomenal.
I enjoy being an "acorn", really I do, but I'm looking forward to being that "oak tree" more!
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on December 17, 2013 at 5:35 PM||comments (0)|
It's Christmas time! Everywhere I go there are decorations, Christmas music and uplifted spirits at the idea of seeing family, sharing gifts and eating plenty on and around 25th December. It's the same every year and we're familiar with the format. The video below sums up Christmas nicely, and I'm sure you'll be able to identify with some of it!
If you watched the video to the end, you'll see that there could be so much more to Christmas than just simply the commercialism and great expenditure we are used to. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, and I see in society around me that Jesus is dusted off temporarily over the Christmas period and features on the odd card or two and is sung of in carols on the doorstep. But come Boxing Day, it's time to pack him up again until perhaps Easter when Jesus might get a mention alongside the bunnies and the eggs.
I find this tragic.
The UK now would probably class itself as a multi-cultural, multi-faith society founded on Christian roots and I don't disagree. But whilst there are many devout followers of a huge array of religions and faiths present in the country right now, I'd still say that the majority fall into the category of "Christian apathetic". What do I mean by that? I mean that a significant percentage of the population would tick Christian on the census, tell people that they believe in God and see themselves going to heaven one day because they've tried to be decent people, but otherwise Christ has no bearing on their lives. God comes out for special occasions such as Christmas, weddings, funerals, christenings and Easter. He also features in conversation when someone needs to assign blame when there's no one else to point the finger at, or when we're in need of help or comfort. Suddenly someone who otherwise has no time for God begins to pray and begs for answers.
God loves to hear our prayers and does answer them, but He is not a genie, there when we want him and then disappears once our wishes have been granted. To know and love God requires more than just attending church once or twice a year (or even 52 times a year!), being in possession of a Bible or being related to a vicar. It is a personal commitment that each and every one of us makes independently of one another, but which is open to anyone and everyone regardless of what's happened in the past or how bad we've been.
But making a commitment to Christ - being a Christian - is so much more than just acknowledging that perhaps God exists, and getting Him out of His box at seasonally appropriate moments. Jesus called us to take up our crosses to follow him (Matt 16:24) which means more than just having a vague sense of the divine - it means going out of our way to live for Him and inevitably even to suffer for Him. It's not an easy request, but Jesus also said "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it". (Matt 7:13-14) He knew that He was asking a lot but it is such a worthwhile commitment because its consequences are eternal. Contrary to popular thinking, heaven is not a reward for good behaviour but a totally undeserved gift. It's offered to you right now, but you cannot just have God on your terms when it suits you. Look to Christ, read what He says about Himself and about His Father in the gospels and see if He can meet your needs better than anything this material world can offer at you.
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on December 10, 2013 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
I have heard it said before that "A dog thinks it's human; a cat thinks it's God", and on the whole I can certainly see where that thinking comes from! Generally we have the picture that dogs love to please their owners. They are easily delighted, loyal and friendly. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule! Cats on the other hand can be a bit snooty, arrogant and self-sufficient - or they like to think they are. I used to have a beautiful tortoiseshell cat called Summer who reached the ripe old age (for a cat!) of 18. She was very loving and enjoyed cuddles but definitely had an air of importance around her and wanted everything to be on her terms.
A lot of the time it was fine for things to be on her terms. She knew what she wanted and we as owners were happy to let her have them because it resulted in a contented cat and a lot of purring. The problem was that what she thought she wanted to do was not always beneficial for her. For example she went through a habit of climbing on the kitchen work surfaces and walking across the cooker. Whenever she would do this, I would raise my voice and tell her to get down. If she didn't, I would scoop her up and put her on the floor. If she did it again, I would repeat the process. This made her irritable. I had vetoed something she wanted to do, and it made her want to do it again. Eventually she got into the habit of not going up there and didn't attempt it again. The purring recommenced.
So what's my point? Cats do not understand English or any other language. They may get the general gist of what we are saying to them by our actions, tone of voice, and even recognise a few words, but you cannot hold a meaningful conversation with a pet. In Summer's mind, me getting angry with her when she walked across the cooker was irrational and the action of a killjoy. I was simply telling her to get down because I could. What she never realised was that there may one day be an occasion when she went to walk across the cooker and it was still hot from when it had been on, or perhaps there would be a boiling saucepan on it. My concern for her was that she would stay safe and avoid obvious danger. I didn't want her to hurt herself and I warned her against it. She never understood why I did what I did but grudgingly she obeyed and respected my wishes.
In a similar way, we humans can rage against God when He tells us not to do something. We can say that he is being a spoil sport or exerting His authority where it is not wanted, but God does not tell us to do or not to do things for no reason. If God tells us in the Bible that something is wrong and that He will be displeased if we do it, it doesn't mean that He doesn't have his reasons. Just as Summer never fully understood why I behaved the way I did, we are not on par with God and cannot fathom all he tells us, but we are reminded constantly in the Bible that he does things for our own good and for our benefit. His anger is short-lived, He forgives quickly and guides us back to how we should be. When He is displeased with us, He still loves us more than we can ever know - and certainly much more than I ever loved my cat, or even members of my family.
God gives us a lot of guidance in the Bible - some instructions are black and white but a lot of it requires wisdom and judgement on our part in order for us to apply His instructions to particular situations. Even with the best of intentions, we will get it wrong but most of the time our intentions aren't right anyway. I find it hard to trust God to know best when I think I can see how I want my future to be. When He closes doors in my life and I just don't get it, sometimes later on I can see why - He was holding open a better door. Other times, I will not know why things have happened until I die. But knowing that God loves us as much as He does, enough to sacrifice His Son for us even whilst we are still rebellious and sinful, I know that I can trust Him even if I don't know what it is He is doing or where my life is heading. When it comes to my attitude towards God, I should rein in my cat-like arrogance and adopt the delight and obedience of a well-trained dog, knowing full well that my Master will look after me and give me everything I need.
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on December 22, 2012 at 1:45 PM||comments (0)|
Now here's an interesting concept which I heard a while back. Imagine this: each of us is the number 0. Here's a photo of me, and sometimes I feel as worthless as I look in this particular pic!
But God is number 1 (and you can take that in more ways than one - no pun intended just there, btw):
Now this isn't going to become some binary weirdness, I promise! God has value all the time, and when we're right with him, we become valuable too!
In fact, when we all band together as children of God, and let him take the lead then we make up a huge number!
But when we're on the wrong side of God, his value doesn't change, but we don't strengthen.
But if there is no God, then we're without value and meaning, no matter how many band together.
So yeah, just a little, thought-provoking illustration. Sticking with the theme of numbers, I also once heard the simple phrase
One plus God = the majority
So even if you're the only one in the room who has God, then you're in the majority!
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on March 25, 2012 at 4:25 AM||comments (0)|
When Jesus was asked by his disciples "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?", he called over a little child and used them to illustrate his answer, "Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 18:1-4)
Jesus quite often spoke to his disciples, followers and opposition using examples or parables to make his message more memorable. What does he mean here by saying that we should be like children?
Children have many qualities that adults do not really have any more; normally they have grown out of them or know better, but some qualities children possess are admirable and should be emulated by older people.
Jesus is not saying that his followers should become childish. His disciples were already very good at arguing over petty issues! But instead that they should become childlike. How is this different?
Children have an inbuilt trust that adults seem to lose as they grow more worldly-wise. It's adults who panic and stress about their lives - what to eat, what to wear, where to go, how to afford things, how to be popular, etc. As adults we get bogged down by details like this every day of our lives. But the great news is we have a loving heavenly Father, God, who knows all about these issues and is quite cabable of handling them for us. He loves us more than we can imagine, and certainly more than our earthly fathers! Jesus is calling us to be like children before our heavenly Father (that makes sense, really!) by trusting in him like little kids do with their earthly fathers.
Do you see five year olds stressing out about the same things adults do? A kid doesn't worry where their next meal is coming from - they trust that mum and dad will provide, and they do! When a little boy or girl tugs at daddy's sleeve and asks to be spun around in the air, and daddy obliges causing much laughter and enjoyment, the child doesn't believe that daddy will drop them. It might not even cross their mind! Sometimes we as humans can't live up to others' expectations, though. Maybe on some occasions, we have failed our children by not being able to collect them from school, for example, but God the Father, on the other hand, never fails his children. Imagine then, how content we can be in our lives when we know that our Father wants us to trust him like we do our earthly fathers, but also to know that He will never make a mistake or let us down. When things don't seem to work out how we wanted or expected, it's only because God has a bigger and better plan over all and can judge our circumstances objectively. So like children who don't think about the mortgage (their parents quietly have it under control) we shouldn't worry about how our Father will provide for us in life. He will.
|Posted by whybelieveinjesus on October 24, 2011 at 2:00 PM||comments (0)|
Our lives are so filled with the mundane – the people around us, our homes, our jobs, our hobbies – that we often don’t give much thought to what’s beyond our little world, let alone all the details of our town, our country, our planet.
So take a minute to think about these facts:
We can’t properly process this information. It is just too awesome. If we start talking in figures bigger than we can picture, we find the information difficult to comprehend.
Christians believe that God brought Earth, the Sun, the Milky Way and indeed the entire Universe into being. This is likely to have come about at the time of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.
Imagine you are the God who brought all this into being. Trillions of stars, all designed and created by yourself. As humans we can’t really grasp the notion of knowing every detail of every star in existence, let alone everything else in the Universe. What do we know of other planets in our own solar system let alone those billions of light years away, when there is so much of Earth we haven’t discovered?
God is concerned with huge things well outside our comprehension, true, but he can and really does care about the mundane, just like we do. He cares for us, little insignificant beings that we must feel at times.
Think take a minute or two to consider these quotes:
Nothing is too small or insignificant for God’s attention. He genuinely does care about the little details, the things that bother us and even things which are too small for us to consider! Never think that you can’t confide in your loving Father because your issues are “not important enough”. He loves it when we come to Him in prayer at any time of day or night and it doesn’t matter whether we feel we are communicating effectively or not. Nor does it matter if we are raising a topic of huge concern, or just wanting someone to listen and to provide the love and comfort He wants to give each and every one of us.