I Surrender All?

We sing quite a lot of songs in church about self-sacrifice. ‘I will offer up my life’, ‘Lord, I give You my heart’, ‘All to Jesus I surrender.’ I don’t think I ever have, or ever will, meet someone who can sing those words and completely mean them. No matter how good our intentions may be, we all get distracted by our own ambitions and plans from time to time. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sing these songs. I think they’re a great prayer to sing out, longing to be more like the God who made us and gave us the perfect example of self-sacrifice when His only Son died for us on the cross.

But I was listening to a Phil Wickham song yesterday that really helped me gain a bit of perspective on this whole issue. It’s called ‘All of me’, and you can tell straight from the title that this is his ‘Lord, I’m giving my life to You’ song. Yet I found the lyrics to this one particularly helpful. The first verse says:

Take these hands
I know they’re empty
But with You they can
Be used for beauty
In Your perfect plan
All I am is Yours

You can have a listen to the song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXBr5W27pao.

What really struck me was the acknowledgement that, actually, I don’t really have anything to ‘surrender’ because I already belong to God; all I am is already His. An Owl City song uses 2 Corinthians 5:17 as a basis to say, ‘I am not my own, for I have been made new’ (Meteor Shower). It’s such a glorious but challenging truth at the same time. It’s glorious because we have been made by and for a powerful God who loves us and wants the best for us. It’s challenging because we’re selfish and want to keep in control of what we do. But it’s a truth nonetheless: all that we are already belongs to God.

Of course, this still requires an active response; we can still ‘give’ ourselves to God. But this only comes through an appreciation and acknowledgement of the fact that we are already His possession. He created us, He paid for our salvation so that we could enjoy a relationship with Him, He has a perfect plan for our lives that is obviously far better than any plans we may have for ourselves.

I still remember the first time it clicked in me what Jesus was talking about when He said, having been asked about paying taxes to Caesar, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). For a while I had thought that this just meant that you ought to give God offerings and tithes and all that stuff, which wasn’t really a very exciting interpretation to me! But Jesus had asked those who had questioned Him, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this [on the coin]?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they had replied. However, when you ask that question about us, ‘Whose image and inscription do we bear?’ clearly the answer is, ‘God’s.’ We bear His image, so we are His. We ought to give Him our lives because they are rightfully His. I don’t know why I forget this so readily (well, I guess I can think of several reasons, but it stills seems a bit ridiculous to ignore such a fundamental aspect of my identity!), but it’s so important to remember this if we truly want to give ‘all we are’ to God.

Galatians 2:20 says, ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.’ Let us remember that it is Christ who lives in us. Though our hands are empty, with Him they can be used for beauty. Though our feet stumble, He can use the weak. Let’s offer our lives to God and His purposes for us, remembering that our lives are already His, and let’s see what amazing things God does through us when we don’t try to do it ourselves!

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So, You Think You Can Dance?

On this day of cheer and good will to all men, its very easy to forget who we are celebrating, who we are worshipping here. When we look at just the baby, we see Jesus; meek and mild. But when we look at his teaching, this picture that we see every year is a far cry.

Instead of explaining why and preaching this out to you, instead I shall quote to you the beautitudes; modernized for easier reading. These words are very loving and correctful, yet can also be incredibly judging and eternally damning. To put this text into context, Jesus was speaking into a very religious and legalistic culture- they thought that they could save themselves. As we can see here, Jesus bluntly lays out the extent of what they must do not to sin, and the standard is incredibly high indeed.

Whilst reading these teachings, let us take them in and take them seriously, but also be greatful and thankful that Jesus Christ died and rose for our sins– so that we will not be judged if we slip up even once; we can always say sorry and turn back to God.

Blessed are those who realise that they are poor, for they will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who feel pain, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who are humble, for the humble shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are those who yearn for justice, for their yearnings shall be satisfied.

Blessed are those who are merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them.

Blessed are those who are pure, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of the living God.

Blessed are those who are hunted down for doing the right thing, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses you when people beat you, spit on you, joke about you, hate you and lie about you etc. etc. just because you are my followers. Be cheerful about it! Be incredibly happy! For a great reward waits for you in heaven. And don’t forget, the people who spoke up for God and followed him in the past suffered exactly the same things, be not afraid!

You are oxygen throughout the earth. But what good would it be if that oxygen loses its density, filtered into the atmosphere? It would be hard to get it concentrated as it once was before. It will be left to loss, and new oxygen will be used to take its place.

You are fire in a cold world- like a campfire in the middle of nowhere, where everybody can see it. No one lights a fire and then doesn’t use it; that would be stupid. Instead, the fire is lit for a specific purpose- to keep you warm. In the same way as this, let your good deeds and rightful actions burn for the warmth of others, so that everyone will respect your heavenly Father.

The law asks of us not to murder each other. But let me tell you this- even if you are just angry with someone, you are subject to judgement! If you call someone an idiot in an act of contempt, you will be in danger of being brought to the courtroom. But if you curse someone in your anger, you are in danger of the fire and flames of hell.

So, if you are doing a good deed in the name of God, or going to worship Him, and you remember that someone has something against you, stop what you are doing. Go and reconcile and be reconciled, then go ahead and do what you were doing for God.

When you are on the way to court as a defence, try to settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, you accuser might hand you over to the judge, who will sentence you and throw you into prison. And if that happens, you won’t be freed until you served every single day of your sentence.

We all know that having an affair is wrong. But I say, anyone who even lusts over a man or a woman has already had an affair within their own heart. So if your eyes cause you to lust, gouge them out. It is much better for you to enter heaven blind than to be thrown into hell with 20/20 vision. And if your hands make you sin too, you might as well cut those off before you do. It is much better for you to enter heaven limbless than it is to be thrown into hell with your whole body intact.

Don’t make empty promises, or swear on anything. Don’t swear on your mother’s grave, because that is disrespectful. Don’t swear on your life, for your life is sacred in God’s eyes. Don’t swear by the dust of the earth, because it belongs to God, not you. Simply just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, anything beyond that is pointless and evil.

It is always feels right to take just retaliation for another’s actions, right? But let me say this to you- don’t resist an evil person! If he knocks you to the ground, get back up again. If he sues you for your house, laugh at him as you sign away the deed in trial. If a government decides to murder you in cold blood, pray forgiveness over them as they do it. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

We all think it is right to love your friends and families and to hate your enemies, right? But let me turn this on its own head- I want you to love your enemies too. Pray for them as they mock you and spit on you. You will be acting as true kids to your heavenly Father by doing so. Remember, he gives his own sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he send down rain on just and unjust alike. If you only love those who love you back, what good is that? Even notorious drug dealers do that. If you are only kind to your friends, how are you different to anybody else? Even terrorists do that. You are to be perfect, because your Father in heaven is perfect.

Watch it! Don’t make a big deal about your good deeds, to be admired by others, for you will get nothing from your heavenly Father in doing so. When you give to someone in need, don’t be a hypocrite and blow trumpets over it! Don’t call attention to your good charity! They have received any recognition they shall ever get. When you give to someone in need, do it unassumingly; in secret if you can. If possible, give your gift in private- you Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When you pray, don’t big yourself up and make a show out of it. Whoever does this has already got the reward that they deserve. But I tell you this- when you pray, go away by yourself, in private, and pray to your heavenly Dad. Then he, who sees everything, will reward you.

When you pray, don’t waffle on as the religious do- there is no point (and it is boring!) Also, don’t keep repeating a prayer over and over again, thinking that God hears better the tenth time! Don’t be like them; your Father knows exactly what you need before you even ask him! Pray like this:

Our heavenly Father,

Your name be adored.

Bring your kingdom and will,

Onto Earth as it is in heaven.

Please provide for us today,

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us,

Please keep us from temptation,

But rescue us from evil.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive, your Father will not forgive you.

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious- unless you like being called a hypocrite. They try to look miserable and unhealthy so people will admire what they are doing. To be honest, their admiration is the only reward they will ever have. But, when you fast, look sharp. Comb your hair and wash your face. Make no deal of it, and no one will notice you fasting, except for your heavenly Father. And he, who sees everything, will reward you.

Don’t store up treasure here on earth, for inflation and time will make them worthless, they will rot away. Instead, store up treasure in heaven, where there is no inflation and time, where nothing rots away. Home is where the heart is, in the same way that your treasures will also be where your heart is.

Your eye allows you to see. If your eye is good, you will see very clearly. But if your eye is bad, you will be blind. And if you think you can see when you are blind, how blind are you!

You can’t serve two masters. You will find that you love one, and hate the other; all your time will be in one and nothing but contempt for the other. You can’t serve both God and money!

I’ll also tell you that you shouldn’t worry about today- where your next meal comes from, if you have clothes to wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than what you wear? Look at the birds. They don’t go shopping, and your heavenly Father feeds them. How much more valuable are you than they? Can any worry add a minute to your life?

And why worry about what you are wearing? Look at a rose- it doesn’t have to go buy new clothes and put them on to look beautiful. Even the best Dolce and Gabanna suit doesn’t beat nature. If God cares so much about roses which are here one day but not the next, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have little faith?

So don’t worry about what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. These things dominate the non-believer’s thoughts, but your heavenly Father already knows exactly what you need. Hunt the Kingdom of God above everything, and live righteously, and he will give you what you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow; tomorrow brings its own worries. Today’s problems are enough for today.

Don’t judge others, and you won’t be judged. You’ll be treated how you treat other people. You get what you give, pay for what you ask for, judged in the same way that you judge!

And why worry about the dirt on your friend’s hand when your hands are covered in mud? How can you even think of saying ‘I can wash those hands for you,’ when your hands are covered in mud? Hypocrite! Wash your own hands first, then your hands will be clean enough to wash your friend’s hands.

Don’t give righteous gems to someone who isn’t righteous. Don’t throw your money to thieves, for they will take your money without remorse, and turn to attack you for whatever is left!

Just keep asking, and you will get it. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks will gain. Everyone who searches will find. Everyone who knocks will have the door opened to them.

Parents- if your kid asks you for money, do you give them a stone? Or if they ask you for some pasta, do you give them poison? Course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your kids, how much more will your heavenly Father know how to give great gifts to those who ask him?

If you don’t take anything away from this, take this: do to others whatever you would like them to do for you. This is the most important notion I could teach on.

The entrance to God’s kingdom is a narrow door. The door to hell is a lot bigger, its hinges wide for all who choose that way. But the door to life is very narrow and hard to find; beyond a long and narrow road. Only a few ever find it.

Beware of false prophets who pretend to be one of my own sheep, but are actually vicious wolfs- ready and waiting to tear apart their next victim. You can tell them from their fruits, by the way that they act. Can weeds ever make grapes? Can ferns ever make apples? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is weeded out, or chopped down, ready to be thrown into the fire. So, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Not every man or woman who calls out to me “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgement day, there will be many who say to me “Lord! Lord! We performed miracles in your name, taught the truth and prophesised,” and I will say to them “Well, I never actually knew you! Get away from me, for you are lawbreakers.”

Anyone who listens to what I teach and follows it is wise, like a builder who builds their house on a solid foundation. As the rain and the floods and the winds strike the house, it won’t collapse because of its foundation. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is an idiot, like a rogue trader who builds there house without a good and solid foundation. As the rain and the floods and the winds strike the house, it will collapse because of its foundation.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy new year!

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Does God Hate Anyone?

Some of you probably think that the answer to this question is blatantly obvious; of course He doesn’t! God hates no-one…

But the bible is a complex book, trying to convey to us the knowledge of a complex, infinite God who cannot – as much as we don’t want to admit it – be fully conveyed by finite words. Not all of His actions in some places can be easily reconciled to the idea of an all loving God. Throughout the bible, He has decreed death and destruction to many cities and nations through His prophets, and often it seems like He deals with some hatefully.

I know some Christians who would at the notion of even considering that God hates anyone; verses such as John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”) and 1 John 4:8 (“God is Love”) state He is loving. Thus God is a loving God, right?

But then Malachi comes along, and wallops us with this;

“‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.'” – Malachi 1:2 (ESV)

Now, I can guess what you are thinking; this verse is from the old testament, before Jesus’ death and resurrection; Jesus was much nicer than the God of the Old Testament. That little bit of thinking I have encountered in a lot of people, myself included. For reasons I cannot comprehend, it seems to be deep seated within Christian thought, even if there is little evidence to suggest it; when confronted with verses like this, we almost unknowingly slip into the thought process that the OT = angry God and the NT = loving God. We often disavow this thinking aloud, but I know that I sometimes slip into this thinking, even though I see so much in the OT and NT to contest this simple idea.*

And then a verse like this comes to throw a spanner even into that thought;

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.'” – Luke 14:25-27

I could spend forever scrawling through scripture to find every documented mention of God and hatred in the same verse, but for time’s sake I am going to stick with these two verses about God hating; one from the Old, one from the New.

We are forced to ask the question, from these verses, as to whether God hates people, and whether Jesus actually commanded us to hate our own flesh and blood.
These are uncomfortable questions, especially since I truly believe that God is Love, as the bible says He is. It’s all the more reason to ask such a question.

On the surface of it, we are faced with a seeming contradiction; a God of Love and Him hating, even telling others to hate. The first we question we must ask is what the word truly means; the bible is, after all, a translated text. Every language will have nuances and words that do not translate well into others, and some scriptural evidence would suggest that the word translated as ‘hate’ in the verses above may be the latter.

Leah the less-loved

In Genesis chapter 29 it is written that Jacob worked and toiled for seven years in order to marry Rachel, the woman he loved from the moment he laid eyes on her. Laban, Rachel’s father, screwed Jacob over, giving him Rachel’s older sister – Leah – to him on his wedding night. Angry, but determined, Jacob worked another seven years in order to marry Leah as well.

Soap opera-esque antics aside, two verses in this chapter grants us a lot of insight into the true meaning of the word ‘hate’ in the scriptures. For, in verse 30, it says –

So Jacob went into Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years

Rachel was loved more than Leah; Leah was the less-loved. It seems like I am repeating the point over and over that Leah was less loved, but it is important to note, for the next verse says –

When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Within a verse, Leah has gone from being less loved to being hated. This seems incongruous if we hold to the English definition of hate, but biblically – if this verse is to be taken at face value – it is possible that hate does not meant hate at all, but rather “to love less”. This utterly transforms the meanings of otherwise-difficult verses, and highlights the danger of blindly trusting a translation (even a good translation) on the meanings behind the words used. For instance, Jesus’ words from Luke 14, with this idea in mind, suddenly become much easier to understand (and are much more in line with the character, attributes and actions he has/does in the gospels):

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not love less his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.'”

The word hate in the bible, whenever used, does not have the same meaning as it does in normal, everyday usage. But such a question of translation only lays the groundwork for the actual question; does God actually hate anyone?

Throughout scripture, God is shown destroying, chastising, crushing and undermining many who fly in the face of his commands to – in the words of Micah – live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. From Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis), to the plagues upon Egypt (Exodus), all the way through to the numerous sackings of Jerusalem and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (1&2 Kings), and even the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts), a pattern emerges that can, from a certain point of view, argue that yes; God hates.

Personally, however, I believe it highlights another important point when discussing this topic; the need to distinguish between hate and wrath.

The wrath of God

The doctrine of the wrath of God is often forgotten in modern Christian thinking. I’m sure there are many infinitely more correct explanations as to why this has happened than my own opinion, but I cannot help but wonder whether it has been sidelined in order to make God more “accessible”, more “gentle”, and more “loving” (i.e. much like hate above, loving here has a different meaning; in my experience, whenever someone speaks about God as ‘loving’, they have tended to mean “permissive”). Yes, the bible does describe God as our loving Father, that God is Love, and these are glorious truths. But it also calls Him the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, our righteous Judge, and the King of Kings who destroys armies in His anger. As is often true of God, being both All Loving (i.e. Omni-benevolent) and the justly wrathful King and Judge of all seems, at first, a contradiction. Yet, looking at scripture, I personally find it harder and harder to separate the two; often, it seems, these two polar roles come intertwined in the way God deals with humanity to that point that you cannot see God as loving without His wrath, because it always gets unleashed in defence of the oppressed and the crushed.

This passage from Jeremiah chapter 5 sums up what I am trying to get at very well;

Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word,
behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them. Behold, I am bringing against you a nation from afar, O house of Israel, declares the LORD. It is an enduring nation; it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say. Their quiver is like an open tomb; they are all mighty warriors. They shall eat up your harvest and your food; they shall eat up your sons and your daughters; they shall eat up your flocks and your herds; they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees; your fortified cities in which you trust they shall beat down with the sword. But even in those days, declares the LORD, I will not make a full end of you. And when your people say, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.’” Declare this in the house of Jacob; proclaim it in Judah:

“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not. Do you not fear me? declares the LORD. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it. But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away.

They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you. For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men.
Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich;
they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD,
and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”

Just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear; that was God speaking to Israel, His own chosen and covenanted people. This text is full of wrath, but the love of God can also be seen; He is sending destruction upon Israel because they were committing evil by oppressing the poor, needy and fatherless. God was coming to the defence of human beings who He loves, by unleashing His wrath upon those who dared to oppress them.
The righteous, wrathful Judge and the God of Love; both aspects of God’s character are present in this text.

Does God hate anyone? My personal opinion is that no, He doesn’t. Throughout scripture, God is shown repeatedly to bring wrath upon those who oppress and destroy, yet is shown as willing to forgive them as well (the story of Israel’s relationship with God is testament to that). He metes out mercy to those who deserve mercy, and wrath to those who deserves wrath.

Ultimately, however, you should read through the scriptures, listen to sermons on it, and decide yourself.

* Side note: the man who first came up with that idea – Marcion – was denounced as a heretic for pretty much ejecting much of Christian doctrine, in the 2nd century AD. He was also the one who separated the Tanakh and the Gospels into the ‘Old’ Testament and ‘New’ Testament…which we still use to this day.

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Songs In the Night – An Article Response Part 2 (Isaiah 43:1-7)

This post opens with one of my most favourite passages from the entirety of the Bible ever, from the book of Isaiah, a book fraught with prophecies of a coming Messiah…. and promises that ring true to this day. This passage, with its promises, is one of the most poignant and beautiful passages in the Bible.

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob,

He who formed you, O Israel:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you,

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am (Hebrew: Ani) the Lord your God,

The Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

I give Egypt as your ransom,

Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my eyes,

and honoured, and I love you.

I give men in return for you,

peoples in exchange for your life;

I will bring your offspring from the east,

and from the west I will gather you.

I will say to the north, Give up,

and to the south,  Do not withhold;

bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the end of the earth,

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.

Isaiah 43:1-7

Like I mentioned in my previous post, this is another hope-promise I (re)discovered when I took to heart my good friend Trev’s exhortation in his post Part 4: Hope Unseen  for us Christians (and even those that aren’t!) to read through the Bible and found the promises – upon which we can hope – of God that the whole of His Word are brimming with. This one, though, has always spoken to me, from the time when I was first decided to memorise it voluntarily. There’s just so much certain LOVE and how palpable a surety we have in Christ is in that passage, but the words that leave me breathless are the ones most intensely direct, most intensely personal – “I have called you by name, you are mine.”

“You.Are.Mine.” What a promise! What love God has for us that he should save us purling, weak, sinful little humans and with the “adoption of sons” (Romans 8:23) that will one day ultimately happen on the Second Coming, but for right now we have a glorious hope: God knows our name, and He has called us by it. Tis true, He calls me by name, one that originates from another well-beloved verse from Isaiah, and I adore it when I hear the Spirit calling me by that name – I know then that I am “precious in his eyes” and “honoured” and that He LOVES me so much He has His own name for me!

Another promise inherent in this passage, delineated with clarity, is that no matter how many trials we undergo, how much pain we may have to suffer, how often we may confused or lost or alone when life throws curve-balls our way, striking us again and again, leaving us vulnerable and scared, how often fears haunt us as sudden realisation forces us to comprehend how immensely temporal and will 0’the wisp life is – there are no real certainties but one  God is there with us. He will be there. Not only that, He.Is. There.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.”

Isaiah 43:2 (ESV)

This promise that God tells the forgetful Children of Israel of in Isaiah 43:1-7 is also a reminder for the Hebrews – and us of the modern day – that He has been with them (and us) before. Verse 2 of Isaiah 43-17 is a direct reference to when God lead his Children to safety and freedom and eventually, “good success” (Josh 1:8) twice earlier in the their history: once with Moses at the Red Sea in Exodus 14, again with Joshua (“Salvation”) in his titular book in Joshua 3 with the crossing of the river Jordan.

These references would not have been lost on the Hebrews, who as a people would have been well-studied in their history, especially the stories of the times when the God they followed has proven Himself worthy and faithful to them – and what would have been a more potent set of object lessons than these two for the Hebrews to remember?

They would not only have been just mere stories, relics of the past, but vivid examples of God’s faithfulness to them and how very present He has always been during their tribulations, even when their own sin towards Him brought them into exile or disfavour – God never left them through it all, and even as He sends prophets warning of what will befall them if they keep turning away from Him and worshiping Baal, He always included an earnest appeal for the Children of Israel to return to Him, and even when He sent the prophets, His heart behind it was in utter grief – since as my constant refrain has been, He LOVES us!

And the extent of that LOVE, that LOVE that no matter what adjective is employed to just attempt to describe it falls short – especially when one stands before the majesty and solemnity of the Cross, the most perfect expression of that LOVE.

An awesome (as in “awe-inspiring”) LOVE that show how truly God does love us because at the Cross, the great God of the universe did the unthinkable – his LOVE for us is so deep, great, rich and true that he suffered for us. No other religion of humanity has at its focal point the cornerstone that Christ took our sin and our suffering upon himself, taking our place on the Cross in the same way a lover might die to rescue his beloved from the same fate, so amazing is his love for her.

This is the reason why the promise sent forth in Isaiah rings true for us, today. And why do  these words ring so true for us during dark times? Because they prove how ultimate God’s love – his hesed is for us – even going so far to humble himself and take upon himself the punishment and suffering and agony the Cross would have meant for us instead. Interestingly, the LOVE of Christ is often defined in the New Testament in Greek with the word agape which essentially implies self-sacrificial love, whereas hesed is the Hebraic counterpart as we have seen in this passage of Isaiah 43:1-7.

This love as exemplified in Isaiah 43: 1-7 is the richest Gift-Love (as termed such by noted apologist and writer C.S. Lewis) the world has ever known and one we can cling to in times of darkness and one that speaks of the promise that whatever trial we might endure, God is enduring it with us, holding us by the hand the entire course, and He will bring us safely home.

It is my hope that this post will will encouragement to everyone who reads it, and for you all to remember that even in your darkest days, God is there with you through it.

May God be with everyone who reads this, I hope and pray.

Posted in God, History, Jesus, Jesus' Ministry and Teachings, Life, Sacrifice, The Bible, When All is Not Bright and Beautiful: Suffering, Christians and the Bible | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Before You Talk the Talk, You Gotta Walk the Walk- Why The Church is Slightly Fake Part 3

So, now that we know that the flesh brings death, and following God‘s will brings life, I have an interesting spin for you; what if God wrote you a letter on what is wrong with you? What if God got someone to jot down what is wrong with you, and what you must do about it?

Cue scene; the Island of PatmosAD 97. John must have been at least 75 by now; and he is in jail (again). Whilst he is worshipping God though, something extraordinary happens. This is now what scholars call the Apocalypse of John AKA Revelation.

This book brings alot of debate and divide between Christians; in which many don’t even have a chance in beginning to comprehend or understand what it says (none of us have). All that I know is that there is an interesting bit in the beginning; after Jesus turns up. Jesus gets John to write 7 brief letters; I am going to go through 3 of them with you, as they are most relevant to us today (and I believe Jesus would have known that and deliberately aimed at the people like us as a target audience).

The Message to the Church in Laodicea

14 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginningof God’s new creation:

15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!

17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.

20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. 22 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

I absolutely love this; don’t you get it? It’s almost as if Jesus is talking directly to the modern day church; full of its riches and falsehoods. And what is the biggest lie moving around the Church at the moment? Yup, the prosperity Gospel folks. The false teaching that we deserve to be blessed; no matter what the situation and circumstance is. And unlike any good lie, it is based in truth; which makes it’s sting even deadlier. God does honour and bless his followers, his children. But it is rarely through money; and even if it is, he expects us to give it away every time. This is a consumeristic lie; one where we come to believe that we deserve more and more, as long as we give into it. This is the biggest spiritual con affecting the church at the moment; one of give freely so you will be blessed even more.

As we have seen in the last two articles, false teachings bring death as they aren’t from God. Jesus addresses himself in each rather short and concise letter he writes to the seven churches; note the adressing here- “the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation,”. He hits it right on the spot; he preaches truth, he preaches life. He is the beginning of God’s new creation, the faithful and true witness.

What the Church is seeing nowadays is full of falsehoods; full of death. Now, let us see what Jesus says about the situation as to how to redeem it:

17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.

He puts it bluntly; invest in him, buy righteous garments from him and open your eyes to the truth. As always, Jesus leaves no middle ground “Be diligent and turn from your indifference,” is his cry; if you aren’t for God, then you are surely against him!

20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. 22 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

The biggest irony of all; the most over-used verse for evangelism is aimed at the Church! He knew that there would be many people around nowadays who aren’t from God but would associate with him; we can all see it. It’s just if we admit it or not which divides us. If you give into Christ‘s demands, he will come into your heart; your mind, your very life, and a share a meal with you as friends would. He goes on to say those who are within him (the victorious ons) will sit with him on his throne!  The irony is the followers of God who care nothing except for the God that made him and his will for them will inherit power far beyond imagination! Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth indeed.

And now, to move on to another letter that Christ briefly wrote; to the Church in Sardis. Let’s see if you guess who this is aimed at nowadays:

The Message to the Church in Sardis

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spiritof God and the seven stars:

“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. 3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

4 “Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. 6 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

So before we were combatting pride and lacking in honesty and truth; now we are combatting in spiritual deafness and deadness. It is rather obvious by reading The Bible and The Apostle’s teachings that it is not by our own strength that we live the Christian life; it is through God. Without God, we are dead.

Now, the stars represent the angels of the seven churches; who happen to be the seven lampstands (Rev 1: 17-20). By him saying “who has the sevenfold Spirit of God,” he is basically saying that he has The Holy Spirit working powerfully within him; like every other genuine believer on the planet. He is basically saying that the Church of Sardis has all of the elements of a Christ- believing church on the outside; but it is dead on the inside- there is no substance there, lacking indwelling of The Holy Spirit.

This is exactly why he demands the church wake up- they have no guide, no Spirit within them. This means that they might as well be asleep; they are innefective, nothing to behold eternally. If they don’t wake up, they won’t be at one with God- they won’t be part of his body, his church. This is why he says “You do not meet the requirements of my God”, because without God with them; The Holy Spirit in this case; they are just another religion- they aren’t Bible believing Christians, they are dead. They may heal some, sometimes they may even prophesy, but they forgot to do the most important part of the Christian faith; commit their lives to Christ. If they did, then they wouldn’t be having this problem, wouldn’t they?

4“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine

Even for this Church, there is still some hope. Note soiling their clothes with evil- it is because they have the Spirit within them, The Holy Spirit, that they have not soiled their clothes with evil. It is only through God that we get the redemptive qualities that we need so desperately, not out of our own works and power.

Being clothed in white goes hand in hand with being righteous. God is righteous. Basically it is saying all of those whom are clothed in white are as righteous as God is- this only possible through the redemptive power that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for all of mankind had on the cross for us. It is only through God that we can get to this stage, never by any work or application we try to do ourselves.

And now, last but not at all least, onto the last letter- to the Church of Philadelphia- the true Church/ bride.

The Message to the Church in Philadelphia

7“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.

This is the message from the one who is holy and true,       the one who has the key of David.    What he opens, no one can close;       and what he closes, no one can open:

8 “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. 9 Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.

10 “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.

11 I am coming soon.Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.

12 All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name. 13 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

This letter is a thing of beauty- you see no condemnation here. You see a slight criticism (although you are weak), but you can just see God’s love emanate throughout this writing; it is obviously pointed towards the genuine an true Church- with all of its humanity and flaw. But, as we know, those flaws don’t matter in The Lord’s eyes; because he died to erase them out. Because this Church genuinelly and truly believed without fault (not a hard thing to do); they are redeemed and “obeyed my command to perservere”. If you want to see what God would say to the true spiritual Church of today, infilled by the power of The Holy Spirit to bring every member of the body life, here it is.

I hope these words are inspiring for you as much as they are for me- they really do encourage me to keep going with my faith and never to falter or let go of it ever. To finish off, let’s see if Paul has anything to say on this subject of redemption:

The Wisdom of God

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise       and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles,Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy[g] when God called you. 27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28 God chose things despised by the world,[h] things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. 29As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

30 God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 31 Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”

a- Revelation 2-3, b- 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

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Before You Talk the Talk, You Gotta Walk the Walk- Why The Church is Slightly Fake Part 2

Last time, I left alot of things up in the air rather inconclusively; but it was for a reason. Now I can explain why the Church is the way it is now. Why are there so many frauds, so many fakes? Why are there so many hypocrites and liars? Why was Jesus’ spiritual army on the World seemingly be attested to some of the worst attrocities in history? Ironically, it wasn’t him- to put the long story in short.

What does Jesus have to say about the religious leaders of his time, The Pharisees? I think he paints an inconically beautiful picture of religious people are like; the ones who try and reach God out of their own strength:

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. 9 Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. (a)

Jesus, who has ironically been the patriarch to most man-made religion, hated it. When the religious leaders of the time came to watch the moves of God in their man-made righteousness, Jesus opens his mouth and says “You brood of snakes!” He might as well have been calling them the armies within the leagues of Satan; they would have known Genesis back to front. They would have known that it was a snake, a serpent, who tempted Eve in the first place.

So, in recap to last time, we could basically deduce that we who are from God will have life wellin deep within us- through the Spirit of God within us. We also deduced that the flesh, are very bodies, are so corrupt that we have to fight against our natural instincts and urges daily to follow the will God has for us. What does this have to say about ones who don’t have the Spirit of God within them; but strive to be part of the Godhead in one twisted way or another?

Let’s look deeper into what The Bible has to say on the subject. Peter states that:

2I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles.

3 Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. 4They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

5 They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. 6 Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. 7 And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. (b)

It’s interesting to note that Peter’s words are just as damning as Jesus’ words; except for this time he is mentioning scoffers and unbelievers. The interesting thing to note here is that if you put the statements together, it is almost as if they suffer from the same thing; they suffer from being dead to sin and following their earthly desires in all that they do.

It’s either for God or against God; there is no middle ground. What I’m trying to say is that this sin pandemic, this corrupted and incorruptible perturbation of flesh, kills. Maybe not literally, but spiritually. We are dead without God. Because of our sin, all that we do is meaningless; it all comes from the same evil well of desires. If the root cause isn’t addressed and adjusted, then there will be no salvation.

The regenerate spirit of a man (the belief that the Holy Spirit pretty much begins to revitalize us into what God calls us to be once we become Christ believing) is the opposite of the flesh that he is living in. Not necessarily because flesh is evil- remember that God himself became flesh for us. No, only because the flesh itself is corrupt; it has sin embedded into this very knowledge and programming. It is within our very nature to sin, and there is nothing we can do about that out of our own skin.

And, my friends, this is why both Jesus’ and Peter’s words were equally damning; the corrupt is the equal opposite to what is holy; they are on two opposite sides of the coin. Although there is a paradox in that God currently provides us holiness within an earthly body; as a gold treasure hidden within a dirty jar of clay, that isn’t the problem here. The problem here is without God, anyone can be in leagues with Satan; who caused sin in the first place to come ino the World.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be using analogies of The Matrix any time soon- it is so last decade! But, now that I think of it, it fits perfectly; the ones still stuck within the program are prone to fall at a whim to it, like an agent overtaking a man still plugged in to the system.

Why am I compounding my point time and time again? Because I want to show you that there is no grey; grey is an illusion. There are currently many shades of black and white; in some places more than other. Now back to the Church; what does Paul say on the subject?

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (c)

The thing Paul is drilling in here is following God’s will which happens to be good, true and perfect. What Paul is getting at is although we are still in our old flesh, filled with lust, envy, pride, arrogance as well as other sins, we need to start following God in all we do; in which God provides us the power to do so. Through Jesus, the Lord perfectly understands where we are at- although are very essence, our very souls, have been washed clean of any sin, our very bodies are still the same as they were before. We still live within our corruptible flesh, and we need to act to kill it (not in a literal sense, but in a way that our lives mirror the ways in which Christ lived his).

This all comes back down to this sin pandemic- sin kills. Without God, we are full of sin. With God, we have been set free from which held us back before- we have no need to follow the desires which powerlessly controlled us before. Now, saying that, we still live in our current bodies; the corrupted flesh, so although we are forgiven and free, we still have to flee from our Earthly desires as well as standing firm against Satan and his temptations. If we leave a door open, all hell breaks loose literally. If we close everything which shouldn’t be open in the first place, we shall get a taste of Heaven on Earth right here right now; what Jesus used to call The Kingdom of Heaven when he was alive here on Earth:

Parable of the Wheat and Weeds

24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

27“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

28“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” (d)

In a previous article, I talked about the false being in the midst of the good; Jesus shows us the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth is the same. Although the Church may grow and floursih, there will be birds nesting within its branches; weeds among the wheat. So, how do we tell the difference between the truth and the falsehood; the mockery and fakery to God compare to what is true and righteous? Well, it is simple really. A true Christian, even with everythin out to get him (or her), will be made perfect in Spirit; becoming more and more Christlike in character day by day. The fake ones will gradually get more corrupt and get it wrong consistently; we have seen this happen before. The problem was at the time that these people- the wolf in the sheep’s clothing- masquerades as one of us; a Christian (which literally means ‘little Christ’ or ‘Christ follower’- it originated as a dig at Christ believers; it ironically became their identity).

2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

Living Stones for God’s House

4You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. 6As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,       chosen for great honor,    and anyone who trusts in him       will never be disgraced.”

7Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected       has now become the cornerstone.” (e)

Peter puts it bluntly here; as new creations, we need to crave the pure spiritual milk which comes from God to grow and develop, or we go nowhere. He paints us an encouraging picture of what is to come; one of love and purity, a picture of being part of God’s holy temple as priests. “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced”.

But, on the flipside;

8And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,       the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. (f)

It is interesting to note that God’s desire for people who work against him until the end are clear; he makes them stumble, he makes them fall. Because of their insolence to think that they could save themselves, in whatever way that manifests outwardly, they entirely end up falling over God’s cornerstone- Jesus Christ. As we can see from all the verses we have read, there is a rather clear dividing line between God and man; between fallen and saved. One breeds into life in every essence and form, the other breeds into death in every essence and form.

9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests,a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;       now you are God’s people.    Once you received no mercy;       now you have received God’s mercy.”

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. (g)

This is exactly why Peter is warning us as Christians to live holy lives; it is unnatural for us to do otherwise. Although our bodies in which we live in are still corrupt, we ourselves- the people we are- are not. We need to avoid the temptations which built death and destruction within our hearts before God decided to intervene and save us. This all seems so paradoxical, but through grace it is our duty to follow and glorify God in all that we do as newborn followers of Grace; of Jesus Christ.

a- Matthew 3: 7-9, b- 2 Peter 3: 2-7, c- Ephesians 4: 17-32, d- Matthew 13: 24- 32, e- 1 Peter 2: 2-7, f- 1 Peter 2: 8, g- 1 Peter 2: 9-17

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Before You Talk the Talk, You Gotta Walk the Walk- Why The Church is Slightly Fake Part 1

In my time hanging around churchood and various different men and women of faith, I have noticed a rather worrying trend within The Church currently; that they are slightly fake (note the title). I am going to compound and expand this- show what is happening in detail, and why it is happening (and what we can do about it as a fellowship of believers).

First things first, before we can explain anything, we have to go back to the beginning of it all. So let’s have a quick peek at Genesis:

1The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5“God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (a)

The key denominator here is how the problem started, before we ascribe what the problem actually is. Here we see a serpent sweet talk Eve into going against God’s will; the first sin ever commited. So it started with the serpent; which we can safely assume is a symbolic reference to Satan.

The interesting thing to note before we blame a fallen angel for all our woes is what Eve does next. He gives some to Adam. After she sins, she immediately passes the sin onto another human being; almost like it was a disease or an epidemic of sorts. After they sinned, they hid. They felt shame in their nakedness, in this example, and made the first clothes ever made by a human being to hide it away. On a deeper level, they began to hide from God.

8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. 9Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

11“Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

12The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

13Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”

“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.” (b)

Note that God didn’t come in all guns blazing to throw judgement upon them- he would have known that they sinned the second they grabbed hold of the fruit and gave into their desire for knowledge. The first thing God does portrays a loving picture of him; he walks up to them and lovingly asks them a few questions within conversation. We have to understand that at this moment they had basically made themselves their own gods, so this would have been really hard to bear to do; even for God.

The first thing humanity starts doing is blaming each other, passing the blame away from themselves. The man blames the woman, and the woman blames the animal here. So we see a cycle of sin that I can picture as this:

Temptation > Surrender > Realisation > Shame > Suffering > Blame

Another thing to note before I move on is that sin seems to be a pandemic; something that affects everyone and moves between human beings like wildfire.

So, what has God got to say about it? Did Jesus mention anything about sin during his teachings here on Earth? Actually, he did:

17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (c)

Note the language he used- he used the metaphor of a doctor. In his mind, it is almost as if sin is an illness; an enchantment which cannot be broken for all time. Unless there was a sacrifice to balance it all back out again:

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested (d)

Sin‘s power, the “devil’s power, who had the power of death,” was broken by a matching sacrifice which covers the entirety of the human race. To even out our sins, God had to become one of us, live a perfect life and die for us- this is the core belief in the Christian faith. God literally for a brief moment took on the entirety of sin and suffering in the entire world; past, present and future. God created a vaccine for the sin- a cure to stop it from spreading.

But, it is more complicated than that- even if you believe in Christ and have pretty much ressurected with him in mind, body and soul, there is still the problem with the body that you live in. This could not be fixed as you were born within it. This is defined as flesh in the Bible- lets see what Jude has to say about it:

16 These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want. (e)

To put this into context, Jude is talking about false teachers who still happen to be dead in their sins. I am using this in this context because it gives us a great insight into what the flesh is like; it is selfish.

11The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. (f)

So, temptations come from our own desires; which in part entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. Basically, if in reading here that God is good and the people of God are trying to follow him, all our temptations come from the flesh; which in the part proves that the flesh is bad. By reaching out and trusting God in everything we drift further and further away from these desires; which in essence means going completely against our nature.

The flesh is corrupt, it is the main precursor to sin (the other one being Satan, but I think some Christians give him too much credit for the amount of sin in the world). Sin leads to death, thus in part following the flesh and its variety of desires puts us to death. If you think this is drastic, look at Michael Jackson or Charlie Sheen. They followed and/or are following their desires, their flesh, and it is safe to say that their very lives were/are corrupt. I feel bad in mentioning this in part, but it is a perfect example of what I am teaching here.

22 The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife.23The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise.

24 These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them. 25 And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law. 26 But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother. 27As Isaiah said,

“Rejoice, O childless woman, you who have never given birth! Break into a joyful shout, you who have never been in labor! For the desolate woman now has more children than the woman who lives with her husband!”

28 And you, dear brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, just like Isaac. 29 But you are now being persecuted by those who want you to keep the law, just as Ishmael, the child born by human effort, persecuted Isaac, the child born by the power of the Spirit. (g)

To continue with my argument, let us look at verse 28 and 29 first. The “children of the promise” as Paul so poetically puts it here, are people birthed from the Spirit. The child born by human effort tried to persecute the child born of the Spirit. In the same way, false teachers and believers who are still worldly, or even the very flesh and bones of the true & genuine believer, is completely and utterly against the Spirit. This is because it is, in part, corrupt; as soon as the sin pandemic began to spread from Eve in the garden many years ago, only God himself could come down to break the power of it.

If we look at verse 22, we get some more insight; as we can see here, God uses situations to explain to us in terms we understand- in the Gospels these are called parables. Right, what we see here above is the unbeliever and the believer or even the flesh of humanity and the spirit of humanity. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus’ flesh was perfect; but he was born of the Spirit from day one- his conception was incorruptible. He had no sin in him, no corruption, no trace of the pandemic which affects the rest of us during the day to day.

I know that I have left this completely wide open; but that is what parts 2 and 3 are for. To summarise what I have said here, all human problem forms from this pandemic called sin; only God within his perfection had the power to break it, and everything that is in God is sinless and everything that is corruptible is not. This may sound oh so very mystical and a bit blase, but read on and it will all make sense.

a- Genesis 3: 1-7, b- Genesis 3: 8-13, c- Mark 2:17, d- Hebrews 2: 14-18, e- Jude 1: 16, f- James 1: 11-18, g- Galatians 4: 22-29

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What is the Church? Part 3: The Fellowship of the Believers

I seriously considered starting this study into what the New Testament says about the Church by delving into the gospels and seeing what Jesus – the God-man upon whom the entire faith, the Church included, is built upon – had to say on it.

I barely managed to get half way through Matthew before I realised that what Jesus had to say was so involved, so developed, so articulate about the Church that we really need to know what the Church in the bible even looks like in order to give His words on it any sense of context.

So I am going to skip to Acts, not because Jesus said too little on the Church, but because He said too much to make sense of without Acts and the letters to lay the foundation of what he was talking to. I will say this now; I am not a trained theologian, nor am I going to write absolutely everything I have noticed, realised and learnt whilst going through the scriptures about the Church – if I did that, this blog-strand would number in the hundreds of articles and hundreds of thousands of words! What I will do, however, is write about the parts I believe are essential to understanding what the biblical Church is.

Which, to be fair, is still a lot.

Where to begin?

Theologians still debate as to who wrote Acts and when it was written. I personally believe the tradition that Luke wrote it holds water, and that it was primarily written in the middle of the 1st century. Some of you may agree, others not; the beauty of the bible is that it leaves itself open to such debates.

The reason I believe it is a mid-1st century document is the ring of authenticity that its words hold; dissensions, disagreements and even massive administrative failings (as we shall eventually cover) are still very much present in the text. The flaws of the early Church are still clearly there for all to see, and thus I come to my first point; no iteration of the Church has ever been perfect, even from its earliest days. When we look at what the biblical Church was, we should not trick ourselves into thinking they were somehow perfect and unstained with failure.

They were human, and made mistakes like the rest of us. Praise be to God that they had the guts to state as much in scripture, so that we who follow in their footsteps can learn from their mistakes as much as from their successes. To often we forget this; we often talk about trying to be a ‘biblical’ church without contemplating the fact that the biblical church were still learning themselves.

This doesn’t make the biblical church unworthy of imitation today, but more so; a perfect biblical church would be beyond our grasp to achieve. A good one, however, is possible to aspire to…maybe even to attain.

Which leads us to several questions; Who were the Church? How did they treat one another? How did they treat others? What would a day in the life of the Church in Acts look like?
Thankfully, Acts records a good enough picture in various places to show us.

And all who believed were together

One day in May, 30ish AD, the entire Church gathered together in an upper room in Jerusalem. The bible records that this day the Church was filled with the Holy Spirit – the promise Christ made to them was fulfilled. Acts 1 states that the entire Church was one hundred and twenty people (give or take a few) before this event.

After this event, the Church over three thousand people.

Often, when the first half of Acts 2 is looked at, there is either an emphasis on the number of people converted, or the moving of the Holy Spirit, or Peter’s sermon to the crowd…but what about the crowd itself? In verse 41 it says that “those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptised”.

And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians – we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

Local Jews were not the majority in this crowd by far; their aren’t even mentioned in the list. This text reveals they were an international crowd of Jewish believers – both originally Jewish and recent converts – having come to celebrate a Jewish festival. This tells us much more than just what tongues the apostles were speaking in; this tells us who the first Church was made up of. These lands – in modern day terms – stretch east to the borders of Iran, south to Yemen, west to Libya and Italy; thousands of visitors from all of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean basin were present. These were people who did not share a common language, did not share common customs, did not share any real connection with one another save that they all believed in Peter’s sermon about Christ.

In the beginning, the only thing holding the Church together at all was Jesus, and their mutual love for Him.

This crowd, far from their homes, were faced with a choice; the apostles with the message of Christ were fixed in Jerusalem, which means – were they to learn what living for this Christ meant – they would need to learn from them there. In the joyous, beautiful chaos that ensued (baptising three thousand people in a day must have been pretty chaotic!) this rag tag crowd of strangers made their choice. They decided they weren’t going home at all; instead they would stay and learn from the apostles, making do with what they have and sharing with those who have not. With the jubilation of that day still ringing in their ears, they acted on their decision;

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

It is not an incredible stretch of the imagination to figure out what these things they sold were; the houses, possessions and belongings that once belonged to them across the world suddenly didn’t seem so important to them – their home was Jerusalem now. So those with houses in Jerusalem put up those who didn’t, those who had possessions and property afar sold them in order to make life easier for the Church; it isn’t said how they distributed the money, but housing and food would be a safe bet to make.

Often this is seen as some kind of a fanciful depiction of Christian communism; I call it good sense. This cosmopolitan, varied, distinctive group of three thousand strangers from faraway lands has set up shop right in the middle of Jerusalem, and they needed all the money they could get to ensure their numbers didn’t starve or go homeless as everyone tried to find jobs and make their new lives practically work. They sold what they didn’t need, so that all of them had what they did need. And, in all of this, these people are learning; they are learning how to live with one another, love one another, learning from the apostles, and awed by what God is doing among them. The first Church quite literally gave up everything they knew, made a foreign city their home, living with foreign people, in the quest to know Jesus. And get to know him they did; “And awe fell upon every soul, and many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles.”

Jesus once said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold and will inherit eternal life.” [1] They gave up everything for Jesus, and they most certainly received much in return.

At first, when I started writing this, I wasn’t sure what message to take from this, or whether there was even a helpful message for the Church today. But, the more I look at this, the more I can see us in these people written of here; strangers, from all walks of life, united by a common love of Jesus Christ. We have our differences, our issues with one another, but we have come together all the same. We see each other often, study and talk and laugh and bicker with one another.

Even now, the only thing really holding the Church together, is Jesus.

We are very much on the same page as the early Church, even if it is not so apparent now…and that is something we can challenge ourselves with. Are there those in your church who struggle to get by, yet you have some possession, belonging – or even a house – that is not necessary to you, and is something you do not really need? Are your doors wide open for those in the church to come freely? Do you devote yourself to the scriptures, to fellowship, to prayer? I know for a fact I do not do so as much as I could, even in a land that is my own, in a house that is my own, surrounded by people who speak the same language as me. My prayer for myself and you is that, one day, the spirit and life behind this verse shall be true of us all, by the grace of God;

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Amen.

Footnotes

[1] – Matthew 19:29

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Elephants in a Closet Full of Skeletons: The Premise

There are many verses Christians ignore.

Some may deny this the very moment they read that, but it is true. Our reasons are legion for avoiding them; the implications are too dark, the problem of reconciling it to what we believe too difficult…
Or maybe just that looking at them is just, plain uncomfortable. Often, it seems that ‘bible believing’ Christians only believe that which suits them, and ignore some of the more troublesome verses (or books; the book of Joshua is particularly hard to reconcile to Christian conceptions of God.) But just because they are troublesome does not mean they should be ignored; on the contrary, these verses and questions and problems ought be tackled head on. Even if we cannot provide a clear cut answer, we must at least grapple with them and build up a perspective, or an understanding; after all, Paul exhorts us in 1 Timothy to be prepared both in season and out of season with answers.

Chances are we will need to have answers for the very questions we are avoiding.

I speak only for myself – I cannot speak for the others writing on this blog – when I say that I personally believe the bible to be inerrant, inspired by God, and true. I believe that about all of the bible.
Even the verses I wish weren’t there.

So here’s a blank slate for you all: this category is going to be for all the articles dealing with any problem verses, knotty questions and doubts you care to raise. I do not claim we will be able to answer them completely, merely to at least throw some light on it, and some perspectives.

If you have anything you want us to tackle, let us know by asking it in a comment, or email me!
As it stands, I will soon be writing up articles on whether God hates anyone, and whether He condones genocide; there are verses in the bible that suggest both, thus ought be tackled.

So, if you have any questions, problem verses, doubts or issues with Christianity, the bible, the Church and everything in between, then I look forward to hearing from you all!

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Jesus the Protestor: Thoughts on the Occupy movement

It is hard not to look at the news these days and see reports on the protestors across the globe taking a stand against a financial system they see as corrupt. In fact, in the heart of London there is one such group, camped out beneath the spires of St. Paul’s cathedral.

The one thing that strikes me is how the leaders of St. Paul’s are handling the situation. Earlier this week they shut the church entirely, citing health and safety reasons though all relevant authorities said there were none. Today I read an article stating that the church threatened legal action in the future if things do not change.

This got me thinking; were Jesus walking the earth today, how would he respond to this protest? Which side of the protests would he be on?

One of the blessings of my current incapacitation is that I have had enormous amounts of time to delve back into scripture and see Jesus with fresh eyes on this matter.

The first thing that struck me was just how poor Jesus was, throughout the entirety of his life. In Luke 2: 22-24 we find his parents coming to the temple to present Jesus, and giving a sacrifice of two turtledoves. This was a provision in Leviticus 12:8 for those who could not afford a lamb and a pigeon for the sacrifice.
Or, to put it plainly, it was a provision for the exceptionally poor.

Jesus was born into poverty.

Jesus – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – also lived and worked in the shadow of one of the greatest, most opulent cities in all of Palestine. Just to the north of Nazareth lies the city of Sephhoris. The city was huge by ancient Palestinian standards; it was big enough to warrant its own theatre, was a commercial hub and a hotbed of political activism. It was the second city of Palestine, the largest of all cities save Jerusalem itself. It was supremely rich – courtesy of the patronage of the Herodian dynasty – and archeological evidence suggests that Jesus, working presumably as a carpenter, would have had to trade very frequently within its walls.

What Jesus thought of the city is evident by his teachings; Sepphoris is never mentioned in the gospels at all. Not once.
Ever.

In fact, the only traces of it that can be found in the gospels is possibly one the people of such a city would like to forget; Jesus took the word hypocrite – the word for the actors in the theatre that would use masks to impersonate a character – and transformed its meaning into the one we have today when he accused the pharisees and teachers of the law of being inwardly dead (Matthew 23 is a good example).

Jesus’ ministry likewise shows no traces of being a wealthy one. In Matthew 8, a scribe – a teacher of the law and a member of the religious establishment – was evidently impressed with Jesus’ message, scribe-bashing included. In verse 19, he declares to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go!’. Jesus response is…well, not exactly attuned to the statement. ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

We sometimes forget that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine; here, in this moment when he could have said something tremendous to the scribe, he instead lets out a heavy sigh and wishes he had a house of his own. Jesus was homeless, and too poor to own a house…and it seemed he would have liked one.

Some of you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the recent spate of protests; the answer is, it has a lot to do with it. Too often we forget that the words of Jesus in the gospels were uttered by a real man with a real history in a real place at a real time.
A man with real high points, real low points, and real frustrations and grievances at what he saw going on around him. He got passionate, joyful, sad, angry, tired, wearied, annoyed…Jesus was a man.

And that is the reason Jesus’ words have such power; they aren’t just the sayings of a wizened teacher – they were spoken by God become man. A God who did not bend or break the rules when he entered this world; he played by our rules, and the rules of this world screwed him over.
He was born to parents so poor they couldn’t afford a lamb, and went through his ministry being so poor he couldn’t afford a house. And that was after the decades he worked as a carpenter, trading regularly in Sepphoris, and sweating for his money.
The Jesus that spoke the words recorded in the gospels knew the financial systems of his day very well.

So where do we begin? Where will we find out what Jesus would have thought of the systems these protests are rising up against? In looking for an answer to this, I found myself staring at words so familiar to me, I nearly skimmed them over without paying them a second glance. But something in me drew me back, and in such a way that I was shocked at what I was reading.

I found myself reading the Sermon on the Mount.

This text – one that could easily be described as Jesus’ manifesto of life on earth in the light of the Kingdom of God – spans Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 as a unity, whilst existing in the other synoptic gospels as separate teachings. And it is quite possibly one of the most polarising set of teachings ever known to man. The way of living Jesus teaches here is so antithetical to all we know, so opposed to so many things we have grown to accept, the first instinct (you know, the one we get before we force the ‘correct Christian’ response to kick in, if we are being truly honest) on reading it is to be offended.

In these teachings the poor, the mourning, the humble, the meek, the peacemakers…suddenly all of these become the blessed [1], greater than the rich, intelligent and powerful. Being angry at someone is now a sin [2]. The oath takers sin [3], the wandering eyes searching for beautiful flesh ought be gouged out [4], and no one can retaliate if struck down [5]. Enemies who would happily see you destroyed should be loved and prayed for [6], nothing beyond the day at hand should be fretted over [7], and you are a hypocrite if you judge anyone, no matter how slightly [8].

No matter how you look at it, if you take the Sermon on the Mount at face value, it is just downright offensive; “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [9]
Be perfect? Everyone knows perfection is unattainable, and to simply command humanity to do so is…well, insulting.

And that is why I strongly feel something truly right is locked into these passages; it affronts everything we hold to be inevitable, and thus affronts ourselves. When taken at face value, this section of scripture really hits virtually every nerve that could be hit.

And one of those nerves is money.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. [10]

And there we have it. Jesus gives us no other way of interpreting his words; he did not intend to give us any way for us to water it down. We either serve God, or we serve money. But Jesus’ words are much deeper than an either/or scenario, because these two positions represents two completely different and incompatible ways of doing things.

Decades after Jesus gave this sermon, Paul wrote to a young leader of the Church, warning him that ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils [11]’. I cannot help but see in this the explanation of what Jesus was warning of in the middle of the quoted passage above. On the surface of it, it doesn’t make much sense; good eyes equals body filled with light, bad eyes equals greatly dark light.
Doesn’t make much sense is, of course, being polite; on the surface, it makes no sense.

Paul’s words, however, reveal the reality behind the darkness and the light in Jesus’ words; if we love money more than God, then it goes to follow that we will follow in money’s footsteps more than God’s, eventually finding ourselves serving money with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind.

So let us assume for now that we love money more than God. Since we love money, it goes to argue that we will instinctively want more of it. The more we want, the more we will find ways of procuring it. As we do that, we start to push aside those who want access to that money and deprive them of access to it; it does not matter what cause or project or need it is for because we want it for ourselves. We wind up not caring about equal justice, because equal justice would inevitably mean we would have less money to hand, since some of it would have to be given to the poor; we would have to give more away, be taxed more, settle for less and – if we love money – that just would not do. So we hate the poor and conjure up arguments that all of them are poor because they did not work hard enough or are not looking hard enough for a new job after losing their last one. In time we argue for cuts to anything that might help them, and lo! we now oppress those who seek some of that money, and turn a blind eye to any suffering which might need money to go towards solving it.
Our hearts grow cold, our eyes grow dim to the suffering around us.
Great is the darkness indeed.

It is an extreme rendition I know, but it needed to be done to expose a deep, dark truth about our world, one which we all can sense but which we dare not critique. Our world – including…maybe even especially…Christians – love money, and we have willingly allowed a world to come to be that means that those who are rich remain so, even if others have to pay. Even today thousands who need help are being deprived of it even as bonuses numbering in the millions are doled out.

And we, who are beginning to complain and grumble about rising costs, are just as guilty as those at the top are; we grumble because we are losing more of the money we love to have, thus depriving us of chances to be more successful in this life, playing by the rules of the world.

When reading that passage I knew I stood convicted by Jesus’ words; my love of money had turned my heart cold, my ears deaf to pleas and begging and my eyes dim to the suffering around me.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that the verses that immediately follow this ringing condemnation of greed and love of money are verses that tell us, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” and, “Judge not, that you be not judged…why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”. Possessions, Jesus points out, are temporary, money included. The work of God, however, is eternal.

We have dwelt long on what serving money looks like, but what is the alternative? What, when Jesus speaks of serving God, does he mean? In the gospel of Luke, just as Jesus was beginning his public ministry, he stood up in the synagogue to read out a passage of scripture and speak on the subject,

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [12]

This was Jesus’ statement of intent, his proclamation of what he was going to do. Throughout scripture, God shows he cares deeply for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the lonely, the broken, the desperate. He thrashed out against any government, people or system that would dare oppress those beneath them. That is what serving God looks like; taking notice of the oppression and misery around us, giving freely and heartily of anything we have to help them, caring for those with nowhere to turn to. Jesus’ commands leave us in no doubt; God sides with the desperate. Does this mean we get rid of money altogether? No! But we need to see it in its rightful place; money, possessions, status…all the things the world holds dear…mean nothing in the end of the day. We must give them freely, with a joyful and glad heart [13], because in doing so we do the will of our Father in heaven.

Back to the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral, and the hundreds of protesters speaking out against an unjust financial system. Which side would Jesus be on?
I truly, deeply believe that Jesus would be pitching a tent on the steps of St. Paul’s and identifying with these people who long to see a more just system develop.

And my hope and prayer is that the leaders of St. Paul’s – and all of us who call ourselves Christians – will join with them in spirit. Our world is broken and unjust, but it need not be so; we can make the world a fairer place. So the question you, I, and everyone must ask themselves is whether we will stand with those who want the love of money to be rooted out, or those who want the status quo to remain.

When push comes to shove, which side are you on?

Footnotes:
[1] – Matthew 5:1-10
[2] – Ibid. 5:21-26
[3] – Ibid. 5:33-37
[4] – Ibid. 5:27-30
[5] – Ibid. 5:38-42
[6] – Ibid. 5:43-48
[7] – Ibid. 6:25-34
[8] – Ibid. 7:1-6
[9] – Ibid. 5:48
[10] – Ibid. 6:19-24
[11] – 1 Timothy 6:10
[12] – Luke 4:16-21
[13] – 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

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