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Pastoral Struggle with Loneliness

Recently, I came across an essay by the Christian author A.W. Tozer and what it means for the godly man to be alone.  Here it is, in part:

The Saint Must Walk Alone

MOST OF THE WORLD’S GREAT SOULS have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness … The prophets of pre-Christian times differed widely from each other, but one mark they bore in common was their enforced loneliness … [Jesus] died alone in the darkness hidden from the sight of mortal man and no one saw Him when He arose triumphant and walked out of the tomb, though many saw Him afterward and bore witness to what they saw.  There are some things too sacred for any eye but God’s to look upon …

Sometimes we react by a kind of religious reflex and repeat dutifully the proper words and phrases even though they fail to express our real feelings and lack the authenticity of personal experience. Right now is such a time. A certain conventional loyalty may lead some who hear this unfamiliar truth expressed for the first time to say brightly, “Oh, I am never lonely. Christ said, `I will never leave you nor forsake you,’ and, `Lo, I am with you alway.’ How can I be lonely when Jesus is with me?”

Now I do not want to reflect on the sincerity of any Christian soul, but this stock testimony is too neat to be real … This cheerful denial of loneliness proves only that the speaker has never walked with God without the support and encouragement afforded him by society. 

Always remember: you cannot carry a cross in company. Though a man were surrounded by a vast crowd, his cross is his alone and his carrying of it marks him as a man apart. Society has turned against him; otherwise he would have no cross. No one is a friend to the man with a cross. “They all forsook him, and fled.”

The pain of loneliness arises from the constitution of our nature: God made us for each other. The desire for human companionship is completely natural and right. The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world.

His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.

The man who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. A certain amount of social fellowship will of course be his as he mingles with religious persons in the regular activities of the church, but true spiritual fellowship will be hard to find. But he should not expect things to be otherwise … 

The truly spiritual man is indeed something of an oddity. He lives not for himself but to promote the interests of Another … He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and overserious, so he is avoided and the gulf between him and society widens.  It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God … His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else. He learns in inner solitude what he could not have learned in the crowd that Christ is All in All …

Two things remain to be said. One, that the lonely man of whom we speak is not a haughty man, nor is he the holier-than-thou, austere saint so bitterly satirized in popular literature. He is likely to feel that he is the least of all men and is sure to blame himself for his very loneliness … The second thing is that the lonely saint is not the withdrawn man who hardens himself against human suffering and spends his days contemplating the heavens. Just the opposite is true. His loneliness makes him sympathetic to the approach of the broken-hearted and the fallen and the sin-bruised … This is typical of the great mystics and masters of the interior life from Paul to the present day.

The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful “adjustment” to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.

(The full article can be found here.)

elijah-in-cave The basis of Tozer’s reflections here are from the story in  1 Kings 22, where a prophet of Yahweh is pushed away by the wicked King Ahab of Israel because he does not give favourable words to the king.  But it is a true reflection of what life is like this side of heaven.  A fine example of this is the prophet Elijah (pictured left).  To be perfectly frank, it is the number one reason why in June of 2013 I reconsidered my employment with Liberty.  I enjoyed working for Liberty and seeing men and women not only leave the ‘gay scene’ but also put to death the very attractions that took them to the scene in the first place.  It demonstrated to me very vividly the power of God to KILL unwanted same-sex desires (Col 3:5, 1 Peter 2:11).  But the sting in the tail was that many of those in the church who were meant to support me didn’t.  What was most difficult for me was not the indifference and animosity of non-Christians (that was to be expected) but the indifference and unsupportiveness of so many ‘disciples’ of the Lord Jesus.  Tozer here puts in words what it is really like to be living like that and I am still wrestling with a lot of this.  Just wanted to be real and talk about these things to encourage others who may be going through the same.  Please pray for me as I get through these things, to keep clinging to God and learn to forgive others and foresake bitterness and to truly have God as my comfort (2 Cor 1).

 
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Good questions

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It’s also every Christian asking themselves: “You’re supposed to be a high flier. Or are you really a low-flier supported by occasional gusts of wind?” (courtesy of Sir Humphrey Appleby).

 

eagle soaring

 
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Posted by on 12 April, 2014 (Saturday) in Quotes

 

Conditional Love and Obedience

Yesterday I wrote about how the love of God is not entirely unconditional, particularly given that 1) for a person to receive God’s love they must first receive Christ; and 2) for Christians to receive ongoing and increased amounts of blessings, they must obey God.  Having reflected more on the issue, something else has struck me recently, and that is the commonly faulty assumption that obedience has nothing to do with life as a Christian.

Grace vs. obedience 

One of the hard things that people assume is that if people are asked to do something then it is a negation of grace.  After all (the argument goes) if a person comes to faith in Christ not on the basis of obedience, then surely obeying in the life of a believer does little or nothing to keep the relationship going.  And in particular, if obedience is not heartfelt but comes from legalistic motivations then obedience is not God-honouring but selfish and demonic.

All those things are, in part, true.  Obedience from the heart is pivotal to godly obedience and devotion.  In Deuteronomy 28:47-48a, Moses warned Israel: Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you ...  Sincerity is so important that if there is none then good acts of service cannot be rendered to God.  Paul picks this up in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he says that God loves a cheerful giver and Jesus makes the point that a person should never offer a sacrifice of devotion to God in the temple if he has unforgiveness in his heart (Matt 5:23-24).  God does not, it is said, delight in fragrant sacrifice as much as he delights in a humble, contrite heart (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 51:16-17).  True devotion, in other words, begins in the heart.

But the problem for many modern people is that obedience is not a popular, appealing concept.  One reason, I strongly suspect, is the self-preserving desire to avoid being called to account for one’s actions.  In a form of escapism, it is using God’s grace to avoid committment to doing anything and, in turn, keeps people free of having to give an answer for what they do.  There are also historical, theological reasons for it, perhaps.  In the Reformation, particularly under Luther, there was such a heavy polemical emphasis on no-one being justified by good acts (c.f. Rom 3:20) and living by faith alone that obligations to live in obedience have been scuttled, if not simply ignored. And that largely suits modern western culture with all the falsehoods it believes about “the Bible saying ‘thou shalt not judge’”, ‘no-one’s perfect’, and ‘I don’t have to give an answer to anybody’.  Western culture is like the days of the kings in Israel where no-one was under a king and everyone did what he wanted.  If good deeds do not save or keep people in right relationship, then what on earth have they to do with being godly?  The other problem here is that it too easily assumes that all obedience is legalistic, though that is hardly what Jesus exemplified when he said that obeying his Heavenly Father was His ‘food’ (John 4:34).  Is it not to be the same for His disciples?

Consequences for the Church

The consequences of this in the church today are far-reaching.  One major problem is that when people are evangelised they are often not told that the rest of the journey involves painful sacrifice.  They are not told to “count the cost” of being a disciple (Luke 14:28), and all that does is set people up for frustration, disappointment, resentment, and even apostasy.  If people come to faith believing obedience ‘counts little’ but then read the Bible and see all the places where obedience is essential (e.g. 1 John 1:6, Heb 12:14, 1 Cor 6:11) then it creates a divided loyalty.  If churches reinforce that but then find members of their congregations are living in disobedience, who then is at fault?  God?  The Bible?  The unfaithfulness of the disciple?  It’s then tempting to shake the head and say of the wayward brother/sister, “Oh he was probably never saved in the first place”.  The ‘saved by faith alone’ message is very true, but denying from the outset that people can and must obey God and delight in doing so seems to be setting people up for failure before they’ve even started the journey with Christ. New converts would have good reason to be confused and betrayed if they later found out that they had to meet God’s high demands after being told that obedience didn’t matter for salvation.

In my own journey and previous ministry I heard people saying all the time, “no-one’s perfect, who can keep God’s way?”  Particularly when it came to issues of sexual purity and healing, this statement was commonly repeated ad nauseam.  They flew in contradiction with statements like the ones in 1 Peter 2:11: Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul and Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry (NIV).  Titus 2:11-12 was seldom explored: For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (NIV).  Hebrews 12:14b put it in salvation terms that without holiness (i.e. godly obedience) no-one will live with God in eternal shalom.  What I often kept hearing was how hard it was too hard to be changed and obey, and all that did was breed defeatism and a heart that tolerated disobedience in a cavalier fashion.  And I could also see that in others, particularly those who went on to call themselves “gay Christians” and live in contradiction.  Few seemed to actually understand that obeying Christ is actually a delight that is made possible by the Spirit (1 John 5:3).  Does that mean that everyone will obey them consistently and perfectly?  No.  But obedience is not about perfection: it’s about consistency and being faithful to one’s true loyalty.

Lack of obedience decays the relationship

What I have come to see and experience in my own journey is that obedience grows the relationship with God.  I don’t see myself needing to obey God because I fear Him withdrawing His salvation, per se.  I obey because I want to walk as my Father walks.  And even when I obey screaming, kicking, and gnashing my teeth I often find that when I do what He says it then refreshes and changes my heart!  I needn’t wait around to get my heart right before obeying: obedience changes my heart.  Those changes, in turn, make my heart more inclined to God, which enables more and greater obedience!  How does that work?  I honestly have no idea but it actually makes obedience something to look forward to.  It’s becomes a delight and God delights to have His children obey Him!  As a father myself, I know how much delight I have when my girls just listen to me and don’t keep doing their own thing.

Lack of obedience, in the end, kills relationship.  I have been a Christian now for 16 years and I have seen over and over again that when I don’t obey God – particularly in deeper, more private ways, especially with thoughts and sexuality – all it brings is alienation.  When that happens, I don’t want to approach Him in trust and all I do is withdraw into self.  I also love and trust others lest and become brittle and self-justifying.  As hard as trusting and obedience to God are, without them I really am not all that distinctive as a Christian.  I will never obey perfectly, and I don’t expect to but the good thing is: neither does God.  To be a Christian is to have the Law written on the heart (Jer 31:31-34) which makes it so much easier – and delightful! – to please God.  After all, we’ve been saved for good deeds (Eph 2:8-10) so we may as well get busy doing them and be the distinctive people God has made us out to be.  Jesus died to make it possible and the Spirit was given to believers to help and it grieves the Spirit to not obey. God willing our obedience will become our delight as much as God’s.

 
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Posted by on 12 April, 2014 (Saturday) in Encouragement

 

Jesus’ Love is ‘Unconditional’?

love As I was in my college library today I was printing off some required reading when I saw on the desktop of the screen a Word document titled ‘The Love of God’.  I checked it out since I was curious and it had a paragraph, about 50 words, that tried to define what the love of God is.  Written by someone from a non-English speaking background it said something along the lines of “God is so loving because even though we sin and can never please him he loves us.  No matter how rebellious we are he will love us, regardless of our conduct”.  The rest of the paragraph was an elaboration on the same theme and, although there was much truth to it, it also troubled me.

A Love Unconditional, Yet Qualified

No doubt there is so much truth to the claim that God and Jesus are loving.  Despite people saying God is unloving and wrathful, in fact John proclaims The Father to be loving (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10).  Jesus demonstrates his love by sacrificing himself for his friends (John 15:12-13, c.f. Romans 5:6-8).  There is definitely love in God and that is shown by their saving acts but also by creating people to be in relationship with them, even those who reject that good offer.  Yet in this fellow student’s summation of God’s love he seemed to assume that God’s love is ‘unconditional’ because God’s grace is so great and unbreakable, the thinking goes, that nothing can ever alienate a person from it.  This issue is, of course, very complex, but it seemed that if it were taken to its logical extreme this student might articulate an extreme form of ‘once-saved-always-saved’ doctrine or one that significantly downplays the role of obedience in a believer’s life.

However there are many problems with this kind of thinking (though it is not just this student who believes it but many modern westerners who live comfortable, affluent lifestyles and think that ‘Love is God’ rather than the  other way around).  One of the first is that God’s love is ‘unconditional’.  According to the Word, that is not altogether true.  It is true in the sense that no-one can do enough good things to warrant God’s love (e.g. Rom 3:9-20) but it is not true in the sense that there is one major condition to receiving God’s love: one must believe in Jesus.  John 3:16, the famous ‘love verse’ of the Bible is a conditional phrase:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (ESV).  John 3:36 puts it into more obvious categories: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.  God is complex and his love is like him, so this should not befuddle a Biblically-minded disciple of Christ.

Love Among the Other Attributes of God

As much as the modern world likes to think of God as ‘love’, it does so with the dangerous assumption that God will not call people to account for their sin.  Christians often do not help when they tend to labour the point that ‘God is love’ as if it were the greatest of all his attributes.  Yet in the history of the Bible, ‘love’ is not the first or even the greatest attribute of God.  His greatest attributes are the ones that people don’t like to think of him as today: powerful, holy, sovereign over all things and time (see how God is portrayed in Exodus 3:7, 15:11b).  Above all, he is a God of chesed (חסד), or faithfulness (Ex 34:6b).  In fact, his love is revealed in the context of his holiness in the Old Testament (Ex 34:6-7b).  In the New Testament the love of God towards sinners is shown in his judgement upon sin when Jesus died on the cross!  Holiness and love are never inseparable: they mutually re-inforce one another.

A Crucial Part of Love: Obedience

Yet there is another challenging part of God’s love which many people seem to confuse when it comes to obedience.  Many think that the commands to obey Jesus after receiving salvation are anti-love.  Since we have done nothing to merit God’s favour by entering into relationship with him, the argument goes, then we need not do good deeds to stay in that right relationship.  And no Christian wants to believe that every time one disobeys God then they’re out of covenant with him and therefore need to do good to get back his ‘good books’. Songs like ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ would seem to reinforce this because there the Big Man is making a list, checking it twice, finding out who’s naughty or nice.

That would be somewhat funny if it wasn’t so serious in what it means for Christians.  In reality, we do need to keep obeying God- not because we’ll lose salvation if we do x% of bad deeds (out of fear) but because the Lover of all human souls knows what is best and He is owed our allegiance.  We owe him our gratitude. Human relationships are like this: if a friend, for instance, helps me to move house wouldn’t it be inconsistent of me to act as if he’d never help me and ignore him if he asked me for help?  If my father loves me by giving me his time and advice, don’t I want to honour him?  Not to pay the friend or my father back- I probably never could- but because there is thankfulness.  The Bible says that if a person claims to be Christ’s yet is also not doing what Jesus says, then that person is not truly saved (1 John 1:6)!  Obedience is essential to love and relationship, not its opposite.

John Piper poignantly wrote on this issue in his book Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promised of God (Revised Ed.).  Colorado: Multnomah Books, p. 4 (emphasis added):

[C]onditional promises of grace are woven all through the New Testament … “If you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt 6:14).  “Strive for … the holiness without which no-one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).  “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light … the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  I find that the biblical thinking behind these kinds of biblical promises is uncommon in the minds of Christians today … The consequence is that we are often molded by popular notions, rather than permeated by biblical ones.  And the church looks very much like the world.  [Yet] what shall we think when someone treats the commandments of God as contrary to a life empowered by the grace of God?  How is it that John says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3)?

If Christianity is to be distinctive and faithfully lived out (and therefore be a compelling witness to this sinful world) then obedience is an absolute essential to the Christian walk.

 
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Posted by on 11 April, 2014 (Friday) in Meditation on God

 

Cultural reflections of former deputy PM

JA  This week at college the former deputy PM of Australia, John Anderson, came to encourage students to think about supporting overseas Bible college students.  (After quitting politics he has since gone into Christian ministry related endeavours.)  He also reflected on the decline of western culture with much insight,  Here’s his talk.  I was able to share with him my journey out of homosexuality and he was very encouraging.  Enjoy and God bless.

 
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Posted by on 11 April, 2014 (Friday) in Society

 

An innovative way to read Scripture: Lectio Divina

monk Awhile ago I posted on this blog a way of reading Scripture that was established by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (pictured left) around 500 years ago.  It is called ‘lectio divina’ which, in English (translated from Latin) means ‘holy/divine reading’.  It is a form of reading that many of the monastic monks of the past practised which focussed on reading Scripture less as an instruction manual and more as a means of deeply connecting with God the Father in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was known to practise something like it when he lead his seminary in Germany.  I am a huge fan of it and I recently found a blog post that aptly captured what the approach does (below).

This year I am planning to go through a 1-year Bible reading plan, but on top of that (and my twice-daily Psalm praying) I want to get into a practice of lectio divina.  In many ways lectio compliments the one-year plan: the one-year gives me the broadest scope of looking into the Bible, while lectio takes me deeper into what I have read thus far. Here is what L.D. involves.  What I like about it the most is that it fosters intimate fellowship with God that is Spirit lead.  While it involves methodical step the power of it is not in legalistically applying the steps but letting God do the work rather than relying on mental process (Prov. 3:5).  Many things I do not like about Catholicism and I think are actually ungodly, but LD is something, at first inspection, that makes sense:

If you have ever wondered about how to pray scripture, Lectio Divina is a great place to start. Lectio is a Christian tradition of prayerfully reading scripture that has been around since the 1500s, but is every bit effective for deepening your relationship with God as it was when it began over 500 years ago. The intent of Lectio is to both increase your understanding of the Word and nurture a deeper more open connection with God.
 
A well rounded approach to scripture involves what I call both informational and formational reading.  Most Bible studies tends toward the informational side of the equation.  Informational study is predominantly about getting to know the Bible stories and the principles presented therein.  Formational reading involves taking time to encounter the text in a way that shapes us as disciples.  One approach isn’t better than the other.  In fact, they feed one another.  Lectio is a practice that is very much a formational reading of scripture.

The Method

The four Lectio Divina steps are:

  • Lectio: This first movement consists of slowly and attentively reading a portion of Scripture several times.  You may want to jot down words or phrases that seem to stand out.
  • Meditatio: In this second movement, as the name implies we meditate on the text.  This “meditation” is unlike Eastern meditaion traditions that focus on emptying the mind.  Rather instead, the intent of meditatio is to engage with the text with an active mind.  For example, you may ponder a phrase or word that arrests your attention in your first readings of the text and ‘sit with it’, wondering how it speaks to your life right now.  You may imaginatively place yourself in the story all the while listening for the Holy Spirit to speak within you about the meaning of this text for your life.
  • Oratio:  Oratio is a Latin word associated with speech.  It is a word from which we derive words like oral and oratory.  In this third movement, speak to God from your heart about what you discover in the text.  The Word may convict your heart about something, if so confess and ask for God’s forgiveness.  If the Word touches a hurt, you may seek God’s care.  If the Word reveals a calling then from you might pledge yourself to God or ask for guidance.  Oratio is for you to respond to God.
  • Contemplatio: When all is said and done, lectio comes to an end by simply joyfully resting in God’s presence.  We offer back to God our loving focus and attention with a heart full of gratitude.

 
Don’t over-think this method or be legalistic about it.  The essence of Lectio is slowing down in your reading enough to prayerfully consider what God may be saying to you right now.  Chat with God about what you are hearing and then just tarry a few quiet moments in God’s presence. Just prayerfully follow the four lectio divina steps, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.  In some ways I have found this form of reading more valuable to my  growth as a disciple than my more academic studies of scripture.  Nevertheless, I will repeat what I said earlier, formational and informational reading enhance one another.  A mature and wholistic study of God’s Word will include both approaches. I hope this post has helped you understand better how to pray through Scripture.

(This description is courtesy of The Practical Disciple.)

 
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Posted by on 7 April, 2014 (Monday) in Meditation on God, Prayer, Reflection, Reflections

 

Sin of self-entitlement

Every now and then people like to engage in a ‘spiritual audit’ of how they’re travelling in life and for the Christian there are various ways that this can happen. Many a time, Christians open the Word of God and sit under its teaching in order to have the ‘scalpel’ of the ‘double edged sword’ pierce through them to see where they hearts are really at. God’s Word is designed as a Soul Audit for Christ’s followers to see things through God’s eyes, live a godlier life, and witness to a sinful world. One particular place in the Bible that gives the most damning- pardon the pun- assessments of the human heart is the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Addressed to Christians – not ungodly non-believers! – things like ‘I will spit you out of my mouth’ for not being a consistent, passionate witness for the gospel. Ouch!

 
road-rage But what of Christians today? Back in the days of Jesus and Paul there were no cars but perhaps one way which Christians today can gauge their godliness and committment to sanctification is to assess how they react to situations of bad traffic. Sad to say, I don’t often respond well to scenarios of slow traffic and the poor driving skills of others. I wish I did better on the roads but often I don’t. Last week I started to notice why I was doing it: I took umbrage to others on the road because in my mind where I was going was more important than that of my fellow motorists. It never occurred to me that others might be just as needful as myself to get where they wanted to go. Somewhere in my heart I felt that I was entitled to be the fastest, that the road was mine. The slow granny up front who was so sunken in her chair so that all you could see were the knuckles of her hands was enough to get me scoffing, tooting the horn, and plotting the next Big Vehicular Overtake. The driver upfront who chose not to go through the amber light when he and I could have made it through – a really big peeve of mine – is enough to get me chewing the steering wheel and shaking my fist. But my problem in those moments is that I have bought the lie somewhere, somehow that others on the road are obstacles.

It’s profoundly uncharitable and I cannot defend it at all but recently I’ve been challenged not on the ‘sin of road-rage’ as such but self-entitlement. It’s made me impatient (not getting what I want when I want it), disagreeable, irritable, brisque ungenerous, abrupt, and dismissive of others. And it can be scary because self-entitlement seems so natural and unoffensive because it doesn’t seem to be hurting anybody else. It is so subtle, though in other ways not surprising given that western culture assumes the individual is at the centre of the world. I remember one financial institution saying: ‘Remember who is the most important person in the world: You’. Another said “We put the U in CBU” and MLC featured a TV ad last week eulogising retirement as being a period of ‘doing what you have always wanted to do’. Giving selflessly to others is not done unless is brings a direct benefit to the individual (which only entrenches narcissism). But I cannot merely blame the culture- as if the problem is in the land of Out There and that Out There put sin in me. I’ve chosen to go along with it. And the consequence is loneliness and brittleness. But it can grow out of a sense of idolatry that says, “I’ve paid my dues and sacrificed: now it’s my turn to get what I’m owed’.

Jesus’ command to deny self and carry one’s own cross is counter-intuitive and painful but it really is the best way. That doesn’t mean a person cannot enjoy good things in life, relax and take a break but those things are not the total sum of life. It means putting God and others before self, suffering the sin, folly, and ignorance of others, and absorbing hurt instead of sending it back. Charity begins at home but for me, and I suspect others, it actually begins in the car and other places (like the long queue at the Post Office) where it really begins. We need to rediscover the lost virtue of suffering loss of comfort and convenience for the sake of others, something I have begun to practise more in my marriage in sacrificing buying things so my wife and can have fun. Not because I have to but because I love to see her so happy. Surely that’s better than filling my bookshelf with another Bible commentary!

 
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Posted by on 2 April, 2014 (Wednesday) in Forgiveness, Revelations

 

Forgiveness: the hardest part

The other day I took a phone call from a manager at my Bible college, where asked whether my wife and I would consider moving to larger accommodation.  We inspected a townhouse and, after giving it some thought and prayerful consideration, we decided to move in.  Yesterday about half our things were shifted over and we’ve now spent our first night in the new place.

Bible colleges are funny places and in them is often an unusual potpourris of personalities, including those which range from the introspective to the extroverted and everything in between. Yet one of the most interesting things for me is not so much the types of people who go to Bible college but also 1) what students there aspire to be (i.e. what they expect to ‘get out’ of it) and, most importantly, 2) what the deeper personal motives are for being at Bible college.  What students expect is telling because it reveals where hearts are really positioned. Often I even find in myself tendencies to want to be at Bible college because I am inflamed with a desire for people to find their deepest satisfaction in God, even though I often fail to live up to that ideal myself- and to my shame.  And yet in all honesty there are moments where I seek the knowledge that college proffers because I want, one day, to be revered as intelligent, knowledgable and wise.  That might sound grandiose to some and understandable to others but in God’s vernacular that desire is selfish, unloving, and unspiritual (1 Cor 1:18-2:16). On such occasions I need to renounce such ambitions: I need not attempt to be important by the information I accrue because, in Christ, I am already significant in Him. I also, in believing that, assume that once I get such wisdom and kudos through it, I will be significantly happier. But it is not thus, because having ‘high knowledge’ can actually make the possessor of that wisdom very lonely because so few others see what he sees.  In the end it makes a mockery of grace.

At Bible college – like many places – it is also interesting to see what mouths may professes about the speakers in wanting to be at college.  For instance some say, ‘I want to be at college to spread the glory of God’.  This, however, can be betrayed or bolstered by the behaviour of the one who says it. Many have said this but when you see the behaviour of some, you question if that really is the case. I, and others, have tasted our fare share of college lecturers who enjoy showing off how intelligent they believe themselves to be by ‘sinking in’ their verbal boots into anyone else who has a different opinion to themselves.  Other times, it’s fellow students who take stock in being recognised as community leaders, but remain aloof, distant and disinterested in the lives and pain of others. They prefer a false self in order to avoid dealing with their own pain and shortcomings and only feign interest in others for the purpose of getting them to do some task or another. Currying favour with powers-that-be keeps them conveniently cordoned off from the challenge of being graceful and overcoming sin in themselves.  They do it not with an overtly sinful method but something more banal and pedestrian: with the endless drive of ‘godly activity’ so much so that no-one else challenges it precisely because it looks so … busy.  It has the veneer of godliness because it is doing so much for the ‘common good’ and yet the heart of the person/s doing this can be so cold, unempathetic, and condescending.  One wonders whether such people are like this in other relationships aside from the ones with their colleagues.  Very often students like to tell others what they should and shouldn’t be thinking, and not in a humble, quiet, and godly way out of concern for their brethren but in order to make others fit their mould.  (And if you don’t fit the expected mould then you’re on the periphery.) Sometimes the problem lies where people only talk to you when they want something and not because they really love you.  Not everyone at Bible college, of course, is like this but it does happen.

Bible college staff, students, church pastors and their flocks are all sinful and, yes, it is shocking to see such things happening in circles where God’s elect are meant to be behaving in a godly way (Eph. 1:4).  It can be especially hard when people, and I include myself in this, can be at the mercy of those who act in ways contrary to God’s high standards of expected behaviour. In such circumstances the choices are limited and it requires brave souls to be self-aware, confident in God’s grace, and assertive to stand up and resist it.  That’s not to say that it need be done aggressively but it does often require polite but determined efforts to be safe.  Seeing this is not easy and much of it reminds me of what it was like growing up where I was bullied in high school.  In adulthood there are still bullies but instead of using fists they are more inclined to use words, force of personality, and condescension. It often comes in snide asides from others, such as the tried and true line of “Isn’t it foolish to say you believe that?” And then there’s the tactic of ostracism when another needs help or seeing someone turn away from you when you say hello.  In the past I learned to despise others who did this but recently I have been challenged over and over to not give into vengeance.  Carrying grudges came to me like second nature and gave me the ability to see things in black-and-white, where I was the all-knowing one and others where ‘just wrong’ and I could point out what others needed to work on while ignoring my own problems.  Ironically, that was just like the others who had tried to wear me down.  That, in essence, is narcissistic idolatry but so easy to fall into.

The simple words of Jesus have, of late, been cutting to my heart: Father forgive them for they know now what they do. Their responsibility of bullies is not absolved by their ignorance – culpability is still there – but there is no way of simply carrying on vendettas and holding things against people. Easy to say, it seems, but very hard (impossible?) to do.  Forgiving fellow Christians is often hardER than in the case of others precisely because Christians do know the difference between right and wrong.  Indeed it is impossible for those without the Spirit of God to forgive, but as I am a temple of God’s Spirit I just cannot have spite in my heart (Mark 7:14-23). I also should never forget my own sinfulness and undeservingness of His grace; and to have a heart of self-entitlement in a horrible thing. It just produces callousness and “I gotta have it”. But unresolved pain in a person’s life tends to produce that because the one carrying it goes on thinking that no-one cares about his pain and that he’s the only one who can right the wrongs. Reckoning with the sinful nature and the glory of God’s kindness mean that I must trust his grace. They say that bitterness is like swallowing poison with the expectation that another person will die. It’s very true, and the only way to be relieved of the poison and enjoy life again is to nip bitterness in the bud before it has a chance the grow, see the bitter heart humbled, leave justice up to God, and pray forgiveness for the enemy (Matt 5:44).  It can even involve asking God to heal the brokenness in the heart of the bully and set that captive free instead of hissing ‘Smite them, Oh Lord for I know all about what they do!’  Hard?  CRIKEY there is nothing harder that sinful humans are called to do.

I find this stuff so hard.  But there’s no freedom any other way. That does not mean that the demands to live out the truth lessen, or that the truth of God’s demands should be diluted. But as God has been so generous and patient with me I can only be likewise with others. Every person is a mixture of good and bad, myself included, and for the Christian the bad will go when Christ is revealed. I too can speak unlovingly to others even without realising it and it seems amiss for me to expect others to be merciful towards me if I am stingy in offering that same grace to others. Until God comes and changes His people His way, human bitterness towards others is not going to change them; only God’s grace can do that.

 
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Posted by on 1 April, 2014 (Tuesday) in Forgiveness, Where I'm 'At'

 

On the death of Fred Phelps

Phelps

In no way am I a fan of the former leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, but this is a great way of thinking about responding to Phelps’ death.  It accomplishes little to demonise the dead.  (Ironically Phelps was a Democrat who tried, and failed, five times to successfully win a spot on the Democratic ticket for the state of Kentucky.)

 
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Posted by on 21 March, 2014 (Friday) in Quotes

 

Sow a thought and reap a destiny

Sow a thought, and reap an act;

Sow an act, and reap a habit;

Sow a habit, and reap a character;

Sow a character, and reap a destiny.

 
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Posted by on 20 March, 2014 (Thursday) in Quotes

 
 
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